Your website is crucial to your success. You know this, but what really matters most? While features like flash animation and music may look and sound fantastic, the website must be effective too and that means combining a multitude of functions, tools and features. Lizzie Leigh (right), Head of Marketing at Jackson-Stops & Staff, says, “Our clients are busy people and it’s essential that we make any visit to our site an easy and efficient experience for them.”
Simplicity of design allows users to focus on what they have come to the website for – property. “Don’t forget about the basics”, said Jaclyn Thorburn, Director of Strategies at property marketing and PR firm Oracle Group. “The obvious rules of creating a user-friendly, uncluttered and intuitive website apply to estate agents websites too”.
Our clients are busy people so it is essential that we make any visit to our website an easy and efficient experience for them. Lizzie Leigh, Jackson-stops & staff.
But given the competitive nature of the business, agents should first be concerned with ensuring that people find their website and stay on it. “The basics” work best, if you want clients to find and stay on your website, says Jaclyn:
Step one: Ensure text is keyword-rich. Use Google’s AdWord Tool to find the best keyword searches relevant to your area, property type and clientele and weave them into your website text to boost natural Google search ranking.
Step two: Use social media to promote your firm’s web presence and brand.
Step three: Include a blog and post regular updates, opinions, guides and advice from people within your agency. “Blog posts are not only good for SEO and sharing on social media, but they also prove to clients that you know what you are talking about; by personalising each blog, they get a better sense of who you are, as well as what you do,” Jaclyn added.
WHAT LIES WITHIN
”The easiest part of buying an agency website is getting the ‘design’ you want, as most people are comfortable discussing the look and have a clear idea on how they want their brand represented,” says Jeremy Tapp at Homeflow. “The much tougher bit is understanding the difference in quality in the underlying systems, what makes for a good user profile system, how do my URL structures work, and will they be good for SEO or bad for SEO?
“When you only commission a new site every two years or so, it’s difficult to stay current with the changes in technology, which is why we spend so much time at Homeflow taking time to explain these factors to agents.”
“Invisible factors like having clean URL structures, site page speed performance and quality of the HTML from an SEO perspective, are essential to get right. They make a much greater impact on the number of enquiries your website generates, than the surface look and feel, yet these factors are so often overlooked, or left unexplored.”
“It’s essential to design your site with a few very simple use cases in mind. First and foremost is your vendor / landlord clients – catering for their needs is more important than catering for applicant searches, though what looks like applicant search traffic can often be vendors in disguise.
Finally, says Jeremy, “Other useage you’ll want to consider and test well are the various ways of easily finding your branches’ phone numbers. Those pathways need to be completely idiot proof – yet so often designs completely fail on that front.”
Another crucial element is to ensure that it is ‘mobile-friendly’ by Google’s standards and accessible on all devices. Colin Tankard of Digital Pathways said, “Nearly everyone has a mobile phone and, at the very least, access to tablets and desktops, so agents need to be able to communicate to all of these devices to capitalise on obtaining the maximum traffic to their sites.”
Research by Intelligent Mobile found that 60 per cent of website visitors use a mobile or tablet device to search for properties, set to rise to as much as 75 per cent within the next three years. “Making sure your website s easy to use, regardless of the device, is a key element to a successful website,” added Jamie Lovie of Intelligent Mobile.
Nick Hubbard of Estates IT agreed, “For a good user experience the site needs to work well on the screen size being used, i.e. the size should be designed for touch for finger navigation.”
Following changes Google made to their mobile search algorithm earlier this year to favourably rank sites that are mobilefriendly, agents need to ensure that “important messages and editorial content as well as property listings can be viewed properly regardless of the device in use”, said Mike Griffiths, Managing Director of Expert Agent. If your agency website is not mobile-friendly, you need to get a mobile website built for your current site or get a new ‘responsive’ website constructed that uses ‘smart’ code enabling the website to reformat itself based on the screen resolution of the device that is being used to view it. Adam Clack at Technicweb, added, “A responsive website adapts to all different sized devices while keeping the website design consistent. The different sections of the website shift downwards clockwise to reduce the amount of panning, resizing and scrolling needed to access the information on any given page.”
