In the second of our examinations into the property market’s digital data trail, it’s surprising to see quite how quickly a COVID-19 world has become normalised.
We originally saw a stark difference in digital performance pivoting around March 16th, with significant reductions in many key metrics after that date. By using that same date as a starting point for this week’s examination and then offering comparisons between the back half of March and the first part of April, we can see a slowing of the decline and in some instances a new lower plateau.
To be clear, there’s no reversion to the norm here. However, although reasons to be optimistic are few, there are definitely some to be found, and they are very welcome. Indeed, it’s tempting and reasonable to conclude that for many qualitative and quantitative metrics we have already passed the nadir.
Taking a wider view, many of the figures are still negative. March 30th-12th April (compared to March 16th – 29th) saw an overall period on period decrease of -24% in total sessions and -38% in all monitored conversions. For many, that period was one of acclimatisation following lockdown being announced on 23rd March, followed by the government advising against moving house on 27th. However focussing on more recent data we can uncover a slightly more positive image.
- The seven days up to and including 14th April saw a 6% increase in web sessions over the previous week, a 15% rise in goals and a 20% increase in high intent goal completions (for appointment bookings/ viewings).
- We suspected during the run up to the bank holiday weekend that the nation already being in lockdown would mitigate the small adverse impact that Easter usually has on web metrics. In practice however both traffic and conversions improved over the Easter period. Over Easter last year sessions dropped by 11% on average, while goal completions dropped by 21%. This year saw sessions up by 8% over the four days from Good Friday to Easter Monday and goal completions up 6%.
- Average time on site and pages per session metrics also point towards some renewed quality in the audiences visiting developer websites – indeed, we’ve seen marginally better results for those than in the first week of March.
April in focus…
Looking solely at activity from the 1st of April, we can see a relatively flat situation and even a gentle upwards trend.
This upwards movement is even more pronounced when only the higher-quality conversion points are considered. A very low base is clearly playing its part here, nevertheless the trajectory is both clear and encouraging.
Changes in channel usage
Although it reflects a shift in media investment strategy as much as a change in consumer habits, there are still some worthwhile conclusions to be drawn from an examination of each channel’s provision of web traffic.
This chart looks at the period 30th March- April 12th, as compared with the previous period and shows the share of sessions by channel over that period as well as the swing in this share fortnight on fortnight. We can see that paid search remains a key driver of traffic and is up over the previous fortnight. Paid social has dropped share, as has third-party email and display activity, all three of which are seeing less investment from many advertisers. Perhaps the most encouraging indicator is the nascent uptick in share from organic, direct and ECRM sources. Combined with the concomitant improvement in qualitative metrics (time on site and pages per session), there’s a clear indication here of a core of interested consumers with high in-market intent.
Data from Google also shows a strong residual interest in the UK property market. The chart below tracks indexed search volume over the last twelve months. The downturn through late March is clear, however we can also see an upturn through the early part of April and the most recent figures are actually 14% up on the same period last year.
Increased use of the internet generally will be playing its part here, however it’s also easy to imagine that the lockdown and a surfeit of time spent indoors may be driving increased interest in moving home. This captive audience cannot offer much in the way of commitment at this stage, but their interest is clear.
With Facebook having a less transparent understanding of interest and relevance than Google can offer, there are no clear indicators of intent to be gleaned here.
Instead, the most interesting metrics are the trading costs currently available across Facebook and Instagram. In both costs per click and costs per thousand, the impact of COVID-19 on paid social has been deflationary; a trend which was visible in our previous report and which has continued into April. Driving this will be a decrease in demand from many advertisers coupled to an increased supply, as we all have more time to spend with our screens.
Care has been taken herein to avoid using the term “green shoots”. The available indicators do not yet suggest that we are returning to anything remotely similar to the status quo ante. We can infer however that much of the pain has already been taken, at least with regards digital performance. Reassurance can be gleaned from evidence of continued interest from the UK’s property consumers, many of whom may already be pre-qualified, well-informed and apparently not to be deterred by the COVID shutdown. Ongoing communication with these people through the lockdown will be vital; they will be first through the show home doors when they’re open once more and will be the first reservations taken in the post-lockdown period.
As we continue to monitor the available data within our New Homes Index, the major signifier of a returning market will come from further up the funnel, from prospecting activity that seeks to pull new people into market or to secure the attention of those who are currently “just browsing”. This would include traffic from non-branded search (both organic and paid), improved conversion rates from prospecting paid social activity, or increased summary views from the portals.
Once it’s clear that new entrants to the market are emerging, the overlaying of demographic and lifestage data might then inform messaging that addresses the needs of a widening range of discrete markets, whether that’s new divorcees, those who have re-discovered a hatred for DIY, or a first-time buyer market reinvigorated by renewed government support of Help to Buy.
It’s clear that such upper-funnel prospects are rare currently, but their arrival into our index would offer significant reassurance that the end is in sight and that we might hope to trade our way through whatever downturn awaits us on the other side.
Insights Team, Space & Time