Googling yourself might seem a tad narcissistic, but if you’re an estate agent, its worth it. Is your firm the number one listing? Or half way down the second page? What happens if you google, say, ‘house in Sevenoaks’. How many estate agents rank ahead of you? What does that mean for your prospects of getting that initial call from a househunter?
The first point is to have an up to date, fully functioning, bright website. At The Negotiator Awards 2017, Winkworth won gold for their newly launched website, which certainly ticked all the boxes for our judges, who said, “A new website designed to give visitors a better experience, to be more responsive and, crucially, generate more leads. It works!”
To get visitors to take the right actions you need to get the value proposition of your agency over in clear, concise language. Andrew Clack, TechnicWeb.
There are hundreds of do’s and don’ts around creating the perfect website that reflects your agency’s strengths – and even more variations in personal taste, but there some constants that apply. Andrew Clack, Director at TechnicWeb, part of ZPG, knows pretty much everything about creating superb agency websites, suggests:
Make your agency’s value proposition clear To get visitors to take the right actions you need to get the value proposition of your agency over in clear and concise language on your homepage. If what sets you apart is your local expertise or competitive fees then make sure that is the first thing customers see.
Focus on quality for your property listings
Good quality pictures are incredibly important, consistency in the way they are edited and uploaded will help build your brand. And keep your property descriptions to the point, taking out any unnecessary descriptive language.
Think about your user’s journey
Create logical, easy to follow user journeys throughout your site and back that up with consistent branding and web design.
Add social proof Put all reviews from clients on your website – with a star rating if possible.
Super fresh content
Looking at property details is one thing, but there is more to keeping them involved with your website and ‘getting to know you’. Content counts, so, says Andrew, try these:
- Add local area guides to the site, and write about the best local amenities from restaurants and bars to family days out
- Advice for tenants on how best to look after their properties
- Advice for landlords on changing laws and regulations
- Advice for vendors on how to sell their house / set up for viewings
- Advice for buyers on the local area, community events
- Content on upcoming community events and what the agency is involved in locally.
MAKING IT HAPPEN
It all sounds good, but how do you achieve top listing on search engines, driving potential clients straight to your website. This is the big one. Search engines – let’s be honest, that means Google – matter and this is what Search Engine Optimisation (SEO) is intended to address.
A five branch business running a separate site for each branch could do better by centralising web content and focusing on that site’s content. Jason Sammon, FL1digital.
Jason Sammon, Technical Director at FL1digital, says that while many agents are aware that they need to get a good Google page rank, their knowledge of what SEO involves is often out of date, says “One thing I have noticed in the property sector,” he says, “is the fact that it often seems to be its own little microcosm, and it’s often one or two steps behind.”
He explains the way search engines have changed. “Years ago, it was all about meta tags, the magic dark art of adding tags to your pages.” If you added the right tags, hey presto – you’d get a decent page rank. “But Google really invested in looking at content,” Jason says, “so just stuffing tags into the pages isn’t going to work anymore.”
Content creation is key to attracting search engines as well as keeping readers interested. Good content, such as a negotiator talking about their favourite local cafes, talking about ‘DIY disasters’ or great interior décor, can help – but that requires in-house knowledge of basic SEO. “You need to engage,” Jason says, whether or not a consultant has been hired – and that’s particularly the case with agents who are ramping up their use of social media.
Getting that content isn’t a one-off task – it’s a continual effort. Regular blogging is immensely valuable, video is increasingly important. Local area guides are becoming a hot trend, and customers find them useful; besides, Google has recently been focused on developing video search.
One agent to do well out of video is Caley & Co, in Watford. Jason says they’re simple videos, “Just a guy with a selfie stick walking down the road and talking about what he sees, giving advice. It shows you don’t have to have a massive budget to make a video.”
He also points out that there doesn’t need to be a disconnect between online and offline. A piece written for the local newspaper can be posted on your website, and blog posts can be repurposed in a print magazine. The crucial factor is that the pieces are well written and interesting; will they be read all the way to the end?
A big opportunity for SEO that many agents ignore is the actual property listing. Using key phrases such as “large family house” or five-bedroom house” might be easy to remember to fill in but remember househunters will often only use one search term – make sure you include all the terms they’re likely to use.
