The property industry and the online world are becoming inseparable. It has taken a long-time to get to this stage and not only has the importance of the internet disrupted the industry but it has come at a time when the World Wide Web is becoming less about websites and more about platforms and applications.
In the early days the internet was all about web pages providing information, it was like somebody had rewritten every printed publication in a digital format and that was fine, especially when it relied on dial up connections.
We now live in a time where superfast broadband and 4G networks are easily accessible. This opened up what the web had to offer, those written articles were transformed into images and videos and where shops and business once used their web page simply as a listing or catalogue became shops in their own right.
Technology affects everything. Get used to it.
Since the dawn on the millennium we’ve seen music go from physical formats (CD) to the mp3, Apple capitalised on this by creating the iPod before moving on to the iPhone allowing users to access the internet (and many more things) in the palm of their hand. The mp3 is cheaper format to create and more convenient to buy but the resurge of vinyl record sales tell a different story.
Retail to E-tail
The high-streets have changed too as retailers began to sell on the websites. It has been a gradual transformation but sales online are beginning to overtake those on the high-street. Amazon pioneered a whole new way of selling as they launched in 1994, undercutting and killing off competitors as it had much lower overheads. These days it now allows competitors to sell on their ‘marketplace’.
The internet is going through a new phase which targets the smart phone and tablet users, the rise of the app could damage the web we’ve learnt to love. Apps were originally developed for smart phone users who struggled to use the internet on the small screen. As sales of smart devices overtake desktop computers and laptops the app market is growing despite Google encouraging all websites to be mobile friendly however many users don’t even ‘surf the web’ anymore.
Why would you go on www.facebook.com or www.amazon.com when they have apps which are much more convenient for the user? Why is this important? If people stop using their web browser what will happen to the internet and the relevance of your webpage? Do you have a back-up plan? Do you have an app?
Having a web presence has been constantly drilled into businesses for the past 2 decades, not only must you have one that represents your brand but play by Googles rules.
Whose rules does your high-street branch play by?
Recreating your portfolio and the services you provide on a web page isn’t easy, people like to interact with people or at least they do at the moment. When the generation too young to remember the Nokia 3210 grow up they will be happy to click a button instead of making conversion so not adapting isn’t an option.
My point here is that things change, they always have and always will.
Do you miss Woolworths? Probably not, it left our high-street in 2009 as customers found more convenient or better value places to shop from high-street competitors and online retailers. Supermarkets are struggling too. The big 4 adapted to the internet early on but failed to understand how customers spending habits have changed. Tesco, Sainsburys, Morrisons and Asda have all lost customers in recent years. Tesco particularly embraced the internet and continue to lead the way online but it is the new breed of supermarkets who have changed the game. If you are looking for value over service then Aldi and Lidl can win a price war whilst Waitrose offer a more up-market experience.
Back to the high-street and retailers are struggling too. The festive holidays failed to bring joy to the iconic brand Marks & Spencer who have been selling clothes since 1884 but they haven't adapted to fashion in the 21st Century. People no longer shop seasonally and they find themselves competing against cut-price fast-fashion favourites Primark and H&M who appeal to a wide age range. Unless they can start attracting the customers you traditionally expect to see in M&S (over 50’s) or they tap into next generation, not both they may lose their identity and it isn’t unreasonable to imagine M&S as a food-only store in our lifetime.
People and habits change. In 60’s people bought music on vinyl, then cassette, CD, mp3 and now they want vinyl again, HMV are revitalised because of it whilst Amazon sold an impressive amount of record players at Christmas proving that people shop on both price, quality and convenience.
The argument isn’t simply online v offline. We lost Our Price, Fopp and Virgin Megastore but HMV changed their outlook, offering more services, both on and offline whilst price matching helping them to remain relevant to a generation who grew up on mp3s.
Uber v Black Cabs
I recently read an article by an industry expert comparing Uber, the taxi app which undercuts black cabs on cost to online-only estate agents fighting against the traditional high-street agents . He came to the conclusion that they were incomparable, claiming Uber provide a service that is more convenient for the user at a lower cost.
