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10 Insider Secrets to Getting the Most out of your Real Estate Website

Over the past few years it's become more important than ever for any business to have its own web presence. Nowhere is this more evident than in the Real Estate field.

Everyone now expects to see photos and information about a particular property on the web!

The fact that you're reading this means that you probably already have your own Real Estate site and have spent good money getting it to where it is now so we won't bore you with reasons on why you need your own website. We're just going to give you little known secrets that may help you reap more benefit from your website.

Suffice it to say that a Real Estate agent who doesn't have their own website is pretty much analogous to a Real Estate Agent in the 90's who didn't have their own telephone number.

That said, developing a good website for many can be a scary task due to their lack of knowledge on the subject. Without the correct knowledge, marketing yourself on the web can be a very expensive and time-consuming task. Armed with the proper knowledge however, a good website has the potential to make your business more profitable, faster and easier.

Knowing the following 10 secrets will give you some of the tools to immediately increase the value and usefulness of any existing Real Estate website many times over. Let's get started!

1 - Making a Great First Impression

Studes have proven that in any first time meeting with a client, you only have seconds to make that first impression. With a website, the website itself will often become someone's first impression of you. Therefore it's extremely important that your home page or entry page to your website is a good one.

Characteristics of a Good First Page

To ensure a good first impression, make sure your home page has the following characteristics.

  • loads in very few seconds, anything more than 5 to 10 seconds is pushing it. Internet users are very impatient.
  • sets the tone for the rest of the site for appearance and consistency
  • it is very clear how to navigate the site. Buttons or descriptive links to the main pages on your site should be on the home page.

If customers don't stick around because your site loads at a snail's pace or is too cluttered, or too hard to read, or difficult to navigate, you won't get a second chance, they're gone!

Characteristics not recommended for your home page.

The following is a list of characteristics you don't want on our home page:

  • Shouldn't require the user to download anything to view it, or have the latest browser software in order to properly see the page. Many users are leery about downloading software and if they are browsing from their place of employment they are likely not allowed to perform downloads.
  • Your main page links only to your own site. You worked hard to get clients to your site, so don't throw them away. Have any links to sites other than your own on a separate page and make sure that they open in a separate browser window. That ensures the clients always return to your site once they close that window.
  • Keep your site open. Don't make the user search for a doorknob or keyhole to click on to get to the next page or force them to load an entirely new page before getting a menu. This generally means that you shouldn't use a large image map on the first page where the user has to wait to load the entire picture before they can click to where they want to go.
  • Avoid sound. What may sound cute once does not when you come back again and again and the goal is to get your visitors to return. Plus, anyone looking at your properties from their place of work in this era of the open-concept office environment will definitely not appreciate it.
  • Don't use flash. While flash can be attractive it should never be used on the main page without a bypass. That said, even if you have a bypass, other versions of browser software may not display the bypass to the user thereby still forcing them to watch the video everytime they arrive. You are stealing your clients valuable time if you force them into a video everytime they come to your site. If you're going to be taking their time like that, it's best that you ask or warn them first. Not providing that courtesy almost guarantees that they won't be back often.
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2 - Simple Consistent Navigation

The old KISS principle - Keep it Simple Silly definitely is paramount here. Make sure that you have a consistent method of navigation throughout the site. People are here to get the information they want, and they shouldn't require a training course or a map on how to get through your site.

The standard methods of having a list of menu items or links along the top of each page or down the left side still works the best. If your pages are long it helps to have another set of menu links at the bottom of the page as well. People are comfortable with the familiar and if they automatically know how to navigate your site because it's simple, they are then free to focus on absorbing the content. If they get irritated or can't find the right page within one or two clicks - they're gone!

Make sure that every page has a link back to your home page. This is especially important when people have clicked down into deep levels and want to look at something else. You don't want them have to repeatedly click the back button to get back to the top. Odds are they'll click it once too often and back right off your site. (If per chance they have to load a large graphic or flash to get back in, they likely won't.).

3 - Links

Text or Buttons

Text Links are much quicker to load than buttons and are also searchable by the search engines. If you want to use buttons, make sure they are quick loading and keep in mind that if you're using buttons that change when you hover over them, they are actually loading two versions of each button and therefore taking even more download time.

