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Applying the 7 principles for more engaging websites to real estate sites

Seven principles of website design

Do you want more people to stay on your website, to click where you ask them to click, and contact you when you ask them to? Dr. Susan Weinschenk explains in the above video* the seven basic principles that make websites more interesting, and we thought we would apply those principles to real estate websites which tend to violate several of the basic rules and go against modern research.

*Take a moment to watch the video above so the following analysis makes sense.

Real estate website sins

The first principle is giving users too many choices. Sure, they say they want choices, but if there are eight trillion links to click in size eight font and various flash ads averting attention on a site, the human brain cannot process the one task they should on a real estate site.

This is the biggest sin we see on real estate websites- link and option overload. Realtors that design sites themselves often end up with dozens of widgets and cruddy clip art (you know, stick figures shaking hands and the like), but it simply overloads users.

The second principle is social validation. Most independent real estate websites do not (and for years will not) have the ability for users to see what their friends think of each individual property or even individual agents, but studies show that consumers value peer reviews, even over expert reviews. Outside of testimonials on a site, third party real estate search sites are the current front runner in consumers seeing peer reviews, but primarily of real estate agents given the legal difficulties in reviews of individual properties. This will be changing, but not likely on individual real estate sites any time soon.

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Difficult principles to apply

The third principle is scarcity. Realtors can accomplish scarcity on their website by applying current market statistics, so as agents blog about a listing, they could note “this is the first day this home is on the market and because the average number of days on market in this subdivision is 18 days, the listing will not last long.” The “won’t last long” claims are fine, but consumers need tangibility of why it won’t, or how long they have until they panic.

Adding food, sex, or danger is the fourth principle and one that is insanely difficult to offer on real estate website. The exception is sex appeal. Some are more experimental with sex appeal in ads, from simply using appealing models in ads to blatant sex appeal in videos with lingerie models and the like.

The sweet spot of real estate websites

The fifth principle is using the power of faces. Almost all real estate websites depict happy consumers, often a stock photo of an overly enthusiastic white couple hugging in front of a new house with keys in hand, holding a sold sign. The problem with these stock photos is not only that they’re repetitive across websites in the same market, but because they don’t usually implement the modern theory that faces should be eye to eye with a camera; typically these look down at a camera, violating the basic human principle of looking at eyes. A small investment in photographing a Realtor’s real consumers face to face with the camera can be unique, memorable, and more relatable.

Number six is the theory of story. If your website tells a story, a consumer will be more engaged. This doesn’t mean “once upon a time, there was a Realtor who wanted to serve you with integrity,” rather visually tell a story as in “buy, sell, rent” prompts with subcategories offering explanation. Think of it this way- walk down the path from start to finish with your consumer and use human language rather than washed up real estate clichés.

The last principle is commitment. When walking down that path with your consumer, you don’t start the walk by asking in a pop up, “can I please have an escrow check?” Rather, small commitments are asked along the way, like “please enter your email address for alerts, we’ll email you when a new property matches your results,” and the prompt is given after someone searches for three homes on the real estate website.

The takeaway

All of this is open to interpretation, and every market demands a different spin on these seven principles, but these principles should be examined in the context of real estate websites given that this industry violates most of these principles, most of the time, yet people wonder why their return on their website investment is low.

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Click here for Dr. Susan Weinschenk’s extended white paper on the topic.

Lani is the COO and News Director at The American Genius, has co-authored a book, co-founded BASHH, Austin Digital Jobs, Remote Digital Jobs, and is a seasoned business writer and editorialist with a penchant for the irreverent.



  1. David Pylyp

    August 7, 2011 at 2:01 pm

    Excellent refresher, I will take a look at my sites to further declutter the number of available choices!

    How do we incorporate sex into advertising real estate without turning to the Australiam models provided?

    Thank You
    David Pylyp
    Accredited Senior Agent Toronto

  2. Susan Weinschenk

    August 7, 2011 at 2:41 pm


    Great summary of the video applied to to the real estate world!

  3. Andrew

    August 7, 2011 at 11:03 pm

    Fantastic video. Makes a lot of sense. Thanks for the refresher.

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