Over the past couple of weeks we have been overwhelmed with the amount of bad press that the Spanish property market has been getting in the UK. Many appreciated last week’s article showing that all is not that bad down here, in fact, for many it’s actually very good. We even had a popular current affairs TV program asking us if we could help them find these “distressed” sellers to create even more bad publicity…I don’t think so, thanks Trev…..
But watching the forums this week has been quite interesting as there have been several people posting their experiences whilst searching for a property in Spain, combined with online research. This got me thinking about the rather overwhelming and sometimes “mysterious” online side of the Spanish property market which no-one seems to focus on, particularly the fascinating impression that small companies can portray online. How do you know who to trust in the virtual world of Spanish property? Everything is not always what it seems....
A little bit about me
I have been doing business online now for over 3 years. In that time I have set up many websites although Eye on Span has had the most attention from me as, apart from the fact that I live in Span, the online property world absolutely fascinates me.
Since we begun Eye on Spain, nearly 3 years ago now, I became obsessed with ranking the website well in Google. A good ranking in Google can drive huge amounts of traffic to a website. Traffic = Money. It’s a simple formula, the more people that visit your website the more money you make. But here’s where it gets REALLY interesting…
Today around 6,000 people will visit the Eye on Spain website. Of those, around 4,000 will be new visitors who will have made their way to the site via Google. And how much did it cost me to get those 4,000 new people to my site? NOTHING. Yep, nothing. Zero, zilch….you get the idea.
OK, so I have worked really hard to set the website up to grow and generate more and more traffic to it, but to be honest, it’s not difficult. I’m a mechanical engineer by profession and I always approach my websites as my next engineering project so some may say that I am already technically minded, but I have friends who generate even more traffic to their websites than I do and they are not engineers, many are estate agents! See where I’m going with this?
I sometimes feel that the Internet is one big illusion. Not so long ago if you wanted to generate business you used to have to spend thousands and thousands on media advertising, TV advertising, direct mail, exhibitions, etc. Obviously many companies still do this, but the ones that get the most business this way are generally those with pots of money. They need high levels of sales to pay for all that advertising!
But not online. It’s a different story. You cannot pay Google to be in the number 1 position for a given search term. Yes, you can advertise on Google but this can be very expensive (how rich is Google?) and doesn’t yield anywhere near the level of traffic generated by ranking at the top of their organic search results.
So online, the small fish CAN compete with the big fish for business. In fact, online a small company can give the impression of actually being a lot bigger than you think. Would you believe it if I told you that some high ranking Spanish property websites are actually run out of people’s bedrooms!? To be honest, that was us not so long ago, but who would have believed it??
Let’s turn the clock back…
When we launched Eye on Spain in July 2004 it was a very different website. We launched it as a paid service whereby people would pay us an annual fee for monthly photos showing the progress of their off plan development. We “only” charged 99 Euros per year which we thought was very reasonable for this piece of mind service.
What a great idea! Or so we thought and that’s what people told us too. All the Spain magazines did an editorial about our service, even Sir Alan Sugar thought it was great and we were even the main focus on his business page in the Daily Mirror. So much publicity, but was it any good? No. In fact it was all pointless. Despite our efforts the service never really took off and we had to end it and reimburse people their fees.
We even had a stall at the Viva España exhibition that year….a waste of money too.
So what had we done wrong when we, as had everyone else thought, were on to a winner? I think the three main reasons were:
- People perceive anything online as being free. People use the Internet in search of information and they expect to get it for free.
- Not enough visitors to the website.
- Lack of trust. Why should people give us money when we were just a website new on the scene? How did they know we would actually deliver what we promised?
With over 3 years experience I can now see how we could have overcome the obstacle of charging people for the service (sorry, can’t give away this bit of priceless information!).
All the publicity and advertising that we paid for was pointless. We realised later that ranking well in Google would leave every other advertising method eating its dust.
But at the end of the day the trust factor was the real killer.
So who can you trust online?
I have a confession to make. We have a “useful resources” page on the website which was a page I created a while back when we were exchanging links with other websites. I was reviewing that page yesterday and was shocked to find that most of the websites I was linking to didn’t even exist any more. Shame on me.
It made me realise how many Spanish property websites, and agents, have vanished in just the past two years. The amazing thing is that several of these websites used to rank really highly in Google and whoever had those sites will have sold a lot of properties. Where are these people now?
Times have changed and those that don’t adapt fade into the distance….fast. Searching for Spanish property online now brings up some very different results to even just 12 months ago. Can you trust these sites?
It’s about applying common sense. Is there a physical address on the website, not a postal address? Does it display a proper phone number and not just a mobile? Are there pictures of the agents on their “about us” page? Do they respond efficiently to your emails and phone calls?
Those are just some of the things to look out for. You’re going to be handing over a lot of money to an agent, surely you want to know as much about them as possible? Why do most websites leave so much unsaid? Mystery isn't always a good thing!
We’re in the era known as “Web 2.0” now. It’s where online businesses need to be more than just a website. Searching for Spanish property brings up thousands of property websites all looking the same and offering the same. I’ve yet to see one that truly encompasses what Web 2.0 is all about.
Why aren’t agents making more use of video on their websites for example, showing different areas, developments, etc? There’s so much more technology available today and online searchers are more savvy than ever.
A good friend of mine used to sell millions of Euros worth of property out of a spare room in his villa just 3 years ago, all done through his website and Google. These days things are much tougher but he is adapting his websites to the needs of the new buyer. He may not make as much as he used to but he’s still there, unlike many others.
Agents please take note, a list of properties on your website is no longer enough these days. Buyers expect so much more and relish a true “online experience”. Take the mystery out of your online presence and reveal all to everyone.