Extreme Web Site Makeovers

A before and after look at three real estate Web sites shows that better branding, design, and targeting make a big impact.

September 1, 2004

Over the past several years I’ve written many articles on how to powerfully enhance your Web presence. Each one focused on a different aspect of making your Web site an effective marketing tool—targeting, branding, differentiation, having your site "speak the language” of your visitors, and much more.

This month’s column shows you how three practitioners applied those principals to their own sites, and produced a dramatically different (and much more effective) Web site for their business.

Makeover 1: Rookie Commands Military Market

Joe Thyne of Century 21 Team Wheatley in Killeen, Texas—the home of Fort Hood— is a rookie with just over two years in the business but with a "can do" attitude far beyond that of many people who have been in the business for years. Like many real estate practitioners, Joe's initial site was mostly image-based, using the bulk of his pages to talk about himself and his qualifications in a way that failed to appeal to any specific target group.

He did have a button for veteran buyers, but nothing else in the site spoke specifically to that audience. After going through a special 10-week coaching program with me, Joe realized that to be effective his Web site had to have a clearly defined target market that he was passionate about and that he had the qualifications to serve.

Only in this way, he realized, could he brand and differentiate himself. Joe chose to target military buyers, a group he identified with as a former military captain himself. Now his site immediately touches a chord with military buyers, thanks to its design and its use of the action figure parody Captain Joe Action.

The site’s content is geared to serve military buyers in his market with resources like How to Get a VA Loan, Fort Hood 411, and local school information listing the percentage of military dependents.

When you compare the two sites, ask yourself the following questions:

  • Do I know instantly which target market this site is intended for?
  • Does this site "speak the language" of its intended consumer of and provide high-value content to this target market?
  • Does this site effectively differentiate its owner from their other competitors?
Before After

This dramatic redesign came about because Joe embraced a very structured approach to planning his new site by honing in an audience that shared his passion: the military. Also, it’s important to note is that his "Joe Action" branding element was designed—for very little money—by a virtual consultant and his site was designed by a virtual assistant.

Makeover 2: A Townhouse Transformation

Patrick Lilly is a mega producer at Coldwell Banker Hunt Kennedy in New York City. He specializes in Manhattan’s downtown properties, especially townhouses. As you can see in the "Before" example, his original site didn’t address that specialty in a very compelling way. His site’s URL, NYCDowntown.com, indicated his target area, but the generic look of the site didn’t give visitors much of a clue as to his specialty. By taking a structured approach to targeting his Manhattan townhouse niche, Patrick transformed his site into a more effective marketing tool.

Before After

The new site URL, www.TheTownhouseSpecialist.com, leaves no doubt about Patrick’s niche. Both the photos on the site and the first line of the copy also reinforce his specialty. If you look at the lower left-hand corner of his home page, you will see how this logo and branding element creates a distinctive style and feel reminiscent of the ultimate Big Apple publication, The New Yorker.

The easy-to-use rollover tabs also contain information specifically geared to the townhouse experience in New York City. For example, the site includes an entire section called Townhouse ABC’s, which includes townhouse terminology, townhouse architectural styles, information on the ubiquitous rent controls of the city, and typically annual expenses associated with townhouses. His attention to consistent branding will not only bring him more motivated clients, but also will make it much easier for him to sell his site (and book of business) when he’s ready to retire.

Makeover 3: Classroom Approach Speaks to Sellers

Joe DeLorenzo with RE/MAX of Princeton, N. J., is a top lister—yet his site doesn’t have a single home listing on it. Why? Because a site with listings primarily attracted buyers and Joe’s target customers were sellers. Joe’s he’s taken an educational approach—complete with classroom graphic—to give sellers the sort of in-depth content on home sales that will have them flocking to the site.

The site’s name, www.SellMyHome101.com, also reinforces who the audience is and the site’s education theme.

Before After

Once you browse Joe's www.SellMyHome101.com site it will become very clear why it generates new listings and listing referral business. This is a great example of the tremendous power of "speaking the language" of your target market.

It’s Not Magic

We’re all born creative. The secret to tapping into that creativity is to have a structured approach to focusing your ideas. Before you begin brainstorming ideas, ask yourself these questions:

  • Who do you want to reach? (Who is your target market?)
  • What unique value can you provide your audience?
  • How can you use branding to differentiate yourself from competitors?

By taking this structured approach to planning your site, you’ll become the most noticeable and memorable voice in an otherwise dull cacophony of Web "me toos.”

Michael Russer, a.k.a. Mr. Internet®, is CEO of Russer Communications. He is a leading speaker and author in the real estate industry and has been writing about Internet marketing and virtual outsourcing since the dawn of the commercial Internet.

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