By Sean Callahan
RISMEDIA, September 25, 2010—When it comes to selling real estate, one thing that everyone can agree on is that the Internet plays a major role in the success of a real estate business in 2010. According to NAR statistics, over 85% of home sales begin on the Internet and one of the fastest growing statistics is the number of real estate agents who are also being sourced out from Internet based searches.
Real estate agents that want to grow and expand need to figure out how to harness and capture this ever growing online market segment and the next series of articles will identify some very important online marketing tips and advice to get your online marketing efforts to produce at least one home sale per month.
In my opinion, there are some very difficult hurdles for real estate agentsto get over to make this possible and we will hopefully be able to set this up on a step-by-step basis to make it very easy to understand.
Step 1 – Websites
Having a good website is the foundation for any successful Internet marketing campaign and if this part is broken, the chance of success is slim. This does not mean that you cannot sell a couple homes a year and make back your marketing investment, but the goal is selling a home a month or more and making money and not just recouping your marketing dollars.
There are dozens of real estate website companies out there selling products to agents and if you have an idea of what to look for and what to ask, it will help you make a good choice when choosing which one you want to work with.
The #1 reason real estate agents do not sell at least one home per month is because the website they have does not convert traffic into contact information very well.
“Conversion” is the essential component for a successful Internet marketing campaign and without it you will never achieve the results you are looking for.
A. Website and Lead Conversion Numbers
Since we all know the golden rule that “sales is based on numbers,” you must have an effective website to do those numbers. As someone who has worked on thousands of real estate websites and with thousands of real estate agents and brokers, I can tell you that the average closing ratio of Internet leads is about 3%.
Those numbers can be a bit higher depending on the filtering system the website system uses, but 3% is a realistic number for most agents. My goal is always to put the agent in a place where they can get 30-40 leads per month in order to stay on pace for selling at least 12 or more homes online per year.
The average real estate website “out of the box” captures about 1% of the traffic that is sent to it. In order to get 35-40 leads, you will need to bring somewhere between 3,500-4,000 visitors to your website. For the average real estate agent, this can take 3-4 months or more thus putting them in a position where they sell 2-3 homes per year. Does that make a return on their website investment? Yes, but to me there is still a lot of room for improvement since the goal for agents is to sell at least one home or more per month.
Some websites do a better job converting traffic than others, but many times the difference between converting 1% of the traffic to 10% of the traffic is based on some very basic marketing techniques and the way the website is formatted. The tips below will help you evaluate how well your site is formatted and ways you can increase the website performance.
Step 2 – Website Formatting tips
A. Does your key information come “Above the Fold”
The top Internet marketing pros in the world will tell you that the “above the fold” concept is essential for website conversion no matter what the product or service is.
What this means is that “are the key elements that consumers are looking for coming up on the top of the website” so people “do not need to scroll down to find it?”
Some of the greatest marketing geniuses in the world were newspaper owners who knew that when you folded a newspaper in half and put it in the news rack what was “above the fold” would determine how many newspapers were sold. That same theory still holds true with a few minor changes for real estate and business websites.
If consumers need to scroll down to find the key resources in your website, you are already moving backwards for converting traffic, regardless of how nice the images or banners are on the top of the page. Remember that potential clients want good information for buying or selling a home and the easier it is to find and resource that information, the better your chances for selling a home or getting a listing. As soon as oversized images or oversized banners become the main focus and the real estate resources are secondary, you will have trouble converting traffic no matter how nice you, or the other agents in your office, think your website looks.
Google provides a ton of useful information on website conversion through their Google Adwords product because they know that websites that do not convert traffic will not be paying clients very long. Below are some key tips that Google provides for agents who want to convert traffic into contact information.
It is essential for real estate websites to identify the key markets the agent works in and provides listings for in the first 5-8 seconds on the “top fold” of the website.
Since the “Home Search” is the most popular tool used on a website, it is very important to identify the markets and areas that homes are available in. Simply having a button that says “Home Search” is not sufficient for maximizing the capture rate of a website.
That button does not identify markets listings can be found in, nor does it advertise what kind of listings or how many listings there are to search from. If people come into a website searching for “Pacific Beach condos,” they should see in the first 5-8 seconds on the landing page that you service “Pacific Beach” and that there are condos for sale on the website.
