By Saul D. Klein
Web-based marketing satisfies two objectives: (1) reaching out to prospective clients so that you can generate new business, and (2) maintaining relationships with past clients so that they will return to you for future business and also refer you to their friends. This article will focus on both goals.
Advertising Your Web Site
If you've gone through the cost and time of developing a unique Web site, it makes sense to learn how to promote it. The goal is to get your Web site in front of anyone searching online for real estate in a given community. To do that, you must understand how to effectively list your URL in the most popular places online.
Think about it from the perspective of a young couple who is planning to move from Texas to California--to San Diego, in particular. The young couple spends some time on Realtor.com and HomeAdvisor.com, but they wish to get a flavor for what's really going on at the local level. Consequently, they check out a few search engines and directories such as AltaVista, Yahoo!, Excite and Infoseek. The first thing they do when they get to these sites is to type in the keywords "San Diego real estate." In the case of AltaVista, the search engine turned up 4,785 pages. How many of these do you think our young couple will choose to track down? Perhaps the first ten, if that many.
Search Engine Optimization
So the question is... how do you get your site elevated to the top of the list? Don't expect to get a great many visitors to your site just because you have an attractive looking site with good content. Frankly, getting your site a "high ranking" on search engines is a difficult challenge. Search engine optimization is a true science, with the rules of the game changing on a daily basis. Your site will not be prominently ranked unless you (or someone with whom you work) really know how to technically work the system. The major search engines continually change their rules as they try to outsmart the Web designers who attempt to beat the system in the battle to get top placement.
Think of the keywords that consumers will enter into their search requests--for example, "Honolulu beachfront property"--then use those words on your Home Page and in your hidden codes (called meta-tags). Meta-tags provide information such as who created the page, how often it is updated, what the page is about, and which keywords represent the page's content. Many search engines use this information when building their indices. (To see for yourself which meta-tags are being used on a given site, open up a Web page, click on View on the Toolbar, then click on Source to view the items included in meta-tags.)
Search Placement Specialists
Search placement specialists can cost several hundred dollars per month but may, in certain cases, be worth the cost. There are one-time services such as www.submitit.com that will register your site with the major search engines for a minor fee. Such registration, however, does not guarantee high placement.
Another possibility is to buy banner ads on these same search engines. To do this, you would contact search engines and buy "impressions" inventory (e.g., the number of times a page is viewed by the search engine's visitors). Using the example above, you would buy the keywords "Honolulu beachfront" for a certain price, typically defined in a CPM or cost-per-thousand. You would provide Yahoo with a banner advertisement, which would appear at the top of the screen anytime someone types in "Honolulu beachfront". If a user clicked on the banner, it would take them to your Web site.
Another technique to increase exposure of your Web site is to exchange links with other site owners. If you find an attractive site, contact the owner and suggest that you list them in an area of your site that contains useful links in return for their listing you as a link on their site. Be careful, however, that you choose reputable firms for your cross-links.
Instead of pulling your hair out trying to figure out how to promote your Web site through the search engines, focus on how best to leverage your Web site through traditional marketing channels. Top producing real estate professionals must migrate their "brand" from the neighborhood to the Internet. The next section provides you with strategies for doing so.
Seven Steps for Developing Your Successful Internet Marketing Strategy
The Internet provides a great marketing edge for those willing to jump aboard the technology train and become involved, and it is easier than you think. Just follow the seven steps outlined below for increased production and more effective marketing.
1. Own your own Domain.
As a real estate agent, you are more than likely an independent contractor, and your career is built upon marketing and making a name for yourself. While it is great for you as a career agent to have the support of a company or franchise, most of your business and repeat business is because of you and not the company.
You go out of your way to make your name known in the community. This is known as branding.
On the Internet you must do the same thing, except YOU become known as "YOU.com". Owning your own domain is the first essential element of a successful and continuous Internet marketing strategy. It gives you the ability to maintain both a permanent eMail address and a permanent Web site address. Every time someone sees or uses your Web address, the experience reinforces your brand. The money you spend to build that name and domain will accumulate over the years as your community brand becomes your Internet brand as well. If people know your brand name, then they will be able to find you on the Internet. It is your job to spread the word about your brand name.