This again highlights the power an app can have and the disruptions that it can cause, like traditional property agents, the black cabs drivers have protested against Uber as it has the ability to damage their future. However, this isn’t a online v offline conversation, it is about innovation and using technology to improve services and provide value-for-money.
It is no longer about competing against the digital world as it will be second nature for the coming generations but that doesn’t mean that the high-street will be vacated. City centres will always exist, if people want to buy a coat in October at a suitable price they have the option of an online store that offers free delivery and return (such as ASOS) or the can go and try one on in M&S. If winter starts early or lasts longer than expected you won’t be able to find coats in M&S but ASOS will stock them all year round.
If shoppers can’t find what they want, online or offline they will go elsewhere, by M&S continuing to grow their food section and HMV reintroducing vinyl they are providing additional revenue streams but also more opportunities to entice customers to their brand.
What has this got to do with property?
It’s that word I keep mentioning, ADAPTABILITY. If huge companies such as Tesco have to change the way they do business to compete then that is a lesson every business must learn. Tesco have teams of researchers, experienced professionals who failed to predict changes until it was too late, now they have an uphill battle in a competitive environment.
Unfortunately for Tesco they have hundreds of thousands of staff to manage in the UK along with a huge product range that doesn’t just include food but also electricals, clothing and services such as banking and insurance. Change isn’t easy in large operations.
There is a lot of concern surrounding the internet and the property industry for numerous reasons and a lot of the panic comes from landlords and letting agents who have been in the industry for years and have worked the same way since the pre-internet days.
Change is normal, it is necessary for progression.
You can’t focus only on traditions otherwise we would still be living in the past. Generally it is the early adaptors, the risk takers, the mavericks who come out on top. Embrace new technology but don’t rely on it. If your branch brings in new leads from being on the high-street, an established name in the area and word of mouth then great, if advertising in the local newspapers is a good source for business don’t stop doing that but allow yourself to find new ways to reach wider audiences too.
The majority of housing hunting begin online and a lot of these searches begin by browsing, not Google but the portals. Read our extensive guide to property portals to see the benefits and the choices. Rightmove launched in 2000 and it has played a major part in changing the industry.
What is even more intriguing is when the searches take place. Rightmove, Zoopla and OnTheMarket all have apps for smart devices allowing users to browse almost anytime, whether that is on a lunch break, commute or whilst watching tv. These are times when they wouldn’t be able to come in branch, chat with a member of staff to discuss their needs to discover that you don’t have what they want, wasting both their time and yours. By searching the portals they can see all the properties listed to meet their requirements from a range of agents. Although some tenants end up moving in to a property recommended by the agent and not the one they initially enquire about you still have that opportunity to show them other options once they make the enquiry because listing on a portal is no different to advertising in the paper, you still need to give that personal service, like you always have done. Obviously there are costs involved but if they bring in more business then the investment should be worth it.
Portals aren’t the only online platform you should be listing on, you have your websites too. Where portals are your shop window or newspaper advert your website is your branch, a great place for branding, giving your company an online personality and show your knowledge of the industry and your local area. Not only will this help you stand out from your competitors but Google will reward you too (it must be mobile friendly!) making your expertise easy to find for those in need.
At the moment having a purpose-built app might seem like a needless expense but it could be essential if smart phones and tablets continue to populate browsing options and as technology evolves and big data becomes useful apps will be more personalised giving a great user-experience and a good way to connect with potential customers, giving them relevant information.
Social media is no longer a fad, it is big business, or at least it could be if you play it right. The platforms that were originally created with teenagers in mind. They have evolved into business friendly PR outlets without the cost.
They have come a long way since Bebo, Faceparty and MySpace which inspired the early days of blogging and networking online but it was never intended for businesses, never mind the property industry. The generation who grew up with these now work in marketing and find it second nature. This sector has gone from what could have been a distraction to a must-have and this all changed when Facebook first floated on the stock market.
Mark Zuckerberg’s college creation had millions of users on his free service but that is all it was, a free service, there was no business value in it and the share prices dropped. That was until the social media giant started using the data that they have from all of their users. This became a huge enticement for businesses looking to advertise to a target audience without paying huge fees and Facebook became more than a website to share your holiday photos.
