The Power of Real Estate Websites to Tell Your Story and Sell Your Brand


When was the last time you looked at your real estate website? Really looked at it, the way a buyer or seller would as they look for a real estate agent?

While some agents question if websites are even necessary today, the truth is they’re a powerful way to tell buyers and sellers why they should hire you.

On this week’s Walkthrough, 1000watt’s Jessica Swesey shares how your website can expand your brand, tell your story, and help you stand out from other agents in your market.

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Links and Show Notes

Full Transcript

(SPEAKER: Matt McGee, Host)

[Sound: rotary phone dialing]

That’s the sound of a rotary phone. Remember those? What about, I don’t know, floppy disks, VHS tapes, now even CDs and DVDs? All of them gone or pretty much gone, replaced by shinier and newer things.

Some people think websites are headed in that direction too. It seems like every few weeks I see a real estate agent ask, “Do I really need a website now? You know, can’t I just use Facebook or Instagram instead?”

Well, you can, but that doesn’t mean you should.

A great website isn’t just part of your online marketing strategy, it should be the hub, the focus. It’s the best place for you to tell your story, establish your brand, and show the world how you stand out from the crowd. My guest today is going to show you exactly how to do it.

This is “The Walkthrough.”

(INTRO MUSIC)

Hello, there. How are you? My name’s Matt McGee. I’m the editor of HomeLight’s Agent Resource Center. Welcome to “The Walkthrough”. This is a weekly podcast, we have new episodes that come out every Monday. This is the show where you’ll learn what’s working right now from the best real estate agents and industry experts in the country. At HomeLight, we believe in real estate agents, we’re on a journey to find out how great agents grow their business, stand out from the crowd, and become irreplaceable.

If you want to get involved in the show or get in touch with me, there’s a few ways you can do that. Number one, find me in our Facebook listener community. Go to Facebook, do a search for HomeLight Walkthrough, the groups should come right up. You can leave a voicemail or send a text. The number to do that is 415-322-3328. Or you can just send an email, the address is walkthrough [at homelight.com.

Take a look at your website. Put yourself in the position of a buyer or seller, someone who doesn’t know you already. Then be honest with me. Better yet, be honest with you. Would you hire yourself? Does your website make a convincing case why a buyer or seller should choose you? If not, let’s change that.

My guest today is Jessica Swesey. She’s a partner, brand strategist, and chief copywriter at 1000watt. That’s the innovative marketing and branding agency that works with real estate teams, brokerages, and even some of the big platform vendors as well. Before 1000watt, Jessica led the editorial team at Inman. She’s been working in real estate for 18 years and she’s helped countless real estate pros figure out their message and tell their story online.

On today’s show, Jessica is going to talk about the role your website should play in a successful digital marketing strategy, how to develop a headline and story that separates you from your competition, how to balance brand and storytelling with successful content to reach buyers and sellers.

All of that is coming up, then at the very, very end of the show, I’ll have a One More Minute segment that expands a bit on our conversation today. First, let’s talk with Jessica Swesey about what makes a great real estate website.

As the conversation begins, I’ve just asked Jessica to make the case for even having a website in 2021. She says, yes, they are necessary, but the use case might be different than what you think.

(BEGIN CONVERSATION)

Jessica: I don’t really think an agent website is necessarily a search experience that a consumer is looking for. But you know, say you meet someone on Instagram or they just kind of start following you, your website at least gives you another place, like a sort of a hub, if you think of like a hub-and-spoke strategy. It’s a place where people can go where like you own that little space and you get to tell your own story about who you are. And I think consumers now, you know, I know I do this anytime I’m looking to hire somebody for something, I need to figure out who they are if I don’t know them. And so, you Google them or, you know, you go on their Yelp page or you find reviews and stuff. So, at least like with your website, that gives you something you control where you can tell the story about who you are and what you do and you know, how you’re different.

Matt: I love the hub-and-spoke model. I’m so glad you mentioned that because, I mean, that’s exactly how I look at it. It is something that you control. Your website is not subject to the algorithms, the changes, the rules, and all that that you’ll face with Google, Facebook, Instagram.

