When a vendor walks into your agency they are judging you by your appearance and the state of your establishment. So, you always make sure that you’re in tip-top shape. Likewise, a visitor on your site will be looking at it with the same level of scrutiny. To ensure you give a good first impression to your clients you have to make sure your website is up to scratch. A sleek clean website design that screams professionalism can be the difference between a successful agency and a failing one.
Lucky for you we’re here to give you the complete rundown on everything you need to know about designing an amazing estate agency website. To make things even better we can take all of this burden off of your hands. However, if you consider yourself to be very tech savvy then here’s how you do it yourself!
Buying A Domain
The first step in the process is going to be buying a domain name. This is essentially the name of your website and what potential visitors will have to search in order to find you. As a word of advice, we’d recommend naming the site after your agency but you’re free to call it whatever you’d like.
Head on over to a reliable domain registrar like Namecheap, Hostgator, GoDaddy… You get the picture and buy yourself a domain name. The domain name consists of two major components which will come together to form your perfect name.
Second-Level Domains (SLDs) – The part on the left that usually consists of the brand or in this case agency name containing as many numbers, letters or special characters as you’d like. It’s best to have something easy for the user to type but then again these will also be the most sought after.
Top-Level Domains (TLDs) – TLDs are also known as domain extensions and they are located on the right of the SLD. Popular ones include: .com, .net, .org and .co.uk and they are all abbreviations to represent information about the purpose and location of your website, so it’s important to pick one that matches.
How Much Does A Domain Cost?
The cost of a domain is a bit like “how long is a piece of string?” It can be as much or as little as you’d like depending on numerous variables. As a rule, the more common the name sounds like “estateagentslondon.com” the more competitive and expensive the domain will be. At times it’s possible to bid for a domain and send the current owner an offer to buy it from them. At others, it will be owned and that’s the end of that.
Purchasing a domain name can be done with a multi-year plan which will also affect the cost. The typical domain package is a one-year plan which can cost as little as £5.99 and will notify you when to renew your ownership. To make your domain live you will have to host it on a server but we’ll get onto that a bit later. For now, it’s just good to know that you can buy it before even having a server.
Top 5 Domain Name Tips
Your domain name will represent your business and what people type in order to find you. Hence this is a decision that shouldn’t be taken lightly. So, to give you the best possible edge here are our best tips on choosing a domain name.
1. Make It Brandable – Try to make a name that is in line with your brand instead of something that is generic. For example, estateagentslondon.com sounds a bit spammy compared to something like purplebricks.co.uk or better yet an amazing name like rentround.com which I’m sure we’re all familiar with. The difference in our case is that these sites will be named after existing agencies and so if you happened to be called Estate Agents London it’s a lapse in judgement on your part. Jokes aside it is still possible to build trust in a domain name so long as it suits your brand.
2. Choose The Right TLD – The most popular and safest bet for an estate agent TLD is .com. This is by far the most used TLD as it simply stands for commercial representing a business. .co.uk is the same thing except it’s the UK-specific abbreviation. Now, bear in mind that the most popular TLDs can also influence the cost. So, if it’s in line with your budget aim for the .com’s and .co.uk’s. There are a wide variety of TLDs some as whacky as .coffee and .ninja. It’s also possible to get the extension .agency to give some information about your business as an alternative to some of the most popular ones. The choice is up to you!
3. Keep It Short – Make sure to watch out for how long your domain name is. Having a long name filled with loads of random characters can hurt your ranking in major search engines like Google. The best performing domain names are short and simple, devoid of hyphens, numbers and any special characters.
4. Watch Out For Trademarks – Some of the big fish out there will have trademarked their domain name or certain features of it. Therefore if you were to start up an estate agency site called comparetheestates.com you will likely be infringing on comparethemarket.com’s trademark. You can check for trademarks on your government site local to your country which is way less hassle than dealing with a lawsuit.
5. Use Name Suggestions – On most of the popular domain registrars, they will have a domain name suggestion tool that pitches the most relevant available name to the one that you searched. Often times if the name you’ve searched is taken they can drop you some really good alternatives.
