Julian Marks visits the Site Doctor

A strong, bold and modern independent estate agent drops into the Surgery for a little health check...

What’s in the video?

This video is the second in our Site Doctor series, where we help agents dig deep into the health of their website. We explore what’s great, but also identify some areas where there are opportunities for improvement. In this consultation, the Doc is examines a single branch patient.

Julian Marks (www.julianmarks.co.uk) are strong in their local market.  They have a clean powerful brand, a nice clean, bold website and a strikingly modern image in their market area. In sum, 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.

The Doctors Orders…

Design Impact / Homepage

There are lots of positives about this site.  Let’s start with the very strong branding across the top of the site… it’s great, and it packs a really powerful punch. It’s a bit of a shame to have the phone number and Twitter icon (which aren’t informationally related to one another) distracting the eye, and interfering with that cleanliness.  And it’s probably possible to get the Twitter icon into the menu bar somewhere, and clean up the phone number presentation keeping that in the header somehow, but that’s a minor point.

The main site navigation is strong, clear, and straight to the point. Nobody is going to get lost with this, so that’s solid.

Carousel

The carousel is a little odd. The rollover comments are great. But the next and previous slides peeking in from the side, don’t (in our opinion at least) work somehow. They’re a bit distracting, especially when the style of the photos don’t quite group together as a set. The carousel is also quite “noisy” in the way it slides (most people will find this too fast, abrupt and interrupting).  Indeed in a recent exercise we did filming a series of users doing extensive UX testing of a series of estate agent websites, one of the consistent themes which emerged was the way users don’t like carousels that rotate and slide quickly.  These big sliders have become commonplace these days, and they aren’t necessarily great usability. We would propose a user-demanded slide in (which would work well with your summary thumbnails in the bottom of the carousel), or perhaps a fade between slides, on a much slower basis.

Property Search

Much like your main navigation, your property search block is strong and bold across centre stage. Nobody is going to miss it. There’s something a little odd in the spacing to the left of words “Property Search” – but that’s being very picky with design excellence – no harm in getting it really polished though. There’s an opportunity to make this a little cleaner, less busy, etc. Perhaps full width on a subtle grey background (which would open up other opportunities – see later).

Response for Mobile

Probably the biggest point for the site is that it isn’t responsive. This is very important and a great opportunity, though it’s probably one of the most expensive things to address, and you have a separate dedicated mobile site (one of ours!) so you are at least covering your mobile strategy in the near term removing any urgency to fix this.

Opportunity for Implied Search

There are some nice clear, consistent, and “in-style”, calls to action on that row of property boxes.  Actually, whilst we don’t mention it in the video, this would be a great place to use Implied Search to make sure you are populating those properties with ones that suit the user. This helps you “act like a chameleon” with vendors, if they have a 600k house to sell, you can show them your 500-800k stock, whereas if they have a £90k flat, you can show them similar properties too, based on their site browsing behaviour. Advanced stuff, but it helps you mirror them so they feel at home with you, you become “their kind of agent”.

Bottom of the page is strong again – especially that parallax effect

The video then mentions a nice use of testimonials – however on reviewing the recording, we note this isn’t a testimonial.  This point that demonstrates is how little attention (including the Doc) pay to sites!  We would suggest considering making the font bigger, the paragraph less wording, and making it a user testimonial that varies randomly each time the page loads.

Then as you get to the bottom of the site you have that wonderful parallax (or peak-through) type effect. That’s great. And it strongly sets your brand apart, and makes you thoroughly “local”, nice.  If we’re being super picky, there’s not quite enough photo for the full screen scroll down, but that’s just a detail.

The portal links are just that, links!  No need for that, as it just leaks traffic, and passes them SEO benefit, so you would probably want to trim the links out.  Personally we’d grey scale the logos too, it will just drop them back a bit add a touch of class, calmness, brand unity. The back to top button is fine. Unnecessary, but a nice soft scroll.  It’s also nice in the way it mirrors the Twitter logo at the top too.

Contact Us page:

There is an opportunity to make the map full width. You could also style the map these days, to marry it into your brand. And there’s also an opportunity to add the team onto this page, to create one more click.

