Thursday, 30 October 2008

Rightmove to list private sellers

Global Edge just broke the story that Rightmove is to list private sellers.

Continuing SEO tips for estate agents

Search Engine Land recently posted 7 tips for B2B SEO in times of recession and we think they are worthy of summarising for all.

Understand the changing landscape

Understand the long tail, are you speaking to it. Look at the changes and see what is more suited to these changes, think Lettings. Thus keywords change, content changes, search terms change. The long tail will have changed (understand what the long tail means - read earlier posts and google it).

Tweak existing content

This is a constant and something we are all guilty of ignoring. Your content should mirror what interests the market. For us, we should ditch HIP content and concentrate more on SEO/SEM advice.

Beef up relevant content

Add more pages, content is King. What is in demand, lettings maybe, add more pages about issues surrounding letting. Use case studies, examine your local market and produce a report for all, you are in a unique position to advise other businesses as well as the consumer.

Manage your landing pages

Where does your user go. User journey is important. Analyse your traffic, measure your stats, immerse yourself in the analytics and understand what users are doing when they come to your site.

Become an expert

Build that blog, produce that report, enhance your perceived expertise.

Build your links

Quality links drive traffic and enhance the perceived credibility of your site, both in terms of prospects’ perceptions and in terms of search engines’ perceptions. See the full report for advice on building links in a recession (although b2b there is much common ground).

Tuesday, 28 October 2008

A UK community for property agents, industry professionals and commentators alike

My recent trip at the expo confirmed to me what I believe we all have long realised, agents, industry professionals and commentators all need to communicate more.

Active Rain is a perfect example of how all sectors of the industry communicate together in the USA and I have long bemoaned the fact there isn't anything like it in the UK.

Well, there is now! We have set up the UK equivalent of Active Rain, which we have fondly labelled Juicy Red Apple and can be found at

There is of course more information at the site, but it is very much a starting point for us all to develop, form groups, communicate with leading thinkers and generally improve.

It is built on a platform called Ning, which allows easy set up and has a few more features and functionality than wordpress and others. Anyway, early days (very much Delta than Beta) but someone needed to kick start this area and we hope you will build a profile and start communicating and spread the word.

I would point out that this is not a forum in which to self promote or abuse others, but a place for constructive debate, sharing of ideas and general brainstorming and perhaps some gossip :) We will monitor as best we can.

By the way, we are not running this for profit. Yes, there are google ads, but Ning charges a few dollars per month and we hope the ads will be enough to cover the hosting charges. As traffic grows, we will reduce the number of ads so we only ever need enough to cover the hosting charges.

Go forth and communicate!

Monday, 27 October 2008

1000watt Consulting and RealTrends release "Top Ten Real Estate Brokerage Websites in America" Report

It is no secret that I rate the guys at 1000watt and therefore I would implore you to read the recent report entitled, the top ten real estate websites in America.

'A desert of lost opportunity' states the report and no more so is there a mass of opportunity than in the current UK market. It is equally no secret the UK market is behind the USA so to learn from these guys at this stage of the market is an additional opportunity that should be grasped without further ado.

The following is a brief summary of what they call their 'top takeaways'and hopefully a small enticement to delve further into the report:

- Call things what they are. A map is a 'Map'. Don't be creative and the bottom line is don't confuse the user.

- White space is your friend. Don’t overcrowd your pages.

- Give users what we know they want. We should all read this and understand what our users want.

- Don’t use widgets that you can support. Live support was quoted as a good example. Just do the simple things and do them well.

- Expunge the word template from your vocabulary. We are guilty of this and almost all of our template sites turn into unique bespoke designs.

(my emphasis in bold)

There is then a one page summary on each of the top ten websites and these are imperative reading.

A great report and resource tool for us all.

Thursday, 23 October 2008

Propertylive is live !

Early days as apparently more and more properties are being uploaded and as the Rat and Mouse point out it is very much in Beta. But is it just another portal or does it offer something more?

We will have a play around and see what we think, but in the meantime I am sure I am not alone in thinking that the images really need work?

