W3C Errors

Dear client,

It has come to our attention that one of our competitors has started the practice of emailing clients who move to us making allegations about the quality of the sites we launch, and the wisdom of switching over to Homeflow. They typically do this either during the sale process if we are in a competitive bid, or as the client leaves them to switch on their new site with us. (We like to think this is because it has happened rather too much for their liking lately, but who knows ;-).

If you are reading this article, it’s likely that you have had one of those emails. We’re very sorry that you have to suffer that – it can’t be nice to make a big investment, only to have a concern planted that there might be something sub-standard about your site. That couldn’t be further from the truth.

Clients often share the emails with us – and they tend to follow a pattern. So after the 3rd or 4th of these allegations were sent to us, we decided to write the report below reassure you.

Yours may vary, but the emails tend to cite some mixture of:

  • How Homeflow costs so much more than them – for the same product.
  • How in a standard website checking tool our product quality is poor, focusing on some very serious sounding stats about “W3C error” rates. (This report writing tool is quite right, the sites do have a higher W3C error rate, but the salient point is that W3C scores are largely a complete red herring these days, and not something we particularly focus on, as we will explain below).
  • How we focus only one variable – speed – which is also true (because it’s important).
  • And how “none of this is sour grapes”, just that they thought you ought to know you’d made a bad decision.

Naturally we would like to respond and present a balanced picture and response to those allegations. But we’ll do that the Homeflow way, entirely analytically / scientifically. The report that follows is therefore long, and by it’s nature a bit quite technical.

However, it’s VERY important to us that you, as our client, understand the implications of this report properly. That’s because we want you left in no doubt, whatsoever, (given you do pay typically pay more for Homeflow), that what you are getting for is the highest quality solution in the market. Your website is, in our opinion, completely pivotal to your business. It’s your foundation. You need to get it right. And you also need to be able to rest very easy in your bed that you have it in the very best of hands, and you have indeed bought a much higher grade and quality of solution.

If you do nothing else, please read the Executive Summary, and flick down to the essential charts 2/3rds of the way down. However, we hope you’ll find the topic both important and interesting enough to read the whole thing, given the importance of online marketing performance.

If you have any lingering doubts in your mind, please do give us a call. And if not, then with that behind us, let’s get down to business of generating some growth in the leadflow from your website. Thanks for your trust.

Kind regards,




On Homeflow being more expensive; apples and oranges.

It is true that we are more expensive than the competitor who makes these allegations, but it is not remotely true that the proposition is the same as they claim. Our engine is considerably higher power, more functional, and better designed, hence being able to command that price point. It’s simply a case of that old truism of “you get what you pay for”, and we hope to put your mind at rest with this comprehensive report in response. The report addresses each of the most common allegations in detail. But also performs a slightly deeper, and more balanced analysis for you, to highlight some of the fallacies in the (highly selective) numbers you were likely presented.

It’s no co-incidence that we have 50 or so clients over 10 branches, compared to this competitor who, to the best of our knowledge, only has 10 clients left with over 5 branches, and none that we know of with over 25) – these numbers were correct at time of going to press, but may change clearly. Those larger client groups have online marketing teams that worry about precisely the substance of the quality difference between our products, and they choose Homeflow, consistently, time in time out. They understand the issues at play, so you can have faith that the market is correct.

On W3C error rates and people in glass houses

Turning to a summary of the specifics technical allegations they highlight in their emails (which most often centre around “W3C error” rates). These are typically taken for one selected client from their portfolio (the highest performing it appears as our analysis shows), and two that they have chosen selectively from our portfolio, who have high error rates.

The particular area we fail to score is in W3C compliance, which we accept, and can always work on this (one can always be better, and it is a good thing). However, strict W3C compliance is broadly considered irrelevant these days. As our analysis shows, you’re in good company (eg the BBC, Google, and The Telegraph) – complex highly functional sites, by their nature, have higher W3C error rates. Worse, some of the more advanced measures we take for speed and SEO performance, will actually have a detrimental impact on W3C compliance (it is possible to work around that and increase W3C compliance of course, though the cost benefit doesn’t make particular sense or importance of doing so).