Jessica: Yeah. And you know, all these social channels are really great opportunities for marketing, but you have to think about too, like what happens when one of them goes away or they change the rules or, you know, suddenly your page just for whatever reason no one’s seeing your stuff. When you put too many of your eggs in one basket there, like there’s a risk, you know? They talk about like the platforms owning you, you not owning your platform. And with your website, at least then you can create your own email list. You have a little more control over your marketing should something happen. You know, like you’re saying with one of these algorithms. And then like also marketing is such a like conversation these days, like it’s such a long-term thing, and especially with real estate, like people aren’t like, “Hey, I think I’ll buy a house,” and boom, they buy a house like the next day. You know, they’re mulling it over for months before they even like talk to somebody. So, you know, if you can catch someone on your website and give them a reason to sign up for your email list, then you’re at least like able to show up in their inbox and give them information that puts clues out there about who you are and they’ll remember you when it’s time. It’s always good to have that kind of control, I think, in your marketing.

Matt: When I look at agent websites or even team websites, I see a lot of sameness. Do you see that too?

Jessica: You know, I think a lot of that has to do with just the real estate website ecosystem, you know, is one in which there’s a lot of templated sites. And it makes sense, you know, templates make things easy. But I think after a while, things start to, you know, it falls into a template and it’s hard to then question it, right? Like, well, of course, we have a hero image of a big property and then there’s a search bar and then there’s a client testimonial and then there’s this and then there’s that. So, we have sort of reached that level of, you know, when you line up a dozen real estate sites and you look at them, like they start to look the same after the first like two or three.

Matt: What’s the first step to not be the same, right, to differentiate yourself? You know, listeners just heard, you know, five minutes ago on the podcast, every episode I say, you know, that we’re trying to help you stand out from the crowd. So, where does that begin? What’s the first step?

Jessica: We take a brand approach. So, what we do is we work on, you know, a bit of brand strategy and story and messaging for a team. And what that means is we basically are trying to figure out, you know, at the essence of this team, like what is different here and what is special? What is your brand’s personality? What is the meaning behind it? If there is one…you know, and what we found is there always is, like there’s always some little quirk, you know, you have to dig for it sometimes or maybe you don’t even see it and it’s so obvious. You know, we see it as an outsider coming in. Sometimes it’s just your approach to how you work. You know, you’re extremely energetic and optimistic, and so we can sort of build a brand story around that, try to inform the language and the visuals based on, you know, that foundation, that foundational work.

Matt: What questions do you ask your clients as part of this process? And I’m asking that because obviously, all of our listeners are not going to have the luxury and benefit of working with 1000watt. They’ll be like, “All right, well, how do I figure out what my message is, what my brand is?” What questions should they be asking?

Jessica: You know, I always try to start with like the point of view. Like, what is your point of view on the world within you work in? You know, why are you here? What is it about real estate that drew you in? What is it that you felt or you feel is maybe wrong with how real estate has done that you are doing right? Or the one thing that you will like go to the mat for every time. You know, if you feel like a lot of people you hear say, “Well, I bought my first house. It was a terrible experience. The agent didn’t know what they were doing. And then I was looking for a career move and I thought, ‘Oh, this could be something cool.” You know, there’s a story in there. It’s like, okay, you know, I stand for impeccable work, you know, no stone unturned kind of thing. You know, what is it that you stand for? Maybe it’s like, I’m the independent person in this sea of corporations that have taken over. And so, therefore, like, you know, I don’t have to answer to a board of directors. I don’t have to answer to managers above me. Like that gives me freedom to like really go all-out customer service or … I’m just kind of making this up … but like, those types of things will surface from that type of a question.

We always say, like, it takes a series of three whys often to get to like a real answer. Just an example, like, “Why did you get into real estate?” “Well, you know, really, I like helping people buy homes.” “Okay. Well, why do you like helping people buy homes?” “Well, because I see it as a means to, you know, financial security in the future.” Okay. Now, it’s starting to get interesting. “Why is that important to you?” And then you can see how that kind of leads to like a little bit deeper of a vision and mission where you can start to really think about differentiating yourself from others.

Matt: Was there a recent client at some point where you went through this process and helped them figure out what their story is, what their message is, and how they use that?

Jessica: So, we worked earlier this year with a woman in Aspen, an agent named Mandy Welgos who has already, I noticed, put our work out into the world. So, I think she wouldn’t mind me talking about it. She was basically part of a team, but going on her own for the first time. So, that was kind of part of her story. But what we realized was she took this approach to her clients that was really like almost like soulful in a way. She brought a certain energy to the table. Like, you know, real estate is tough right now. Like, when you’re bidding on homes, you’re up against a lot of competition. And even when you’re like selling, it’s like there are so many different pieces that have to get in place. And she just had this sort of optimism and energy that she brought to the table.

