Some things in technology don’t change as often as one might think. As I look at many agent websites and blogs, I still cheer for the ones who understand what they want in their website, and make every effort to build one themselves. But, there is still a long way to go in understanding some of the basics of building your own website.
These are just suggestions though — I’m a firm believer that you get what you pay for, and if you find you love to tinker in Web design, it may be a bit of a time suck. This primer is for those who love to tinker with WordPress.org.
Whether you are new to blogging, are ready to upgrade from WordPress.com, to .org, or are moving an old website to the WordPress platform, it can be intimidating and overwhelming to find and choose a theme, even for the best “do-it-yourselfers!” With so many choices and considerations, a little preparation can mean the difference between a successful launch of your online hub, or a conundrum of issues and problems that take time to manage.
I thought it might be helpful to put together my Beginner’s WordPress for Real Estate Preparation List, specifically for real estate, that can serve to help you in your quest for being a WordPress pro. By organizing a simple list to consider, you can weed out the no’s and be on your way to having a killer real estate WordPress website/blog! So here goes:
1. Will your WordPress theme serve as your website, your blog or both?
Choose a theme that has the main structure in place of what you need. Look at the menu navigation options: Home Page, About, Services, as well as a Blog page. Will they be integrated? If so, choose a theme that has a blog and website already built in.
2. Does it need to be mobile-responsive? (It should be.)
Responsive themes have come a long way, even for the DIY designer. But remember, the more advanced your IDX search is, the more you might need professional help configuring it. Easier design and customization features can take you a long way, too. StudioPress has some of my favorite responsive themes, with the best support. Agent Evolution is a great resource, too, not only providing classy responsive themes for DIY, but when you decide you need that extra team on your side, they are great.
Want to test your website to see how mobile-friendly it is? Visit http://www.studiopress.com/responsive/.
3. What is the budget for your site? Will you need a designer to customize it?
Let’s face it. Your site will need some level of customization. Your theme should reflect your branding, your colors, and have a style that represents you. How much will it take to turn your theme into the site it needs to be? Will you need special designer graphics, buttons, call-to-action items? Headers and images? What is already built-in, and what isn’t? This can help you decide what theme to choose.
If the features of the theme allow you many options and “skins,” you may be only a few steps away from having everything packaged just right, at little or no outside cost. (Note: For choosing a website color palette, I love using www.colourlovers.com.)
4. Pick a theme based on your structure of content, and one that showcases your best attributes.
Do you use video, photos, as well as other content? Do you want to showcase your listings? Blog posts? When thinking about how you are going to add content on your pages and in your posts, it’s helpful to use a theme that has easy ways to highlight those things. For example: the AgentPress Theme showcases listings beautifully, while this theme highlights your blog content mainly. Just know that there are some themes that may have more than what you need, and sometimes less. Finding a theme that has that balance is good. (Check out the AgentPress.com Library.)
5. Is your theme widget-ready? How much can you fit on the theme before it gets too cluttered? Create your widget wish list.
Create your wish list of widgets and plug-ins. Check to see how many widgets the theme can support comfortably. Some themes already have built-in sidebar placement for email subscriptions, RSS sign-up and Google Analytics. But if you are adding in IDX searches, market stats, mortgage calculators, testimonials, Trulia and Zillow widgets, overcrowding can become a problem! Choosing a theme with three columns or two columns can easily be overlooked if you don’t know what to look for.
6. How social is your theme? Is there a place for all your social networking icons?
This may sound like a sidebar or widget issue, but now there are some really nice themes with social networking icons already built in, saving you the design trouble of adding them in yourself. Consider your WordPress savvyness, and you may opt for a theme that has your social sites and Twitter stream built right in.
7. Is the theme search engine-friendly?
Unless you are familiar with with HTML and CSS, it may be difficult for you to evaluate the SEO capabilities of a theme. Typically, free themes come in such a variety that it’s best to choose a premium theme that offers built-in search engine optimization, clean coding, and fields in your posting area that allow for optimizing of titles, tags and descriptions. Having these in your theme helps your site organically and allows for easier time management when posting those hyperlocal, keyword-rich posts.
8. Your theme should help you stay organized and user-friendly!
Consider your categories and subcategories of content. Should this be built-in to your menu navigation or just in the sidebar? If you are a heavy blogger with lots of subjects, community info, etc., think about how this is to be organized in your theme. I am partial to themes that have drop-down menus in the navigation so that I can categorize pages and posts in a way that are user-friendly to site visitors. Nothing can steer away a site visitor more quickly than being overwhelmed at information that is not organized in a way that is easy to find and browse through.
9. Does your IDX provider have WordPress-friendly integration and/or plug-ins?
When you are choosing a theme, consider items that might need to be integrated in a way that takes some technical expertise. Assuming you will be adding IDX feeds to your website/blog, it’s important to know if your IDX provider allows integration with WordPress in a way that you can understand, or are you going to have to hire a Web designer to do it? IDX providers like IDX Broker and Diverse Solutions offer plug-ins that make this integration easier.
10. Is technical support available?
Be careful when choosing themes. There are many designers and developers that have themes that are advertised, but have since gone out of business, or do not have technical support available for help. When working on your site yourself, it takes only the smallest character of wrong code for a whole site to be out of whack or unable to be viewed in all browsers, or any number of things. Having technical support allows you to have a professional to walk you through it, and keep your site in tip-top shape should anything go wrong. (There are no guarantees, of course!)
StudioPress developer Brian Gardner actually has a forum of tutorials, and a place to ask questions and get help with StudioPress theme-related issues. He and his developers and designers are quick to help out and answer questions.
11. Will you manage your website/blog, or will someone else be doing that?
If you are comfortable with the back end of website platforms and blog formatting, then you are a do-it-yourselfer! If you are a blogger/writer, etc., you could still be overwhelmed with managing your content. Before choosing a difficult theme that needs a lot of customizing, specially formatted posts, etc., consider your theme for how easy it is to use. Can you manage it, or will this be a site that only someone else can manage for you? Consider what, when and how you will continue building your work in progress. Pick a theme that can grow with you, not weigh you down.
Adopting WordPress as your main content management system is a fun and exciting venture! Being prepared with your wants and needs is a little like house-hunting. Having the information to make your search easier can save you frustration and bring you all the excitement, bells and whistles to make your blog or website the best on the block!
Laura Monroe is the social media director for Inman News, overseeing the social media strategy and implementation of Real Estate Connect and Agent Reboot, and the editorial content strategy for InmanNext, one of the leading real estate technology and business blogs in the industry.