Not all websites are created equal.
Chances are, the free website set up by your broker is nothing more than a digital business card. It’s not getting you any new leads, engaging with potential customers on your behalf, growing your credibility, or even showing off your listings the way you want it to.
You’re ready to cut away from the pack and build a website. One that’s built EXACTLY the way you want it and 100% owned by you.
Just one minor issue: you’re not ready to hire a professional web designer.
Don’t fret just yet. Creating a website is now more accessible than ever. There’s are ways for anyone to build their own real estate website that’s easy on the wallet and forgiving on experience level.
Having your own website is a game changer.
It gives you a space to build your own corner of the web where you can engage with your community on your terms. Not only is it 100% custom but 100% yours. Think about it, your site from your broker is owned by them, your social media profiles are owned by the social media companies, your accounts on community groups are owned by whoever moderates those groups. At any time, they can choose to control your content, delete your info or even wipe out your account entirely. All that content you worked so hard to create, all that invested time, all your followers - gone.
Unless you’ve united your online presence into a central location you control, you’ll be starting all over again from scratch. Which is why we want a piece of the Internet that no one else can touch.
A website is a space where you can showcase your real estate business, advertise past and present listings, provide value for your community, capture leads and establish yourself as the expert.
Maybe in the past you tried to hire a professional but it seems like they’re charging an arm and a leg for a website. Or you outsourced the work for a few hundred bucks and got crap in return.
Whatever the reason, you’ve chosen the DIY route. You my friend, have decided to take on the challenge of creating a website. Now where to begin?
I don’t want to mislead you, you’re about to take on quite the adventure. There’s a steep learning curve involved and even once you figure out how to piece everything together, there are still best practices involved that have taken me and other web designers years to learn.
But with a little patience and willingness to learn, anyone can learn to build a website.
For the purpose of this guide, we’ve developed a step-by-step process to get you started on building your website. Let’s walk through exactly what you’ll need to begin building your online presence.
Planning & Pre-Work
DETERMINE YOUR WHY
This is the first step to anything we do in Shore to Summit. We will always ask why you’re doing something before we let you begin. We want to make sure you own you actions and do them for the right reasons, not because you feel like you have to in order to keep up. Otherwise, you’ll just wasting your own valuable time, money and resources.
The second reason I’m asking, is because the why of the matter will determine how you’re going to build out your website. Your why is going to determine what sort of website you need to make.
A website designed to manage properties is going to be very different from one that’s based around showcasing listings or building a community.
Think about what sorts of actions you want people to take on your website. What is the main goal you want to achieve or ultimate result you want customers to gain? These requirements will determine the build and structure of your website.
CHOOSE A HOST & WEBSITE BUILDER
Once you know what’s required of your website, you will need to select a platform that can support the structure.
Most agents and real estate professionals simply need a showcase space where they can add content and display an IDX. There are three widely popular web building options on the web we recommend most. Let’s quickly review each one.
With an estimated 75 million website builds worldwide, WordPress is unequivocally the galactic warlord of web builders. Launched in 2003, WordPress is one of the first web builders and hosting platforms and has grown a mass following since. And with a seemingly endless array of development options, it has long been a favorite of mine to build with.
Be warned: if you choose to build with WordPress, know what you’re getting yourself into. There’s more to it then uploading a theme and thinking you’re all set.
WordPress is more for the experienced user. It has a steep learning curve and requires basic knowledge of configuring websites and coding skills. And since most WordPress building blocks are developed by unofficial WordPress developers, you really need to stay up-to-date on the who’s who of theme building.
Save this option for those who at a bare minimum consider themselves techie.
Wix is the best choice for total beginners.
It’s a visual web builder meaning you simply drag and drop each element on the page to create your design. It comes with hundreds of templates - even real estate specific templates - to choose from. Simply upload your website with the click of a button. Swap out the content for yours and voila, you have yourself the beginnings of your very own website.
A big perk of Wix is that there’s a free option but you get what you pay for - or in this case don’t pay for. In exchange for a free site, Wix loads your website full of unwanted ads and gifts you with a Wix-centric web address. While the free version is perfect during the building stage of your website, I strongly encourage you to upgrade your site to the paid version once it’s ready to go.
Squarespace has become my new favorite web builder.
Like Wix, Squarespace a visual builder letting you see the design come to life in real time. This leaves many to think they’re essentially the same thing, but they’re not. Squarespace’s templates and designs are impeccably modern and polished making it the perfect choice for those largely concerned with making sure their site stays on trend. It’s also easy to switch templates if you decide to change up your website later - a feature Wix lacks.
