In researching this blog post I stumbled upon a 2009 Smashing Magazine article written by Jacob Gubeseveral years later this article is still the number one result on google for the search “Great Real Estate Websites”. As the title implies, he looked at 30 websites highlighting their attributes and forward thinking. I thought it might be interesting to give you all some website building tips for 2012 while incorporating a look at some of the sites he highlighted and how many of them have kept up with the times and new technology. First let me say when I talk about percentages it is now based off of 23 sites because 7 of the 30 original sites no longer exist (an interesting stat in and of itself.)
1.) Thou Shalt No Longer Use Flash
Anyone who has a smart phone or ipad knows that sites using flash technology for their image display options STINK! I could say it nicer but frankly I find it so frustrating when particularly restaurant sites won’t load because they built the whole darn thing in Flash that I have to stop myself from Yelping them and adding a comment- “Didn’t go to your restaurant because your stinky site doesn’t load!” Ugh. I feel better now after that vent. But seriously with Mobile traffic increasing by a staggering 85% in the fourth quarter of 2011 can you really hang a “closed” sign for your business to all of those users? Because by using flash that is what you are doing.
Alternative? I’m not a web programmer but I have heard that HTML 5 will give you the same scrolling image results that flash provides but is mobile ipad friendly. Of the 23 sites left on Smashing Magazine’s list of great websites 22% are using flash. One that looks beautiful on all three devices pc, ipad, and BB or smart phone is Ranchline.com
Unlike many of the sites, Ranchline since 2009 has changed the look of its site dramatically. It has a new dark color scheme, they no longer have a property search or featured listings on the home page, and they’ve added social media. They have made theirs more of a “lifestyle” Brand. I appreciate most of their changes with the exception of the property search. That is still the number one function people look for when on the homepage. When building your website do your homework. Whatever your industry, be sure you’ve researched what your demographics want and provide that on the homepage because anytime you put something in a tab that requires them to go to a new page you will start to have traffic drop off. Use Google Analytics to test that fact.
2.) Thou Shalt Be Mobile
While a few of the original 30 sites have changed from flash, or made it so that their flash components don’t load on mobile there were only 3! of the original 30 that have actually created mobile sites and/or apps. What do I mean by this? Your site can also have a mobile version that I call the ‘skinny version’. If you were to look at that on a computer it would only take up about a quarter of your screen but it’s perfect on your iphone, droid or bb! It also typically means less jpegs and pngs, the files that take so long to load. The three best examples from the original list (in no particular order 😉 ) are Coldwell Banker (I swear I’m not a corporate shill we were just conveniently on the list already), Realtor.com, and a smaller local company Bean Group – so yes individuals it can be done!
Let’s just look at CB first ….
Their non mobile site always placed the search function first on the homepage but they gave the homepage a makeover since 09′ added social media, made their logo 3D, added a video channel, and now promote the most recent ad campaigns and other user tools on their home page all, as I would call it, “Above the Fold” meaning you don’t need to scroll further down the page. When you are on a mobile device it will automatically redirect you to m.coldwellbanker.com the mobile optimized site which ditches the fancy images and gives you the real goods- the home search! Quick, easy and convenient. For the ipad, it asks if you would like to download their ipad app which includes a full idx search for your area and local amenity maps for each home location.
Realtor.com has made similar adjustments to their overall look of their homepage, added social media buttons, and a wonderful ipad app that includes a consumer fav feature of a hand drawn search area.
Lastly we have the Bean Group site. See their original and new design below. This is re-branding at its finest. Not only should your site change every 12-18 months but so should your brand in some way. Growth is essential for staying in any industry. You can see Mike has made lifestyle a big part of his brand, added a new logo, social media buttons, and highlights that search function front and center above the fold, as it should.
3) Thou Shalt Connect
Consumers consume the way THEY want not the way YOU want. You may not be a tweeting fiend but don’t you want to give people the option to tweet your fab blog post or Pin your new property? Heck yeah! Over half of the original 30 websites have still not added social media buttons. No excuse. Any web programmer or respectable 3rd party site vendor has an available option, or knowledge how to install those widgets and plug-ins to make sites social media friendly. If you’re reading this you can see wordpress has that option in their settings and those sites are free! Other platforms where you can build your own site for a nominal fee are Intuit and Squarespace. I’ve personally used squarespace for another site and found it was fairly straight-forward and had some nice themes and options for $12 a/mo. Real Estate or other marketing sites that include lead generation or stealth sites will be more expensive but that is up to your discretion if you decide to purchase a site like that. My advice on that subject is if you are convinced it’s worth trying know the cancellation policy and if within 6 months you do not have a substantial return on your investment it’s not the right investment. By substantial I mean enough leads that were solid convertible leads to pay for the service and then some.
Those are my top 3 tips for 2012 websites incorporating a look at some great websites that have continued to improve and grow with technology since Smashing Magazine’s original 2009 list. If you know of other great sites please comment with them so that the forum can take a look and get other good ideas. Thanks for reading!