There are literally THOUSANDS of website providers out there-- some are big companies and others are just individuals trying to earn some extra cash... For some people, there are just too many options, so how do you choose which option to take? Do you even need a website? Weigh out all your pros and cons before making any final decisions. Some people don't even feel the need to get their own website-- some will simply purchase a domain name and point it to their blog, or their Facebook profile, or their agent page on their company website. If you have (and follow through with) a good plan, a website can easily be worth the expense, but without a plan, proper content, and frequent maintenance, a website can become a billboard in the middle of nowhere-- essentially useless.
For most people, especially during this recession, cost is a key deciding factor. Keep in mind that you usually get what you pay for-- and sometimes there are a few extra components you will need, which may not be included in that price tag.
When you think you've made a decision on a provider, make sure you know about any additional fees that may be incurred-- is website hosting included in the fee you are paying, or is it extra? How about a domain name? Do you need to pay an annual or monthly fee or is this a one time charge? What if you need changes made to your website, can you do it or will that cost extra? What if you switch providers at a later date, can you take your website with you or will you have to start over from scratch? Ask yourself all of these questions before signing any paperwork-- you just need to know exactly what you are getting into.
There are three basic (common) options for building a website:
Hiring a Professional (custom) Do-it-yourself (usually using Front Page or similar software... but sometimes completely custom) Template Website (the website skeleton is provided, but you fill in the blanks)
As with most things, there are upsides and downsides to each, so you are going to need to weigh out the pros and cons, and probably ask the opinion of your peers (I suggest asking your fellow REALTORS® on RealTalk). Your peers are also a good resource for asking about which providers/designers they prefer.
Note that the things I write about your options below are generalizations, and can vary from host to host, designer to designer.
Hiring a Professional - This is *usually* the more expensive option. Most website designers will build you a completely custom website from scratch. If you throw enough money at them, you can probably get your website to do and include almost anything you want. The downside is usually the expense. Another con is that you may have to pay them either monthly or by the hour to do maintenance on your site... If you need a phone number updated, you will likely have to call and wait for the changes to be made. Since you want to keep your website current, make sure you talk to your host/designer about maintenance and other fees you might have to pay them after the initial site design.
Do-it-yourself - This is a good option because you can do the entire design and all of the maintenance on your own. This is usually less expensive as well, because you'll only need to purchase site hosting (which is usually a flat monthly or annual fee) rather than paying a designer by the hour, PLUS the hosting fees. The downside to a self built website is that this will require YOU to invest your own time for the creation and maintenance of your site. Also, your skill level can directly affect the outcome; a beginner may have a very plain and simple website, while an expert can add on all the bells and whistles on their own.
Template Website - This is a mix of the two options above. The website is usually paid for as a flat monthly or annual fee, and includes the hosting. The template website provider will get you set up with a basic template, where the look and feel of the website are already created-- but you, the site owner, will fill in the blanks (name, contact info, about me, etc). You can do the maintenance on your own, and make changes at any time. The downside is that many of these sites look similar, so your website may be nearly identical to the site of another Realtors' as far as look and feel goes. Some people go one step further with the template option by hiring a virtual assistant to work on more complicated customizations in an effort to make their site stand out from the other (once similar) templates.
Based on all the pros and cons of all the options listed above, I think most people start out with a template website. If you haven't had a website before, you don't always know what you want or need from it, so spending the money having someone create a site for you from scratch may be a little overkill. Some people spend hundreds, even thousands of dollars getting a custom site built, then never see results. This isn’t necessarily the fault of the designer or provider, but after spending that kind of money, most people expect a return ;) People who have had more than one website in the past may opt for one of the other options... So this is really a decision that will vary from person to person.
If you'd like to see an example of a template website, try Point2. We work with them a lot, and they offer a free 3 month trial of their basic site (you don't even need to provide credit card info for the sign-up, so they won't automatically charge you once your trial is up). You can sign up for the trial here.
Before making any decisions, I also suggest you do some Google searching for websites belonging to other agents to see what you like or dislike about them. Most websites will even include a "signature" at the bottom letting you know who the designer or provider is, along with a link to their site. This way if you find a site you LOVE, you can contact the provider directly.
Keep notes on features you like that you may want to incorporate into your website. Ideally your website should be "sticky" meaning you want people to have a reason to stay on your site once they get there, and hopefully a reason to return. Do your research, and remember that your peers are an invaluable resource-- someone out there has been through it before, learn from their mistakes and victories.
Unfortunately, buying a website is not as simple as your 3 choices.
Before shelling out $$$ for a website, a person clearly must KNOW what he/she wants the website to DO.
In the "old" days, people threw up a Frontpage website, threw the domain name on their biz cards & proudly proclaimed their little ole piece of Internet land. If they're realtors, they might have gotten leads and business off that strategy.
NOT SO TODAY!
In fact, do NOT even consider Frontpage. Is Frontpage even an option today for building pages? My gosh, FP even then built the most BLOATED pages (i.e. bad code) you could imagine.
Yes, Wordpress is the option today, whether a DIY project or a custom website.
On all my and my clients' CUSTOM websites, I insist on Wordpress.
For DIYers, you can't beat FREE, can you?
For custom programmers, the THEME overlying Wordpress means the "guts" of the website will be supported & updated.
Now, my point for writing this response is to HELP people avoid wasting their money.
Before handing over money, you MUST have a strategy.
1. What do you want a web presence to do for you?
2. How much nuturing of this web strategy are you willing/able to do? In other words, do you know you cannot hope for visitors and business just because you build a pretty or even a custom website costing you $5,000?
Once you have this functioning website built to attract PEOPLE and SEARCH ENGINES, you now MUST create and distribute content...regularly & consistently.
Bottom Line: You MUST....if you want to build & maintain an online presence that translates into profits.
A website is just one part of a much bigger web presence (aka linkwheel). I have over 200 assets to promote one business.
By assets, I mean I have one central "hub" my main website at www.sarasotahomesforsalenow.com -- it's my "money" site. To get visitors to this site, I have to build links to it. Therefore, I have outer spokes of sites raning from Squidoo lenses, Wordpress (dot.org) sites, Tumblr & Hub pages, Facebook, Twitter, eZinearticles, youtube, etc.
If I do not fire links to my domain name and interior pages, my rankings will drop (assuming) my competitors are in the race with me.
You see, this is the best analogy I can give: To build a website is just part of the Internet Marketing strategy. It's like a race, where you get the best self you can get, knowing you must do something every day to improve your training & strategy BECAUSE you know the others in the race are training & strategizing as well. It's a RACE.
Ashley, I realize your article was not intended to go into such detail. However, because anyone considers "which website to buy," he/she NEEDS to understand clearly STRATEGIC intent.