Property Search Pathway / Important SEO Points

  • The first thing we notice looking at the search is that you could add auto-suggest to the location field. That would help users latch onto search areas more easily.
  • Then the most important thing we notice, is the URL structures on results pages. They are not clean URLs, and fixing that point would release a huge commercial opportunity for you.
  • Next up, you have two further serious illnesses which will be impacting your SEO health. (This is good news, as it means there are clear places to get additional instructions and widen your patch this year). They are the top level heading (“H1”) page titles (not incorporating the location names) – though at least these are in H1 tags, which is good.  Worse, there’s no location name in the meta page title, that’s a very important thing to fix too.  You can see the impact of this on search results pages later in the video.  These are essential fixes in our opinion.
  • The text on the top of the results lists, is super small. Most users won’t be able to read this easily. You could make this grey, and larger, to make it smooth. You could also combine some of the text, eg the results count could be incorporated into a “38 houses for sale in Plymstock” combined header, that would simplify and clean up the page, reduce visual elements, and improve SEO all at the same time!
  • The “sort by” function is nice. Users like this, as we discovered in our user testing series on property search.
  • The calls to action on the property details are perfectly nice. Though we have deviated from the site standard (blue going white, instead of green going white) – not a big deal, but if you want perfection…
  • Likewise, once we get to this page, arguably it isn’t property search – it’s more “refine your search”, but again, hardly a show stopper.
  • The scanability of the prices (users running their eyes down the list) would be easier if the prices were left aligned, not competing with the blue calls to action below them, but again, not critical.
  • We think there is an opportunity to do larger photos – that’s definitely a trend these days. Have a look at Seymours or Bond Oxborough Phillips for example.
  • There’s also an opportunity to add in “Infinite Scroll” – have a look at that on the Bond Oxborough Phillips site too.
  • The saved property details are lovely. Nice feedback. However, it’s not obvious where the shortlisted properties are. We couldn’t find them! When we did find them, we found a little opportunity to have properties dissolve with a nice effect, and we found a little buglette with the menus highlighting both For Sale and To Rent, hardly a terminal illness.
  • We’d love to see the short description text a little larger, as is the modern way.  And you have an opportunity to simplify the calls to action on the list.

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…  However, in general the page is great.

  • The carousel is nice and simple. It also has a LOVELY soft scroll effect, when you click on thumbnails if you are partly off the page.  Nice polish!
  • The back to search results link is nice. Though there is an opportunity not mentioned in the video here, 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.
  • You have a nice pop out photo viewer / lightbox.  You could make the back and forward arrows permanently exposed, to help less confident users understand what is going on. And indeed you could make the photos larger, or even full screen?
  • You have a shift in your template from the summary view of a property, down into the streetview / floorplans etc. detail views.  This would be nice to tighten up.
  • The full details are too long for an average user. You could do with hiding much of this in a slide out drawer with a little “read more link”. There’s also a little buglette with UTF character encoding in your property descriptions.
  • You could then use the space you save to add 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 (yes, it’s in the header).  But as our user testing series highlighted, you CANNOT be too obvious about this.
  • You mix up the “calls to action” or “things you can do with the property” with the “more information ABOUT the property”. It would make sense to group those separately from an information architecture point of view.

Content pages:

In general these pages are nice and simple, straight up. That’s exactly what people want, they just want the content, not any fussy design to pick through.  There are nonetheless a couple of opportunities to further simplify the pages – stripping back some of the green key lines.  The text could also be bigger, and greyer to compensate. These days as monitor resolutions are going up, text fonts should be following that, in order to avoid them becoming small and spindly.

Where’s the Mapping?!

We remember your site having mapping in it when you first launched, so we wonder if the decision to remove it, and not rebuild any form of mapping was concious?  Users like map based searching, and there’s a nice opportunity to integrate beautiful, big full screen mapping, with a nice innovative draw-a-map feature (which we demonstrate in the video).

Oh, wow, look at guys, you’re social and three quarters!

Wow. Check out your Twitter account! It’s on brand, it has life and soul in the conversation. And it’s off the chart for a one branch agency. You are have 2730 following you (at the time of writing this) vs 2710 who you are following. 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.

SEO Performance:

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

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

The first little opportunity here is to buy a little PPC traffic and branding.  You can see the corporates, and the online agents taking a lead on this front.

In the natural results, sadly you are fighting two very capable businesses:  Fulfords, a big corporate, who have a very strong, solid, clean technical platform foundation. And Bradleys, who we are delighted to see scoring a DOUBLE result, given they are using the Homeflow SEO platform for their site ;-) Lovely. Then in the video we point out the result of those missing title tags, discussed earlier. That said, if you were to fix the structural issues discussed in this video, then as a strong, focused local independent, 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 patch into new areas too.

Finally it’s great to see you are using Boomerang already, that’s going to help your SEO through boosting your repeat visit ratio, once you fix up the structural impediments.

Your Prescription:

julianmarks_prescription

  • You have a strong, bold very pretty site. It’s a great skeleton to work from. Solid.
  • There is scope to modernise some of the working guts of the site. Lightening things, making things more full width. Enlarging fonts, simplifying visual elements, etc.
  • You have great opportunities to bring staff profiles into the mix.
  • There are some big SEO structural flaws which we would strongly recommend fixing. That will bring great ROI, even on a heavily specced rebuild project.
  • There’s an opportunity to bring mapping back into the mix (unless there is a conscious reason not to do so). And there are a series of small usability gotchas that would be nice to fix up whilst you were at it.
  • And of course the bigger 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.