By Christopher M. Leporini, REALTOR® Magazine
Five years ago, simply having a real estate Web site meant you were leading the pack. However, today’s increasingly sophisticated customer requires more from you than just showing up. The 2000 NATIONAL ASSOCIATION OF REALTORS® Profile of Homebuyers and Sellers indicated that 37 percent of buyers searched for homes online in 1999, compared to 2 percent in 1995. What image does your site present to these Web-enabled consumers? A shoddily designed site makes you look amateurish and could cost you business. Robin Williams Web Design Workshop (Peachpit Press, 2001; $39.95) by John Tollett, David Rohr, and Robin Williams instructs readers on using Web design fundamentals to craft eye-catching, user-friendly sites.
The book is geared toward budding professional Web designers, but you don’t have to have a degree in graphic design to learn from it. (Real estate professionals will, however, want to skip several short segments focusing on designers’ interactions with clients.) The profusely illustrated volume presents Web design basics in an accessible manner, walking readers step-by-step through lessons on such topics as graphics, layout, and navigation.
Chapter 3, “Spiff Up Your Photographs” explains how to prepare photos for online display, using brightness/contrast levels, saturation tools, and artistic filters. You can use this information to make your pictures of houses, or other images, such as local landmarks, sharper, clearer, and more visually appealing. It also provides general hints on using graphics on your Web site, such as cropping images both to create more dramatic layouts. Furthermore, the book reminds readers to refrain from indulging in oversized images. These graphics bog down loading times and force users with smaller monitors or laptops to scroll around the screen to see the entire page. Chapter 4, “It’s a Horizontal World” elaborates on how to keep users’ monitor sizes in mind design within the Web medium’s space limitations.
Slick graphics alone won’t guarantee you a first-class Web site; you must also navigation that makes users comfortable and guides them intuitively through the site. Without logical organization, your users will soon feel lost and click onto another real estate site that makes more sense. The book describes how to create a site map to illustrate your site’s hierarchy, indicating the relationships and linkages between different site sections. Every bit of information that will appear on your site should appear on your map.
The book also outlines other common blunders committed by would-be Web designers. Browser compatibility testing and quality assurance are two of the most underrated aspects of web development, according to the book. It’s vital to test your Web site on several computers–differences in operating systems and browsers can turn your carefully laid out design to mush. Switch between Netscape and Explorer or PC and Mac and watch colors soften, fonts morph, and margins fall out of alignment. Run your site on a slower connection and suffer through mind-numbingly slow download times. Place yourself in users’ shoes, testing quality assurance elements including text size, broken links, and spelling errors.
Tech-savvy readers will find helpful tips in Section 3, “Idea Source, “which contains advice for more advanced users to spruce up their Web site.(Hint, it’s not to add two dozen GIF animations on the same page.) These include alternate page layouts that break the standard grid pattern, dynamic pages which selected text, graphics, or pages shifts from visit to visit, and advanced site navigation. Once you’ve mastered the basics, you can use these techniques to put a finishing gloss on your site.
You wouldn’t mail out a flyer cobbled together with construction paper, Elmer’s Glue, and a Crayola. So why should you settle for a less-than-professional Web site? Robin Williams Web Design Workshop allows you to do your homework on Web site fundamentals to produce a first-rate Web site and attract more clients.