Rethinking Real Estate Marketing Online

Rethinking Real Estate Website Design


My real estate agent Stephanie Lane just sold my home in Durham so I could move funds into my nonprofit Story of Cancer Foundation. I was thinking about how I would help redesign

I am not a graphic designer. The example above would need to be aligned and designed by a pro. The rough sketch does show a different approach to real estate. This approach has three poles:

* Buying A Home.
* Selling A Home.
* Reviews.

Those would be great content “tent poles” for a new approach to creating a real estate website. I put “videos” as a separate menu item, but clicking on “videos” would provide a splash page with videos organized into BUYING or SELLING.

I’m also using “reviews” instead of “testimonials” because reviews feel more contemporary and easier to get. Reviews would be organized into buying and selling too. I left a traditional “About Stephanie” page off because I wanted to have the conversation about Stephanie in the “buying or selling” context.

Real Real Estate Online

Many cherished real estate marketing ideas don’t translate well to the web. Here are a few examples of real estate marketing ideas that don’t translate:

  • Lone wolf pictures.
  • Print ads moved online (with no stories or storytelling).
  • Non-curated content (MLS fetch).

Lone Wolf Pictures
Somewhere in the real estate handbook it says put your picture on everything. Internet marketing is different because eyes follow sight lines of people in pictures. Normally I LOVE the straight at the camera portrait picture favored by real estate agents.

Portraits that look directly at the camera create engagement.

When you visit a website and there is a person looking out at you curiosity is high and you want to know more. Problem with “lone wolf” realtor pictures is that picture creates dissonance online.

Visitors to realtor websites are looking for signs of a NETWORK. People are smart. Sellers and buyers know 80% of real estate gets sold by 20% of the agents. The same image that makes a realtor look confident and strong on a business card looks lonely and dissonant to the job a real estate agent is asked to do – network with others to find or sell you home.

Do this search on Google: “real estate agents” and look at the image results. I looked through hundreds of images and couldn’t find an image where buyers and agent are on equal footing looking directly at the camera with big smiles.

Agents are on phones while buyers talk to each other (bad). Agents are looking at the camera apart from the buyers/sellers (usually a couple) who are speaking to each other (worse). The “nonverbal” communication of images like this run from arrogance to suspicion.

The closest image found is on the top right. I don’t like the separation between agent and “real people”. The agent looks removed and a little snobby. The image I want is agent between buyers/sellers, gaze directly at the camera, house in the background, big smiles and maybe the hint of a for sale sign.

Out in the world For Sale signs are the magic wand that starts a conversation. For sale signs should be LOUD and LARGE. The web is social, about community and visitors are smart about Internet conventions such as navigation and where to click to find what they need.

As cherished as realtor “lone wolf” pictures are in the world online they create confusion. Confused customers do many things buying (or selling) is rarely one of them. Realtors can show pictures that only have one person especially when that picture is next to relevant content such as “Selling A House After A Divorce” or information on the growing number of homes owned by single men and women.

The picture a realtor should NEVER show online is the picture they use on their print ads and business cards. If you show YOU alone and in a suit you are NUTS. A real estate agent should always been in a scene with others. In fact I would like to see these “group” images:

* Real estate agent with happy buyers / sellers.
* Real estate agent with bankers & lawyers (action shot in a meeting is good).
* Real estate agent teaching.
* Real estate agent volunteering (or involved with their community in some significant way).
* Real estate agent with their children (or nieces and nephews).

Each of these pictures creates a piece of the brand:

* Happy buyers / sellers = if they got a good result so can we.
* Bankers = understands the money.
* Teaching = knows the process and is a trusted source.
* Volunteering = cares about something larger than themselves.
* Children = knows the schools.

There are other pictures such as chamber of commerce meetings (reinforces area knowledge) and military (in uniform) if they served or were firemen or police and any picture with local celebrities or at local landmarks. Don’t go to the Old Well at UNC and pose a picture.

