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All the rightmoves

publication date: Jul 28, 2010
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Miles ShipsideIf you Google your company, how many results do you get? Everything is relative, of course, but if you were to Google ‘Rightmove’ you would receive over two million results. If you Google your own name, how many results do you get? In my case, not very many that were anything to do with me, (the top one was a Hairdressers in Eccles) but if you Google Miles Shipside – well it’s a bit more impressive; 42,800 results, not a hairdresser in sight.

Rightmove is consistently number one in the ComScore portal charts and in practically every other method of monitoring traffic. It is the word most spoken when you ask anyone where they would look to find a new home and its Commercial Director, Miles Shipside is probably one of the best known people in residential property in the UK, owing much to his career with Rightmove.

So is he, perhaps, a little self-satisfied, sitting in a plush office, enjoying life?

Well, no, he isn’t. “Rightmove has become the number one portal, well ahead of all the others, because it’s good, of course, but also because it’s the way internet searches work for any subject, one name inevitably gets known more and more.

“But it’s dangerous to relax. This is a tough market, so we’re putting more and more resource into keeping Rightmove as the first choice, undertaking more and more research so that we can feed back the information to our agents, giving them value. It’s taken a while to get agents to recognise that after, what, a 100 years of newspaper advertising, most people wanting to move are now searching on the internet... and it’s less expensive for agents.”

Miles, with two colleagues, has recently completed another round of agent seminars, held around the country, to discuss how Rightmove works for them where they might be able to make more use of it, what they find good, bad, or indifferent. Fifty seminars with around 100 agents at each, its a major commitment and one that is free for agents – even the bacon butty is included. My son’s first teacher told him that “if you talk to people, they become your friends” and after last year’s boat-rocking increases in agents’ costs to list on its portal, it may be that Rightmove needed to get out there and speak to people, but Miles sees it as a very positive, useful opportunity for interaction. “Eighty-two per cent of property portal pages viewed are Rightmove pages. 75 per cent of landlords say they research on the property portals to see who’s selling what. If we can help the agents make sure they look as attractive as possible on the internet, then we look better too.”

rightmoveThe aim of the seminars is to encourage agents to see just how much they can get out of Rightmove’s resources. “Our big message is don’t just upload properties and forget about them – constantly update them, improve the presentation, keep them fresh… and use the data on Rightmoveplus.”

Q Rightmoveplus is a huge information resource but is it what the agents really need? Is it frustrating that all agents don’t use all this information that you have gathered?
“In a buoyant market agents may feel there’s less need for using detailed data to ‘persuade’ clients to instruct them, but in a tougher market we’ve found they are really adopting consistent use of Rightmoveplus. We have nearly all the agents in the UK, so we need a competitive edge somewhere – those who do use good data are going to be better informed and should be more successful – if they all used Rightmoveplus I guess there’d be no competitive edge!”

Q But is data what the agents are really looking for – aren’t the leads more important than the data?
A “Yes, indeed, at the seminars we talk about leads – the numbers generated, the quality of the leads etc, but it’s also down to what the agent does with them. You can all answer the phone – the competitive edge comes with the quality of response. We discuss the good responses – and the not so good.
“Our system offers telephone answering data – if the agents use it, it tells them the number of calls received, the time they took to answer, the busiest times. It can also record calls if the agent chooses, allowing them to hear precisely how staff respond and… err… feed back to them.”

Q So, with all the talking and meeting and making friends, do you think Rightmove is unassailable?
A “We’re not resting on our laurels, we have the best traffic but we have to constantly work on more improvements, more info, more data, better service. We have teams of business analysts and techies to drive our offering further; which all takes a huge amount of money. In our ten years we have spent £100 million; that makes it hard for new portals to compete, once you’re entrenched it’s harder for others to come in.”

Q The recent sale of shares by Ed Williams caused a bit of a stir, (1.14 million shares when the rules were changing on capital gains). What signal does that disposal give out about his confidence in Rightmove?
A “Ed isn’t going anywhere, he’s still here in the office, still working as hard as ever, he’s not on a beach in Barbados. No changes afoot.”

Q Is Google a major threat, as many believe it to be?
“Google isn’t setting out to compete, they don’t give the detail, the back-up, the service. People think that home sellers will go directly onto Google, reducing the agents’ market but it doesn’t appear to be part of the UK culture to sell their own homes – it’s more popular in other countries where agency fees are much higher.
“But then again, agents have to be aware of the quality of their offering – if your service is good, your data is good, your presentation is good, they will succeed, it isn’t that hard. If they don’t… then yes they are under threat.”

Q What about niche portals, can they build a sufficient base to be able to dent your armour in, say lettings? A “The niche portals, if they only deal with a small section of the market, they have to have their name known just as well; but they can only earn money from a small section – it’s difficult to earn enough. We didn’t start off with lettings – it only came a couple of years later, but Rightmove Lettings would still be the largest if it was a standalone portal.”
And free portals?
“It’s very hard to market a product without any income, I can’t see how they can survive.”

Q What else should agents be doing? Reducing fees?
“In our research we have found that people look at the agency; its presentation, its success, the type of properties they sell. Fees are actually quite low down the list, but one thing is that we have found is that agents operating without a high street branch are trying harder in many cases to make their marketing and promotion work.”

Q If you believe that image is everything, how mad should agents go with smartening up the office? The costs seem to be enormous don’t they?
“With a high street branch, overheads can be really high, footfall is decreasing, you have to be sure of your reasons for spending large sums. In a busy suburb, where there’s the café culture, the delicatessen, the community feel, places like Putney and Chiswick – the look is part of the marketing statement and it’s important. But you have to look at what is important on your patch – a high street branch isn’t always necessary, whereas being local and knowing your market is vital. One agency I know in Wales has a very smart branch on a very busy intersection – people don’t come in that much because its difficult to get to but they get the response on the phone and online – the shop acts as a huge billboard.”

Q Technology is taking over from face-to-face, so aren’t iPhone and iPad apps where it’s at now?
“It’s still a small percentage of our traffic but 750,000 Rightmove iPhone apps have now been downloaded and on iPad Rightmove was the number one download for the first three weeks. “Interestingly, agents are saying that they are starting to use iPads in the home when they visit new sellers – handing them the iPad to show them exactly what their property will look like online, so much better than a paper presentation or a cumbersome laptop.”

Q But their image has to be as smart as the iPad doesn’t it?
“Once again, it’s most important that the branding and the property look good. Agents can do additional, beautiful adverts on the portal, with high quality photos, really show off the quality of their service offering. We couldn’t do this before, because so much extra stuff on the site would make it difficult for people to access the photos but now everyone’s got more powerful computers, better screens, so the agents can make themselves stand out.
“More people are using mobile communications so the agents have to keep up. Usage at the weekend online is diminishing as people go around looking for properties and getting the information on their mobiles. The location finder on portal apps finds where you are and tells you all about the property – you can see inside the house you are standing outside of, instantly, on your mobile phone!”

Q What’s next in line?
“Well we have a new mapping tool for the property search, so that you can actually draw the area that you want to search in – it’s all very well looking in postcode or town but the area of choice is often not just that – you can outline the precise area you like and miss the bits you don’t. You draw the parameters, dot to dot; it will be good, but only three per cent of our searchers search on a map; people still like a list of properties with pictures in the area that they want.
You know, it’s difficult, when you have over 90 per cent of the market, the map gets very crowded!”
Ah, just a teeny little bit of self-satisfaction after all!