Gaudin & Co visit the Site Doctor

A strong independent, breaking design convention with style, visits the site doctor...

What’s in the video?

In his fourth appointment, the Site Doctor examines the website health of a high end, Jersey based, estate agent.  We explore what’s great, but also identify areas with opportunities for improvement.

Gaudin & Co (www.gaudin.je) are strong in their local market, and not afraid of a convention breaking with their strong, stylish design pattern.  There’s lots to like in the design, but of course there are always a good few areas where the Doc’s prescription will help the patient to even greater health.  Enjoy the video:

The Doctors Orders…

Design Impact / Homepage

In our view, the best thing about this site is the strong header style – the central logo breaks normal conventional form with style.  The site has great imagery, a strong colour palette, makes good use of white space, and has very clear navigation.  With a design like this the site will thrive or struggle based on the quality of photography, and Gaudin are blessed with great local photography, of the beaches, and local areas to help on this front.  That said, the same strong photography background is causing issues with readability of the second level menu.  It probably works better on high resolution screens where the design was conceived, but on a regular sized monitor it can make readability a bit difficult.  This might be possible to fix with more consistent colour treatments in the photos.

You also set a lovely design language through the “round-tabs and ‘g’ logos” which is developed throughout the content areas of the site.  Lovely.

It would also be nice to consider putting a clear phone number in the header somehow (that’s the single biggest use case of an agency website, “I’m just looking for the phone number”, and you have the luxury of putting a primary switchboard number, front and centre given you are one branch).

The styling of the site falls a little from this strong start, as you move down into the search results lists and property details pages in the guts of the site.  And we believe there is an opportunity to bring the content promo images on articles out into big background images (and vary them a bit), to sit with a more consistent site style.

Hidden footer

The footer at the very bottom of the page has a bit of an issue we think…  Comfortable web users will have no difficulty finding it, but a less confident user (and you wouldn’t believe how basic the average customers web capability is) will quite likely miss the fact you can open up this hidden panel.  That might be intentional, as you only really have Ts & Cs, and privacy policy type stuff, hidden in there.  However is a whole category of user who navigate to footers to find phone numbers if they aren’t obvious in the header or navigation.  Given you aren’t putting a phone number front and central, they will look to the footer, and a proportion of them won’t (believe it or not) understand the open footer tab arrow.  We think the simplest solution is to offer a permanently exposed footer, with the same design mirror of the header shape, perhaps opening up even more of the footer for those really interested in a full site map.

Response for Mobile

Probably the biggest point for the site is that it isn’t fully responsive. This is very important and a great opportunity, though it’s probably one of the most expensive things to address.  If you want to address this without an expensive full rebuild of the HTML, then a good, quick, and not necessarily bad option would be to plug in an “adaptive” approach mobile website.  Many large agencies, including the really big portals, do this as their preferred approach, so don’t think of this as a poor relation option.  However you approach it thought, there is an absolute imperative to fix mobile one way or another in our view.

Property Search Pathway

Lots of ideas here:

  • Your property search block is hidden under one of the homepage options which change the contents of the middle of the page.  This isn’t necessarily the end of the world, though the “property search” option in the main navigation, fires you to results, rather than to a search form.  For users who missed the option in the middle of the page, they might turn to this main navigation, expecting to find a search form page, which is worth considering.
  • However, once you get to the search form itself, the form fields, and the calls to action on the form are clearly styled, so users will have no problem here.
  • We couldn’t see any auto-suggest (predictive search locations) – though with limited locations on the Island, this might be just fine.  Arguably with a single branch and 166 sales  properties on your books (at time of writing) you could go without locations, and only have them in the refine view.  However, it works well as it is, so the other argument is: why fix what isn’t broken?
  • The results list page is fine at a basic level.  It’s clean and clear…
  • However, the title line is probably one of the biggest opportunities thown up in the video – as smaller independents are out ranking you in search results on Google, in no small part due to this point.  This point should also be taken in combination with clear meta titles, and clean URLs, see below for more on this.
  • The pagination controls have a few wrapping issues that could be cleaned up, and they could be simplified, made bolder, and given some breathing space at the bottom of the list.  (And alternative would be an opportunity for infinite scroll as part of a site upgrade, but that’s far from essential).
  • We would recommend simplifying down to a simple, single, strong call to action (rounded blue button, which you could “flatten” in design as is the modern style if you like) saying “See more” to channel users from the list results to the property details.  A case of less visual complexity is more perhaps?
  • There’s an opportunity to make the property display address / description (you seem to use these descriptively, which is interesting), so people “don’t have to think” they can just click any of the items (photos, price, button, OR display address title).  And critically, the wording for the houses display addresses should be links, as it is actually the wording in the link itself which passes “meaning” in the link for optimum SEO.
  • Whilst we didn’t actually cover this in the video, it’s possible to add vendor focused adverts into the flow of listings, as applicants can sometimes be vendors in disguise just checking out whether you have properties like theirs for sale, to give them comfort.  See point 14 on this set of vendor marketing ideas for what we mean here.
  • We could add some local area guides into the site and results list pages in particular, if you have enough sub areas and villages to write about and the resource to do so.  Or just add your branch contact details here, to encourage click throughs to branch pages and encourage more phone calls.
  • The shortlisting process is clear enough on the button, but it gives limited feedback that it has worked.  We also found the side bar layout slightly confusing.  There was functionality for saved searches, and recently viewed properties, but it took us a while to work out it was actually doing this.  The functionality is great, it’s just the information layout that needs working on to communicate this clearly.  In the video we give a little demo of how we could spice up the property saving process with an animation, and an exposed wish list, to clearly signpost where your properties are going.

No Grid or Map Views?

