One thing is for certain agents need to understand the importance of their online brand. When agents source a print designer they ask to see their previous work, they sit back and make sure that the print designer delivers on their promise. However web developers seem to get a free ride. There are so many things you must consider when choosing a web developer.
As far as getting a print designer to do your web design I would increase the odds to over 4 or 5 for every 1000. Print and Web Design are as similar as a plumber and a bricklayer.
Let us get one thing straight from the start. Out of every 500 people who say they are a web developer there are perhaps only 4 or 5 that can actually do the job required for you to get a quality website for your agency.
However when it has come to Internet design many agents think nephew Marty (a whiz with computers) can do just as good a job at a bargain basement price.
That is why there are so many web designers out there. This is because this medium is still in its infancy. In the future you will not ask for a web developer but a web developer that specialises in real estate agents websites/portals or one who has had successes in this field. (this is what my company does)
The reason for this is clear. A Real Estate Agent website is completely different to a mortgage broker website in the way it must communicate.
As an example I will bring my former home state of Tasmania into the picture. There are over 200 web developers in Tasmania, most of them working from home, however there is only one or two quality developers in the whole of the state that I would trust my design and development to.
A company I was a former partner with for five years which is now called futuremedium.com.au has 2 of the very best designers in Australia. This company charges a premium for their service but they also deliver. I do not exclusively use this company as I have designers that I call upon from all over Australia but it highlights a fact that not many agents understand. Good web designers are a rare thing. Ones that understand the complexities of a total development for a real estate agent and their requirements are even rarer.
Because many agents invest so little in their Internet site they are usually lumped with a development and have little choice but to accept this. This is not to say you need to spend 10s of thousands of dollars on a development – a good website that delivers all of your requirements and automates many mundane tasks should cost from as little as $3000.
Some other things that are just so important to consider when choosing a developer are as follows.
Design + your Brand
Do you have a brand strategy? A brand strategy should be a style guide. This guide sets the rules on how your logo and brand must be delivered. The exact colours that are to be used on your website and with your logo.
Splash Pages/Introduction Pages
Some agents still have these. If you are one of those with a pretty introduction get rid of it today. If you are thinking about getting one in your next design because it is cool – think again. They are painfully slow and all you are doing is wasting your visitors time. Repeat either get rid of it or get it out of your mind.
How many times have you been to a website but not understood how to get the information you need? Too often I would suggest. This frustrates the user of the site and more than likely prompts them to look elsewhere. If a user cannot understand what to do in the first thirty seconds kiss them goodbye. A good way to gauge this is to set up a user group and stand behind them whilst they navigate your site. When they ask a question note it down and formulate a plan to implement changes to your site to make sure this question will never need be asked again.
Make sure you give the user as much information about each property that is possible. You may get fewer enquiries but they will be informed enquiries and therefore the hopes of getting a sale or lease out of the enquiry are increased dramatically. One agent I spoke to recently told me that they get people asking stupid questions. My response was to say “was this information you could have presented on the site”? If so it is not the users fault it is yours.
Presentation of Information
The presentation of information should be consistent throughout your site. Once a user views one listing it should be as easy as pie for them after that. Never try to be smart by presenting things differently on your site. It will only confuse people.
Don’t make them guess!
If you are going to have Microsoft Word/Excel QuickTime Move, Java Application or a Acrobat PDF files available on your site let the user know that by clicking a link they will be downloading this type of file and also make sure you let them know the file size. This is one of my big pet hates. Clicking on a link only to find I have to load another application to view the file. Painful!
Your site should be able to be viewed in Internet Explorer, Mozilla, Firefox, Opera and the Safari web browsers most resent versions.
Around 35% of Internet users still have their resolution at 800 x 600. This is the maximum pixel height and width these users can view your site at. Web users do not mind scrolling up and down but they detest scrolling sideways. So make sure your sites resolution is 800 x 600 otherwise you will feel the wrath of the side scrollers. Most monitors consumers purchase today are either 1024 x 768 or above (meaning you can get more information on the screen) but it will be a couple of years before the old 800 x 600 are below 5% of Internet users and until then I suggest you stick with 800 x 600 screen resolution.
Photo Image Size
Because some users resolution is at maximum 800 x 600 this is the maximum images should be able to be viewed at. You should always make sure you set your images at this resolution for maximum impact. This also gives the user the ability to view a detailed photograph.
If you are getting an outside company to do these for you then fine, but a days training for your staff will give them the ability to create quality virtual tours. Virtual Tours are just so easy to create with the right tools and can create a bit of life for your staff as they are good fun to do.
Users viewing your website.
Think about this, every time a person visits your website they are pulling data off your web server to view on their computer. A good web designer must know what type of operating system the user has, as well as the type of browser/version number they are using so they can present this site properly on the users personal computer. Not only that the system will need to know what screen resolution the user has.
The speed of the site is determined by the users connection but more importantly the size of the data pipe the server has been allocated. Think of this as a water pipe, the more users that use this water pipe the slower the pressure, get too many users on your site at once and it slows to a dribble, this will almost certainly cause the user to leave and maybe never return. The speed can also be determined by the optimisation of the images on the server. So many web developers do not know the first thing about optimisation, yet it is one of the simplest things a web developer can do.
I left this last because nearly all websites leave this one out. Lets face it there is only one or two search engines that over 85% of visitors use and that is Google and Yahoo, with Google making up about 70% of this section. Every page should have metatags. These tags identify a page to search engines. So many sites have the same metatags for each page. Search Engines are getting smarter but unless you have multiple tags more than likely they will only pick up one page. For a Real Estate Agent website that has over 100 listings they should pick up over 100 pages. That is if your metatags are set up correctly and even better still automated every time you add a listing.
Search Engine Marketing
If you want to promote your website then marketing through search engines is by far the most effective way to do this. Why? Because that is where your user is – online. You must promote your website in all forms of media and communications, but if your sole purpose of advertising is to promote your website then search engine marketing is the only answer.