Commentary by Gabriel Gross
RISMEDIA, Jan. 8, 2007–A “virtual” paradox is happening in real estate: the Internet has become the major medium for real estate information, yet real estate agents find it increasingly difficult to generate good leads using their Web sites. The cause for this is quite simple: The majority of early-stage home buyers will start their search with the major classifieds portals and so individual agents rarely stand a chance to be even “seen” by these consumers. Yet, these are clients that could be the most valuable leads because at this stage they have probably not yet committed to another agent.
Another way of looking at this problem is that no matter how interesting or informative an agent’s Web site, it will be only as useful as the traffic it gets. This of course leads to the need to generate traffic to the Web site, and the options for this are limited and expensive: keyword advertising, search engine optimization (SEO), banner ads, blogging, e-mail farming, or “traditional” media advertising. In truth, agents will find that in most markets even these methods will only produce spotty and unpredictable results because the majority of agents and brokers employ those same strategies, and therefore it is increasingly difficult to achieve differentiation even with the best agent Web site.
Another problem with the traditional traffic-generation methods is the low quality of leads that they produce. The best leads for an agent are those consumers who are early in their home-buying process, the ones who have just started “looking,” as these clients have not yet committed to another agent. However, surveys show that the majority of consumers will start looking for listings that are on the market on the major online classifieds portals- Realtor.com, Craigslist, Google Base, Trulia, Zillow, etc. Most consumers will not start their home buying by looking for an agent to work with, and so they may end up establishing a relationship with a listing agent that they contact from a listing that they see and like on the classifieds portal that they happen to visit.
So what can a Realtor do to “fish” for leads in the big Classifieds portals pond? The obvious solution is to post (syndicate) featured listings to these portals using one of the several Single Property Web site services. These services allow you to create compelling Web sites for your featured listings, with photos, slideshows, even video, and then post them with a click of a button to several classifieds ad portals and search engines. Many brokers and agents already are syndicating their listings, either on their own, or using one of the many service providers available.
A common mistake that agents are making is to assume that their listing will be indexed by the search engines simply because they are available in the “featured listings” section of their own Web site. This is not the case. Another common perception is that simply because their listings are syndicated in bulk by their broker it is not necessary for the agent to promote these on their own. Listing syndication works just like advertising – the more the better, and given the low effort and cost involved this should be a “no-brainer,” must-do activity.
As with any marketing activity, the results achieved are usually depending on how unique your approach is, and how you stand out from the crowd. With listing syndication it is no different, and in most markets the majority of listings are already being posted on classifieds portals, so posting a few listings will not be as effective as it was one or two years ago. Also, it is quite unlikely that a homebuyer who finds your listing will actually consider it to be a good fit with their need, and if that is the case then they will just click on to the next listing and you will have lost them forever!
An out-of the-box, novel approach to increase the effectiveness of your lead generation using single property Web sites is to embed an interactive MLS search into each featured listings Web site. The resulting benefit is that if a home buyer finds your listing on one of the classifieds portals, they can immediately see MLS properties and start a full search, directly from this listing that they are looking at, instead of having to click over to your Web site, which they would never do because at that time they are in the frame of mind of searching for and viewing listings on that particular portal.
In other words, instead of just trying to “pull” potential clients to your site you are “pushing” your branded MLS search to the best locations where most early-stage home buyers go when they start their search for a home.
This ability to search the whole MLS with an interactive map focused automatically on the area of the client’s interest greatly increases the probability that they will contact you for more information for any of the listings that they find using your MLS Search and can produce dramatically better results.
For an example of such a listing, please see this Single Property Web site: http://www.58Northgate.com. Note the “Nearby Homes for Sale” button and “MLS Search” tab.
With each active featured listing that you publish to the major classifieds portals, you create several additional “touch points” on the Internet. Compare this with only 1 – your own Web site where normally the MLS search resides. What’s more, you can do this even if you don’t have any listings of your own – all you have to do is borrow some nice, sellable listings from a colleague (with the listing broker’s blessing) and ask for their permission to advertise those on the Internet (make sure that you have written and that you display the listing broker and that you comply with your local MLS’s rules). All this takes maybe 30 minutes to do, and you can do as many as you have time for, with each published listing creating multiple locations on the classifieds portals where they can find your own, branded MLS search.
But wait, there is more: once the listing is sold, instead of deleting it from your account you can change the status to “sold,” and so your “sold” listing Web sites which by now are already indexed by Google will accumulate on Google to a growing number of additional “touch points” for your active MLS search tool. Again, this cumulatively increases over time the likelihood that home buyers will find you and will also create an “organic” lift effect for your search-engine standing. If, for example, you sell 10 listings each year, then the number of Google-indexed “entry points” increases in one year to 10 and after two years to 20, in addition to the active listings to be found on the major classifieds portals, as outlined above. Again, each of these sold listing Web sites will have your MLS search embedded, and thus whoever finds these listings on Google or some other search engine will be able to search for active properties on the market from right there, each “sold” listing thus becoming a potential conduit for new leads.
Gabriel Gross is president of RealBird.com.