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Building a Real Estate Website with IDX

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The Power of an IDX Real Estate Website

In today’s economy, online shopping has become a common practice across many markets — the real estate industry included. That’s because real estate websites give people a way to look at local listings, even if they aren’t ready to buy or sell. In fact, a 2023 NAR survey reports a staggering 96% of homebuyers start their search online.

Because of this, a website can be the most valuable resource for an agent. Still, many real estate businesses struggle with competing against larger sites like Zillow or Realtor.com. There’s a simple secret in doing so: using a real estate builder with IDX. 

IDX websites let agents show local listings on their site, making it easier for potential buyers to find properties. Agents can use them to showcase featured listings, promote services and ultimately attract more clients. 

What is an IDX website?

An Internet Data Exchange (IDX) website allows real estate agents to display up-to-date property listings directly from the Multiple Listing Service (MLS) database on their website. It’s essential in improving online visibility for your agency or real estate team. Plus, it offers potential buyers and sellers a user-friendly platform to view available properties. 

How does an IDX website work?

An IDX website works by connecting to the MLS database and then pulling property listing data onto the agent’s site in a user-friendly format. Technically, an IDX system queries MLS servers for property listings based on user-defined criteria and then parses the data onto an agent’s website based on how the website formatting is set up. From a user experience standpoint, your website visitors can simply search properties using different criteria, like location or price range, and receive accurate, updated listing information in real-time. 

How is an IDX website different from the MLS? 

The MLS is the centralized database for real estate professionals to share property listings. An IDX website gives agents a way to display these MLS listings on their sites, offering ownership of presentation, branding and lead generation

Why do real estate agents need an IDX website? 

All real estate businesses can benefit from having an IDX website, regardless of size and resources.

IDX websites, particularly those offered through website builders with native IDX capabilities, simplify the process of showcasing listings. This is crucial for smaller agencies, who need a user-friendly and effective way to compete online in an otherwise crowded market.

Larger real estate agencies and brokerages can benefit from more flexibility and advanced IDX options that IDX website builders offer. For example, a larger agency may need to handle a larger volume of listings or offer more robust search functionalities. A website builder specializing in IDX can offer more scalability and customization to account for these needs.

What do real estate agents need to build an IDX website? 

Operating an IDX website doesn’t have to be complex or costly. With the right approach, you can overcome these challenges, making it a realistic and rewarding investment for any size real estate business. And, a successful approach begins with these things: 

Expertise. It’s important to work with a specialized website builder with native IDX capabilities. This eliminates the need for your team to manually maintain your website to display listings in real-time. 

Software. Typically, an IDX website doesn’t demand any hardware needs. But, the success of your website can depend on the software suite you select to run your real estate business. Think beyond just your website and consider how you want the information you collect on your website to connect with your real estate CRM and lead generation tools. By factoring in these needs early on, you’ll spend less time trying to connect the dots later. 

Planning. As with any strategic business decision, it’s important to enter a website-building process with a solid plan in place. Creating an effective IDX website involves strategic planning, meticulous execution and ongoing promotion to be successful. Although it’s a complicated process, that doesn’t mean it has to be difficult. That’s why we developed this three-step resource to share how to add IDX to website development.

How to build an IDX website: A step-by-step guide

Step one: Planning your IDX website

Before you can start your website building, it’s important to understand what you’re walking into. That requires these pre-build to-do’s:

  • Competitive research: Take stock of your competition by analyzing their websites. By analyzing their websites, you can get a better understanding of what features and content are necessary for yours.

    First, start by looking at common pages across different sites. This can include how their content interacts with each other, like home page layout, property search functionality, contact forms and list of services. It should also include figuring out what unique content they might have. Pay special attention to anything like resource pages, community guides, blog content and newsletters they might have. Use this information to begin outlining features you’ll want on your website, content you’ll want to outrank and how they’re using lead generation contact forms throughout. 
  • Domain and hosting decisions: As you conduct competitor research, you’ll also want to start figuring out the logistical details of your website, like your domain name. Select a domain name aligned with your brand, ensuring it doesn’t infringe on any existing trademarks or copyrights. Keep in mind, this decision will have a direct impact on your brand reputation. Domain names can help enhance your business’s credibility with potential clients.

    Similarly, where you choose to host your website can affect your website’s speed, performance and data security. Fast page-load speeds, responsive design across devices and the continuous updates of listings are all critical areas needed to maximize the effectiveness of an IDX website. 
  • Builder selection: To gain a competitive edge in your IDX website development, it’s recommended you use a real estate website builder with IDX expertise, rather than building your website with a common CMS provider. Unlike generic CMS platforms, IDX builders provide granular control over property listings, advanced features, search functionalities and hyperlocal content to resonate best with your target market.

    CMS providers, even ones with robust hosting solutions, don’t inherently include a native IDX integration. That means a real estate team must manually code and maintain IDX features within the CMS platform, which can lead to longer website development timelines, customization costs and lagging property information.

    Additionally, IDX builder platforms such as Sierra Interactive offer a specialized CRM integration to pair your website with customization options, lead capture forms and a comprehensive customer relationship management system. This makes capturing and managing leads even more effective for your team, while also improving your business’s online presence. 