Rat and Mouse have also identified a pretender or an online remora fish ('a remora site') as we like to call them. Such sites along with link baiting are becoming more and more popular, but this particular fish has no advertising or immediate links so not sure what they are up to?

Wednesday, 22 October 2008

Agents pressurise rightmove to cut costs

The Negotiator has a good report on the pressure being applied by the larger agents on Rightmove.

But what is very interesting from this post is the following:

'...Grenville Turner, chief executive of Countrywide, confirms that he is in negotiations with most of the property portals about the group’s future relationship with them.

He says the negotiations are based on a year-long internal research project the group has undertaken to examine its online strategy, including the coverage it gets from individual portals and their fees....'

I for one would like to see this research.

Important Announcement from Rightmove

A recent letter to all Rightmove agents has sparked a few blogs and many comments. Indeed, the EAT headline by claiming up to 60 Rightmove jobs will go.

The familiar Rightmove bashing is of course now going on, but I thought I would just share the letter with you verbatim so you can decide for yourself.

Dear [Agent],

I’m writing to you to tell you about some changes we are making in light of the current economic and housing markets. Rightmove will significantly increase its consumer marketing spend and make organisational changes to better support estate agents who are embracing the switch to on-line media.

In this tough market our focus is on ensuring that you have all the support necessary to get the most from the Rightmove service to deliver the best possible results for your clients. As a result of reaching 90% of all agents with strong coverage in every part of Britain we are planning to move from a sales oriented structure to an account management structure.

The key changes are:

1. a re-organisation of the existing estate agency sales team and customer service teams into account management teams each covering a region of the country;
2. a scaling back of the size of the Rightmove Overseas business to reflect a decreased demand for property in continental Europe; and
3. a general reduction in overheads in line with the tough trading conditions being experienced by the property industry as a whole.

As you may be aware, there is a legal process which lays out the timescales that must be followed when re-organising. We will therefore be in a position by the end of November to let you know of any changes to your contact points due to the introduction of account managers. In the meantime please contact our customer service team as usual on 0845 338 0071 should you have any needs or queries.

With most agents cutting back drastically on traditional paper advertising, your internet strategy has become a key way to reach your target audience, and we want to ensure you can rely on Rightmove. Many property portals have seen activity on their sites fall by up to 30% since the middle of the year while Rightmove’s own site traffic has been far more robust. During September we had a massive 38 million visits and, as a result of the changes outlined above, we will be able to substantially increase our investment in consumer marketing during 2009.

Thank you for your continued business,

Yours sincerely,

Ed Williams
Group Managing Director

Property blogs and property forums

A recent anonymous comment on our blog got a little confused between blogs and forums and what was good practice.

This confusion got me thinking about the debate going on over on the EAT forums (which are still be spammed I hasten to add)? The forums are having an internal debate about users who plug their product. For some, this appears acceptable practice, whilst others are outraged. So what is good practice?

I believe neither a forum nor a blog are places to pitch your company and/or hard sell your product, unless it is truly addressing the forum question in a genuinely constructive manner. Forum users are generally looking for feedback, help and advice not a hard sell. If your advice is good and goes one step beyond then you are effectively selling your services in any event. Indeed, I will investigate the author of a good forum post which in turn reflects upon his/her company and is surely the correct way to market a brand in this environment.

A forum to me is an online brainstorming session and if one contributor is constantly selling their brand it is going to destroy the flow, get on the nerves of others and I will eventually leave the forum. It is for the forum editor to control these individuals. If no editor exists appoint one or more, there will be plenty of offers.

Before anyone says, but property owl posted on the EAT forum with an offer.... Well, they would be correct (albeit not a blatant plug) and the guilty party is currently cleaning the windows.

Buy our product now!!!

Tuesday, 21 October 2008

Property not quite

The man in the bad suit is still there.

A charming Scottish lady from the NAEA 'promised' me at the estate agency expo that propertylive would be live on Friday last. I asked if I could quote her on that and she laughingly said that they had brought the developers with them and they had 'promised' her.

