SAN FRANCISCO — You don’t necessarily need a fat wallet to draw more visitors to your Web site and improve its ranking on search engines, but it definitely helps to leave the technical and design work to the pros, panelists said during an Internet Marketing Summit session today at the Real Estate Connect conference.

"I’m not a designer," said presenter Garron Selliken, founder of HomeQuest and brokerage company M Realty LLC. "One of the biggest takeaways I can give you: Get real designers to work on your sites."

SAN FRANCISCO — You don’t necessarily need a fat wallet to draw more visitors to your Web site and improve its ranking on search engines, but it definitely helps to leave the technical and design work to the pros, panelists said during an Internet Marketing Summit session today at the Real Estate Connect conference.

"I’m not a designer," said presenter Garron Selliken, founder of HomeQuest and brokerage company M Realty LLC. "One of the biggest takeaways I can give you: Get real designers to work on your sites."

He added, "I can make things look OK, then I hand it to a designer and it comes back a week later and it’s gorgeous. Designers have a huge impact on your presentation."

If the site doesn’t excite you, it probably won’t excite others, he said, and recommended looking at other sites — even outside of the real estate space — to find examples of great, engaging sites.

That doesn’t mean you should copy other sites: "Try things that may be different than what anybody else has done. It may be zany; it may be playful — it doesn’t have to be dead-serious all the time," he said.

"You have to be obsessed with your site. You have to be in love with your site. Ask yourself, ‘Is this site so interesting and cool that I want to share it with my friends?’ " he said.

"Solid SEO plus outstanding design plus lots of friends and that’s a recipe to do well."

WordPress is an ideal platform for building effective Web sites, he said. "You can build custom pages on it and incorporate a lot of design and try a lot of design ideas without breaking the bank."

In addition to design help, Selliken recommended hiring out a search-engine optimization expert and incorporating analytics to gather useful data from site visitors and usage.

He said that an investment of $10,000 isn’t unreasonable to launch an effective SEO strategy, and it also takes a lot of patience — he tells colleagues to expect to wait about nine months before they start to see measurable benefits for the effort, though the payoff — more leads and a higher conversion rate — can be very worthwhile.

He suggested getting referrals for SEO professionals from those you know and trust.

It helps to constantly test, monitor and evaluate the effectiveness a Web site’s various elements, Selliken said, and he offered one example of an effective call to action: "Hint: ‘Ask a Question’ works a whole lot better than ‘Inquire about this property.’ " …CONTINUED

Too many agents are not doing enough analytics of Web site traffic, he said. "Once the design is done, someone has to be obsessive about analytics."

Creating the best points of entry to Web sites based on the inquiries that drive visitors to the site is also an important design element, Selliken said.

Justin Britt, another panelist who is a founding partner and is responsible for online marketing and Web site usability at Hawaii Life Real Estate Services, shared a story about how an effective Web site led to a massive change in the company’s business model.

Riding on the success of its Web site as a referral-based brokerage company from 2004-07, Hawaii Life became a full-service brokerage company.

Its Web site, HawaiiLife.com, is now one of the most-visited real estate sites in Hawaii.

"To get to the top of the search engines you have to become an authority on the subject … it means having the most useful content that your clients are going to use and come back to," he said.

"It could mean having the best real estate search site and real estate tools available. It could mean having the best blog and information available."

Britt said that SEO and design have to go hand-in-hand when building a site, and that the site architects need to be working in concert with one another.

"The best place to look for traffic is the traffic you already have," he said, and a great design can better capitalize on that traffic.

He echoed Selliken’s call for professional site creation. "You can’t do this on your own. You can’t just sit down and create a Web site."

He added, "You have to be willing to spend money to make money, and it’s not going to happen right away."

Identifying a niche market and the relevant keywords are key to the design strategy, he noted.

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