Another fact about Squarespace that really sold it for me is the fact that all their add-ons and extra features are built in-house. This makes it soundly supported and keeps you from having to update your website or worry about if/when it will crash. Just an added bonus for the real estate professional who wants to take more of the set-it-and-forget-it approach to building their website.
We’ll be covering the topic of choosing web builders in-depth in the near future. Sign up for our newsletter updates for more info on that.
In the meantime, we leave you with a quick visual guide:
PURCHASE YOUR DOMAIN
Next step is to purchase a domain name. A domain name is the “www.” web address you type in to navigate to a website.
There are a number of places you can purchase a domain from. I suggest using one of the following:
TAKE A LESSON
No matter how simple a website builder is suppose to be, there will always be some degree of a learning curve involved in setting up your website. Take it from me, it can be frustrating. Many people tend to quickly get frustrated and abandon the project all together, or spend days trying to figure out how to do the simplest adjustment.
Believe me when I say it’s well worth it to take a course on how to use your web builder. A quick google search on, ‘Wordpress courses’ will reveal lessons of all skill levels and prices. You’ll learn new ways to do cool things with your website and many of the courses essentially hold your hand through the entire process.
YouTube is another great teacher. If this single mom of four could learn to build a house through nothing but YouTube videos, I have full faith in you to piece together a website.
It’s difficult to build a website if you don’t know what it is you want to build. Take a little time and gather inspiration that will guide you through the creation process.
Start by clicking around the web and find websites you want yours to emulate. Think about colors, feel, design, photos, copy and web features. Gather these images together in one location. A great place to aggregate inspiration is by building a board on Pinterest. If Pinterest isn’t your thing, save screenshots in a designated folder on your computer.
The key here is to make it visual. Identify what it is you like about each website and let those ideas guide you into the next stage of the process - the design & build stage.
Design & Build
Now we’re getting to the fun part - actually making your real estate website.
There’s a lot that goes into a website and you’ll constantly add to it, making it better bit by bit. Right now, we’re solely going to focus on whats required to establish a strong foundation.
At its most basic, content is information. It’s the words and ideas you’ll communicate through your website.
Content can be accomplished in different ways. Text, images, videos, audio - these are all examples of mediums you’ll use to communicate your content. The hard part now is deciding what it is exactly you want to communicate.
At the bare minimum, a real estate website needs to include the following:
Home Page - This is the first page people see when landing on your website. It’s your first impression so you will want to make it a good.
About Page/Agent Profile - Real estate is a personal thing and potential customers will want to know a bit about you. This is your chance to tell them.
Contact Page - People need to know how to reach you.
Properties Page - Advertise your current listings and showcase your best deals from the past.
Blog - Every website needs a designated spot to add new content on a regular basis. Publish weekly or at least monthly content tailored to your audience.
Branding is the art of aligning what you want people to think & feel about your company. It’s the visual identity and experience one has when they interact with your brand.
Now, you may have a brand already or you may just be starting out and haven’t even begun to think about the personality of your business just yet - and that’s okay. What we’re really going for here is consistency. You want to create a cohesive font and color scheme that keeps the look of your website together.
If you don’t have a brand, you may just want do a variation of your broker’s brand for now.
SEARCH ENGINE OPTIMIZATION
Search engine optimization (SEO) is the practice of increasing traffic to your website.
Your goal is to build your website in a way that encourages organic home buyers and sellers to find and interact with your website. When done correctly, not only will the quantity of traffic increase but the quality of traffic as well.
Many agents and real estate professionals think this means hiring a specialist and pumping cash into Google or Facebook ads. The specialist performs a sacred sacrifice to the Internet gods and traffic then rains from the heavens.
I promise you, SEO is not that mystical or complicated. Gone are the days of keyword stuffing and the pressure of creating a new, washed-out blog post three times a week.
Over the years, search engine algorithms have gotten very advanced and now focus on your web presence as a whole rather than on just one piece of the puzzle. This is great news for the every day user. If you’re creating original, unique, descriptive content, chance has it that Google is picking up what you’re putting down.
It’s actually fairly simple to optimize your website on your own. We’re not going to get into too many SEO strategies today, but let’s take a quick look at the most basic piece of SEO you’ll want to optimize before you launch your website: meta tags.
The title tag is the title of the web page - pretty self-explanatory. This is the most important piece of information to optimize because this what shows up on search engine results. It’s meant to be an accurate description of what’s on the web page, told as concisely as possible.