I know only too well that tech deadlines are very rarely met and even hinting at a launch date is suicidal. But just how far off is it? Is anything wrong with it? What project is holding the launch up? Perhaps a statement from the NAEA would be helpful.

And please, please, please change the picture on the coming soon page!

Friday, 17 October 2008

Estate Agency Expo

As you may have guessed, I was at the estate agency expo yesterday (Wednesday) and I must say that the general atmosphere was at first a little hard to describe. There were very few agents present, less than half the exhibitors than last year and the exhibitors that were in attendance were primarily technology companies. The mood reminded me of a street market just before closing time.

One would also consider it reasonable to assume that there would be wireless access in what is primarily a tech expo. Nope, not one wireless point provided by anyone within the expo. After 30 minutes of talking to people without a clue, the nice people at the business design centre (the host building) explained they had one in the cafe, but it didn't work with Macs!

And who says the property industry is light years behind in technology!

Thursday, 16 October 2008

Estate Agnecy Expo - Future

My report from ringside.

Labelled future the panel consisted of Dan Lee, CEO Globrix, Ian Brown of, Lee Bramzell of and Miles Shipside of Rightmove.

The legendary Bob North was our compare and he didn't disappoint. Kicking the conference off by asking "where should agents spend their marketing budgets?"

After brief introductions and some statistic spinning Dan Lee sought to expose new comer by stating that when he last looked property index only had 2000 properties in London and asked how he planned to compete. Lee Bramzell's soon to be standard response was that many agents were signing up and they hoped to grow. Naturally he disputed the 2000 figure. A quick search confirms they only have about 2,400 in all of London.

Bob North loved this and commended Globrix for throwing "the brick in the pond". The discussion then moved on to costs and the microphone was before Ian Brown of thinkproperty who made the following statement:

"£49 [for a portal subscription] is no longer value for money and therefore I can announce that we are going to be free" Yes, you heard it here first for all non Vebra clients it is going to be free to list in the portal (an official announcement will be made soon). For current Vebra clients they will apparently receive more advertising options.

It became apparent to the writer that as various issues were explored some cracks were appearing in the propertyindex model. Mr Bramzell referred to an affiliate program they planned to introduced that would see agents receive 50% of all value that passes through the site. To the writer this was plainly a drawing board idea thrown out in a little desperation. Great in principle and discussed previously in this blog, but without any detailed explanation it didn't raise hopes.

I have to say, Miles Shipshide of Rightmove had the mannerisms of a man who didn't want to be there. He bemoaned agents who didn't use rightmove plus (he says only 50% use it). Whilst this is a valid point he then let out a vicious right hand hook by claiming Globrix was untested technology and received "less traffic than the Aberdeen Property Centre".

The discussion then took a more constructive approach with all the portals agreeing that software providers and backend solutions should do more when it comes to measuring traffic. Indeed, many comments form the floor from agents indicated they were crying out for good statistics. Thinkproperty were challenged to deliver stats back to the agent and in another scoop, Ian Brown said "yes they would". All agreed unanimously that agents should be looking at their stats, measuring their traffic and conversion rates and determining their costs per lead. Sound familiar??!!

Bob shared these views and then steered the discussion back to costs. No doubt to get a little floor show. First up, Rightmove. Question from the floor. "why in this troubled market have you increased your prices", Miles replies "we haven't". I see at least four people stand and shout "yes you have". Miles tried to defuse this by saying see me after to one disgruntled agent, but one agent then pitched in and explained that he dealt primarily with retirement homes on a nationwide basis and his costs had gone up 1000%. Wow! "ah yes" explained Miles, "we have introduced geographical charging as we had complaints from other agents and that is why you are being charged more". Geogrphical charging? That is a new one on me!

Swinging back to relationships with software providers the panel agreed again that we should all try and work together to achieve common feeds and standard measurement. Time for another announcement. Globrix announced they will be launching an analytic package for agents next month, which will help agents analyse their traffic.

In conclusion, the message from the panel was clear. To understand who best to feed your properties through you need to be able to understand what we are telling you about traffic delivery, costs per lead, conversion and everything else this blog has raised over the past 12 months. Agents need to improve their websites, improve their analytical abilities and get to grips with online marketing. 'Measuring' was the buzz word of the afternoon.

