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By Scott Pierce

RISMEDIA, January, 2009-With over 90% of people starting their home search online, it is obvious that success in Online Marketing is essential.

The problem is, Online Marketing consists of many different expertises and the increased business can take awhile to occur. In an era when time and money are in short supply, the idea of hiring an employee with the expertise needed while waiting for results is enough to keep most brokers on the sideline.

The result? Most brokers have abdicated Online Marketing to their corporate offices and their agents.

How many leads have you closed from your corporate office? Take a survey of your agents. Most offices have one or even several agents who are able to find a successful niche Online. But that does nothing for every other agent out there struggling to find their share of leads from the 90% of people starting their home search online.

On the Internet: More is Better / United You Stand, Divided You Fall

In the current market, getting new leads for business is crucial. And the top sources for new leads are from Internet sources, in particular SEO, SEM and referral web sites. Even your print and other marketing will invariably flow through your web presence at some point.

Quick Definitions: SEO is when people find you from Google, Yahoo, etc.
SEM is that plus all the other ways people find you on the Internet
Referral Traffic is when people get to your website from another website that is linked to your website.

Online Marketing is not rocket science, but it is a lot like threading 10 needles with one piece of thread.

Two equations will simplify closing business from Online Marketing:
1.
More Content = More SEO/SEM/Referral Traffic = More Leads

2. More Leads + Proper Business Practices = More Closings

Consider the following:
1.
Content underlies SEO, SEM and referral website traffic (lead sources).

2. Rich listing data and local area and market information is the best and most searched for content.

Quick Definitions: Rich Listing Data is the detailed information about your listings that only exist on the listing broker and agent website vs. the basic information sent out via IDX to the MLS and every other website on the Internet.

3. The local broker has access to the more Rich Listing Data (detailed property information, pictures, virtual tours, documents, etc) and local information than either the corporate office or any agent in their office.

The broker can put ALL of the office listing’s Rich Listing Data on their website (potentially dozens and hundreds), vs. agents only have their own listings (most likely in the single digits.

By properly integrating the marketing (Online and Off) of their listing’s along with local information, a local broker will FAR surpass any corporate office or agent in SEO, SEM and website referral incoming traffic, leads and business.

The good news is that local brokers are also in the best position to CONVERT those incoming leads into actual prospects that are then dedicated to the agents in their office.

SEO / SEM / Web Site Referral

Google: “Your primary city market and Real Estate.” Do you show up above the fold (without having to scroll down)?
Go to a real estate website (Trulia, Zillow, Realtor.com, etc) search for one of your listings and attempt an inquiry. You should be contacted and qualified within 15-20 minutes AT MOST by either the agent or customer service representative (otherwise that lead and their business is off to the next site).

What skill sets are needed to ensure success in getting people to your website in the first place and then getting them to reach out to you and then qualify them and get them to an agent and then on to closing an escrow?

• W3C Validation
• Proper naming structure of files for search engines
• Proper phrasing of the page title
• Inclusion of a robots.txt file
• Creation of a sitemap
• 404 error handling page
• Meta tags
• Relevant site copy to page title
• Site navigational structure
• Press Releases
• Article Writing
• Blogs
• Engaging in a link campaign
• Directory Submission
• Purchasing Text Links
• PPC Campaigns
• Banner Advertising
• RSS/XML Feeds
• Print/online marketing integration
• Landing pages
• Call-to-action campaigns
• Newsletters
• Use of social websites
• Web strategy
• Lead qualification
• Lead routing
• Lead incubation
• Lead tracking & ROI and more.

SEO /SEM / Web site referral is all about getting people that are looking for your services to your website where they will be induced to initiate a business relationship with you.

A Broker with 100 listings has 100+ Online Marketing opportunities to get a prospects attention, give them a clear call to action, respond to the inbound inquiry and qualify and distribute to the appropriate agent properly.

Or each agent can market their 1-3 listings on their own achieving absolutely no advantages at all.

Also consider that it is a common advertising maxim that it takes many impressions of your message and brand on a person before it has an impact, let alone a desired result. Again, the broker has as many opportunities as the office has listings to achieve this goal vs. each agent’s 1-3 at best.

Getting your message ‘out there’ is only the first step in a long process that can break down at any point leading to dramatically lower results.

Qualify – Next you have to qualify the lead so that every agent is not on their own trying to figure out what the lead wants or needs. Most of incoming leads are worthless. The problem is, you do not know which ones and have to systematize how you are going to separate the wheat from the chaff quickly and cost effectively.

Sending a lead to an agent without qualifying the lead and a) making sure that the lead is ready to talk to an agent and b) that the agent has what they need make proper contact is a waste of time and effort.

Agent’s that I have interviewed have told me that they have stopped accepting leads from their corporate offices’ after getting leads hot off the Internet, but that for the most part, the lead did not want to ‘talk to an agent’ yet or just was not otherwise qualified.

A standardized ‘contact center’ that qualifies each lead using a ‘question tree’ allows for easy qualification and measurement of results. This will lead to much higher conversion rates and will even allow you to increase conversion as you are able to measure and improve your process over time.

