Build an Effective Web Site

If you’re serious about a career in real estate, you need a Web site. That’s beyond debate.

The Internet may be the most cost-effective way to promote yourself, your company, and your listings. Many consumers now search the Web first for available properties before they engage with a real estate professional. According to the 2011 NATIONAL ASSOCIATION OF REALTORS® Profile of Home Buyers and Sellers, 35 percent of all buyers looked online for properties for sale as the first step taken during the home buying process, while 21 percent of all buyers first contacted a real estate agent.

When starting out, don't make the mistake of assuming that having a page on your firm's site is sufficient and that an individual Web site is unnecessary. A permanent, personalized home on the Web is important not only for differentiating yourself among everyone in your brokerage and other real estate professionals in your market, but also for purposes of personal marketing; a Web address gives you something to print on marketing materials that looks personalized and professional. The Web site URL and e-mail address should be featured  in all your advertising, promotion, and correspondence. Both should be prominently featured on your business card and letterhead.

Another rookie faux pas is to assume that having a Facebook page or Twitter account is enough of a "Web site" for conducting serious business. While social media accounts are great supplements to any personal online marketing campaign—no matter the budget—they still don't replace the need for a Web site. Further, having only social media pages could alienate you from those potential customers who don't regularly engage on the sites. Even if you're only creating an about.me page, make sure that you have some kind of Web presence beyond social media or the umbrella site that your brokerage provides.

Luckily, owning a Web site is not exactly a financial burden. For as little as $50 a year, your Web site can have its own easily remembered URL (yourname.com or HomesHere.com for example) and an e-mail account (e.g., yourname@homeshere.com). Use and promote those addresses from Day 1.

First, though, you need to set up an account with an Internet service provider (ISP). As part of the basic service to subscribers, most ISPs will host a Web site for free or charge a modest fee if it’s a commercial Web site. Expect to pay a monthly hosting fee, which, for a small Web site, can be as low as a few dollars per month.

To find potential site hosts, use keyword searches on a search engine of your choice, such as Google, Yahoo!, or Bing. Search engines, in fact, are useful sources of information on all aspects of building a Web site, from identifying online tools to help you build your own site to the finding specialists who can build the site for you.

Makr sure you visit a number of real estate Web sites to determine what you like and what you don't like. The exercise will help you to identify the features and content you should include, ways to organize your site content, and the “look” you want. Often at the bottom of a Web site, you’ll find the name of the products used or company that developed the site. Also, remember that your website is in constant flux, and the form it takes today may be a very different one than it takes on tomorrow, next week, or next year. Updating and customizing your site to fit your professional needs will come naturally as your real estate practice evolves and grows.

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