Like most consumers today, I depend on websites to give me information. What I find on a website has a lot to do with whether or not I will do business with a particular person or company for that matter.
In a society that often doesn't have local roots to help make decisions in a particular area, websites have become a way of figuring out the lay of the land.
Many young people will turn to a website before they even pick up a phone to call their parents. It is a pattern of communication that isn't very surprising to the parents of this generation's young adults.
If you are someone looking to understand what you can take away from a website, you will find some valuable information in the following commentary that can help you evaluate a website. If you are a Realtor®, this advice is likely better than what you will get from most consultants who are trying to sell you something. I am not interested in selling anything to you.
Everyone has advice for Realtors® when it comes to websites. However about the only consensus that you will hear is that you need one. Doing a website right doesn't have to be expensive in dollars, but there is a substantial recurring time commitment.
If you don't do a website right, it is possible to create more harm than good for your business.
The most basic rule of a good website is that it has to have good content which draws a specific audience. If you think that a website is something you create and don't have to touch for the next couple of years, you are better off not doing one.
If you are serious about doing a website, the following information is what I have gleaned from seven years of blogging and well over a dozen years building websites. I started using websites for internal communication when I was a manager at Apple Computer.
The most important thing you can do when starting down the road to an effective website is to get your own domain. If your website is a subdomain off of somone else's website, at least part of your efforts are going to benefit the main website and not your site.
I have experimented with just about every tool that you could use from Dreamweaver which I used to build my homepage to various hard core HTML editors which I used to build and modify my "Welcome to the Beach" page. I have found a number of Macintosh only web tools that I consider to be best in class. These include Coda, Rapidweaver, and Shutterbug.
That I haven't found Windows' equivalents isn't a problem for me since I use both platforms. However, what I am going to recommend for a typical real estate website is platform agnostic. You can do it just as easily on Windows as on a Macintosh.
Next, and really first and foremost, you need a really good hosting company. Surprisingly that is not very expensive. I use three different hosting companies, but I have found that the best for what I am going to recommend to be bluehost. I tried to use my other two providers to do what I am now doing, and they failed miserably. It took me a lot of time to come to this conclusion. A company like bluehost can also provide you with your domain and make setup very easy. They can also help you transfer a domain that you already own.
The key to a simple website is using a piece of very robust, free software called WordPress. I have been using Wordpress software for years on their free site under their subdomain. The blog that I have there is "Our Technological Infirmity."
The advantage that the combination of Wordpress and Bluehost have is that you can easily with one click install Wordpress on your bluehost domain. While this is not something that a completely non-technical person can do, it is something that anyone who has some blogging experience can work their way through without a lot of trouble.
Once you install Wordpress, you have to pick a theme, and decide how you want to organize your site, but essentially you are good to go. There are tremendous number of things you can do, but you can also get started fairly easily and add more capabilities as you learn the software.
My Wordpress site which has become the home for my real estate web presence gives me all the flexibility that I need. I have a tremendous amount of content there. When I was still doing listings, I had four listings that I kept on my main real estate home page. They were similiar to the one property shown there now. The information on the homepage referred interested parties to a listing specific website with all the information needed to decide on whether the property was one a client might want to view.
The yearly monetary cost for my Wordpress site is just a few dollars over $100 per year. Of course the amount of time that I put into the site is much greater than most people who are just looking to do a real estate site. My site has everything from a local travel guide to Emerald Isle to information on growing tomatoes in the local area. You likely would not need as much content, but I am trying to do more than just real estate with my site. In essence I am building a brand around Crystal Coast Life.
So has my site been successful? That is a very hard thing to measure in a tough market especially considering I am leaning towards spending more of my time in technology than in real estate which is why I am no longer doing listings. I stopped doing duty in the office about eighteen months ago so I have been dependent on the web and the few listings that I had for leads for a long time. I continue to average about two good leads a month. Unfortunately, I had two sellers back out on their listings just as we had found buyers for their properties so I can't give a complete thumbs up to my strategy, but I believe it is a good long term startegy and one that will work as the market improves. The world is not going back to telephone books.
If you look at some pure metrics, my site has been a tremendous success. While I started the site in late spring, I just started keep statistics in the last couple of months. I am averaging a little over 900 unique visitors each month. That compares very favorably to numbers that I saw when I was doing a contract blog for our real estate firm. Those 900 visitors a month are my audience, and just yesterday I got a call from a professor to whom I had sold computers in the eighties. He found my website, printed out the PDF flyer that I created for the area and was sitting in the parking lot of our real estate office looking for me.
I continue to get positive comments on the content that I post, and if you do a Google search for information about the Southern Outer Banks or the Crystal Coast, you will likely find me somewhere in the top search results. Very little of that would be possible without using my own domain and creating content that demonstrates that I really know our area.
While some of what I have outlined might be beyond the technical capabilities of some agents, there are plenty of sharp web people around that can be hired for less than an arm and a leg to get you up and going. Someone who knows what they are doing can get you started in just a few hours. If you have the time and energy, you can make a huge difference in your web presence in just a few months. If you really are selling something besides just houses, having a presence on the web is a really good way to get your message across and show your clients that you are interested in them finding the right spot for their lifestyle not just the first listing that they can afford.
An easy first step is to go to Word Press, and try a little blogging just to see if you can get the hang of it. You cannot complain about the price since it is free. I believe in the web so much that I have even posted my own home which is listed with another agent in another state. I think the traffic that I can drive to the listing will make my home sell quicker.
If you are ignoring the web or trusting your company to do it for you, you should ask someone to tell you how often your company profile is viewed. If they have any kind of decent web people, that information is easily available and might just surprise you. If you think Facebook is the solution, good luck with that.