Like many sectors, any serious business working in real estate has a website these days. And like any business operating in the online world, the intelligence from web analytics can be used to improve business performance. There are two main types of real estate websites, the web presence of the real estate agents and websites that aggregate the content across multiple real estate agents. For the purposes of this, I am only covering real estate agency websites.
Outcomes and online behaviour for optimisation
Real estate agency websites exist as advertising mediums for these businesses. They are the modern equivalent of shop windows containing properties for sale or rental. However they go far beyond the real estate window or newspaper in terms of available content. They contain photos, floorplans, virtual tours, details of the local area, reviews of local school and other valuable information that influences the selection of a property. The websites also advertise the real estate agents, proving how well they publicise their properties and detailing their other services.
The primary desired outcome from any website visit is contact made with an office via a contact form, email, phone or in person. The reason for the contact can vary depending on whether the client is looking to rent/buy a property, to sell/rent out their own property or for one of the other services offered by the real estate agency.
Suggestions for applying Web Analytics
While the desired outcome is contact made with the office, there are certain website actions that contribute to this desired outcome. Improving the performance of these micro conversion actions will lead to an increase in the number of contacts made. They should be tracked through the web analytics tool and insights gained from the data used to make improvements. Below are some examples of key visitor behaviour and suggestions for how their performance can be measured with a view to improving this performance.
The property search is the heart of any real estate website. When working optimally, it enables a visitor to find all properties relevant to them with a minimal number of clicks. Real estate agency websites may offer different methods of searching for properties with some ideas here for evaluating their performance:
- Which type of search is most popular?
- Searches by search type
- How did the visitor access the search?
- Previous page viewed by search type
- Clicks on navigation options to select search type
- Does the search return relevant results?
- Search refinements (less is better)
- Search results success rate (clicks on search results / views of search result pages)
- Is the search easy to use?
- visits in which search was performed / visits in which search page was viewed
- Which type of search is most effective?
- Search conversion rate based on contacts made with office regarding properties found through using that search type
Real estate agencies can include different types of information about a property on its website but there are costs involved. Given this investment it would be nice to know:
- Do visitors consider this information relevant?
- Views of each type of content
- Does the content influence a prospect to contact the office?
- Contact made on properties where content type was viewed / properties where content type was viewed
- What do visitors consider to be the most useful content?
- Order in which content is viewed
- Do visitors understand the content or is there too much jargon?
- Clicks on help or jargon busters by content type
Methods of contacting agency
- Are the calls to action optimised?
- Are they above the fold?
- What is the impact of changing the wording or colour?
- Are people completing enquiry forms?
- Do they require too much information?
- Does validation of the forms prevent some people from submitting them?
- Do they work equally well in all browsers?
- Is the form generic or partially pre-populated based on visitor behaviour?
- Are contacts made via the phone counted as conversions?
- Are you using unique phone numbers?
- Do the calls appear as an action in your web analytics tool?
Optimise Marketing Spend
Real estate agencies can invest in various online marketing channels including SEO, Paid Search, Aggregators and Email let alone all the offline marketing that they do. Optimising marketing spend has twin targets of reducing spend and increasing leads generated. Areas to look at include:
- Do all the online marketing links contain web analytics campaign tags?
- Does offline marketing use vanity URLs so it too can be identified?
- Do all marketing channels deliver a positive ROI?
- The calculation might by “applying average revenue to number of leads generated / cost of marketing” but which attribution model?
- Can you differentiate between marketing that generates research visits and marketing that generates leads?
- Is the agency paying for existing customers (i.e. visitors are simply using the marketing to access the website)?
- Is initial website experience matching the expectation created by the marketing?
- Usually measured by the Bounce Rate
- Do you need to create customised landing pages?
People registered with agency
Once someone has signed up with the real estate agency, they can be sent details of new relevant properties via channels like text or email. With the hard work of acquiring a prospect done, is this tool helpful in converting them into customers:
- Can the prospects easily find the properties they are sent details of?
- Click through to property directly or search by property ID
- Are they tracked in the web analytics tool as Alert visitors?
- Do they have a different website experience compared to new visitors or is it exactly the same content?
- You know all they want to do is find relevant properties for viewings so why display any content not relevant to this?
- Is the call to action more relevant to the stage of the process they have reached?
- If they choose a property for a viewing, does this become a one click experience as the agency already has all their relevant details?
While not a website action, it is worth noting that real estate agencies are sitting on a wealth of valuable information. Visitors to their websites are telling the agencies exactly what they are interested in through the searches they are making and the filters they apply. Real estate agencies can use this data to identify key trends in the market, what matters to people looking for a new property, what areas they are looking in, what price range is appropriate, etc
This information can be captured using custom variables (whatever the web analytics tool) on the type of filter and the value selected. It is likely the data will need to be extracted via API and then manipulated to get at the insights.
Those are a few ideas but it should be sufficient to demonstrate how real estate agencies, like any online business, could derive immense benefits and improvement in performance through the use of web analytics. Not in reporting on the number of people using the website and what pages they are viewing but in making smarter business decisions. Their websites and marketing can be optimised with a new source of intelligence available to add to their knowledge of the market.
Web analytics may not be receiving much attention right now from real estate agencies but what would 20% more leads generated through their website be worth??
The top five UK real estate agencies based on the number of UK visits in Feb ’11 are (data from DoubleClick AdPlanner and hopefully I didn’t miss any of the top 5):
- Foxtons – 510,000
- Savills – 410,000
- Knight Frank – 280,000
- Hamptons – 180,000
- Kinleigh, Folkard & Hayward – 170,000
It’s interesting to note that all real estate websites that I looked at contained code for Google Analytics with no sign of the major paid solutions such as SiteCatalyst and Webtrends.