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Updated 9-20. I regularly write about this topic in my paid monthly Appraisal Today newsletter. The Internet (and web sites) are continually changing.
How to Get Your Appraisal Firm on the Internet
We are all bombarded with Web site addresses – television shows, radio programs, and print advertising. People are putting their Web sites on their business cards and stationery. Do you want new business? How do people find you on the Internet? Finding out How to Get Your Appraisal Firm on the Internet can help.
Why does my company need a Web site?
The most likely leads and assignments will come from private individuals for estate, sale, PMI removal, etc.
Why have a Web site? Public relations. It shows you’re keeping up to date. If a client sees your Web site on a business card, Yellow Page ad, or a brochure, they can get more information without having to make a phone call or wait for a fax or snail mail.
Per “impression” or people who view your site, a Web site is relatively cheap. As compared with a brochure or print advertising, updating it is inexpensive and it is “always on.”
You probably send out lots of qualifications and resumes to prospective clients. Instead, they could read your qualifications on your Web site, saving both of you time and money.
Step 1 – get a domain name
A domain name is like an 800 number. You own it and can use it when you move.If you have your own domain name, for example smithappraisal.com, you can move your Web site whenever you like.
If you have an account with an Internet Service Provider (ISP), you can get your own domain name. Do it now, so you get it before someone else does. Until your Web site is up, you can use it for email. I only use appraiz.com for email, not for a Web site.
To see if your domain name is taken, go to www.networksolutions.com
You can do the registration yourself, but it is complicated. You can have have your ISP do it, for a nominal fee, say $20 to $50. There are other services that do it also, with varying costs. The cost is an up-front $100 for two years of registration. Get a domain name ending in .com if possible. Other domains will be available soon (i.e., .shop) but .com is the most widely recognized.
Step 2 – look at other appraisers’ Web sites
I am always surprised at how much time and money companies spend on Web sites without spending little, is any, time looking at other sites.
Try using a search engine to see if you can find local appraisal firms. However, many don’t show up! Make sure that yours shows up on the first page after all your work and expense.
Bookmark and make notes on which sites you liked and didn’t like. You can use this list to find a Web site designer and to help the designer know the “look” you want.
Step 3 – decide what you want on your site
After you have looked at other appraisers’ Web sites, you’ll have a pretty good idea of what you want.
First decide your goal: get nonlender clients, general “brochure” site, etc.
Do you want to emphasize the experience of your staff, or where you work? Do you want to provide information about appraising? Do you want links to other sites, such as in your local community or appraisal associations? Do you want some fun stuff, company photos, etc.? Do you want your clients to be able to print out order forms or send appraisal requests?
The “basics” should be on your Web site:
• Your name, address, email address, and phone number (You’d be surprised how many Web sites don’t have this basic information)
• Where you accept assignments
• The type of assignments you accept
• The rest of the usual resume/brochure material
• No typos or grammatical errors!
I strongly recommend some different non-appraisal stuff, such as a photograph or information on local sights to see in your city, your hobbies or non-appraisal interests, or a joke or two. Be creative! Why do I recommend this? Your site will be remembered long after a visitor leaves.
Who should design your Web site?
I don’t recommend doing your own site. If you do it yourself, there is a high probability that:
1. It will never get done, and/or
2. It will be ugly and have technical problems, and/or
3. It will never be updated.
There are many business web site templates that work for appraisers.
How to find a Web site designer
When you’re looking at Web sites, see who designed the ones you like. Contact the designer and ask for a list of references. View the Web sites of the references and contact them.
Web designers are a combination of designer and computer “programmer.” Because the Web is so new, many “designers” don’t have design schooling and training, but instead learned on their own. There is nothing wrong with this, it just means you have to carefully check their work before hiring them. They also vary widely in their computer ability and experience.
A designer with experience in designing appraisal Web sites can work well, as appraisal Web sites tend to be very similar and the designer doesn’t have to “reinvent the wheel.”
Here’s some tips from Eric Lee, a Web site designer in Alameda, Calif, who spoke to a group of appraisers recently.
