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Best of the Web
REALTOR® AE Magazine's 9th Annual Outstanding REALTOR Association Web Site Contest
by Carolyn Schwaar
Association size matters when it comes to a Web site’s focus. In our Web site competition this year, which was divided into five size categories, our judges discovered that the best small association Web sites were more narrowly focused, accomplishing a few key goals very well, such as keeping members informed about association activities and news, and helping the public to locate REALTORS® more easily. In general, larger associations reached more widely and focused not only on disseminating market information, but also on providing members with tools to grow their businesses, such as blogs, custom newsletters, and customer lead generation.
Of the winning sites, it’s worth noting that all but one were redesigned and relaunched within the past eight months. The redesign goals, associations told RAE, were 1) to deliver—and often automate—essential member services in a manner that is
both more convenient for members and cost-effective for the association, 2) to make the association more accessible to members and consumers, 3) to facilitate member interaction, 4) to remove unused features and pages of stale data, and 5) to eventually turn the Web sites into non-dues revenue generators with advertising.
Interestingly, association size mattered little when it came to Web site design and functionality. The best sites in every size category looked great and were easy to navigate. They also all had a sense of simplicity, leaving the useless technological bells
and whistles of yesteryear—flashing icons, rolling banner ads, and long navigation lists—by the wayside.
The strategy of these five sites is to focus on what resources they can deliver best, regardless of their staff size or budget—a winning formula, indeed.
**Outstanding site from an association with fewer than 300 members:
Portage County Association of REALTORS®, Ohio
Redesigned and relaunched just six months ago, Portage County’s site raises the bar for how small associations represent themselves online. The site is well-organized, streamlined, intuitive, and very attractive, judges said. The association gives ample recognition to members and their volunteer involvement by posting rotating photos of members at events, along with photos and contact information for each director of the board.
Typical of small association sites, this one focuses primarily on being a member resource, yet it does offer key articles for home buyers and home sellers, covering real estate terms, why you should work with a REALTOR®, and how to prepare for homeownership.
“This Web site was my favorite,” one judge said, “Everything was easy to navigate.”
The site’s blog-style redesign focused on a “one click away” philosophy, featuring the most sought-after news, event, and resource links on the front page, leading to a landing page without excessive drill-down.
“The membership roster is one of the cleanest I’ve ever seen and a nice display of members by brokerage,” notes one judge. “The events calendar is also very streamlined and members can subscribe to it.”
**Outstanding site from an association with 301–700 members:
Berkshire Association of REALTORS®, Mass.
Berkshire’s Web site shows what a smaller association can achieve when it invests in a feature-rich online content management system. Substantial back-end organization built around “page items” enables staff to post new articles that appear on all relevant pages (not just one) and expire when the content is no longer applicable. This system also features menus and submenus that update automatically as content is added, making the tedious process of posting, removing pages, and manually cross-linking obsolete.
“Clearly, at this site organization is paramount,” one judge said. “The Web site had good (and surprising) depth and was easy to navigate.”
This fastidious attention to organization extends beyond maintenance of information, into its dissemination as well. Similar to the national association’s REALTOR.com/REALTOR.org setup, Berkshire has a “.org” for members and a “.com” for consumers. The consumer site features open house and Find-a-REALTOR® tools. The separate sites allow the association to better focus on distinct audience needs.
From the judges: “Really loved the committee reports—excellent transparency—and the links at the bottom of each committee report where members could join the committee, make a suggestion to the chair, or get general information for the committee is outstanding!”
“Nice online forms for joining various committees, paying dues, making suggestions—this gives members instant gratification.”
**Outstanding site from an association with 701–2,000 members:
Dulles Area Association of REALTORS®, Va.
The Dulles Area Web site was redesigned and relaunched in September 2010 with a new community forum that expands opportunities for members to connect with one another online. One judge said: “Members’ area has awesome functionality and enables members to work as groups, connect with other members, and share resources. Great member features and easy to use!”
The new DAR Community feature is a member-focused tool to coordinate discussion groups, member interaction, education, and committee work through such elements as My Events, My Calendar, My Discussions, My Groups, etc. This feature “has some real potential to support the association ... if it takes off,” one judge noted conservatively, since the feature is still relatively new.
