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Get your site up to speed

It’s the fastest moving technology on the planet, so are you keeping up? Lisa Isaacs speaks to the industry’s leading website developer experts.

Lisa Isaacs

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When was the last time your website had an MOT? If it was more than a year ago, your online presence may actually be reducing opportunities to capture leads. From endless clicking that leaves potential clients puzzled to no clear way of getting in contact, a number of easyfix issues persist in the property industry.

To help break your bad habits, our experts identify the most common outdated website approaches and suggest solutions for an improved return on investment.

Bringing contact forms up to date

Mobile devices allow us to research, enquire and purchase without taking our eyes off the screen so if your website requires someone to mentally remember a phone number or jot down an email address so they can physically type it in later, you’ve probably lost a lead.

Robin Arnold PropertyStream imageRobin Arnold at PropertyStream says that contact details should not only be displayed prominently on websites (a design basic) and offer a number of different ways to get in touch (although it’s probably time to drop your fax number), your website should connect the user directly to an agent.

“As a minimum, phone numbers should be responsive so users can just click, bearing in mind at least half of your online visitors are likely to connect with you via their mobile,” says Robin, “but live-chat integration, direct message applications such as WhatsApp or Facebook Messenger and visible hyperlinks to social media accounts are highly recommended as they are proven way to increase leads and instructions.”

We take great care to ensure our valuation forms are highly optimised for maximum conversions and that links to the valuation forms are always front and centre. Robin Arnold, PropertyStream.

Optimised ‘get in touch’ forms placed in premium positions across a website are another way of stopping people leaving your website when they want to get in touch, and the most valuable are valuation forms – either to request an instant valuation or an expert in-person appraisal. Robin says where these forms sit on a website and how they’re crafted is critical when it comes to translating interest into real intent.

“We take great care to ensure our valuation forms are highly optimised for maximum conversions and that links to the valuation forms are always front and centre for the visitor as they navigate through the site.”

Three clicks and you’re there

One of the golden UX (user experience) rules is that a key piece of information should never be more than three clicks away. Poorly designed websites force users to visit numerous pages in search of what they want, ultimately leading to frustration and a high exit rate (the number of people who visit multiple pages on your website then leave).

Link to Digital Marketing featureTo reduce the risk of potential leads exiting with a poor experience or worse, not having taken any action, Nelly Berova at Art Division says a user-first approach should be adopted. “Agents need to consider who they are looking to attract to their website and then structure the sitemap, pages and content accordingly.”

One of the golden user experience rules is that a key piece of information should never be more than three clicks away.

For Nelly, that’s definitely potential sellers and landlords – a stance that should provoke agents to review the content on their website and who it’s aimed at: “A good example are area guides, which feature on around 90 per cent of agency websites. While there is nothing wrong with area guides, they are aimed at buyers and tenants. Pretty much all of the agents we speak with get the majority of their tenant and buyer enquiries via the portals, and almost all agents want to attract landlords and vendors via their websites.”

Nelly adds that a good way of not burying key information away is to steer clear of busy menus and instead focus on the one-page website, which also lends itself to mobile phone scrolling. “Usually one page with multiple sections explaining your service, with clear calls to action throughout, is enough. There is rarely a need to create multiple pages as this makes it confusing for the user.”

Fewer pages, more views

Jenny Jefferson Property Webmasters imageJenny Jefferson at Property Webmasters agrees that multiple web pages aren’t always needed and she has a bold claim to back up her thinking: “People won’t be looking at 90 pages of your pages so agents can reduce their sitemap. A website doesn’t need a million options and dropdowns either – it needs a clear, succinct navigation menu.”

Agents hoping to pursue a one-page website – or at least a very streamlined version of what they already publish – should set the blueprint with their homepage. Jenny says Property Webmasters’s most successful homepages feature the most important call to action in the navigation bar; a stand-out hero banner with a striking visual and a simple search bar; featured properties; one-click links to social media; a small bio about the agency; client testimonials, latest news and videos.

Property tours can cement someone’s decision to enquire about a property – a video ensures they get to see the size and layout of a property much more clearly. Jenny Jefferson, Property Webmasters.

Still only using static photos?

The latter point in Jenny’s winning homepage formula is an aspect mentioned by every web expert we spoke to. “If agents aren’t using video in some way – perhaps to introduce the agency’s team – they run the risk of falling behind,” she says.

“Property tours are very important as they can cement someone’s decision to enquire about a property – a video ensures they get to see the size and layout of a property much more clearly than in photos or a floor plan,” adds Jenny. “We’ve also added a video live chat to our own website and it’s had a really positive impact on our engagement – it’s a development we’re keen to roll out to agents too.”

Looking at website image

Home page home truths

Jeremy Harford Tapp Homeflow imageWhile it’s true that an agent’s website is it’s digital shopfront, Jeremy Harford Tapp at Homeflow says agents need to recognise that, unlike a physical branch where the only way in is through the front door, some people may never visit an agent’s home page. “Most people will come to an agent’s website having discovered it somehow other than typing the web address directly into the browser,” says Jeremy.