But don’t take our word for it.  Here is Matt Cutts (Google’s head of public facing communications) capturing the very essence of pretty much everything our report argues.

Better still, people in glass houses shouldn’t throw stones, a wider analysis of their portfolio shows that the vast majority of this particular competitor’s websites have very similar W3C compliance error rates. It’s only since they latched onto this one variable in the last 3 months (which, unlike SEO or speed, is relatively easy to control) that they’ve had a good record on this front. And they do have excellent compliance – it’s just not important.

On feeling the need for speed!

The next pattern in the emails is that they accuse us of “singling in on just one metric” not their broader assessment. We suspect the metric they are referring to is Google’s main measure of pagespeed, where we absolutely own the market (we considerably outperform in this regard). This metric, as distinct from W3C compliance on the other hand, IS a very important metric to worry about as it has a very direct impact on consumer experience and hence wider site performance. We think the competitor in question may be particularly sensitive to this, as they are acutely aware of how we strongly outperform in this regard and we have won a lot of clients off them over the past 3 years.

In a nutshell:

Yes, you pay more, but the old adage holds that you get what you pay for in life. And in this case it’s the best possible investment you can make in your business as it sits at the foundation of all your marketing. There’s a reason the big scale enterprise clients, who understand this stuff, choose Homeflow. And yes, in order to focus on sites performing with this much speed and practical SEO performance (measures which really do matter), then if working within budget constraints, sometimes this comes at the expense of old school W3C compliance (which doesn’t really matter a great deal). Welcome to flying first class, you made the right decision, let’s get on with it.




It is absolutely true that our fees are between two and three times as much as theirs (we charge £150/branch/month, they seem to charge either £50 or £60, up from about £30 a year ago). Our build fees tend to be lower, but that’s another matter.

However what is absolutely not true is that you get the same thing.

We suspect that they don’t fully understand the difference in the quality of our base engine (either that, or they wilfully choose to ignore it). We certainly don’t highlight the differences to them, as we don’t want them trying to copy and close the gap. However, we’re always very happy to meet up with you, and run through a few of them with you if you need, as they are very easily demonstrated in person. Let’s do that if you have any lingering doubt in your mind after reading this report as we want you to feel totally secure and comfortable in the decision you took.

Homeflow’s revenues are somewhere in the order of 2-3x those of the competitor in question (correct at time of going to press, though we are growing much faster so this number will likely continue to pull away over time). And this is largely the result of that price point. But it is precisely that which allows us to make considerably deeper investments in the structural quality of the engine, and the service that goes on top of it. This is great news for you, clearly.

Here’s a way of thinking about it: At a superficial view, all cars are the same… They all have 4 wheels, an engine, and body panels on them (which we suspect must be how this competitor must be thinking about it, when they say it’s the “same thing”). In the same way that a Porsche 911 is a much better quality of car throughout (the look, the engineering, the performance, the feel, the after sales care etc.) than say a Ford Focus, some websites are simply better in a whole variety of ways. And this has a direct impact on the number of valuation enquiries you generate.

To the best of our knowledge the competitor in question don’t have any clients over 25 branches, and only 10 that we can find over 5 branches (we have pretty good intelligence tools on this). This compares to 4 x 100+ branchers with Homeflow, over 15 with over 20 branches, and dozens and dozens with over 5 branches. This is not a co-incidence. It happens precisely because larger estate agency groups employ online marketing managers, who understand the quality differences we are talking about here, and hence disproportionately choose Homeflow.

To be clear, we are not saying that the competitor in question make bad sites. They make great sites. And if price were the only factor one was considering, then they would be the best option. However, I’m afraid the performance of your online marketing is just too important to compromise based on a very small (relative to other expense items) price difference. Homeflow offers significant benefits, for only £100 a month/branch more, which we believe is probably one of the best ROI investments you can make. Indeed, in our mind it’s simply a no brainer, and it is this ROI advantage we provide clients which has resulted in us overtaking our competitors over the last 3 years, and becoming the lead player in the estate agency website specialist market.


