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How to Build a Successful (IDX) Real Estate Website
Updated: 2021-08-06 / Article by: Timothy Shim
The world is moving towards an entirely digital age and if you think your industry won’t be affected, think again. If you’re a real estate agent and have worked based on referrals, cold calls and other traditional methods, let me share some thoughts with you.
According to the National Association of Realtors (NAR), in 42 percent of home buyers in 2017 took their first step towards their purchase by looking online for properties that were available for sale. Compared to that, 17 percent contacted a real estate agent first. If you’ve got a frown on your face from that disparity in numbers – be worried, as it will only get worse.
You’ve heard of the age-old phrase; “If you can’t beat them, join them”? That’s exactly what you should be considering doing.
Thanks to digital, home buyers are entering the process more educated about market conditions, what to look out for in a property and more. Most often start their education process before they’re even in contact with an agent.
Make use of this change and educate your prospective clients first – with your own website.
The domain name is the address your online identity will use to allow people to get to your website. It’s something so common that most people hardly think about it, but as a realtor, it needs to matter to you.
Your domain name needs to be something simple and representative, so that prospective clients can see it and remember it easily.
The first could mean many things, but the second is hardly disputable. It also adds your identity as an agent to the business.
With the Internet being so highly populated today, it can be challenging to find an available domain name. If you can't get your first choice, consider using alternative Top Level Domains (TLDs). If not, you will simply have to choose another domain name.
Next up is what you’ll use to build your software. It's very easy to build a website today. All you’ll need is a bit of a flair for design and you can just use building blocks to put your site together.
For beginners, I highly recommend you explore and use WordPress to build your real estate website.
This application comes with tons of themes that you can use to design any space you want. More importantly, the WordPress ecosystem has a massive number of plugins that you can use to perform additional functions your site should have (more on this later).
WordPress also has the benefit of being originally intended as a Content Management System (CMS), which allows you to use content for grow site traffic.
You don't need any coding or web development knowledge to setup WordPress. Most hosting platform will allow you to install WordPress in just a few clicks with an “auto-installer”.
Alternatives: Website Builders
There are many good choices in website builders such as Wix, Weebly and more which also package in domain names and hosting, if WordPress is not right for you.
If you're looking for something a little more different, Weblium, an AI-powered website builder, is also a possible option. It might offer an alternative website building experience to you.
4. Design & Add Features
Ok perhaps I could have chosen a better word, but as an agent I’m sure you know that first impressions count. If you can’t show a property in all its stunning glory in a beautiful manner on your site, well, you aren’t going to get very far.
Most home buyers are in a sort of dreamy mood when they’re looking for something to buy. I call this the honeymoon syndrome and even the seasoned home buyer is susceptible to it. They’re building a dream in their minds – can you fulfil it?
Of course, the investor isn’t likely to fall for that, but who knows, right?
It also goes without having to say that you need to have great images of the properties you’re listing. Again, according to NAR data, of buyers who used the internet during their home search, 89% found photos about properties for sale very useful.
Quick tip: Branding your site consistently is also a key factor in demonstrating professionalism. You don’t even need a professional designer. Some reputable web tools can help you build your entire brand identity.
I’m not talking about a simple search box that users can type something in to and scan your site with, but something that helps how most users search for in real life.
For example, they are likely to want properties in specific areas, between certain price ranges or even with a certain number of bathrooms. Make sure they can find what they’re looking for!
Quick Tip: Being extensive is important but don’t inundate your visitors with 20 drop-down boxes to choose from – make sure they are key choice elements!
Be Mobile Friendly
I’m sure that you’ve experienced surfing to a site on your mobile device and finding that it looks terrible and doesn’t make sense at all. That’s because the site likely isn’t mobile friendly. Mobile devices are small and standard websites often don’t play well with small screens.
Whichever tool you choose to build your site with, remember that ultimately, your site must be mobile friendly. According to Statista, since early in 2017, the number of people accessing the web from mobile devices has steadily exceeded 50%.
