How to design a perfect real estate website
My definition of a great website is a site with lots of visitors and a high percentage of those visitors turning into leads & sales. I covered this topic in my The correct way to design website and How to increase website conversion articles.
In this article, I will cover only the issues specific to Real Estate websites based on my finding after analyzing about 250 random Real Estate websites. Within these 250 websites, 90% of them are independent agents or companies, I don't cover huge listing websites such as era.com, trulia.com or zillow.com.
The conversion rate is the percentage of visitors who come to your website and become your leads and sales. With that in mind, it's useless if you don't have any visitor that comes to your site in the first place.
You need traffic to your site
Website traffic refers to web users who visit a website and is often measured in visits. You can bring in traffic via Paid Ads (costly), Social (great for finding leads) and Search Engine (You will need great contents on your site).
There is a dilemma with designing for high conversion. You want to rank well on Search Engine Result Pages and for that, you need really good text content which may sometimes run more than a thousand words. At the same time, you want your page to be really concise, distraction free with clear Call To Actions that encourage visitors to give you contact information. What is the solution?
Start a blog/articles section
When people come to your blog, they expect (lengthy) text content that contains the information that they are looking for, so they won't be turned off by a 2500-words article.
There is a huge issue with most Real Estate blogs, however.
Most visitors who come to your website via Search Engine are searching for something. If your blog happens to be one of the results they visit, they will quickly scan through your article to see if there something useful then they will leave your website. Your visitors won't hang around on the site, they are impatient, they won't go to your other pages to check the services you have to offer, they great prices you can give for them. You have only ONE CHANCE to reach your visitors and turn them into leads.
Most Real Estate blogs MISS THE CHANCE.
Let's take a look at one typical blog:
Ok, there is a Contact Us section on the sidebar, but what is the reason to contact?
Below is a blog site that does a better job by offering the visitors reasons to get in touch. Once the visitor enters the page through Search Engines or other methods and read the article, they are offered to receive some Freebies (yes we all love Free things) that they can get access right away after filling out some basic information such as email address or phone number:
Know your customer base
Understanding your customers' behaviors and expectations allows you to deliver them the exact information they want in the manner they prefer.
For example, if a large number of your customers come to your website via searching on a mobile device then you better optimize your website design and content for mobile devices. Below are just a few things you want to have for the mobile version of your website:
- Visible contact information (especially phone number). This information should be instantly available without even clicking on your contact page.
- High quality, non-distorted images when viewed on phones. Because of the small screen size of most phones and the users' common behaviors to hold the phone vertically, you will need to treat your images differently on mobile devices. Sometimes it's worth considering having a different version of the images just for the phone.
- Fast loading speed. Users who access your website on mobile devices are usually on 3G or 4G and they may have slower Internet. Your content and images should be optimized to reduce the loading time of your website.
Since we are on mobile device topic, one tactic that has been used by some of realtors is the QR code. The QR works wonder for drive-by potential buyers who want to quickly know more information about the property. By scanning the QR code, your client can quickly get a link to go to a page on your website to get more information about the house. And why stop there? You could ask your visitor to give their name and phone number (optionally) before you show the property's information to initiate the conversation from your side.
When you truly understand and care about your customers, you will find out that there are just so many things you can do to give them better experience on your website. I have found Realigo while I was searching for Norway houses for sale (not sure why I wanted to buy houses in Norway, it just came up). There is not much to compliment Realigo regarding their design (I think their design deserve an upgrade but that is another topic), what I really like about their site:
- They asked me to set my measurement preference. This was the first site that asked me for this and I would like to sincerely thank them for this. Despite my years staying in the States, I could never grasp the Square and Yard concept.
- They allow me to add the properties to my Favorites list to view again later. In our article on How to design a furniture website I also listed Wishlist and Comparison as one of my favorite features. (what I don't quite like about Realigo is that they want me to register to do it, and they even mentioned the registration process won't take longer than 15mins. Really? 15mins to use the Fav list?)
It's not about you
Take up a huge portion of your home page with your photo and you may have started wrong already (I will mention a specific case where this is working out really well for the business). Note that most of your visitors who come to your website looking for something like "luxury houses in southern Houston", not you or your business. Most users don't want to spend any more than 30 seconds on your site if they cannot find what they want so you better give them useful information as soon as possible and capture their attention.
If there is ONE thing that all of us learn from the Internet is that we tend to distrust anything a stranger tells us on the Internet. I think Mr. Paul is over doing it in trying to build the initial trust on his website (and when I visited his site most of the Search features did not work so I could not find any properties he has to offer). I'm not trying to say that his style is completely ineffective, perhaps for the audience he is trying to target his style may yield high result. Sometimes you really need to close your eyes, do the dive and see where it takes you. The single most important thing is that you need to do everything using the real facts you have about your customers and constantly monitor and improve your site to improve conversion.
Give your visitors what they want
Why do visitors come to your website? Are they looking for advice or do they want to see the properties right away? If you are unsure about what your customers want, perhaps these articles on Researching customer needs and Identifying customer needs may help you to get started with the first steps.
