When it comes to an easy to use out-of-the-box content management system (CMS), WordPress is about as good as it gets. For the ready-to-go blogger, it’s a no-brainer and reason why WP is the most popular open source software ever. But what if you want to power a real estate lead generation monster with it?
For the basis of a website, WP is as good as anything out there. Since it is the “CMS for Dummies”, adding content is a breeze. Even integrating various IDX solutions with WP is relatively easy. Where it fails is where they all fail – operator error – and the most common error made with all of them is managing content.
In the article “Picking and Choosing What We Pay Attention To”, SEO and usability expert Gord Hotchkiss writes,
Our minds have an amazingly effective filter that continually scans our environment, subconsciously monitoring all this detail, and then moving it into our attentive focus if our sub cortical alarm system determines we should give it conscious attention. So, as we daydream our way through our lives, we don’t unconsciously plow through pedestrians as they step in front of us. We’re jolted into conscious awareness until the crisis is dealt with, working memory is called into emergency duty, and then, post crisis, we have to try to pick up the thread of what we were doing before. This example shows that working memory is not a multi-tasker. It’s impossible to continue to mentally balance your check book while you’re trying to avoid smashing into the skateboarding teen who just careened off the side walk. Only one task at a time, thank you.
If your eyes didn’t glaze over by the end of the first sentence, I applaud you. If you are like the majority of people on the web though, you didn’t catch any of it until “This example shows that working memory is not a multi-tasker” jumped out at you. You then either envisioned the skateboarder, or you wondered why I had ‘multi-tasking visitor” in the headline.
Now let’s re-visit the video from the last post. Count how many times the white team passes the ball.
And The Answer Is…
I don’t have a clue. I really don’t. I keep losing count every time I see the gorilla. If you didn’t see it, watch it again, but this time don’t count. It’s much more obvious when you know what’s coming.
The lesson here is your web visitor likely has tunnel vision as well. If they clicked through from a search engine on certain query, that is likely the primary thought on their mind. If they are a very targeted visitor, its probable that they are only focused on the result that matches their intent. If it’s not obvious, they may miss it completely. That’s when they hit the back button and bounce. Multi-tasking visitors? That’s a myth.
Your Attention, Please?
Theories abound on the web, but one of the most documented facts about the Web is that we don’t read most web pages. You have just written the next Pulitizer Prize winning piece, but the odds are that many will not read it. Instead we scan pages and look for words or phrases that get our attention.
Too. Many. Choices.
Ever heard of the “Rule of Sevens”? The theory tested by psychologists is that seven seems to be the “break” spot for memory and that the human mind tends toward groups of seven. If you give people too many choices, there is a tendency to not make one at all. The frustrated or confused visitor then takes the safe bet – the back button to where they started. So how do we make it easy for the visitor to focus their intent on our desired course of action when we have all this killer content on or for our site?
We need to do two things:
1. Make it obvious what is available on your site
2. Make it idiot proof for them to find it
We start by taking all of our content and putting it in a pile.
Card sorting: Its Just Like Doing The Laundry
I was raised by a single mom, so sorting laundry was learned early on. Everyone has their own way of sorting, but the end result is to make sure each article of clothing is in the right load. Since the Maytag at our disposal had a slot for coins, this also meant that everything had to be done in “X” number of loads.
For me, this chore started out by throwing everything into a big pile. Same with web site content, and it doesn’t matter if its new or one being re-worked. In the olden days before WP, I did this with a stack of index cards. Each page I had or was going to create was represented by a card with the page title. Once I had my pile of cards, it was just like sorting laundry and knowing it had to be done in seven loads or less. If you have a lot of content, it is a bit more work, but it can be done. The best tutorial I know on card sorting is here.
WordPress Makes It Easy
With WP, I don’t need the index cards. I simply create a page for everything. At this point I’m not worried about the main content, or even the SEO meta tags. I just want to make the pile and start sorting. WP makes the sorting easy too. I create a page each “pile”. These become my parent pages. Then each page is sorted and made a child of the most appropriate parent. You can see what I’ve done so far here. The sidebar is my partially sorted pile.
Now we are pretty much caught up. I have more pages to add and sort, but soon I’ll have the basic blueprint of the site complete.
