OK, so we’ve talked about advertising — the value proposition in the ad, the call to action, the advertising key words, as well as sources of Internet traffic. We discussed pay-per-click (or pay-per-visitor) advertising and search engine optimization (SEO). Now it’s time to talk about the actual website.
What do the customers see once they have clicked on your Internet advertisement? In this segment we will be discussing everything about your website, from the website’s landing page, to the content, to the value propositions, to graphic appeal and finally to keeping those customers on your site for as long as possible, or to minimizing abandonment.
Before we launch into the various aspects of your website, let me tell you right at the outset that I expect this to be different from anything you’ve heard before about online marketing or websites. That’s ok. I’ve been to plenty of technology classes and I’ve heard the standard stuff they all teach. Typically the class is taught by someone who doesn’t have a clue about online marketing, but rather, who is simply selling something — either a website or some kind of advertising product.
In all that training I’ve been taught again and again that “content is king!” The more content you have, the more visitors you’ll get. They often teach that requiring customers to register is a bad idea because it will cause a large number of them to leave your site. Well, as you probably surmised from the earlier articles, I’ve tested websites extensively for six years now. I’ve had as many as 2,000 pages of content, and I’ve had as few as three. I’ve tested colors, fonts, graphics, layout, with forms and without forms. I’ve tried complicated and flashy, and I’ve tried plain and simple. I’ve surveyed consumers to see what they want in real estate websites. After years of testing for and measuring customer response levels, I have arrived at a few strong opinions regarding real estate websites.
In the following paragraphs I will share them with you, but I want you to understand that they are just that — my opinions. I don’t want you to feel any obligation to embrace or adopt them. I share them with you so that you can improve your results with online marketing, and that’s all. You would probably be surprised to know that I think that your website is actually not that important. With the proper lead capture technology, the website is all but irrelevant. Nevertheless, I do think it is important to have the best website possible so as to keep your customers as happy as possible.
First, I will share with you in broad strokes some basics we’ve learned about real estate websites over the last six years. I’m not sharing simply opinion, but rather results we have gathered by tabulating data drawn from over 30 million unique website visitors over the last 5 years. Here are four simple principles that we’ve learned:
1. Customers want to search for homes. Everything else is irrelevant by comparison. Currently, 94% of all customers want to search for listings on a real estate website. When we learned that customers don’t really come to real estate websites for information about schools, mortgages, little league scores, weather, hotels, etc., we scaled back the services on our site, and customers liked it much better. Make it easy to find the MLS home search, and your customers will come back again and again. Make it difficult, and they will move on to another site.
2. Customers want simplicity. Think Google. Google has a 66% market share of domestic searches because they are the simplest of all search engines. At one time we had over 2,000 pages of content on our website. Keeping up with it all was a nightmare. It was forever out of date or inaccurate. It was hard to navigate, and it was confusing. Now our site has a total of 3 pages! It has next to no content — it allows you to search the MLS, to request listings by email, and to get a free CMA. That’s it, and visitors love it! Most customers will give you about 2-3 seconds to find what they want before they go to another website to find it. They want browse listings, so give them what they want!
3. Customers want to know that they are not making a commitment by visiting your website. When we figured that out, our conversion numbers doubled. Now we always give our visitors the choice of finding homes without an agent, or with one. The customer is boss on our website. The fact is that 76% of all buyers and 74% of all sellers will work with the first agent they meet, so be first and don’t make them uncomfortable and you will earn their business 3 out of 4 times!
4. Customers don’t mind a fair exchange of value. They are happy to register to use your site if the promised content is exactly what they want. Our LCM Gateway technology typically gets a first and last name, two phone numbers, an email address, whether a customer is buying, selling or buying and selling, the price range they are seeking, the amount of cash they have available to put as a down payment, and their self-reported credit rating. We get all of that information while capturing 20-30% of all visitors. Remember, typical real estate websites capture less than 1% (0.87% according to NAR) and generally only get a name and email address.
