Ever search for a word but can’t seem to find it? Or try to recall a fact that won’t roll off the tip of your tongue?

Ever need to buy a vowel from Vanna White?

What’s missing from the online real estate experience?

As part of a brand analysis for an East Coast brokerage, I drilled 10 pages deep into Google’s results for "real estate" in the company’s market area. I explored every result. There were 100 Web sites in total. Of these 100 sites:

  • 51 belonged to either associations, media companies, builders, funeral homes (not kidding), or listings aggregators;
  • 37 belonged to individual agents, teams or single brokers;
  • 7 belonged to brokerage companies;
  • 3 were ActiveRain blogs;
  • 1 site was a listing blog with an RSS feed;
  • 1 site was a Naymz profile.

While I learned a bit about search-engine positioning, this exercise revealed something far more concerning: the X that marks the spot where real estate Web sites, in general, fail.

Promises, promises

Several things crystallized.

1) The most obvious was the mechanical gunfire of platitudes rat-tat-tatting across every broker and agent Web site. The bullet holes murdered my ability to decipher and choose. It’s like the old game show, "To Tell the Truth." Will the real local expert, market specialist, top producer, #1 expert please stand up?

2) Second was the overwhelming sense that the notion of what a Web site is or could be today has been lost among real estate companies in this high-tech, desirable place to live. Most of the sites I viewed were more closely related to their bus bench and moving-van-ad cousins than they were to the progressive sensibilities of the Web-using home buyer or seller.

3) Third, there were far too many promises not kept. Take "Find your Dream Home," a common call to action on the sites I reviewed. My dream home is a two-story penthouse overlooking Gramercy Park in Manhattan that costs under $1 million. But when I click on these links I encountered links to poorly executed IDX solutions covering tens of thousands of homes; the haystack in which I am left to find my dream needle. Have a nice day.

What’s missing?

Truth. Honesty. A real voice. Every site I visited spoke to me with a voice wholly not its own, spewing every real estate cliché under the sun.

If you’re branding yourself as a "top producer," what is it that you produce? What does this term mean to the user? What is your site doing to support that claim and extend a top production experience to the user? If you are a market specialist, what does that mean? What is a market anyway? This is an industry term that means nothing to a person who lives, buys and sells inside cities, towns, villages and neighborhoods — not markets. When you claim to be a market specialist, how are you extending that claim on your Web site in a profound way so that your positioning statements are supported?

100 Web sites, one giant unfulfilling experience

Inside and across the caverns I hear the shouts of those who would claim this illustrates the failure of Web 2.0 in real estate. And yet, elsewhere, here and there, we find the Kris Bergs, the Teresa Boardmans, the Blueroofs of real estate hammering their pylons deep into the rock. They are building blogs, enhancing the search experience and offering the type of content most believe short-sell their value. And despite this, they are scaling to the top of a real estate boulder, their crampons and cams dug deep into something new.

It’s been five years since mashups were introduced to real estate, three years since blogging became a hot topic. During these last few formidable years, hundreds of millions of Web users have been exposed to a new way of experiencing the Internet. And while I believe that there are many social aspects of Web 2.0 that make no sense for real estate, I will argue for the ones that do. I will argue that providing proof of claims made on a Web site hones in on the basic morays of quality branding.

Web 2.0 is a failure if you allow yourselves to believe it is. Web 2.0 is a failure if the only thing you value is the short-term lead and disregard the long-term benefits of creating a heightened user experience and conveyance of your brand position.

I visited 100 Web sites. Save for the ActiveRain profiles, there was nary a trace of anything Web 2.0. Seems to me, there’s an opportunity just waiting to happen for one agent, one broker, one voice to cut through with something different.

Marc Davison is a partner at 1000watt Consulting. He can be reached at marc@1000wattconsulting.com.


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