Building a site that is not also mobile-friendly will likely alienate half of your potential clients!
Quick Tip: WordPress has themes that automatically help make your site mobile-friendly. These are usually called ‘Responsive Themes’.
5. Add IDX Powered Listing (Optional)
When building a real estate website, one term which budding agents may not be overly familiar with is IDX or Internet Data Exchange. It is a somewhat all-encompassing piece of terminology covering a couple of areas, including standards, policies, and software.
IDX isn’t something that crops up very often until you need to deal with Multiple Listing Services (MLS). If you want to include real estate listings from MLS sources, you will need to adhere to IDX guidelines on your site.
Why the Need for IDX?
For many of us, how data is shared and presented doesn’t often mean anything much. However, once you get into building your site, you’ll find that integrating information from various sources can be tricky at times.
Thanks to multiple ways of building websites, formatting data, and even presentation, using the same set of data can result in strange and unintended results. IDX helps avoid this, allowing all realtors to use common policies and standards for better accuracy and reliability.
Following IDX Guidelines
The complete list of IDX guidelines is long and ever-changing. Besides, they aren’t all necessarily related to how you construct your website. As an example, here are some of the guidelines condensed from the IDX policy of the National Association of Realtors:
Maximum of 12-hour intervals between listing feed refreshes
Mandatory clear display of each listing’s brokerage firm
Contact information must be available for factual inaccuracy corrections
No manipulation of IDX listing information
Identities of listing agents must be displayed
The problem with IDX guidelines is that they may differ for various MLS. To comply with IDX policies, you will need to meet those of the MLS you want to use.
On a happier note, many of them are similar in lots of ways. Because of this, those building real estate websites can facilitate compliance by using IDX-ready themes and IDX plugins. Thankfully, there are sources for both of these available.
IDX WordPress Themes
WordPress is stunningly expansive, and the many sources of themes mean there is something for everyone. This scenario presents a doubly great deal for real estate agents – access to a free website builder and potential for built-in IDX compliance.
As with everything WordPress, you can find IDX-ready themes from many sources. We recommend looking at the more established theme providers who have dedicated resources on agent-focused or IDX-ready themes.
If you don’t want that, just grab an IDX-ready theme off somewhere like the Envato Market or AThemes.
There are also WordPress plugins that are IDX-specific. For example, Realtyna and Showcase IDX are specialists in IDX and offer products that cover a broad spectrum.
Realtynahas built its complete platform based on WordPress. With it, you can create highly comprehensive real estate websites that integrate IDX feeds. It also facilitates the publishing of a mobile real estate website – an indeed all-in-one solution.
ShowcaseIDXlets you do several things, such as integrate a robust IDX search engine to display listing to your site visitors. Their WordPress WordPress IDX plugin also includes a real estate CRM tool to help you better manage your team.
6. Add Value: Content & Services
As real estate agents, I’m sure that you know of the needs of most people who look for property. Remember those sales pitches you’ve had to run each time? Good.
Transfer that knowledge to your website. Apart from just information about the property itself, remember to provide comprehensive supporting information, such as nearby amenities, highways and education zones.
For investors, make sure you’re able to provide some form of market reports as that’s likely what they’ll be most interested in.
Quick Tip: A little research goes a long way. Remember, Google is your friend. Go that extra mile so your prospective buyers won’t have to!
Allow for Quick Follow Up
All this while I’ve been sharing information with you on how to set the hook. Providing information and having beautiful site designs are all necessary, but don’t forget to set the hook! Always have easy options for the prospective client to get in touch with you.
For websites, that’s what we term as a call to action. For example, a bright red button that says, “Call Now!” just leaps out at your users. Or perhaps a link to your email for them to make an enquiry? Always locate this near where a prospective buyer might be standing on the edge of deciding.
