It’s a fact that renters and homebuyers turn to the internet as the first port of call in their search for a new home, but once an agent’s site is up and running, it’s easy to forget how vital it is in converting a browsing person into to a lead and into an instruction – and how the march of technology can easily dull its effectiveness.
With 9 in 10* buyers starting their property search online and 60%* of sellers visiting an agent’s website before instructing them, agents need to ensure their digital shop window is not only making the right first impressions, but enabling consumers to do what they need to do, and easily.
The need to have an effective website was only compounded during the pandemic, and the property boom that followed, as website traffic reached unheard of levels in the sector. Any agent not digitally prepared will have likely lost leads, and ultimately, sales.
As the market steadies, now could be the perfect time to conduct an all-important website review and MOT to help your agency cut through the competitive online noise.
Finding you first
With pretty much every estate and letting agent now online, it’s critical to stand out in the search engine crowds and if not done correctly, it could be as hard as finding a needle in a haystack. Of course, agents cannot compete with the traffic levels enjoyed by the portals for general ‘property for sale’ or ‘property to rent’ search terms, but with solid Search Engine Optimisation (SEO) strategy in place, you can potentially rank for localised terms on page one of Google, for example.
As Jane Gardner, an experienced digital expert with over 40 years’ experience in the property sector and founder of Social Angels, explains, “The premise of your website is to explain to Google and all search engines what the website is about – what you do, what location, your unique selling points – so that your site can be highly-indexed in search engine results.
The premise of your website is to explain to Google and all search engines what the website is about – what you do, what location, your unique selling points. Jane Gardner Founder, Social Angels.
“This is where many agents fall down as their website is either too old, static, has little or no SEO functionality and does not explain the basics to the client or the search engine bots, spiders and web crawlers.”
To boost your website’s searchability, Jane recommends daily evolution with fresh, new and bespoke content that focuses on the keyword phrases that your client-base uses, such as ‘best estate agent in’ your town. However, she warns, “There is nothing worse than buying content for your postcode or area which is also going to [be used by] other agents across the country. This is classed as duplicated content by search engines and your site will be penalised.”
The type of content should include useful resources such as home-buying guides and neighbourhood information, to help build trust and establish an agent’s expertise. Mark Hinkins Head of Sales, Rex Software.
Instead, she says to utilise AI platforms and ChatBots like Quillbot to help you generate ideas and original content. The type of content should include “useful resources such as home-buying guides and neighbourhood information” according to Mark Hinkins, Head of Sales at Rex Software, who says that this also helps build trust and establish an agent’s expertise. And if you’re not convinced how investing in SEO can have a positive impact, then Nik Chotai, Managing Director of sector specialist website and software development firm, Homeflow, demonstrates how small gains can result in huge returns.
If your new website ranking improved by two places, your local search traffic could double, based on click rates for Google search listings. Nik Chotai Managing Director, Homeflow.
“Let us say your current website is ranked fifth in local search, plus converts leads from traffic at 4%,” says Nik. “If your new website ranking improved by two places, your local search traffic could double, based on click rates for Google search listings. Plus, if the site now converts at 6%, you’d treble your sales leads via local Google searches.”
Optimising a Google Business Profile can also help in your search rankings, especially when coupled with regular posts and positive reviews, says Ben Sellers, Co-Founder of Starberry, which is now part of Nurtur.group. “A part of Google’s algorithm reviews a website by its expertise, authority and trust. Estate agents maximising Google Reviews solidify their website as a trusted source, which in turn can lead to search engines shining a light on your services.”
Google’s algorithm reviews a website by its expertise, authority and trust. Estate agents maximising Google Reviews solidify their website as a trusted source. Ben Sellers Co-Founder, Starberry.
A 2021 online engagement study in the property market by Giosg.com* found that 67% of visitors take a mobile-first approach, so having a mobile-optimised website is clearly a priority. “A successful estate agent website must be easy to navigate on a mobile through to tablet and desktop – in that order,” Ben adds. “It [also] needs to be optimised to deliver the web pages at speed, which means the code needs to be written cleanly, the images/video would benefit from a content delivery network to assist in faster loading speeds and access from multiple cached hosting around the globe.”
Data from Property Webmasters, estate agency website design and digital marketing firm, supports the need for speed and mobile optimisation too. They claim that 53% of mobile site visitors will leave a site if it takes more than three seconds to load.
“Your agency could potentially be losing out on leads while your competitors are gaining them,” says Jamie Arthur, CEO. “There are so many factors to consider when making sure a website is optimised for performance and speed and that’s something that we take extremely seriously with our websites.”
Your agency could potentially be losing out on leads while your competitors are gaining them. There are so many factors to consider when making sure a website is optimised. Jamie Arthur CEO, Property Webmasters.
The question of whether speed should be prioritised over style, though, is still up for debate.
