Beautiful, fast, real estate websites
We have had some REALLY engaged clients these past few weeks (which always happens when we post the 12 Days Of Christmas Promo and several have asked me to put together a list of customizations I would do so that they can think about how to spend their recently purchased retainers.
So instead of sending the same suggestions 1 by 1, I’ve decided to start a mega thread and give you some great ideas on how to improve the aesthetics, conversion, SEO, and performance of your Renaissance website.
Caveat on estimates:
#1 Estimates are exactly that “estimates” - they will be quite accurate in almost all cases (I’ve been doing this a while) but final hours used can depend on many factors, not the least of which includes back and forth with the client. But also the number of additional customizations we need to work around, and that sort of thing. So please make sure you are familiar with our billable work policy.
#2 You should assume the larger or more complex the order OR the more stakeholders you involve in the process the more PM or QA time that would be required. So best to stick to a single point of contact for REW and limit the amount of communication back and forth if cost is a factor.
Now is the time!
Coach @ajhazzi says that in a down market the best way to capture market share is to “profitably” outspend your competition (note we said profitably, so don’t do anything that won’t increase the strength of your brand, improve your SEO, WPO, ADA or conversion).
But if you do this strategically, you can end up with a market-dominant website the design of which will blow visitors’ minds, and help with both client acquisition AND recruiting / retention.
So without further ado - here are some great ideas to use retainer time
I’ll post it in responses so they can be easily highlighted/quoted if you have questions about a specific one.
#1 on my list is WPO (which stands for “web performance optimization”)
I’m putting it as #1 because I think it’s the most impactful use of custom time you can do IF you have a slower site (say sub 80 on mobile or sub 90 on desktop) according to Google Page Speed.
BUT (AND PLEASE LISTEN TO THIS CAREFULLY) - D0 … YOUR … WPO … PROJECT … LAST!
The reason for this is simple. You want to make sure you have done all your other custom work first so that WPO can take it into account, and also so that future custom work does not reduce your WPO score.
What is WPO? It’s the process of having a specialist go in “after” you have coded, or designed or created content and fine tuning it to the ever changing standards of Google Page Speed.
Why does it matter?
Have you ever gone to a website and it’s slow? Did you leave? Of course you did!
The reality is faster is better ALWAYS (but especially on mobile) and so if your most trafficked pages are slow, then you are losing customers without the ability to convert them. Therefore what’s the point of having all sorts of cool custom work, if visitors leave before they see it?
Also - from an SEO perspective, WPO is a significant ranking factor for Google. For the very same reason, “a faster website is better” and so Google would prefer to provide great search results that make the user happy and so they will serve up faster sites more often and prefer them in the SERPS.
Pro-tip: Perfect is the enemy of the good in WPO. It can be addicting to get a perfect score, but the last few points are prohibitively hard to get (and NOT NEEDED) - the goal is to be significantly faster than the competition and as a general rule of thumb above 80 on mobile and above 90 on desktop.
Trying to get 99 or even 100 is not practical once you start including third-party listings, scripts necessary for tracking, etc.
It’s possible, and ONLY Real Estate Webmasters can do it… but it’s not worth the $ chasing perfection. Just get above the recommended scores, and spend the rest of your money on other items on this list.
But remember - do WPO last!
Starter WPO budget 10-20 hours, more advanced WPO budget 20+ hours
#2: SEO.… but more specifically content development (technical comes later) do content first!
More specifically creation of content pillars…
If you have not read our SEO Audits thread, it is a must-read as it provides some really great insights into DIY SEO. (I put a lot of work into that thread, so if you benefit from it, I’d love a 5-star review on Google and G2)… pretty please
But here’s the thing - while that thread will literally teach you everything you need to know to be truly successful with SEO, the reality is there are 2 things that will impact your ability to have the “best” SEO possible.
#1: Time… it takes a LOT of time to do SEO properly. Not just the “doing of the SEO” but the literally hundreds of hours it takes to learn to get really good at it.
#2: Being really good at it. If you’re not experienced the changes your SEO will be perfect on your first try is very low. These concepts are easy for experts to write about, but in reality (in practice) doing great SEO, creating content pillars, linking things together, understanding how to not cannibalize keywords, canonical tagging, choosing the perfect anchor text, dynamic linking
All that stuff is complicated.
So if you don’t have a budget for SEO, then do DIY for sure! That will likely improve your SEO by at least 50%. But recognize, eventually to get the other 50% (the truly dialed-in SEO) you need to hire a professional.
Budget: We recommend a minimum 10-20 hour per month, or if you just want a jump start “at least” have us do a proper pillar for you so that you can see how they are created and you can copy our model. Generally it’s 2-3 hours per page for a high quality, well SEO’d main or sub pillar page. A bit less for blog posts (1-2 hours).
Either way, get those content pillars going!!
#3 Brand Match - this is a simple design project, but I believe it has a really strong impact and helps you stand out.
