I’m working on an article for the Flathead Beacon (the local paper where my business column runs) about small business websites.
The article is actually the first a series that I’m doing, looking at niches one at a time. The first niche I’m covering is real estate agent / real estate broker websites in the local area.
I get the idea that a lot of these businesses really don’t take their website seriously. Given that we live in a resort area outside of Glacier National Park, you can’t just assume that because the locals don’t care (a mistaken assumption, I think) that your site doesn’t matter.
I looked 15-20 different real estate websites.
What I found
- There are a few real estate service bureaus that tend to create most of the sites (yes, there are exceptions). You can tell because the sites of several real estate companies that compete with one another are being serviced by the same out of town web service. The layouts are the same except for color and a few graphics. The site structure is identical across several competitors. Where is the competitive advantage from using a template website that 12 other Realtors are using?
- Most of the sites did not have curb appeal, something I would expect any real estate business to understand.
- A few sites were exceptions, and the best looking sites were built by local web companies (how cool is that?)
All of these sites had a few critical things missing:
- Almost no testimonials, and with one exception, the ones that did exist were weak, or years old (if they were dated). One notable exception that was fairly well done – Matthew Hohnberger’s – but even his testimonials could be improved (not the text, other things).
- A lot of me, me, me – and not much focus on the prospective client.
- No blog (one exception that didn’t motivate the reader to return, with no posts in almost 3 weeks)
- No frequently asked questions. Help me buy. Help me sell. Establish your expertise before I make the call.
- Almost no video. What video there was – came from their national organization. Homogenized corporate content that isn’t specific to Northwest Montana or even to your agency. If you’re an agent here in Montana, do you think I can drop an expert agent from Miami or Dallas here and have them know what to talk about? No. Any video is better than no video, but you need video of YOUR staff, talking about issues in THIS area.
- No audio.
- Very few photos – a few have photos but are monopolized by large unbroken paragraphs. Of the photos that were there, almost all were property or mountain view scenic shots. Only a few included a quality photo of the real estate agents. One included a photo of the sign on their building. Why is that interesting to someone looking to move to the Flathead, or buy/sell a home here?
- No statement of specialties. “I specialize in finding homes for people with a heartbeat.” is not a specialty. I found a few that specialize in waterfront properties or property in certain areas, but none of them stepped out and said “This territory is mine and you are making a mistake if you work with someone else in my area of expertise.”
- No commercial website for commercial buyers and sellers, vs. the residential site – other than the funnel site provided by the national organization. Commercial clients have different needs. Who is going to address them?
- No city specific sites. Kalispell is not the same as Bigfork (or Whitefish, or Columbia Falls or Somers). The buyers and sellers are different, with different budgets and different needs. Why would they have the same site?
- Very little establishment of personality on the part of the business, or the people working there.
- No use of Web 2.0 / social media technologies. It isn’t just a buzzword.
The biggest reason for all of the above is the dependence on using whatever the national real estate company provides as a fill-in-the-blanks website. I found little or no investment in localized content or regional information except from the agencies that are not affiliated with national firms – and even those were missing most of the items above.
The problem with using the stuff that the national companies offer (much less with not using the items on the list above) is that the successful, smart agent can’t stand out from a crowd of starving, Tercel-driving agents who are working other jobs and selling only on the weekend. You don’t want me choosing a real estate agent out of a phone book. You want me to know, long before I sell a house, who I insist upon using and why.
If you are that agent selling only on the weekend, trying to make a name for yourself is the reason you should be doing these things.
I know, if you are currently doing well in the real estate business (and the smart ones do well regardless of the market), you have to be asking: Why is this important?
It’s important because you are leaving money on the table. You are not speaking to the younger crowd, nor to the web-savvy crowd who lives here (or elsewhere).
Right now, the field is wide open for the person or business that steps up. Even if you are making a good living in real estate, the websites I found are leaving money on the table.
It’s important because people who choose a real estate agent should be – if you do things right – choosing an agent for life. How many sales is that for you? How many sales is that for referred friends?
It’s not about the technology, it’s about the clients.
If you aren’t in the real estate business – you should be looking at your site through a very similar lens. Don’t discard the conversation just because you aren’t a Realtor.