Cost was another issue and if Globrix can deliver a decent user friendly stats package for free then they are once more pushing the boundaries. Indeed, some argued after that it is the responsibility of the portals to provide this information, especially if one is paying them.

Returning to our boxing theme, I think propertyindex came out of their corner too quickly and met with a few nasty jabs that stopped them in their tracks, staggering around the ring they just made the first bell. Round 2 thinkproperty thought they had a good right hook with their announcement, but it only glanced the opponents and didn't make full contact and I fear too much energy was used in that blow. Round 3 heard booing from the crowd for the defensive display of rightmove, very much gloves up and not one for the crowd. Round 3 saw Globrix boxing clever throughout landing some nice jabs and then the killer body blow almost came unnoticed as they introduced their forthcoming analytical package. You almost hear the ribs crack!

Wednesday, 15 October 2008

Local portals and niche agents - do we need mainstream property portals?

I saw a recent comment from brightmove on the EAT which indicated that a property portal which paid agents for property would be 'cool'.

Although said in tongue and cheek, it begs the question: does the user actually need a portal?

I wrote a long time ago about local search and the possibilities of local agents getting together and building a local portal for their area. It strikes me this may have some merit, but could you take it one stage further?

As a user, I will have made some preliminary decisions as to where I want to move, i.e. South coast around the Southampton area as I will be working there. I am prepared to travel no more than 20 miles to commute. Using established portals I can filter the parameters of my search, but with so many portals can I be confident that the majority of property is on there? Are there hidden gems in small agent offices that are feeding to other portals I don't know about or not using the portals at all.

If I therefore come across a local portal that claims to have all the agents in and around Southampton along with local content, information on schools etc, I am going to be tempted to explore.

But how have I found this local portal? Perhaps through advertising, but more than likely through a Google search and to weed out the other portals I may have been more specific with my search. To this end, I am already searching a niche and if I find an agent matching my search criteria it is a strong possibility they will have a property fitting my description. Does the future therefore lie with niche agents and local portals?

As an agent, should I just pursue one market, for example, village property, or go one step further and dominate the thatched cottage market for my area and perhaps a little further afield?

If I undertake this course, there is argument to say I don't need a portal. Indeed, I am already reducing my marketing spend and if I corner the thatched cottage market and excel in my seo/sem why should I need a portal?

Perhaps now is the time for Google to enter the space and allow agents to self market without the need for portals

I believe that it is only be challenging the existence of our business and asking such questions we can improve and offer services both the user and the agent needs.

Property portals everywhere

My feeds and inbox appear to have yet more announcements of new property portals. It reminds me of the words from War of the Worlds '... but still they come...'

I have lost track of who offers what and all appear to be going after the agent with gusto. Understandable as one must have content/data/property, but what about the user, how will they find these new portals? PPC can buy you traffic, but you need (a) deep pockets and (b) brand to retain the customer during the course of their house search/buying process.

If I am an agent, I am faced with a multitude of portals from which to use. This is no bad thing as i can spread my marketing around to suit their strengths, but I have to ask what stands one portal above others and how are they engaging users if they are struggling to engage me? It goes without saying that I need to have quality traffic delivered to me and lots of it so again how is a new portal going to produce such constant quality traffic from the beginning?

I need to be engaged not just sold to. A bullet list of sales points is useless to me, engage me, offer me something useful, go beyond the sales pitch 'we will send you traffic'. I know you won't be able to in the beginning so why not tell me that you will invest a proportion of my charges to PPC for keywords that match my agency/practice/portfolio. I would then be interested to hear more, but another portal with no traffic (or at least none aimed at me) does not excite me.

Tuesday, 14 October 2008

Rightmove is wrongmove

Globrix post on an article from the Daily Mirror entitled 'Wrongmove' which may have even more agents up in arms.

Not only is Miles Shipside quoted as saying that:

"It costs an average £1 a week per property to be on our site." He goes on to compound the damage by adding:

"It's a shame that some estate agents aren't able to spend that small amount to reach the widest possible audience in these tough times."