So, we kind of like we dug a little bit and we thought that’s really it. Like, she makes you feel really good in the process. And also, you know, in a market like Aspen, it should be kind of fun. You know, like people are there because they want to be there not because like their job transferred them and they had to like, you know, schlep the family out. You know, people are there because they want to be there. You know, we came up with a tagline, “Let’s do this,” because it really just embodied her energy, and just like the excitement that people buying and selling in Aspen feel, you know, when they’re making a move.

Matt: And then once you have that, like how does that play out? How do you apply that on her website?

Jessica: We just kind of identified spots. We didn’t want to reinvent the wheel, right? We weren’t there to tear down our site and rebuild it. So, we just looked for spots where she already had, you know, about me copy. She already had a headline so we replaced that. We looked for places and it was mainly her homepage and her about page where we had made some changes.

Matt: Let me jump in here real quick. Jessica is talking about the website work that 1000watt did earlier this year with Mandy Welgos, an agent in the Aspen, Colorado market. Her website is mandywelgos.com, that’s W-E-L-G-O-S. I’ll link to that in today’s show notes so that you can take a look. You just heard Jessica mention that Mandy already “had a headline.” The headline is a key piece of how 1000watt, and Jessica as their chief copywriter, helps a client deliver on their story and brand message. In Mandy’s case, if you look at her homepage, it says, “Aspen called. Let’s do this.” That’s the headline. And then the subheadline says, “Let me take you through a real estate experience as deep as the reasons you’re buying or selling.” I asked Jessica to explain more about the headline and its role in helping you stand out from the crowd.

Jessica: There’s a lot of opportunity in a headline, like a headline can be very expressive of your brand, It can be very direct and to the point about your value proposition, it can be inviting, you know, peak curiosity. But like in copywriting, what we say about the headline is like the headline’s job is to get you to read the next thing basically. It doesn’t necessarily have to like tell the world everything about you and get it all across in five words. You know, it just has to like grab someone and bring them in. You know, like they say in advertising, it’s like if people don’t read your headline, then you’ve just wasted your money. They’re not reading the rest of the ad. You’re done. It’s over. So, that’s how important they are.

So, like, if you think about in your marketing like on websites or even like on your Facebook page, on your cover photo, you have an opportunity potentially to put a headline there If you have something that you think is compelling or interesting or says something about you. Website, in particular, though, like, I really feel like it’s a crime to not have a headline on a web page. Like as soon as you go there, you should see a headline.

(Announcer: Do you know someone who has a great story to tell or someone who has a real estate superpower they can teach other agents? They should be a guest on “The Walkthrough.” Whether it’s you or another agent you know, we’re always looking for new guests to join us. Think about what you would teach if you were asked to lead a class for the agents at your office. Send names and topics to walkthrough [at homelight.com and tell us why you want to hear them on “The Walkthrough.”)

Matt: One of the things, when, again, I’m looking at real estate agent websites, a lot of them, you land on the homepage and it’s a search box, you know, find your dream home, whatever it might be. Is that a problem?

Jessica: Well, it’s not helping you stand out. That’s for sure. You know, it’s not necessarily a problem, but I think if you think about the use case for a real estate agent’s website in 2021, you would be hard-pressed to find someone who is out there going, “Oh, I found this agent’s website. I’m going to try to find my house on here.” Like, that’s just not how buyer behavior works these days. People know about Zillow, people know about Trulia, Redfin, everyone uses Redfin in my market and they don’t even understand that Redfin is a broker. They think it’s an app where you find homes. So, the use case for a real estate agent website, I would think is mainly when you are about to make a move or you’re getting more serious, someone refers someone to you or you find them on Zillow or something, and you go to Google them and find more information. And so, if you go to their website and you’re really looking to understand who this agent is and how they can help you and you’re met with find your dream home. It’s like, “Okay, I’m not here for that.” You know, I’m here actually to hear about you and understand your process and who you’ve worked with and how you can help me and what kind of credibility you have.

And so, if you think about your website in that way, that whole search, you know, hero image/search box approach is wasted on your visitor. You could probably make more of an impact by giving them some sort of a welcoming statement, hint at your way of doing things, you know, or even offer them a piece of content that would help them in their journey. You know, hey, like if you specialize in first-time home buyers, you know, you could be like, hey, check out this ebook that I created about like all the things you should really understand before you set foot in the house on your tours or whatever. You know, really just think about how you can use that space for something that matches where that person actually is in their journey.

