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Online dating: The new relationship between estate agents and consumers.

Estate agents engaging with customers on online mobile device.

How well are estate agents navigating the digital mobile medium?

The advent of the Internet has transformed the property market and is now prompting estate agents to revise the tried and trusted principles of traditional marketing. The boom in the mobile device industry coupled with shifting consumer behaviours represent a unique and fruitful opportunity for estate agents to capitalise on digital mobile marketing. With $234 billion dollars invested into mobile apps in 2013, the time is well and truly now to plug yourself into the matrix and reroute your digital marketing strategy.

Customer focused industries across the board have personally felt the impact of the Internet, and witnessed the birth of the self-servicing consumer. With access to a wealth of information at their fingertips, the modern consumer is vastly more complex and media savvy than their old media forbears. The terms of engagement have drastically shifted; countless available avenues of comparison are crafting sharper and more discerning consumers, and with that, hoisting expectations that service specialists are hastily endeavouring to satisfy. 

In the case of estate agents, the key to successfully navigating the digital landscape rests largely on their willingness and ability to embrace, master and execute savvy online marketing. Whether you’re a high street or online estate agent, your agency’s website is fast becoming its largest and most profitable office. Armed with a robust digital marketing strategy and a detailed understanding of SEO, a website is potentially the most cost-effective and efficient channel for client acquisition and lead generation. Last year, 43% of buyers chose to search online for property as their first port of call for information, and most house hunters begin the process through search engines rather than directly connecting to agency websites or third party sites. 

The problem here is, without the support of a digital marketing plan that attracts homebuyers directly to your site through SEO and visibility strategies, large listing aggregator sites typically dominate search results. All of the UK real estate franchises combined still only account for 11% of online visitor traffic, with the remaining 89% allocated to major third party aggregator sites. While individual agencies are hard pressed to contend with the giant property portals such as Zoopla and OntheMarket, implementing SEO strategies will increase online visibility and build presence. Optimising your content with local search phrases and SEO key chains increases search engine rankings and while agencies will likely never outrank the property portals, adopting the right SEO and marketing strategies can certainly place a website on the front results page and put you ahead of the real competition.

While visibility has always been a critical component of brand strategy, the rapid rise of the mobile as medium has redirected a focus on user experience. Indeed with consumers increasingly communicating on the move, it is no surprise that the Nielsen report found that 80% of smartphone owners use the device as their principal means of online communication. Marrying this figure with The Real Estate Book’s survey, which reported that 68% of house hunters contacted a professional estate agent they had found during a mobile search, it is clear that the mobile device is now the primary platform for consumer browsing and research. This shift has come with a whole new set of consumer attitudes and on-the-go needs. Websites that aren’t mobile friendly annoy customers and drive users to your competition. A Google survey found that 61% of users said that they’d quickly move onto another site if they didn’t find what they were looking for right away on a mobile site, while 67% of people are more likely to buy from a mobile-friendly website. 

A priority for estate agents should be ensuring that their online presence is as responsive and user friendly as possible. This means making sure websites convert smoothly to a mobile friendly interface, whether this is a smartphone or tablet. Maintaining a consistent and enjoyable user experience is paramount to engagement and has become a key component of building strong brands and nurturing lasting customer relationships. Consumers want readable and easy to use platforms to engage with content and if they don’t get it, 79% of your customers will simply click away to your competition. Tailored content for mobile, prominent search functions, easy navigation, simple result listings with detailed property pages and up-to-date information, are all fundamental facilitator tools for a positive mobile experience. 

Mobile applications are designed with all of these functions in mind, which explains why 86% of smartphone users now choose apps over the mobile web for online browsing and content engagement. With a wide range of apps that service every aspect of property searching, from calculating mortgage repayments, property price predictions, comparisons and comprehensive online property profiles, buyers and sellers alike have a range of resources at their disposal before they even consider selecting an agent. In today’s fast moving and information driven culture, consumers are capricious and traditional client loyalty is becoming increasingly insecure. Active clients are no longer coming directly to agents anymore. Indeed, Internet buyers spend an average of 5.8 weeks conducting research before contacting an estate agent. 

Property portal apps like Zoopla and Rightmove have dominated the application arena. Why would a buyer browse a select number of properties on an agency’s app, when power portals collect and display thousands of properties for user perusal? Buyers search for properties before they look at the agent representing them. Unless you have something different to offer, it will be incredibly difficult to compete with third party portals. Instead of competing for the smallest slice of a pie, focus on making sure that your agency’s online presence is as responsive and mobile friendly as possible. A whopping 48% of people think that a site that doesn’t work well on a smart phone, reflects a company that doesn’t care about their business. If buyers are seriously interested in a property, their second port of call will invariably involve some investigation into the agency managing it.  In the digital landscape, putting your best foot forward translates into maintaining a user-friendly experience across all digital media platforms. 

Estate agents need not concern themselves with the popularity of property apps but rather focus on generating leads and optimising existing listings by utilising these apps and services. In order to maximise accessibility and availability to online consumers agents need to provide a positive user experience translates well across multiple digital media platforms. The strength of property apps and portals very much rely on auxiliary use in conjunction with a traditional estate agent. And the strength of an agent is now, more than ever, being judged on how easily a customer can engage with them online.

As well as utilising property apps for online research, homeowners are using to source and compare estate agents before electing them to manage their property. LocalAgentFinder is a prime example of changing consumer behaviours and priorities, and how estate agents are readily responding to the transitioning digital landscape. Agents can register profiles, view live properties and present proposals for available listing opportunities in their local area. LocalAgentFinder was founded in Melbourne, Australia in 2007 and has over 9,000 agents pitching for 32,000 listings annually.
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