Play it again, Sam

Why re-theme in the first place?

If you are a Homeflow design partner and you want to make your bespoke design “rethemeable”, then Homeflow can offer it to estate agencies as a lower cost “ready made design” theme.

There are lots of reasons why you might want to do this…

  • It builds up a base of clients (it hooks into our sales engine, and we launch tens of sites a month, most of which are themes, so if the design is attractive it will get take up very quickly).  Many of our themes have been deployed dozens of times now.
  • Depending on your deal with us, we can pay a bounty each time it launches.  This needs to be pre-agreed, and is done in cases where the upfront fee was discounted, or where the intial project was sold by the design partner in the first place, rather than by Homeflow.
  • And we refer that base of clients back to you as first refusal, where they want bespoke design work, tweaks, changes to the front end templates, or surrounding copywriting, photography, video work etc.  See the guide to overlaps here.

Hygiene factors:  Clearly the initial agent, for whom the bespoke design was originally built, also needs to be happy for their design to be reused (they paid for it after all).  However, this is very rarely a problem in practice.  Everyone is a winner, the client gets the benefit of bespoke design built around their needs, and we can offer them a discount to their bespoke pricing in return for their express permission to reuse the work outside of a pre-agreed geographical exclusion zone (typically a wide interpretation of their postcode areas).  We look after all of the legal side of these IP agreements in our base contract with the agents, which we always do directly with the client.

So, with that covered, the next question designers ask is what work is involved in a re-theme and how do we do it?

(1)  Design with Re-themeability in Mind

One way to ensure that a site is easily re-themeable is to do the original design with half and eye on re-themeability from the outset.

Obviously there are pros and cons to this.  We need to focus first and foremost on the client in question.  Unless there has been pre-agreement for a deep discount in return for explicit re-themeabilty off the back of their custom fit design, then we need to focus on delivering an uncompromised, beautiful site for the client in question, to fit their needs.  If it works out that can be re-themed (most good designs can), then great, but it shouldn’t be the main aim.  And indeed, sometimes, if you are playing with their brand elements woven deeply into the page templates, to get a unique feeling, then this will preclude it from being re-themeable from the outset.  Also, some of our clients don’t want to be re-themeable at all, they want national exclusivity, and sole focus on them.  Totally fair enough.

However, to the extent possible, you can minimise the work involved in making a design re-themeable by halving half an eye on the problem from the outset.

Make sure that things that are possible to wire up to the CMS (but are also possible just to hard wire into the page templates as a short cut) are wired up properly.  See the list below.  This is just good practice anyway, as it benefits the initial client with more flexibility in their site.  Say they want to change their price bandings, or they launch a lettings division, or open another branch.  Or they want to edit their navigation.  A good re-themeable site, has all of this controlled via the CMS, so reduces their cost of ownership, and their flexibility once live.  And if you are savvy, you can keep your eyes on your design, as it appears on another agency brand as you go.

But you can also design icon sets as SVGs, or in greyscales.  And you can design the site so that further branches are easy to add, and all content chunks on principle pages are wired up to “content chunks” rather than hard coded into the templates.  You get the idea.

(2)  Do it around a real project

Once you have an initial site live… by far and away the easiest way to drive a project on through to a clean re-themeable design, is to build a second client on the design.  This removes all the academic testing, and colour changing, etc.  And it reduces the risk of missing bits.  If a second client can go live on the design, then you have probably nailed 95% of all the re-themeable requirements.  A third client flushes out another 2%, etc.

So, with that in mind, we can either:

  • Try and actively sell the project – before it is re-themeable – to a second client, letting them know it will cost a little more, and take a little longer, and they might even enjoy a little flexibility as we fit the site around them (we need to be very careful here to document what we mean, otherwise there is a danger that they interpret this as licence to think like a bespoke project).  This gives the project real momentum and bite.  All of a sudden we have a real client, and a Homeflow project manager, to make give the project some impetus and testing.
  • Or, failing that, we can just pick an agency and do a speculative re-theme around them and their brand.  Talk to us about finding someone suitable, as a good way to do this is for our sales team to think through the clients that they have in the sales pipeline (at any one time there will be dozens of prospects who are actively looking at buying from the team, and some of them might fit).  If you want to just force-create demand, there is even the option for us to approach the most suitable client (right logo shape, imagery, content, characters involved, perhaps geography near the design partner even) and we can offer them a deep discount / or even a site for free in extremis.
  • We can even target a specific client with you.  Perhaps someone local to you, with a few branches, and a terrible website.  We’ve had a lot of success approaching people like this, and offering them a “free site build” which “they only pay for, at a deep discount” once they’ve seen it fully built.  In return they let us build around their content, brand, colours, photography, datafeeds etc.  And they help us test the site as you build it.  By the time they’ve been swept up in the process along the way, they almost inevitably buy the end product (the slow gentle process of being involved in a no commitment build, gives them plenty of time to understand all the quality differences in the engine and service).  We can craft deals with you where we take a combined risk, and share the sale if the “test case” client buys.  (We also have a variants of this type of process call “lift and shift” and pure speculative design projects, where we design for a speculative approach in the first instance, and there is never an original client in the mix at all).

A big advantage of working with Homeflow to pick a speculative agent, which we “pre-sell” the concept to in some fashion, is that we can then get involved alongside you to help with the retheme testing, or content uploading, etc.

