What it should have, what it doesn’t need, and pros and cons between platforms.
As more and more real estate investors look to make the most of online marketing channels, one thing becomes clear: they all need a website.
If you’re new to investing, and looking to start your business, but don’t yet have an online presence, there can be a lot to consider. Actually, it’s not just the “newbies”. You may have a successful business, but still no online presence, because you do things all through word of mouth and mailers at this point.
If that’s you, and you don’t have a website yet, I hope this article will help you decide on the right platform for you. At this point in my career, I’ve had experience with most of the major platforms: WordPress, Squarespace, Wix, Investor Carrot, Lead Propeller, and even coding websites from scratch.
My goal with this article is to talk about some of the things your website needs, some things it may not need (although offered), and some general best practices to getting up and running. In the end, launching a website for your real estate business is going to depend on your ambitions, brand, target market, and more.
So here are some questions to stop and ask yourself:
- Who is this website for? Who are the ideal people who will be reading it, and looking at it?
- Is this to close deals, or build a brand? Are you going to want to launch a podcast, build an online community of investors, or start your own Bigger Pockets equivalent?
- Does it need to just capture contact information? Or do you need more robust features, like tracking where leads come from, to measure ROI better.
- How familiar are you with tech? Do you have a fairly good eye for design, or do websites scare you?
- How committed are you (really) to your business? How many days, months, or years are you committed to running it?
- Do you want to pay for ongoing maintenance, or be able to add pages, blog posts, contact forms, and make page edits yourself?
- What’s your budget?
Let’s review each one briefly…
Who is this website for? Or, what is your goal with this website?
The first thing to consider is, what do you want the website to do, and who do you want to view it?
For example, maybe you’re a hard money lender, so your website primarily needs to showcase and build trust in your company, let investors know about the services you offer, and capture lead information should they decide they want more information.
Or maybe you’re an investor looking for motivated sellers. Your website is going to be primarily for people who need to sell fast and get out from under their home ASAP. In that case, you may want a little more of a robust lead tracking system, and some bells and whistles like auto-responders, email integration, marketing snippet integrations (like Facebook pixels, or remarketing tags), etc.
The other thing to consider is, what are your ambitions? In other words, where do you realistically want your business to be in 5 years, and how far do you want to reach?
Takeaway: if your goal is simply to reach your target customer, you might be better off with a specialized package built specifically for what you do. For example, Investor Carrot for reaching motivated sellers or selling houses, or their may be a specific platform for hard money lenders. On the other hand, if your goal is to be able to incorporate a number of things into your brand, you may want something more flexible – like WordPress, that can be built out and expanded on more easily.
Is this to close deals, or build a brand? Are you trying to be nation or region-wide, or local to your State or County?
The next consideration is, are you simply putting this out there to either sell houses to more investors, or buy more houses from motivated sellers? Or are you planning on also adding in a community/following portion, where you want to build it around your brand or name? Will you want to launch a podcast at some point? Do you want to run a forum? Are you going to want the ability to keep adding functionality and features to it?
Takeaway: if you’re going to want to start a nation-wide brand, and buy or sell houses across the nation, then you’ll probably want something either custom, or based in Squarespace or a WordPress type theme. This will allow you to choose a theme that differentiates you, and is probably more clean, modern, and beautiful looking, while allowing an infinite number of add-ons and enhancements. You don’t want to divide up your brand’s authority among a bunch of State-based websites, so if you’ll be running a podcast, or launching a forum. Or incorporating a YouTube show you run, or anything else, you might consider going with something that can be scaled rather than an “out of the box” platform like Lead Propeller or Carrot, which lock down what you can install and add.
Does it need to just capture contact information? Or do you need more robust features?
So, the next consideration you’ll want to make is whether or not you just want to give website visitors a way to contact you, and maybe have some basic information like their physical address or business name, or if you’ll want more robust features.
These features might be things like adding retargeting or remarketing snippets, 3rd party tool snippets, having a clean way to integrate with your CRM (like Podio or another tool), etc.
