Brock Taylor visits the Site Doctor

What’s in the video?

This is the third video in our Site Doctor series, in which we help agents dig into the health of their website.  We explore what’s great, but also identify areas with opportunities for improvement.

In this consultation, the Doc has been asked to examine a patient who is pregnant with a new website in build.  So, it’s not the live website (www.brocktaylor.co.uk) we are examining here, but a build project half way through gestation (ok, we’re stretching the analogy, granted).  Brock Taylor are strong in their local market, and not afraid of a bit of innovation or convention breaking.  They have sent us the production testing URL, and also a PDF of some design files for further developments of the website which haven’t been built yet.  They have a powerful modern brand, and strikingly good photography and content around 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.  Enjoy the video:

The Doctors Orders…

Design Impact / Homepage

There are lots of positives about this site.  The site has great imagery, a strong colour palette, lovely use of white space, a nice “pop effect” on the logo, very clear navigation etc.  So the baby is off to a very healthy start in life.  With a design like this the site will thrive or struggle based on the quality of photography, and Brock Taylor do not disappoint on this front.  They also set a lovely design language through the “on-black-title-bars” over the carousel images, which is then developed throughout the content areas of the site.  Lovely.

The main site navigation is strong, clear, and straight to the point.  Nobody is going to get lost on this site, which is good.  That said, there’s something odd in the vertical alignment of the menu in the header relative to the Book Valuation button and Facebook / Twitter logos, and in our view, the logo is just a bit big, only 5%-10% say, and hence it feels a little cramped in it’s space without sufficient surrounding white space to “breath”.  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 it front and centre given you are one branch).  We could also get a strict right hand side alignment of the three elements on the RHS of the header.  And obviously we need to spell Vendor correctly.  Each of these are minor, and some might argue picky, points, however we believe that when you get all the little details right, the whole design starts to sing in a calmer, but also stronger, design symphony.

The styling of the site falls a little from this strong, consistent start, as you move down into the search boxes, and promo boxes down in the guts of the site.  For example the name of the agency is weak in comparison to other design elements.  We could reduce the wording (user testing we’ve conducted recently, confirms people really don’t care enough to read much about you, so if you want the message to have a chance of hitting home, cut it in half).  There’s also a little keyline left in the design at this level, which you could arguably lop out for more cleanliness.  The next point we see are some inconsistencies in the various font styles of all the titles, (have a look in the video).  Lots of these details will add to the general consistency if they are fixed.  More of that in a minute…

Carousel

The carousel presentation is super strong.  And it’s great to see one of these designs which isn’t sliding and flashing, with annoying messages.  As built here, it is classy, and calm.  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.  That said, the photo is HUGE.  Whilst these big full width carousels have become commonplace these days, they aren’t necessarily great usability; again our user testing showed that a proportion of users never manage to make their way “over” the big photo and on down to scroll deeper into the site.  This is staggering at one level, but important to cater for these less advanced users and not ignore their plight.

The call to action itself isn’t clickable.  And it isn’t clear what one would actually be going to get if you did click on “Bringing properties closer to you”?  It would be good to understand what the intention was here, as there may be a plan behind this message?  If not, this could used for a strong vendor focused message to help you trap more vendors.

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

As you get to the bottom of the site you have that wonderful parallax (or peak-through) type effect. That’s great. And it sets your brand apart strongly, and makes you thoroughly “local, approachable and independent”, which is nice.  It also shows off the design quality and consistency going through into the branch as well.  If we’re being super picky, then it’s a  shame the parallax stops on a nice clear view of the air-conditioning system when at full scroll, but that’s just a detail and easy to fix.

The very bottom of the footer has a couple of gotchas…  There is a kind of double up arrow system going on with the footer.  Very few users, if any, will bother to open this.  Unless perhaps looking for a phone number.  We would propose you just rip it out and simplify.  Once you have simplified down, there is an opportunity to mirror the off-white coloured bar of the header.  This is more obvious when down inside the site, as we discuss in the video.

If it is designed as a way to hide the SEO links you have put in the footer, then we would observe two things: (1)  These kind of “SEO footer links” are now actively damaging for SEO – read more about this principle here and, (2) in any regard, the value of links if in a hidden draw is, we suspect, heavily discounted in SEO terms anyway, perhaps even negatively correlated, as Google suspects you were “doing it for SEO reasons”, see point (1).  The back to top button is fine. Unnecessary, but a nice soft scroll.

