[tweetmeme] This month a client of mine (Michelle Silverman) is featured in an article in Realtor Magazine titled Winning With WordPress. WordPress is a hot topic right now in the real estate world, and for good reason. In such a competitive industry, smart agents are adapting quickly to meet the changing needs of their tech-savvy customers head on. WordPress allows agents to build sites that integrate social media tools and low-cost, do-it-yourself approaches into their marketing mix, helping them get found, showcase their listings to buyers and generate leads that increase their business.
The article in Realtor Magazine provided a decent overview of why WordPress is beneficial, but only really focused broadly on a few of the main selling points (it’s low-cost, easy to update etc). Because it was light on the technical details of why WordPress is such a great tool for agents, it may have left a number of readers who were considering WordPress with more questions than answers. Since the article’s release last week, Michelle has kindly referred a number of curious agents to me to answer some of their more technical questions about WordPress and how it might help them. In this post, I’ll do my best to address the technicalities of why agents should consider WordPress, what hurdles they should expect (timing, costs, questions to ask a designer etc) and how they should approach making the switch to maximize the benefits to their business. I’ll also frame the discussion with dual perspectives, so you can get a feel for why WordPress frameworks helps designers build you what you need quickly and cost-effectively. Ready? Lets dive in.
Why WordPress 3 Is A Great Tool For Real Estate Sites: A Realtor’s Perspective
There are a few main advantages specifically for agents for using WordPress. I’ll discuss each briefly below in bullet points, because I think they’re straightforward. If you have further questions when you’re done with this section, please start a discussion in the comments.
- Getting started won’t kill your budget - WordPress is an open source publishing platform, which means that if you have a hosting account (usually costs between $5-15 per month) you can download WordPress and install it for free. WordPress also allows you to easily customize your website with “themes”, hundreds of which are available for free or for a nominal fee (from $30-$100). I recommend getting an account with BlueHost.com if you want to try it out. That’s what I use and recommend to my clients. It’s a one-stop shop for everything you’ll need and it’s only $7 a month.
- With a little bit of education, you’ll be able to edit and maintain the site yourself – This is the main draw for most agents. Once the site is created, if you’re willing to spend just a few days learning how WordPress works, you’ll be able to log in yourself and edit the site as easily as you can edit a word document. That means that once you’re up and running, you can blog, upload pictures and put listings up yourself without having to call up your web guy. Sounds like utopia, right? There are plenty of places you can learn how to use WordPress. I recommend video tutorials like the ones at Lynda.com that you can get access to for $25.
- Integrating all your social media marketing is a snap – Facebook business pages, Twitter accounts, email marketing and newsletters are all super easy to integrate.
- Google Loves Blogs – WordPress is one of the best blogging engines there is, and Google loves blogs. You know that SEO thing everyone keeps talking about? WordPress is a powerhouse for SEO and constantly updating your site with blog posts and fresh content is the best way to generate traffic that gets you leads.
Why Web Designers Love WordPress 3 Frameworks
WordPress in general is a powerful platform for web designers for a number of reasons. All versions of WordPress create a robust framework to build a site on. Installing WordPress is easy, you can get a site up in a fraction of the time that you could otherwise, and it makes sites easy to backup and maintain. Because it’s open source, there’s also huge libraries of add-on code (called plugins) that let you install cool, complicated features very easily, almost always for free. Subscription options, Ads, Social Media widgets, picture galleries and more can all be integrated in a few clicks. It’s a developers dream – it’s amazing to have a client call up and say “hey, can I put my Facebook business page on my site?” and be able to do it in under 10 minutes.
That’s WordPress in general. There are special features of WordPress 3 that make it stand out, especially for Real Estate sites. I’ll spare you the really geeky details, and instead just say that WordPress 3 itself (compared to previous versions) was a HUGE upgrade. The addition of custom post types and easy menu manipulation allow designers to create sites with lots of variety very easily. This basically means that the age of WordPress sites “looking too much like blogs” is long gone. You can now easily build pretty much anything on WordPress that you see on the web.
Custom post types in particular are something agents definitely need to be aware of because they allow designers to create web page and blog post templates in WordPress with a unique look and feel. A common first question agents have for designers is “can I put up my own listings?!”. Custom post types is how that’s done best, in a way that allows easy updating on the fly by the agent. Previous versions of WordPress made putting up listings as blog posts a little bit more cumbersome and required agents to know some HTML. WordPress 3 eliminates that, so get familiar with the term “custom posts” and ask about it when you’re talking to a designer about listings.
Here are few examples from a site I just launched for Michelle Silverman in La Jolla, CA for her new WordPress 3 site, ViewsOfLaJolla.com. You’ll see that the site looks nothing like a blog, even though it’s completely built on WordPress. All the fading picture slide shows and listings….that’s all done with custom post types.
Why Should I Chose A Theme Framework?
Now that you know a little bit about what makes WordPress 3 itself special, I’d like to touch on WordPress theme frameworks for just a sec, because it’s important. A theme framework is a theme designed to be a flexible foundation for quicker WordPress development. These frameworks are designed to make theme development faster and more accessible, removing the need for programming or design knowledge with options pages – in many cases, colors, fonts, logos and structure can all be done without any programming experience, helping agents further with the on-going maintenance of the site.
