When asked which are the most important property websites, agents will say Zoopla, Rightmove and OnTheMarket. Rarely will they list their own website, yet their online offering can be a powerful lead generation tool.
Many still see the website a mere digital shop front or a facility exclusively for searches, yet a website has the potential to deliver more business than a physical branch – and it deserves just as much investment. Some may need a new mindset to harness a site’s true potential. It is, these days, an agent’s shopfront, the aim is to stop people window shopping and walking away.
Beauty and the beast
For a website to really deliver leads, agents need to understand the link between good design and customer actions; appreciate how Google and SEO work hand-in-hand with content and realise that websites need to constantly evolve to reflect marketing objectives. This may move an agent’s online understanding in a new direction but the rewards are too good to ignore.
What goes on behind the scenes of a website is now as important as how it looks. Algorithms, analytics and behaviour patterns push websites into scientific and even psychological directions. The challenge? Understanding what all the bells and whistles offered mean, to then find the balance between a pleasing aesthetic, functionality and lead generation to create something good enough to explore and compelling enough to engage with.
“One of the biggest property website myths is that a beautiful design performs well,” says Rus Sellers, the co-founder of fully stacked digital marketing agency, Starberry. “It’s not enough for a website to be flashy and sparkling for it to perform. Other key elements need consideration for a website to generate leads.”
Rus always highlights the three top ‘must haves’ when an agent requests a new website: a clean, simple and responsive design; a user friendly search functionality and a well defined SEO structure across every page.
The jargon attached to web build can be frightening but the goal underpinning the lingo is to deliver quality leads to every agent. When Rus talks about common website failings, he speaks of SEO, UX design, architecture, responsiveness and bounce rates – usually prefixed with the word ‘poor’– but in plain English, these terms relate to increasing the number of site visitors, delivering information in a clear way, influencing people to use a company and getting users to interact.
Capturing valuable details and data
The last two points refer to data capture and ‘calls to action’ – visual prompts that encourage users to fill out forms and request services. “You wouldn’t believe how many agents fail to put their branch phone number in an easy-to-find position on their homepage,” says Jeremy Tapp at Homeflow. “The biggest volume of website leads are still generated by phone – the ratio is typically 2:1 in favour of phone calls over emails and digital forms.”
Pop ups squeeze more leads out of the same flow of web traffic – that can be good but you have to weigh up their annoyance to the user, the brand cheapening and the damage they do. Jeremy Tapp, Homeflow.
Agents can measure telephone number success by using Google Analytics Event Tracking together with a dedicated phone number used only on its website. Leads will also be more forthcoming if every phone number appears online as a ‘click to call’ link, allowing people to call from a smartphone without dialling the number.
Other data capture points and calls to action are essential and can be in keeping with a website’s overall design to be intuitive. Buttons that take users to contact details, relevant pages and request forms should be as standard but Rus often sees calls to action missing on property website pages, including the homepage.
Instead of waiting for staff to arrive to respond to website enquiries, LeadPro instantly responds to the requests and delivers a qualified lead to the negotiators. Mike Smithson, The Property Jungle
Chatbots and live chat are also becoming more popular with 24/7 assistance and proactive engagement, which can yield round-the-clock leads. Mike Smithson of agent website specialist The Property Jungle was a pioneer of live chat. “Webchat first hit these shores in 1999 when I started the first webchat company in the UK. It’s taken a long time to find its feet but now with companies like Moneypenny and Yomdel leading the charge, agents are finding that proactive engagement with site visitors yields valuation leads.
“Webchat done well is no different to putting someone in a retail shop and asking someone who walks in if they want any help. A helpful customer service agent can often make a deal out of a casual browser and good online agents can do the same.”
Going down… the pop up?
More aggressive forms of data capture exist, namely the pop up, but their effectiveness is widely debated, “Pop ups can squeeze more leads out of the same flow of website traffic – that can be a good thing,” says Jeremy, “but you have to weigh up their annoyance to the user, the brand cheapening and the damage they do to the natural conversion rate of the base site before incorporating them.”
Tracking is covered in more detail later on, but calls to action are a prime example of how agents need to monitor the website. As well as providing users with different contact methods, where you put calls to action also matters. Homeflow tested and tracked users navigating estate agent websites looking for contact points and found some people respond to text, others to adverts. “Many look straight to the footer for contact details,” says Jeremy, “some people don’t even read the big promotional carousels.” If a button isn’t popular, its position or wording may need changing to increase its usage.