Takeaway: if you’re someone like a hard money lender, who just wants people to be able to contact you and give you their name, email, phone, and business name – then it really doesn’t matter which platform you choose. If you need lead attribution (that shows where the lead came from, like PPC, Organic Search, etc.), and you’re not very technical, then you should consider an out-of-the-box platform for investors that has that capability built in for you. If you need that functionality, but are comfortable with adding it yourself through various plugins you choose (or paying to have your developer add them) then you can feel comfortable with a flexible platform like WordPress or Squarespace.
How familiar are you with tech? Do you have a fairly good eye for design, or do websites scare you?
This is one of the more important questions to ask. First, how comfortable are you with editing websites? Do you have some experience using WordPress or related tools? Are you comfortable learning a new system? Or do you not know the first thing about websites, creating pages, what a URL is, etc.?
Takeaway: If it’s the latter, then I would strongly consider you to consider using a ready to go, plug and play platform. Tools like Squarespace or Wix would allow a really easy website editor, and have instructions on how to get started, while platforms designed specifically for investors will be even easier, usually requiring you to enter in some basic information about your business like your name, address, phone number, etc. and it will sort of “spit out” a ready to go website.
How committed are you (really) to your business? How many days, months, or years are you committed to running it?
I’ve found in my experience that some investors say they’re committed, and some are actually committed. Some will pull the plug on their website and stop the investment in it as soon as they think it’s not getting them the number of leads they should. They treat their website sort of like they would mailers: they’ll spend some money, try and throw some traffic at it, and if it doesn’t make them money out the gate, they’re done.
That’s not committed.
Understand this: your website is not first and foremost a lead generation method, like mailers. It is a digital storefront. Just like you’d pay rent to have an office somewhere, where people can come in and look around, meet you, and learn more about your services, so a website offers the online version of that.
If you think about your website like a lead generation tool, you’re thinking about it wrong. An investment in your website is an investment in your company, and an investment in your brand. If you’ll ever want to be found online in the future; if you ever think that in the next 5-10 years (or longer) your customers will go online to look you up; if you ever think that motivated sellers will increasingly turn to the internet to find people like you, then you need to invest in your website now.
You may not know this, but your website actually grows in “authority” over time. The longer you’re online, the longer your domain is registered, the more content you create, the more visitors to your website, the more people visit it, link to it, share it on social, the more you grow.
And that all takes time. You won’t be able to wake up 1 year from now and decide, “I’d like to start a website” and then demand that some poor agency you just hired, be able to drive you traffic there and convert right away. You should’ve started a year ago.
Bottom line: if you’re only willing to invest in an online presence as long as it directly correlates to closings, then that’s fine – just understand, you’re not committed like you should be. And in that case, use a plug n play website package for investors, drive your traffic to it, and see if you can make your money. It won’t make sense for to invest in anything over $500, because you’re just going to quit in the long run. If you’re committed to having a quality, beautiful, trust-building, story-telling online storefront regardless, then any of the mentioned platforms will work. Just realize that you can feel comfortable investing more in it, because as long as you keep running your business, it will be there for you. One consideration here, is, if you pay for a more expensive monthly option, but then decide you’ll want to stop paying once you’re not seeing leads, you may want something that’s cheaper to maintain. So that’s one vote in the favor of building it on Squarespace or a DIY WordPress site, because there, you’re only paying nominal hosting fees.
Do you want to pay for ongoing maintenance, or be able to add pages, blog posts, contact forms, and make page edits yourself?
This one is simple. Do you want to be able to create new pages or blog posts or lead forms when and where you need them? If so, how competent are you? Or, do you just want someone else to be able to do that for you?
Your website needs could range from:
- Making security updates on themes, platforms or plugins (usually just by clicking a button, lest you think this is complicated or technical)
- Adding new pages for services you offer, or locations you serve
- Adding blog posts to boost your education for your target customer
- Adding landing pages to drive PPC traffic to
- Adding a podcasts page that displays your most recent episodes
- Changing which email your contact or lead forms notify you at
- And any other number of things…
Bottom line: if you want the ability to edit your site, but really don’t know anything about what you’re doing, I’d recommend Carrot or Squarespace. If you don’t mind a bit of a user-friendly learning curve, you could use WordPress or a more custom platform that someone builds for you, once its up and running.
Finally, what’s your budget?