If agents recognise that most people may never visit their home page, they need to structure all other well-visited pages to maximise engagement. Jeremy Harford Tapp, Homeflow.

So how does a user’s first interaction with an agent’s website end up being ‘contact us’ or a blog and not the home page? Homeflow commissioned an in-depth consumer web report in April, asking users how they find a local agent and 58 per cent still head to Google as their first port of call. Jeremy says that non-branded traffic, where users have typed a search along the lines of ‘estate agents in [your location]’ or ‘area guide to [your location]’, is plentiful and may lead the browser to a page deep within an agent’s website.

“If agents recognise that most people may never visit their home page, they need to structure all other well-visited pages to maximise engagement and, of course, conversion. Further interaction should always be encouraged, via a clear navigation structure, natural links from branch pages to related properties, or from one property to a similar type. Improving these metrics in turn helps Google understand your site’s importance and can therefore improve your SEO ranking,” says Jeremy. “

And while search engines lead the way for users to find contact details or service information, social media posts and emails are also significant when it comes to website entry points,” adds Jeremy, “so it depends on what page a marketing campaign ‘points’ users to.”

Land new clients with landing pages

Social media posts and emails brings us neatly on to landing pages. These are standalone web pages with their own unique url not visible on an agent’s main website or menu.

Landing pages are shown to users who have followed a link contained in an agent-generated email, social media post or online advertising campaign – it’s a marketing intervention that stops the user from being sent to (and side-tracked by) the agent’s main website, and they provide a precise way of measuring a campaign’s return on investment.

Jane Gardner JP Gardner & Associates imageMany agents feel they’re a costly frippery not needed when you already have a website but they often pay for themselves very quickly. “Landing pages have one purpose – convert the traffic into leads or deals,” says Jane Gardner at J P Gardner & Associates. “As such, they will focus on extracting the information required from the person who lands on the page.”

“By having a landing page attached to any digital campaign, you can be certain that all traffic to that landing page has exclusively come from the campaign you are running. If people sent to the landing page do not take action – such as providing their contact information or booking a valuation, for example – you know that you need to revisit the design of the page, the campaign placement or the value of the offer you are giving them.”

Make the data capture element easy by keeping the required fields to a minimum perhaps an email address only. You can contact them later for more information. Jane Gardner, JP Gardner & Associates.

Jane is an advocate of keeping landing pages simple – reflective of the campaign someone has seen, relevant to the person and GDPR compliant. “Switch off any distractions, such as menu bars, include a concise headline and add an attractive image,” comments Jane. “And make the data capture element easy by keeping the required fields to a minimum perhaps an email address only. You can contact them later for more information but if the form is too complicated, you could put them off and have no contact details to nurture.”

Jane also advises that a ‘thank you’ landing page is shown to the user once they have given their details. This is an agent’s chance to deliver any guides that were promised, direct users back to the agent’s main website or show another call to action.

Sotherby's webiste image

Switch on to plug-ins

A website being a ‘one-stop-shop’ is an overused phrase but as an agent’s digital branch that’s not staffed, it needs to be able to perform the role of your best employees. Plugins stop a website from becoming stale or static – they are dynamic, add responsiveness and operate in real time, 24/7. Without plugins, websites can feel two dimensional, dated or even dormant.

Nitten Nair Starberry imageThere are a myriad of plugins specifically developed for the agency industry. Some automatically answer questions or do the maths, while others provide market reports when your staff can’t or show the nearest schools to a property. “We are strong advocates of features that facilitate conversions and data capture,” comments Nitten Nair at Starberry – Nurtur’s web services business. “Many agents without a plugin system, such as LeadPro, end up ignoring a huge chunk of leads that come their way.”

We have clients who have moved away from ‘book a viewing’ forms to directly connecting to a live chat agent, who will then book in a viewing. Nitten Nair, Starberry.

In fact, Nitten says live chat plugins, such as Yomdel, are edging out traditional online forms as they offer instant gratification. “We have clients who have moved away from ‘book a viewing’ forms to directly connecting to a live chat agent, who will then book in a viewing while in conversation with the user.”

As well as plugins that provide an excellent return on investment and data capture, Nitten says there are ‘value add’ plugins that enrich the user experience: “We encourage clients to have custom-built calculators, such as mortgage, rental yield, stamp duty or cost of moving, and the Starberry team really love Dataloft for the type of postcode-specific market insights that can really inform a home mover’s decision.”

Time to review

So with the experts’ advice above, you should be looking at your own site with new, more informed eyes and maybe it is time for a refresh – and as we said at the beginning, it’s like an annual MOT, so put a date in the diary for the same time next year, as this business moves fast!

 

June 6, 2022

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