Setting Up A Server
The next step in making this website from scratch is buying and hosting the website on a server. A server, to put it simply, is the space that you rent in order to display all of the desired content and functions of your website. The process of how you point your domain name to your server host will depend on the content management system (CMS) you’re using, your domain registrar and the server you wish to host it on. For the sake of this article we are going to be talking about using WordPress as our CMS but please be aware that this process might not be the same for every CMS.
As you might have noticed after buying your domain that many registrars offer a hosting service which is also a viable option to go with. Some of the most popular server providers are 1&1 IONOS, 123reg, BlueHost and Hostinger. As a word of advice on choosing the right hosting provider, don’t get too fixated on the price. The price will vary depending on the technical requirements and traffic your site receives. A better solution will be to look at what the hosting service offers:
- Uptime Guarantee – Keeping your website running 24/7 to avoid losing any customers from visiting a blank screen when they click on your website
- Redundancy – This essentially means refunding you on any revenue lost during a server outage
- Scalability – Your server provider should also have the potential to cater for your business as it grows. More traffic and features mean a higher demand from the server so make sure they have the tools and hosting plans to support this
- SSL Certificates – An SSL certificate demonstrates that you will protect your visitor’s data and security. This is essential for any website that plans on collecting data from their visitors, credit card information and soliciting transactions. In Google’s eyes, no SSL certificate is a red flag so it’s something you’ll want to have in order to rank in Google.
- Email Service – If you’ve ever seen those [email protected] emails and wondered how they work, this is how. Good server hosts will grant you the option to have an email address from the server making your contact information look a lot more professional
- Customer Service – When it comes to hosting a website most of the work is done behind the scenes virtually invisible to the average Joe. Hence why round-the-clock customer support is so important.
We understand that there’s a lot to look out for and manage, hence why we always offer to spare you the headache and handle the whole process.
What Kind Of Hosting Package Do I Need?
If you know exactly what to expect from your estate agent website then picking a web host is a piece of cake. But for any first-timers, there are a few things you’re going to need to ask yourself.
How Much Data Will I Be Storing? – A typical estate agency site will be full of images and property listings which make the pages quite data-heavy. This means that you will require more bandwidth from your server in order for pages to load at a good speed. Page speed is another thing that the watchful eyes of Google pay attention to, not to mention slower pages increase the bounce rate of people visiting your site. Choosing the right bandwidth in your package is crucial to your website’s performance.
What Is My Hosting Budget? – Try to come up with a ballpark figure that you’re willing to spend on hosting. If you’re on a tight budget then you might not want to make your site complete with all the bells and whistles. On the other hand, if you’ve got money in the bank then your package might support some extra perks and a much more complex website.
How Technically Proficient Am I? – If you put your mind to it you can achieve anything! But sometimes we’re taxed for time and it takes too much effort. So, this is something we need to ask ourselves. Certain types of web management will require different levels of expertise and experience to administrate your server. If you haven’t got the time to be looking at tutorials and reading through guides it’s always an option to leave it to the pros.
Choosing A Web Hosting Plan
It’s time to run you through the different web hosting options to help you decide what server package to go for.
Shared Hosting – This is like carpooling. It’s cheaper and gets you from A to B but you might not like the experience. Shared hosting is when you and other website owners are given one physical server to split the costs and only be charged for what you use. On the plus side, it’s super affordable, requires very little technical expertise and comes with automatic backups of your site.
However, shared hosting has limited storage, doesn’t support high traffic too well and the performance of the website can fluctuate depending on the other customer’s usage.
Dedicated Server Hosting – This is one of, if not the best hosting options out there as this its essentially shared hosting without the sharing. Dedicated server hosting gives you an entire server to yourself meaning that you’re not subject to slowing down due to shared resources. Not to mention more storage space and bandwidth than a shared hosting plan.
The only downside to this option is that it’s undoubtedly the most expensive and does require advanced technical knowledge. So Joe Schmoe won’t be able to run this by himself.
VPS Hosting – VPS stands for Virtual Private Server and is the next best to having your own dedicated server. VPS is essentially virtually dividing a server up and renting a section of it. So it’s similar to shared hosting in that there will be other people on your server. But everyone has their own dedicated space and resources.
VPS Hosting provides:
- Solid and reliable performance
- enough storage space and bandwidth to power a successful, data-heavy estate agency website
- All at a cheaper cost than a dedicated server
But on the flip side, it’s more expensive than shared hosting and may require some technical know-how if you go with a self-managed VPS plan.