Matt: That could be a place for, you know, what we talked about earlier in terms of coming up with your brand, your statement, what separates you, maybe that is front and center instead of the search box to find homes.

Jessica: Yeah. Or at least above the search box. What I have seen a lot in agent websites is just the search box and an image, and you see this on broker websites a lot too. And that is just like, wow, that’s such a wasted opportunity. You didn’t even say anything.

Matt: Let’s talk about content on your website. And I want to start this way. We have a Facebook listener community, and I told them that we’re going to be doing an episode soon on websites and that Jessica was going to be on. And one of our listeners asked what I think is a great question and a great way to get into the topic of content. Julie Toy said, should a real estate website focus on brand, which is what you and I have been talking about already, should it focus on brand over information and education?

Jessica: I would say yes. Lead with brand. But the information and education is also an opportunity to really create some meaningful connections and, you know, market to people longer term. So, the brand is a way that you can create an instant impression and, you know, like I said, really just like convey to the person who’s there like what you’re all about. Like, oh, this is a fun agent or this agent is like really serious, but in a good way. You know, like you can convey that kind of thing through brand you know, just by the tone of the language that you use in your headline and the colors and patterns and things.

But I think the information and education is also this other really important piece that, you know, maybe if you get enough leads on your own or whatever and you don’t really need to do a lot of marketing, then maybe it’s not as important. But I just think, gosh, you know, with online marketing, like that’s the crux of it. It’s like people sign up for information and then you’re in. And once you can get in their inbox and keep delivering value, you know, week after week, then they’re always going to say, “Oh my gosh, this is the person I want to work with.” Or maybe not, maybe they’re not your person, you know? But that’s good too, because then you’re creating relationships without having to be there all the time, like it’s kind of automated for you.

Matt: It’s not an issue of brand or information and education. It can be brand and information and education.

Jessica: Yes.

Matt: Couldn’t it even be part of your brand that you are the agent that answers questions and provides information?

Jessica: Yes. We have worked with clients who that is their thing. They want to create the smartest person, you know, at the closing table basically by the end of it. Like, they’re going to let you know everything that’s going on, all of your options, why this would be a good decision, you know, all of that. So, that could be your brand. Yep.

Matt: Do you recommend to your clients that they have a blog and keep it updated on a regular basis?

Jessica: I wouldn’t say like across the board we do because some clients, it’s not how they’re getting business, you know, they’re more into like the Zillow game, or they’re doing Facebook or whatever. I think there is a place for it though for like most agents marketing, you know, blogging is still…there’s still value there. You don’t necessarily have to blog every day. I’m not sure about like the SEO value of blogging anymore, that aspect. But like I said, that information just for any new person who comes to your website, great content, you know, is how you can pull people in.

Matt: I’ve often said that…like I’m a big believer in blogs, Jessica. There is SEO value if you’re, you know, creating content regularly. You’re right, it doesn’t have to be every day, but it should be consistent. But I’ve said and I wonder if you agree that it’s better to not have a blog than to have a dead blog. Because, like, when I go to a real estate agent’s website and it’s, you know, April-May 2021 and they haven’t posted anything on their blog since, you know, 2019 or whatever … like to me, that looks really bad.

Jessica: Yeah. And that’s why we wouldn’t like carte blanche, you know, recommend every agent start a blog. With marketing, when you’re just yourself in your business, which many agents are, it’s like you got to kind of do the things that you’re going to want to do. And if blogging sounds torturous to you and you’re like, “I can’t do that,” it’s almost like you’d be better off figuring out maybe Instagram. Maybe like Instagram better, you know, and it’s easy for you, then focus your time and energy on that than, you know, trying to force yourself to do blogging.

Matt: Let’s do a couple more listener questions before we wrap things up. This is from an agent named Ronda White. Obviously, Jessica, agents want to connect with buyers and sellers, right? They want to sell homes. Her question was for her website, “What is the most compelling call to action and where/when should it show up during the customer’s search?” So, talk about calls to action on the website and as a copywriter, how you work that into the work you do with clients.

