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agent_consumer_gapFor Homes.com, one of the nation’s top online real estate destinations, the goal has always been about creating a better consumer experience.

“While others are chasing bigger and bigger, we’re pursuing better and better,” says David Mele, president of Homes.com. “Rather than follow others who are going after the largest audience, we’re more concerned with going after the right audience.”

In that respect, Homes.com is steadfast when it comes to targeted consumer marketing and audience development, looking for active real estate buyers and sellers.

“There are interesting challenges when looking at online audience numbers for real estate search traffic. In a typical year, there are about five million residential real estate transactions, representing approximately 10 million total sides,” says Mele. “And yet, there are some portals that claim 70 to 80 million unique visitors a month! So the question remains, is more traffic actually better, or does more traffic just mean more lookers? Our focus has always been about attracting the right audience to our site—capturing those 10 million in-market consumers who are actually planning to transact.”

Opening the Lines of Communication
Targeting in-market consumers is an obvious strategy toward better quality of traffic, but this still leaves a gap in optimizing toward the key industry goal of connecting this valuable traffic with local real estate agents. It was for this reason that Homes.com recently launched Local Connect, a new platform designed to facilitate the connection between agents, brokers and engaged buyers and sellers.

“We know that 90 percent of visitors to Homes.com are actively looking for their next home, and 80 percent of them are not yet working with a real estate professional. This creates the perfect opportunity,” says Mele, noting that Local Connect came about as a way to connect the real estate professional with the right consumer at the right time in the buying process.

As part of Homes.com’s development strategy, implementing the right advertising solution for the industry was challenging, and required collaboration with hundreds of brokers, agents, franchise partners and key industry stakeholders to create a carefully balanced advertising product, benefiting the advertiser, consumer and listing agent.

Targeting the Right Consumers
For Grant Simmons, vice president of search marketing at Homes.com, one of the most important factors in driving better local traffic to the site is to ensure Homes.com shows up in organic search results for key search engine queries, such as “homes,” “homes for sale in…,” “houses in…,” etc.

“We want to provide quality information beyond our comprehensive listings to deliver value to users and give a reason for search engines to rank us highly,” says Simmons, who goes on to say that Homes.com typically appears in the top four positions in most markets. “Although our primary traffic source is organic search, we are constantly testing and optimizing initiatives that drive quality local traffic, including paid search, display, social media and aligned partnerships. Ultimately, our focus is on quality, and we’re continuously looking at the value each visit drives to our partners and site visitors.”

Targeting in-market traffic to the site is a key piece of the puzzle as well. In fact, that success is demonstrated through data that shows over 92 percent of page views on Homes.com are on “for sale” and “for rent” properties, as opposed to users just coming to the site for estimates of home values or home-design ideas.

In an effort to better serve the needs of the industry, Simmons explains that the Homes.com focus on geo-targeted and geo-modified campaigns is an essential aspect of an agent-partner’s success in today’s competitive real estate industry.

“With mobile usage rising and search engines delivering personalized, localized results, geo-targeting and geo-modification are important parts of how we structure our marketing campaigns and drive a better quality of local audience,” says Simmons. “Local Connect incorporates similar targeting and tracking to allow agents to connect with valuable, hyper-focused, local consumers, resulting in a more economical ad buy, as they’re only paying to reach valuable, in-market buyers.”

When comparing Local Connect to similar advertising products being offered today, one of the key ad display differences is that Homes.com keeps the listing agent front and center on each and every listing. For Andy Woolley, vice president of industry development, ensuring the role of the listing agent and broker as the legal representative of the home seller, as well as their prominent display on the listing detail page, was critical in the development of Local Connect. “Our commitment to clearly identifying the listing agent and broker, and ensuring that lead inquiries are always routed to them are two of our core advertising principles, regardless of whether the listing is displayed for free or through paid placement. Overall, the big difference is that we believe in the ‘your listing, your leads’ concept,” says Woolley. “If you’re a listing agent, you’ll always get your leads. At that point, it’s then up to you to respond and connect with the consumer.”

Local Connect in Action
Targeted by zip code, Local Connect reaches consumers with ads when they’re demonstrating the most interest on the listing detail pages.

“The consumer is driving the home search process, so the biggest hurdle is inspiring engaged consumers to view listings of interest,” says Mele, who explains that once a consumer looking at a Homes.com search result wants more information, they simply click through to the listing detail page where the listing agent displays prominently and Local Connect displays up to three additional advertisers, as well as photos, pricing and local information. Not only does the listing agent always appear in the first ad position on the page, they are also shown at the top of the lead form a user submits, and always receive the lead that is generated from the form.

Other benefits of Local Connect include displaying contact numbers, links to consumer reviews and profile pages on Homes.com. In addition, mobile consumers have the benefit of a live click-to-call feature that enables buyers and sellers to instantly connect with an agent via their mobile device.

“Agents who choose to participate in Local Connect can take advantage of Homes.com’s fast growing home search platform,” says Mele, who notes that the company’s unique visitors increased 63 percent in February over the prior year.

Looking Toward the Future
As the real estate scene continues to become increasingly competitive, Homes.com believes that every buyer and seller should be working with a real estate professional, which is why they’re continually developing ways to better target engaged, local traffic to real estate pros.

“When people come to our site, they’re typically not looking to browse home values or view design tips, which is a demonstration of our brand recognition, online visibility, and value in our intuitive domain name. These are serious buyers who are a result of our active targeting of people who are actually searching for homes for sale,” says Mele. “More transaction-ready consumers equal better leads and faster conversions to commission checks, and that’s what our partners want.”

For more information on Local Connect or other advertising products from Homes.com, visit http://connect.homes.com.  

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