What kind of investment are you willing to make, or what is your overall budget for the site? If you have no more than $100 to spend total, you should use a monthly, paid subscription to a platform that works for you, like a real estate focused one or a drag and drop builder. If you have a much bigger budget, and you’ve decided you need something on WordPress, or something custom, or even want your site on Squarespace but just don’t want the work of starting it out, you might think of paying someone to do it.
If you decide on that route, my recommendation would be to find someone who specializes in whatever platform you decide on. Find someone who is really good at WordPress, and has built some sites you already like, or find someone who only does Squarespace, and knows it inside and out.
If you’re looking for a simple site, with 10-20 pages that communicate about your brand, incorporate some lead forms, and that’s it – you may be able to find someone trying to make a name for themselves at $750 – $1,500. If you’re looking for someone more experienced, who will bring more to the table, or if you’re looking to have a site that’s got all the bells and whistles to become the next big investor community, then you’re probably looking at $1,500 – $3,000 for someone who really knows what they’re doing.
Takeaway: if you don’t have much money, but don’t need a crazy robust site, use an investor focused platform, or a ‘build it yourself’ platform like Squarespace, Weebly, or Wix.
Let’s make it practical with some examples.
I know that everything I laid out there may be making some of your heads spin. Some of you may not be quite sure what you want right now, or what you need. So I thought it would be helpful to lay out a couple sample profiles, or profiles of real investors using various platforms, so you can see the wide spectrum of tools available, and better identify your needs.
Type: Real Estate Investor
Use: Find motivated sellers, increase leads, and build trust in brand.
Aspirations: Local only
Technical expertise & desire to build something custom: none
Might be a good fit for: Investor Carrot
This profile is of a real investor that’s only going to expand to their State, large metro area, or county. They want to find motivated sellers in that area, and over time, become the trusted authority. They’re looking to have an “online storefront” in case people look them up, a place to drive paid traffic, and an online brand that increases in authority over time.
For this person, I’d probably recommend Investor Carrot. It’s super easy to setup, you can have a website in 10 minutes, and is relatively affordable. However, a few notes:
- I’d customize it as best I could, replacing all the stock language the site spits out, with my own
- I’d try to choose the best looking layout they offer
- I’d consider paying them or a developer to visually customize it to differentiate me from competitors
If you want to see an example of that, you can check out Matt Miller’s company, Stockpile Property Ventures. His is a good example of a customized Carrot site that is being used for one purpose: to build authority and reputation in the LA or wider California area.
Type: Hard Money Lender
Use: Find investors looking for financing, increase leads, and have an online presence to send potential investors to.
Aspirations: Local or National
Technical expertise & desire to build something custom: none
Might be a good fit for: WordPress or Squarespace
This person would be someone who maybe can’t find their exact fit in an “out of the box” system. For example (and I haven’t looked yet), let’s say there is no ready to go site platform for hard money lenders (though I’m sure there is somewhere).
They’re only goal really is to have a place where investors locally, regionally, or nationally can go read testimonials of them, express interest in working together, read case studies, or a place to drive leads to. This could be accomplished by just about any platform, but WordPress is a great candidate for it’s relative ease of use and flexibility. Or, if they wanted to build it themselves but the learning curve of WordPress was too steep, I’d recommend Squarespace.
A good example here is Borrower Solution. They’re built on WordPress, but the site is really simple. They only service a few major cities nationwide, and the site gets the job done: it communicates who they are, what they do, and lets you contact them. As a site should be when attempting to be a “national brand”, it’s clean, easy to use, and simple.
Type: Investor Community & Brand
Use: Find investors, foster community, offer learning resources, etc.
Aspirations: National / International
Technical expertise & desire to build something custom: moderate
Might be a good fit for: WordPress
This is a person or brand, that wants to be a hub of activity: incorporating education, resources, downloads, etc. all in one place. CRE (who else??) is a great example. They operate on WordPress, and because of that, the sky is the limit with the features they can add.
The kind of person who might fit this:
- Someone looking to start a service for investors
- An expert/guru investor who both wants to appeal to motivated sellers on part of the site, but offer resources for other investors in the rest of it
- Someone who wants all their eggs in one digital basket: podcast, lead forms, sales, etc.