The good framworks also give you great security and SEO structure right out of the box and have support communities you can go to for help. The best frameworks out there, including Genesis, Thesis & Pagelines (which is what I used to build the example above), all cost just under $100, but are well worth the money for a web designer because they’ll cut 10-20 hours off development time for a really good looking site right off the bat – and at $50 bucks an hour on average for a good web designer, that’s a steal.
The other huge advantage to starting with a framework is that it allows you to upgrade WordPress constantly and incorporate the latest and greatest features without changing your design. People who’ve owned and managed a website know that websites are living, breathing things that change often and require constant maintenance. In order to keep current with social media and tech trends, you’ll need to use a whole host of software and services that work together and change constantly. That’s the nature of the web. Backups, analytics, security updates, social media… it’s all distributed across the web and needs constant monitoring and attention to ensure that everything keeps running smoothly. Just because your website is working well today, doesn’t mean that it will be tomorrow. Knowing this ahead of time allows you to prepare and budget for ongoing maintenance costs that will inevitably arise. Investing under a hundred dollars in a framework will give you peace of mind because it will sheild you from getting burned later on in the maintenance phase. You’ll effectively be ensuring that your long term maintenance costs flat line close to zero.
Considering a Web Designer for Your New WordPress Site? Here’s What To Expect…
When most real estate agents hear about WordPress’s advantages, they rarely get a web designer’s perspective, which is a shame because all they hear is “cheap and easy” and it tends to skew their expectations and leads to uncomfortable conversations later on when they start talking to designers. I hope that this post has helped you get a better idea of what WordPress’ advantages are, and how to start productive conversations with designers. The rest of this post will focus on myth-busting and tough love. I’ll cover development costs, site development timing and reality checks agents usually find out the hard way.
Let’s talk numbers first. Although I said above that getting started with WordPress was relatively cheap, I didn’t mean to imply that a beautiful, complex WordPress website will only cost you $5 a month. Developing a site on WordPress in almost all cases is going to be far cheapr and easier in the long run in comparison to traditional development. That’s a fact and something you can bet on. However, the reality is that you’re going to spend some cash if you want to do it right. On top of the hosting costs (about $90-120 a year) and a theme framework (about $100), a custom design can cost anywhere from hundreds to thousands of dollars ($1000-1500 is about average for a custom design by an experienced designer. A lot of agents go looking for designers and then suffer from sticker shock after seeing numbers like that. At the end of the day a good site, and a relationship with an experienced designer will cost you somewhere in the $1000-2000 range for a straightforward project. If that seems ridiculous to you (and it does to a lot of agents), I offer a friendly warning. I’ve seen lots of ambitious “do-it-yourselfers” reject those prices and run into serious problems down the line. Instead of paying with cash, they pay for it in other ways. Do-it-yourself sites tend to look amateurish and the agent ends up spending huge amounts of time pulling their hair out in front of the computer when they could have been focusing on their businesses instead. Before going that route, ask yourself what the time you would be spending on the site is really worth to you in dollars and sweat. Having a great looking site will build trust with potential clients and get you leads. Looking amateurish and unpolished can actually have the opposite effect, so you’re paying double – with your time and with potential lead-loss. A client that decides that they DON’T want to do business with you because you have a second-rate website is lost revenue. It’s a superficial world. You have 10-15 seconds to impress most prospects online. If you’re not going to wow anyone with your design skills, delegate.
Timing is another thing that needs explanation, and this will help you understand why a good site costs so much. Rome wasn’t built in a day and neither was a good site design. An average project will take as much as a few weeks to complete and will be managed according to a structured process. This ensures that adequate attention is devoted at each stage of the project to the things that matter most, and that the project moves towards the finish line according to a plan. When you’re considering a designer, ask them lots of questions about the process they follow and how they dealt with similar projects in the past. It’ll help you get a comfort level around how they work, and how they plan on communicating and working with you. Experienced designers will have detailed answers about how they do requirements gathering and perform design reviews, and how they report on their progress and how they collaborate with you. If you start asking questions about these factors, and you’re not getting straight answers, consider looking elsewhere. Ditto if someone tells you that it’ll only take a few days – it’s a red flag for inexperience and overconfidence.
Now that you’ve got a good idea about costs and timing, here are a few additional things to consider and to ask a designer about upfront.
What Does The Designer Need From You To Do A Great Job? – Expect to be responsible for the assembly of listing and MLS information for your properties, photo sets, and to have to write copy for the site. Designers can’t guess about your team bios and what kinds of homes you sell. Get that stuff done and assembled upfront, before you start. If in doubt, ask the designer what they’ll need.
Education and transition: Even if you’re familiar with WordPress, there will be a learning curve if you’re planning on maintaining the site yourself. Ask about how they usually handle de-briefing, training and maintenance tasks once the site is done.
On-going costs: Will the designer be available to you after the project is done when you have questions? Are they willing to make changes and manage upgrades when the time comes? Continuity is important. You want to build a relationship with someone who isn’t going to take off and leave you stranded after they get paid.
Backups: Do you have a copy of everything the designer did backed up? Who is going to manage consistent backups of your content so that if something goes wrong a year from now you won’t lose all your blog posts and your listings?
Any additional questions?
I know this is probably a lot to throw at anyone, but I hope that it provides you with a good information. If you have any additional questions about what WordPress can do for you and how to get started, please feel free to ask in the comments and start a discussion. A little bit of good information can go a long way.