By Brian Summerfield, Online Editor, REALTOR® Magazine
Brian Boero, a partner at 1000watt Consulting and prodigious real estate blogger, likes to fly Virgin Airways because it gives off a vibe that makes him feel cool just for being a customer. How do they achieve this? By illuminating the interior of its planes with purple lights.
Of course, that’s not the only thing Boero likes about the airline. But it’s an example of something unique that it does to positively distinguish its brand from its decidedly less hip competition (looking at you, Delta). “We all know that Virgin is sexy and unorthodox, and the airline reflects that,” he said.
With that in mind, Boero asked attendees at a Wednesday morning workshop at Inman’s Real Estate Connect conference in New York what their “purple lights” were — that is, what they’re doing to make their Web sites stand out in a way that reinforces their brands and builds business.
Here are a few more important site design and functionality principles that Boero and other Connect speakers covered Wednesday morning:
Make sure your site meets expectations: Boero said this is a big problem in the real estate business. Practitioners will have a flashy, compelling home page or particular site section, but users who navigate deep into the site will find that parts of it have outdated info, are poorly formatted, or flat-out don’t work. Don’t let this cost you business; ensure that users have a consistent, high-quality experience no matter where they go on your site. “Dissonance is death for brands,” Boero said. “If you set an expectation, you’ve got to carry it all the way through.”
Don’t try to please the fringe: Occasionally, someone will randomly contact you to complain about how you don’t have an obscure bit of info that they’re looking for on your site, or some other irrelevant quibble. With rare exceptions, feel free to ignore this feedback, Boero said.
Get them registered: In a different session on designing good user interfaces, Chad Barczak, CEO of IDX Inc., said it’s critical to set up a system that registers visitors to your site, whether your requesting or forcing it. His own company has studied how to do each effectively, and the best time to request registration from a visitor is after a single page view. If you’re forcing registration, it’s good to do it after two page views. Even better, he says, is to do both.
Know your users: Barczak’s fellow panelist, David Vivero, CEO of RentJuice, pointed to sites like Amazon and last.fm, an Internet radio site that serves up songs based on the tracks you play in iTunes, as examples you can use to intelligently serve up data to your site visitors. As you gather data from users via the info they submit in registration and how they interact with your site, use it to supply them with want they want when they come back. “If you have info to work with, you should take every shortcut you can with your user,” Vivero said. Also, while every user is unique, people generally respond well to larger logical patterns in site design, architecture, and navigation. Again, Amazon was cited as a great example of how to do it well. “We are all creatures of habit,” Vivero said. “If there’s a user pattern generated by people using Amazon, use it. This is something users, especially new users, clamor for. It makes them comfortable.”
Keep the design as simple as possible: Too many people do what Barczak called “puking on the page” — that is, junk up their sites’ pages in an effort to put all the information in one place or make an SEO play with contextualized links. But while this may bring in visitors, it lessens the odds that they’ll return to those sites. “SEO’s important, but it’s only important if you know what to do with that traffic,” he said. Boero agreed that it’s best to avoid clutter and complexity in site design, as that doesn’t help your brand. “I’m not suggesting you can’t be visually compelling, but be simple and clear,” he said.