Because you’d be building on WordPress, you’d be able to add new podcasts, moderate forums, add new downloads, create new pages, edit contact forms, etc., all with a little training and practice.
Type: Real Estate Investor
Use: Find motivated sellers, increase leads, and build trust in brand.
Technical expertise & desire to build something custom: none
Might be a good fit for: WordPress, Squarespace/Wix
Alright, last profile. This is a real estate investor who is thinking nationally. They are aiming to become an Offerpad or We Buy Houses equivalent. Maybe you want to franchise it out at some point, or you just want to eventually be able to be found in every city by motivated sellers. In this case, it would be a really good idea (like, I can’t emphasize that enough) to not create 50 different State-focused websites, like “webuyhousesflorida” , “webuyhousesphiladelphia”, etc.
You’d be taking all that hard-earned authority, and splitting it between all these micro-sites. So instead, you create a “national” sounding brand name (like Offerpad, or CinchSell) that is easy to say, easy to remember, and you’d set out trying to dominate the nation.
If that’s your ambition, you’d probably want to use WordPress, or a very clean and professional website building engine like squarespace or Wix. Basically, your goal would be to create something very visually appealing, easy to navigate and use, that had good structure in place for all the content you needed to create. It should be able to run a robust blog (for content marketing), and have the ability to create parent/child structures in the pages.
Last thing – my preferences.
I really hope this guide helps you as you think about launching your own website for investing or any other venture you’re pursuing.
Sometimes I know it’s helpful (in my own experience) when you just want to find someone who’s experienced at something and ask, “straight up – what do you recommend for…”
So, because I’m passionate and opinionated about this stuff, and I have quite a bit of experience working in a wide realm of site building platforms, I’ll share some of my favorite tools.
Before I do – just note that just about any platform could work for any person. Got that? These are just my professional, personal favorites for anyone who wants a recommendation. I don’t want web developers complaining in the comments that I missed details, or that you have other favorites you recommend. These are mine. Also, I’m not affiliated with any of them. I just really care, and love providing helpful, practical advice.
- If you’re gonna use an REI-focused platform, go with Investor Carrot. No, I don’t work for them, and no, I’m not an affiliate. I’m just someone who has to work on client’s sites all the time, and have come to really be annoyed with the difficulty of use on some of them. Straight up, they are the easiest to use, most feature-robust site builder for REIs that I know. They incorporate HTTPS (an SSL certificate), integrate all lead tracking, etc. And because they’re built on WordPress (or, a custom version of it), they’re very easy to edit. As a developer or someone who works on client sites, I find them very easy. They aren’t pretty, and they need customizing, and their copy isn’t awesome, but I recommend them highly if you’re gonna go with an “out of the box”, ready to go, plug and play website that’s specifically for investors.
- If you want my recommendation on the best visual building platform, that’s easy for dummies to use, it’s Squarespace. I love Squarespace. I just think they make the best looking, most responsive, easiest to edit website templates out there. If I’m using them, it’s because I’m not a graphic design genius, and I don’t have a crazy eye for design. So I let them be the experts, I pick a beautiful site I want mine to look like, then I replace photos and wording. Done. Also, last I checked, Wix doesn’t let you create parent/child relationships without editing code. For example, if you want to cleanly structure your service areas like this: “All Service Areas” (yoursite.com/service/) then “Dallas” (yoursite.com/service/dallas/), you can’t do it. Which is a shame, because that’s a really great way to organize your site.
- If you’re going to use WordPress, but want to do it yourself and don’t have an eye for design or want to struggle with picking a theme, go with the Divi plugin. Just look it up. It comes with all kinds of pre-made layouts and dummy content, that you can publish then add your own content. It’s kinda awesome, but there’s a bit of a learning curve.
- If you want an easy, all-in-one marketing tool to add to any website, use Sumo. It’s got pop ups, banners, instant chat, social sharing, etc., all in one. It’s kinda expensive, but if you’ve got the budget, it’s a cool tool.
- If you’re going to hire someone because you want a national or custom website, make sure you take a look at their work and see what they’ve built. Find someone who has built sites you like. Check to see how fast they load. Make sure you ask them if they use a ton of plugins (sometimes bloats a site) or if they keep things simple. Shop around and do your homework.
I hope that helps you. Good luck with your website launch!