If you are in San Diego, an example of how a website should read may go like this: “Search from thousands of San Diego real estate listings for sale including homes, town-homes and beach condos in Pacific Beach, Mission Beach, La Jolla, Del Mar, Ocean Beach and Coronado.”
You will also want to advertise the fact that you have hundreds or even thousands of listings to search through. The more listings you have to look at, the more value the website has for the end user.
If your area has ranch land, equestrian property, luxury homes, waterfront listings, lots, lofts, military housing or gated community homes, let people know right away that they are on a website that has relevant information for what they are looking for. A button with the words “Home Search” will never convey the information that one or two concise paragraphs can explain, so write it out so they can see it as soon as they come onto the website. This content also helps your website rank better in the organic sections of the search engines.
The top lead capturing tools on a real estate website are as follows:
1. Home Search – this is by far the most commonly used section for website visitors.
2. Auto email sign up - This allows users to sign up for new listings based on price, area or zip code and number of bedrooms. These “auto email” sections normally identify buyers who are serious.
3. CMA Request - People are either looking to buy or sell and since the majority are normally buyers, make sure the buyers tools come up on the website first.
These three lead capturing tools should be formatted along the top of the website and you should spell out the benefits and features of what they offer. For auto email, it may be “Never Miss a New Listing in Pacific Beach,” and for a CMA request, it may read “What is Your Pacific Beach Home Worth.”
The bottom line is that two word buttons will never identify or be as compelling to use as detailed text and verbiage, so make sure you are doing both in order to get the best possible results.
B. Do you have “direct path” links to your search results?
What this means is that when I mention that people can search for homes for sale in “Pacific Beach,” “Mission Beach,” “La Jolla” etc., each one of these words is a link that takes them to where that inventory is located.
They do not have to click on a general home search button to start filling out a search form information to get to where the inventory is located.
The more pages people have to click on to get to the listings, the more the conversion rate shrinks.
Some sites can do this and many more cannot. Fortunately, IDX providers (and some website companies) realize the importance of this and are making these direct path links more available to real estate agent websites in order to increase conversion. Google long ago required “direct path” links to get approval for Google Adwords, but when they saw that most real estate websites could not perform, this task they relaxed that requirement. The fact is however, that it makes a difference when converting traffic into leads and should be done whenever possible.
C. Do you have a guestbook log in and is it turned on?
Aside from the layout of a real estate website, the number 2 conversion failure is the lack of a guest book log in. Many agents have a guest book log in but do not know how to turn it on. If you are serious about getting leads and selling homes, you must ask people to sign in somewhere along the way.
Many sites guest book everyone who comes in and some systems require a guest book after the client looks at three listings, or wants to see more photos etc., but the bottom line is that a guest book log in is essential for converting traffic into contact information.
It is good to know that anyone who wants to remain anonymous can put in “John Doe” information and still see what is available while sincere clients will often provide much more information than what is required and will voluntarily tell you much more than just an email and a phone number. If your guest book is not turned on, call your website or IDX provider and ask them to help you out.
Having a good website that is properly formatted for lead capture is the essential foundation for selling at least one home per month online.
Internet marketing via SEO, YouTube.com, Craigslist, Twitter, Facebook or Pay per click marketing will have little effect if you are driving traffic to a website that cannot convert traffic into leads.
If you can get the website formatted to provide the optimal results and get conversion rates of 5-10%, then a little traffic will go a long way to selling at least one home per month online. I normally can get a website to convert about 10% and thus can get 35-40 leads with 400 visitors whereas a website that converts 1% will need about 4,000 visitors to get the same results.
Real estate websites are very much like owning cars. Having a 500SL Mercedes is great for a listing appointment, but not practical if you have four kids and a spouse at home.
Some agents like to have a website with fancy graphics and flash to put on a business card (500 SL Mercedes) while also having a website to convert Internet traffic into leads (family SUV) is an essential part of a successful real estate business because many people you will be working with will come from Google and not from your sisters best friend or referral.
If you are serious about selling at least one home per month, then assess the value of your real estate website and either fix it up or get a separate one to market for search engine and Internet-based traffic.
Once this is done and in place, the results you get from all other sources of traffic will produce much better results and sales in the future.
For more information, visit www.realestatemarketingnerds.com.
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