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Neighborhood Searching Helps Sell More Homes

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Nobody - and I mean nobody - wants to see every property you list for a big city. Saying "your results found 4,982 homes in Chicago" is equivalent to saying "go find another site that lets you search more locally". ZIP Codes help a bit, but most people don't know many ZIP Codes . But what if you let them narrow their search by neighborhood?

Still Stuck on 'More is Better'

"But," you say,"we don't want them to narrow their search - that reduces results." That's exactly my point. Do you really think that overwhelming users with irrelevant results will make them search for your needle in that haystack?

Why make users enter the ZIP Code of the area they are searching? After all, have you known all of the relevant ZIP Codes for a city you were moving to? What do you do on a site when asked for a required piece of information that you don't know (like a ZIP Code)? I leave.

When I'm looking up property in a small city, I want to type in the city name. Period. If it's a big city, then I want to search in a neighborhood I've heard is a good match for my needs (my sister says that Covington Heights is the coolest part of the city...).

If you force me to use a ZIP Code, then I want to at least see a map showing me the ZIP Code boundary for the ZIP I just selected, not just the property dots. Maybe I was wrong when I typed in the ZIP Code. Or maybe my search turned up no good homes.

Better yet, show me actual neighborhoods. Maybe there's a nearby neighborhood that has more homes. If I can see the neighborhoods or ZIP Codes, then I could maybe select by clicking.

The New Secrets To Differentiation

It's simple: stand out by showing boundaries. Here's why you should:

1) Most homebuyers new to an area do not know ZIP Codes for that area! Or, only know one ZIP Code. How are they to learn about properties that would be perfect for them in ZIP Codes they do not know? To keep them on your site, show them ZIP Code boundaries and/or neighborhood boundaries.

2) The definitions of "town" are deceptively complex and often miss nearby properties that could meet all of the buyer's criteria. The USPS uses different town names than the Census Bureau. Since crime data, school districts, etc. are all Census-defined, there is rarely a one-to-one correspondence with Postal definitions (except in rural areas). And neither accounts for "local neighborhood" names, which are critical to many local buyers. Boundaries let them self-navigate.

3) Every site looks the same. When every site looks the same, you have to compete on brand recognition alone. Brand recognition is an expensive asset, often taking years to develop.

4) Your competition uses mapping as an "add-on" after the buyer has seen a list of possible properties. Showing dots was cool 5 yrs ago, but does it really convert more visitors into leads? It doesn't actually help them find more available properties, meaning that if their search came up with only two properties, no matter how fancy the dot map is, they still only have two properties to choose from. Likely outcome: they exit.

Build or Buy?

Building your own neighborhood data is insane. Click here if you don't believe me. And ZIP Code data is even harder. Here's what you do to cost-effectively let your customers cast a wider net for searching:

1) License high-quality neighborhood names and boundaries or ZIP Code map data.

2) Use open-source tools like mySQL, open mapping platforms, postGRES or others to tag each property in your feed with the neighborhood name it falls in.

3) Create a killer user interface, complete with a mashup overlaying the map boundary data.

4) Check out sites like Trulia, Redfin, Roost and others with cool map interfaces.

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