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How to create Property Alerts within WordPress

By February 19, 2019 No Comments

And why there must be a better way

 

I have a number of case studies here on WPbees but today Im going to write about something a little different. Today Im going to tackle the subject of how Estate Agents (Realtors) can  create (new) Property Alerts within WordPress, why they should offer their customer’s this feature, the WordPress Plugins that you can use to create Property Alerts, how Property Alerts can be easily created within MailChimp, how I do Property Alerts on a client site, and (finally) why I think there must be a better way.

What are Property Alerts and why are they a fantastic marketing tool?

Property Alerts are a way to inform customers of new property listings that have been added to your site.

When a new property is added to your WordPress site, any customers who have opted in to your mailings can be sent an email containing the details of the new property along with a call to action to get in touch/find out more.

From a customer’s point of view they are given the benefit of not having to constantly refresh the website hoping to find new properties that they may be interested in. They already live in their inbox so only when a new property is available are they notified of it’s particulars.

From a Estate Agent’s perspective they do not have to spend more marketing money trying to recapture a past customer (Im defining a customer here as someone who found the Estate Agent’s website and searched for properties but was unable to find exactly what they wanted at that time). Customers are continually notified of new properties, keeping them coming back to the website for more information. The cost of this continued outreach is minimal.

At it’s most basic, a Property Alert is simply an email that is sent to a customer when there is a new property that may be of interest to them. It keeps customers engaged with the site and gives Estate Agent’s another chance to convert a customer into a serious lead.

A basic Property Alert

If this is literally all you wanted to do, then a plugin like Subscribe2 (https://wordpress.org/plugins/subscribe2/) could probably handle the “heavy lifting”, sending out automated emails to all subscribers when new properties where added to your site.

The advantage of this solution is it’s simplicity and speed of setup. Literally with a few clicks you could have some semblance of a Property Alert system in place. But this simplicity is also it’s biggest weakness, because this “Property Alert System” would assume that all customers are just looking for “property” and not “property that matches their unique needs and circumstance”.

Subscribe2 and WordPress plugins like it, are sending out blanket notifications when a property (any property) is added to the site. If, for example, a customer was looking for a 3 bed house in Liverpool, they’d be notified regardless of whether you added a Studio Apartment in Birkenhead, a 5 bed detached house in Chester or a lovely 3 bed terraced just outside Liverpool city centre.

I.e. too much noise, not enough signal.

So they next rung up the ladder would be to use basic customer segmentation to ensure that notifications were only sent to people who had indicated their preference in the type of properties that wanted to be told about, and for this we could lean on an email newsletter provider such as MailChimp.

Advanced Property Alerts – Customer Segmentation with MailChimp

MailChimp allows for email campaigns to be created and sent to a portion (or segment) of an email list dependant on certain set criteria.

For example, if we had a list of all customer’s who had opted in to receive Property Alerts, MailChimp could send alerts only to those who had joined the email list within the past seven days, or who had opened and clicked a link within the previous Property Alert email.

Those are useful criteria, but they don’t really help our customer looking for a 3 bedroom house in Liverpool.

So we need to do more. Specifically, we need to setup some custom (merge) fields within MailChimp to record data about the customer inanition to their name and email address.

If, for every customer, we could capture not only their basic contact details but also the number of bedrooms they require, the type of property they would ideally need and even the location in which they wish to live, then suddenly we would have some useful data we could use to segment our list and send highly targeted notifications.

See how to add Merge fields to your MailChimp list here: https://mailchimp.com/help/manage-list-and-signup-form-fields/

A word of caution

As ever, the devil is in the details. If we were to blindly segment the list based on house type for example, it could mean that customers searching for terraced house properties where not made aware of semi-detached houses available within their area, an obvious flaw given that there’s likely to be some overlap. But with a little creativity you could easily create Property Alerts that could target house-hunters without sending emails to customer’s looking for flats or apartments.

The power of the segmentation is not always in what data you have, but also what data you can exclude. Again, taking an example of number of bedrooms, customer’s looking for 3 bedroom properties probably would not want to be made aware of 1 and 2 bedrooms properties in their chosen area, but if you had a batch of 4 bedroom properties to list, customer’s looking for properties with at least 3 bedrooms would surely be grateful of the notification.

Capturing the data

To capture the additional information from customer’s on your site is relatively easy.

Option 1> If in doubt, ask

Using the embeddable form from MailChimp or a plugin like MailChimp for WordPress (https://en-gb.wordpress.org/plugins/mailchimp-for-wp/), you can insert a subscription form onto your site and show fields for the additional information you wish to collect. Be it number of beds, property type, location or anything else, really.

Option 2> Collect data from a recent search

If showing the “Property Alerts” subscription form on a search results page, then there’s a good chance the customer will have previously entered their ideal home criteria. If this information is being passed via the URL then it’s easy to grab

/search/?beds=3&location=Liverpool&property_type=house

$beds = $_GET[’beds’]

Alternatively if the search criteria has already been passed into the WP_Query which is, in turn, showing the property search results, then you should be able to pull out what you need from that and then echo the values back into the empty fields within the MailChimp form.

Whether you decide to show this to your customer or not is up to you. A rule of thumb: shorter forms always convert more. So you could opt to hide the additional fields and “fill in the blanks” without the customer being made aware. So long as the information is being collected and can be assumed to be accurate, that’s all that really matters to you, and if you can do the heavy lifting for your customer by pre-filling the fields with relevant information, that will make their lives easier.