What an astonishing assertion to make about a competitor. We’re quite affronted – hence being moved to correct the allegation in this report.

There are a few points to make here, but perhaps most important amongst them is to highlight that in the tables they choose to send to our clients, they control the selection of clients.

Typically the clients they select were ex clients of theirs (we suspect they may still be upset, and hence they single them out). So, the simplest answer is that we recommend you call those clients (his selection, not ours), and reference our service levels, and their satisfaction with Homeflow vs their previous supplier. (In the original version of this report, we listed the names and phone numbers of the clients cited, but given we are now publishing this to our site we thought it best to sanitise the names and numbers – please call us for intros).

Next, we note, they pick their top performer which is an outlier (see charts below). And they compare it to their own selection of only two of our clients hand-picked.

If you look at his chart, and the reports you attach, you can see that the biggest driver of the score differences is a thing called W3C compliance. W3C is the standards body governing “good” HTML standards on the web. Think of it like nice, well behaved HTML code. That’s great, and it’s obviously good to aim for, we totally accept that. But it isn’t a factor that consumers care one monkey about. It’s also a factor that has a completely minimal (if any) impact on your SEO. Worse still, to perform on a number of other metrics (funky bits on the site, working differently in different modern browsers optimally rather than base compliance at lowest common denominator, and serving up the pages really, really fast) sometimes developers will make conscious choices, to cut corners which would otherwise hit these technocrat scores. 10-15 years ago it was important stuff, but these days the web has moved on (and got a lot more complex). Broadly speaking W3C compliance is irrelevant these days.

(Important aside: There is a sub set point to that about accessibility, the ability for screen readers, and so forth to make your site usable by visually impaired users, this is important, and we take that seriously, but, whilst related, it isn’t the same thing).
Apart from anything else, note that Google’s own homepage (one of the most performant page on the web) has 20 errors on it!

So, with all that covered as background context, we have performed a much wider, and more balanced analysis to show you the whole picture, in a more scientifically valid sample set, rather than this conveniently hand-picked one.

So, here’s what we did…

  • We took every client of theirs (at least that our scraper can identify) with over 5 branches
  • And we took a random selection of our clients (some large, some small) – you’ll have to take our word for it that it was random, we just took a few that came to mind, as we were genuinely interested in understanding what was at play here – compiling this research was actually a learning exercise for us which we enjoyed too.
  • Then we threw in a handful of businesses which we consider to be “London Winners”, to see how they fare (they include Foxtons / Greene and Co (award winning) / Portico (likewise)
  • And of course, we added your own site, ***** [name redacted from the original personal report that preceeded this web article].  We put you in purple, but you are part of the competitor’s set, of course.
  • Finally, we threw in the BBC and Telegraph, which was a suggestion by one of our affronted developers, when we were asking him about W3C compliance, to learn more about it. It’s not like those businesses are resource constrained or building poor web technology, now is it!

The results are simply brilliant – here’s what we learn:

  • W3C is largely irrelevant in practical terms (Google themselves tell us this, our marketing group tell us this (see appendix) [contact us if you want the full appendix of the discussions – it’s too much to sanitise for the web], our developers tell us this, and the web at large is pretty clear about it too
  • And as if to underline that point, both the BBC and the Telegraph are FAR worse, than any of the sites built by Homeflow or our competitor
  • Indeed your own site, built by this competitor, is worse than all but one of the Homeflow’s sites – so that would be a good place to start looking at “quality control!” 😉
  • Beyond that, there is no discernible difference between the broad spread of Homeflow sites, competitor’s sites, and “Winner’s” sites – look at the chart, they’re all intermingled
  • But worst of all (and the thing that got us particularly motivated to conduct this report) is the fact that our competitor, in their email, only chose to select one of only two clients which scores zero errors, and inviting you to compare that to two of our worst scorers. Hardly a scientific selection!


