"What's On The Menu?"

Education & Training with Summit Web Design and Long & Foster Realtors

I know this is going to step on some toes, but it is amazing to me that when real estate agents are setting up their web sites in a template, they insist on putting in every menu item conceivable including "the kitchen sink", somehow thinking that "more is better". Oh, I understand template providers (like Advanced Access, Point2Agent, etc.) come up with every kind of content they can think of to offer their template subscribers. They do this so that their clients have a vast array of choices to consider selecting to fill in the web site pages without the agent having to do anything but "pick this and select that". But it reminds me of going to a cafeteria (which I use to love going to as a kid). I could put 4 different desserts on my tray (if my parents weren't looking) because there were so many to pick from. "I'll have one of those mortgage calculators, please." "Oh, the 7 Buying Tips look lovely! I'll have one of those too." Ha!

Cafeteria Choices

These template providers don't necessarily seem to advise their real estate clients to stick to the KISS principle. So these agent sites all end up with outrageous menus with 25 to 50 (yes... I have seen 50) buttons going down the left hand menu (some requiring a scrolling page of their own since they are so long) together with the cookie-cutter template content. For example, go to www.dchomes.com (I hope Andy doesn't think I am picking on him). Only 10 navigation links on the Home page. Not so bad. But once you click an item and go inside, the visitor is faced with a daunting 39 menu choices. Wow!

Does having all of those really work or does it merely confuse your visitors? Since many of you are playing "web designer", think about this -

Digital Web Magazine in Sept. 2004 wrote about Cognitive load and the rule of seven (or how many is too many)

Published in psychology journals in 1956, the rule of "7 plus or minus 2" states that people can easily process between five and nine pieces of information at a time. Think about the magical number 7. What about the 7 wonders of the world, the 7 seas, the 7 deadly sins, the 7 daughters of Atlas in the Pleiades, the 7 ages of man, the 7 levels of hell, the 7 primary colors, the 7 notes of the musical scale, and the 7 days of the week? And probably some of you real estate agents were taught to never show more than 7 homes at one time to your buyers.

A counter to this is made by James Kalbach in his article, The Myth of "Seven, Plus or Minus 2, where he writes, "Generally, the key to navigation design is a balance between breadth and depth with a clear presentation of navigation. Don't avoid broader structures to arbitrarily conform to the 7±2 guideline or to accommodate a pure design aesthetic. But also don't confuse users with information overload: Present only what is truly necessary for your primary target groups in the most understandable fashion within an attractive design."

So when creating your navigation, think about limiting the number of choices to between 5 and 9. It's not always possible, but it can help to have a reasonable number of choices at each level in your navigation. You'll have to carefully balance putting a limited set of choices with making too many levels and depth to your site.

Do you really need that "Testimonials" page? Most visitors don't really believe them anyway... since you are never going to put up the bad ones. ;-)

"I would never use him again. He almost financially ruined us at the closing!"
Bob and Mary

"He listed our house and gave us lousy service. We never got it sold! We wouldn't recommend him to anyone."
Tom and Sally

If you are going to show testimonials, maybe it is better to sprinkle them in on more appropriate pages like your "Helping Buyers" page or "Helping Sellers" page where they will have a greater impact. And on those pages, you can tell them more about yourself and how you can help them to buy their next home or sell their present house - which is really what the consumer is more concerned with anyway, rather than "I have been a Gazillion Dollar Producer for the past 15 years...". They only really care about what you can do for them tomorrow, not what you did yesterday. See, we have eliminated the "About Me" page and button as well as the "Testimonials" page and button already. 2 down, more to go!

You really don't need all of that extraneous content like "Lenders", "Mortgage Calculator", etc. to make a favorable impression on your visitor. Probably 97 out of 100 visitors are just going to go to "Properties" or "Search MLS" to surf through homes for sale. A succesful real estate web site isn't about just having tons of content requiring a vast array of buttons. You don't need to offer 5 main entrees, 4 types of rolls and 6 dessert choices. It is about having well-optimized content... and that is a completely different topic for another post.

When building your site or updating it, see how you can slim down the navigation menu to more managable choices for your visitors. They will find your site easy to use and far more useful. This usually translates into more inquiries for you.

Comments (10)

Derek and Mariana Wagner
The Artisan Group- Keller Williams Premier Realty - Colorado Springs, CO
The Artisan Group - Colorado Springs REALTORS®
I wholeheartedly agree. A good website should have about 3 portals: One for Buyers. One for Sellers and one for Relocation. That is it. The end. Otherwise it starts looking chaotic. Thank you for bringing this up.
Mar 03, 2007 08:48 AM
George Tallabas
RE/MAX Advantage - Nampa, ID
Idaho Real Estate
Win, As a real estate broker that embraces technology as something  vital in our industry I agree with your comments about template website companies and I don't like it when so many of them are cluttered with information and most look alike.  But please explain one thing to me.  If this clutter of information on some of these template companies sites is not looked upon favorably by the search engine Gods then why is it that there a lot of Advanced Access sites showing up on the first page of Google across the country in a lot of different cities, USA? I don't have an Advanced Access site but am looking to make a change and considering them.
Mar 03, 2007 08:58 AM
Win Singleton
Summit Web Design and Long & Foster Realtors - Falls Church, VA
Web Designer & Associate Broker
Hi George - You asked about Advanced Access sites, for example, showing up high in the search results. To my way of thinking, it has little to do with their "stock" content and much more to do with either the site owner (or a hired Virtual Assistant) adding good search optimization techniques into it - meaning good keyword phrases, (AA offers that right there for those who opt for it - it is called The Meta Direction program for $499.95 One-Time Fee), or even due to those who have bought the Premium Marketing Service - (Additional budgeted pay-per-service fees apply) for $2,499.95/year. So not all AA sites are created "equal". ;-) It really depends on how much the subscriber is willing to spend over and beyond the initial $599.95 + monthly hosting at $49.95/month. If you go to - http://www.advancedaccess.com/productsservices/order.asp, you can see a list of all of the services they offer their subscribers... and now you are getting into the price of a custom site without have a "real" web designer to do all the work!