And if you are wondering about the home page, “Yes Virginia, it is static”. The blog is just one component, not the focus.
Sign Photo courtesy Phil Romans
October 21, 2009 at 9:44 pm
So I had heard somewhere that we want our site architecture not to have pages more than three clicks from the home page. It looks on your sidebar like that may not be the case! What are your thoughts on that?
October 22, 2009 at 12:07 am
Question: Any particular reason why you went with WordPress MU vs regular WP?
By the way, loving this whole series so far. IMHO AG needs to bundle this into an e-book for every agent to download.
October 22, 2009 at 3:05 am
Dan, that’s a great question. The concept of no more than 3 levels deep is tied more to search engine behavior than human behavior. When search engines moved away from submission based indexes to crawler based indexes, they crawled on a fairly regular basis, which was then followed by a monthly update. Google had two bots, deepbot, which crawled once a month and freshbot, which crawled fresh content every few days (anyone remember the “fresh” tags Google used to place next to pages in the SERPS?). The depth that deepbot would crawl had a lot to do with pagerank, which flowed pretty much from the top down in those days. So if you wanted pages indexed and didnt have the PR to support it, you went wide and shallow.
From a human standpoint, there is a concept called ‘information foraging’ that was developed in the 90s. It compares web users to wild animals foraging for food. One aspect of it is called ‘information scent’ that suggests “Information scent refers to the extent to which users can predict what they will find if they pursue a certain path through a website.”
Directories like Yahoo and Dmoz were built on this principle. The flip side to this – and one reason why IA is important, is explained in a piece Jakob Nielsen wrote – “Information Foraging: Why Google Makes People leave Your Site Faster”.
The way this relates to my site is that while I don’t expect many to drill down from the homepage to a specific condo building in one of a handful of Downtown neighborhoods, I do know that a search engine will. I also now that an intuitive navigation architecture allows me to flow page rank to pages based on the importance I place on them.
October 22, 2009 at 3:09 am
Erion, I use WPMU to manage several websites. If i was just dealing with a few sites, I would stick with the single user version.
At some point in the future, the code will be merged and the two will be combined into one. We expect that to happen in the 3.0 upgrade, but who knows?
Atlanta Real Estate
October 22, 2009 at 8:23 am
This continues to be very interesting but I bet you could just put a big fat IDX search engine on the front page of your site and have your entire site structure below it and do better than anything else one might come up with.
The site structure below it will drive traffic and the IDX on the front page is what every new visitor is looking for and handles the lead generation, which I assume is still the purpose of all this. (?)
You WordPress weenies are making me jealous! Every time I want a new page, or a modification, I have to go to DreamWeaver and start coding! Like a man!
Seriously though, do me a favor – take a look at my home page and give me your thoughts on how I could integrate a blog into this page. I know most everyone around here only knows blog sites and dealing with WP themes, but I only have experience with hand coded sites.
I’m thinking I create another div box and maybe RSS in the blog headlines that are coming from a sub domain where said blog is living??
October 22, 2009 at 10:08 am
Erion if one completes a great series, we’re all about the bundle 🙂
Atlanta, RSS feeds really aren’t the way, just suck it up and be a dynamic sissy and install wordpress or some other modeled cms 😉 It will save you time and frustration, otherwise, I suppose RSS is your answer, albeit will impact your load times and possibly fail in timeouts leaving you no further ahead than before you had the feed.
October 22, 2009 at 11:35 am
Rob, your comment dovetails with a comment Erion made on the IA post.
What if you are a big listing agent? You may want to attract potential sellers as well. Frequently that business is earned deeper into the site. Changing market conditions will also affect user behavior. In 2007 & 2008, with one site that primarily targeted buyers, the underlying IA structure allowed me to target the short sale seller without changing anything that would hurt other rankings. 30% of the traffic was short sale related. Today that online pull business has decreased as the distressed seller is being hit with a tsunami of push marketing that gets to them first. .
Think of it as a sailboat. With a well designed one, using different sails on the appropriate rigging gets you to your destination regardless of the wind direction and without having to make any structural changes. If you sail competitively, the key is reading the wind and utilizing the right sail at the right time. Same with being competitive in the online race.