I mean think about it - if you spend all this time and money creating a brand (logos, colours, fonts etc) and then you don’t have a design agency match your site to your brand, how much sense does that make.
Usually it’s around 10 hours to do a really good job on a brand match project and the results can be really stunning (even though it’s just changing colours and fonts etc
And if you really want to finish it off well, you’ll spend some time thinking about image selection as well, so that you can tie it all together. @staciestaub and team are the masters at this (they pick such great images)
And @TylerMarrin and the team have some pretty epic-looking stuff as well.
The default colours are great, but nothing beats custom-matching your site to your brand.
Estimate: 10 hours
#4: Technical SEO - this is to be done “after” on page / content based SEO (for good reason, technical SEO only benefits you if you have amazing content).
I created a while thread on this a while back with suggested optimizations for your Renaissance website, but let’s list out a few here that I really think you should do.
#1: Dynamic linking of related CMS pages from listings pages. This is a concept where our programmers set up your IDX to “listen” for related pages in the CMS based on filename and other factors and then create dynamic links using the anchor text you dictate in the link name to link back to your pillar pages and sub-pages. 3-5 hours of programming / testing including any required SEO input
#2: Dynamic linking for blogs: Not only can you dynamically link your blogs from your listings pages, but if you really want to get fancy, you can tie it all together via the tagging system, and have your blogs link to each other when related as well as create snippets for related blog posts within content / CMS pages as well. 3-5 hours of programming/testing including any required SEO input
You can get much cooler on the design side (if you have more budget) as I did here at REW (check it out) though I was talking to a client about this the other day, and I forgot I turned off commenting, so they all have 0 comments (haha) so I need to remind @AmyPye to remove that part (the comments part) from that deck. Don’t want a bunch of decks showing 0 comments.
#3: Related properties (visual form AND HTML text link form) - we want our properties linking to each other (strengthening their internal PR as well as ensuring maximum spider ability) 3-5 hours of programming/testing including any required SEO input
#4: Breadcrumbs (including Schema Markup) for your IDX details pages.
A simple yes powerful augmentation to the details page - 2-3 hours.
#5: FAQs - a nice design, but ALSO implementation of the new CMS mod I made for our new global MLS site. I’ll be making a tool for folks who use this hack to generate both your HTML output and your Schema markup (@Aayaam let’s prioritize this) but you’ll also need the hack to make sure you can put the scheme before the tag and also the HTML styles to make it look nice (like to does on https://www.carlycarey.com (@Emma Carly needs to the new Schema hack as well as she only has the onpage FAQ - let’s discuss on Monday)
Estimate? 5 hours including design time, CMS hack, initial image selection, sample FAQ’s, testing schema and communciations etc
Note - @JustinHavre has been pinging me about ChatGPT lately, and while I do NOT recommend you use AI to generate your content (Google has confirmed it is a violation of their TOS) what it you “can” use it for is to suggest some great FAQ’s for you.
Then just answer them in your own words since you are the local expert anyways:
Are you starting to see how with relatively small changes / investments you can start to make your website stand out from the competition, perform better and rank for SEO?
I’m going to interrupt this session with an SEO ProTip!
The better your site is, the easier it is to “earn” links from other websites.
They will write about you.
They will mention you.
You can win awards.
Link building is hard - the better your site is, the more likely someone is to link to it.
Just sayin 🥷
Let’s keep it going! What if you use video? (You know who I’m talking to!)
A couple of things:
#1: You should always have video lazy load, or use a pre-screen for WPO so it doesn’t mess up your page speed score (never autoplay embedded video)
#2: You should design a nice deck (and ensure it supports WebP images for pre-screen)
Like this one:
#3: If you’ve done the Schema hack above, you can also generate schema for video which provides you the ability to receive rich SERP results. (Better click-through rate anyone?)
It’s time to get nerdy in this place!
Ok so now we’re going to get a bit more complex (and a lot more expensive)
This is specifically for a client that asked, and so I’m going to explain the difference (and necessity) for database applications.
We’ll use video as an example.
My idea for the client was to build a searchable/sortable application that you could also dynamically link (similar to the listings, blogs etc) for SEO purposes.
I told him to become the “Netflix of area X” since he has amazing video content.
Now the challenge is this - in order for something to be “searchable” and otherwise dynamically accessed, it must be in a database.
And in order to get into a database we must build an application (which does not exist today) so that the customer can easily (without code) add additional content into the database.
There are a lot of steps here and levels of complexity.
First we must make sure we know everything we want to store in the database (name, URL, embed URL, etc etc) that takes consulting time with the client, as well as research.
Second we have to do a check on security (any time you build a DB you want to make sure there is nothing going to be injected that could create a vulnerability)
Third, we have to setup / build the database (and underlying infrastructure)
Next, we need to design and build a custom UI (User interface) that allows the adding, editing and deleting of the elements into the database (and there is planning here too! Does everyone get to use it? Only super admin? Should we build it into the REW Permissions system?