Note: If you are using buttons, rather than text links, be sure you fill out the "ALT" tags for each of the images with a description of where the button goes. There are several reasons for this, the user will see the text before the button loads, so they can click it without waiting: they'll also see the text if the button fails to load, or if they have graphics turned off on their browser software (dial-up users may use that setting to speed up loading). Another reason is that the search engines will pick up the words in the ALT tag and add it to the searchable items on your page. (Search engines cannot detect text that is displayed on a button)

Picking Link Names

Make link names descriptive - i.e. Valuable Resources and Tools tells the user a lot more than Extra Stuff.

Limiting the number of links

Limit the number of links on a page. You've probably all been to Real Estate brokerage pages plastered with dozens and dozens of links, some flashing, some different colors, different sizes, making it very confusing to anyone as to where to go next. You may notice. when looking at an agent's listings on one of these sites, most of the links take the user away from the agent and toward the company's marketing material. That's because the purpose of these sites is to market the agency, not the agent. Always keep the viewer on your own site focused on what you want them to see.

Link Format

When including links within text, such as in a paragraph, it's best to keep them in the standard accepted format, which is blue text and underlined. This is almost universally understood and everyone will know right away what is a link and what isn't.

When emphasizing text that is not a link, it's best to use bold or color rather than underlining. Otherwise people will naturally try to click on it.

Text Colors

A general rule of thumb is to limit your text colors to no more than three, including the black text. Also darker text with a lighter background is easier to read for the majority of people.

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4 - Valuable Content Brings Repeat Visitors

If you want people to return to your site more than once, you need to have content and it needs to be content that they are interested in, and content that works for you, not against you.

Remember, any links that lead the user on to someone else's site should not be on the main page.

Some valuable offsite content that you might want to include are:

  • Area Neigbourhood Links
  • Area Shopping Links
  • Community Links
  • Hobbies
  • Local Weather
  • Real Estate News Links (maybe)
  • Local News and Radio Links
  • Mortgage News, Mortgage or Financing Links
  • Some of your Favorite Web links
  • Articles about you.
  • Useful Real Estate Info

On site content that is great to have is bio information about your and your team, achievements, testimonials are extremely important, info about your area of specialty or neighbourhoods. Most importantly, you need to display your properties on your own site.

5 - Always Have Your Property Listings on your own Site

We can't stress enough the importance and value of displaying your properties (and only your properties) on your own website.

Don't link to a group listings site

If you're forwarding your visitors to another group site to see your listings, you're increasing the odds that your prospects will find another agent as well.

Simply having a link on your site that goes to a slow agency site, or the multiple listing service for your area, or any other pool of listings that displays other agents as well, is a definite no no. People will know they can see the same listings from any other site so they don't bookmark yours to return. You pay good money in advertising to get people to come to you. Don't throw them away into the fray of other agents out there. Keep your clients on your site by having everything they need to know right there. Make sure that the information is better on your site and easier to view on your site than elsewhere. That means you need to completely control the content of the listings on your site.

Don't Force Visitors to Use a Search Box

Don't make your clients use a search box to look at your properties. Most agents don't have more than half a dozen or so properties for sale at any time. Why would you make them type or search for the correct words before showing them to them. Just show them. Always make it easy on the viewer.

Display Your Past Sales Successes

Keep a portfolio of your best sales as well. Show people your stuff: make them excited: make them want to deal with you.

Also the more listings you keep around means more text for the search engines to pick up on. The more properties that you have that list a particular neighbourhood raises your level in the searches.

Control Every Word of Your Content

No real estate agency site or multiple listing service can do a property justice like you can on your own site. While many agents avoided doing their own listings in the past, with new automated technology available such as that from HouseFlash.com, it's now become so easy, you can place great listings on your site in only minutes.

Show Them More than Anyone Else

Don't succumb to having some software just extract the same listing info from the multiple listing system and display it on your site, unless it allows you to add more photos and embellishments to the listing. The agencies and multiple listing services are limited to systems designed for older technology and are restricted by having to handle any type of property that they list. Therefore they usually displa empty fields or data that is of no interest to your clients.

