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2008-04-02 15:02:00

Online Marketing: 'Old Dogs' Learn New Tricks

Every once in a while, a story comes along that just makes me smile. Walt StraubWalt Straub (shown at right) is a Prudential California Agent in Walnut Creek, CA (www.waltstraub.com) and he has been a real estate agent for 33 years. He has seen many things come and go in the business, and like most good agents he recognized early on that if he could establish his own personal marketing niche he would probably do better than if he did not.

And so it came to be, with Rossmoor Retirement Communities having a 2,000 acre master-planned community just minutes away from Walnut Creek that Walt decided to carve himself a niche in finding retirement aged folks seeking an active and stable environment a great place to enjoy a home. Walt chose well: Rossmoor is a nationally recognized and award winning senior adult community located in the picturesque 2,000 acre Tice Valley area of Walnut Creek. The community is only two miles from downtown Walnut Creek, and 20 miles from downtown San Francisco. Surrounded by acres of open space, the gated community is home to 8,700 residents residing in 6,400 attractive garden-style and mid-rise condominiums. While some people joke when referring to seniors, while they have been joking, that demographic has quietly become a major factor in just about everything today, and that includes the purchase and sale of homes.

The demographic is moderately wealthy, stable and uniformly looking to downsize and let someone else take care of the property while they exercise their hard earned personal time. They are a wonderful customer base and Walt has made many lasting friendships with his clients, who constantly refer their friends to him. If fact, Walt will tell you that his two biggest sources of leads are referrals and Internet leads. (Internet leads?  The Internet is for YOUNG people! Seniors and 50-somethngs aren’t looking to buy things on the Internet, isn’t it true that Facebook, MySpace and all those social sites are full of teenagers and people looking for a date or a way to hook up, aren’t they?)

The simple answer is,"yes," that’s exactly what those social networking sites are full of. But, you know something? Mature “55+” people have children and grandchildren who have turned them on to the ease and ubiquity of the Internet; how it makes finding whatever you are looking for easy, without running all over hither and yon, and guess what? Yes, you guessed it, “55+” people utilize the Internet when they go looking for a home or a retirement home, or multiple retirement homes. What’s even better is that when they find what they are looking for, they can afford it! Just like all of us, these affluent and stable people can look at homes anywhere in the world without leaving their living room.

Now, our man Walt is no dunce. He is actually a pretty smart fellow. He reasoned that if he could carve out a niche on the Internet appealing to seniors and folks interested in that huge resource two miles from his doorstep, he might be on to something! About four years ago, Walt decided to invest in his own web site, as well as subscribe to a page on Prudential California’s site.

“I was sure that it would be very successful once I put my site up” Walt told us recently. “I envisioned this huge virtual billboard right in the middle of the Bay Bridge, seen by everyone coming to the East Bay from San Francisco every day. I was one of the first agents in our office to really get involved in using the Internet and I was so excited to be putting up my web site.” Unfortunately, as is often the case, expectations exceeded results. For a little over three years, Walt characterized his success with the site as “poor.”

About a year ago, Walt took stock of the situation and realized that what had started out as a good idea, namely; to use the Internet as a marketing tool — was rapidly becoming a necessity. It was then that Walt decided to put more effort into becoming an Internet REALTOR. The question was, “How do I become an Internet REALTOR?” You can relate to the problem, right?

“I think it started to come together for me when I became aware of how one of my fellow agents spent hours continually working hard to try to get to the top of the search engines without success. I came across an article on Online Marketing that highlighted one agent’s online marketing success with organic search and decided to hire someone to do what my fellow agent couldn’t do but that the fellow I was reading about had accomplished with no work at all: he hired it done. [Now I’m in the article. Now I’m having success on the Internet.”]

As all this was happening, the brokerage’s IT manager came to see Walt to show him the team’s exciting new “Mothership” web site — where everyone gets a page on the corporate site. “With my new knowledge, I asked him how I was going to get found on a Mothership site”, Walt related, and when he responded ‘We’re still working on that’, I knew my decision was made.”

First, he subscribed to the leading organic search subscription for $239.95 a month, second, he upgraded to a feature-laden marketing platform for free (“web site” to the uninitiated) and his original plan started to come together. As soon as he received reports from his WebReporterTool that showed him where his traffic WAS NOT coming from, Walt cancelled his totally unproductive program with REALTOR.com that was costing him $300 monthly and producing nothing. Now, his total costs for his program that works are less than for his former program that did not work.

