As you may know, my talks are usually interactive. At the PPP national event in June 2019, I included a paper-throwing activity during my website sessions, where each group could ask me questions. As promised, here are the answers there was no time to share on the day.
Does anyone have a website that is making them any money?
Do people find that they actually SELL rooms through the website?
Why bother (ROI time/design)?
When I asked the first two questions in the live sessions, one person in each group said yes, they have sold a room directly from their website. Each group was around 30-40 people. In the first group, about half of them had a website. In the second group, only about six of them did. That’s not scientifically rigorous, but I reckon that means about one-third of attendees had a website. Of those, roughly one in ten had made money from it.
If your rooms are always full thanks to Spareroom, you don’t need a website.
If you think you might be losing prospective tenants because they can’t check you out online, perhaps you do need an online place where you can demonstrate your credibility.
If you want to combine with other local franchise partners to share a website, you can support each other by sharing tenants and suppliers as well as a marketing presence.
What is the most common mistake people make when building a website?
Top 3 errors people make
We looked at lots of errors during the live sessions.
The main one is writing from the point of view of the company, not the reader. That is, using I, us, we and our (what I call top-down language) rather than using you and your (bottom-up language).
If the site is not mobile-friendly (also known as ‘responsive’), it won’t appear when searched on a mobile device.
Finally, if the URL (web address) doesn’t start with https (with a closed padlock), it will show as ‘insecure’ (with an open padlock). That means you should ask your web host for an SSL certificate. They are (usually) free.
Where do I start?
How do you go about starting a website?
Who to go to set up?
Can you recommend a website building programme?
How to design a website/business logo?
Given that lots of PPP attendees seemingly don’t currently have a website, there were lots of questions about where to begin.
You need various things which you may get from one supplier or several suppliers:
On the techie side:
• Domain name (also known as URL or web address)
• Web hosting (that’s a little corner of the internet where your website will live)
• Email hosting (10 email addresses are usually included when you buy a domain name)
On the creative side, you may need:
• Logo design (to develop a brand identity)
• Copywriting (to ensure the content is compelling)
• Web design (making it look pretty)
• Web development (writing the code)
• SEO specialist (if you want to be found on search)
Note that over 30% of the world’s top 10 million websites are created using WordPress.
It’s a CMS platform — that stands for Content Management System and means you can do your own updates.
Confusingly, there are two versions of WordPress. Both are free.
The basic version is WordPress.com. With this option, you don’t need any techie knowledge. You simply choose a theme you like (‘theme’ is the WordPress word for template), and add your own text and images to whichever pages you want to include. By default, it also includes a blog (which you can turn off if you don’t want to use it).
The site will be hosted at Wordpress.com. They do all the updates and backups for you.
It’s quick and easy, and you don’t have to go on a course to learn how to use it.
The downside is that you have a limited choice of themes, and you can’t access the code to change colours and fonts or add metatags for SEO.
The all-singing, all-dancing alternative is WordPress.org. In this case, you (or your web designer/developer) will download the software. You can choose from an almost unlimited range of themes (some free, some paid), or have bespoke code written for you. You can add plugins which are little bits of code to make your site function however you want (some are free, some paid, and – because they are written by third parties – some plugins ‘clash’ with others and won’t work properly).
As you might have guessed by now, you need a bit more techie knowledge for Wordpress.org. What’s more, you are responsible for doing your own updates and backups. As the world’s most popular web platform, WordPress is commonly hacked, so you do need to keep on top of these things.
In both cases, you may wish to buy domain mapping from WordPress which costs 17USD per year. If you don’t, the web address will be firstname.lastname@example.org. If you do, your web address can be whatever you choose and no-one need know that WordPress is your provider.
When choosing a web host, try to find one in the same timezone so you can phone them immediately if there are any problems. You want one that can prove good uptime. Over 99% ideally. And you want them to have security measures in place in case of hacking.
Would you recommend getting professionals to complete your website rather than DIY?
How much should you spend on a website? Setup and maintenance
What is the approx cost of having a website built and rough timescale? (Appreciate huge variations) Also, how much to maintain?
How much should we pay for website design?
You have a choice of spending money for someone else to do it, or spending time and doing it yourself. You have to make a judgement about whether it’s worth it for the likely return.
As for cost, you can do it yourself for nothing. If you pay professionals, the price could be anything from £500 to £10,000 or more, depending on what you want. A typical price for a bespoke site is around £2,500.
I’ve used 34SP, Siteground and Claranet to host my Wordpress.org website. It costs me £7.95 per month including the SLL certificate.
The theme I chose cost me a one-off payment of around £50. All the plugins I added are free. I also paid a WordPress expert around £200 to fix some coding issues for me.
I buy all my domain names from 123-reg.co.uk and forward them to the main site. Domain names cost around £10 per year.
I do my own maintenance but know people who charge from £30 per month and upwards to ensure the site isn’t broken.
Some web agencies include maintenance as standard.
As for timescale, I usually write copy within two weeks. Design can take another three weeks, and development at least two or three weeks after that. The turnaround time depends on how quickly you make amendments. A simple site should be live within a couple of months, or even days. A complex site with lots of sign-off procedures will take longer.