Use Your Time Wisely

If it only takes anyone 10 minutes to place a listing on their site, that is guaranteed to be much nicer and more effective than the same listing shown elsewhere, why wouldn't you do it. It takes at least that long to send someone an email about a property. Just place everything on your website where it will always look good and use your email to direct them to your website. The 10 minutes that you spend putting up a great property listing will save you hours in the long run.

6 - The Best Layout for Displaying Properties on a Website

The important things to keep in mind when displaying properties are making sure they are quick loading, full of useful information, look terrific and are easy to view and understand. One of the easiest ways to accomplish that is to follow the guidelines below.

Property listings on the web should always consist of two parts, a summary list of properties available for viewing and separate detail pages for each property.

List of Properties Page

The List of Properties page should summarize the properties available with just enough info so that the user can make an easy selection on which ones they want to look at in more detail.

The property list page should have the following characteristics;

  • viewers can get to your property listings page in 1 click from your home page.
  • the property listings page has a small photo, brief overview and link to the property details. The description should include the address. If they're clients who drove by the property and saw your sign, they'll recognize the photo or address easily and then be able to click right into the details in 2 clicks from the home page.
  • all available properties are displayed within the first page of the property listings page. If you have more than 6 or 8 available listings, you may have to break them up on to more than one page.
  • viewers can get the details on any of your available properties within 2 clicks from the home page.
  • your best sold properties are also displayed on your site.
  • available properties are displayed before the sold properties, so clients don't have to wade through unavailable ones to get the one they want.
  • the most attractive properties are at the top so they'll be noticed right away. Even if these aren't the properties viewers are interested in, it will boost their image of you as being someone who is successful.
  • using a search form is an option for viewing your listings and not a requirement.

Property Details Page.

All property detail pages should follow the same format to make it easy for the users to find info and compare listings. The format should be flexible enough to allow for unlimited amounts of text and a variable number of photos as best show off a particular property.

A good property details page should have the following characteristics:

  • all of the text details for the property are on one webpage. This means they have all of the property details within 2 clicks from the home page.
  • the small photo that was in the listings page is displayed in a larger version on the listing page. This tells them right away that they're on the correct detail listing page
  • if there are additional photos, small versions of them are displayed on this page.
  • clicking on the smaller versions of the photos will bring up larger versions. Inform the viewer that they can do that.
  • each listing page displays your contact phone number and email address spelled out.
  • larger pictures are brought up in a window that includes your contact info, including your name, phone number and email address spelled out as well as a clickable link. Basically you need to make sure that anything they print includes your name and contact info.
  • provide a map or driving directions on how to get to a property.

The property layout setup described above ensures that people will find the properties they're looking for very quickly and easily, anytime they come to your site. Viewing your listings will appear so easy compared to the majority of sites that when they visit yours, they'll be tempted to browse around at your other listings as well.

Any listing that is printed out will be easily recognizable due to the large photo. It will contain all of the property details they need, plus small recognizable photos displaying other features of the home. Most importantly every sheet they print will contain your name, phone number, email address and website address, so they will have it handy. You could even pass it out as a feature sheet at your open houses. Even printing an individual photo, will also advertise your phone number, name and email address, so it's always available to anyone looking at the sheet.

To see a sample of what listings in this format look like visit HouseFlash.com and take a look.

7 - Photo Optimization for the Web

It's very important that all photos be optimized for viewing on the web. It's not just a matter of getting a digital image from a digital camera or scanning a photo and transferring it to the web.

Simply loading a picture taken on a digital camera most likely will result in a picture that is very slow to load. Photo optimization compresses the picture in a manner that makes the picture look virtually the same on a screen, but makes it's file size many times smaller resulting in a quicker load time.

The width and height of all of your photos should stay roughly the same throughout your listings so that the format looks consistent. You will need to have either 2 or 3 different size versions of each photo. The smaller ones are displayed on pages where more than one photo or listing is shown. The smaller picture should always bring up a larger photo or more details when clicked.

Doing the photo optimization and resizing manually using even good photo manipulation software can be a very tedious and time-consuming process. Sometimes the manual manipulation of a single photo can take an hour in itself. For this reason many amateur designer's and html generating packages may skip the process. Though it looks like they're displaying smaller images, they are actually downloading the same large image and telling the browser to display it smaller. This makes for very slow downloads and lost customers. Using an automated service such as that of HouseFlash.com does all that automatically for you in seconds behind the scenes without incurring any designer costs.

