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2008-10-02 17:57:37

Pump Up Internet-Visitor Loyalty with a Great Home Search

How important is the home search on your real estate website? Well, many agents find that a large portion of their leads come from people signing up on their home search. A full-featured IDX MLS search saves time for your visitors and keeps them coming back to your website. It can save you time, too! Options for home searches are discussed below.

Custom MLS Searches
Getting someone to build a search for you is one option. Since this option is a bit pricey for many, and since there are third-party vendors that provide good searches, this article will focus on the MLS and third-party vendor alternatives.
Home Search from Your MLS
The easiest way to get an MLS search on your website is to get one from your MLS organization. It might even be free. There are some MLS organizations that are providing a feature-rich search, but those are few and far between.
At a very basic level, a home search will typically let the visitor select criteria such as location, home price, etc. But, it’s difficult to be really competitive in your market with such a search because there are usually other much more helpful searches available.
Note that I said usually. There are still MLSs that do not share their data with any third-party vendors. There are also MLSs that say they don’t share with third-party vendors, but actually they do. So, it’s always best to research the issue before you decide you don’t have any alternatives.
Third-Party Vendors
Third-party vendors are companies who do nothing but create IDX MLS search facilities for use in real estate websites. There are lots of them out there. In some less-populated areas, you may find local third-party vendors. And, some of those folks do a good job - pretty similar to the large vendors in the industry.
For larger MLSs, there are a number of national vendors that may have an existing agreement with your MLS to provide a search for your area. I won’t try to list them all here. The objective is to give you an idea of what may be available to you if you’re currently using a pretty simple search.
Advantages of a Feature-Rich IDX MLS Search
There are all kinds of functions available through third-party vendors. At a basic level, a feature-rich search offers the following benefits for your visitors and for you. This list can also be used as a checklist when you’re evaluating alternatives for your website.
1.       Saving Searches - Your visitors will save a lot of time because they won’t have to select all the criteria they have for their home search every time they hit your site. They can simply reuse whatever searches they’ve already saved.
2.       Saving Favorite Listings - Your visitors won’t have to try and remember which listings they liked or try to find the two listings they wanted to compare. They can save listings in a “Favorites” type set up and find them easily.
3.       New Listing Alerts - Your visitors can request an email alert when homes that match one of their saved searches are added to the MLS. This saves time for your visitors, encourages them to reuse the search because they can control this function themselves, and you aren’t burdened with setting up a search for them manually.
4.       Contact Database - You’ll be able to track your visitors who sign up on your site. Depending on the vendor, you’ll have access to the searches visitors save, etc. This gives you a real insight into their needs so you can be more helpful to them.
5.       Flexible Registration Options - The debate over whether to require registration for a home search rages on. At a minimum, you need flexible registration options so that you can determine which option works best for you and your market. Flexibility includes the option to require registration: a) before searching, b) after a set amount of activity, c) to access key pieces of information such as an address, etc.
6.       Custom Searches - You will be able to set up custom search pages on your website. So, if you have a community page about ABC Community, you can direct visitors to a search that is already set up showing only homes in that community. Or, if your visitors want to search by home price, you can set up search pages that show only homes in a range of $300-350,000 and so forth. This can make your site much easier to use and attract more loyalty from your visitors.
As you know, Internet marketing poses a number of challenges. You need to get your website set up to be user- and search-engine friendly. You need a strategy for driving traffic to your site. And, finally, you have to provide the tools and resources people are looking for to keep them coming back.
A full-featured home search can be a big part of meeting that last challenge!

Kathleen Allardyce is the founder of Getting It Write, Inc. The firm specializes in providing Web-Centric Real Estate Marketing services to agents and brokers – a one-stop service that establishes clients as true Internet professionals. Services include developing brands, logos and lead-generating websites. Visit her real estate marketing website and Point2 Agent real estate website.

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