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The New Dynamic (of) Websites

This post was written by me during my tenure at the Massachusetts Association of REALTORS. Original article here.

So what’s the goal of a website? Think about it.  Is it just a place on the Internet to store your bio and listings? Perhaps you go a step further and add a list of links to real estate tools and local community resources. Once someone has seen that information, though, what else is there to bring them back? Now think about what’s different on the websites you visit frequently; what brings you back? I’m willing to put 20% down that it’s a combination of new content and a site that actually engages the visitor. Traditional websites with this ability don’t come cheap, but there’s a practically free alternative for those willing to try something different; a blog.

For the uninitiated, a quick primer. A blog is just a shorthand term for web log, or an online journal-style website where people can write about anything from their love of real estate to their love of fruits and vegetables. A blog is infinitely flexible because the purpose of a blog really just to give you a set of online tools to help you promote your content.

All blogs give you some basic functions that are quite powerful when used as intended. For example, blogs give you the ability to quickly and easily create new posts/articles with pictures, videos and more using a simple online writing tool. There’s no need to rely on a web designer to update pages because the process is so simplified. Additionally, blogs give you multiple ways to categorize information using tags (which are just keywords describing an article) and categories (which are just sections for particular topics). Tools like these make finding content on a website, even a very large site, very easy.

You can have content that is not a blog “post” as well. On a Wordpress blog (a free blogging platform) you can create an unlimited number of simple pages to store those traditional “About Me” pages, or link to your IDX feed, VOW site, your profile on any other property search website, real estate resources, local resources, or any other site you’re currently linking to from your site.

Popular blogs also provide tools that can connect with other online services to share information such as photos, videos and posts. For example, you can use the Flickr Widget (which is included in blogs from Wordpress) to connect a Wordpress blog to the popular photo sharing service Flickr. When you post photos on Flickr they automatically show up on your Wordpress blog without any extra effort on your part. You can also connect a service like Utterli.com to a Wordpress blog, allowing you to take a photo or video on your cell phone that automatically shows up on your blog.

I mentioned engaging the visitors to your site. You may have seen the “Click here for live chat” button on many company websites. Often that is powered by an expensive service called LivePerson. You can get a similar tool for free if you combine the free online chat service Meebo.com with a free Wordpress blog. Meebo allows you to use instant messaging through the web without installing any software to your PC/Mac. You can use the Meebo widget in Wordpress to add a “Click here to chat with me” button to your blog allowing visitors to initiate a real-time chat with you (as long as you’re online). Another way to connect is with user comments using tools built into all blogging software. Feedback from visitors not only gives you ideas for new topics to discuss, but can give valuable tips on what’s important to potential clients.

If you go one step further and setup a Wordpress blog at your own domain (hosted by a company like Bluehost, GoDaddy, etc) you can take advantage of any of the “plug-ins” available here  http://wordpress.org/extend/plugins/ to extend the capabilities of your blog. One very useful tool is the “Great Real Estate Plugin”available here: http://www.rogertheriault.com/agents/plugins/great-real-estate-plugin/. This free extra (donations to the creator encouraged) will automatically create a “Featured Homes” section on your blog, embed a Google map for your each listing, embed a video player, a photo gallery, a section for descriptions and file downloads, and more. What is the cost to include this service in your blog? Zero.

Although all these tools are technically free, they do come with one price: your time. The more you want to do for free the more of your own time you will invest, but there will be an equal payoff in terms of the capabilities of your website. For example, last year’s individual agent winner of the Website Design Contest (open to submissions until March 31st) was Deb Agliano: www.debontheweb.com. Her site is based entirely on Wordpress’ blogging software, but has been modified to feel like a traditional website. The tools available in Wordpress make her site engaging and interactive, plus give options for multimedia: videos, podcasts, and more.

If all of these tools are available for free, as long as you’re willing to put in the time to set them up or pay someone to do the setup for you, then what can be done on a traditional website that CANNOT be done on a blog? I can’t think of anything.

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