After spending the past few months redesigning and completely redoing our Crossland Team website and blog, it’s finally done – well, close enough. It’s live and you’re seeing it now. I’m still ironing out some things, but that will always be true with any website, forever. A website is never really done. Whew! It was a lot of time and effort.
The problem I had with the old website was that it had been cobbled together using the Joomla CMS, OpenRealty for our Listings, WordPress for the blog, and then we sent users off-site for the Austin Realtor Listings search because I never could get that part to function correctly inside a framed Joomla page.
Having what was really three separate sites trying to work together and appear as one made it a nightmare if I wanted to do something as simple as add another menu item. To do so, I would have to make changes to the coding of three different back-end templates, otherwise the site would lose the consistent navigation and look it had. I can’t believe I let myself get talked into a setup like that to begin with. It was a real mess.
The new website, for which this is my first blog article, runs 100% on WordPress except for the Our Listings manager, which is an old customized version of OpenRealty that my programmer Ben at Seedling.com integrated into wordpress for me.
The advantages of having a WordPress based real estate website are numerous, as I will explain in further detail below.
For starters, I can easily make changes to the menu structure as we add additional menu items and content. It’s as simple as making a new Word Document and saving it.
Second, WordPress, once a basic blogging tool, is now a highly functional CMS (Content Management System) with a huge array of plug-ins and specialty tools (plug-ins) to help make the site better and easier to use for both you the site visitor and me, the Crossland Team Web Boss.
Third, instead of hiring a designer I simply bought a pre-made template that provides the simple look and feel I want and all the back-end menu management functionality I need. I did however invest in the services of a programmer to help further customize the site, change some of the programming under the hood, and deal with all the migration issues such as making sure we don’t leave “dead” pages and links behind after making the switch to a new structure.
By moving to a horizontal drop down menu system in place of the former vertical sidebar menu, I can build out the site with additional resources and content without having one of those 12 inch deep sidebar menus with 50 un-grouped link items, such as you see featured on most cookie-cutter Realtor template sites. Instead, we can have, for example, a “Services” menu with a sub-menu drop down for the specific areas of service.
Ah, this probably sounds boring, but if you’re into web stuff, I hope you’re sticking with me because the good part is coming.
WordPress also allows me to do something different in how we manage and present the blog content.
I know from our web stats that our blog receives the vast majority of readership on the website. 90% of search result visitors come in through a blog page instead of the home page, which is one of the things that makes a blog so valuable in the first place – more content = more people able to find us and consider us as prospective agents to hire.
Next best on the visits count are the online listings. The static pages, such as how we sell your home or help you buy a home, while valuable and necessary, receive surprisingly little readership traffic compared to the blog and the listings pages.
Unless my web stats are lying, people want to read blog articles and look at listings, and that’s about it. When new clients call or email, they often start by saying “I found your blog online …” They never say “I found your “About Us” page and like your background. (OK, every now and then they do, but rarely) Or they say, “I found this listing on your website and I was wondering …”
So, knowing that the old “brochure site” model of having some static pages all about the company isn’t what gets it done any more. That type of website just doesn’t cut it. It the dynamic, changing content of listings and blog articles that drives web traffic,and thus leads.
How then does a real estate website owner acknowledge and accommodate the fact that a website needs to be dynamic and changing?
What I decided to do was to create the huge Page Footer you now see at the bottom of every page on the Crossland Team website. At first, I told myself “no, it’s too weird for a real estate website. It’s too much stuff to look at”. But the idea kept nagging at me, and I’ve seen some examples of it on other blogs and like the concept.
The purpose of the giant footer is to present, in differently sorted formats, current and past blog content such that instead of being buried in a two year old pile, a past article can become visible and relevant if it is still coming up in searches and being viewed. How does this work? Let’s look at the 4 columns that comprise what I affectionately call my “big footer”.
Column 1 = Recent Blog Posts
Lists posts in chronological order. This is a given, must have. It shows the last 10 blog articles written, in order, and wordpress does it out of the box with no special programming needed. You see this on all blog sites.
Column 2 = Hot Topics
Is a column created with the help of the “Popularity Contest” plug-in. Popularity Contest uses an algorithm to determine which articles are the “hottest” as compared to other articles on the site. The algorithm measures the most recent, immediate interest based on a combination of hits, inbound links, number of comments, trackbacks and some other stuff that I don’t completely understand.
Column 3 = Recently Read
This simply lists the articles that have been viewed most recently without factoring anything else. That column changes constantly, and is never the same list of articles. So if someone just read an article from 2 years ago, it will appear temporarily on that list where it has a chance of being seen and clicked by another reader and thus could even possibly work up to a Hot Topic article even though it’s old content. Think of this as as turning the soil in your garden to mix it up a bit, to get some of the old stuff on top.
Column 4 = Archives
Like Recent Posts, a Archives is a standard blog listing of past articles, but it provides one click access deep into the article archives, thus also helping keep readership mixed up.
WordPress also has plug-ins that allow customized page titles, meta tags and keywords on a per page and per article basis. I use “All in One SEO” These “seo” (search engine optimization) tools help search engines find your content which in turn helps people find your site.
And aside from the programming help, all of these tools are free.
I recommend any business owner with or without a website consider using WordPress as your site management tool. You may have to hire someone to help with the setup, as I did, but once it’s up and running, almost anyone can maintain and manage the site.