Online marketing is–in comparison to the business of selling real estate–a relatively new thing. Just 10 years ago, it was not an important part of any agent’s marketing for many reasons. Now, with a majority of North Americans having access to high-speed broadband Internet, online marketing is one of the most important parts of any agents marketing; after all, with more than 80% of all residential home sales beginning online, if you can’t make it work for you, you are missing out on 80% of the business.
What is SEO?
Please think of the Internet as a giant filing cabinet and think of each page on a website as a conventional manila file in alphabetical order. Currently, more than eleven billion pages of websites are indexed by search engines. That means that when a shopper types in what she wants to see, the search engine must find the proper file and show it as a choice in a fraction of a second. This can’t happen without proper SEO (search engine optimization), because even a computer has trouble indexing 11 billion different files; as the search engine goes to the “location” file and parses down to whatever is being searched for (homes, condos, real estate, real estate agent, etc.), wherever it is, there will be at least 500 real estate agents in the mix. SEO affects which 10 agents are shown first, and so on, with the goal of putting your site on that first page, where the prospect can choose it. You can see the problem: not only is the Internet one large filing cabinet, just getting to the right location in .3 seconds is a chancy thing—especially if your ‘file’ is misfiled. That’s the function of SEO: to put your site in the proper file where it can be found every time under what you sell—in as many different descriptions of what you sell as possible.
Non-agents are making it harder for agents to get onto that first page
These days, large corporations and portals are trying to elbow individual agents off those first pages. The biggest offenders are lead aggregators, who try to have anyone searching for a home anywhere end up at their central site so they can sell that name to their customers—sell it (in many cases) multiple times. These lead aggregators never brand to you, they brand only their own brand. They all have spent huge amounts getting their aggregator on as many different searches as they can—although they have no offices there. (Please note that proper organic search can still outperform the big entities, enabling an agent to be found on 500 or more search terms on the first pages. While that is a good thing for every agent, it is also a clear indicator that in years to come, getting found will continue to get harder and it will become–even more—the province of professionals).
The consumer, however, usually does not want to talk to a faceless corporation so in most cases, they skip those corporate sites and look for a local individual agent to work with, instead. They’ll click on those agents’ sites and if they like what greets them, maybe they’ll stick around. Of course, without SEO, those agents won’t be able to be found on that first page.
Just being on that page is not going to sell houses; more is needed today
Five years ago, if an agent could just get to that first page, success would follow. Today, it’s not enough. These days, it’s all about conversion—from random visitor into lead. Most individual websites do a poor job at converting visitors into leads partially because most websites are simply software templates designed by big software marketers. They sell the same page over and over again in the form of a website subscription and they can’t worry about optimization; standardization is their big concern and that is at odds with customization, which is needed to make the site “stickier,” i.e., to make people stay there and sign in.
Custom sites, on the other hand, have a whole separate set of issues as custom Web builders tend to be more expert in “pretty” than in “effective” and many of them will not “desecrate” their designs in order to implement things vital to success online, like lead capture. Online marketing is not about “pretty.” Forget trying to win that “most beautiful website” award. Try to convert 5% of your unique visitors to sign-ins, instead.
If you don’t have visitors you can’t convert them to sign-ins and without proper SEO, you probably won’t have enough visitors to matter. Even if you do have proper SEO you might not get enough visitors in some cases. You must have a minimum level of traffic; the better and more effective your site is, the less visitors you need and vice-versa. To the extent that your site is more effective, you can do with less traffic—when your site is effective you may find that even 100 visitors monthly produces a steady stream of good leads. Success in online marketing only begins when people register on your site—voluntarily—because they really do want more information.
SEO is getting more complicated and so is succeeding at online marketing
Google, Yahoo and Microsoft know the value of their search engines so they continually make it harder for folks to affect their placement on them. Blogs and social networking are developments to try to get more placement than the search engines algorithms would accord an ordinary site. For a while, that may help with SEO, but the engines are adjusting and will continue to do so.
What agent has the time and/or inclination to try to stay abreast of all these changes? That, dear readers, is why 90% of agents are unhappy with the production from their websites: it’s just too hard to keep on top of all these constantly changing factors for most people to do while trying to list and sell real estate.
SEO is but one part of a balanced approach
You could study SEO for years, only to find out that much of what you learned had been superseded by new developments and algorithms, making what you learned obsolete. You could blog until your fingers bleed and not sell one home online. You could drive yourself around the bend trying—and failing—to succeed online, just like 90% of all agents, until you just give up and admit defeat.
Here’s what you need to do:
-Maintain a good marketing platform with information available to the consumer upon request; get them to tell you what they want and give it to them;
-Make certain that people searching the Web for homes can find your site;
-Build traffic and convert visitors to your site into registrations;
-Learn the proper way to follow up these leads; the timing, the methods and the follow-up techniques.
Do that and the world of buyers will beat a path to your door. If you can’t do that all by yourself, you need to hire an entity or person to do it for you, or you will never get a shot at the 80+% of home sales that begin on the Internet.
Success online is becoming a specialty and you aren’t a specialist in online marketing
You could learn how to do this—but how long would it take and how much would it cost? The right way to evaluate the issue is to decide just what online success would be worth to you, and then decide whether it is worth your effort.
Here’s how you decide:
-How many homes did you sell last year?
-How many homes did you sell last year as a result of your online marketing?
-What was the average commission you made on each of those home sales?
-How many additional units would you need to sell to cover the costs and time necessary to learn how to do this or to hire experts to do it for you? (Hint: It’s less than ONE side in most cases).
The Internet is not going to lose market share
Buyers want to browse the Web and look at homes, but they want a real professional with them when they get down to buying one. That is the fundamental reason that real Internet leads are so valuable; 81% of the time, handled properly, that lead will stay with you all the way to purchasing a home. Life as an agent is so much more satisfying when you always have new people to call on and the Internet can provide those people for you to call on. More than 80% of all residential homes sales start online and that’s not going to decrease. Instead of trying to become a ‘master of the Internet,’ why not just stay a master of real estate sales and consider hiring professionals to do your Internet prospecting for you? Use the Web to prospect; you spend your time selling things to people.
It’s a radical idea to some people. But in reality, it’s the only way to guarantee success in online marketing. Let others worry about algorithms and changing search engine patterns; you hold them accountable to produce buyers for you. What could make more sense?