Opinion: Mark Hordern
Law firms and Property Centres need to get behind the SPC Scotland website, to create an effective, credible alternative to national property portals
Here is a brief anecdote from the estate agency coal face. Until recently, Zoopla was largely unheard of in Glasgow. Then, a UK-wide estate agency with multiple offices in the area agreed to list their properties on the site. Visitor numbers and awareness soared. There are some important lessons to be learned.
First, content attracts visitors. There’s nothing revolutionary in that, but given the thousands of homes for sale through solicitors in Scotland, surely that should be working in our favour?
Secondly, visits are driven as much by selling agents as by the website’s own advertising. In the example, the agent displayed the Zoopla logo more prominently than any other, which played a crucial role in encouraging prospective buyers to use Zoopla. Solicitors should understand their power to change the market and perceptions of how best to advertise homes for sale.
Combining those factors, it is easy to see that solicitor estate agents have a potentially compelling proposition. Solicitors sell the great majority of properties in Scotland and have by far the largest network of offices. Yet many feel under pressure to list their stock on portals like Zoopla, Rightmove and S1 Homes.
That is an expensive choice. I met a solicitor estate agent recently bemoaning the fact his firm (with more than one office) was paying £32,000 a year to advertise on Rightmove – and a City forecast that Rightmove charges will increase steeply in the next two years. In addition, providing content to these sites increases their perceived value to users, and using their logo provides valuable marketing for them.
So, how can we – law firms and Solicitors Property Centres – use the advantages of content and local presence to create an effective, credible alternative for sellers and buyers alike, that would free your firm from the pressure to list on expensive portals? It will take both acting together.
First, a broad consensus is forming among most (if not all) SPCs that an essential part of the solution must be an effective Scottish national website for solicitor-marketed properties. We respect the views of those that disagree, but there is sufficient backing to make this a realistic possibility. The foundations already exist. SPC Scotland – a forum for SPCs to share ideas and co-operate on specific projects – already publishes a property website, sspc.co.uk Until recently, this was largely a shop window. Over the last few weeks, however, site changes and the addition of content by SPCs have made the site a genuinely valuable tool for buyers. Today, the site advertises around 14,000 homes at any one time – with more to come. A mobile version was launched last autumn.
Visitor numbers in January were up more than 40% on last year. “Pay per click” advertising and search engine optimisation will grow numbers further, supported by a PR campaign to include three key reports on the property market: the first, collating sales and pricing information from SPCs; the second, sampling public confidence in the market; the third, collating SPC members’ views on market conditions and trends. Please take part if you are asked – sample size matters.
The site needs the active support of solicitor estate agents. They have the power to raise awareness of, and confidence in, the SPC Scotland site just by incorporating information into their marketing. SPC Scotland window cards, posters and leaflets are also available from most SPCs.
Every firm promoting the SPC Scotland site will use the same logo, web address and information. The cumulative effect on the national consciousness is potentially very significant. This does not mean sspc.co.uk will supplant existing SPC websites, or that members should stop promoting their local SPC – quite the reverse. SPC Scotland will operate in addition to the advertising by each SPC, enabling solicitor estate agents to offer both a regional and Scottish national advertising package to clients.
For that reason, marketing of the SPC site will focus on the national picture. Media reports will give the national picture, and online marketing will focus principally on national search terms and the major property portals.
We, the contributing and funding SPCs, recognise that this is not a quick fix. It will take time to build awareness of the site, and visitor numbers. But, for the first time, there is a concerted effort to make this work. The site attracted almost 250,000 unique visitors last year and that should rise substantially. Nevertheless, success depends as much on the actions of individual member firms as on technical development of the site.
We urge every SPC member to add information about the site to marketing literature and make your clients aware of it. We know from experience that your contribution is crucial to success.
Mark Hordern is chief executive of Glasgow Solicitors Property Centre
For a reply to last month’s Opinion article by Campbell Read, see Stephen Gold’s article on p36