This way of advertising can prove to be highly beneficial for landlords and agents who can advertise to Facebook users in a specific area, age-range or vocation. The targeting can be narrowed even further with life events such as engagements or pregnancies. Having these features has given Facebook more value and a better user-experience and has helped the site remain the most popular platform. It will no doubt continue to improve these features as ad spend on the site increases year-on-year.
If you use Facebook correctly it can prove to be a highly useful tool to build relationships with the media and potential customers, adding value with news stories and advice.
Along with over a billion unique monthly visitors there are over a million small businesses using Facebook making it the leading social media platform by a long shot (and in the app market too) and it will probably remain that way for a good few years as its users rely on it for multiple reasons. It’s a great place to stay in touch with friends, share content and important life moments, create events, it contains a LOT of personal information (more than you probably realise) and private messaging making it an all-in-one system.
Facebook’s nearest rival is Twitter however its user base is minimal in comparison. Twitter is all about instant information as a tweet can be created and sent out in just seconds (however it will take longer if you want to be successful with it).
As a newcomer Twitter can feel like you have turned up to a party uninvited. Everybody knows how to move and they are making their own conversions. You can start talking too but nobody will listen until you reach out but there’s no point in introducing yourself to just anybody, there’s 320 million active users on Twitter each month, most of them won’t be interested in what you have to say so you need to be a bit more tactile, luckily it isn’t as awkward as standing in the corner of a room trying to make contact with strangers. Simply search the network for industry experts, follow them, maybe tweet them to say hi and follow some of those who they follow. It takes a while to get going but it can be worth as it can be a useful, cost-effective tool for building relationships and getting your message out. Twitter has been famed for its 140 character limit however there are rumours that it is set change very soon.
Like Facebook, Twitter offers businesses to advertise on the platform with ‘Sponsored Tweets’ which allow users to send specific messages to targeted Twitter users for a fee, this is relatively new and as the platform struggles to grow this could be make or break for its future.
Many people see social media as a distraction however LinkedIn is the place for networking in a professional environment.
With a user base of almost 400 million people globally they have a platform that attracts users for a variety of reasons, some see it as place to advertise their skills to potential employers, others use it to create relationships with companies or the media for business deals whilst many find it to be the ideal platform to express their knowledge and show their expertise.
Targeting LinkedIn users with paid advertising is an option when growing your B2B services or recruiting new staff members but it isn’t the best option for listing your portfolio.
Trends come and go, Facebook continually change their features to attract new users and keep those who are getting bored of it whilst Twitter is struggling to grow their user list but LinkedIn has a bright future as its focus on professionals is unique.
The Gold Rush for Social Media
Although there are many other social media networks (Google+, Snap Chat, YouTube, Vine, Periscope, etc…) and these can be beneficial too, it is important to find out where your audience is and how they like to digest their information.
SEO (Search Engine Optimisation)
Like I said at the beginning, there is a reason why the internet is called the ‘World Wide Web’ and that is due to websites being linked together and in the centre of that web are the search engines and Google is the biggest sources.
Other search engines are still worth focussing on (Bing especially for Android phones) but Google continues to increase the services it provides which gives a better user experience.
Google’s target is to deliver useful and relevant information as quickly as possible to the searcher, if they fail to do this then they may lose searchers to their competitors.
How do they do this?
They use ‘robots’ to crawl websites to find this information which will be then ranked in the search engine result pages (SERP) in order of quality and relevance (along with many different factors including site speed, mobile friendliness).
If a search for ‘letting agents Manchester’ is made then the result page will look like this:
The SERP has changed a lot of the years. As you can see, the top 3 results and those running down the right-hand side have a yellow box next to them, they have been paid to be there, this is AdWords, I will come on to this shortly.
It is the organic results that we are interested in at the minute. Below the map are three more listings. In 2015 Google prioritised local listings which is particularly useful for smart phone users on the go improving their user-experience. Underneath those are several results which should answer the searchers queries. Although Google found over 750,000 results for ‘letting agents Manchester’ they want the top result to fill the users’ needs, never mind scrolling down or going to the next page. Being top of the organic listings plays a huge part in bringing in web traffic and with a few changes you can help boost your ranking.