The value of a valuation
One of online’s biggest lead generators and data capture tools is ‘request a valuation’, available in three guises – the instant tool, the ‘book a valuation’ button and ValPal which starts the conversation with the homeowner and creates leads for the agent. There are, however, mixed feelings about instant valuation tools: whether they prevent people from booking face-to-face valuations during which agents can deliver their full pitch and whether they produce too many lower quality leads that need nurturing over time. Either way, with the average agency using instant valuation experiencing lead uplift of 3-4 per cent, according to Homeflow, it’s worth considering as all valuation requests fill new business pipelines as well as diaries.
TLC for web leads While the right website will deliver leads, how agents handle them is where the return on investment lies. “The difference between good agents and great agents are those that build a ‘property lead factory’,” says Jeremy. Agents can get carried away with the immediate concern, which may be a viewing or a valuation request, but often mishandle registrations and finance leads.
Each web lead should start with a timely response from an agent – tricky when people are online round-the-clock. Mike Smithson recommends LeadPro as a great plug-in that delivers process improvement and a degree of lead response automation. “Instead of waiting for staff to come in after a night off, LeadPro instantly responds to any request made on an agent’s website and delivers a qualified lead to the negotiators before they’ve had their first coffee!”
Content is still king
What you put on your website is feeding two people – home movers and Google. It needs a tactical marketing approach, rather than a copy and paste from a corporate brochure one, as there is a direct correlation between what an agent puts on its website and how they are ranked by Google.
Elliott Rowland at Webdadi says content written with a business objective in mind can become part of a focused SEO campaign. The content can be infused with key words that match the most commonly searched for phrases, propelling the site up the results pages and driving traffic.
If people click through to a website from a search results page but discover poor quality content and navigate away immediately, it negatively affects how an agent’s website ranks. Elliott Rowland, Webdadi.
As a first step before any content is produced, however, agents need to identify what they need to promote and the action they want the website user to take. Do they need more valuations or viewings? Do they want people to conduct more property searches? Do they want to increase brand awareness in areas without a physical branch? The answers should influence the content and subsequent web architecture.
In estate agency Elliot points out that area guides and blogs are really valuable pieces of content as they can tie in with local area searches – one-bedroom flat for sale in Avon, or home to rent in Leeds, for example. Another content win – photos – can be labelled and tagged with key words for Google points.
Press play for engagement
Elliot says videos are a must, websites with video content embedded are 53 times more likely to show up first on Google. “Google is interested in how long people stay on a web page as this indicates the user has found relevant content. If people click through to a website from a search results page but find poor quality content and navigate away, it negatively affects how an agent’s website is ranked. Video content keeps users engaged longer than photos but rather than embed footage of properties, area guides, ‘how to’ tutorials and moving advice translate better to video, provide evergreen content that can also be used across social media and in email campaigns.”
There are other ways of keeping users engaged and on site, Elliot recommends tapping in some of the comparison, distance, finance and data plug-ins that keep buyers and tenants on page longer.
“By limiting the need to conduct research elsewhere, agents can keep users on their site. Local school details, council tax information and transport checkers are becoming more sophisticated, and an agent can pull in lots of data into its site that increases time spent on page.”
Pages past the sell-by date
If you have fallen into the trap of thinking a website is a tick-box exercise – make one live and forget about it – think again. Even if you’ve added data capture, calls to action, user tools and optimised content, standing still isn’t an option.
Property websites are like painting the Forth Bridge – once you’ve finished, you’ve got to go back and start all over again. The problem can be complacency. “Agents tend to be reactive not proactive,” says Nick Hubbard at Estates IT, “it takes an external factor for them to change their website.” The opposite is true and agents should be regularly monitoring the effectiveness of their website and changing each page to meet a business objective.
“Google Analytics should be incorporated into every agent’s marketing strategy,” says Nick. “They should be looking at click through rates, bounce rates, traffic and inward searches all the time, and this data should inform SEO campaigns and content to keep websites generating leads.
“Breaking away from the idea that a new website is a finished piece of work is a stumbling block, but trial and error is all part of online success. “Some clients bring us content that is 10 years old, getting them to embrace regular tweaks is the starting point,” adds Nick. “Google algorithms are always changing and you need to keep up and follow recommendations.”
Elliot agrees, “An agency has to run its website in tandem with Google Analytics and monitoring should be as often as weekly, if not more. Testing different content, marketing messages and architecture is important – the ‘do it once and do it right’ ethos doesn’t apply to websites.”
Elliot recommends agents set simple goals so they can measure success without making things too complicated. “There might be a focus on the home page or a drive to get more valuations but finding the right formula rarely happens the first time. It’s only by looking at Google Analytics and refreshing pages that an agent will discover what compels a user to click a button or complete a form.”