When Christine Cowern came to us looking for a refresh of her website in April 2017, we jumped at the chance. After all, we designed its first iteration back in 2013. If anyone could evaluate what was working and what wasn’t, it would be us… right?
Having just launched, we’ve had a chance to take a good look at how far we’ve come since 2013. In the process, we’ve built a more usable site that prioritizes user experience with cutting-edge evolutions in digital strategy.
Christine Cowern is a Toronto-based real estate agent and team lead, known for her no-nonsense attitude and adaptive marketing approach.
With a relatively large team of seven, Christine handles more volume in a month than most Toronto real estate agents do in a year. With this many clients, her team needs strong lead capture automation, which her current site just wasn’t nailing.
We’re big believers in putting CTAs wherever they make sense. Users should easily move through a site and end up on a contact page. But our calls to action on Christine’s old site, designed in 2013, weren’t translating into form fills. And, truthfully, we found users weren’t getting to forms in the first place.
Lackluster benefits and a complicated layout meant Christine was seeing higher-than-average drop offs before lead pages. When we took a good look at what we had done four years ago, we realized the site’s structure needed an overhaul.
It wasn’t just her users having trouble. Christine and her team found that the old site wasn’t easy to navigate in the back end either. As Christine’s business model and team changed over the years, the site proved too tricky and convoluted for new members of her team to pick up.
Since we’ve long prided ourselves on our teach-a-man-to-fish approach to handling website changes, we wanted to ensure the new site was truly adaptable.
Finally, there’s simply the sheer amount of technological evolution that’s happened in digital strategy since 2013. I mean, that was the year Prince George was born, the year “selfie” was controversially added to the dictionary, and the “Harlem Shake” was around for a hot minute.
White hat search engine optimization strategies have grown and evolved. The number of testimonials consumers look at before buying a service has increased – and, for that matter, so have the number of practicing Realtors® in Toronto. The real estate market itself has changed.
Christine needed a critical update to capitalize on today’s modern marketing landscaping.
Change One: Strategic Similarity
While we like to think we know Christine pretty well, things have changed since 2013. A growing team, a shifting market, and a more tailored target audience meant we needed to make a few strategic shifts in tone and content for the new site. But what we didn’t want was an unrecognizably different brand identity.
So on the surface, we kept a lot of design features the same; Christine’s logo is unchanged, as are the site’s colours, its focus on great images, and the location and style of the navigation bar.
The new website experience won’t be jarring for anybody familiar with the old site. Christine has capital in her branding, including her well-used site, and keeping a shallow similarity makes for an easy transition with no loss of familiarity.
Instead, we worked with both of our teams to recreate a fully functional product.
Christine is a model client in this respect. Her active involvement in the project presented itself as honest and prompt feedback, clear direction, and a strong sense of who she is personally and professionally. This gave us the information we needed to steer her site where our own strengths lie: data-backed strategy, user-focused design, and copy that converts.
Change Two: But With Better Bone Structure
Despite the surface similarity, the site has been entirely redone, all the way down to its bones. With standardized design elements that appear throughout, a simpler structure, fresh WordPress integrations, and stronger visual design, the new site is more modern and professional.
A cleaner navigational structure puts Christine’s comfortable and casual “Get To Know Us” page where most Internet eyeballs fall first: top-left (see below).
This page, ideally a user’s first click, humanizes her team and offers a glimpse into Christine’s refreshingly transparent communication style.
From here, the user’s experience is self-directed but subtlety assisted; a reader is never more than a single click away from contacting the team. Conversion-bait testimonials (that are real!) appear just as often, building social proof subtly.
This leads us to a hidden truth: the real purpose of a real estate website isn’t actually conversion – it’s conversion assistance.
It’s usually unlikely that a new user, interacting with a real estate brand for the first time, will immediately jump to contact through the website. It’s possible, it happens, but it’s not enough to merit single-mindedness.
Instead, secondary objectives assist in long-term or later-stage conversion. Showcasing interesting and convincing content increases the likelihood that a user will come back. Keeping them engaged on a site builds brand familiarity and trust. Maintaining a high-quality digital identity cuts through the noise and makes that brand more memorable.
We want to get Christine on a future seller or buyer’s short list, even if they’re not going to jump to contact immediately. Secondary objectives are paramount.
So we encourage users to stick around with click psychology.
Change Three: Temptation Button Island
We made subtle text and design changes that increase a users’ likelihood to manoeuver around the site for longer.
