Now that I'm with GraphicalData I am having more focused discussions with real estate agents and their brokers about websites. One of the things I've quickly learned is that you can not have a "website" discussion without having a "marketing" discussion.
Too often agents want to jump in and order up a website so they can check that task off some list they have in hand. Later, when the going gets rough financially they jettison the website because it is not meeting their needs.
Before getting the website ask yourself some questions, this may require a bit of introspection:
1) What kind of business do I want to do. Am I focusing on residential resale, commercial, new construction, condos.......etc
2) Write a paragraph describing your perfect buyer
3) Write a paragraph describing your perfect seller
(in both cases be specific to type of home, geographic location, qualifications of the buyer or seller)
4) What are your goals for the website?
Be realistic here. Come up with a number that you can logically work toward.
5) How much am I willing to spend?
This has to be a realistic number that will not change with the market. Too often agents and companies spend lots of money when the market is good and pull it all back when things get tough. The key word here has to be "consistency". Granted, you may invest more as you have more to invest...but you should always have a core marketing effort going on. Note...I use the word "invest" on purpose. Dollars you spend are either to improve your business, have a goal and measurement attached or it is a charity. Too often business people mistake the two.
6) How am I going to track my success?
With this information you will be able to tailor your site to meet the needs of the people you are trying to attract and keep as customers. Don't try to make one site do too much. If you do residential sales and property management you may want to consider two separate websites, otherwise you dilute your message and will make it harder for your site to show up on the first page or two of search engine rankings.
Now that you are sitting down to actually start planning the website looks are important but only go skin deep as the old saying goes. Content is king. I'm running across good, hard working agents who have invested a lot of money into a website that looks good but has no real content. Make sure your website developer can and does provide the IDX feed for your site. Without it you will not be able to provide interactive home searches for your clients, nor will you be able to use many of the tools that make a great site like flyer makers, CMA tools or automatic e-mail notification services.