Top Industry Website Developers answer Big Questions:

We asked some top industry suppliers: What are your thoughts to the general standard of today’s Estate Agency websites? and much more…

Oliver Chapple from Webdadi – Answers in Black
Adam Clack from Technicweb – Answers in Red
Rus Sellers from Starberry.tv – Answers in Green
Nick Hubbard from Estates IT – Answers in Blue

What are your thoughts to the general standard of today’s Estate Agency websites?

I believe the general standard of estate agency websites is improving. Compared to other industries the property industry has a particularly strong focus on customer service, so many agents are now recognising that having a good digital offering really improves the experience their clients have. Many agents are now going to property website specialists like Technicweb to get their sites built which massively helps with the standard of the sites, not just from a design perspective but also a user experience perspective.

Shockingly bad. It is amazing how many agents are lost in a time warp, still hang onto the belief that their window displays, featuring properties printed out on A4 sheets of paper from their laser printer, are the things that is attracting their new leads!

Our stats show that over 85% of people start their house hunting on the internet, but an agent will invariably spend more on a new shop fit out, and stocking their fridges front of house with perrier, than on their website. However, there is an awakening occurring, especially with the younger, edgy Agents, who are embracing change with open arms.

In general the industry is a real mixture of standards varying from bespoke to template, responsive to fixed width sites. Some sites offer a real mixture of features some simply link out to third party portals such as Rightmove.

How important is a Domain Name?

In terms of SEO, not much except for its age. Identifying your site as being of UK origin is a useful clue to Googlers, so having the right extension on your domain e.g. .co.uk. is helpful for UK searchers who don’t want to go to a US website e.g. Amazon.com vs. Amazon.co.uk. It is important to have a domain name for the country you represent. Cleverly named URL’s on their own are pretty meaningless. It’s the content within and about enabling a user to understand what they are looking at – so the name can be a clue, that is what’s key to reducing that homepage landing bounce rate – e.g. a user closing the website without going anywhere on the site. The age of the Domain name however does add significant credit to your SEO.

A website’s domain is important but it isn’t make or break. Obviously you want something that is easy to remember and either the same or very relevant to your company name. The big mistake quite a lot of businesses make in general is trying to over complicate their domain by shortening it to something that isn’t intuitive to the end user. For example If your company name is London Property then your domain should be www.londonproperty.com or www.london-property.com. It also might be worth buying domains similar to yours a re-directing them to your main domain, just so you don’t miss people who have made a spelling mistake.

The core domain all stems from the agents name, so to try and get one without having to put hyphens and as short as possible is preferable.
What is more important is the URL structure of the whole site – The bit that comes after that root address. The better this is considered when building a new website the better it will function in search.
Too often you see unintelligible strings of numbers and letters having performed a search, but when is is done well it should read like a sentence in clear, plain english, and Google loves it too!

Not as important as years ago due to the intro of some many domain extensions. If a new start up worth thinking about something that is easy to spell and not too long etc….& try to get the .co.uk and .com (top level domains).

Is there a layout formula Estate Agents should abide by?

There is no single layout that is the be all and end all for Estate Agents, and that’s why we offer such a large variety of customisable templates. If they all looked the same we may as well just have everyone on one website. It’s much better and more effective that our clients can come to us, tell us what they want, and then we match their needs and colour scheme to a website template that will absolutely suit and benefit their key audience. So we help you transact the business you want to transact and aim the style to suit the target audience. Many agents forget that they need to promote the property and the audience type that they want to sell to. If your Homepage features 1 bedroom flats and has a low price search filter you’re going to transact 1 bed flats! If you want to transact high end properties but also want the flat vendors – show the mix so that you can demonstrate you are right for their market.