This smacks of a politician's spin. How would Daily Mirror readers be expected to know that rightmove charge per branch, per month and not per property? Indeed, this is hardly a statement of support in times of trouble and I expect will infuriate many agents.

This also begs the question (and I will ask at the expo if I get the chance) if a per property cost is a metric put forward to defend rightmove's position, does this mean they will provide an option to agents to advertise per property at a reasonable rate??!!

Friday, 10 October 2008

Rent Dodgers

How do get maximum exposure from just 2 estate agent boards.

Whilst down South councils are thinking of banning estate agent boards because they don't look good, a clever agent in Liverpool had the idea to name and shame tenants who were refusing to pay rent and resisting attempts at communication. The shaming tactic is to nail a sign board on the house as below:

The media have lept all over this and you can see footage of it at the BBC and the lawyers are following, but at the end of the day, this agent is working hard for his client, the landlord and should be applauded.

PS. If Councils have the gall to advise on advertising and marketing in the property industry, perhaps they would accept some advice about where to keep their money. I know a very good Ugandan online bank I have just set up offering great rates of interest. Any takers?!

Wednesday, 8 October 2008

Propertyfinder Blog

Propertyfinder has come out and announced a head on challenge to Rightmove quoting cheaper fees as their major usp and assault weapon.

Estate Agent Today has a number of comments and plugs supporting them and bemoaning Rightmove.

I like Gillian Kent and what she is trying to do with Propertyfinder, but as an earlier post of mine today indicated you have to engage your users as well as offering a good product. One look at the Propertyfinder blogs, outhere, show a lack of posts and the last CEO post back in January 2008. rightly identified this area recently and now produce a good and interesting blog, which is aimed more at the punter. Globrix will also leap ahead now their blog is taking shape. Indeed, a fantastic product with a supporting engaging blog is getting closer to the premium package for agents.

That said, what we all (and there are so many now) have forgotten is the end user. Joe public doesn't want to read this blog for example and perhaps we should be concentrating our efforts on engaging the end user? We are all in pursuit of the agent which of course brings in revenue, but without the end user we are valueless.

I have written many times about the importance of agents writing blogs their customers may find useful and bending over backwards to engage the user. but it is not happening within the portals.

Perhaps this is the point many are missing in the ongoing Rightmove bashing. To be fair to rightmove (and I may be lynched for this) whilst they have alienated many agents they have improved the website and moreover have employed new design houses to improve their email marketing campaigns. These are much better now and plainly designed at cemented an already established brand within the mind of the user.

PS. If Propertyfinder want to buy this blog for its agent facing element my earlier offer of £5 million still stands.

Blog for sale - $15million ovno

Web Pro News posts on the recent sale of a one man blog for $15 million.

In a little over 2 years of blogging, the 22 year old owner of Bankaholic has secured a dream ticket when his blog was purchased by Bankrate for a staggering $15 million.

Why, how, what?! Webpronews discusses the whys and hows and concludes that (a) Bankaholic is an authority in a niche industry (b) it engages its users and (c) its natural search ranking and keyword content is very impressive.

I am engaging my readers and if anyone wants to make me an offer for the Property Owl Blog, bidding will start at £5 million and I am also looking for at least 20 comments to this post.

AIG - what really happened

A bit of light relief for those who really want to know what happened with AIG.

For those not based in the UK, the attached is based on a UK television series, Dragons Den. The TV show sees wannabe entrepreneurs pitch to well known business leaders ('the dragons') with a view to securing investment, which is allegedly the 'dragons' own money.

Tuesday, 7 October 2008

Cost per lead

I was wading through the adverts yesterday as I often do and I came across one of the many adverts. The bold text stated: Unlimited listings just £10 cost-per-lead (CPL).

There was then an explanation of cost per lead as follows: You only pay for qualified leads. Unlike other portals, visitors to can only submit an enquiry via the form appearing below an individual property listing. This ensures agents & developers know which property prospective clients are genuinely interested in.

This begged a few questions, but for the purposes of this post, namely, what actually constitutes a lead and is this a competitive price within the industry?