Quick Tip: Be bold but not garish. Red is one thing, but a button that’s in bright red with flahing light is just – ugh!
Again, this is something that you may or may not like to do but let me put it this way – If your prospective buyers aren’t listening to you, you can be sure they’re listening to someone else. Instead of that, step forward and offer them the information needed to make good buying decisions.
Tell them about the benefits of buying in certain areas for example, or that this house is near an awesome shopping mall that has everything under the sun. Let them know how easy it is to access a major Interstate highway or anything else that helps.
Quick Tip: I know most of us aren’t writers, so focus on your core business. Engage a writer to tell compelling stories about your properties and see the interest soar!
There are literally billions of websites on the Internet and if you’re hopping on to the bandwagon as well, it will be N+1. Make sure your prospective buyers know that you are an expert at what you’re doing and that others have acknowledged this.
Include any awards you’ve won, or list testimonials from happy buyers you’ve had in the past. Create a level of trust between you and your prospective buyer before your first meeting even takes place!
Quick Tip: No matter your choice of bohemian or simplistic, remember to portray professionalism at all stages – No Mickey Mouse or Donald Duck please!
I strongly recommend you add a ‘blog’ segment onto your site where you can list this type of content out. This will help immensely in generating traffic for your site. You don’t have to write too often, even once a week or so is fine, but focus on building strong relevant content that is informative and interesting.
Quick Tip: Ideally, write content that others will want to share, and you’ve got your own free advertising scheme going on! Be creative and think outside the box.
7. Market Your Real Estate Website
Just because you have a website doesn’t mean that you can just let it sit there and expect customers to come flooding in. Remember that N+1 I just mentioned a few paragraphs above? That fact remains, and you need to make sure your website is seen.
Social Media Marketing
This is one aspect of marketing that has been revolutionized over the past few years. Social Media has taken over so much of advertising space that many traditional businesses just crumbled. Make sure you leverage on this by choosing one Social Media platform to focus on and use that to promote your website and interact with prospects.
Social Media is more fluid and interactive than websites, so you can let your personality shine through by communicating with them. They are also excellent for creating hype and excitement, so consider running contests or just simple giveaways. Remember the open house showings you do? Social Media promotions are exactly that, albeit in digital form.
If you’re using Facebook as your chosen Social Media platform, you’ll have an added advantage – Chatbots. These automated response systems are an upcoming form of efficient communication tool that will help you win more customers.
Done the right way, you can leverage on these free (in some cases) and powerful bots to offer customers information, speed up response times and generally, act as you while you’re otherwise occupied. Read more about chatbots in marketing here.
All of this adds up and when redirected to your website which will have more comprehensive information, you’ll be a winner.
Search Engines and SEO
To get a little more traffic, make sure your website is indexed by search engines and showing up in their search results. Make sure all you content is index-able and reach-able from Google or Bing. You can check this by doing a “site: search” and see if your important pages are indexed by the search engines (see example below).
Building effective SEO content is likely one of the most important things you can do to drive traffic to your website. Spend time on this! Using SEO Tools like SEMRush can help you track trends, formulate effective keywords and more:
When you’re building the content of your website, make sure that you keep an eye on the keywords that clearly identify your nice, such as: “houses for rent” “mobile homes for sale” “studios for rent” “condos for sale”, or other similar terms.
Remember that long tailed keywords help very much as well. These will help you make sure you get the right traffic and if you match those with strong content you’ll be sure to get noticed by the search engines.
List on Google Local Business
Google is not just a search engine, but it’s what I like to call the world’s largest marketing company as well. Submit your site to Google My Business and not only will they do that for free, but they’ll give you more tips on how to promote your business.
Encourage Your Visitors to Register
Although it seems as if many people don’t like to register, I find that in many cases it’s mainly because so many registration forms are extremely intrusive. Remember, what you need is relatively simple – name, email address and permission to contact them with marketing material. Anything else is usually just greed.
