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Bob North

December 2009/January 2010

Agent websites are so vital for instructions

Foxtons and Spicerhaart offer great examples

By BOB NORTH

SOMETIMES I feel I have been banging my head against a brick wall when I talk to agents about the importance of their own websites.

So it has been refreshing to talk to two agents who really do take their website and web presence seriously.

In terms of response and traffic per property or per office, Foxtons are probably the leaders in the country.

They show up very slightly behind Your Move in ComScore activity figures but have only 24 offices as opposed to over 200 at Your Move.

They attracted over 500,000 unique users to their site in the sample month of September — some 20,000 unique users per office in the month.

The figures are provided by Leo Lapworth, their web manager who has been with them for eight years and has been responsible for the development of the Foxtons website.

He says that most of their traffic has been achieved by serious investment in search engine optimisation and by making the website as attractive as it can be — with constant innovation — to provide services for users that cannot fail to impress potential sellers and landlords.

The site features are numerous. Every property is treated in the same way with quality photos, interactive floor plans and virtual tours.

The interactive floor plans allow you to hover over the map and view a panoramic view of the room in question — impressive.

Another newly-introduced feature is the Foxtons Fresh viewing service.

Brand new properties on the market are showcased and potential buyers are given an opportunity to pre-book viewings for the first day of marketing.

Sellers love this feature as there is nothing better than to see a stream of interested buyers on the first day the property is available.

Foxtons have considered withdrawing from the portals but have chosen to remain members of all the serious portal sites.

With their investment in search engine optimisation, they do not pay for traffic leads via Google etc. and they do not advertise on the pay-per-lead sites such as Property Index.

On the other hand, the Spicerhaart group do invest in pay-per -click advertising and they say that over 75 per cent of their requests for valuations come direct from their sites.

And when they say sites they mean quite a lot more than one!

Each of their subsidiaries — such as haart, Spicer McColl and Felcity J Lord — has its own site and they have the specialised sites www.fine.co.uk, www.chainfree.com and www.mustbesold.com their specialist auction site.

With some 16,000 properties available, they got some 300,000 unique users in September and possibly that might have been more if there was a search facility on the www.spicerhaart.com main site.

According to Spicerhaart, site initiatives change from time to time and so Spicerhaart recognise that a unique selling point today becomes commonplace tomorrow across key players in the market.

The key, as Spicerhaart see it, is how the information is used to support the customer. Spicerhaart have invested heavily in their customer relationship management solutions and back office systems to maximise customer opportunities and enhance the customer’s experience.

A stated example is the allocation of customer registrations for property in their selected area to branches, which includes cross referral opportunities to a branch nearest the customer’s home if they are selling.

These same benefits are applied to all major portal leads and through additional integration work with selected portals to maximise the value of portals and service customers fully.

How do you as agents compare with such a level of site? Do you have a handle on your traffic figures? Do you know where your instructions come from? Do you get 75 per cent direct? How is your search engine optimisation? Have you tried investing in pay-per-click adverts?

Knowledge of your own site, where your traffic comes from and indeed where users go after using your site are all essential management tools in this day and age.

After all, it seems to be widely accepted that 80 per cent of your enquiries from would be sellers come after they have looked at and used your website.

Surely your website must be pivotal in your success as an organisation.

...and here’s the verdict  of Bob North on one key aspect of the service from Rightmoveplus

RIGHTMOVE have unveiled the new version of Rightmoveplus — the Rightmove management tool that enables agents to view and manage individual data relating to properties on the Rightmove website.

Many of the features have been updated but the new feature that is causing excitement — in more ways than one — is the Local Market Insight feature that allows you to set and analyse your own market area and to compare your performance with those of your competitors who are also on Rightmove.

The area defining tool allows you to define any map area — you are not restricted to postcodes and within that area you can ascertain your market position and see how you stand against your competitors.

The tool then shows your ranking results under the four designated headings. It also shows a table of the relevant agent positioning. On screen it gives names but in the print version the names are obscured.

The reports are fundamentally designed as a management tool and as such it gives excellent information and allows agents to analyse their market share in micro areas as well as in their overall territory.

There may however be an issue in that although it is not designed to be a promotional tool, it can be printed out or screenshots can be taken and the competitor analysis may then be used by some agents to show their relative position.

No problem with that necessarily but probably most agents will be able to find an area where they can show themselves to be in one of the ‘medal’ places and if all agents are showing themselves at the top, the seller and the public may well be somewhat confused!
A more detailed analysis of Rightmoveplus will feature in the New Year.

• Bob North is a business consultant and a member of estate agency specialists GCG Consulting. He specialises in applied technology, including website functionality and the introduction of IT systems and applications.

Contact him by e-mail bobn@gcgconsulting.co.uk or by phone on 07831 576073.