I wouldn’t have said there is a formula as such as everyone has different taste, but there are certain aspects to the site that shouldn’t be missed. Generally you want a nice homepage image or video with a call to action or marketing message over laid. If you have a blog or social media feed that is always good to integrate and feature properties too. Strategically placed calls to actions are possibly the most important feature. Websites are all about the user journey/experience, you have to think about what you would want to see if you were browsing a property website. For example, if you are looking at property that you want to book a viewing for, and right next to the image there is a big ‘Book a viewing’ call to action then that is good design and the website has done its job. You want your end user to only be one click away from whatever it is they are trying to achieve. It is good for your website to have a bit of individuality but it shouldn’t get in the way of creating a good user experience.

Yes and No. There is a logic that should be applied that tries to second guess what the user needs before they arrive.
The UI and UX is what really counts when a new user arrives at website. The goal is to draw from a set of commonly required tools, information & functionality, and deliver the right things at the right time along the journey through the site. To use an old adage; ‘It’s not what you do, but the way that you do it’;-)

Not really however modern sites should be; responsive (or at least mobile compatible), easy to navigate, clear and concise ‘Calls To Action’ e.g. Request A Valuation’, quick to load, easy search, easy to find contact details etc…

We hear all the time about making sure your website is mobile friendly – Is it that important?

This is particularly important when we remember that people view 58%* of their content from mobiles and other connected devices. (Taken from Smartinsights.com) Having a mobile friendly website is important for the user’s experience while navigating around a site. Imagine going onto the BBC website and it not being mobile friendly. With that much information being viewed from a tiny iPhone screen, you would be overwhelmed scrolling from side to side, or sorting through the deluge of data to find what you were looking for. Mobile friendly sites immediately identify the size of the device, and position the menus and content and its mobile friendly interaction accordingly.
Also of equal importance is SEO, and this relates to mobile friendly websites too. We transitioned to responsive templates when this clever technology emerged so now our newer customers have one single website and thus one set of Web pages that all traffic goes to, rather than splitting it between their desktop site and their mobile site. Aggregating fresh relevant content and page traffic is one of the key components for SEO and driving traffic to websites.

Making their website mobile friendly should be the aim of every agent at the moment. It is important to distinguish the two mobile friendly options. One is a mobile site and the other is a responsive site (recommended option). A responsive site is your full site, optimized to fit on a mobile device, so you don’t have to pinch and zoom. A mobile site is a simple search box, which works but really lowers the user experience.
54% of all searches on our client’s sites so far this month have been on mobile devices, that is 347,889 sessions out of 635,049. This shows people in general are using mobile devices more than computers to search for property. If your mobile offering is poor and unusable, it is very unlikely that someone will come back to your website, especially if their preference is mobile browsing. A mobile friendly site will also affect your SEO as Google now rank mobile friendly sites above non mobile-friendly on mobile devices. Better SEO means more visits to your site and more chance of gaining instructions or acquiring applicants. If an Agent doesn’t have a mobile friendly site, now is the time to get one or they risk falling behind the competition.

‘Mobile Friendly’, ‘Mobile First’, ‘Responsive’, are all the buzz words of our time right now, and there is good reason for that – Mobile is King. When we look through the stats on Google Analytics for all our Estate Agency clients it is a revelation, Mobile now accounts for the lion share of all traffic to their sites!
When designing a new website we have completely switched around the way we look at the design, and it’s mobile first. The reality is there is tablets, hybrid devices, laptops and of course desktop too, so we make sure that by designing a ‘responsive’ website it doesn’t matter what it’s viewed on, it’ll look great.

Yes very two parts;
1. For SEO as Google now recognise this as part of their algorithm to check to see if your site is mobile compatible use https://www.google.co.uk/webmasters/tools/mobile-friendly/
2. More and more users are searching on smart phones therefore it is really important that your site works well on a mobile device / tablet. Also worth noting that when you are sending out matching emails from your Estate Agency Software the chances are the applicant will view these details on a smartphone, therefore the site needs to work well on mobiles.

How important is branding to a successful website?