How do you do the analytics?
You can add Google Analytics to any site for nothing. Just login to your Google account and get the analytics code (it looks something like this: UA-12345678). Give it to your designer or paste into your chosen Analytics plugin.
When you login to Analytics, you’ll find more information than you could possibly need.
The most useful information is:
- What did people search to find you?
- Which page did they land on first?
- How long did they stay? (Did they ‘bounce’ away immediately?)
- What page did they look at last? (Did their site visit convert into a lead?)
- Is your social media activity driving traffic?
Use the data to inform your decisions about which pages are generating leads for you, and which you might need to change.
Do we need TrustPilot or equivalent to verify reviews/testimonials?
People are cynical about good reviews, but they still work better than anything you say yourself.
To make them seem more authentic, you can use something like TrustPilot. But there are other ways to achieve this. For example, you can (with permission) use real names, photos and videos, or embed individual tweets.
What’s the best layout?
How many pages or is scrolling better?
% text to image per page
Best font size?
The ‘best’ layout is anything that’s simple enough for people to get the key message in under three seconds. So it needs to be clear.
To be compliant with the Equality Act, it needs high contrast between the text and the background (for screen readers). That probably means black or dark grey text on white.
If your site is more likely to be viewed on a desktop or laptop, you can have several pages. If it’s more likely to be viewed on a tablet or smartphone (which I’d guess is the case with the demographic of your tenants), then scrolling is fine.
The internet is very visual, and pictures will help ‘sell’ your properties as much, if not more than, the words. Ideally – as mentioned in the sessions I ran at the PPP national event – you’ll have a video tour, video interviews or a video slideshow. Those are the easiest way for people to judge your rooms.
The current trend is for screen fonts to be bigger than print fonts (because they are usually being viewed on a small screen). It’s much bigger than you might expect. Maybe even 16pt with 48pt main headings and 24pt sub-headings.
Because it’s harder to read on screen than in print, you need as much white space as possible. That means short paragraphs, short sentences, short words, lots of sub-headings for easy navigation, and bullet points (as long as they are benefit-led).
There are cultural variations, but you’ll find a lot of useful information about colour psychology on Wikipedia. You’d have to test which colours work best for your own brand.
How do you get to the top of search?
How do you get to the top of the search?
Keywords, and use on your website?
How do you become search engine optimised?
SEO stands for Search Engine Optimisation. It’s what you have to do to be found on the natural search results (also called organic, or free listings) without paying for Google ads.
No-one can guarantee you will appear at the top of the rankings – so don’t believe them if they say they can.
Google changes its algorithm all the time, and there are loads of things you need to do.
First, you need to know what people actually search.
Then you need to understand how competitive each phrase is, so you can work out how likely it is that your site will appear on page 1.
You can try UberSuggest.com for keyword research, or log into Google Adwords and use their keyword planner (without taking an ad).
Unless this work really appeals to you, I would probably outsource it to an SEO professional.
To inspire keyword-rich blog post titles, you can use a tool such as AnswerThePublic.com. This shows you questions people have actually typed into Google or Bing. Search them yourself to check out the existing results, then (if it seems sensible) put up a landing page to answer them. Be aware those people are likely to be searching for information, not to rent a room. So it’s a soft-sell profile-building and relationship-building approach, not a direct hard-sell.
Best website name for getting traffic?
If you’ve done the keyword research and identified a phrase that your target market searches, then buy that URL, if possible.
A long-tail keyphrase is best, rather than a single word. That means it’s more specific, the people who are searching it really want it, and you have a better chance of claiming it before your competitors.
For example, it will probably be hard to be top of the rankings for a search of Property in Bedford or even Property for Rent in Bedford. It might be easier to be found for Houseshares in Bedford – but you need to do the research to see how many people search that and how competitive it is as a phrase.
It IS possible, but any independent website will struggle to beat the likes of Spareroom, RightMove and Gumtree to the top of the rankings.
Should the website be personal or corporate?
Given that you are in a very personal business, I think your website should express maximum personality.
Show pictures of the people in your team, include a brief biography that covers your hobbies and interests as well as your professional background as a landlord, and add any professional networks and associations you belong to. Maybe mention other people that tenants will meet, such as the cleaners and gardeners.
This will help make it a less remote experience for prospective tenants (and their parents).
What is the content of the first page?
Unlike many people, I don’t think your home page should be about you. That information can appear in the About section. I think your home page should be about your target audience, so they know they have landed in the right place.
For PPP landlords, that might be something like this:
Are you a professional looking for a houseshare in [Town]?
Where is the H1 section?
I talked about the H1 heading on each page being one of the things Google uses to decide which page to serve up when someone does a search (there are many more).
Whatever you type as your main heading will automatically be tagged H1. You don’t have to do anything special to make this happen.
In WordPress, it’s called the page title or Permalink (you can edit the permalink separately to the title if you want).
Remember, for human beings, your heading/s should also answer What’s In It For Me from their point of view.
If you use Wordpress.org to build your website, you can add a plugin such as AllInOneSEO or Yoast. These allow you to access the metatags and edit the title and description tags. For more on this, please see my blog posts: