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RISMEDIA, Feb. 22, 2007-For real estate agents, the Internet can be a double-edged sword. Buyers and sellers alike love to browse Web sites for listings: they can do it at their convenience, they can get lots of information, and they don't have to talk to a real estate agent until they have found an interesting property. The downside of all this is that real estate buyers and sellers do much of their shopping without you. On the other hand, if you have an outstanding Web site, you can create customer loyalty and a large database very quickly.

Here's how:

– Make your Web site the place to go for real estate information on your geographic area.
– Make sure your Web site is the top of the list when someone searches for information on real estate in your area.
– Have your visitors leave their name and e-mail address.
– Get visitors to bookmark your site and get them to come back again and again.

You need three essential ingredients to make your Web site do all these things, and of course, the first ingredient, like flour in a cake, is great content.

Ingredient #1: Really Useful Content
Most people visit a Web site for one or more of the following three reasons:

– They want information
– They want a product or service
– They want to be entertained

In the early days of the Internet, consumers expected a Web site to be little more than an online brochure. With today's technology, you can provide much, much more than just basic information about yourself, and your customers expect more. Eliminate all that information about you and how great you are. You have to show them, not just tell them.
Some examples of content you could include:

– A downloadable brochure on safety-specially targeted toward homeowners who choose to sell without the help of an agent and brokerage; however, don't make an obvious pitch for your services-you'll lose credibility in an instant. Instead, just be satisfied to convey the information in a logical, straight-forward manner

– A downloadable brochure on home remodeling-what pays and what doesn't. Again, make the information useful and objective. There are studies available that provide statistical information on remodels and payoffs. The more professional your content is, the more appealing you are as an agent. If you show professionalism, you never have to say it. If you have to say it, no one will believe it.

– Other things you could include: an interactive map, local weather, "how-to" articles, financial calculators, market statistics by neighborhood and links to other useful Web sites.

CASE STUDY: Corcoran.com received The 2003 Web Marketing Association (WMA) WebAward for Best Real Estate Web site. Not only is the content good, but the site is fairly clean and simple. The home page is clean and simple with links to featured properties by area, but the property search feature could be more prominent. The WMA reports 700,000 hits per month on this site, and a recent Google search on "New York Real Estate" showed the Corcoran Group in a respectable third position, behind the New York Times real estate ads and cityrealty.com (lots of content but a bit confusing.)

Ingredient #2: Catering to the Search Engines
Good placement mainly depends on two things: good content and the number and quality of Web sites that link to your site. The good news is that your customers also want good content. The bad news is that search engine robots and customers may demand different things.

Your designer or your template may be able to provide you with all kinds of wild intros and graphics, but the search engine robots only read text. In fact, the robots get confused by graphics (and that includes graphic text.) If you want a fun Web site that ranks low on the search engines, go crazy with animation. But, if you want to show up at the number one spot, concentrate on appropriate content and links to your site from other high-ranking sites.

CASE STUDY: www.realestatecolorado.net includes some great content, including a video tour of Denver and home improvement tips. However, the animated (flash) intro gets in the way of the visit and it is not search engine friendly. Still, the site comes up near the top of a Yahoo! search due to the rich content and good use of links. In fact, they include an impressive list of sites that link to theirs. However, one major missing ingredient is the site's ability to capture visitor information.

Ingredient #3: Capturing Visitor Information
If you've ever taken a floor call, you know that the most important outcome of that brief phone visit is a name and phone number. The same is true for your Web site. You need to capture all the names and e-mail addresses you can. All the hits in the world don't mean a thing if you can't follow up.

A lot of businesses are now using squeeze pages instead of full-blown Web sites. A squeeze page is a single-page Web site with a specific URL. It's only goal is to get the consumer's name and e-mail address with their permission for you to follow up.

For instance, let's say you are presenting a seminar for first-time home buyers in Yourtown. You could create a squeeze page with a URL something like firsthomeinyourtown.com. In your press release, you would stress the current market conditions and how hard it is for first-time home buyers to afford a house.

Another way to get their contact information is to offer something. Most people will give you their address if (a) they trust you and (b) you have something of value to provide to them. The items of value could be market updates, an e-zine or downloadable pamphlets on things like safety, staging and remodeling tips and techniques.

Successful Web sites don't have to be complicated. In fact, simple is better. Just remember these four tips:

– Make your content useful-get your ego out of the way and think like a client.
– Offer something of value-e-zines, newsletters, downloadable articles, teleseminars or podcasts.
– Promote your Web site, not just in the search engines, but in all your advertising and promotional campaigns.
– Build a client list by capturing contact information.

Above all else, keep it clean. Make your real estate site about real estate, and the buyers will come. – Joe Cooke

Joe Cooke is an author, speaker and entrepreneur with over 25 years of experience in marketing and management.

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