| Web design



Over the next few weeks, I’m going to look at some of the innocent, misguided and plain ridiculous mistakes that Chartered Surveyors and Commercial Property Agents make in their websites.

In a sector where reputation and professionalism are everything it is astounding how many commercial property practices happily project the opposite through their website. Worrying when you consider that almost all prospective clients will visit your website at some point as part of their decision making process.

Though poor online presentation and branding is by far the most common blunder made within commercial property websites, there are other crimes that even the most marketing savvy commercial agents can make online. Hopefully over the next few weeks, you’ll be more informed of these online faux pas.

This week we’ll look at Photography.

The Power of the Picture

A wise old stick once said (or sang) that a picture is worth a thousand words. This is certainly the case with websites. A picture can achieve that powerful emotional connection with a client. Huge assumptions can be made before a single word is even read.

A Lack of Visual Identity

Your company’s websites is a visual medium and a canvas that has the capacity to be visually engaging. Yet many commercial property websites either lack photography or feature imagery that is far too small.

Pictures are a powerful tool to establish a tangible presence; they stimulate an emotional reaction much quicker than words can. A picture can provide effective shorthand to communicate a corporate position, ideology and specialism, even convey your company’s unique personality.

What’s the Relevance?

So good photography can establish a sense of place and purpose? Why then do so many chartered surveyors and commercial agents insist on using images on their website that bear little relevance to their business?

If you have never acted for British Land, why feature one of their buildings on your website? If you specialise in retail property in Swindon, what is the creative rational of plonking a picture of Chatsworth House in the snow (however lovely), on your home page?

I recently saw a website of a Bath based chartered surveyor that, despite clearly specialising in rating and rent review consultancy in and around Bath, featured images of high-rise office space on the Euston Road in London. What is the strategic thinking behind that?

Your websites photographic assets should reflect your company’s work, market position and client offering. There should also be a clear relationship to any supporting copy. Handling the disposal of high-end office space in WC1 may be an aspiration of our friends in Bath, but it holds no relevance to their target market.

Feel The Quality

A poor picture can do your image more damage than good. A good quality picture is about composition and image clarity. Unless you attained a degree in fine art or design from St Martin’s, its best to take a good designers advice on what makes for good composition.

Regarding clarity it’s important to have the highest resolution images possible for the web. But be careful, if the file size is too big it will slow down your websites load speeds. If this happens, visitors will become bored and navigate away from your website. Your designer will know the optimum size.

It’s worth investing in good quality shots from a specialist library or photographer.

The Mugshot

Perhaps the area for greatest ‘unintentional’ humour on a commercial agents website is to be found within the pages entitled “About Us”, “Company Profile” or “Meet the Team”.

The dreaded employee photograph can simply destroy an agent’s credibility. Yet the commercial property sector seems to love a bit of portraiture. Its always amused me how commercial agents with the most unprofessional, out-date and poorly constructed websites are happy to put their faces on said site and therefore be associated with these carbuncles.

Anyway, its not that you’re not a particularly photogenic lot (but one or two less client lunches wouldn’t go a miss chaps) or that you lack a level of sartorial elegance (though many seem to have been styled by John Major), it’s just that the quality of picture is so very bad.

At best, we have the nerdy “school” photo style, with company directors sat, stiffly in front of one of those ‘grey’ backgrounds, all in exactly the same pose. I always think these pictures are ripe for a little Gilliam style animation.

Then there’s the FD who convinces the rest of the board that because his wife brought him a new DSLR for Christmas, he’s now Rankin! The results are curiously angled shots, with bad lighting that successfully turn intelligent Chartered Surveyors into gormless lumps.

And then we have the Chartered Surveyor website with five pictures of the partners taken professionally at Image Studios in town (you know, above Natwest). Well I say five, the fifth is actually a “Happy Snap” of Terry, taken 6 months ago after you decided to make him a partner because he threatened to leave and take your biggest client with him.

If you can’t do the pictures properly or maintain a consistent style then don’t try. It will do you more damage. A great website will in itself create a positive image within the clients mind. Don’t let your mug shot spoil it.

In conclusion

So great website photography can:

  • Communicate what makes you different from all the other commercial agents quicker than words
  • Convey your area of expertise, professionalism and knowledge
  • Help convince a visitor that they should stay on your website
  • Establish a positive perception of your business within three seconds

Philip Burrows, Marketing Consultant