2. Make the most out of your current Internet presence.
Understand how and where your listings and services are currently being marketed on the Internet, and then decide what you can do to improve your current position. Are you maximizing your current exposure? Do you have an E-newsletter that people can sign up for on your Web site?
Most properties offered for sale in the country are being marketed on http://Realtor.com. Realtor.com allows six pictures for each property, and yet, if you did some random searches on that site, you would find that very few real estate professionals take advantage of this fact. Most supply only one picture to "the biggest real estate Web site in the world." An easy way to correct this situation is to purchase a digital camera. Make it a tool you take to every listing appointment and, if you do use Realtor.com, submit the maximum number of pictures allowed, then drive people to that specific Web page by embedding a link in your eMail correspondence.
In fact, the concept of using eMail to drive visitors to your site is one of the most under-utilized tools available to the Realtor. First, create an eMail distribution list of your sphere of influence. Whenever you create a new feature to your Web site, such as an article on recent changes in the tax laws, send out an announcement by eMail and include a direct link to the new page. Be sure to include the full address, including the http:// prefix so that the link will be "hot", meaning that the recipient merely has to point and click on the address and the Web browser will open directly to that page. This makes it easy to access-you saved the recipient time and effort in not having to cut and paste the URL address into their Web location window.
The number one reason consumers go to real estate Web sites like Realtor.com is to view photos of properties. If the listing data has no photo, the consumer is likely to move on to the next listing. Virtual tours add an exciting new dimension, as consumers are able to seemingly step into the picture and move around-the next best thing to being there in person. As bandwidth continues to expand, video tours on the Web will gain in popularity. Sample tours are viewable at http://ipix.com
3. Create a Web site that is a personal Web portal.
Consumers today are looking for information, and you can help them-not just with information about real estate and the real estate transaction, but information that they might use on a daily or weekly basis. The number one Web site tip is: "Develop a Web site people will visit and return to even when they are not interested in buying and selling real estate." For example, create a link to the travel site http://TheTrip.com, where you can use their FlightTracker to follow the real time progress of flights in the air and receive accurate estimated times of arrival. People might not remember the Web address of that flight tracker they saw on your site (particularly if it was framed within your site), but they will likely return to your bookmarked site next time they are checking on an arriving flight. Consider compiling useful information on local restaurants, sights of interest, churches and clubs. Combine this with a visual tour of the scenic points of interest in your area.
4. Integrate your current marketing efforts with your Internet efforts.
Creating a successful Internet marketing strategy requires the integration of conventional, proven, and successful marketing strategies with the marketing opportunities available on the Internet. Internet marketing is not stand-alone marketing, and any person or company who completely abandons successful marketing tools for the Internet at this stage of the online revolution is destined to fail. As with conventional marketing, the Internet gives you the opportunity to market yourself, your services, and your listings...and it is a process. Like all advertising and marketing, it requires consistency and repetition.
While the search engines may help to drive people to your Web site, it will be your own efforts that bring the fastest and the most direct results. Your Web site address (URL) should be on all your conventional marketing pieces, even your sign riders. If you look at all the companies on the Internet today, they are spending untold hundreds of millions of dollars to "brand" their URL. You must personally brand your URL by telling and sending everyone you know to your Web site. Do not forget to include your eMail address on all your marketing materials as well.
Integrating the Internet into what you are already doing to market your services requires that you first take stock of your current marketing methods.
What are some of the offline things you are now doing to market your listings and services? Before you get a listing or a buyer prospect, you:
· Tell everyone you know that you are in the real estate business.
· Make your business cards available to anyone who will take one.
· Write letters and post cards and conduct direct mail campaigns to past clients, spheres of influence, and geographic "farms".
· Collect testimonials-in written, audio, and video formats.
· Give away promotional materials, such as calendars, magnets, pads, and fly swatters with your name, phone and fax number on them.
· Cold call.
You are "branding" yourself, and your name, in the eyes of the public and your spheres of influence. You do all of the above with the intent of getting appointments to make listing presentations or to get buyer-showing opportunities, either through direct contact or referral. Once you get the appointment, you more than likely will be making a presentation in competition with several other agents. If it is a listing appointment, your job is to "win" the appointment, to prove to the seller that you are different than the other agents and that you are best equipped to sell their house for them in a reasonable period of time. Your listing presentation is designed to convince them of that fact.
