“The Internet doesn’t work for me.” That odious phrase is all too common among agents and brokers. The National Assn. of REALTORS® echoed those sentiments for 90+% of all agents when they stated that less than 10% of agents with web sites are pleased with the production from them. On the other hand, NAR also tells us that over 84% of all residential real estate sales involve the Internet. How can so much business go to such a small percentage of agents?
Contrary to what you may expect, the answer has less to do with money spent than on poor technique. The most beautiful web site in the world is of no value to an agent if it doesn’t produce leads on a regular and consistent basis.
I don’t mean to say that effective Internet marketing for REALTORS® and real estate professionals is not without cost. It costs money to bring buyers to your web site. First, you must build the web site and hope they’ll come. They usually don’t. Second, you must subscribe to organic SEO (Search Engine Optimization) or Pay Per Click (PPC) and then they start coming because they can FIND your site. Now what? How do you get them to be more than a blip on an analytics tool and turn them into a living, breathing lead? Traffic is not the panacea, either — a strategy is required to succeed.
This is the real issue in online marketing for REALTORS® and for everyone else, too; traffic means nothing but that people are finding your web site. Being found is just the first step to succeeding online. Page views and unique visitor data are of value, but the ratio of conversion from visitor to lead is what matters, and you won’t ever get enough leads from your visitors until you wise up to the best kept secret in Internet marketing: you’ve got to offer them something to get them to sign in to your site.
How many unique visitors do you need to make your site produce?
We have many clients doing just fine who receive 300 or less unique visitors a month. Our most successful clients maintain a conversion rate of 10-15%; that is, 10 to 15% of their unique visitors sign in to the site and are added to the prospect list for drip e-mails and regular contact. Our belief is that if we can bring 300+ unique visitors to an average agent each month that they should receive enough leads to make a living; as more unique visitors come, the agents income should rise accordingly. On the other hand, we have clients who receive thousands of unique visitors each month and sell little. What explains this?
Not using lead capture is like going fishing with great bait, but no fishing pole.
The biggest factor in your site becoming a valuable tool (after optimization and design) is lead capture. Those using effective lead capture have good results with realistic visitor totals; those not using lead capture rarely get any results at all. To visualize this, please close your eyes and imagine yourself going fishing on a pretty summer day: Just toss the bait in the water and the fish will come to it. After the bait is gone, so are the fish, leaving you empty handed if you left your pole at home. But, bring your pole and you could end up catching your limit. Internet prospecting is much the same: a good site and enabling it to be found serves as all the bait you need to succeed, but if you can’t capture the lead, it’s like you forgot to bring your fishing pole with you-- lots of fish in the water, but none caught.
What exactly is lead capture?
Lead capture can be defined as the practice of converting people who window shop into people who you can communicate with, identify and farm/prospect/cultivate. Hard lead capture is the practice of requiring a visitor to sign in before allowing them to view information, like MLS listings. Soft lead capture is the practice of offering a premium or incentive to incent the visitor to sign in and join your information network. Hard is bad, soft is good; hard makes most visitors exit your site, soft makes them want what you offer them and creates feelings of good will. Lead capture seeks to ‘capture’ simple information from a visitor; name, e-mail address and phone number are really all you need to communicate on the most important levels: e-mail and telephone.
What does soft lead capture look like and where should I put it on my site?
Good lead capture looks something like this:
It’s simple, friendly, and non-threatening. It does not ask, “How much do you want to spend?” or other intrusive questions. It simply gives data of interest to any serious buyer looking into El Segundo (in this example — into your town in reality). The data collected arrives in your e-mail and (in good programs) as a text message on your telephone. Prompt follow-up by you (under four hours) leads to many good things. This option must be on your homepage and on every community page on your web site if you want leads.
Why didn’t my web site designer put this on my homepage?
I’m afraid you will have to ask them. Perhaps it’s because web site designers are more artist than salesman — you know, more concerned with color schemes and pretty designs that selling anyone anything — perhaps they just aren’t experts in online marketing for REALTORS® and real estate professionals. Please don’t forget that for all of our desire to have the most beautiful site possible, such a beautiful site is of zero value if it doesn’t produce leads. Without good lead capture, it won’t, but it will be pretty!
What does hard lead capture look like and where should I put this?
Any site requiring a log in is death for lead generation. A few visitors may docilely give you their personal information, most will not. You should not employ this technique. (Now that DOJ and NAR have settled, perhaps the MLS in certain areas will drop this kind of requirement to view properties — a good thing for clients and a good thing for agents and brokers!) If your site does use this mandatory sign in, my advice is to contact your webmaster right now and have it changed.
What kind of premium should I offer to attract visitors’ sign-ins?
How about a map of the town? How about the town fact sheet as furnished by the town government? How about anything interesting about where you sell homes? Lacking that, your newsletter or a relocation kit is good. Where I grew up, agents gave away lots of town calendars, booklets, ice scrapers and thermometers, hot plates and oven mitts; those still work, too — as long as they have your name and web site address on them. Best is some kind of promo that gives good information about where the visitor is looking to come to. One successful agent I know made a list of all restaurants in town and another of all important local phone numbers. She put her smiling face in the center, laminated it, and Viola! Another successful premium was created. Use your imagination -- this isn’t rocket science.
No matter what certain agent marketing programs claim, the Internet is where the action is today.
Every time I see that marketing ad that claims that only 11% of sales come from the Internet, I shudder. Look, your own affinity group, NAR, says that 84% of all residential real estate sales begin on the Internet and that 74% of Internet buyers find their agent through a search engine. You absolutely need an Internet presence if you want to stay in this business.
Employ good lead capture today and sell houses tomorrow.
It takes only moments to implement this recommendation into YOUR web site. Provided it can be found by Internet buyers looking for homes online, this simple change can make the difference between a billboard in space and a real lead generation device. If your site can’t be found, however, all the lead capture in the world won’t help. You must be one of the sites that come up on the first page of the major search engines when your town is being shopped online; once you are there, implementation of good lead capture will work wonders for you. You wouldn’t go fishing without a fishing pole, don’t go Internet prospecting without good lead capture!
(Mike Parker is a principal at the Blackwater Consulting Group, Inc., and specializes in online marketing for business professionals. You can reach him by e-mail at firstname.lastname@example.org. To ask for a free copy of his booklet "SEO Secrets for Real Estate Professionals" by writing to email@example.com mentioning Broker Agent Pro. It will be sent to you free and no one will call you. To request a free review of your web site to determine if it can be found by Internet buyers and if it is search engine friendly, click here and it will be evaluated free.)