When Google says build it for the user, keep in mind that those are experts in information architecture talking. Build it right for the user, and you’ll build it right for the search engine.
As for DW, I will never go back. I’ll get back to you about the home page.
Atlanta Real Estate
October 22, 2009 at 3:08 pm
Bob – what will you put on a web site to attract sellers? You can put some stuff under your “seller tab,” of course, but you put a TON of stuff for buyers and sell this to the sellers.
You tell sellers that when your house is listed with me, I attract the buyers with all these kikkass buyer tools. Here’s my traffic numbers, etc., (this is in fact the truth)
A seller could not care less if you are attracting other sellers. Plus they are not out on the real estate web sites in the numbers buyers are.
But don’t take my word for any of this, I’ve had like 5 listings in the last two years. In this market, well quaified buyers are a more reliable source of income for me.
Finally, I don’t think real estate web site design is quite as complex as you are suggesting.
-Something north of 80% of buyers are starting on the internet.
-One of the first few agents that interfaces with a new buyer will end up as the official Agent
-90% of these 80% are looking to search for homes
-get as many visitors to your site as possible
-get them to your IDX as soon as possible
-capture their info
-make first contact
That’s all you can do. Assumiing your goal is to land clients with your site. I suppose there could be other goals at play here.
Not sure where all the IA fits into this super simplistic equation.
But again, whatTheCrapDoIknow.com?
Atlanta Real Estate
October 22, 2009 at 3:09 pm
Bob, my last repy got caught in your spam filter.
go release it
Atlanta Real Estate
October 22, 2009 at 3:13 pm
I’m happy to install WordPress but I want to keep my site as is. I.e., I don’t want to flip it to a WordPress theme et al.
Is this possible? I’m so ignorant to this wordpress stuff, it’s embarassing.
October 23, 2009 at 10:31 am
Bob – I’m relieved that you’re creating a static home page. I really love the ability to manage my content with WP, but I’ve never been satisfied with a ‘blog’ home page that simply lists posts with the most recent article on top. Since the home page is the tip of the ‘information pyramid ‘, seems like a static page would be more effective. I’m working on a static home page that should be ready in a couple weeks.
Question – I’ve thought about having a home page with a static page followed by a list of sequential posts. So this would be a bit of a hybrid — best of both worlds. Any opinions on that approach?
Rob – I really like the clean, well-organized look of your site. I disagree that delivering an informative, sticky site is easy. If so, someone would have figured out the ultimate template site that 80% of agents would use. If your site comes up in a search, I think that you have 3 seconds (or less) to grab your reader. If it’s too busy – they’re gone. Too ugly – gone. Can’t find what they want in two clicks – gone. Easy to do? I don’t think so.
October 23, 2009 at 11:55 am
Rob, you made the assumption that most visitors to a site are buyers looking to search for real estate. That isn’t true. Here are some interesting stats from Sept on two sites I have worked with that rank well for their target key phrases.
24,000 unique visitors
7,000 initiated a search
2,500 users registered
12,500 unique visitors
3,800 initiated a search
1,259 users registered
Not everyone searches for real estate, regardless of the ease of use.
On the design issue, I took one site that was getting 500-600 unique visitors and 12-15 new registered search users a day and re-did it. A week before it was relaunched, it dropped a few spaces in the serps and the trafficwent to @300 uniques a day. The first week it was launched, the percentage of visitors searching went up and the registyered users went to 45-50 a day. The design led to 3x the number of registered users on 50-60% of the traffic.
I know of sites that are on page two that get more leads than sites one page (same serps).
Like Bruce said, It isn’t as simply as you say, or else everyone would be killing it.
October 23, 2009 at 11:58 am
It all depends on the goal Bruce, and what you blog about. Most of what is below the fold doesnt get read anyways.
Atlanta Real Estate
October 23, 2009 at 12:19 pm
Bruce – my liberal use of the word “easy” is definitely over the top. It’s not “easy” we all know that. My point is more that it’s also not Amazon.com and and talking about Information Architecture for a real estate site is pretty heady stuff.