Designing With WordPress
You’ll be pleased to know that setting up a WordPress website isn’t too complicated. However, designing what is going onto the site can be fairly complicated. Before we delve into this let’s explain what WordPress is and why we’re using it in the first place.
WordPress is a free open-source CMS that is great for simple and complex website designs. There are a bunch of features that make WordPress an awesome CMS beyond the realms of just design. It’s compatible with templates and plugins to get a job done quickly and efficiently. Whilst allowing the freedom to have developers to code and create any features you’d like.
Designing With A Template – This refers to using pre-existing website templates to design a beautiful website. There are thousands upon thousands of templates to choose from that are fully customisable if you’ve got the skills. The benefit of designing by using templates is that it’s much more time efficient and way cheaper. You might already find something that fit’s exactly what you’re looking for that might need a few simple tweaks. Hence giving you an awesome estate agency website for much cheaper than you bargained for.
While some website-building software such as Divi are quite intuitive, they still require some learning and aren’t free. As well as this you will need some specific functionalities that require plugins and potentially the intervention of a developer, for instance, live chats and virtual tours. Here’s where we come in. We have techy guys at our disposal who can design sites using templates and plugins in no time!
Of course, it’s totally possible for the site to be put together by yourself but only if you’ve got the time to learn and make a few mistakes along the way.
Bespoke Design – As we mentioned earlier WordPress is open source meaning that the really smart guys can code custom functionalities and designs from scratch. This is obviously much more expensive than creating a site using templates but it’s a great way to ensure that your site is unique and has the exact function that you’re looking for.
Sometimes plugins may not be available for the functionality you wish to implement. Let’s say you’re looking for an instant online valuation tool. If there is no plugin available to give developers a place to start they’ll have to code one from scratch.
When it comes to bespoke design there’s always the trouble of finding a competent and reliable team to get the job done. Getting something coded from scratch is no easy feat so you want to make sure you’re in safe hands.
10 Steps To Making A Responsive Design
1. Keep It Simple – No flashy things to pull attention away from the focus of the site. Sleek clean colour scheme. As tempting as it is to get carried away and start cramming the website full of flashy GIFs, fonts and colours when we first start designing. It’s best to refrain from this and keep it simple.
When we say simple we don’t mean boring, we mean to keep it consistent with a theme. If we take Savills for instance, we can see that their website has a simple header image and yellow call to actions and icons to suit their logo. Having a general colour scheme or idea that you’d like to follow is a great place to start when designing a site.
2. Clear Call To Action – A call to action or CTA is a button that directs the user to the desired service that we are providing. If you take anything away from this whole article make sure that your CTA’s are clear. Almost all websites will have a call to action button in their main header for ease of access.
You don’t want returning users to get ticked off by having to scroll halfway down the page just to get started. The text inside the CTA is crucial, keep it short, snappy but informative. The call to action should be very clear on what lies beyond that button. A great example is Foxton’s.
Right in the centre of the header, two clear call to actions one for “selling or letting” and one for “buying or renting”. Sellers can expect an instant valuation whilst buyers are enticed by the idea of “Jumping the queue” If the big dogs are doing it then it must work!
3. Keep Text Relevant – Unless you’re Wikipedia, massive, intimidating walls of text are a no-go. Marketing buffs explain that paragraphs with more than six lines don’t perform as well as shorter chunks of text. The take-home is that the text has to be scannable so bullet points are also a good option.
To help with this make sure that all the text only consists of the relevant information users need and let some images do the talking. Selecting the right image for your text can sometimes make all the difference
Finally, be sure to check for grammatical errors. Not only will this massively hurt how much customers trust your site but it also doesn’t look good to the Google bots that crawl your site.
Stamfords got the right idea with the use of icons to give a general gist of what they’re saying before their bullet point of information.
4. Make Navigation Easy – Intuitive flow to the website. Make the steps to completing your service and finding what they need simple. As you probably suspected navigation refers to how users get around your site. Your call to actions will usually take care of the main services but what about everything else you have to offer?
Well, as a general rule don’t spam your navigation bar with dozens of services and various pages on the site. This will certainly confuse customers.
