Searching for Web 2.0

Ever search for a word but can’t seem to find it?
Or try to recall a fact that won’t roll off the tip of your tongue?
Ever need to buy a vowel from Vanna White?

What’s missing from the online real estate experience?

As part of a brand analysis for an East Coast brokerage, I drilled 10 pages deep into Google’s results for "real estate" in the company’s market area. I explored every result. There were 100 Websites in total. Of these 100 sites:

51 belonged to either associations, media companies, builders, funeral homes (not kidding), or listings aggregators;
37 belonged to individual agents, teams or single brokers;
7 belonged to brokerage companies;
3 were ActiveRain blogs;
1 site was a listing blog with an RSS feed;
1 site was a Naymz profile.

While I learned a bit about search-engine positioning, this exercise revealed something far more concerning: the X that marks the spot where real estate Websites, in general, fail.

Promises, promises

Several things crystallized. The most obvious was the mechanical gunfire of platitudes rat-tat-tatting across every broker and agent Website. The bullet holes murdered my ability to decipher and choose. It’s like the old game show, "To Tell the Truth." Will the real local expert, market specialist, top producer, #1 expert, yada yada yada please stand up?

Next was the realization that what a Website is or could be has been lost among real estate companies. Most of these sites were more closely related to their bus bench and moving-van-ad cousins. I felt like Charlton Heston landing on the Planet of the Apes wondering how this could be happening amidst all the advances in Web features and design standards.

Finally, there were the promises made but not kept on these sites. Ideas like "Find your Dream Home," held a greater promise than what actually delivered. The lead forms and poorly executed IDX solutions covering tens of thousands of homes – a huge haystack in which I am left to find my dream needle that screamed "gotcha!"

What’s missing?

Truth. Honesty. A real voice. Three huge wells to draw ideas from that could carry the Websites from the 1.0 world of cliché.

What is a ""#1 expert"? What does that even mean?
What is a "top producer"? What is it that you produce?
What is a "market specialist"? What is a market anyway? Don’t we live in towns and neighborhoods?
And what makes you a "specialist"? How can I come to believe in that?

If you are these things, prove it. If you want to use these terms, bring them to life. Extend the statement and allow the user to experience these things first hand.

100 Web sites, one unfulfilling experience

Inside and across the caverns I hear the shouts of those who would claim this illustrates the failure of Web 2.0 in real estate. But Web 2.0 has not failed real estate; real estate has simply failed to grab hold of its promise. Consider for just a minute those examples of agents and brokerages who have scaled to the top of their local real estate boulder by digging their crampons and cams dug into the 2.0 sensibility. Proof is there. In the pudding.

It’s been five years since mashups were introduced to real estate. Three since blogging started generating buzz. During this time hundreds of millions of Web users have been exposed to a new way of experiencing the Internet. And while I believe that there are many social aspects of Web 2.0 that make no sense for real estate, I will argue for the ones that do. I will argue that providing proof of the claims on your site hones in on the basic tenets of branding.

Web 2.0 is a failure if you believe it is.
Web 2.0 is a failure if all you value is the short lived thrill from a lead delivered to your inbox. 
Web 2.0 is a failure if you believe there’s no value in a meaningful online conversation.
Web 2.0 is a failure if you believe conducting local business is not about inviting a global marketplace.
Web 2.0 is a failure if you’re not patient enough to reap long-term benefits. 
Web 2.0 is a failure if you’re not willing to learn new skills and jettison the old real estate marketing playbook. 

I visited 100 Web sites. Save for the ActiveRain profiles, there was nary a trace of any of the great things Web 2.0 offers. That tells me there’s a big opportunity waiting for the brokerage company or agent willing to cut through that haystack with a shiny new needle that’s different.