Our team at StudioCCD designed, staged and launched the new website for the Monterey County Association of Realtors (MCAR), a Realtor association on the California coast south of the economic powerhouse of the San Francisco Bay Area and Silicon Valley. MCAR wanted to modernize its site, offer a responsive and seamless experience, and manage large amounts of content for hundreds of weekly and monthly users.
The new website at www.mcar.com provides multiple navigation tools for easily finding content. It features a large panorama of lush images that highlight the unique character of Monterey County and underscore the value that real estate professionals bring to the region.
Enterprise websites balance content, design and seamless experience
One of the most pressing challenges facing trade associations is the need to engage with the members. This is true of all member-driven organizations like chambers of commerce, industry advocates, professional boards, and even political parties.
Engaging with members is an ongoing task that can use up staff time and resources. More than putting up a nice website and publishing newsletters, it means rethinking how the association’s message gets in front of members and offers information they need quickly and then gets out of the way. This means engaging the membership in a way that resonates.
Like most trade associations, MCAR manages large amounts of data on its backend related to its membership, political advocacy, training programs, and its links to Multiple Listing Services with their own reams of data on properties for sale.
To keep all this backend data together, MCAR has for many years relied on an industry software vendor that is widely used in the real estate association world. It was important for MCAR to maintain data links with their vendor’s solutions while offering a new tool that was a fit for their Realtor members.
Perhaps most importantly, the transition from the old site to the new MCAR.com should be seamless and fast for the members – they should only notice one site design instantly switching to another, like flipping a switch.
On February 6, 2017 we flipped the switch with MCAR and brought the brand new website online. From the members’ perspective, the website was down for exactly zero minutes. Despite a few domain hiccups which threw off some page links, the site came to life quickly and looked exactly as we and our MCAR client anticipated.
Supporting the brand, managing content
In our design we wanted to highlight images and symbols of Monterey. We ruled out a big image slider at the top of the screen based on growing concerns about how sliders do not bring traffic, conversions, or SEO value. Instead, the site randomly loads a different image on each page.
Large images can be expensive for page loads, so we manage it with caching. Page caching helps reduce page load times, however this also reduces the randomization effect of the images. Our caching solution strikes a balance between user convenience (faster loads) and user experience (telling the story of the MCAR brand).
Striking a balance is a valuable goal for any project such as this one. The target audience consists of thousands of individuals: real estate professionals, the media, the public, and industry partners. MCAR.com seeks to balance lush design with ease of use and access. Visitors should find their content quickly and easily, and feel inclined to return.
Navigation is critical for a site with large amounts of content for a large and diverse audience. An important solution is the use of navigation tools. MCAR.com offers multiple menus and descriptive guidance from the front page. The site footer visible on every page is a quick link to basic content such as upcoming calendar dates, news headlines and general information.
This project is not finished with its launch. In fact, it has just started. MCAR’s staff now must ensure that new, fresh content is created daily and weekly in order to ensure continued relevance and draw an audience. MCAR staff has wide flexibility to modify any page which simplifies content creation and supports the brand:
- They can change or remove the sidebars, big header images, and headlines.
- They can add content to the sidebar areas and can designate it for specific pages.
- Three distinct sections on the page are reserved for full-width banners, advertising and special announcements. Like sidebars, the banners can be made to appear on every page or just a few.
MCAR’s staff can manage all of these content features without a single line of additional coding.
Just like moving into a new home, building an enterprise website is a work in progress. The same way that a home buyer rearranges and adds to his or her home for years after moving in, MCAR.com should continue to grow and change with the needs of its audience.
Some of the content solutions on the site were already different just a few weeks after launch. Content styles and layouts are evolving in ways that our design team did not anticipate. This is in fact the best possible outcome for MCAR’s brand and its mission. MCAR has the flexibility and tools to make the changes and updates it needs in order to best serve its audience.