It reminded me of a post a while back from Mike at Zoomf when he examined a series of articles from Matt Jones at Realblogging which was an analysis of lead capture and costs per lead in the USA. Two significant points amongst the many interesting points raised by this insight was it takes around 24 leads to get to a closed transaction and the average cost per lead was in the region of $116.

So already we can see that we really need to determine a true value for a cost per lead and if I am an agent studying my online marketing (which I must surely be doing by now) this is where I should concentrate my effort. Indeed, surely my goal is to work out exactly how much I can afford to spend per lead and how much I am spending per lead.

Currently, many UK agents work on a crude analysis for cost per lead (i.e. spend divided by clicks/emails/tel calls) producing results from between £0.05 to £39.00, the latter being Rightmove. Whilst these stats are taken from a bona fide agent who spends across the board (or at least used to) such metrics raise more questions than they answer and really just show a cost per click or equivalent, which is only perhaps one of the x number of leads needed to reach a closed transaction!

Zoomf are right to point out that an agent needs to take into account, website spend, technology spend, ppc spend, portal spend on all portals, email spend and anything else spent online/offline to acquire a potential lead to determine a more accurate cost per lead.

What is called for I believe are some industry standard metrics that will allow agents to easily measure performance, budget and to determine a true cost per lead.

Given we first need to determine what constitutes a lead, I guess a clear definition for 'a lead' would be a good starting point. Another good benchmark would be to determine an average 'leads per closed transaction' figure for the UK property industry (it may be out there already?).

I may throw it in as a discussion point at the Estate Agency Expo next week when the portal panel convene for what we all hope will be a lively discussion.

The Owl is running a book and I have Dan at evens to knockout Rightmove in round 1.

Sunday, 5 October 2008

I am Spartacus

If you have never heard of Jason Gambert before, you soon will. He is creating a storm in the US by trying to register SEO as a Trade Mark.

The laughable side of this furor is that he claims to have coined the phrase in 2007. Naturally, the SEO world is up in arms and SEOMOZ has a very informative post, which is worthy of a read in full.

Anyway, a quick search of my email database reveals usage of SEO back in 2003 so I am in with a shout, surely?!

Friday, 3 October 2008

Credit crunch, house price crash, world banking calamity - what is left?

1000watt ask what is left after the carnage of a housing crash and brilliantly identify that what comes next is 'love'. I have long spouted about feeling the love for your customers and your website and it is not some hippy marketing concept, it is a real issue we all need to get our head around.

I have previously spoken of opportunity arising from crisis and change and it is this that 1000watt pick up on, namely '... the love will bring about an industry that’s transparent. True. Simple. Real. Honest. Social. And smaller...'

I cannot do the post justice by regurgitating it so please go and read it, understand what it is saying and change the way you practice. Engage your customers, treat them like human beings, stop calling them applicants, vendors, house numbers, be personal, or in other words show them some love.

Brad Inman and a Pub

Now these are the posts we like. Nestoria posts about Brad Inman coming to London and invites all to a good old cockney knees up in a pub to meet Brad and others.

I don't need to say anymore than the team from the Owl will be there! Whilst not including myself in the following sentence, I would strongly recommend going to this event to meet people like Brad, Ed from Nestoria and other leading lights in the industry. There will be some bright people there and we all know that most of the best ideas are formed in a Pub.

Last one there buys the round.

Thursday, 2 October 2008

Malicious spammers attack Estate Agent Today

Estate Agent Today new forum posts suffered an attack from porn spammers this morning.

Our new forum threads automated email from EAT didn't contain the normal property ramblings we are used to. Instead, we were offered hard core porn as below:

EAT had been infiltrated by porn spammers and there lies a warning to us all. Forums are notoriously difficult to protect and we are constantly wrestling with accessibility issues and security. Only the other day we bemoaned some spam prevention software, but it is plainly necessary as the above shows, it just needs to be as user friendly as possible.

How you deal with the above may be a different issue of course and whether this attack was aimed at the forum or just attached to the email we don't know and it would be interesting for all to hear what the EAT say on the subject.