Jessica: The thinking on calls to action is the more specific they are, the better. So, instead of just saying, like “submit” or “enter” or, you know, whatever, it’s better to tell them, write out what it is they’re going to get or what it is they’re going to do, you know? Like if you’re offering for them to get a search sent to their email or, you know, an automated search, your call to action should probably be somewhere on a listing detail page that pops up, like “get more relevant listing sent to my inbox” or, you know, something like that. It’s like you immediately just plant it in their minds like, what do I get by clicking this button? This is what you get.

Matt: When we started the conversation, we were talking about agents trying to figure sort of their belief statement, right, their point of view. For our listeners, sum up your point of view in terms of websites, branding, storytelling. What would you want listeners to take away from our conversation?

Jessica: I think that’s the way to go with agent’s sites. You know, I think people have places they can find homes. They have places they can find market data even, you know, but what you can add to that is context and knowledge. Yes, you know, these many homes sold in my zip code last quarter, but what does that actually mean for you a person who’s selling now? Well, let me tell you what I think, you know? Like don’t be afraid to put your opinion into it. Like, that’s the value that an agent brings to the table in 2021 is that guidance and opinion on what I should do as a consumer. So, I want to be able to see pieces of that in your website so that I can start to understand like, oh, I can trust you. You know what you’re talking about. And you’re not just like throwing numbers at me, you know?

(Speaker: Matt McGee, Host)

In addition to Mandy Welgos’s website, Jessica also shared two others that 1000watt recently worked on and you can check out. One is ironvalleyrealestate.com. The other is district-homes.com. You’ll notice unique branding and messaging on both of those. They are definitely not your run-of-the-mill real estate websites. I’ll put links to both of those in today’s show notes so that you can check them out.

All right. One More Minute segment is coming up at the very end of today’s episode. For now, let’s do the takeaways segment.

Takeaway number one, websites are necessary. They are not going away anytime soon like rotary phones and VHS tapes did. A website is valuable because it’s real estate, pun intended, that you own. You don’t have to worry about algorithms and rule changes and all that other stuff. Your website is a great tool for branding and storytelling. A great way to stand out from the crowd.

Takeaway number two, to figure out your story, figure out your brand, ask yourself, what’s my point of view? What do I stand for? That’s your story. Distill that down to something short and simple. That’s your headline. The first thing someone sees on your homepage, even above that search box.

Takeaway number three, speaking of which, ask yourself if that big search box front and center on your homepage is really helping your website visitors. If it is, if it’s driving a lot of IDX signups and you’re meeting a lot of new potential buyers because of that, great. Don’t try to fix something that’s not broken. But if that search box isn’t really serving any purpose, if it’s not helping your visitors, if no one’s using it, move it down the page or even think about ditching it altogether.

Takeaway number four, brand and content work together. It’s not a question of using your website for branding or for education. Your website should be about branding and education. Tell buyers and sellers who you are and show them what you know and how you can help them.

All right. If you have questions or feedback about today’s episode, you can leave a voicemail or send me a text. The number is 415-322-3328. You can send an email to walkthrough [at] homelight.com. Or find me in our Facebook listener community. Go to Facebook, do a search for HomeLight Walkthrough, and the group should come right up.

That’s all for this week. Thanks so much to Jessica Swesey from 1000watt for joining me. Thank you for listening. My name is Matt McGee, and you’ve been listening to “The Walkthrough.” At HomeLight, we believe in real estate agents, we’re on a journey to find out how great agent grow their business, stand out from the crowd, and become irreplaceable.

Go out and safely sell some homes. I’ll talk to you again next week. Bye-bye.

(OUTRO MUSIC)

Welcome back, and welcome to another edition of One More Minute. I want to follow up real quick on what Jessica and I talked about in terms of content. Now, I work on the content team at HomeLight. I am a big believer in content as a way to grow your business.

Here’s the deal. I believe the best marketing you can do is answering people’s questions. Couple of years ago, I gave a presentation to a room full of real estate agents. My message in one sentence was this, “If you don’t answer people’s questions, the next agent will.”

And you know that people have a lot of questions about real estate. Your job is to answer them. Use your website for that. Help buyers and sellers. Educate them. Everyone loves to be helped. And when you’re the helper, you create trust. Trust is the foundation of every business relationship we have. You’ve heard that you want people to know, like, and trust you, right? Well, content on your website is a great way to do that.

If you don’t answer people’s questions, the next agent will.

That’s One More Minute, I’m Matt McGee. Thanks for listening. See you next week with another Walkthrough.

Header Image Source: (McLittle Stock / Shutterstock)

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