Step two: Building your real estate website with an IDX feed

Once you’ve created the logistical plan for your real estate IDX website, it’s time to focus on the details. Think about the user experience you want your prospects to have and the value that makes your business unique. Then, apply the details to these areas:

  • Navigation optimization: For a good user experience, it’s important to make navigating your website simple and easy. A clean navigation structure can be critical in engaging potential leads and guiding them seamlessly through your website until they convert. So, you’ll want to dedicate some time to testing and streamlining your IDX website’s navigation. This involves creating intuitive menus, clear categorization and implementing user-friendly features using a combination of dropdowns, sidebars and smart search criteria functions.  
  • Compelling content creation: Website content goes beyond property listings. Craft compelling, hyperlocal content encompassing neighborhood spotlights, community insights, market trends, blog posts and guides for home buyers and sellers. A great place to start is through the competitive research you’ve already conducted.

    It’s important to also consider content from a visual perspective. Imagery can capture a prospect’s attention just as much as it can also help SEO, as some search algorithms favor imagery in ranking content. Stock images can serve as a convenient solution to get imagery fast, but in-house photos and virtual tour imagery can help create even more personalized and authentic content — just make sure you are complying with privacy laws and get written consent to use images of clients in your marketing materials.

    High-quality, SEO-optimized, informative and attractive content can increase website visitors while simultaneously establishing your expertise in the real estate market. Paired with IDX listings, this helps set you apart from every other real estate agent in town. During this step, you should also consider the ongoing ease of maintaining your website.

    The real estate market is constantly changing — your website should be, too. That means you’ll want to choose an integration that is easy for your team to maintain and scale alongside your other efforts. 
  • Choosing the right IDX integration: There are several common IDX systems: iFrame IDX, organic or RETS systems, and mixed or semi-organic systems. Choosing the right integration involves evaluating various IDX plugins based on crucial factors like integration ease, scalability, and cost-effectiveness.

    For example, an iFrame IDX typically has a lower upfront cost but is limited when it comes to search engine indexing. This can negatively impact your SEO efforts. Organic or RETS systems elevate SEO by importing MLS listings onto your website servers but typically require a larger hosting plan. Then, there are mixed IDX options that blend iFrame and RETS options together — but there are typically monthly fees involved.

    If these nuances and plugins make the prospect of selecting the right option for your real estate business seem complicated, consider this. The process really begins with choosing the right IDX approach for you. And that means choosing between a website builder with a native IDX integration or a CMS that requires manually coding IDX functionalities into your site.

    The first option is by all accounts the best for most real estate professionals. For one, a native IDX integration ensures real-time updates, keeping property listings current without any manual work on your team’s part. It also streamlines the process of pulling in specific property attributes and search terms directly from the IDX system, without extensive coding. This helps ensure a smooth flow of property data and listings onto your website, enhancing its overall functionality.

Step three: Launching and promoting

One of the biggest mistakes any real estate agent might make when it comes to website development is thinking once it’s live, the work ends. Instead, it’s critical to ensure it is driving traffic and generating qualified leads. Start with this:

  • Post-Launch Actions: Think of this as fine-tuning your website. Evaluate user feedback, monitor performance metrics through analytics tools like Google Analytics and test for glitches or broken links. This ongoing optimization and maintenance ensures your website remains responsive and user-friendly. 
  • Driving Traffic: Leverage multiple marketing channels to drive traffic to your new website. Utilize digital marketing strategies — targeted email campaigns, social media promotion and ongoing SEO tactics — to improve website visibility and boost traffic. Depending on how you’ve chosen to build your IDX, some of these steps might be a lighter lift than others. For example, Sierra Interactive’s IDX websites are built with organic SEO in mind already, which leads to 2,000% website traffic growth.
    Drive traffic through traditional marketing means, too, by incorporating your domain name on direct mail postcards, business cards and open house one-sheets. 

Choosing the right IDX provider for your website

In today’s digital landscape, a robust, IDX-enabled website isn’t just an asset — it’s a competitive necessity. Opting for a specialized real estate IDX website builder like Sierra Interactive ensures you’re able to compete.

Sierra is here for a good reason. While we offer templated site designs to get you going quickly, we differentiate ourselves by building every website by hand, giving you a lighter structure that’s easier to update and comes with the full SEO benefits of a customized design. Unlike most CMS alternatives, we integrate directly with the MLS feeds through IDX, allowing us to access data that is not otherwise available. That means customers can conduct hyperlocal searches to find exactly what they need. Plus, each website is fully compatible with our powerful CRM and part of our streamlined approach to lead generation. It’s the quickest, easiest way to get a professional real estate website up and running.

Considering the valuable time and resources spent on managing your real estate business, opting for a specialized website builder over common platforms (think WP Engine or Squarespace) can be a game-changer. By choosing an IDX website builder tailored specifically for the real estate industry over generic CMS platforms like WP Engine or Squarespace, you can streamline your website creation process, reduce the need for website customer support and ensure seamless integration with a dedicated real estate CRM system. The inherent CRM integration benefits translate into efficient lead capture, customized lead forms and simplified lead management, ultimately letting you focus more on expanding your business and less on website management.

Begin improving your online presence with Sierra Interactive’s real estate IDX website solutions today.

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