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The Power Broker Roundtable is brought to you by the National Association of Realtors® and Rei Mesa, NAR’s Special Liaison for Large Firm Relations. Watch for this column each month, where we address broker issues, concerns and milestones.

Rei Mesa, Special Liaison for Large Firm Relations, NAR, and President/CEO, Prudential Florida Real Estate Services

Jennifer Marchetti, VP, Better Homes & Gardens Real Estate, Parsippany, N.J.
Helen Hanna Casey, President, Howard Hanna Real Estate Services, Pittsburgh, Pa.
Chris Kelly, Gen. Counsel, Reece & Nichols Real Estate, Kansas City, Mo.

Rei Mesa: According to the National Association of REALTORS® (NAR’s) 2011 Profile of Home Buyers and Sellers, 35 percent of all buyers and 40 percent of repeat buyers are starting their home search online. That’s approximately double the number of those who begin the search by contacting an agent. The big question is: when consumers do search online, what brokerages pop up first? In this new age of search engine optimization (SEO), how can you tell how well your efforts in that direction are paying off in hits—or closed business? Jennifer, you specialize in Internet marketing strategies for Better Homes and Gardens Real Estate. How important is it today?

Jennifer Marchetti: You might compare it to how important it is to have prime shelf space at the supermarket. Unless committed to a certain brand, the average consumer will reach for the box at eye level. So getting your brand out where the customer will see it first can be critical.

Helen Hanna Casey: If you’re going to compete, then you have to drive your brand. We’ve spent the better part of the last year-and-a-half implementing SEO strategies, both internally and with vendor partners, to ensure that our brand presence—and our value—is prominent not just on the Web but throughout social media.

Chris Kelly: Agents come into the picture much later in the home search than they used to. So the goal has to be to generate content that leads the customer to you and your agents. Our SEO strategies have been high on our “must list” for well over a year, primarily with the aid of experienced third party vendors who have practical knowledge and experience.

RM: Are implementing SEO strategies more important for the franchisor, franchisee or the independent?

HHC: I don’t think it matters. Independent or not, we are a dominant player in our market and studies tell us that our SEO strategies are paying off. We had something like 9.5 million page views in the last four weeks, as opposed to 2.5 million for our nearest competitor. The marketing function is not about technology for the sake of it. What’s important is that you increase your searchability.

CK: I agree—and it’s not just about sheer volume. It has to be faster and more efficient. What words are consumers typing in to the search engine? How can you use that to optimize your page views? And it’s equally important to quantify results. You have to make the comparisons, month-to-month and year-to-year. SEO strategy is indispensable if you’re going to grow.

RM: You mentioned quantifying results. How, exactly, do you do that?

HHC: You measure the page views…the repeat visitors…and ultimately, your marketshare increase. There will always be a place for multi-media marketing and I’m a big believer in it. But it’s fun to immerse yourself in SEO strategy, because the payoff is proven and quantifiable.

JM: You have to look at the numbers, as Chris said, daily, weekly, monthly. How much of the traffic is organic, and how much of it is paid? You definitely need to stay ahead of the trends. You have to look critically at the content you are creating and keep it fresh and significant. In order to hit all the marks, your strategy should never stand still.