Your Online Face: Being on the Web Requires a Professional Image

How to set up Web housekeeping: Your primer to designing your site, tracking its activity, and avoiding legal trouble.

April 1, 2000

Once you've evaluated Internet service providers and investigated your e-mail options, you can start thinking about how you want to present yourself and your property information to the online world.

This is a two-part process: building the site and then getting it on the Internet. You can handle any or all the steps involved or hire a Webmaster to design, host, and maintain the site for you.

"When you look at the costs, don't just consider dollar amounts," offers Kimberly Ford, a Web site development consultant in Germantown, Md. Her company, SoHo Techs, develops sites for practitioners in her area, and software for publishing listings to their Web pages. "The biggest pitfall to doing it yourself is the time it takes to learn everything, and things are constantly changing."

Pollock agrees: "If you aren't really busy as a salesperson, you might take a sabbatical to learn all you need to know." Otherwise, she says, expect to pay $2,000 or more for complete Web development and hosting services. "If you make just one sale as a result of the site, the cost is covered and you still have the site."

Designing your site yourself: For those who want hands-on control, software packages such as Microsoft FrontPage, Macromedia Dreamweaver,and Adobe PageMill provide templates and content for site design. Online there are a number of resources, such as Yahoo!'s, that provide space for personal Web sites, and tools and resources for building them.

Decoding HTML: Whichever option you choose, you'll hear the term HTML, or hypertext markup language. That's the code that defines all the elements that go into a Web site: fonts, graphics, links, and overall design. Even if you master HTML, "you have to spend time looking at other pages to understand what you want and what you need on your site," recommends Pollock.

She suggests exploring other local practitioners' sites. "Concentrate on those in your area, because you already know the market and can be a judge of how well it's presented," she says.

Using search engines: The easiest way to find your competitors' sites is with search engines, such as,, or They categorize sites by address and content. You search for sites and information by entering keywords--a word or phrase describing what you're looking for: real estate in city name, for example.

The list that comes back contains links to a number of sites with their URLs (uniform resource locators), or server directions to the site.

Linking: The home page is a site's entry point and table of contents. On well-designed sites it provides an overview of all that the site contains, with links to that content. Those links may be text highlighted in colors or pictures.

Click on them, and your screen soon fills with the information on that page. Links may also carry you to other sites with relevant information. After navigating several sites, you'll recognize what elements work for and against a site.

Graphics can slow the speed at which a page loads, for instance. To get around that, use small images, called thumbnails. Visitors can click on them to see a larger picture if they want.

It's critical that visitors be able to navigate your site easily and find a quick way back to the home page. And you should set up links to other sites, but only those that complement your property information, such as area demographics and info on the local school system.

If you provide links to other sites, visitors need a way to return to yours, or you'll lose them. Establish reciprocal links with those sites or make sure your links trigger a new browser window to open to display the new page. Your web master or tech support can explain how to do that.

Keep track of site activity: Speaking of keeping visitors, ask your Web host to track site activity to understand how well your site is working. You want to know the number of page views (the number of times a page has been accessed); how long people stay; what content interests them; and from where they arrived.

Most visitors will find you through a search engine. To be included in search results, you must register with the search engines.

Registration by no means guarantees that you'll be listed, but it's a step you must take. The process is relatively simple and is explained at each search engine site. Your developer will take care of this process, or a number of registration sites will submit your information to the top search engines for a fee.

No online pilfering, please

As you build your site, you may be tempted to borrow a snippet of local information here or a great picture there. After all, it's as easy as cut and paste.

Don't. The Internet may be a wide-open universe brimming with information, but you have no more right using someone else's trademarked or creative property there than anywhere else.

Getting reprint and link permission: Whatever you want to use, always seek permission from the rightful owner or creator first. Get the OK in writing, with an explanation of how you can use the material.

The same holds true when setting up links to other sites. Ask before doing and offer a trade: a link from yours for a link back to yours. After all, your site will be such a useful resource others will be eager to link with you.

A great term if you know how to use it

REALTOR® and REALTORS® are both registered trademarks of the NATIONAL ASSOCIATION OF REALTORS®.

According to the organization's associate counsel Michael Thiel, NAR members may incorporate the trademarks into their Internet domain names as long as they appear in conjunction with the REALTORS®' own name or with the name of a broker's company.

"The biggest source of misuse is the combination of the trademark with some descriptive name or adjective, such as or," he says.

What's a correct use? The term doesn't have to be separated from a member's name or company name by punctuation.

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