Commentary by Kris Hutchinson
RISMEDIA, Oct. 22, 2007-Last week I presented a step-by-step, how-to guide on Search Engine Marketing and Search Engine Optimization to a group of enthusiastic Realtors® at the 2007 California Association of Realtors Expo in Anaheim, California. Nearly 300 real estate professionals packed into the room to learn about SEM and SEO, and we heard afterwards that some folks were turned away at the door due to room capacity issues.
It was fantastic to see such overwhelming interest in search marketing and optimization.
Here are some of the key takeaways for any agent or broker considering advertising online through search engines like Google, Yahoo, and the like:
– Roughly half of the audience raised their hands when asked if they currently advertise using pay-per-click SEM with Google AdWords or any other sponsored listing program. This directly correlates with data we had previously collected, meaning half of the agents and brokers out there are not yet doing this type of advertising…but should be.
– In talking with the Realtors who are already doing SEM and/or SEO, it became obvious that many were not up to date on best practices and advanced targeting strategies…and thus are likely wasting a lot of money by not capitalizing on these opportunities for efficiency.
– The other half of the audience – the ones not doing any SEM or SEO for their site – seemed to know that this advertising channel was important, but really had no idea of how to go about doing it effectively.
– Many Realtors said things like: “I don’t need to think about SEO, my Webmaster does that.” Be careful with this one – Webmasters are techies, not marketers. Often times Webmasters may not be your best line of defense when it comes to targeting the right keyword phrases and building quality, relevant links into your site. If a Webmaster does claim to be an SEO expert, ask questions like “to which directories will my site be submitted?”, “how will you go about obtaining quality, relevant links to my site?”, and “how will you determine keywords for which my site should be optimized?”
– We also heard a lot about a few new SEM/SEO firms that were offering “guaranteed top placement” in the search engines at ridiculously low prices. Be careful and do your due diligence when it comes to hiring an SEM/SEO company. There are absolutely no guarantees when it comes to search engine optimization, so be very skeptical of anyone who offers you such a guarantee.
– The biggest stopper for most Realtors and brokers was budgetary – they just couldn’t justify spending $1,000/month or more. To that I would say if budget is a concern, than SEM is absolutely where you want to spend your limited advertising dollars. SEM is the most track-able and controllable form of marketing ever devised. Few other advertising channels can offer such amazing control, real-time flexibility, and predictable ROI. In the right hands, your SEM campaign should be your most effective advertising channel.
The biggest thing I realized in talking with these hundreds of agents and brokers is that they need to find a really good, honest company who will do the advertising for them. Agents and brokers should be out selling homes and loans, not worrying about generating massive keyword lists and calculating ROI. Find a trustworthy partner who will do all that heavy lifting for you, send you an accurate, easy-to-understand performance report each month, and take the time to walk you through what’s working and what’s not. Transparency is critical – stay away from “black box” solutions or services. Your SEM/SEO company should be completely forthright about what they are doing on your behalf. I’ve heard too many horror stories about sites being permanently removed from Google’s search results because of an unscrupulous SEO firm employing deceptive practices.
Once you’ve narrowed down your list of potential partners to a few top firms, do your due diligence. Ask them lots of questions about what specifically they are going to do for you. Furthermore, don’t be afraid to request referrals. If the company does good work, they will have no problem putting you in touch with one of their satisfied clients.
Kris Hutchinson is President and CEO of Magnifi Online, a strategic search engine marketing (SEM) and search engine optimization (SEO) firm with results-based expertise in driving Web site traffic, conversions, and increased ROI for small- to medium-sized businesses, agencies, and professionals such as REALTORS® and mortgage brokers.