(1) Better usability
Homeflow sites have clearer buttons on the primary actions on each page. They have clearer headings. Nicer white space. Better functionality. Multiple results options. And they have lots of attractively presented but relevant cross links. And these are all things that add up to longer journeys by users, which feed into the “quality” component of the SEO ranking algorithm.
(2) They do all the SEO 101 stuff like a champion
The old school SEO basics like good meta tags, and page titles, clear H1/H2 “title hierarchies”, and good, clean modern HTML still count. It’s true, the average standard of sites has come up in this area, as people have learned the basics. And it’s also true that the importance of this so called “on site” work has diminished. However, we’re still amazed by how many websites make basic errors in these fundamentals. There’s no excuse for not batting these fundamental, “white hat” SEO points out of the park. With a Homeflow site you don’t even have to think about it again. Relax in the knowledge that we get it all properly set up, out of the box for you.
(3) Clean, human readable URLs
Our sites have clean, human readable, URLs. By which we mean things like this:
…rather than something unwieldy, like this (we’ve linked this to external articles on clean URLs btw):
That’s not a nice, URL! You wouldn’t send it to your mum and expect her to understand it. So why do you send it to Google? Google has feelings too! Not many sites get this sorted out cleanly, and it’s a very strong component of SEO in a competitive landscape. We think it’s the next one to tip over to mainstream, like the SEO basics in the earlier point, but right now, few agents get this right. Don’t believe it’s important? Try searching for “estate agent in…” and “house for sale in…” plus your biggest nearby town or city name. Scan down through the URLs of the winning agents. We’ll wager that the majority of them are the bigger, stronger agents with the budget to invest in good site platforms, with nice clean URL structures.
You can learn a bit more about clean, human readable URLs here.
(4) Blazingly fast page speed
It’s not enough to be clean; you’ve got to be blazingly fast too. Humans love websites that serve up their pages quickly, and no doubt you’ve said this yourself: “Ugh, this is a slow site, I’m out of here!” Google loves things that humans love, and tried hard to think like a human. Indeed they’re on record saying that they want a fast web, and have introduced penalties for slow sites. We put an extraordinary amount of effort into building very fast serving websites. Homeflow’s heritage comes from building high scale property search websites for newspaper groups with high traffic load. And when you are trying to optimise for 1000s of concurrent visitors, you need to use techniques like “caching” (pre-preparing web pages, or parts of web pages, so you can serve them instantly in a Blue Peter like “here’s one we prepared earlier” move), content delivery networks (that push the pages and images down the network to a more local server in your local exchange), and we even deploy an ultra fast non-sql database called MongoDB. Few of these speed optimisation techniques are widely used in the agency website market, as most website developers haven’t had to cope with the scale that requires them, and agents never request these capabilities. However, with Homeflow you get them out of the box, which means that your site is faster, much faster, which in turn translates into a better experience for users, and a better performance in Google search results.
(5) Staff profiles
In many of the sites we build, we create staff profile pages. We list staff teams on branch pages, and we can list individual staff against property detail pages too. There are a number of reasons why this improves the performance of your site: it personalises your agency, which is good as people buy from people after all; and it increases the conversion rate to registration or enquiry on property detail pages. But it also encourages just “one more click” out of visitors. In a world where Google is measuring average visitor session length, and pages-per-session, as key signals of “quality”, this makes an uplifting difference to your SEO performance. On top of all that there is a (small) uplift as some people actually search for staff by name, even where not necessarily searching for them in a work context, so this all adds to your visitor sessions, and general brand awareness in your local market.
(6) Branch page optimisation for SEO
We do, of course, create dedicated branch pages within your site. But we optimise these pages for their meta tags, and their local area content. And if you are smart about it, you can use them as base pages to connect up to your Google+ / Google Places pages, which provide easy low-hanging fruit to harvest more SEO traffic.
(7) Flexible Content Management System (CMS)
Google loves a steady flow of fresh, high quality, original, editorial content, almost more than anything else. It sees this as a sign of life, and quality within your domain. Beyond this, your vendors and applicants love well written article content, and Google loves what those users love, so it’s double points if done well. That said, what you don’t want to do is flood your site with generic, externally supplied newsfeeds or content which will be duplicated across many sites, and hence will actually punish your SEO performance. So with all this in mind, what you are going to need is a very simple, easy, and free way to add a few articles, and edit them from time to time…
Our content management system is extremely simple to use: you can add as many articles as you like to your site; it has an easy to use WYSIWYG editor; and you can link articles together, put them in a newsflow or blog, and link them to your branch pages as critical local area content. You can even add local area content onto search results pages themselves, which is a smart and advanced SEO trick, for various reasons. Furthermore, you can edit your navigation at any time. And we’re here to support you on the phone, all included in the base price.
(8) Meta-tag manager
The workhorse pages within an estate agency website, from an SEO perspective, are the homepage, the town-results pages, the content pages, the branch and staff pages, and to a degree, the property detail pages (though for different reasons that you might expect). We enable you to manage the meta-tags across these core pages.
(9) Social media integration
Social media followers, likes, and Twitter activity, is an increasingly important component of SEO performance. Google sees these “social signals” as a sign of life, activity, and quality. Given two agent sites in any given town, with otherwise equal content, and domain authority, Google will use the social strength of your domain to chose which one to rank on top of the other. So you need to be social – that’s a given.
But nearly 70% of agent sites these days have a basic set of badges for their Facebook or Twitter, maybe even their Linkedin and Google+ pages. Great. With a Homeflow site you can go much further. We give you options to actually weave your social media activity right deep within the fabric of your site, and local Twitter handles pull the content onto the branch pages, integrated via API, not iframed onto the site (which won’t give any real benefit). We even integrate the staff’s individual social media profiles (more likely Twitter or Linkedin than Facebook!) right into those vital staff pages (social media is about people after all). The list goes on. Suffice to say, doing social media integration in a meaningful, and hence useful, and SEO boosting fashion, is much more than simply sticking a badge on your homepage with a link out and away from your site.
(10) Faster, smoother email alert systems
As we cover in our Advanced SEO guide, repeat visit ratios are now a factor and signal of quality to Google. If it can detect that users come back and back to your website, then it sees this as a strong signal of “quality”. Our email alert system encourages repeat visits from users very effectively as we run them on a continual cycle and can integrate your property data real-time: this means that as soon as we get a new property matching one of your applicant’s requirements, we can get the email out to them, often hours before they get their Rightmove alert. This results in a stronger than average repeat visit ratio… and that results in better SEO performance than your competitor.
What to do next?
Would you like to explore these points further, and more?
We’ve covered a few basics in summary in this article, but really they’re just the tip of the iceberg. You may want to read more in our basic and advanced guides to SEO. If you’ve read this far, then hopefully you are interested and you care about your SEO performance. We’d love to hear from you. We can give you a quick once over of your existing site on the phone, and we may be able to identify a couple of easy wins for you that are free to fix. So, get in touch now, and we’ll explore whether there is a way we can help you harvest more instructions from the web.