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By Kurt D. Lynn

RISMEDIA, August 6, 2008-In the real estate world, the Internet is often held up to be some sort of utopia that offers an alternative to real estate professionals from conventional real estate marketing and sales methods. The result has been that thousands of Realtors have rushed toward the use of websites, but do they know how to be profitable from it?

While everybody wants the utopia of the Internet, however, many real estate professionals along the way have become distracted or disenchanted from the true goal of such technology.

Here are 10 website “must-haves” that are needed to ensure success in an Internet-based real estate practice today:

1. Remember: There Is But One True Goal – Sales

If you have, or are planning to create a website, it is essential that you keep in mind that the only goal of a website, ultimately, is sales. Don’t get caught up in the vanity or technology surrounding websites (which is all too easy to do). Make sure everything on your real estate website is oriented toward your “One True Goal.”

2. Prioritize Lead Capture

If the “One True Goal” is sales, then focus on capturing leads. Don’t waste your time (or the time of your visitors) on other objectives. Make sure your website includes calls-to-action and offers that will result in hard leads-on every page.

3. Create a Meaningful Brand

Your name is your brand. Protect it at all costs. The goal of any brand is to ensure that it equates with a “value proposition” that is meaningful to your prospective buyer or seller. Make sure that your brand-i.e. your name-is clearly associated with attributes that will be valuable to your website visitor. (Suggestion: It’s worth taking a pencil and paper and writing down what you think your value proposition is or should be.)

4. Keep Your Site Fresh

Keeping the content of your website fresh is important. Fresh content is more interesting to visitors and to search engines. Set aside a specific time and day, each week, to review and maintain your website’s content and structure. Make changes accordingly.

5. Use IDX and Syndication

Again, if the goal is sales, the only way to achieve that is by helping your website visitor get access to any listing of interest and by making your own listings known far and wide. To achieve the former, make sure your website incorporates an IDX solution-not just framed access to the local MLS listings-but an IDX that truly adds value to your visitors’ searching. To advance your own listings, syndicate all your listings with Internet real estate marketplaces like Google Base, Trulia®, and Zillow®. It’s free, so what do you have to lose?

6. Create an Environment of Trust and Confidence

Capturing leads, and getting sales, depends on your visitor having trust and confidence in you. Your website will be the first chance your visitor has to find that. Make sure your website is accurate, informed, and useful. Make sure you include information about yourself that will help visitors identify with you and understand your values.

7. Use Specific Key Words for Optimal Search Engine Rankings

Search engines like Google, Yahoo!, and MSN are a source of free leads. Search engines do their best to ensure that people looking for information find what they need. You have to do your part. Do not water down your content with useless, generic terms or broad-brush terms like “real estate” or “home buyers.” If you want to be found, use specific and relevant terms like “Chicago Real Estate” or “Philadelphia Condos” or “Walnut Street Homes” to help the search engines get you placed better and more appropriately in their listings.

8. Make Sure Your Site is User-Friendly

Like with you, a website visitor’s time is money. Don’t waste it. When someone visits your website, make it easy for them to find what they’re looking for. This means that most of your content should be visible or accessible from the home page. It also means that you will offer information that is relevant and useful to the prospective buyer or seller. If you do not, if you waste their time, you won’t get a second chance – they’re outta there.

9. Don’t Post Bad Content

Not only does bad content waste the time of your visitor, it kills trust and confidence in you, confuses search engines, and reflects poorly on your brand. Likewise, old content is stale, uninteresting content. While most websites come with pre-packaged content of some sort, make sure you take the time to edit it and augment it with local information and comment that will make it truly useful. Freshen up your site’s content regularly and always be on the lookout for tidbits of information that might be useful to your real estate website visitor.

10. Focus on Your Goals – Not Your Competitor’s

Lastly, keep your focus on your website. Do not get distracted by the bells, whistles, or glitz of the website from the agent down the street. Simply because another agent has a site with really cool gadgets, doesn’t mean it serves the ‘One True Goal.’ Stay focused on the results of your website. Your goal is to ensure that it works. If you ensure that you adhere to the first nine must-have’s, then the 10th won’t be necessary, and you will certainly arrive at the utopia of successful Internet marketing.

Kurt Lynn directs the marketing and communications activities at a provider of website, IDX and marketing tools for real estate agents and brokers.

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