Yesterday, I had the opportunity to speak to a room full of brokers and agents as part of a panel called "Website Tools to Engage Customers." I know that they taped the panel, and it should be up online sometime soon. But I wanted to spend a few minutes going over the guts of that presentation here, as I think the points I made may be something all clients and friends of Onboard Informatics might consider. The presentation itself is as follow (it may not make much sense without the words... but you could probably get the general gist of the thing):
There are three general principles to consider with every website, but they apply with particular force to real estate websites. They are: Priority, Unity, and Humanity.
Priority simply means understanding what good things you want to get out of having a website, then putting those in some sort of order of priority. You just can't be all things to all people. Even Ebay has trouble doing that.
If Branding is more of a priority than Lead Gen, then you probably want to think about design and tools that enhance brand identity/value, and put them over and above the "Contact Me" type of applications. If Differentiation from competitors is more important, then you're probably going to want to investigate doing something weird and odd to stand out.
See, the problem with many real estate websites is that they were put up simply because the broker or agent thought "I gotta have me a website." That was it. They never sat down and thought about goals, about objectives, about what they wanted to get out of the site. Going through a prioritization exercise helps identify those goals, which then in turn helps identify the tools you want on that site.
Unity means that the content, design, and function of the site need to work in concert towards those prioritized goals. Again, owing in part to a lack of strategic focus, far too many real estate websites are a random assortment of tools, content, and non-sequiturs. They're all over the place.
My recommendation, then, is to have a prioritized list of goals/objectives, then ask whether the design, or the tool, or the content in question helps to advance those goals. "By adding this home value estimator to the front page, is that advancing my goal? How should it look? What sorts of functions?"
Humanity means realtors need to get over their obsession with Google. While SEO and higher SERPs are wonderful things, and while we build all of our tools and content services with SEO in mind, we believe that SEO is not the ONLY thing, or even the most important thing for a website. Engaging with human beings is. So it makes little sense to devote everything to doing SEO if you're looking to engage with humans.
Consider the audience in all of your website decisions. That is the meaning of Humanity.
These three principles are not exhaustive by any means. But they constitute good fundamental building blocks of website development.