To achieve the maximum results from your website, from an SEO perspective and the user experience, the right content needs to be added, which Resource Techniques advises should be ‘informative, persuasive and converting’, to take the user from ‘interested reader to customer.’ Informative content should include guides, reports, videos, company news, local news, industry news and direct advertising. Persuasive content, nudging the reader along the path to using your services, should feature an ‘about us’ page, testimonials, customers reviews and case studies.
Finally, ‘converting’ content – the pages designed to close the deal and make the sale – should incorporate mortgage calculators, service pages, property listings, price listings, service demos, and ‘contact us’ forms. Dean Webb, at Resource Techniques, said, “What users expect is a website that they can use easily from any device.”
A user-friendly and ‘sticky’ website will attract and convert visitors, is to ensure that it features clear, concise up-to-date listings, accompanied by high quality photographs and floor plans, and even video content. These factors can help potential buyers and renters visualise the layout and condition of the property before vieiwng.
Research by Rightmove indicates that properties with photos get 81 per cent more interest than those without and additional photos increase click through rate by 15 per cent. “Never underestimate the power of excellent photography when marketing a property,” said Rachel Colgan (right), of Building Relations. “First impressions count, it is this image that will decide if a homebuyer will view a property.”
Never underestimate the power of excellent photography when marketing a property. First impressions count. Rachel Colgan, Head of Building Relations.
Floor plans & videos
Floor plans can also boost the chances of finding a buyer or tenant, Rightmove’s research shows that floor plans generate 30 per cent more interest than properties without one. Brian Farrell, at Metropix, said, “The need to view the layout of a property, often for purely practical reasons such as furniture layout, is as important for a tenant as it is a purchaser.”
Videos are hot. From computer-generated video tours to bespoke scripting and high-end filming, they provide a virtual walk through a home highlighting the best features. Matthew Craker, Director at Fine & Country, said, “Viewers spend 100 per cent more time on web pages with videos. Double the time, double the engagement.”
Innovations ranging from calculating the distance to the nearest railway station to listing maximum distance to a park have helped enhance the user experience, and yet many agents continue to expand their search tool facilities, with new tools – like a unique school catchment function, aimed at families with young children.
“Buying a house in the right school catchment is a key criteria for many with children and this new search facility makes the whole process much simpler,” said Caroline Young, spokesperson for ESPC.
Agents looking for an example to base their new website on could check out Foxtons’ multi award-winning responsive website for a few pointers. Foxtons.co.uk features full screen images, floor plans and 360 degree virtual tours of the properties, making the site highly interactive. “Having an innovative, interactive website is an important part of what sets Foxtons apart from the rest of the market,” said Leo Lapworth, Web Manager at Foxtons.
To improve your website, it is important to have a secure and scalable hosting environment to support existing and future plans for the site. Foxtons underpinned its website on Six Degrees Group’s private cloud earlier this year as it eyes future expansion. “For our sellers, landlords, tenants and buyers operating in a hectic market it’s important to be able to manage and find the right properties, as well as having the ability to arrange secure payments online,” Lapworth added. “The team at 6DG understands how important the website is to our business. They have helped us to create a unique hosting platform.”
One step ahead
With the constant development in the property market it is critically important for agents to keep ahead of the curve, and that includes having a strong web presence in order to reinforce your company’s appearance as a leading agent in the eyes of the consumer – keep at it!
Building Relations www.building-relations.co.uk
Digital Pathways digpath.co.uk
Estates IT www.estatesit.com
Expert Agent www.expertagent.co.uk
Intelligent Mobile www.intelligentmobile.com
Oracle Group www.theoraclegroup.co.uk
Resource Techniques www.resourcetechniques.co.uk