Now how simple is that? Four principles that can work wonders on your site. I know it’s not what you hear from the “experts”, but it’s what we’ve learned through the votes of over 30 million real customers. Now let’s talk about a few of the details.
When a customer visits your website, the first place he or she goes is referred to as the “landing page” (the page they land on). Many times that page is your “home page”, but it doesn’t necessarily have to be. Whichever page the customer arrives at first from your ad must contain several things. It is amazing how creative people can be to entice swarms of customers to click on their ads, but then immediately lose them after they arrive at the page. This is generally due to a disconnect between the message of the ad and the message of the landing page. If your ad says, “Click to see blue elephant”, then you ought to show them a blue elephant when they get there. To the degree that the landing page delivers on the promises of the ad, the customer will continue to trust you and maybe stick around a while. Or to put it another way, if it’s not on your landing page, it shouldn’t be in your ad, or you are wasting your money.
Next let’s discuss content. Today all the experts are saying that you must have lots of content to keep your customers engaged. Having tested it extensively for six years, I say that’s just plain not true. What you must have is what the customer wants. If you are advertising access to the MLS listings (the number one requested item on real estate websites) then your website should make getting those listings very simple and easy. Don’t make it hard for the customer to find the listings or the customer will leave your site. (This phenomenon is known as site abandonment.) The measure of a very good site is how easy it is to find what you are looking for when you visit.
Around the turn of the century, when the Internet was really becoming mainstream, and every day brought the IPO of yet another Internet company, there was a big turf-war for online search. It was know as the “Portal War”. Companies like AOL, MSN, Yahoo!, Excite, Lycos, Ask Jeeves, InfoSeek, DogPile, and many others were trying to dominate the world of Internet search. There was a tiny search engine started in the dorm room of two Standford grad students: Larry Page and Sergey Brin. It’s name was BackRub. All the other “Portals” or search engines were (and are) complicated websites with thousands of words, links, and graphics, but not BackRub. They liked to keep it simple.
Want to guess what happened in the Portal Wars? That tiny company (BackRub) had the largest IPO in the history of the stock market. Some time before then, of course, BackRub changed it’s name to Google. It became the Goliath in the Internet search space and now claims a full 66% of all domestic web searches (or twice the volume of everyone else combined).
I hadn’t used this illustration in several months, so I thought I would check these sites again quickly before giving you the numbers. They are astounding, and they make an important point. You are welcome to check them yourself — you will be amazed! Here is the word count for the landing page of the following websites:
- MSN — 1087 words, 39 images
- Dogpile — 367 words, 18 images
- Ask Jeeves (Ask.com) — 1250 words, 27 images
- Yahoo! — 3120 words, 25 images
- AOL — 1388 words, 68 images
- Lycos — 537 words, 32 images
- Excite — 5338 words, 31 images
- Infoseek (now Go.com) — 553 words, 28 images
- Google — 46 words, 1 image
No, it’s not a typo. Google has a very strict policy and has from the beginning: if the landing page contains 50 words, then it’s time for a redesign. What’s funny is that most of the other sites (not Google) had ads on their landing pages; one even displayed Google ads. The average number of words on the landing pages for all the other search engines above is 1705 and the average number of images is 34, while Google has 46 words and 1 image. Need I say more? The lesson is clear: Less is more! Customers are looking for a simple online experience. If you fail to learn that lesson, you will do so at your own peril. Keep the content short and sweet. Give the customers exactly what they’re looking for and no more. Don’t confuse them with an ocean of irrelevant information. Less is more! Keep your graphics simple and small so they load quickly. Make the site about your customer and not about you. You will greatly increase your chances to capture their business.
I understand that that’s a lot to absorb in one sitting, so I’ll stop for this installment. In our next installment, we will discuss the actual capture mechanism — the registration form. We’ll talk about what is required and what isn’t. We’ll discuss the area of DOJ and NAR compliance, and finally, I’ll give you some tips to help you get the most customers to “give up their information” and become a “lead”. Thanks for reading the series this far — I hope you’ve picked up a thing or two. If you have, please tell your friends about this series and consider leaving a comment below.