Distribute – The key to distributing leads properly is two-fold.

First, is the lead a short term lead or a long term lead? Are they ready to buy or sell real estate within the next 6 months? Or is it a long term lead that is just at the very preliminary stages of research?

People will start their Online research a year or more out sometimes, and this can be a perfect time to get them loyal to your office and your agents! But not be turning them over to an agent right away who is in a ‘sales mode.’ This again, is exactly what the lead may be trying to avoid in the first place by going to the office website.

Secondly, If is a short term lead, then which agent do they get assigned to (this is a key decision by the broker and can help or hurt the overall efforts) and if it is a long term lead, how is it handled (i.e. marketed to and managed) in order to get the business.

Agents must be trained on how to handle Internet leads vs. leads they may get from other ‘traditional’ sources. Internet leads typically take longer to close, but require much less resources from the agent and broker. So they are easy to lose, while being potentially more profitable.

You do not just want to send an email to the agent with some information provided by the prospect and let them go at it. Because Internet leads are so different from typical leads of the past, once a lead is qualified as a potential prospect, agent’s need to be trained on how to best proceed with each lead in order to maximize conversion.

Incubate – Is the lead a short or long term lead? Are they looking for a condo or a single family home? All incoming leads should be categorized into various major groupings that allow the broker and agents to craft relevant and regular communication to each person according to their needs and interests.

Drip Email = Newsletters with call to action.

In this area, SEM comes back to focus as canned communication will result in higher drop out rates vs. customized well written and informative communications.

Some leads will close in the short term and will be more apparent than those that may close some time in the future. For leads ready to actively buy or sell property know, referring them to a professional within your organization will be the first step.

But for many leads, the potential for them to lead to business will be in the long term (6 months – 2 year out). Systems have to be in place to engage them so that they maintain loyalty to your organization. Through email and appropriate other ways, this can be accomplished easily and cost effectively. But it is rarely ever done.

Track, Sell and ROI

By greatly assisting agent’s in dramatically increasing their pool of potential business AND helping to both narrow it down and manage it, the broker allows their agent’s to do what they do best. Sell Real Estate.

Systems should be in place to track all points in the process and to constantly evaluate for improvement.

Technology is now available from various vendors that allow brokers to bring what every other business would consider basic ‘best business’ practices to their offices to increase the bottom line for both the broker and their agents.

The only winners of the current marketing ‘strategy’ of brokers and agents are the 100’s and 100’s of vendors that seemingly are marketing to every agent about 100 times a day. The death of a thousand cuts is now bankruptcy in multiple $15-$50 monthly increments.

As I stated in my article Property Listings – A Real Estate Office’s #1 Marketing Asset, Pat Kitano, Transparent Real Estate, a Forbes.com Business & Finance Blog Network member, writes “Real estate agents continually face the Sisyphean challenge (myth about the guy forever rolling a rock up a mountain) of keeping up to date with technology … they’ve finally figured out Microsoft Word and e-mail applications, and now they must master a new set of online applications.”

How do you ever expect to get ahead of the curve in this environment? And if the Broker is not looking out for their agents, who is?

Your Office Spends How Much on Marketing for What?

How much money is being spent by your agents, in addition to what your office already spends? In a modest office of 50, where each agent spends $500 a month 12 months a year, $300,000 a year+ is spent! And for that $300,000+, the broker has no idea if any revenue came from it or not for the most part.

In addition, brokers know they are losing out on a lot of leads that do come in that are not handled properly and certainly are not managed or tracked properly.

Each of these ‘failures’ in the process from generating a lead in the first place through acquisition and conversion to ROI increasingly means that the efforts and the money being spent is mostly wasted.

Properly using Online Marketing you will also reinforce your brand image to drive more business to your agents.

Who has money to waste now?

The good news is that brokers can bring business ‘best practices’ to their offices while helping themselves and their agents at the same time.

Who are the best candidates for success in this new market? Perhaps surprisingly, well established local offices that have been around for a long time and can bring content (in both listings and local information) to the equation and offices with younger newer agents who may not be so tied to old practices that have negative long term results.

BUT any broker and any office can be successful.

What does it take to be successful?
• An understanding of the current situation.
• An understanding of the solution.
• An understanding of the process to get from where you are at to where you need to be.
• A commitment to make change happen in a way that fits your business while achieving the results you need to survive in this market.

Conclusion

Local brokers are in the best position to generate incoming leads and manage them through the process to escrow closings. The first brokers that learn how will have the desired ‘first position’ in the market and will benefit greatly.

If you can not hire someone full time, there are many other options out there that include outsourcing to firms or consultants at a fraction of price of hiring a person and they will have experience to ensure a smooth path to your success.

There is a lot of business out there looking for your agents, you just need to have a great plan in place to go and get it.

Find out how you are doing in your Online Marketing and how you can be one of the leading offices in your area giving your agents the advantage they and you need.

Scott Pierce is the Director of Online Marketing and a Realtor for People & Properties Sotheby’s International Realty. For more information, e-mail him at scott@sfcondomap.com.

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