But if an event is taking place at the Old Well and you are there GET A PICTURE! In the Triangle best to balance UNC, Duke and NC State pictures. If you went to UNC, Duke or NC State I would share that without worry you would lose more than you would gain.

If I graduated from Duke I might volunteer at UNC and contribute to NC State. Smart to cover all bases and find ways to create the “like me” moment with anyone. Don’t do any of those ideas if you don’t believe in what you are doing, but in the Triangle I’ve been treated by UNC and Duke, I’m on a UNC board and I’ve taken classes at NC State’s McKimmon Center.

No MLS Print Ads Moved Online PLEASE

The web is about STORIES and STORYTELLING. Treating the web like a MLS print ad is confusing, hard for a non-realtor to parse and not a friendly User Interface. I’m not saying don’t use the MLS, but place the MLS in context.

In the example above BUYING and SELLING become the content “tent poles”. The new site should share stories of people who looked for homes and found them. Explain how they used your BRANDED tools to achieve their goal. Your “branded tools” may simply be MLS placed artfully in a page.

I’m confident any realtor reading this post can find a way to create a unique view into the MLS (mission style bungalows, homes next to schools or golf courses). Create a segment such as a Frank Lloyd Wright page (if you are in Chicago or Buffalo) and then tag and present prairie style homes that are for sale.

The Frank Lloyd Wright association will sell prairie examples like cold drinks on hot summer days. I live in Durham. Proximity to Duke is a key factor in home values, styles and listings. There is a “Trinity Park Style”.   Use ideas like that to make a new development feel comfortable with an important style.

When you tell the Trinity Park Style story buyers who like the style self identify (by clicking your content) and you know how and what to show them. Think about your area. How can you group your home inventory into five to seven “styles”. In Durham we have:

* Trinity Park Style.
* Lofts and condos in renovated tobacco buildings – Downtown style.
* Parks and Schools style (developments around parks and schools and each of those may have slight variations).

When you create content based on these “meta” groups your website aligns with how people who live here search AND you become the “mapping” for those who don’t live here because you’ve described each neighborhood.

Easy to see how richer neighborhood mapping by characteristics, home vintage (years built) and styles is better than a bunch of MLS listings. The most important idea a content marketer can teach about content marketing is the more unique and branded your content the better. The more like everyone else (such as using a MLS widget) your content is the less valuable.

Again, this is NOT to say don’t use helpful tools like MLS, but DO create content that puts a commodity tool like the MLS in your website’s context, voice and mapping scheme.

Non-Curated Content

Everything on your website should feel like you. If you use widget put them in context. If you use images, and you should use LOTS of images, make sure you take them or have them taken. Don’t worry about looking perfect. REAL is more important online than perfect.

I did some research on the top real estate agents in North Carolina for this piece they are Larry Strother’s ERA agency and Nancy Braun’s Showcase Realty.  Larry’s office sold $70M in real estate last year while Nancy’s sold $40M (more units though).

I like how Nancy uses video and understands she should use every social network to help make the “I AM A NETWORK” point so critical to real estate agents. I like how Larry sells the IDEA of HOME with his big hero of a Norman Rockwell scene of American Home.

These sites show one of the difficulties of online marketing for real estate agents – it’s a team sport but not really. Real estate is a team sport like golf. The team matters and helps, but you still need to sink the putt. There are numerous ideas I would steal if I were a realtor and tweaks I would suggest as an Internet marketer, but those are for another day and another post.

This post’s objective was to suggest an alternative to commodity based widgets piled up on top of one another. As I noted at the start, I am NOT a graphic designer, but I’ve learned to always sketch ideas before letting a pro designer make them better.

I think realtors should focus on the emotions involved with buying or selling homes, look for ways to create stress relief and not create a website like everyone else. Larry didn’t and he sold $70M last year. Nancy didn’t and she sold $40M. Those are the kinds of people you want to steal from online.


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