(3)  Process detail

If you have built the site well – then there should be almost nothing to do.  You should be wiring up the colours to the CMS, not hard coding them (for flexibility), likewise menus, content chunks, etc.  And you should be designing with re-themeability in mind (see above).  Experienced Homeflow design partners will find that the sites are rethemeable almost out of the box, if their programmers have built them well using the flexibility and configuration settings of the engine properly.

However, there will inevitably be bits that are missed off…

See what you’ve got, out of the box:

To check how well the theme works out of the box you can use our new URL / theme switching capability to look at any estate agent in the UK, running on any theme design in our portfolio.  Nifty!  (It’s also handy for us setting up and finding “speculative trial horse” agents as described above). Just follow the pattern:

[agentshortcodefromhomeflow]–[themename].agent.staging.homeflow.co.uk

Some examples – (most will be a mess, as the content is configured for another theme, but you’ll get a sense how the URLs work.:

http://ericlloyd–simpson.agent.staging.homeflow.co.uk/ (First user)
http://seymours–simpson.agent.staging.homeflow.co.uk/
http://dbroberts–simpson.agent.staging.homeflow.co.uk/
http://peteralan–simpson.agent.staging.homeflow.co.uk/

 

http://ljboyce–gaggioli.agent.staging.homeflow.co.uk/
(Intended agency – though live version now has video options):
http://www.boycebrixham.co.uk/
http://chrisclubley–gaggioli.agent.staging.homeflow.co.uk/
http://oceanhome–gaggioli.agent.staging.homeflow.co.uk/

 

http://mayhewestates–coppi.agent.staging.homeflow.co.uk/
(Original design was not a Homeflow site – but compare to live site here:
http://mayhewestates.co.uk/
http://bopproperty–coppi.agent.staging.homeflow.co.uk/ (Second user)
http://ljboyce–coppi.agent.staging.homeflow.co.uk/
http://chrisclubley–coppi.agent.staging.homeflow.co.uk/

Keep in mind that different themes, use different content set ups to make them really sing.  So if you pick an agent that is already live on another Homeflow theme, you will have the benefit of logos, colours, property data, content, navigation all configured, and probably even carousel images etc.  BUT, (and it’s a big but), the content, images, number of nav items etc. will be optimised for a their different design theme.

So if you are a regular Homeflow designer, having a look at clients you built last month, in a theme you are building this month is interesting.  But it has limitations as the content whilst fully populated, is likely the wrong shape.

Really you are better of selecting a virgin estate agent to practice with.  (So to speak).  We can get you logins, and you can set them up with the right shape of content to test the theme properly.

Next, run down the checklists:

We may well turn the following list into a default Trello board, so you can check the tasks off and comment on them.  Ask us, as if we’ve done that, we will set you up with that as an easier way to work through the list.

Basics:

  • Nav – see that it follows config in the back end
  • Homepage content – check that you can edit all major text sections, nothing hard coded in template
  • Branches – if you have a one branch theme, you’ll need to make an index page for multiple branches, and vice versa you’ll need to suppress links to other branches, if the original theme was a multi brancher
  • Search types – check that the theme can handle sales and lettings, or just lettings, or just sales, or for maximum flexibility, commercial and agricultural, etc.
  • Drop downs – check that price ranges are in drop downs, and pull from the flexible settings, rather than anything hard coded
  • Staff profiles – check that the site uses staff profiles, against property pages, and branches, if the original client didn’t want them, work them in as a “self hiding” option, as subsequent clients will want them, and our sales team actively sell that capability
  • Footer – make sure it is driven from a content chunk, with a nice template option

More structural / good practice bits

  • Colours – check all the colours pull from agent preferences, not hard coded
  • Fonts – and fonts are grouped in a nice CSS file
  • Graphics – likewise, all graphics should be editable, SVG icons, greyscaled, or coloured through CSS settings, etc.  All obvious enough
  • Favicons – a little touch, but there’s a setting for that!
  • Tagging – make sure Google tag manager or Google Analytics is pulling from the tags set in the CMS, not hard coded.  Obviously.
  • SEO gubbins – likewise, the page meta titles should all be wired up to the CMS properly, if they aren’t they should be anyway, even for non rethemeable designs
  • Social media bits – and, again obviously, make sure this pulls from settings, at business, branch and even staff level.  If the original design didn’t use them, add them in, in all flavours of social media, so that if the agent has them they pop up, and if they don’t they don’t.

Finally, do a comprehensive page by page test

Once you’re done, go through every page of the site, as configured on your second test agency, or trial client.  Check each and every page on the site, to ensure the colours are all set up, the content is all manageable, things that hide hide, and things that should render, pop up and appear.

Remember, a site may not have all pages in it, but a good theme might have to add missing structural pages in.  Eg one agent may not want staff profiles, but others will.  Best make everything exist, but “auto-hide” based on config settings, or when no content is rendered out.  That’s just good practice.

Here’s a quick list of the structural pages, to help your page by page pass:

  • Homepage
  • Search Results Grid
  • Search Results List
  • Search Results Map
  • Property Details
  • Branch LIST
  • Branch Individual
  • Staff page
  • Valuation page
  • Location area guides
  • Content page / index pages
  • Miscellaneous pages
  • User profile systems

Wrapping up

We hope that helps.  It may sound like a lot, but to a good developer, most of it will fall out of the box.  We often build sites for two clients at a time (we sell one, and then co-sell a second with their full understanding that they are slipstreaming, and hence don’t have the same flexibility benefits).  So it’s perfectly possible.  And with a bit of practice, you’ll find that the actual job of retheming an existing site, is no more than a day or two for a decent developer.

Good luck.  Give us a shout if you need a hand.

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