Obligatory GDPR notice. Capturing data to hep better identify your customer and target them with marketing material will definitely fall under GDPR guidelines. Make it clear in your Privacy Policy that you may capture this information and use it within marketing emails. Always give customer’s a way to unsubscribe from marketing emails. Treat their details with respect. Practice finding the information you keep on a given customer and pasting it into a document or spreadsheet; Something that can be easily sent to a customer should they request it. Finally, don’t be a nit.

Option 3> Collect data from a category

Similarly, if your Property Alerts form is being shown on a category (taxonomy archive) page then the details for precisely what “category” of property your customer is already viewing will be right their within the page object.

<?php
$queried_object = get_queried_object();
var_dump( $queried_object );
?>

So once again, you can ask your customer for just their basic contact details whilst simultaneously collecting information about their search criteria which you can use to provide a better Property Alert notification down the line.

MailChimp for Property Alerts

With a little elbow grease and the use of some free tools, we can create a Property Alert system that can collect and store additional information from the customer which can then be used to send segmented (and therefore more highly relevant) notifications to them.

Which sounds great, but what happens when you want to start sending notifications at scale? Manually completing the above process will work perfectly well but it’ll take some time to do. So how can we automate this process to free up the resource within an already busy marketing and sales team?

By asking both WordPress and MailChimp to do more, thats how!

Automated Property Alerts with MailChimp & WordPress

MailChimp has a natty little service called the RSS-to-email campaign. This feature will watch an RSS feed looking for updates and, at a time of your choice, will email a digest of all new posts through to your email list (or a segment of the list).

If you’re not sure what an RSS feed is … RSS stands for Really Simple Syndication. Back in the early days of the blog, there needed to be an easy way for websites to talk to one another and share details of the most recently published posts. RSS was born. Comprising of some simple machine readable tags, information is shared simply and without the cruft that comes with a “full website view” so that all third party websites can understand the information and then interpret this data in whatever way they please.

For example, here’s the feed for the MovingSoon website: https://movingsoon.co.uk/feed/

WordPress being one of the first blogging platforms comes with an RSS feed out of the box, and with a little effort a feed of the most recent properties added to your site can be generated automatically, fed into MailChimp and then have MailChimp deliver the Property Alerts notification digest to your email subscribers.

Let’s take that a step at time shall we?

First, we need WordPress to give us a feed not of news posts, but of Properties.

In the case of MovingSoon, we’re storing properties within their own Post Type called “property”

So let’s update the feed URL to ask for just properties:

https://movingsoon.co.uk/feed/?post_type=property

Now we can setup an Rss-to-email campaign https://mailchimp.com/features/rss-to-email/ to monitor this feed for new properties and create a weekly “new property” digest.

When creating the campaign, we can chose to send to a segment of the full list, thereby delivering more relevant results. https://mailchimp.com/help/create-and-send-to-a-segment/

Taking it a step further with custom RSS feeds

The information provided within the default RSS feed is all well and good, but if you wanted the email to grab the attention of your customer’s then maybe you’d like to give a bit more information about each property other than it’s name. Maybe you’d like to include an image of the property, or it’s price, or the number of bedrooms it has, or some other feature that your website holds on the property but which cannot be accessed through the simple RSS feed.

For MovingSoon we’ve setup a custom RSS feed https://codex.wordpress.org/Customizing_Feeds which not only delivers property information (such as that listed above), but also wraps this info in a nice HTML table so that when the property’s details are dropped into MailChimp, it looks nice in the customer’s email client – and not like a long, unstructured bullet list of information.

But that’s not all. We’ve customised the feed further to allow us to get very specific on the properties returned. Want a list of 5 bedroom properties? No problem. Need a feed of Shared Ownership properties in Manchester. Done!

Property features (or filters) can be passed in via the customised RSS feed URL and update property results returned.

But this necessary step to give the customer the most accurate Property Alert also highlights a problem with the automation at scale of these Alerts.

A banana (spanner) in the works.

MailChimp won’t allow for the property feed URLs to use the information held on each customer within the subscriber list.

For example, If I know that John wants to receive alerts about 3 bedroom properties in Liverpool, I can’t access those two requirements whilst checking the RSS feed.

https://movingsoon.co.uk/feed/?post_type=property&beds={MERGE:beds}&location={MERGE:location}

Im forced to check the feed URL as initially setup for the given campaign. Which means that Im forced to setup dozens of RSS-to-email campaigns and use segmentation to send the relevant Property Alert email(s) to customers.

Whereas if I could create a small handful of Property Alerts which would combine both the property RSS feed with specific details from each user dynamically then I could send truly bespoke Property Alert emails to each customer with minimal fuss; almost set it and forget it.

A better way? The future of Property Alerts

And it’s this problem that I think could be solved. Not with a system that relies on MailChimp, but by a bespoke system setup to help estate agents create and manage property alerts for their WordPress websites. A way to easily add Property Alerts to a website and have these return only the most highly relevant results to a customer on a regular basis.

It’s this system that Im currently building.

If you would like to offer property alerts to your customers please pop your details into the form below and I’ll send you progress updates and further information on how we could help you lower your marketing cots and retain more customers.

If you would like to offer property alerts to your customers please pop your details into the form below and I’ll send you progress updates and further information on how we could help you lower your marketing cots and retain more customers.