Instead, navigation bars and menus should only have up to five different clearly labelled tabs to prevent information overload. Consider having a services page in your navigation so customers interested in this can browse at their will.
Another thing to bear in mind is to always give the user a way back to the homepage no matter where they are on your site. No one likes the feeling of being trapped on a page that is no good to them so offer them a way out. Having your logo in the top left link back to the homepage is always a good shout. Also, it’s likely that you will be getting traffic to multiple different pages on your site.
Funnelling readers back to the homepage when they are not interested in the page they’ve arrived at is a brilliant way to increase the conversions in your traffic.
5. Don’t Clutter Pages – We want to let our users know that we have all the solutions in one place without actually putting everything we’ve got in one place. Correctly distributing information around the site is a must if we don’t want to look spammy and scare customers away. Here’s an example of a bad website.
It’s difficult to look at let alone take any information in. Loads of text tightly bunched together with an endless list of services makes the whole thing difficult to find anything effectively.
And here is an example of great distribution of information.
As you can see here from the navigation everything is laid out clearly and simply with an optional drop-down menu to see their services.
6. Mobile Optimised Design – You can have the best website in the world for desktop but if your competitors have a well-designed website for mobile and tablet they will inevitably outcompete you.
We are living in the dawn of the smartphone and a huge percentage of online traffic comes from mobile searches. Therefore we cannot neglect mobile optimisation when it comes to web design. Most web design software will allow you to edit your website and make sure everything looks and works how it should on mobile.
But if this is something you’re struggling with we can certainly lend a hand.
It might sound like a lot of work to make sure that navigation, text, images and call to actions all look good on mobile but letting it fall by the wayside is a recipe for disaster. So make sure it’s done!
7. Keep Forms Brief – Any website that needs to gather information from its visitors will have to consider some of these factors.
Long-winded forms that require the user to fill in pages of information is simply not going to happen. Unless the information is simple and something that the user knows first hand they do not want to be typing up essays.
Secondly, forms that are long and require a lot of information about the visitor don’t seem very trustworthy. Why would a customer want to part with personal contact information if they’ve just stumbled across your website?
When designing forms for customers, depending on what you need from them, keep it brief. Not too long to turn them away and not too short to the point where they don’t trust you.
8. Need For Speed – Studies show that pages that take longer than three seconds to load lose 53% of their users.
Hence we must respect the need for speed. Slow load times can be due to a number of reasons and isn’t always the fault of the designers. Regular testing of load speeds, especially for essential pages on your website is a must.
This does fall under website maintenance but it’s something that should be considered during the design process too.
9. Be Comprehensive – As we mentioned earlier we want to have everything all in one place. Imagine that we’re dealing with lazy customers that want everything done for them.
It’s best to have a website that can cover all of the services that your clients might need in order to stay competitive. But we’ll touch on this a little bit more later on.
10. Good Searchability – Make sure that your search tools help the customers find what they’re looking for. They’re likely going to want to search within a specific area, filter by prices, number of bedrooms, bathrooms etc. So make sure your search form is good.
When it comes to estate agency websites good search options are the glue that holds the function together. You guys being the estate agents and knowing the most common things that users like to look for should be covered seamlessly in your search tools.
Allowing customers to search by a specific area, filter by prices, number of bedrooms and bathrooms etc.
11 (bonus!). Apply Good SEO Practices – Looking good to Google is crucial for a successful business as being listed high in their rankings essentially means free traffic to your site.
Search Engine Optimisation or SEO is the practice of making your website look good to Google and improving the site’s capacity to rank for the desired keywords you need for your business.
Sorry to say that you will have to learn a few things and become more acquainted with the best SEO practices for web design. However, if you haven’t got the time for all that spiel we can definitely take care of this for you.
The main thing you’ll need to ensure is for one, having good copywriting; content on a website full of typos and irrelevant text to estate agents and clients will definitely hurt your rankings. Secondly, make sure your site is linked correctly. We mean all of the navigation, call to actions and anything you link to cannot be broken. You might have to go through the site with a fine tooth comb because broken links are bad for rankings.