We couldn’t find a map or list view of your property results.  This may be deliberate – and to do with Island geography, or privacy perhaps?  If not, there’s a clear opportunity to add in mapping.  Grid views would also work nicely for mobile, if you were to want to try and make the site fully responsive down to mobile devices.   These days it’s possible to do really nice sketch-a-map, (better than the old draw-a-map), if mapping wasn’t left out deliberately, adding this could be a nice touch too.  The video has a demonstration of this on Leaders.co.uk.

 

Property Details Page

This is a nice looking page in general.  You might want to watch the “Perfect Property Details Page” video for some of the points below…

  • Plenty of white space, nice clear, bold style.  So a great foundation.
  • There was an issue with the short description flipping between layout to the RHS of the main image, or dropping down below the main carousel image (depending on screen resolutions).  This could be addressed as part of a general pass to make the site fully responsive, if you wanted to do this.
  • The “Back to search” is nice functionality – but there is also an opportunity to add in “Next” and “Previous property” links, that would contribute to the all important “one more click” effect, which will help your SEO, and indeed help users, by removing the need for them to “pogo stick” up and down between the property results list and property details pages.  See the “Perfect Property Details Page” video linked just above for what we mean here.
  • The page is NOT properly responsive, and in our view this is a must fix.
  • There are a couple of minor, mixs up between the “calls to action” or “things you can do with the property” (eg Tell a Friend and Enquire) with the “more information ABOUT the property” (eg Gallery). It would make sense to group those separately from an information architecture point of view.  Certainly the primary call to action is completely lost in amongst those informational buttons, so at a minimum we would recommend breaking that out on it’s own.
  • You could consider adding in “Staff profiles” and indeed “Exposed contact us” forms – both of these things will increase your conversion rate of enquiries, and encourage longer site journeys.
  • You could bring the phone number into the property details template (at the top RHS would be an obvious opportunity) – our London agent website user testing series highlighted, you CANNOT be too obvious about this.
  • The enquiry form could be exposed on the base page if possible, to get higher conversion

Content pages:

Your content page styling is nice and simple.  Though we think there is an opportunity to simplify it further into a single column layout (better for responsive design if you want to go there), and pull out the promo image to replace the carousel like background images on these pages.

We also think there may be an opportunity to add more content aimed at stronger vendor focused messaging to help you trap more vendors.

The text could then also be made bigger, and greyer to compensate for this simpler layout. These days as monitor resolutions are going up, text fonts should be following that, in order to avoid them becoming small and spindly.  To be clear, yours aren’t too bad, as you have bolded them, but you can always be simpler, and user testing tends to suggest this is nearly always and improvement. 

 

SEO Performance:

Turning to SEO, we can see the outcome of the structural faults we explored earlier showing strongly we believe.

In the video we look at two of the major types of search traffic volume
• “Estate agent in St Helier”, and
• “House for sale in St Helier”

There looks like you might have a PPC traffic and branding opportunity, though it’s always hard to know if an agent is doing this and has just spent the daily budget by the time we look?

In the natural results, sadly you are being beaten by a few other independents: notably Rock Property.  In the video we point out the result of missing title tags, and clean URLs.  If you were to fix the structural issues which are discussed in much more detail in the video, then as a strong, focused local independent, with great property data volumes and strong social signals (hence presumably equally strong domain authority generally), you should be able to rise up and there’s no reason you can’t compete for those top slots.  That would deliver strong commercial value at the margin, and would help you expand your market share.  In our view getting these issues sorted is essential, not optional.

 

I feel the Need, the Need for Speed!

There is a very significant problem with your site speed, which we fear may be impacting your SEO very negatively.  Have a watch of the video, but then have a compare to this speed benchmarking chart for single branch agents here.  In any regard, we would strongly recommend fixing this quickly, as it will be having a real impact on end users, let alone SEO.

 

Strong Social Signals!

Your performance on social media is fantastic.

On Facebook you are super strong.  The page is well dressed, the activity is up to date, and lively / human.  And check out your Twitter account!  It’s also on brand (though with an opportunity to brand the header perhaps), it has life, and it’s brimming with real discussion.  And it’s strong stats and ratios for a one branch agency. You are have double the number of people following you (at the time of writing this) than those who you are following – this is a great ratio (as it shows Google that more people are listening to you, than you are listening to.  So, both these numbers are big, check out our Social benchmarking to see what we mean. This is going to really help your SEO once you fix up the structural impediments you have.

There may be opportunities in Linkedin (especially given your specific market characteristics we suspect), and also on Google+ (for different, SEO reasons).  We haven’t checked your presence on either of these, as there was no link from the site.

Boomerang?

It would be great to see you start using Boomerang, that’s something we could get going with before any site rebuild, and it will certainly help your SEO through boosting your repeat visit ratio, once you fix up the structural impediments (and perhaps even a bit before).

Your Prescription:

gaudin_prescription

  • You have a lovely clean skeleton.  Strong photography, great use of white space.  Fab start point in general.
  • Even better you have some real flair in places… Nice convention breaking, in the layout, especially if you fix the readability issues this bring
  • There are various usability tweaks we would recommend on the search pathway, and an opportunity for mapping (if there wasn’t a specific reason you were excluding it)
  • There are however some big SEO structural flaws which we would strongly recommend fixing. That will bring great ROI, even on a heavily specced rebuild project.
  • And there is a critical speed issue that really need resolving, however you move forward.
  • Your social media is very strong.
  • You have great opportunities to bring staff profiles into the mix / and to add exposed contact forms, plus fix a few layout points on the property details page
  • Finally the other big opportunity is to make the site fully responsive. That’s a bigger commitment, but if you want to do things properly, that’s probably the way to go.

We hope this was useful.