Whilst there are any number of reasons for developing a new website, when I start the design process there are a number of challenges, most of which present a great opportunity to significantly improve the agent’s online performance.
The first is that, whether we like it or not, nowadays we are all online agents! As Mark Rowe from RPS in Hampshire puts it, “The journey, almost without exception, starts online and then moves to a point where personal relationships take over.” It’s a bit like online dating!
CEO of Northfields Estate Agent, Richard Palfreeman, says, “Potential customers don’t go on an estate agent’s website to look at properties, they look online to understand what your agency is about and whether they can trust you. Your website is a reflection of your brand’s personality and should give an indication of the experience the customer would receive when using your agency.”
It is very important to be clear about your audience and their position in the property cycle when starting the design process. RPS took a very forward thinking approach and wanted a site geared towards their local markets. They recognised that someone who may be looking for information at one point, may return as a vendor in the future.
Independent, local, estate agents can have top flight websites… right now!
The importance of personality leads on from this. Modern websites have great functionality and capability, designed to enable you to express the unique personality of your business and differentiate you from your local or online competitors. This can be further optimised by integrating your social media channels and developing high quality, engaging and often very visual content such as video, to significantly improve your SEO.
Mobile technology presents a practical challenge. The rise of smartphones means many users access websites on a smaller screen which can affect the site quality and navigation. The rate at which technology has increased has understandably left some websites behind but there is little doubting the importance of a ‘responsive’ website, which allows desktop webpages to be viewed in response to the size of the device. RPS now sees 40-50 per cent of visitors to their site viewing it from a mobile device.
It’s just 25 years since the first website hit the public so it is understandable that the pace of change can be a challenge! This can create a fear that a website launched today will be dated by tomorrow. The reality is that the range of cost effective, flexible platforms will give longevity, enabling change and increased functionality.
A great example is X1 Letting Agents in Liverpool. One of their main objectives detailed by their Head of Marketing, Eve Addison, was to have a site that would support their geographic expansion whilst retaining the core elements of their brand.
Cost is always a major factor with budgets dictating there isn’t enough money for big in-house online marketing teams. Modern websites are though, more affordable than ever with a basic site starting at £4,000.
New content management software helps to control maintenance costs and increases flexibility, something important to Matthew Lester from Maxine Lester Residential Lettings in St Ives, Cambridge.
Matthew says that they used to send changes to a third party to update the site, taking time and money. With some basic training they now update their website instantly in-house, ensuring that their content is fresh and relevant and improving SEO.
There is no reason that independent agents shouldn’t have websites that are as productive and effective as any of the major national chains. Indeed, their size and flexibility can work to their advantage in enabling them to really reflect the personality of their business and in building a really engaging online presence. Ultimately their online presence can genuinely accelerate the pace at which the relationship, which will ultimately transition to the branch, is formed.
Looking from a productivity perspective, figures from the new RPS website show that the contact form was used more in the last week than the entire previous month on the old site.
Jane was the founder of Sewell & Gardner, which won the Best Independent Letting Agency at The Negotiator Awards in 2008 and 2013. Jane’s new consultancy, JP Gardner Associates has built a number of award-winning websites for agents across the UK.