I am always amazed at the assumptions web developers make about the average internet user. When I am surfing web sites that have been designed by a “professional” more often than not I get the feeling that the site has been developed above the ability of the average user. In particular I rarely find a website with a search engine that actually crawls the site I am on to retrieve the information I am looking for, in language I understand. Usually I know what I am looking for, but I am not sure how to describe it.
A good example of where searching fails is the average real estate web site. We know a lot of people search for homes on the internet. Depending on the source it is reported that in 2006 more than 70% of home buyers start their home search on the internet. In 2007 the National Association of Realtors reported that 84% of home buyers use the internet as an information source.
If this is true then it stands to reason that they will eventually get to your web site where they will continue their search. If your web site is like most it will fail the searcher. A post in 1000 Watt Blog entitled “Real Estate Searches Finest Hour…” was right on the money when it exposed the problem with programmers not responding to human needs. The post accurately defines the problem with searching for homes on a web site:
- Humans don’t search by ZIP code.
- Humans don’t search homes from space. Or on maps filled with little blue markers.
- Human don’t analyze comprehensive census data that pop off listings like a Crayola box of colored graphs, charts and heat maps.
- Humans don’t understand the difference between a “Hybrid, Satellite, or List View”.
- Humans don’t sift through 12,000 listings that “match my criteria”.
- Humans don’t “save searches”.
- Humans don’t want to view only 8 crappy pictures of a home.
- Humans don’t want their search experience cluttered with advertising.
- Human don’t benefit from poorly executed applications that include home value estimates that can never be accurate, no matter how many PhD’s are thrown at them.
So what do people want when they are searching for a home?
- Humans drive around neighborhoods.
- Humans meet neighbors.
- Humans ask lots of questions.
- Humans like to talk to the seller.
- Humans spend time vibing the neighborhood.
- Humans test drive the commute from prospective home to work.
- Humans like to look at 6 homes that match their criteria, to a tee.
- Humans require affirmation. They like to be gently nudged and influenced.
The solution? Developing a better search engine is going to take time, but in the meantime the writer recommends the following to Realtors:
1) Describe homes in a manner that reflects how people think.
i.e. Beautiful Arts and Crafts house, close enough to the city but far enough away to enjoy crickets. Or a starlight night. A home perfect for a young family, empty nester and anyone inspired by decor. With a great flow. And a backyard perfect for planting. Sunning. And gathering your thoughts.
2) Post 50 pictures. That are clear. With a description of what every picture is.
3) Incorporate local data and write about it.
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