Well what is a Brand really? A brand, in my book, distinguishes one seller’s product from those of others. Branding therefore becomes key in today’s saturated market. But it’s too easy to try to be all things to all people and that simply doesn’t work, which is why so many online estate agent start-ups fail. They don’t fail because there isn’t a need. If you can focus your marketing, and thus brand, by answering “what you are known for” in a micro niche (e.g. we only sell homes near schools and transport), you become a specialist. You become known for your micro niche. Then you can build from there, and you position yourself on the grid in a much smarter way.

Online agents nearly always fail because they have no niche and not enough money behind them to buy their market share. Be focused and you can always build out your business later once your brand gains traction to a wider target audience, and as your company grows. My example to my clients is “imagine you want to sell mobile phone covers” – you’ll get nowhere as the internet is flooded with people flogging mobile phone covers. If you however, market mobile phone covers with diamonds on, you will sell them as there will be little competition for this micro niche. Same with socks – if you try and sell socks as a business you will be lost in the plethora of other socks available. However if you sell socks with fake diamonds on them, you’ll sell them as you’ll be found. It’s all about the micro niche in a voluminous market.

Branding is important from a design perspective but not imperative to the success of the site. If your website has calls to action in the right positions, the user experience of the site is very good and it is mobile friendly then your website should perform well. Having clean branding that is up to date with the latest market trends is a bonus and will make an Agent look more modern to the end user but it is unlikely it will affect their decision if the website works efficiently. It is much more important to make sure you have a mobile friendly site. New branding can be applied to a website after it goes live.

Branding is a term that gets misunderstood, as to many, branding just means the logo, fonts, and the colours that are used.
For me the branding in terms of how it’s used on a website is all the above but it is the overall impression you get and how it makes you feel. From the user experience right through to the tone of voice of the wording and visual language all help to make the branding successful.

Really important the branding determines the general look and feel of your site and certainly determines the colouring of the site. If the branding uses colours that work well together the chances are that your web company will be able to reflect this in your website.

What is the single most common mistake that Estate Agents make with their websites?

Not paying attention to updating their content and keeping things fresh. When people are using their mobile devices more and more, it’s so important that your website is adapting to this, and that they can access everything easily, no matter what they’re using. Here at Webdadi, a key part of our job is to do innovations that fit with what is trending and what is going to be the next useful thing for Estate Agents. We do this so our Estate Agents can get on with winning instructions from valuations and selling property and additional services. * Statistics taken from Smartinsights.com

Other than the domain mistakes mentioned earlier and the website not being mobile friendly, one common mistake that a lot of agents make is the quality and aspect ratio of their properties images. So many Agents take very poor images of their properties and it can really destroy the look of the website. Before any images are uploaded, they need to be quality checked to make sure they are the right aspect ratio and aren’t blurry or have poor lighting. Not just the property images but homepage images should be relevant to the area the agent works in and ideally taken by a professional.

The biggest mistake made by an agent is not investing enough or their time or money into creating and evolving their websites.
The website is more important than any bricks and mortar shops, and yet many agents just can’t see the light – Its a mindset that we are striving to help change. A website is for life, not just for Christmas!

I have listed a few:
Non Compliance e.g. fees
Your website is your internet shopfront and therefore a well-designed site will help win instructions.
Too many sites built for applicants not landlords / vendors – of course it is important to have searching and display properties but equally this is an agencies opportunity to make a good impression on potential vendors and landlords.
Also a lot of sites get built and then are not changed / updated for months and months or content such as News / social media is not updated.
Hard to find contact details i.e. telephone number.
The use of stock images instead of instructing a local photographer to take images of your local market.

 

A big thank you to all the companies that took time to reply to our questions. To find out more about each of the companies above and the services they provide, please visit thier website:
Technicweb: http://www.technicweb.com
Estates IT: http://www.estatesit.com
Webdadi: http://www.webdadi.co.uk
Starberry.TV: http://www.starberry.tv

Christopher Walkey

Founder of Estate Agent Networking. Internationally invited speaker on how to build online target audiences using Social Media. Writes about UK property prices, housing, politics and affordable homes.

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