Property Webmasters also found that three-quarters of users base the credibility of a business based on how their website looks. Findings from a recent Homeflow survey mirrors these too, revealing that 81% of home sellers wouldn’t contact an estate agent for a valuation if their website looked dated and didn’t include high-quality imagery.
So what should and agency website consist of? Nelly Berova, Director at web design agency, Art Division, comments: “An estate agency website is one of the most important sales tools to attract and convert new leads into instructions. Essentially, there are three elements that make a great lead generating website,” say says.
An estate agency website is one of the most important sales tool to attract and convert new leads into instructions. A good website focuses on the ideal client it’s looking to attract. Nelly Berova Managing Director, Art Division.
“The first is technically how well a site was put together, things like speed of loading, well designed pages, mobile responsiveness and technical optimistion. The second is well-planned content in a form of pages and blog articles, which is optimised for ranking and conversions; and finally, a variety of calls to action progressing the visitor to the next step.”
Jane Gardner also believes that clear navigation comes shortly after site speed and mobile responsiveness, saying, “Also having a call to action on every page and links from one page to the next relevant page to reduce bounce, plus a clear strategy for keeping the viewer engaged and on your site for as long as possible, is key.
“There should be no jump off to other websites on your home page – which many agents do. Don’t spend your efforts getting the traffic to your site only to push them off to another site immediately!”
A previous survey, published by Fine & Country, found that the three most important features on an agent’s website are quality images, the property search function and easy access from a mobile device.
Enhancing the user experience
It goes without saying that essential features of an agent’s website are property search functionality, simple appointment or viewing booking capabilities and lead capture forms, but the continuous development of software, and proptech specifically, means there are plenty of additional tools that agents can integrate to improve user experience.
Rex Software’s Mark Hinkins says, “There are many new and emerging technologies that estate agents can leverage to improve their website and online presence. These include virtual and augmented reality tools for property tours, chatbots and artificial intelligence for customer service, blockchain technology for secure and transparent property transactions and valuation widgets can enhance the user experience. All of this can ultimately support lead conversion and boost brand awareness.”
In another consumer survey run by Homeflow, 84% of home sellers said they wanted the option to receive an instant estimated valuation, while Ben Sellers recommends that mortgage, yield and Stamp Duty calculators and property tours all help to keep a website sticky, reducing the bounce rate.
He and Jane Gardner of Social Angels both rate VideoAsk as a tool to record and set up conversation-type videos using conditional logic that can help to qualify leads or give website users the information they want.
When it comes to communication, instant and real-time chatbots are increasingly the norm. “Having the ability instantly connect with an agent is a great way for users to get extra information fast requiring your response time is up to scratch,” says Jamie Arthur of Property Webmasters. “And with over 41% of users expecting a website to have a live chat, that is a huge audience you are potentially disappointing.”
Art Division’s Nelly Berova advises that agents should use a variety of tools according to the needs of ‘the ideal client’. She says, “Someone in their 60s may prefer to just speak with someone by dialling a number, while someone in their 30s may prefer to use WhatsApp. A good website focuses on the ideal client it’s looking to attract and provides a good experience from start to finish.”
Overdue for an overview or re-do?
As well as using tools such as Google Analytics to perform regular review of your website’s performance, you should add and update content weekly. More rigorous audits can be done with the help of other online tools as well. Ben Sellers suggests Google Search Console, Semrush, BrightLocal while Jane Gardner uses Inspectlet to see how easy visitors are finding what they are looking for.
Nelly Berova says a larger update, such as redesign or new site, should happen every three years. The cost of a new agency website varies hugely, from as little as £1,000 to off-the-shelf products to upwards of £10,000 to as much as £50,000 for a bespoke design and build. Although some website agencies, such as Property Webmasters, lets clients spread the cost over 24 months.
Homeflow runs a free ‘benchmarking report’ which helps agents understand the performance of their website compared to hundreds of other estate agency websites.
Rex’s Mark Hinkins advice is that when agents do come to a point when they need a new site to “fully assess what the business actually needs and the functionality that is most important to you.”
BE CAREFUL WITH COMPLIANCE
Compliance Officer at The Guild of Property Professionals, Paul Offley, issued a stark warning of the compliance requirements of agents’ websites. Offley says that there was a case recently where an agent failed to have a valid Client Money Protection (CMP) certificate on display, resulting in a £5,000 penalty notice.
“These sorts of cases highlight the importance of having a control testing procedure in place to ensure that your website meets the required compliance criteria. The website should be reviewed at least once a year to ensure that it contains the necessary information and that the information is up to date,” Offley says.
A website should be reviewed at least once a year to ensure that it is up to date.
He reminds agents that as well as standard registered business names, addresses and partnership information, agents should show logos of redress schemes with external links and the current EPC rating on each individual property listing. Websites should also comply with Data Protection laws and both the Consumer Protection from unfair trading regulations 2008 (property price, tenure and council tax band) and Consumer Rights Act 2015 (tenant fee information).