• Check out their own Web site. Do they have their own domain name? What impression do you get from their site?
• Look at their portfolio (sites they have designed)
Be wary if they:
• Are reluctant to provide a listing of sites designed
• No website of their own
• Upfront pricing without knowing the details
• If they know less than you do, run!
You can use a designer anywhere in the world, communicating via email.
How to work with a Web site designer
I have worked with five or six professionally trained print graphics designers in my publishing business. Each one was different. I learned to provide all the content (text and images) and be very specific about what I wanted emphasized. Then let the designer “do their own thing” when doing the layout. The only problem I had with a few was inability to meet deadlines, so I only used them once.
I provided “story boards” or a thumbnail of each page with what content I wanted on it. The designer did the layout.
Appraisers (and others) I have spoken with who had problems mentioned that the designer didn’t start it, didn’t finish it, the cost was too high, had difficulty communicating with the designer, etc. Be sure to check with their references and be very clear what you want.
What are the limitations of Web site design?
As compared with print, there are many limitations on Web pages:
• HTML coding limitations
• Different “rendering” or viewing by different browsers and monitors
What will it cost?
Prices vary from $200 to tens of thousands of dollars for an appraisal company Web site. For a simple Web site, with 3 to 5 pages, the cost should be under $500.
The more the designer does, the higher the cost. Factors to keep costs down include:
• Writing and editing your own content
• Content in electronic format. Email is good, but a disk is okay
• Decide as much as possible ahead of time and the fewer the changes the lower the cost
• Not too many custom graphics
• Limited, or no, programming, except for simple forms
If the designer has to write and edit the content, make a lot of changes, design many custom graphics, and set up special features requiring programming, the costs will increase.
What about maintenance?
Have an agreement with your designer about any changes you want made to your site. Appraisal company sites tend to be pretty “static.” Even if the company plans on making changes, somehow they don’t get made. Hopefully, you’ll be different, adding some new content. At a minimum, be sure you make any personnel or address changes!
You should plan on a “rework” of your site after a few years, so that it stays “fresh” as Web site trends change fairly quickly.
Navigation – getting around on your site
Have you ever clicked on a link to a page somewhere in a Web site that didn’t tell you how to get to the home page, or any other page? Make it easy as possible for visitors to get around your site, with links on each page, if only a link to your home page.
Linking back to the home page is a “no brainer” and should be on every page in your site. Links between pages takes more time and thought. Coding the links is easy. Planning them is hard.
How to make sure viewers can find your Web site
Of the five appraisal firm Web sites listed above, I could only find www.scottappraisal.com by using a search engine and searching for “appraisal in Fresno.” How did I know about the other sites? They are all members of my local appraisal chapter and I had their email addresses!
If you’re in Atlanta you want to be sure that your Web site comes up on the first page of listings. If someone types, “appraisers in Atlanta,” for example, you want your Web site to be in the first ten sites listed. Accomplishing this can be somewhat difficult, as how search engines index and categorize pages changes over time.
Here’s some ways to get noticed:
• Make sure you have a description and metatags with the appropriate words for your site on your home page. For example, keywords could be real estate appraisal in Atlanta, Atlanta appraisal, Atlanta appraiser, etc. If you specialize in mobile home parks, you could have “mobile home park appraisals.”
• Have a good description on each page.
• After you have registered your site, be sure to check if the search engines are finding it.
To see what metatags an appraisal site uses, click on View, then Page Source. Near the top of the page should be “keywords” followed by the keywords for the site, and “description” followed by a description of the site. In Internet Explorer, use View, then Source.
How to publicize your Web site
Surprisingly, print media is one of the best ways to let everyone know about your site.
Ways to get the word out include putting your Web address:
• On all business cards, letters, brochures, etc.
• In any appraiser directories, with a link, such as the Appraisal Institute directory
• On any handouts when giving a speech
• In any advertising, such as Yellow Pages or legal directories
Where to get more information
There are many sites on design and getting your site notice by search engines.
Go online and see what is out there. Just do it!