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.

Opportunity for Implied Search

Whilst we don’t mention it in the video, it would be a great to use Implied Search to make sure you are populating sets of “similar properties” with ones that suit the user – perhaps even in place of some of the content on your homepage. 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”.

Property Search Pathway

Lots of ideas here:

  • Much like your main navigation, your property search block is strong and bold across centre stage. Even though it might be missed by some people, being “below the fold”, we believe that most people will find it, especially as it is referenced in the main navigation.   However, the calls to action on the search form are inconsistently styled (the main action is on the left hand side, which breaks convention) and the “Or search by” wording is bigger and bolder than the main actions.  Those buttons could be buttonised just slightly (keeping that lovely, modern flat design) to make the fairly obvious, really obvious.
  • There is no auto-suggest (predictive search locations) – this would be good to add.  Though arguably in a one town business with 135 properties on your books you could go without locations on the first page, and only have them in the refine view.  If you did this, you would need to add in some example links (counter to our SEO advice earlier), though there are some nicer ways to do this.  One for discussion.
  • The results list page is great.  Fast, clean, open.  Slightly convention breaking (with the 5 photos) which is a nice touch.
  • The title line could have larger font (it’s too small for most people to read easily).  The wording is in caps, and teeny, yet the icons are strong and almost brutal, these could be brought into balance.  The “tilting” icons are a nice touch, so we could add that onto the icons on the property listings themselves, and we could add the green roll-over colouring to those too.  The roll over green is nice, but isn’t used completely consistently (see video for demo).  The pagination controls ar fine (though there is an opportunity for infinite scroll), though they are a little diminutive in the design presentation, given how key this functionality.  If we’re being picky, then the “order-by” drop down styling means the drop down arrow doesn’t obviously “belong to” the sort order element, which won’t help usability.
  • It would be nice usability (and would add consistency to “psychologically train the user” in the intended pathway right down through the site) to add a strong call to action (rounded bright green button) saying “See more” to the list results.
  • There’s an opportunity to make the price clickable, so people “don’t have to think” they can just click any of the items.  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.
  • The right hand side column could be renamed “Refine your search” as that’s actually what it is.  There are a few little design details that could be tightened on the refine form itself, and the double call to action is a little confusing.
  • 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 no feedback that it has worked.  We suspect that is just a bug in the build process that isn’t finished  yet?  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.

Gorgeous Grid View

The thumbnail or grid view is truly original.  It breaks convention, and it’s the first time we’ve seen this mechanism.  Lovely.  Nice and playful too.  Nonetheless, we could tighten it up a bit.  It could be made more responsive.  It could be given little side “gutters” to the right and left hand sides, for total design polish.  Also, if we lost the horizontal keyline, which references the normal “full tramline width” of the site, but would instead offer a more natural use of the full screen.  This page might work nicely with infinite scroll, though you could add a lot of debug time and cost trying to mix this infinite scroll or lazy loading with the funky expanding panel mechanism you have created.  See the demonstration of the Bond Oxborough Phillips site in the video for this.

Also there’s a teeny gotcha in the pagination when you get onto page 7 or whatever, as soon as you have previous as well as next the line wraps awkwardly.

Marvellous Map View

Likewise your map page is gorgeous.  In the video we speculate as to what you are using, and whether this is mapbox.  Upon some of our engineering team looking more closely, we’ve discovered that this is just native Google Maps CSS.  Nice work.  In any case, this is a lovely touch and one that you could definitely build on.  Certainly you would want the styling to be consistent with other maps on the site (on properties, and on the contact us page for example) – easy enough once you sort the first one.

The property type filters on the map view are an example of something that is too fussy for most users.  Having them makes the experience worse for most users, and only a little bit better for some users.  We recommend just ripping them out, and letting the raw power of the map view sing.  You only have 150 odd properties in total, and you could handle that on one map if you wanted to.

You are doing Draw-a-Map pretty nicely here (you get the main point that it is useful if hidden off in an annexe).  These days it’s possible to actually do full on sketch-a-map, and we would recommend doing it properly whilst you are at it.  It’s so close to perfect, you may as well go all the way.  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…  However, in general the page is great.