Jason says that agents miss out when they only use the postcode and town name for a property; many househunters google for a particular area or even a particular street. “Sometimes it’s as simple as putting the area name, or the road name,” he explains; “describe the world the way your customer would see it.” So a property in NW3 might include the words Hampstead, Camden and London and the nearest major road or tube station – all points that househunters will search for. “It’s not really your website, it’s your customers’ website,” Jason says.
While a great deal of SEO is about the content on the agent’s site, search engines also look at who is linking to the site. While ten years ago, search engines only cared about the quality of links, recent upgrades have focused on assessing the quality and relevance of those links. So simply going out and buying links, or swapping links with other sites, isn’t going to work, in fact, it will probably be penalised.
“Link profiling is a really big thing now,” Jason says, “And we advise clients – you need ‘link detox’.” Removing or ‘disavowing’ poor quality links can really pay off.
Google also penalises duplicate content, which means that a five-branch business which currently runs a separate site for each office could do significantly better by centralising the web content and focusing on getting a really good ranking for that site. Simply copying the same content to each of five local websites risks a Google penalty.
True, there are some more technical aspects to SEO, and that’s where FL1digital spends a lot of its time. For instance, the move towards encryption has created some challenges for SEO, while semantic URLs for property listings are another area to look at. One area with potential is ‘rich snippets’ – a way of putting structured data, such as opening hours, into Google. “Google has lots and lots of little tools,” Jason says, “but you have to know where they are!”
Estate agents need to engage with analytics, too, for instance via Google Analytics. Tracking key statistics, such as visitor numbers, mobile visits, and the bounce rate, is important. Trying to improve those statistics every month should bring dividends, in terms of more visitors and a better search ranking, and hopefully in terms of increased instructions and better marketing too.
But nowadays, SEO as a single discipline is less important than it used to be. The company website used to be an agent’s single shop window on the web; today, you might also use Facebook, a Twitter feed, and Instagram or Pinterest, as well having as customer reviews on Yelp, Allagents, Trustpilot or even Google Reviews. That means your website is only a part – though of course a very important part – of your total web presence.
Anthony Gaskell of Reputation.com says agents now need to engage with all these areas. “Gone are the days when it was feasible to work with an agency that had some clever SEO tactics and just drop some keywords into your site,” he says, explaining that customer reviews and star ratings will also affect your search ranking, even if you’ve never seen them. So an effective SEO policy needs to take other peoples’ content as well as your own into account. He advises agents to take their reviews seriously. For a start, operational performance can be improved simply by looking at what customers are saying about the business. “There’s a huge volume of reviews,” he says. “It’s ‘Big Data’, and it’s not easy to analyse, but if you do analyse it the right way you can improve your operational performance.” Sometimes simple things, such as ensuring the phone is picked up quickly, or giving customers the same agent to deal with throughout the process, can make a huge difference. “There’s so much that can be learned,” he explains, “because people are telling you so much.”
At the same time, agents need to engage with reviews, the bad as well as the good. “Ten years ago this feedback would have been confined to the pub, or to the coffee shop.” Anthony says. “Now it has really high visibility and news travels fast. So don’t put your head in the sand and ignore, regardless of where they left feedback, they’re reaching out to your organisation. You must react! Why would you ignore someone who’s leaving a review that’s going to show up on your largest shop window?” He points out that most consumers don’t expect every review to give five stars; everyone knows a business will sometimes get things wrong. What counts is firstly, that you show you have actually read the review; and secondly, how you try to make things right. Web users who see a company cares about its customers’ opinions and has learned from its mistakes and improved its service, are far more likely to become customers.
Reviews online can be disproportionate. Customers who had the worst experience are the most motivated to leave a review, even if it takes time and effort. By offering an easy way for customers to leave feedback, through a link in the ‘thank you’ email after a house sale has completed, for instance, it’s more likely that a higher percentage a more balanced sample, of your customers will leave reviews.
So rather than advocating ‘SEO bells and whistles’, Anthony sees the job as managing your footprint online and linking your web analytics to your performance as a whole. If there’s one thing he’d stress to estate agents who want to improve their web presence, it’s not simply getting a better page rank, it starts with “truly understanding how your business is being perceived from an online perspective.”