At your listing presentation, you present your marketing plan, which could consist of some or all of the following:
· Classified advertising in the local newspaper
· Flyers of individual listings, made available at open house and sometimes on sign boxes
· Brochures-usually for upscale properties
· Magazine advertising-usually for your more expensive listings
· Signs-still one of your greatest methods of marketing
· Sign riders-how to contact you, the listing agent (a great place for your Web address)
· Hold open house showings
Today, sellers are beginning to ask: "How will you market my home on the Internet?" Your listing presentation should include very specific information about that.
5. Create an Internet marketing presentation portion of your listing presentation.
Include the following in your hard copy listing presentation:
· Your personal Web portal
· Traffic count of your Web portal from your site statistics feature (this should be part of any Web site template service you purchase or proprietary site you build)
· Your listings which are already on the Internet (on Realtor.com, HomeAdvisor, CyberHomes, HomeSeekers, etc.)
· If your listings are on Realtor.com, include site statistics-for example, "Each of the listings on Realtor.com received an average of 114 views."
· Your broker's site and site statistics
One of the most effective ways of conveying information about your Web site is to incorporate screen shots into your listing presentations. You will need to learn how to use a simple presentation software package such as Microsoft PowerPoint. Create several blank slides. Then, while online, open your browser and go to the Web sites you want to make copies of. Tap the "PrtSc" key on your computer keyboard and then "paste" the image into a PowerPoint slide. Hook up to a color printer and print out the slides. With this simple process, you are ahead of 99% of your competition when it comes to communicating Web marketing to prospective sellers.
6. Create materials that help buyers find information on the Web.
If you have buyers who are not familiar with the availability of listing information on the Internet, tell them how to find the real estate sites, how to search for property, and how to contact you should they find a property that they are interested in, would like more information about, or would like to see in person. The best way to do this may be to create a one-page flyer on how to find information on the Web. This is a helpful document in and of itself; moreover, it constitutes a wonderful piece of marketing material. You add value as a real estate professional by helping the consumer "make sense of the Internet." Serious buyers will give you profile information about the kinds of property they are seeking. You, in turn, can create an eMail alert that will notify the buyer when a matching property appears on the market. One word of caution about obtaining information online from prospects: be sure to tell them how you intend to use the information, and point out that you will not be selling the data to others. It is smart practice to include a privacy statement on your Web site.
7. Learn more about the opportunities that are developing on the Internet.
Loan sites, rate watch sites, agent matching sites... dozens of helpful new applications are coming online. Not all of the new sites will be successful, but learn all you can about them and utilize the ones that will help you in your business. It can cost you business if you are unaware of the changing real estate landscape on the Internet. One of the best ways to stay on top of the evolving landscape is to visit real estate news sites and subscribe to eMail alerts. Inman News (www.inman.com) has an eMail alert that you can sign up for free of charge. Realty Times (www.realtytimes.com) publishes excellent articles on new real estate Web sites and Internet trends.
Prospective visitors first have to find you; then you have to keep them coming back. Remember that people only buy a home every five to eight years. You want them visiting your Web site more often than that. Put content on your site that people will visit and return to even when they are not interested in buying and selling real estate...and use your conventional means of disseminating information, your conventional marketing such as advertising and direct mail, to drive them to your site. More traffic will result in more sales. Contacts equal contracts. That has always been the case and it is no different on the Internet.
What are some of the things you can include on your Web site that will keep your clients coming back? How about posting a regular schedule of community events. Maintain a list of local vendors with contact information in the event that the new owner is in need of home improvements or repair. Perhaps you can send out eMail reminders that the roof is now 15 years old and include a link to your Web site with lists of roofing contractors. The list of possibilities is endless, but the point is that you should use your Web site to maintain contact with your clients.
Saul D.Klein has been a REALTOR for over 20 years and is Past President of the San Diego Association of REALTORS and their 1999 REALTOR of the Year. He is President of InternetCrusade, http://InternetCrusade.com , a company providing technology solutions to the real estate practitioner and broker. For more information send a blank eMail to: ProductInfo@InternetCrusade.com
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