With HouseFlash.com you can simply point and click at a photo on your PC that you wish to use. The system then automatically uploads the selected photo to the website, then makes a large, medium and small version of the photo, all of them optimized for quick loading. That is done in seconds automatically. The various photo sizes will be used by the system in combination with the latest details to automatically layout and present the detail and summary pages to anyone visiting your website.

8 - Directing Visitors to your site

Now that you have an excellent site to show off, you need to get people there. First of all don't get caught up in one these companies that tells you they'll submit your site to 400,000 search engines. There aren't 400,000 search engines, those websites are not sites where anyone would find you. They are simply there for the purpose of collecting email addresses like yours so they can send you junk mail.

Search Engines

Search engines can be valuable when used properly, and there are a few main ones that you should probably concentrate on getting listed in. Those such as Google, AltaVista, AOLNetfind, Excite, Hotbot, Infoseek, Lycos Webcrawler and Yahoo are the cream of the crop.

Join Banner & Link Exchanges

It certainly doesn't hurt to try these services because they are typically free. The banner exchanges usually give banner impressions in return for impressions you produce for them. The ratios for the number of impressions you'll get for the number of impressions you generate will vary from service to service.

Using banners may not be quite so easy depending on your current web design and one disadvantage is that you may not have control over what ad appears on your site.

Some sample Banner Exchanges are Link Exchange, Exchange It!, Trafficx, and HyperBanner Network.

Generally, you want to stay away from exchange programs where you don't have any control over the type of sites where your banner will be displayed. You want to make sure it's displayed on sites where your prospects are likely to be.

You can also exchange links with other sites without joining a service--link to some of the top sites in your category and ask them if they'll link to you. Remember to restrict these links to a separate links page and don't place them on your home page.

Join Newsgroup Discussions

Newsgroups are a great place to make yourself visible in your Web site's interest area and to position yourself as someone who has knowledge and interest in a certain subject area. For instance, if your Web site is about Real Estate, you should follow and respond to Real Estate newsgroups. As your "calling card," have your URL and a sentence about your site or your slogan in your signature block of your e-mail. Here's an example:

Jack Smith
Instant Do-it-yourself Real Estate Listings for any Website

While this is a good way to let others with similar interests know about your site, stay away from posting commercial messages when posting to newsgroups--that's a big no-no in the online world. It is considered Spam (unsolicited commercial e-mail), and your inbox may fill up with heated messages from newsgroup members.

Join Web Rings

Web Rings allow you to join groups of Web sites with similar interest areas and link together to trade visitors and drive new traffic to your site. This helps visitors already interested in your site's subject matter, to find your site easily. Use the search engines to find web rings that suit you.

Community Links

A great place get listed is on as many of your local community or city websites, business directory websites or even friends websites. Particularly for those planning to move to your area from out of town, they will likely be browsing the community sites so you want to be there. Because of recent changes to search engines it's a good idea to get yourself listed on as many sites as possible With search engines such as Google the placement of your site in the search engine placement is boosted partially based on how many sites link to you, and the type of sites that link to you. (So Stay away from Gambling or Adult sites)

All Your Print Material

This will be your greatest source of qualified visitors to your site. It cannot be stressed enough. Now that you have a website, make sure you list your website address and email address everywhere you display your name such as:

  • Business Cards
  • Stationary
  • For Sale Signs
  • Bumper Sticker
  • Bench Signs
  • Feature Sheets
  • Email
  • Letters
  • Even leave your website on your voicemail

Email Signatures

Ensure that every email you send out, or reply to carrys a signature at the bottom which includes your contact info, your email address, your website address and preferably your tagline as shown in the example below.

Jack Smith
Do It Yourself Instant Real Estate Listings for any Website

9 - Direct visitors from your Real Estate office site and the multiple listings service in your area to your own website.

This is so simple and powerful yet most agents do not do it. Instead they do the opposite and direct the traffic from their own website to these groups.

As cumbersome as these search systems are, there are still many people who will use them to search. The fact that they are slow, hard to use or confusing actually works in your favor if you use it to your advantage.

Having your properties listed in these services is a bonus, but doesn't necessarily draw people to you. Everyone now knows that their own agent can get them all the details for any property they find in these systems so most often they will not call you directly.