There is a formula for this:
Title Tag = Primary keyword + secondary keyword + brand name
Example: Lincoln Realty Group | Washington DC Real Estate - Luxury Georgetown Homes
Take note, your title will cut off on result around the 60 character mark, so keep it as concise as possible and avoid unnecessary keyword stuffing. Exclude the secondary keyword if need be. We have another opportunity to add it in the next meta tag.
The meta description is another bit of information that shows up under the title tag on search engine results. It provides a brief summary of what’s on the page, except this time we get more room to play with.
The meta description shows up as a short paragraph. When optimized with the title tag, it can be a powerful way to pull people to your website. It’s the perfect opportunity to let viewers know what they’’ll find on your web page.
The meta description formula is more lax than the title tag and runs about two sentences in length. Information should be read in an engaging, natural, active way and be directly relevant to the page it describes.
I once heard it described as a window display - a concise and encouraging display with the goal of enticing people to enter.
Alt tags are bits on information attached to images, describing what’s in the image on a page.
When Google crawls a website it can’t see images. It has no clue what’s in a picture. We have to tell it what’s in the image which is where alt tags come in. Alt tags are also picked up by screen readers for the visually impaired and reads what’s in the image.
An examples for an image of a townhome listing on your website could read “brick Georgetown townhouse in Washington DC”.
Mobile devices account for a little over half of all web traffic - a little statistical fact we’ve only seen rise since the advent of the smartphone.
While desktop and laptop use isn’t going anywhere any time soon, it’s still a fact you need to be aware of when building your website. I can’t stress enough that is MUST be responsive regardless of whether it’s viewed on a desktop, laptop, tablet or mobile device.
Integrate & Optimize
Now that the bulk of your website is done, it’s time to go back and pepper in a little flavor to really kick it off.
ADD THE IDX
I know adding the IDX to your website is the most important part for many of you.
The IDX is added through what is known as an API key. An API key is a piece of code inserted in your website that displays another program or bit of software. You can add the IDX on your own but full disclosure, it can be a bit confusing and frustrating.
If you’re nervous, we offer this as a service.
Google Analytics is a free and powerful tool that the masses seem to ignore.
Remember, what you’re building right now is just the beginning of your website. You will be updating and optimizing this website so long as you care about it. The best way to know what to update is by knowing how the site is performing.
Google Analytics tracks the performance of your website to better understand how its running and how people interact with it. It will also tell you who’s on your website, revealing new audiences you never knew you had.
You don’t have to become a Google guru to use Analytics, even a basic understanding will reveal so much, as well as be helpful to digital marketers you may decide to hire in the future.
This is my favorite part and should be yours too: lead capture.
Having a way to capture leads is crucial for taking those site visitors and turning them into clients. I’m not talking about simply placing your contact information on your webpage and thinking this will do. No, we’re talking about getting contact information from people who are even only mildly interested in your services so you can grow your email list and market to them year round so that when they are ready your name is the first one that comes to mind.
You’ll need a few tools to capture leads correctly:
CRM system - Whether you’re using a system provided by your broker or a third party, you need to get your CRM hooked up to your website. CRM’s are a powerful way to automate the task of identifying qualified leads so you can act.
Lead magnets - You have to give a little to get a little sometimes. A lead magnet is a free piece of content or offer customers can receive in exchange for giving you their contact information.
Newsletter Signup - Place newsletter signups throughout your website for an easy opt-in to those who are digging your content and want some more.
Call to Action - Sprinkle in proper calls to action throughout your website to guide people around your website and capture their information. Add variety in your CTAs to entice your audience whether they’re brand new to your website or a customer you’re already working with.
OPTIMIZE FOR YOUR COMMUNITY
Whether your community is location centric or topic centric, optimize your website for your community. If you’re going the local route, that means optimizing for your city. If you’re focusing on a niche or building a community, say to network real estate agents for example, optimize for that niche. Develop content that speaks directly to your community and create calls to action that will inspire that niche to act.
If you aim for everybody you’ll either get nobody. Or even worse, the type of customer you don’t want to work with.
Add your social media channels but don’t make it a central point of your site.
You’ve worked so hard to get people to your website and we want to keep them here. I recommend putting social links in the footer of your website so they’re readily available for those who are looking for them but won’t encourage people to click off your website otherwise.
Don’t forget to ask for and showcase those testimonials.
Testimonials build credibility for you and help you relate to your customers. It’s your clout and you need to let people deserve to know what an awesome real estate agent you are.