Guest Post by Richard Ayre, Business Development Manager at The SEO Works (www.seoworks.co.uk)
So, in the interest of full disclosure, I worked within the property industry for around 10 years before getting into digital marketing and I left just as the big online agents started to gain traction in the marketplace.
I’ve found the subsequent market disruption and how agents have dealt with the challenge fascinating. Anecdotes from friends and colleagues still working within the industry paint a broad picture of the challenges agents are facing in today’s aggressive market. As such, there’s been an amazing increase in high street service levels and creative thinking within the industry over the past few years as agents alter their approach to compete with the new, online business models. Not only that, but the general feeling with the people I’ve spoken to is this is only the tip of the iceberg.
I remember at the time the first online agents appeared, the general consensus amongst property professionals was that the online agency model was unsustainable, a fad, a proverbial flash in the pan. “There’s no way you can sell houses for £800 and still make money!” As a result, there was an initial attitude from many agents of ‘ignore it and it will go away’ which ended up catching several companies off guard.
The effect of this new, cheaper online competition was then compounded as some high street agents slashed fees to order to appear appealing in comparison to online companies and, in doing so, they inadvertently dislodged the pebble which led to the landslide of local price wars with their other high street competitors.
Fast forward a couple of years and the property market landscape has changed fundamentally from the what it was.
93% of people research goods and services online before buying
Purplebricks, Hatched and emoov (to name but a few) are now well established and appear to be going from strength to strength and the market appears to still be in a state of flux. Regardless of house prices being high and average property sale times generally being weeks and not months, high street agency stock levels are sparse, competition between buyers is fierce and this has led to high street fees being the lowest they’ve ever been in some areas as agencies duke it out for every instruction.
With the increase of both online and high street competition, the meteoric rise of online research conducted by time poor potential clients before they even pick up the phone to agents has taken off.
People are increasingly going digital in their search for good agents
The search figures show that estate agent’s potential customers are increasingly shortlisting agencies from their armchairs, using not only the agent’s websites but increasingly, comparison sites as well.
Alex Thorpe, Managing Director of NetAnAgent says, “Since establishing our estate agency comparison service five years ago, we’ve seen a huge and exponential growth in our users as sellers search for the easiest way to find the best agents in their area. We now have thousands of monthly users and that grows every quarter. Time poor home sellers increasingly don’t have time to contact multiple agents after seeing a board in the street, so they’re using digital platforms like www.netanagent.com to select the best agent for them with minimal effort.”
Hundreds of thousands of people are now searching for property related information and services every month though Google
Online comparison sites are just a part of the growing digital property sector landscape, however. Google search volumes paint a clear picture of the growing online activity from potential sellers and buyers as well as potential landlords and tenants. Here are a few search terms which people are searching for through Google along with the monthly unique search volume:
||Unique Search Volumes Per Month (UK)
|Value my house
|Sell my house
|Estate agents near me
|How to rent a house
|Best estate agents
|Value my house
What this small selection of search terms means is that there are approximately 146,000 unique monthly searches through Google every month which directly relate to people likely to be either wanting more information on a property related service or wanting to directly engage with property professionals.
That number again:
146,000. Unique searches. Every month. Also, that’s only a handful of search terms as there are clearly hundreds, if not thousands, more search terms.
So, the questions that need to be asked:
1) How can agents pivot their marketing to reach this new and rapidly emerging online market?
2) Do high street agents now need to consider re-structuring their way of attracting customers and digitalising their marketing in order to compete with their behemoth online competitors?
3) Are conventional and ‘tried and tested’ marketing approaches by themselves enough to succeed in an increasingly digital marketplace?
4) Is having a basic website enough anymore if 93% (Google statistic) of consumers are now researching companies digitally before engaging with them?
It’s important to stress that I’m not raising the question fo who is better out of high street agents or online agents (that’s a whole different conversation/debate) but rather I’m asking the question of where does the property industry feel their customers will find them both now and in the future and, as importantly, how do modern estate agents future proof their marketing strategy?
Search Engine Optimisation (SEO) is a great way of getting in front of your search market, as are Google Adwords, display marketing, dynamic re-marketing, (all forms of Pay Per Click or ‘PPC’) social media and other independent comparison platforms such as www.netanagent.com.
All of these techniques will ultimately end up knocking at the door of your website though so getting your site fit for purpose should be your business’ first port of call. A professional, modern, easy to navigate website with great imagery and useful content is the foundation from which your entire digital marketing strategy should be built from. You could have a million visits a month to your site but if people don’t like what they see, most of that traffic is going to bounce away to one of your competitors. Just take a look at leading online estate agency sites to get an example of what a modern site should look like.