I’m always over simplistic and I apologize. To me, visitors are either there for searching (buyers), information (sellers), or information (could be a buyer or seller or someone researching an area or neighborhood).
So there’s three things, not 300, and two of them are just about the same.
Bob – I love real numbers. To me, it’s a lot better than the bla bla bla “ideas” that normally dominate the blogs.
However, what you derived from your data is not so cut n dried.
If 24k showed up and 7k went into the IDX, this does not mean that 17k were buyers, or info shoppers, or anything. They could been a mix of those two, plus people in the wrong place, plus people that followed a link from a post just to see what’s up with this guy, anything.
You don’t know what they were doing there. They may of been buyers that didn’t like the site, or couldn’t find the IDX, or whatever.
I would STILL say that the largest number visitors to a web site (that we can identify their goal), are there to search for homes.
How about that one?
BTW, love the conversation! And, believe me, I don’t even fake to know everything…
(i’ll call you after lunch here)
October 23, 2009 at 12:47 pm
“My point is more that it’s also not Amazon.com and and talking about Information Architecture for a real estate site is pretty heady stuff.”
That attitude is shared by many, and why most RE sites dont produce. I would argue that it is EXACTLY like Amazon – a business site whose job is to produce income.
“If 24k showed up and 7k went into the IDX, this does not mean that 17k were buyers, or info shoppers, or anything. They could been a mix of those two, plus people in the wrong place, plus people that followed a link from a post just to see what’s up with this guy, anything
You don’t know what they were doing there. They may of been buyers that didn’t like the site, or couldn’t find the IDX, or whatever.”
You either just made my point, or Im confused. .
Atlanta Real Estate
October 23, 2009 at 2:10 pm
yeah, that is confusing. One small word, one big meaning change. I meant to type:
“If 24k showed up and 7k went into the IDX, this does not mean that 17k were *SELLERS*, or info shoppers, or anything. They could been a mix of those two, plus people in the wrong place, plus people that followed a link from a post just to see what’s up with this guy, anything
Anyway – never mind. This debate has no outcome since there’s no way to prove what the deal was with the 17k mystery visitors.
We can state that 7k of them were most likely interested in searching.
October 24, 2009 at 3:14 pm
Hi Bob, great post.
Can you show us your current two websites? While you are working on a new site, it seems we can still learn a lot from your current sites. Those conversion rates are great!
Also, I ‘d love to hear your opinion on targeting a large metro area (you stated your “greedy”) and the ability to service the leads (maybe you have a large team?) and effect on SEO…
We are in Miami so we are facing that very question, target greater Miami as a whole, or closer to home…. (I see it as a quality over quantity issue) but would love to hear your strategy on this.
thx for the post
October 25, 2009 at 6:54 pm
“This debate has no outcome since there’s no way to prove what the deal was with the 17k mystery visitors.”
This isnt a debate. It is what it is. The point was that not everyone wanted to search. The other 17k are not exactly mysteries though, as we have analytics that shows what many were looking for and where they went. We also have about a 20% bounce rate – which is low, almost 5k still left immediately.
October 25, 2009 at 7:09 pm
Hi Janie – targeting a large area is a matter of choice. Like Miami, when referring to San Diego, its more of a region than just a city. I break it down into a handful of geographic areas , then further into the cities and communities within those areas. I do it this way because while its a big area, you can get to almost anywhere in the County in 30-45 minutes, except fot the back country.
So given that commute times are less on average than say LA or the Bay Area, its not uncommon for people to search in dozens of areas before they narrow down their search.to a handful of communities. By that time they have likely met a few agents, so the strategy is partially based on catching them first and being the ones who help them narrow down the search.
From an SEO perspective, if I can rank for the larger trafficked terms, its usually fairly easy to then do well on the community level. With hungry buyer agents everywhere, there is always a demand for leads.
The lead management is a big part of the decision to go big versus small though. If you cant manage the leads, it doesn’t matter.
Another factor is the size of the area. I wouldn’t do this in LA, or Chicago. That is just way to big a geographic area unless you have a substantial agent infrastructure in place.
That said, I’m a big fan of scalability. Loosely targeting the broader area while focusing on a few core areas you can handle is an ideal way to start. You can always add areas as you grow.