Technology

Real Estate Agent Websites Prioritize Branding

Search functionality isn't as important as your story on your website

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“Websites for just $5 per month. Websites for just $10 per month. Websites for just $200 per month with 20 guaranteed leads and an ‘about us’ page!”

This is what real estate agents who want to create an online presence see over and over again, every day. There are tons of real estate agent websites out there that have built-in Internet data exchanges (IDXs) intended to capture leads. Many of us use these websites, my team and myself included. They have been evolving over the past few years, and many of these templated websites look great.

However, the big issue is not that the real estate agent websites are missing an essential feature; it’s that these websites do not focus on the most important aspect of your business: you. These sites build in an “about us” page that is about as customizable as your Twitter profile. You can fill in some information, post a link and upload a photo, but that’s about it. Rarely can you add video, a gallery of your recently sold properties, client testimonials and so on.

These features should be as central to capturing leads as the IDX tool that is built in. Many templated websites focus on the IDX, not you. Unfortunately, in the ever-changing landscape that is real estate, the agent website with a built-in IDX isn’t capturing as much consumer information as it used to.

Two years ago, you could conceivably capture 5 percent of your visitor information (or just north of that) using an excellent script, diligence and practice. But Chris Smith and Jimmy Mackin from Curaytor explained in the 2014 season finale of their fantastic WaterCooler Podcast that 1 to 2 percent lead capture is what teams should strive for. In just two years’ time, the market has become so flooded with IDX agent websites that lead capture has dropped by more than 50 percent. That isn’t exactly music to our ears.

So, what’s the point of all this? We constantly hear about how we need to “grow” our Web presence as agents. We do. However, if you are trying to do that via an IDX site in 2015, you won’t get the results you are seeking. What do you do then? You can’t afford to build a $2,500 website. (Neither can I, so we have that in common!)

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Luckily for us, Web design sites have evolved along with IDX sites. I use Squarespace. They have beautiful templates that won’t look like templates once you’re done editing them. They have built-in search engine optimization (SEO), which many of the IDX sites do not. They let you customize the site to fit your business, your style, your comfort. When clients, leads or random Internet clickers find your site, a big “SEARCH HERE FOR YOUR DREAM HOME” icon won’t be the first thing they see. Your site’s home page will have your team logo or slogan or photo.

These sites look like a $2,500 site for $20 per month. We have not paid for a single cent of advertising for our site, which we launched in late August, but every time we put on a new listing it goes in the “our homes” section of the site, which has a beautiful gallery. As a bonus, below our new listing, readers can find every listing we have sold in the past few months in another gallery.

Our website has dedicated “about us” pages. Every single word we type in this site helps with our SEO. Every time we mention real estate, the Twin Cities market or where we live, these additions help grow our presence. Squarespace also has SEO tracking so you can see how people find you via Internet search. Here is how we have tracked the past few months:

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And these are some of the search terms people have used on Google (or Yahoo! or other search engine) to find our website:

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Are all these perfect SEO terms? No, but they are getting people to the site and poking around. Someone searched for zillow.com in Minneapolis and ended up on our site. That’s pretty cool!

We have nearly doubled our site views month over month. We don’t offer an IDX inside the site. We do have a link that will take you to our IDX site if you would like, but there isn’t one built into the site. We have grown our traffic with blogging, updating our listings, updating the front page and text, and adding new features to the site like our lenders’ “Home Buying 101 Class” as its own page.

Everything we do links back to the site. If our agents host an open house, they make a dedicated page for it on the website and post that link to Facebook or Twitter. We have a “contact us” page, and we’ve had leads reach out to ask questions. This site is currently differentiating us in our market from other agents who are using their IDX site as their agent-branded site.

These new Web design sites are easy to use; they offer many user-friendly videos to help answer your questions and a large forum of other users who will help, too. As IDXs continue to get diluted, it’s time to remember our clients didn’t want to sign on with us because they loved our search tool. They may have found us that way, but they decided to buy or sell their home with us because of how we ran our business and treated our clients. Your IDX site isn’t showing your potential clients that; all it’s showing them is a search tool. It’s time to show them the agent behind the site and explain why you are the best agent for them.

Josh Fellman is a Realtor with Edina Realty. He immediately jumped into real estate after graduating from college and hasn’t looked back since.

Email Josh Fellman.