Back in March of 2016, I took over managing CenterCityHomes.com, a site run by the Center City Condos team (which I'm a part of). The site was serviceable and had a small steady stream of users but it was in need of some TLC. So, I rolled up my sleeves and started my journey into uncharted digital territory. First question: Where do I even begin?!
I'm not a techie. Well, I can operate the hell out of my iPhone, Microsoft Word, and of course nearly every real estate software and app ever made. But I don't know anything about web technologies like HTML, SEO, and content management systems. Luckily Matthew, another agent on the team, has a background in web development :-).
What's the point?
The first step to any project, digital or in the real world, is to set clear goals or objectives. Ask yourself the age-old question of "Why?" Why am I doing this and what do I hope to accomplish? As a real estate agent, I wanted to have a platform where I could:
- Represent myself (Have a modern web presence)
- Engage with my clients
- Foster new relationships
What to do... what to do...
Now the task became figuring out what steps we could take in order to accomplish those objectives. The old site wasn't how I wanted to represent myself or the team I work with. I needed a site that was clean and professional, that was as easy to use on an iPhone as it would be on a desktop computer. After talking it over, making a wishlist, talking it over again, and rewriting my entire wishlist a half dozen more times, I came up with a list of what I wanted my site to have:
- Clear & personal branding
- Modern design that allows user to quickly and easily navigate
- Simple way to update property listings and pages (without me having to write any HTML!)
- A blog where I can post real estate info, thoughts, photos, videos, links to useful pages on other sites, and maybe a picture or two of my loyal canine companion Franklin.
- Information, maps, and featured property listings for each neighborhood in and around Center City
I also wanted people to know that I'm always available through my email or phone, so featuring them prominently on each page was important to me.
Focus and get your priorities straight
While a site can have unlimited pages, techniques should be employed to focus the user towards the content they need as well as the content that furthers the objectives of the website. In my case, I help people buy and sell houses. It's how I make money.
One way to focus is through clear and simple navigation. Image walking into the foyer of a house and seeing 5 doors, 3 flights of stairs, and the light switches for the every single room on a wall by the entrance. Way too overwhelming! The entrance and layout of a home should be designed in a way that provides a natural flow for new guests. Perhaps a hallway that leads right to the kitchen/dining area for dinner parties. Or a door that opens up to the parlor area for hanging out with friends. Or a single visible staircase that leads to other rooms that aren't necessarily used by most people.
Image walking into the foyer of a house and seeing 5 doors, 3 flights of stairs, and the light switches for the every single room on a wall by the entrance. Way too overwhelming!
Applying this principal to my website, I wanted new users to be able to easily search for homes and get in touch with me. That's what I anticipate what the majority of my users need access to. I also wanted to highlight the current homes that myself and my team have listed. With this in mind, we were able to design a navigation system that provides clear focus.
Not all the content on the old site made the cut. I wanted a site that was easy to update & maintain so any content that didn't meaningfully contribute to my site's goals was left behind
I decided not to keep a few pages that were duplicated from my team's website, like a page listing all of our team's agents. There was also a page that just listed and linked to other websites, websites that were irrelevant to most, if not all, of my users (back in the day, this was a trick to rank higher in the search engines... I'll link to your site if you link to mine).
Some of the content decisions were a bit harder. The neighborhood pages on the old site had listed the names, addresses, and phone numbers of select local businesses, schools, etc. This could be useful to people! However, the information on these pages was outdated. In Philadelphia, schools open and close all the time. Businesses open and close even faster. As a one man show, I wouldn't be able to provide a comprehensive resource for local businesses and keep that information updated. Since there is already of map of nearby schools through on each property listing page, I decided to cut this information from my neighborhood pages.
My advice for purging old content during a redesign, know your users! More content is not quality content, especially if you will have trouble keeping things updated. You might not need to get rid of anything, just use the tips from before to focus your users and play-down any content that isn't pertinent to most.
On the old site, brave souls needed to dive into the HTML to make any changes. New pages would have to be hand coded and every other page would need to be modified to add links. In the age of WordPress, this wasn't going to fly.
Luckily, there are so many options for quality CMSs (Content Management Systems). Actually when I say lucky, I mean very, very discombobulating! One could easily become confused and overwhelmed, which is why most people opt for WordPress - even though it's probably not the best choice.
Matthew, the amazing web developer, already had experience with a relatively new CMS called Craft. Craft doesn't try to dictate which content you should have or how your site should look. The developer has full control and can implement a custom solution for content managers like me. I can now log into my website and easily add current listings, upload pictures, write a blog post, edit a neighborhood page, and much more. No editing code!
The Finish Line
Well, after months of planning, designing, and developing, I'm finally able to share the updated website with you! Like most home improvement projects, this was a learning experience for me and took a little more time than expected but I couldn't be happier with the result! Never stop improving.