For whatever reason (sometimes SEO), many real estate websites tend to be very wordy even when they should give the visitors the information as soon as possible, lets take a look at one of those websites:
Once you have identified what they need, you should focus your effort on delivering that specific content to them, ensure that they can easily and conveniently access that information from any where on your website. If your visitors are looking for properties to buy or trying to list their own properties, why not giving them those options right away when they first visit your website?
Makes communication easier
Some people like phone calls, some prefer emails while some opt for text messaging. You should open up all possibilities for your site visitors to contact you in their preferred way:
- Phone: for businesses that focus on the local communities a phone number is not only a method of contact but also a proof that you are a local business. Alongside the traditional phone, there are other options such as Viber, Skype that allow your visitors to call you without footing the phone bill.
- SMS: text message is convenient for people who don't like talking. You can also utilize WhatsApp, Viber, and other apps to allow your visitors to text you freely and easily.
- Instant Message & Chat: the Internet has trained us to be impatient and demanding if we don't see what we want we instantly go back to Search Engines to look for other websites. By offering a chat session on your website you can give your visitors a quick way to contact you in case they have any question.
There are tons of on-site Chat apps out there that you can embed directly on your website, but I will personally recommend 2 of the best (in my opinion) for small & independent businesses:
- Tawk.to: completely free chat app, only pay if you want to remove their branding.
- Crisp.im: their free plan allows up to 2 support agents which is more than enough for most businesses. Their app is very light-weight, flexible, and just works. And did I mention that they have superb support and excellent documents?
Make sharing easy for your customers to share
Sharing via social is such a common feature now, but you may wonder why a buyer may want to share a property she/he is looking at. I had the same question before I saw the Share feature on HAR
House purchasing/selling is usually not a single person's decision. You normally get your spouse and other family members involved. It makes sense to give your visitors a quick way to share the property they are looking at, it also allows you to collect the information to actively contact them later.
Use superb images & videos on your website
Nowadays buyers are busier than ever, they may not have the time and the patience to drive by every single property the find online (and yes researches show that at least 70% of your buyers will look for the properties online first). With limited time and countless listing to review, buyers may not even contact you for further details if they are not impressed by your photos. What do you think about this website below? Would you be interested to find more information from it?
Shortly after publishing this article, I found another article explaining why you should hire professional photographers for your property listing, and it seems that I was a bit conservative on my number. According to realtor.org, more than 90% of the buyers actually use the Internet first to look for properties. All the more reasons to invest in your photos :)
Yet in more than 50% of the realtors websites we found on the Internet we saw lots of crappy, stock, or staged photos that do not actually reflect the properties in real life, or even no photo at all. Yes professional photographers can be expensive, but the least you can do is investing in a good camera or even a good smartphone that can take decent pictures.
Build trust with your customers
“A good image doesn't really always need a professional photographer if you don't have the budget”
Be yourself, be unique
This last piece of advice should be taken with a grain of salt, but if you can make it work you may be able to simply leave everyone else behind.
Before I get to it please take 5 minutes to visit this website: Ling's cars
“Believe it or not, this Gateshead-based website, featuring Mrs. Ling jigging on her motorbike, is one of the biggest online drivers of car sales in Great Britain”
This website really goes against almost all the things that you should do to optimize conversion on your website:
- Loud music that auto plays on the homepage
- Flashy text and banners every where
- A disaster of colors and font use
- Jam-packed content and distracting elements
Yet it's so successful. Check it out and you may find yourself spending more time than intended on it even if you are not looking for cars.
How did Ling do that?
In my opinion, I think it's partly due to the business that she's in. Car buying is some thing very personal (and same for buying a house), we want to buy from people who we can feel connected. The content on her site is humorous in a good way that just simply makes you feel entertained, and her live cam idea is simply perfect. It shows people that she and her team are real, down to earth people without all the b***t that you usually have to deal with when you talk to other salesmen. While her design is a bit over the top, or as she puts it: "my website invigorates my visitors", it supports the trustworthy image she is trying to bring across.
Honestly, most real estates websites out there are just plain boring. You may jump from one site to another and none of them leave any lasting impression. House purchasing is a very stressful process for most of us and the ones who can make it fun automatically win (this is just my personal opinion, please do not blame me if this backfires you).
Real estate websites that are great
I stumbled upon a few good ones during my search and I would love to share theme with you
Visit their website
Why they are great:
- The property search feature is given right away on the home screen
- Popular and hot neighborhoods are listed to save visitors' time
- Tons of Freebies and call to actions to encourage visitors to get in touch
- Good quality photos of the properties (yet not too good that they may look staged)
- Smart uses of testimonials throughout the website
Visit their website
Why they are great:
- SmartMaps and TravelTime search hit the needs of the buyers
- They even let you know the Internet speed (oh the geek inside me) and transportation options
- An easy to use Mortgage rate calculator (talking about convenient)
- A quick way to schedule a visit online