The navigation menu item titled “For Explorers” ties a users’ self-perception to their web interaction. It piques their curiosity, encourages their click, and reflects Christine’s brand identity neatly in one tempting button.
That menu item leads to a wealth of SEO-friendly information on various neighbourhoods in Toronto, which means that the user is rewarded for their click with quality content. That quality content happens to represent one of Christine’s competitive advantages: in-depth neighbourhood knowledge. Click, convince, convert. Or come back later, then convert. At your leisure.
Buttons in bright colours like red, orange, and green have been shown to increase click-throughs. We used colour to subtly differentiate between “clickable” and “more clickable” buttons.
In the main navigation menu, every button is neutral-coloured except for one. On the farthest right is a red “Stay in the Loop” button, with two arrows that look like a fast forward symbol. It leads right to a contact form.
“Stay in the Loop” is a powerful call to action. FOMO, or “Fear of Missing Out”, has been cited as one of the major driving forces of Millennial purchases. Often, we hear about FOMO and social media, since sites like Facebook and Instagram make it easy to curate enviable – and purchasable – lifestyle images.
In Christine’s case, she has knowledge currency as her source of FOMO. We build a little bit of urgency for users by telling them “don’t miss out – you need to keep up” with that button. Click, convince, convert.
Differentiating between lead pages and content pages through buttons means that users can peruse content and find answers easily. But by subtly driving them to contact, we’re more likely to capture those leads a little earlier.
Change Four: (Keyworded) Benefits Galore
One of Christine’s personal and professional mandates is to never be complacent. When I met with her for this study, she joked about “never resting on her laurels”. Except she’s not joking – her service offering is absolutely unbeatable in the real estate landscape. So we made her site ooze authentic, saleable hustle.
Quick-selling listings. Investment returns. Headline-making sales. Free staging services. Professional connections. A kick-ass team that works harder than you do.
Every content page we created has these emotional and financial benefits at its heart – but search engine optimization on its brain.
This works in two ways; the benefits read convincingly, answering a user’s questions and resonating memorably. But the content is keyword-optimized to ensure the user gets there in the first place – especially if they’re using a search engine.
White-hat search engine optimization strategies bump up your search engine rankings through valuable and useful content, rather than just trying to game search algorithms. We use high-quality, keyworded content pages to connect users searching for “return on investment of staging”, “real estate agent condos Toronto”, and “how much is my home worth?”
These queries funnel people who are in the market for an agent, but who have never heard of our client, to Christine’s site for the first time. Where, hopefully, we can convince them that she’s just what they need.
With more readable, skimmable, and clickable content, users can more easily find the information looking for, and fast.
Change Five: A Better Backend
The biggest issue Christine had with her older site was that it wasn’t very intuitive to edit on her own. It was HTML-heavy, and even the simplest edits required her to scroll through code to find the text that needed changing.
This time around, we’ve made user-friendliness our top priority.
The previous “code scrolling” has been almost entirely replaced by forms. Standardized, editable boxes now appear inside each post, and they can be filled, changed, and saved easily. As forms are changed, formatting is done automatically. No coding necessary.
We’ve also made aesthetic changes easier. Our customized drop-down colours menu showcases Christine’s website colours automatically. Before, her team would have to find the right colour hex code, or simply guess at the right colour. Now, “Cowern-red” is just one click away.
Text styling is similarly pre-set. We’ve made just under a dozen specific formats that can be used throughout the site. One style, “Award List”, takes a bulleted list and changes the bullets to little award flags.
From titles, to buttons, to arrows and more, the site’s style is standardized and simple.
These fixes make adding, editing, and maintaining the website a breeze. It should be much faster for Christine and her team to add and edit pages, all the while keeping their site’s sleek and attractive design.
To Sum Up
The biggest lesson we learned throughout all of this was a good bit of humility.
In many ways, it would have been easier to rebuild someone else’s work. But by breaking down our old site, we found some potential issues that we’ve had to take a good, hard look at to address.
User-friendliness for our clients is paramount. Making our product easier and simpler to use is one of the best ways to ensure that it lasts for years.
Applying user psychology, for our clients’ clients can help us capture their attention, gain their trust, and move them to action. New techniques and cutting-edge research are the backbone of effective lead generation, with both a long- and short-term goals in mind.
Finally, we’ve learned a lot about how our clients really help us. Critical feedback stemming from an honest and authentic relationship has made this project more exciting, and truthfully, the final product much better.
We can’t wait to measure the difference after launch, and hear how Christine’s clients like the new site. We’ll just have to wait and see.