Create a fast, one-two step registration process that is smooth and easy and build your potential customer database. This will be invaluable in your future marketing endeavours, especially with your website and I’ll show you how next.
When visitors come to your site, they’ll look around and generally just do your own thing. In contrast to that, your website needs to have a lot of information to attract a variety of customers. This is where email marketing comes in handy.
Targeted email marketing can help you organize campaigns for specific purposes. Take for example if you have a glut of beachfront properties to promote. Theme up an email marketing campaign along those lines and blast it out to everyone who’s ever registered on your website before!
In this endeavor, thankfully there are a huge number of tools at your disposal. Early on in your site’s existence, your email marketing list will likely be small and can be managed with a free or cheap service. As you grow, there are also numerous pro options you can choose from.
Some of the choices in the email marketing space include very reputable names such as include Constant Contact and MailChimp.
As your list grows you’ll also gain experience in using email marketing tools and grow with it.
Side Notes: Why Email Marketing is Best for Real Estate Agents?
Email marketing should be your focus in your sales efforts. It is extremely powerful and can be a tremendous business boost if done the right way. They offer you the unique opportunity at a cost-efficient means to customer outreach – at any time of day.
According to market research leaders at McKinsey, Email is almost 40 times more effective than Facebook and Twitter in helping your business acquire new customers.
With strong and effective email marketing tools, you can build strong and lasting relationships with your prospective buyers.
Every time a marketing email of yours circulates, your brand is staring people in their faces – consider the mileage that will get you.
It also gives you something most traditional methods won’t – data. Data can be analysed for patterns and will let you learn the likes, dislikes and inclinations of your customers. This lets you modify your future campaigns for maximum effectiveness.
It’s fast and simple to get started. Like websites, many email marketing tools today offer easy-to-use drag and drop interfaces so that you can build your newsletters quickly. Even if you’re not a designer, it’s likely there are templates you can make use of.
Generate leads, even if the content isn’t what some of your outreach wants. Some may follow a link back to your site and e captivated by other information there as well.
Besides sending out information, you can use email marketing to generate hype. Build excitement about upcoming events and get people waiting eagerly for it!
Weichert has an extremely traditional and simplistic site that’s laid out very cleanly.
All the distinctive main elements are in place, including first impression items for what their clients want – in this case, to easily search for properties. Differentiating it from others is an extensive informational section offering buyer and seller guides and other research.
Core has taken the mobile friendliness a little too far in the sense that it is now a little desktop unfriendly. Sure, because desktops have larger screens it’s use-able, but the immediate call is not there for that category of users.
The cleanliness of the site ends up hiding everything and leaving the visitor to search the screen for where to go.
At first glance, Alison James has it all – beautiful design, modern feel and all the right info sections.
The only little niggling doubt I have here is the way their branding is overly muted at the bottom of the landing page. There is a visually small impact on branding there which might affect first visitor impressions.
Tidy, modern design
Incorporates critical industry elements
Slightly weak on branding
By now I’m sure that many of you are getting a little dizzy. Yes, I admit that it’s a lot for a first-timer to absorb but relax and take a deep breath. While all of this may sound way out of your field of expertise, I assure you it’s not.
Having and maintaining your real estate website is something that is simply priceless in this line of business. It represents professionalism, stability, reputation and many other things to your customer – all of them good.
Dedicate a little time to work on this as a side project and you’ll never regret it. Building websites and other associated tasks is also something MANY people do, so there is help around if you simply look for it when necessary.
It may take you some time and – I’m not going to gloss it over – some heartbreak, but isn’t everything in life an educational experience? Make that experience work to your advantage and gain a leg up on the competition today.
Timothy Shim is a writer, editor, and tech geek. Starting his career in the field of Information Technology, he rapidly found his way into print and has since worked with International, regional and domestic media titles including ComputerWorld, PC.com, Business Today, and The Asian Banker. His expertise lies in the field of technology from both consumer as well as enterprise points of view.