This is SEO and it is form of marketing which can be complicated. Without getting too technical, here is a quick run through:
Google rewards website which are regularly updated with content relevant for the user, the best way of doing this is by blogging (keep reading). This will also help you to become a known expert in your field and if you can create great content then other experts might share your content which Google likes.
Black Hat SEO
Just ensure that these links come from credible sources, a few years ago some websites tried to cheat Google by creating fake or dodgy links, Google penalised those who tried this method and this is what gave SEO a bad name.
Basically, create top quality content which your audience will find useful and Google will reward you with higher rankings for specific ‘keywords’ (terms that you audience search for), the higher you rank the more traffic your website will attract. Increase your traffic and you should get more leads.
Like Facebook, Google is a free service but it has (lots of) staff to pay so it used the masses of data collected from its users to generate income and changed the way advertising has ever been. AdWords campaigns can work really well if they are conducted correctly however, it isn’t always that easy and money can be wasted.
The great thing about AdWords is that you can target specific audiences with tailored messages which will be shown to an audience who are searching for those specific keywords on Google. You choose your budget and the target audience and you get charged per impression. The ROI can be high if the campaign is pro
BloggingCreating content isn’t easy, creating quality content on a regular basis requires planning and commitment but being successful isn’t meant to be easy. Blogging is a great way to communicate with your customers, industry experts and the media.
Blog posts can be about anything, as long as they are informative and relevant to the reader. It is important that they don’t become sales letters however promoting your services and achievements every so often is ok. A well timed, interesting post that keep your readers educated will keeping them wanting to come back for more. As you work in the industry you will have stories to tell, experiences to share and data to piece together. If these can be turned into a 2000+ worded post then it is worth the effort of creating, posting and promoting as it will not only prove that you are knowledgeable and build trust but Google will rank you higher because of it. They monitor the frequency content gets published, the length and quality of how it is written and who reads and shares it. This is great PR and it will help to put you ahead of your competitors.
Blog posts can be articles, reviews, stories, lists, guides, videos, infographics, basically anything that can be put on to a web page.
Once you are happy to publish it you can then share it to your social media follows and friends, post on forums and e-mail influencers who will benefit from it and ask them to share it too.
Sending e-mails might seem a little outdated in 2016 when technology has advanced so much since they first began to replace letters but they have had a resurgence thanks to smart phones and tablets.
E-mails have always been incredibly convenient and useful but as the social media hype exploded the e-mail began to look a little basic, why use your e-mails when you can contact everybody on be kept up to date on your Facebook timeline or your Twitter feed. E-mail started to feel like it was getting left behind.
Then, everybody jumped on the smart phone bandwagon and what do they all come with, an e-mail app making it even easier to catch up when you have a spare five minutes. By creating a nice looking template and building an e-mail list of potential customers you can get your message to the right audience directly.
Advancements in e-mails have also helped to personalise campaigns for a better user-experience, benefitting both the creator and audience. This is a great tool for property providers as you can easily e-mail properties to a specific audience relating to their requirements. In the past tailoring e-mails could be a tedious job as it would a manual process or you would end up sending the same message with a long list of properties to your database and the majority of the e-mail would be irrelevant to the receiver, leaving them to lose interest quickly.
Sending targeted e-mails which are viewable on smart phones and tablets readers can quickly check if you have a property for them, if so then one-click on a ‘Call-to-Action’ button (link to your contact/booking page) will allow them to arrange a viewing much quicker than making a phone call, browsing the web, portals or visiting a branch each time. The best thing about this form of communication is that it builds relationships without having to do anything manual and is extremely cost-effective.
It’s the early adaptors who survive
By offering more services such as full management, block management (guide to block management), marketing and consulting you will not only help to drive more income in but more passing traffic, both online and offline which Google likes, as will your cash flow.
How Decorus can help…
Don’t have the time to learn? Property management software can help reduce your workload giving your more time to explore other options and understand the latest advancements in property management. Call 0114 2307305 or contact us to discuss how our property management software can help you go further in 2016.