Property search advice for Commercial Agents
11 October, 2011 | Web design
We are now into our fifth and final week identifying the common mistakes that chartered surveyors and commercial agents need to avoid with their company website. This week it’s probably the most important piece of functionality that your website provides the commercial property client, the property search tool.
As you are in the property game, your commercial property search function really should be second to none. The lion-share of traffic to your website will want to look at property. Whether commercial tenants, vendors, landlords, developers, investors and whether they want to acquire, dispose, rate, rent or buy, they are most likely to click on your property search function first.
“I Don’t Think We Need One!”
You would be surprised, perhaps even alarmed how many commercial property agents don’t believe that they need a property search tool on their website. Or if they do, they believe that it is ok to bury their commercial property search tool one or two clicks away from their home page.
The property search is not purely for the benefit of commercial tenants and investors looking to acquire commercial property. The property search also works as shorthand for all your potential and existing clients, enabling them to judge your company’s area of expertise.
We have talked about the importance of ‘tangibles” for an “intangible” service like commercial property, your property listings can serve as one of these ‘tangibles’. Nothing says A1 expertise more than a healthy list of prime location retail units or says big-city-mover and shaker than a pile of prestigious office developments.
Why Re-invent the wheel?
Commercial agents websites that have search functions that really work, mimic or ape the search functions of leading property portals like Righmove, Estates Gazzette or Showcase. The majority of the market has become accustomed to these, trying to re-educate them into using your own idiosyncratic Property Search will only annoy and detract from the user experience.
It’s that shorthand again. Featured Properties on the Home Page are a quick, visual example of your company’s knowledge and expertise. Three is the magic number, giving you enough to cover the different areas of your business i.e. retail, industrial and office, but not too many that it will dominate and confuse your home page.
Featured Properties also have huge SEO benefit to your website, contributing to that “relevant and constantly changing content” that Google and other search engines crave.
Search That Works For You
Most website designers specialising in the commercial property sector will have the knowledge and expertise to be able to provide your business with a Property Search tool that is specific to the commercial sector.
This is where it really pays to select a designer with a solid understanding of the property sector as they will be able to advise you on current user behaviour and will be able to customize search fields relevant to your business.
Search Fields - The Basics
Make it easy for your audience and enable them to get exactly what they want. Great search tools should, as a minimum, allow a fast search by town or postcode. Ideally the search box should facilitate predictive text delivering a far more user friendly and elegant experience to the user.
In addition the commercial client needs to be able to search by property type, price and whether a commercial listing is for purchase or lease.
Search Fields – More Detailed
The best search tools will enable the client to carry out more detailed searches. A good designer will be able to customise the tool to offer search filters like:
- Property type/usage
- Price range per sqm
- Annual rent
- Length of listing
- Max/min space
Presenting the Results
So the client has filled in their desired criteria and hit search, how are their results presented to them? The minimum requirement is in list form, with a small picture, clear summary and a standard layout across all the results. This will deliver an adequate user experience.
Enhanced functionality will enable the client to select results either in list form or even plotted upon a map. Map based results are great for a commercial client looking to see where a retail unit is in relation to other shops or how far an office development is from local amenities.
But look closely, not all designers use dynamic mapping that features the elements that we have all become accustomed to on Google maps like zooming, satellite/hybrid views and manual panning. You should also be able to customise the map via your CMS (Content Management Systems).
Don’t Open New Windows!!!!
We covered this last week, but it’s important to reiterate how idiotic a practice it is to open new browser windows when presenting property information.
It is sad that in this day and age there are still lazy designers that commit these crimes. Only last week I came across a website design company claiming to provide a specialist service to the property sector doing just this. Opening property details directed the user away from the chartered surveyors website to the website of their management software provider. Clicking on floorplans opened another browser window and took the client to the Metropix website. A third click on the map and yet another window for Google maps.
The client now has four windows open, they are confused and the chartered surveyor has delivered all the SEO value to the management software company, Metropix and Google!
Maps, pictures, property details, floor plans etc should all be presented seamlessly within the environment of your website and ideally within the page of the selected property.
All The Top Gadgets
Finally, make sure you use everything possible to enhance the presentation of each commercial property listing. Your company website should be able to support all of the following:
- PDF Brochure – Downloadable and branded
- Map view
All of the above should be easily updated and customised via your CMS.
Our hope is that you’ve found the past five weeks useful and informative. We are going to continue to look at some other areas of technology and marketing for the commercial property market in the coming weeks.
Judging by the responses that I have received from surveyors and agents, many of you have found these insights beneficial. Of course if you have missed any previous weeks or wish to refer back, you can access all five articles on the Resource Techniques website.
And of course, if you have any specific questions, please feel free to email me at firstname.lastname@example.org and I will endeavour to answer as many of your questions as I can.
Philip Burrows, Marketing Consultant