” Not another feature on websites!”… we hear you cry but it’s likely that since our last feature – and almost definitely since you last updated your own website – there have been important digital developments. Your online shop front is very different to your physical one. While you may only revitalise your brand – perhaps tweak your logo or livery – every decade or so, the goalposts attached to website development are constantly moving. As far as your design, build, content and functionality are concerned, you need to be hitting the refresh button every few months – some would argue even more regularly.
Frequency is a major flaw
The frequency at which agents progress their website is one of the industry’s top failings, says Jeremy Harford Tapp at Homeflow. “For most agents, building a new website is a rare event and there’s a feeling that once a site is live, it’s something that’s sorted. That couldn’t be further from the truth – launching is only the start line.”
There are signs that the property industry is more aware of the need for a constantly-evolving digital presence, with Zoopla’s State of the Property Nation survey revealing 53% of agents are looking to boost their digital and email marketing credentials in 2020. If your website hasn’t been updated for some time – we reveal the current Holy Grail of web creation and development.
Building a new website is a rare event, there’s a feeling that once a site is live, it’s sorted. That couldn’t be further from the truth – launching is only the start line. Jeremy Tapp, Homeflow.
Making it mobile friendly
Almost every property search now starts online but focusing exclusively on a desktop web design is a basic but common error. “When a website isn’t mobile friendly, it causes a poor experience for visitors and a downtick in Google rankings,” comments Mike Smithson at Property Jungle, alluding to the little-known fact that Google includes ease-of-use on mobile devices in its ranking.
As well as ensuring each site it builds is optimised for mobile display, one of the latest functions that Property Jungle is including is ‘infinite scroll’. This function allows users to keep scrolling down a single page for all the information they need, instead of toggling between different pages and returning to menus, which is fiddly on a small screen. “Having to find the next button or click a tiny number with a large finger turns people off,” adds Mike.
Google likes sites produced by humans, for humans, liked by humans. An agent’s content ecosystem should also have a local focus: area guides and branch descriptions. Mike Smithson, The Property Jungle.
The generation game
A refreshed website has to deliver a return on investment and that means lead generation. The aim is to compel users to perform an action rather than browsing then click away without engagement.
The industry standard for this is a ‘call-to-action’ – buttons, functions and tools that prompt people to leave their details so an agent can follow up and convert. “Not asking for business is another common website mistake, says Mike, “Well placed, obvious calls-to-action result in increased conversions. If you don’t ask people to get in touch, most won’t.”
It’s in the digital diary
The thirst for instant gratification, comfort with online transactions and a reluctance to engage in person is behind a shift towards calls-to-action that take the form of online calendar bookings. Valuations and viewings can now be managed with what’s known as ‘intelligent’ calendars. These deliver an immediate appointment for the client, thanks to real-time syncing with staff diaries, and they also integrate with an agent’s CRM for a degree of in-branch automation. There’s also the option of ‘open’ calendars, which don’t restrict the slots that clients can request. Jeremy points out the ‘open’ system is good for agents who want to retain a reason to speak with a prospect, as they still need to confirm timings.
Join the search party
While enabling users to book appointments and register for email alerts rank highly with Mike in terms of calls-to-action, he highlights the humble property search is still a crucial lead generator: “An astonishing 95% of property website visitors go straight to the properties – they want to see what is listed as quickly as possible.”
Mike touches on an aspect of web design that is often written off by agents, with many assuming the portals are the be-all-and-endall when it comes to carrying out a search. As a result, an agent’s own website search function is a poor afterthought and it’s an area Jeremy also feels strongly about.
“Agents often assume that portals remove the need for good property searches and we’ve even seen some agents drop the search function from their own website altogether. This is dangerous as if you examine the analytics, the vast majority of traffic (often as much as 70%) is on the property search pathway.”
It’s also worth remembering that not all property searches are conducted buyers – potential clients often use an agent’s own facility when deciding which agency to appoint. “Would-be vendors and landlords will often check to see how their property may be presented online,” says Jeremy, so it’s worth ensuring you prioritise your own search facility.
In an instant
It is an instant valuation that Zoopla feels is key to driving consumer traffic to an agent’s website. The Zoopla Valuation Tool [ZVT] is an online widget that can be easily integrated into property websites – white labelled with the agent’s own logo and branding for a seamless call-to-action.
Although step one of the ZVT is an online phase, the tool is designed to open deeper channels of communication. “Critically, the ZVT generates a house price range. This encourages consumers to engage with an agent, leaving room for the professionals to highlight their in-depth knowledge of their local market to calculate a valuation for both sales and lettings,” says Andy Marshall at Zoopla. “The tool is also devised to capture contact information from potential sellers and landlords.” AVT is priced at £50 per month per branch.