You might want to also take a look at my article, The Economics Of Template vs. Custom Web Design. It might give you some insights to what agents are really paying for templates out there.

Mar 03, 2007 09:24 AM
Brian Brumpton
Keller Williams Boise - Boise, ID
Boise Idaho Real Estate
Great advice George, before I became a Realtor I was much more likely to visit th website of the company rather than a specific agent.  Too this day it's hard to information on most of the agents sites in my area.  There is so much information as soon as you hit their home page I move on because I don't have the time to wade through it to find what I'm looking for. 
Mar 03, 2007 09:35 AM
Patricia Aulson
Realtor - Portsmouth NH Homes-Hampton NH Homes

Loved your post Win and hope you can send me some constructive suggestions about my real estate site,

www.patricia4realestate.com   I don't know who to believe there are some people emailing me daly saying they can do SEO, etc., etc., etc.,    I am confused but would like to hear from you with any feedback when you have time.  


Thank you,

Best,   Patricia Aulson/SEACOAST/NH&ME


Mar 03, 2007 10:50 AM
Angela Wagner
Coldwell Banker Gundaker - Saint Charles, MO

I like sites that are easy to view and use. Too much on a main page is confusing.

St. Charles MO Realtor Angela Wagner

Mar 03, 2007 11:07 AM
Rita Taylor
None - Sanford, NC
Sanford NC Real Estate - Homes for Sale in Sanford North Carolina

I wholeheartedly agree with you. Too many choices are confusing.  When I recently added a choice to navigation menu I removed one the keep the choices down to nine.  

 I also have to ask what is up with all the sites that have annoying flashing and/or scrolling text and music.  I have even seen sites that have a video of the agent yelling at you as soon as you hit their home page!  Talk about hitting the back button in a hurry!

 I started with a self made website because I could not afford one of the fancy template sites but I have gotten to where I like having my own site because I can directly control the content.


As far as advanced access I am ALMOST of the opinion that they have something shady going on.  The top SERP for almost every market is an AA site.  Since these are template sites and templates by definition duplicate content it seems they should be penalized because the search engines in theory penalize for duplicate content.  Somehow they get rewarded?



Sanford NC Real Estate  

Mar 03, 2007 07:24 PM
Win Singleton
Summit Web Design and Long & Foster Realtors - Falls Church, VA
Web Designer & Associate Broker

Hi Rita - I'm with you... and perhaps that will be another post - about Flash, scrolling text or music. While the Web can entertain us, agents instead need to remember that they are operating an online business site - not MTV or the National Geographic site. ;-) I like the judicious use of Flash while still having great content further down the page (for search engine optimization). That really does work. But scrollers are passe. Music can be annoying - one person's great tune is another person's noise. Having an agent greeting me through my speakers is not what I want to hear - "Hi! Welcome to my site!". I look for the sound button as fast as I can to turn it off. Furthermore, how many people are surfing at their desk at work (when they are suppose to be working)? Do they really want the boss to know they are doing that? Yet, as you said, if all of sudden they come to an agent's site where the agent is shouting at them over their computer speakers, they just got possibly busted by the boss! "What are you doing over there, Fred?" Ha!

Agents should learn a lesson from the Fortune 500 company web sites. Many of these have spent thousands upon thousands of dollars building those sites, having focus groups to fine tune them, using very creative web designers and graphic artists. Mimic those same concepts in design and structure into an agent's site design, and one can benefit from all the money those companies spent without having to spend anywhere close to that.

Again, the success of the AA sites or other template provider sites should prove to everyone once and for all that content is not king or THE deciding factor in search engine placement with their duplicate content. "Content is King" is a myth! There are three main factors that must be adequately addressed: 1) Content (that’s your site and the work you put into adding content to make it very attractive to home buyers searching the internet); 2) Content Optimization (that’s where either the template owner, a Virtual Assistant who knows what he/she is doing, or a web designer works to make the HTML code behind that site easy for the search engines to navigate; and 3) Link Popularity. These three main factors are all necessary for good search engine rankings; a three-legged stool, if you like. And as I mentioned to George up above, AA does offer Content Optimization and a Link Directory, each for an additional fee for those subscribers who pay that. Most of the ones you are seeing high up in rankings in almost every market have gone on to pay those fees.

Thanks for commenting! 


Mar 03, 2007 09:40 PM
Debbie White
Southeast Alaska Real Estate - Juneau, AK
I Sell Alaska!
I know this is an old post, but I have an AA site.  I do not pay extra for SEO, but I use very little of the "canned" template information.  AA has online forums that help guide us in making our site better.  I was already on page 1 with most keywords because I have an 'aged' domain, but now get in the top 3 generic.  AA has taught me how to do this myself.  They discourage keeping the default info.
May 01, 2007 04:25 AM
Joddie Roberts
Mountain Real Estate and Property Management - Spokane, WA
Your Spokane Realtor - Spokane, WA
Win, I am new to this group and just saw your post - it was a confirmation of what I did just yesterday; went through the menu options and removed a TON.  I started thinking to myself, "Is someone really going to come to my site to plan their wedding?"  Thanks, I'm looking forward to gaining alot of good advice here.
May 22, 2007 06:03 PM