Another key focus of the site redesign is to better serve members (and to a lesser extent, consumers) looking for real estate information. Four daily real estate news feeds —Inman, REALTOR® Magazine, RIS Media, and VAREALTOR—are featured on the home page and members can select which feed to subscribe to. The CEO blog features explanations and updates on association issues and news.
“The home page provides great depth and breadth of information to members and consumers without overcrowding,” said one judge. “I really like the top stories feature and ability to click through for more info—great way to get members’ attention.”
The design gets high marks for ease of use and organization. However, some judges noted the text-heavy pages could use more photos and graphics.
Judges also liked the key information for consumers under a prominent “consumers” tab, a nice directory of affiliates listed by category, and the site-search function.
**Outstanding site from an association with 2,001–7,000 members:
REALTORS® Association of Metropolitan Pittsburgh
Relaunched in January, this association site was rebuilt from scratch with a focus on inviting visitors to “engage, discover, and interact,” says Joi Rogers, e-PRO,
the association’s marketing director.
“The resources for members and consumers are vast, current, and organized,” one judge noted. Yet, perhaps representing a shift in REALTOR® associations’ strategy, nowhere on the site is there a link to find homes. Consumers can find REALTORS®, other transaction service providers, and market information, but this association has left the home search business to its numerous competitors.
“Our site is a communication and interactive tool between us and membership,” says Rogers. “We encourage consumers to ‘Find a REALTOR®’ for real estate data and listings.”
In promoting opportunities for members to learn and interact with each other, a live feed from the association’s Facebook page is featured prominently on the site’s home page.
Additionally, a video channel and video-log, as well as photos of all members in the member directory, are in the works to be rolled out in the coming months.
“We are updating content almost daily, and we revisit our static pages once monthly to ensure information is fresh and relevant,” says Rogers.
Member survey feedback of the redesigned beta site—a staff-driven effort with no committee involvement—was unanimously positive, says Rogers. Not surprising when you consider the redesign focused on solving issues members had with the previous site, namely event registration, site navigation, and searching for content.
Judges also liked the clear “resolve a complaint” section under the Consumer Tools tab.
**Outstanding site from an association with more than 7,000 members:
Houston Association of REALTORS®
For years, HAR.com has been the gold standard for REALTOR® association Web sites (winning this competition in 2008, 2007, 2006, 2004, and 2003). “It seems as though HAR consistently finds ways to bring the latest technology to its members, and HAR.com is a big part of that,” said one judge.
Yet, even the best strive for more, as Houston has done with its newly redesigned member section of HAR.com, launched in January. Likely the most feature-rich online offering for members, HAR’s member “dashboard” stretches the limits of online functionality.
Perhaps individual member-designed custom dashboards were the only way to organize the vast number of tools, data, and member services offered by HAR. Or, perhaps, it was the only way one Web site could be flexible enough to serve 21,000 members. In any case, the end result is a real estate command center that delivers personalized lead notifications, MLS notices (updated every 15 minutes), videos, and market updates, along with the new Listing Activity Report, which details listing traffic on a daily basis. From the dashboard, members can see how many times a consumer has bookmarked its listing, manage their HAR-built personal blog and social networking, among a variety
of other tasks.
Another feature is a tool that generates dynamic, colorful charts of listing and market activity that members can share with their sellers. “We are in the process of adding more tracking and reporting abilities for agents and brokers,” says HAR President and
CEO Bob Hale.
HAR.com received high marks from our judges overall, not just when it came to its redesigned member area. “Homeowners and those wishing to become owners also have access to a wealth of information,” noted one judge, “and as a result HAR members reap a wealth of leads as a benefit of their membership.”
HAR was among the pioneers that integrated social media into its site early, and it still does an exceptional job staying ahead of the curve. The international section has great resources for foreign buyers and investors. The site uses oversize buttons as navigational aids, which give the site a clean and well-organized feel.
HAR.com’s reviews were the most positive in this competition. One judge summed up the reviews this way: “What I didn’t like most about HAR.com—it’s not my site.”
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