  • Plenty of white space, nice clear, bold style.  So a great foundation.
  • The “Back to search” is nice functionality – it would be nice to make this a bit bigger (though consistent with the list page, clearly)
  • 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 display address is nice, and bold, though is NOT a consistent style with the rest of the site, which we would argue needs sorting through.
  • 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!  That said the arrows are a “bit brutal”, and the right hand arrow seems to sit off the photo which is odd?
  • The page is NOT properly responsive, and in our view this is a must fix.
  • The icons under the carousel are also a “bit brutal” in comparison to the rest of the design – you may like the style, and that’s fine.  It’s certainly perfectly obvious what is going on.
  • That said, you mix up the “calls to action” or “things you can do with the property” (eg Send to Friend and Request viewing) with the “more information ABOUT the property”. It would make sense to group those separately from an information architecture point of view.  Certainly these are completely lost in amongst those informational icons.
  • 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”.
  • 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.
  • The enquiry form (which should be exposed on the base page see above) could do with a consistent green button style – as per the main search pathway

The Side Bar?

  • Your side bar seems to be the same site wide – which we presume is just not finished?
  • On the property details page, we think this should be branch contact details, perhaps staff profiles to increase conversion rate, phone numbers to call, things you can “do to the property” eg save it, enquire, etc.

Content pages:

You have two content page styles presented.  The ones in the staging site build, and the “new designs” in the PDF which we look through later in the video.  These pages could all do with being kept nice and simple, and straight up.  Indeed we would recommend simplifying them.   That’s exactly what people want, they just want the content, not any fussy design to pick through.  This is especially true if you want the site to be made responsive, then complicated design layout will really take its toll on you.

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.  And, as earlier, there are a few inconsistencies between title styles in the content areas, and other structural pages on the site.

Contact Us page:

  • There is an opportunity to make the map the same style as the other map you have on property results.
  • And there’s also an opportunity to add the team onto this page, to create one more click.
  • Also, we would strongly recommend removing exposed email addresses from the site, to eliminate spam, and keep users channeled into your CRM system, your user profile system, get them database logged so you can market to them later, etc.

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 Horsham”, and
• “Houses for sale in Horsham”

It’s great to see you taking the opportunity buy a little PPC traffic and branding.

In the natural results, sadly you are being beaten by two other independents:  Courtney Green and Woodlands.  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, 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 surrounding areas too.  In our view getting these issues sorted is essential, not optional.

Get Social Baby!

Wow. Look at you guys go on Social.

On Facebook you are strong (though the site links to the wrong FB page).  And check out your Twitter account! It’s on brand, it has life, and it’s brimming with real discussion.  And it’s off the chart for a one branch agency. You are have 2000 following you (at the time of writing this) vs 825 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, despite the fact you have a pretty active listen on the market).  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.

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).

The Second Iteration on Designs

We strongly recommend simplifying the search form back to where you were in the original design.  That form had some usability gotchas, but the new one (as we explain in the video), has even more complexity.  Users simply don’t care about you that much.  With only 150 properties to search from, you could get away with price bound only search.  You certainly don’t need schools, transport etc.  It’s just fuss, which users will try to avoid (they want to make their own mind up on location).  You also want vendors seeing everything you’ve got, you want them to feel safe in the thought you have lots of other houses at their price point, any complexity on the search form will likely just hide this.  This second design for the search bar also conflates the valuation form in with the search form.  This is another usability stumbling block.  They’re different things, so keep them separate, to avoid confusion.  As it is presented in the second design many users (who just don’t care about you as much as we all wish that they did) will struggle to work out which of the 6 buttons to press.  Do NOT overestimate the intelligence of an average web user.

The content areas have become magazine like.  They have a lovely style, but they’re going to be really difficult to add to or maintain.  And they’ll be nearly impossible to make work in a responsive environment.  See earlier.

Oh, and we love the traffic cone.  Lovely.  Horsham on a Friday night, eh?

Your Prescription:

brock-taylor_prescription

  • Lovely clean skeleton.  Elegant.  Strong photography, great use of white space.  Fab start point in general.
  • Even better you have some real flair in places… Nice parallax, and touches of convention breaking, eg results grid – (which is really original and a nice touch)
  • You have some nice graphical styles, though this starts to fall apart a bit as you go deeper, especially in titling consistency throughout the site
  • 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
  • There’s an opportunity to make the side-bar vary depending on the area of the site, to support each section with secondary actions
  • And 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.
  • 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.

 

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