[NB: we have removed the competitor’s name which was in the original chart, for publishing to the web.  We can also provide the website names and data behind this if you email us.]


We’re reasonably confident the metric our competitor is referring to here, is Google’s measurement of site speed. Widely considered to be one of the most important ingredients in the web, and very publically a central pillar in Google’s SEO ranking algorithm (by their own admission).

We’re confident of this, as our competitor has been in the conference room several times in presentations where we have presented the chart below…

We’re not in the business of naming and shaming competitors, however we can confirm that the competitor in question is included in the chart above – and we selected the top 20 client sites listed on the website of each of our major competitors to produce that. The yellow set are every site advertised on our site – not a sub set selection. That’s a scientifically valid / and a decent sample set.

So, yes, it is absolutely true that we do focus a LOT on this metric. That’s because it’s the metric that matters, above all others. And it’s a metric which is easy to measure publically, and easy for prospective client’s to understand – so we use it. However, it’s not true that it is the only metric we measure. If you aren’t part of our benchmarking programme then we must get you involved, but that measures some 20 or so data points, not just one.

However, given they do highlight this metric in their email, and given (unlike W3C compliance) it is important… let’s have a little fun, and dig into it… Google are on record telling us it’s important. Everyone wants a fast, highly performing site. And we can see that Homeflow clients are indeed crushing it. There is not one single site in the analysis which isn’t faster than every single site, in our competitors clients in the chart above. This isn’t 3 hand picked examples, this is 100+ data points, picked at pseudo random (we don’t control who their biggest clients are, and we took all of them, without exception).

So, let’s now look at the same sample set again as we examined for the W3C point, but this time indexed for speed.

[NB: Again we have removed the competitor’s name.  But we can also provide the website names and data behind this if you email us.]


ALLEGATION 4: “When I recently had lunch with Homeflow’s MD I asked him about these shortcomings and he remarked that they are not bothered. For the money they charge they certainly should be.”

That’s true. Our joint MD did have lunch with their MD recently. And he did say he wasn’t overly concerned about non W3C compliance. That was an informed view.

We don’t mean it churlishly, and we don’t want to be dismissive. When we got the second or third of these emails, we did think maybe we should look at it a little more seriously. And hence we set about a proper analysis of it which you see here in this report. We also asked a wide group of about 200 online marketeers and developers in a networking group that we’re members of, just to make sure we weren’t being overly complacent. We attach the forums responses below. This group contains some of the UK’s very best online marketeers from Google, the BBC, Spotify, Zoopla etc. Their view, is informed, and the concencus amongst leaders in these solid web firms is simple: W3C compliance is nice, but it’s not an important indicator of practical performance in any way. [Full appendix removed for publishing to the web, as it was just too much material to sanitise. But if this topic interests you further, do get in touch and we can share the background research we gathered with you]

We should qualify this view…

W3C compliance – the principle variable driving the differences in scores in the automated reports you have been sent is obviously a good thing. A clean, standards compliant web is obviously a good thing. And accessibility is even more important, clearly. But aside from accessibility (which is different) W3C compliance is broadly utterly unimportant to end customers (so long as the site works in all browsers, they’re happy), and it’s actually hindered (or more accurately, much harder to achieve) if you are building turbo charged, very high performance sites (look at the BBC if you are remotely worried!)

In layman’s terms, it’s a little bit like driving that same Porsche 911, into the European safety commissioner’s testing facility, and saying: “what do you make of our car?”. The safety tester says: “Sir, we don’t really like your quadruple exhaust pipe. We don’t like the fact the brake lights are right on the minimum height of the road for our legal safety standards. Couldn’t you make do with a 2 litre engine? Does it have to be quite so noisy sir. And do the doors have to be so light?”. You get the picture.

Enjoy your Homeflow website and service.  And do so safe in the knowledge you made a rock solid choice – you’re with the winning team now.


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