Now we’re onto how do we interact with this data? How is it searchable and sortable (and what does that look like on the front end?)
Do we also create snippets with it?
Does it interact with listings in any way?
Should we autogenerate the Schema Markup and HTML output within the tool for easy implementation by the customer?
And then (and only then) can we get creative on the dynamic linking of things.
This could easily be a 100-1000 hour project depending on the levels of complexity at each step.
Ideally (because we do this for a living) you let REW make these decisions for you, and you stay away from complex “fancy” UI.
Image the cost difference between these 2 screens (one where I didn’t do any design yet) and the other where I’m still designing it months later.
Not complex design (and inexpensive)
Which one do you think would cost more to design / program?
Since we’re on database applications now, I wanted to share an idea for some applications that we commonly code on a custom basis.
The most common use case (and @brianenright will geek out on this) is a “building manager” whereby a customer wants to have pages on their site for all the various buildings in their city (condos, apartments whatever).
We actually get this request quite a lot.
Now you “can” just create a bunch of CMS pages on those buildings, and then create IDX snippets for the address (to show the active listings etc) - all good for SEO, but it’s a lot of work, and you can’t get programmatic with the features (like creating dynamic linking) and there are other limitations.
And so typically the customers have us code a database application (just like I mentioned above for videos).
Now for this one, there is a bit of a cheat (a short cut) and that is, we already have a "featured communities manager that has much of the same functionality that the building module would require (Photo uploads, IDX association etc) so generally I advice our clients and programmers to start with that.
BUT before they start you still need a list of the other things the application needs:
Things like “floor plans” “virtual tours” “videos” that sort of thing as well as we need to understand what dynamic data we want to pull in. Are we pulling active stats from the MLS? What about past sold history? (in front of or behind a VOW firewall?)
Are we autogenerating any unique elements such as price per sq ft, or a ranking of this buildings price per sq ft based on other buildings in the area? Is that ranking sortable? What other things are sortable?
Do you see how this gets complex quickly?
Then you need to decide on the front-end design (usually you want to be somewhat unique, so you’ll spend some custom time here).
At the end of the day, this is an AWESOME feature IF (and only if) you are committed to the creation of unique content (your own photos, videos, additional content etc) - otherwise don’t waste your time on this, as you need to have a complete and robust list, or you won’t stand out.
You can use this concept in a bunch of different ways - perhaps Smith and Associates might want to build a similar application for new developments or projects?
Then they could make even better use of the cool CTA they had designed for their buildings
The possibilities are endless! But it all starts with deciding whether something needs to be in a database or not, and if it does, you probably need some consulting on this (that’s where I come in > but you have to have purchased a large enough retainer to support this or I can’t spend the time specing it for you)
Now for those folks who really want to punch it up on the design side, I’m going to ping @AmyPye to share some of our favourite low cost / high impact design ideas from our common customizations doc.
Amy Pye, over to you!
Why does mega thread make me think of a transformer?
Awesome information @Morgan. I’m going to drop in with some dropdowns. Obviously the ability for a user to easily navigate your website is super important. This can get tricky as your website grows. So we’ve beefed up our dropdowns.
These drop downs are an excellent design choice for accommodating a large number of options or for revealing lower-level site pages at a glance. We even have the option of incorporating a photo, for additional visual interest.
No photos to add? We can source one for you.
I like to use The Polsinello Team as an example. Partly because it was one of the first and because with this website we won a 2022 Muse Creative Award!
Estimate for this design element is 6 hours.
You probably have a killer headshot. Most Real Estate agents do.
But what good is awesome photography if you’re not showing it off?
Custom CTA’s (call to action) are predominantly a design element, but can involve programming if the functionality is something other than connecting to an existing form. These work best if you are able to supply your designer with a professional headshot, but we can also source stock photography if that isn’t an option.
Estimate for this is element is 4 hours.
See Carly’s in action here (scroll down).
I love, love, love the look of masonry grids. We’re building one of these babies into @andreREW’s new site and it looks
Not sharing his till it’s live, but here’s another example below. Estimate for this grid is 7-10 hours.
Pro tip, this is an awesome option if you want to feature photos that are not all the same orientation (landscape and portrait).
Can’t wait to see @andreREW site!
Right? We’re building out a case study for it right now!
Can’t forget listings banners!
Make it easy for your buyers to navigate listings by adding custom banners such as: Open House,* Under Contract, New Listing, Not Haunted (ok, maybe not that last one). The color of these banners can be customized to fit your brand.
Estimate is four hours.
Morgan, question on dynamic links from listings detail pages: using the links to similar pages / communities / listings / city, etc… other than consumer usability, do you gain any SEO benefit since the listing detail page will most certainly disappear at some point in the near future? All those internal links would be lost. What are your thoughts?