capitalize on web value

your website serves two masters - your potential clients and your existing clients. This column outlines some critical features of your public Internet presence, since many people will be watching you.

Seth Godin writes in Permission Marketing, "Every commercial Website should be set up to accomplish one goal." Therefore, your Website should be 100% focused on signing up strangers to give your permission to market to them. Some tips:

design your site for usability First, make your site easy to view and to navigate. No need to go wild with twirling objects or vibrant colors. Make your text readable. Restrict the width of your page, or at least of the text, so that a reader's eye doesn't have to wander all the way across the screen.

Second, at a minimum your Website should be a good online brochure. So tell the world exactly what you do. Instead of, "We are a premier provider of real estate solutions," use the phrase: "We specialize in tenant representation services in the XYZ metro." If you say you do everything, nobody will believe you.

Third, tell the world where you are physically located (on the home page!). Trust begins with the understanding that you are a real firm in a real place.

make your professionals accessible The 'Net should deepen your personal business relationships. That's why I'm continually amazed by real estate sites that do not present their professionals front and center. Each member of your staff is a hook for a new client. So make it easy for visitors to find out who they are.

display your listings/portfolio I remember a few years ago, when the Web was in its infancy, folks would ask me, "Should I really put information on my listings on the Web?" The concern was that a potential tenant might make a judgment without talking to an owner or an agent. What, you don't want your clients to think independently?

Luckily we're now past that time-consuming, you've-got-to-talk-to-me-personally mindset. It turns out that clients who have done independent market research make quicker decisions. They're less likely to waste your time. So now there is a genuine push on the part of many owners and brokers to put all of their space available data on the web. To that end, make sure that all of your information is complete and includes information like demographics, floor plans, aerial photos, maps and 360-degree images.

provide authoritative market commentary Establish your credibility by posting accurate, up-to-date market information. Many corporate real estate professionals have told me that they picked their broker or owner with the best market information online. It's a natural reaction.

I'm not suggesting that you put your "secret sauce" (to use Scott McNealy's phrase) on the Web. But do put up good aggregate statistics. A professional's role is to interpret the market information. After all, it's very difficult for a non-professional to make a judgment on multiple locations in an unfamiliar market.

One final point. When you post your market information, include maps that clearly show your market coverage. Here's your chance to demonstrate graphically your grasp of the market. You might even post your market information in Adobe Acrobat format, which can be printed beautifully, especially with a color printer. But make sure that you publish it in HTML so that visitors can copy and paste it easily.

collect e-mail addresses If you don't collect them, how are you going to contact site visitors? You're not. So include a box into which a visitor can insert an e-mail address. In doing so, you're seeking to gradually increase the level of marketing permission that your potential customer is providing. Once you begin an e-mail relationship, you'll find another incentive for collecting more data.

So what do you do with your new e-mail addresses? You begin sending out periodic, relevant, compelling information. You'll be amazed at the rapport you can develop. Yet, hardly anybody in real estate is doing this. Why? Because maintaining an accurate e-mail list is a very serious undertaking. But do it. If you don't, your competition will. Good luck!

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