The Zoopla Valuation Tool generates a house price range, encouraging consumers to engage with an agent, leaving room for the professionals to highlight their knowledge. Andy Marshall, Zoopla.
Managing and qualify leads
It appears there is a lot to learn from property portals, not only in terms of lead generation but also when it comes to lead management. LeadPro is a proptech tool that started out capturing and qualifying leads from portals but it’s now transferring to agent websites. “Property Jungle applies LeadPro to every site it builds, as it does more for lead nurturing and opportunity creation than anything else,” comments Mike. Leadpro is attached to every call-to-action, such as a valuation enquiry, viewing booking and ‘contact us’ form. When a user submits a request –
LeadPro automatically sends the applicant an agent-branded welcome and asks a few simple qualification questions, to which the reply pings into an agent’s email inbox.
Keeping it clean
Achieving the above is not a case of throwing everything and the kitchen sink at a web build. Far from it. Experts are unified in their ‘less is more approach’. “Websites that say too much should be avoided,” says Mike, who advises agents to ditch the ‘we’ve been in business for 150 years and I’ve been practicing for four decades’ spiel, saying it adds clutter to a customer’s journey.
For Jeremy, the clutter comes in the form of messy ‘bells and whistles’. “There are so many proptech tools available that it’s easy to get a website in a muddle.” Jeremy says a judicious touch is required when adding extras to avoid layers of confusion, which can easily build up over a period of years.
“Proptech tools are very valuable and give return on investment when executed well but they should be styled consistently so they feel part of the same site,” he adds. “Of even greater importance is integrating the tools so they don’t fracture your customer data into multiple databases, which can prevent your website from being able to establish one clear identity for the user making the enquiry.”
Very few agents truly understand Google rankings and even if you have your head around what will propel your website up the results page, the internet behemoth loves to switch up the system – what worked on Monday may not have an impact on Tuesday. Currently delighting Google is a multitude of qualities but all can be addressed by good website architecture and compelling content.
Mike says, “Google likes sites that are produced by humans, for humans and that are liked by humans.” An agent’s content ecosystem should also have a local focus: area guides and branch descriptions are vital, as is the population of an agents’ Google My Business listing. Once your content is in place, link building is the next step – how many links you have pointing at your website from around the rest of the internet. Also earmarked as a Google pleaser are virtual tours – Matterport and Immoviewer platforms increase user engagement (Google likes websites that keep people on pages longer), virtual tours yield a host of assets from one visit with a compatible camera – floorplans, 3D dolls houses, print-quality photos and in-tour measurement tools.
Structure and navigation
Although it’s easier to pay lip service to Google with content, the structure of a website – the scaffolding that holds the words, photos and tools in place – is also being ranked. Probably new to your lexicon is schema – a structured data vocabulary that defines entities, actions and relationships on the internet. In relation to Google, schema makes it possible for search engines to understand the meanings behind subject matter (entities) and, in turn, serves a better user experience. Schema is an aspect Mike says is ignored by many as they are not aware of it or don’t know how to implement it correctly. “We use some form of schema on our contact pages, property details and site breadcrumbs for best results,” says Mike.
Google also wants all your technical bases covered – that means good page titling, clean URL structures, clear HTML, meaningful meta data, consistent navigation and quick page loading speeds (appearing in less than six seconds). In Google’s eyes, all of these factors have a knock-on impact on your quality score and agents may find they drop down in the rankings if a competitor is paying more attention to these aspects.
Keeping pace with developments
So what happens after a website refresh? You refresh it again, of course. It’s essential to have Google Analytics installed on your website, and learn how to understand what the data is telling you about your audience and their browsing habits. It’s this feedback that should dictate what you introduce or change next.
If the thought is too scary, a good place to start is Homeflow’s free Analytics Benchmarking programme. It will highlight how well your website is performing compared to anonymous, similar sized agency groups, and will help you interpret the results and recommend changes.
It has also introduced a free, SEO scanning service that shows how branches rank and perform in relation to named competitors. The scanning picks up which peers are buying PPC advertising and how agents rank against them in all market areas.
THE NEGOTIATOR AWARDS WINNER: WEBSITE OF THE YEAR
The judges said: “An agency website that’s actually built with the consumer in mind – particularly with simple navigation and great use of video.“
Kevin Scrupps, Director, said, “Our team has worked tirelessly to provide our clients with access to a wide range of services and tools to search and sales progress is as smooth as possible.”