Finally, don’t duplicate content. Copying content word for word from other sites or duplicating it on your own site can be detrimental to your performance in Google. We understand that it can be tedious to sit there and write up all the unique reasons why you’re the best but it’s in your best interests to!
SEO is a great long term strategy that will alleviate your estate agency from needing Google ads to generate traffic in the future
Estate Agent Tools
If you wanna hang with the best, then your site is going to have to be competitive. If another competitor has all the bells and whistles and provides the services customers are looking for you can bet that you’ll start to fall behind. Lucky for you we’re experienced in designing sites with all of the state-of-the-art estate agent tools to take your site to the next level.
But for those who have the time and patience to get this all done by themselves then here are some of the best estate agent tools you’ll need to consider incorporating into your website.
Valuation Tool – This is one of the most valuable tools to add to an estate agency website. If you take a quick look around the internet you’ll find that all of the top estate agency websites have one and display it as their main call to action. As a business, you spend all this time trying to get people to your website but none of it matters if you can’t get their contact information. As we said, sometimes contact forms can be difficult to pull off but a valuation tool leverages landlord’s and vendor’s contact details in exchange for valuable information.
The instant valuation tool is essentially a plugin that calculates the sale and rental price of the property they own. You’ll need to make sure that your valuations are accurate and reliable as you don’t want to give clients false expectations.
A valuation tool is a sure-fire way to increase the number of leads you get!
Live Chats – Visiting a website with 24-hour live chat support makes visitors feel more comfortable. The fact that they can have their questions about your agency answered immediately massively improves their experience with your company. Also giving visitors a chance to connect with you massively improves their trust and likelihood of passing on their information.
Live chat features are also plugins that have to be installed onto the website so this does mean more learning. But for the customer engagement that they provide, it’s totally worth it. The way most live chat features operate is they send an email to your inbox containing the customer’s message notifying you to respond as soon as possible. So it doesn’t mean that you have to sit there waiting for messages to come through.
Maps & 360 Cameras – If you’re really looking to get fancy with things then using 360 camera viewing for property viewings is another awesome way to bring in clients. The virtual viewings look a lot like a Google road map viewing but for the inside of a house. You can click through each room in the house, spin around and tour just as you would in real life.
A great example of this is featured on Strutt & Parker where as well as flicking through the image gallery visitors can opt to explore the house in virtual viewing. If your agency is looking to integrate virtual viewing services onto your site then we’ve got you covered. We won’t be showing up with cameras to take photos of the property, this you’ll have to source yourself. But implementing the virtual viewing feature on your website should be no problem!
Now that you’re an expert in estate agency web design it’s time to talk about how we maintain our website. When you’ve finally created a beautiful estate agency website that you’re proud of the last thing you want happening is it breaking down on you. Updating WordPress itself and the various plugins used to make your site are essential to keeping everything running smoothly. The last thing you want is to lead potential clients to a broken site.
Here are a few rules to follow to maintain your WordPress Website.
1. Make a backup of your website – If you haven’t had your site made by some cowboys most designers and developers will have made various backups of the website along the way. Just in case anything catastrophic were to happen, you could simply load up the saved version of the functional website. A great way to do this yourself is using a WordPress backup plugin like Jetpack or BackUpWordPress. Jetpack requires a small monthly subscription while BackUpWordPress is completely free. Setting up and restoring your site using these plugins are super simple and usually explained on the site. If you’re really stuck there are always plenty of guides out there.
2. Clean up your WordPress database – In the midst of designing a website there can be a whole manner of images, plugins and clogging up your WordPress database which is not good for the site. If you let this stockpile too much it can really slow down page load speed; as we know from the aforementioned design portion of the article we can lose a massive amount of customers if we’re not careful here.
3. Update Plugins and Links – Depending on the number of plugins and the type that your website uses they can be prone to breaking. When an essential plugin to the website breaks you can bet your bottom dollar that something can go horribly wrong on the website. That’s why it’s important to make sure that all plugins are updated to the latest versions.
On this note, it’s also important to make sure all of the links on the website are in working order. If a visitor clicks the main call to action of the website and is greeted with a broken page it’s very unlikely they are going to stick around to do business with you.
A lot of the time designers can get lazy and wash their hands of the situation after the website is handed over to you. However, we take pride in the fact that customers getting their sites done with us will be our problem for life.