How do you get these systems to bring you traffic? Simple.

For every listing that you enter in any of these services such as your local multiple listing service just make sure to add the following info in your listing's text description.

For more photos and details on this property visit my website at http://www.yourwebsite.com

If you receive phone calls from anyone looking at your property in those systems, direct them to your website as well. Even if you're already meeting them later, they can still look in the meantime and get more info and see how well organized you are and the quality of work that they can expect.

Then, make sure that your own website does indeed display more photos and more info than any other service. If you've followed the other guidelines above you can be sure that your site will be much easier to navigate and look at, than these large archaic and generic systems.

People will be so relieved to come to a site that actually works properly and is easy to use, they'll likely take a look around at your other properties and maybe they'll just decide that they should call you if they want things done right.

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10 - Using Automated Listing Software for your Website

Once you have a fully designed working website, most of your pages will remain relatively the same. In fact on most Real Estate sites, the only information that changes regularly is the property listings.

Why are web designer updates to my website so expensive?

If you have a web designer making your property listings changes, it gets very expensive. You may wonder if your designer is overcharging you. More than likely they are not. It's just that when you do HTML coding (web programming) manually, it is very time consuming and thus the high cost.

If processed manually, each addition of a listing requires the creation of a new web page. You may wonder why they just can't copy a previous listing page and cut and paste the content. Sometimes they can, but other times there may be more text or photos than the last one and maybe the layout has to be adjusted to accommodate the difference while still maintaining a consistent look.

Then there are the photos. Each photo must be optimized for display on the web, resized into smaller and larger images, then loaded up to the website and then formatted, which may take several tries before it's looking good. Sometimes, just re-working the photos for a listing can take several hours in itself. Then they need to re-work the listing summary page to put a link to the new page. Possibly, they will have to change the order of the listings based on where the new one is to go. Sometimes adding one more listing means you need to have a second or third listing summary page to handle a long list and then they all require links to navigate back and forth between them.

Virtually any change whether it's simply a price or a word will take a minimum of a 1/2 hour. The person doing the work needs to find the source for your site, analyze and make the change, then transfer the appropriate files up to the website, test them, document the change and close everything up, send you an email etc. etc.

That's why using a designer or technical person to make changes to your listings will always be a costly experience.

Automation Saves Time and Money

Using an automated system takes all of that manual labour away and therefore, also the cost. Adding a listing is immediate, the system already knows how to lay out a 2 photo listing or a 10 photo listing and simply does it on the fly. The system knows to put the new properties at the top of the list unless you choose otherwise. It automatically moves the other listings, automatically adding new summary pages if needed. All the necessary navigation links are also automatically added.

The system is entirely on the web, so there is no need for people to manually develop the pages on the PC and then transfer them up to the web.

The system knows how to size, resize, and optimize all of the photos and does it in seconds automatically. What might have taken a technical web designer several hours to do is done in seconds. Want to change something, just go online and do it and the results are instantly available.

Listings will always change, but the format will stay basically the same. Why pay someone to re-invent the wheel each time when you can do it automatically in seconds.

HouseFlash.com doesn't even store your web pages anywhere. It simply stores your photos and data. The webpages are generated instantly using that data whenever someone accesses your site. That's why they always see the latest data that you've entered.

Programming Costs Versus Service Costs

Many years worth of web development has led to the creation of very innovative software at HouseFlash.com. This software has automated the generation of Real Estate Listings to the point that you no longer need a programmer to add or change your listings. Therefore you no longer need to pay for those costs. The only cost is a small regular monthly membership fee with no surprises.

The Bottom Line for Choosing Automation

People using the automated system at HouseFlash.com to manage their online property listings will pay less per month to manage all of their Real Estate property listings, than they would typically pay to change a single word or price on a manual website. Add to that the enormous time savings, and the added value of having your site up-to-date and totally controlled by you makes the question of whether or not to automate a non-issue.

We hope you'll try some of these secrets and tips. Even implementing a portion of them will bring you more clients and save you money in web design cost. If you like these tips make sure that you're on our mailing list and stick around, because it's only going to get better. As always, if you have any questions, please email us at info@houseflash.com anytime.

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