Learn how to take your Web site to the next level.
In the past decade, thousands of commercial real estate Web sites have appeared online as companies learned how to structure information, communicate with clients, and promote their capabilities electronically. But now that Web sites are de rigueur marketing tools, it's time to reconsider their potential. As the industry becomes more competitive, companies must rethink their Internet strategies, renovate existing designs, plug in new technologies, and advertise creatively to attract new business.
Six Steps to Success
The following strategies can help transform your company's Web site into a dynamic online presence.
Redefine Your Goals. Who are you currently trying to reach with your Web site? Characterize your potential visitors by role, such as 1031 investors or office tenants and real estate product type.
Step 2: Make a Site Outline and Write Content. Conduct strategic planning to help define your company's core competencies, competitive advantages, and business assets. From this exercise, create a Web site content outline that differentiates your company from its competitors by highlighting its strengths that directly appeal to prospective clients.
Next, determine who will be responsible for authoring and maintaining content. If content is needed from multiple people in the company, establish a project coordinator and set a realistic schedule for delivery and updates. If you lack the in-house expertise to write compelling content, hire a marketing or public relations consultant.
Step 3: Establish a Budget. Prioritize what you want to accomplish, take inventory of your available resources, and develop a budget that includes the following items:
- planning - factor in your time and the cost to enlist a strategic consultant if needed;
- creating content - allocate internal resources or hire an outside writer;
- Web site development - experienced Web developers that provide high-quality graphic design and programming services range from $50 to $100 an hour;
- third-party technology - you may wish to integrate other services, such as a property listing engine or a client extranet, and you must factor in applicable software license fees;
- custom application development - specific programs such as a client registration, lead routing, featured properties, or wants submission generally go beyond standard Web development and may add programming costs;
- hosting - a wide variety of local and national providers can host sites fairly inexpensively, usually for less than $50 a month;
- maintenance - obtain cost estimates from your Web developer for hourly or project-based assistance to update content, make structural changes, and add new features; and
- marketing - allocate some resources to drive traffic to your Web site.
Because the scope of your project ultimately is dictated by your budget, have a clear understanding of the cost components listed above. Generally, simple Web sites range from $500 to $2,500 to develop; more complex Web sites range from $2,500 to $7,500; and robust, dynamic Web sites are more than $10,000.
Step 4: Seek Qualified Help. If you have a full-time information technology manager or staff, you may have the in-house expertise to redevelop your site. If you don't have the resources in house, it's wise to contract with a Web development company. Seek midpriced consultants as most real estate Web sites don't necessitate overly complex programming. Solicit multiple bids and select a company that adheres to programming standards. Avoid systems that tie you to a particular company or proprietary engine. With the exception of integrated third-party software applications, you should maintain copyright ownership of your content and the underlying Web site programming code.
Your Web developer should be able to host your Web site, provide data backups, and minimize down time. As with any major purchase, ask your prospective Web developer for a client list and check references.
Step 5: Market Proactively.
Select a meaningful URL and put it everywhere: business cards, letterhead, signage, brochures, property fliers, corporate documents, e-mail signatures, professional profiles, electronic newsletters, and Internet listing services.
An established Internet marketing company can help you allocate marketing dollars and maximize traffic to your Web site by purchasing keyword advertising, placing banner advertisements, and advertising via real estate and business-related Web sites.
Within the CCIM network, CCIM.com, CCIMNet, STDB Online, chapter Web sites, and Commercial Investment Real Estate offer sponsorship and advertising opportunities. Additional venues include specialty Web sites, local Realtor associations, talk radio, investor forums, industry publications, chambers of commerce, and economic development organizations.
Step 6: Monitor Progress. Web site development and marketing is as much a creative art as it is a science. Experiment prudently and measure the results. Plug in a traffic analysis program to determine which pages draw the most attention from visitors and how people found your site. Monitor your progress and continue to evaluate and refine your strategy over time.
Analyze Your Competitors' Web Sites. Borrow good ideas and look for opportunities to differentiate your company and its capabilities.
Integrate Third-Party Applications. A variety of useful tools can increase your Web site's functionality. For example, Catylist SiteLink can power your listings with the CCIMNet engine; Google Earth Pro can record property-tour flyover videos; and Sales force.com can route leads and customer feedback into your customer relationship management database.
Review Aesthetics and Tone. Good sites offer efficient designs that are easy to navigate. Avoid using animated graphics and Macromedia Flash programs that increase load time. Promote your company's brand and maintain consistency with your existing print materials, logo, fonts, and color scheme. Streamline your message into those key points that would prompt a visitor to take action and contact your company.
Add Fresh Content Regularly. Keep visitors coming back by adding new content. Local market reports, product- type analysis, new property listings, e-newsletters, press releases, and blogs are excellent ways to foster repeat visits.