Unity of Content: Unsolicited but Free Advice

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Keeping in mind the maxim, "Advice is worth what you've paid for it" I thought it would be fun and interesting to look at what unity of content means in the context of an actual website.  This is unsolicited advice -- indeed, the site owner has no idea I'm even writing this up. :) Geek Estate (a great blog, if you're interested in web, technology, and real estate) recently posted an interview with a realtor, Lisa Barton, from Ponte Vedra, Florida about her website redesign experience.  Go check it out in full; it's worth your time.  (Lisa's website is here: http://lisasellspontevedra.com/ )

What I found fascinating is this part:

Q: What do you think the best feature is on your new web site?

A: I think the Communities and Neighborhoods pages are a good feature. Our city is made up of several separate towns or communities. The site features an introduction to each Community and then provides additional information about the Neighborhoods within each Community. The search feature allows people to search for homes in each specific Community and Neighborhood (whatever page they’re on). That feature was time consuming from a programming standpoint, but I think it will make searching for properties easier for customers.

Now, Lisa's website is extremely attractive, well-designed, with good layout and good usability.  Everything is laid out extremely well, and the website design is very clean, with great colors, and good use of type.  Take a look.

However, if she believes her best feature is her community and neighborhoods page, then she's got some work to do.

On Community Pages

Recall that I had mentioned earlier that there are three big buckets of content for real estate websites:

  • Listings
  • Statistical Content
  • Dynamic Content

If you look at Lisa's site, her community pages have the first covered: you can search for listings within that particular community (e.g., Atlantic Beach) by clicking a link.  Nice, simple, and elegant.  It doesn't hurt that while this sort of community-based search isn't a full-on lifestyle listings search, it does help the consumer think first about where they want to live, then find homes within that area, which is how most human beings think about their future home.

However, the section is pretty much devoid of statistical content and dynamic content.  Here's her community section for Atlantic Beach:

Bordered by the pristine beaches of the Atlantic Ocean, the woods of Hanna Park, and the marshes of the Intracoastal Waterway, Atlantic Beach provides a wonderful setting for outdoor activities, shopping, and nighttime entertainment. Stretching only about 25 blocks from north to south, Atlantic Beach is a closed-end community of about 14,000 with a neighborhood feeling.

The newly renovated Town Center offers conveniently located fine dining, upscale retail shops, boutiques, and entertainment.

Atlantic Beach is dominated by single-family homes, with some townhomes and duplexes.  The city is committed to acquiring land for recreational purposes, so citizens and visitors alike can enjoy acre after acre of wonderfully preserved parks.

Schools around Atlantic Beach

Students attend Atlantic Beach Elementary School (A rated in 2007, 2006), Mayport Elementary School (A rated in 2007, C in 2006), Joseph Finnegan Elementary School (A rated in 2007 and 2006), Mayport Middle School (C rated in 2007, B rated in 2006) and Fletcher Middle and Senior High schools (B rated in 2007, 2006).

First, the written paragraphs mostly recite statistical facts, such as school information.  But because the section does not provide sources, it is impossible to know who rated Atlantic Beach Elementary School as an "A".  Was it the parents?  The authorities?  Lisa herself?  Who?

Second, there are no explanations posted by Lisa or anyone else.  Why did Mayport Middle School drop to a "C" from a "B"?  What happened?  The ratings themselves are unexplained: What does it mean to be rated an "A" or a "B"?  How are the ratings calculated?  Is it based on academic performance only?  On student-teacher ratios?  On expenditure per pupil?  It isn't clear what these ratings mean, so the ratings themselves have minimal value.

Third, if you're going to write, "The newly renovated Town Center offers conveniently located fine dining, upscale retail shops, boutiques, and entertainment" then you really ought to back that up.  Otherwise, it reads like vacation brochure copy, and can (and will) be immediately disregarded by the average advertising-immune consumer.  Lisa has a great map integration on the site with some custom-coded Google Maps.  Why not add these "fine dining, upscale retail shops, boutiques and entertainment" locations right on the map, with Yelp reviews or even her own reviews of each establishment?

Fourth, the single paragraph about Atlantic Beach provides little insight into the character of the community.  Is it full of old retired people or are there lots of young families there?  (A relevant question for Florida, no?)  What's the median income?  Median age?  Ethnic diversity?  What about the education levels of the residents, so I as a consumer can get a sense of what the community is like?  How's the employment picture?  Is this a commuter town to nearby Jacksonville?  Or is this more of a resort-beach town with lots of tourism?

Statistical content can help answer many of those types of questions, and can help Lisa's visitors get factual information about Atlantic Beach.

Last, but by no means least, where are the relevant blog posts about Atlantic Beach?  Lisa maintains a blog on her site, and posts useful articles on hiking in Guana State Parkfor example.  She could do a simple feed from her blog directly into her community pages by tags (e.g., "Atlantic Beach", "Ponte Vedra", etc.), and post the dynamic content directly into her community pages.

With those changes, Lisa would achieve a far stronger community and neighborhoods section, providing even more useful, informative content to her visitors, driving user loyalty while establishing herself as a true local expert in the communities she covers.  That is unity of content.  Listings, statistics, and dynamic content all work together to reinforce the central message and theme: "This is what these communities are like, and here are the homes in those communities."

Prioritizing Doesn't Mean Monomania

To be fair, Lisa's website does appear to achieve her stated objectives:

Q: What was your goal going into the project?

A: My goal was twofold. First, I wanted a site that my customers could use to look for properties, and then save those properties and forward them on to friends or family. I also wanted my customers who were new to this area to be able to use the site as a source of information, both about homes and also about the community. The second goal was to help me generate new potential customers. One of the side benefits has been the advertising for my listings. Sellers are pleased when their property is presented as a featured listing on the home page of the site.

Her goal was to help her customers work with her more effectively: search properties, save them, and forward them on.  She also wanted her customers get information about the area.  And her third (not second as above) goal was to generate new leads.

All three are predicated on generating interest in listings, in properties.  And Lisa's new website does do that and does it well.

But prioritizing customer service and lead generation does not, in my view, mean excluding everything else.  With such a wonderful site design, Lisa can easily brand herself as a true local experton Ponte Vedra and nearby communities.  Why not add that as an objective, and get the content to support such an objective?

She can build a following in her local community by becoming much more than a source for listings; that in turn can lead to new opportunities via referrals, word of mouth advocacy, and social media.  Why not take advantage of all of those things?

To be even more fair, fact is that we at Onboard Informatics don't even really offer a solution for individual realtors like Lisa Barton.  Our partners and clients do, but we work with enterprise clients for the most part.  At the same time, the idea of unity of content applies whether you are a multi-billion dollar enterprise brokerage network or a solo practitioner.  There is no reason why the independent broker or small company could not put these principles into practice.

Recap

Fact is, Lisa Barton's website is better than a great deal of "enterprise" websites out there.  She and her web design team have done a great job, and ought to be congratulated.

To make her site even better -- especially in the section she considers the best feature of her new website, the community & neighborhoods section -- Lisa should look at unity of content, using Listings, Data, and Dynamic Content together to drive her website goals and objectives.  Further, she should broaden those goals slightly beyond just lead-generation and marketing properties to create recognition of her local knowledge.

Of course, keep in mind, advice is worth exactly what you paid for it. :)  Caveat lector.

-rsh

Image Credit: Quasic on Flcikr.com