“In the past year, I have sold seven homes to folks moving to the area from far outside my home market,” Walt related. “There’s no way this could have happened without the Internet. I use my drip e-mail feature and agent handshake system to network and to stay in constant touch with my prospects and clients. My target market — retirement communities and golf course homes — are very popular “what if” searches from so many contemplating retirement and leisure. This generation of home buyer absolutely is sold on using the Internet and now that I am where the buyers can find me, I am getting a constant stream of quality leads from a resource that had produced poorly for me for years.”

Walt also reports that since he bought into organic search, his personal site produces far more leads and interest than his page on Prudential’s main site: “Compared to my site as a lead generator, the Prudential site compares poorly,” Walt reported.

“It took a while for my search subscription to start kicking in, “Walt continued, “but since it did five months ago, I have had four closings from leads that subscription generated. I now get about 40% of my leads from the Internet. The commissions I have earned since subscribing have far exceeded the total annual cost of my subscription by a factor of four — and the first year isn’t over, yet! This is one of the best investments I have ever made in my real estate marketing and in my business!”

“What about REALTOR.com?”, we asked, “weren’t you a little nervous about not subscribing?”

“Once I learned how to interpret the data on my site from the WebReporterTool, I had the confidence to leave them behind for good,” Walt said, “and I am glad I did. I can’t afford to waste $300 a month on a program that doesn’t produce, and REALTOR.com did not produce for me.”

Organic Search Attracts Internet Buyers

“There has been a big increase in visitors to my site since it is now found by Internet buyers because of my organic search subscription,” Walt added, “I’ve had 479 unique visitors in five months and it continues to rise. They find me under Lafayette, CA, Real Estate and Walnut Creek, CA, Real Estate, the Rossmoor Retirement Community and all sorts of variations of that, under ‘Prudential Walnut Creek’ — you would be amazed if you could see my stats from the WebReporterTool which tell me how everyone gets to my site; I know I was,” he said with a laugh. “My site has been properly optimized for exactly the audience I am trying to reach and I am reaching them! No one can kid me about how well their product performs because now I can see how everything I do in advertising and online marketing performs with this great tool that comes free with my subscription.” (Imagine that. Why would you want your site optimized to attract exactly the market you seek? Why would you want to be able to evaluate what “success” in your Internet marketing means by seeing the facts for yourself?)

This isn’t happening in some vacuum, this is in a tough market that Walt expects to do better in the second half of 2008. “My business is much better since the Internet started contributing to it. I’m looking to do better this year than last, and I attribute that to being optimistic and positive, as well as utilizing a good web platform and organic search. Some of the things I love about being an Internet real estate agent are that the ease of marketing and the simplicity of the customer response make it simple for me and for my prospects and clients. People searching for what I sell only need to type that in to their browser and they can find me. I call them immediately and –more often than not—good things develop from there. Even better, my search subscription provides me so much information in a well organized and intuitive format that I can now actually put that information to work for me in attracting more prospects. It truly is a great thing, and far better and more valuable than I ever expected when I subscribed. Every day I learn something that helps me in my business from these reports .. .”

When we asked Walt for his advice to those not doing so well these days, Walt said “Try Internet marketing. Most buyers use the Internet to find their home and that’s where they can find you, too.”

So, what makes me smile in this story? Well, first, it’s that a 33-year-agent who unabashedly admits that he is not a techie and that he never wants to be one has mastered the technology that so many ‘more hip types’ can’t seem to.  The payoff, however, seems to be that his 55+ prospects and clients have embraced it just as much as he has. Whoever said “you can’t teach an old dog new tricks” obviously never met Walt Straub and his target clients, for if they had, they’d know that it isn’t about age or length of experience online, it’s about delivering what people want when they go looking for it in the most simple and uncomplicated path possible, and what way is better than in one click?  Walt has intuitively understood that for years; it just took him a while to find the right tools to make it happen for him. If you are like Walt, intuitively knowing that the Internet is like a giant resource waiting to be tapped but you haven’t been able to tap it, maybe you should be like Walt. Keep it simple and use the right tools, and buyers will find a path to your door.

Thanks to Walt for agreeing to share his success with us all, and if you know someone looking to retire in an active and wonderful place in Northern California, Walt is always ready to help you. 

(Mike Parker is a principal at the Blackwater Consulting Group and specializes in online marketing for real estate professionals. You can reach him by e-mail at mparker@theblackwatercg.com. To ask for a free copy of his booklet "SEO Secrets for Real Estate Professionals" send him an e-mail realestate@theblackwatercg.com. 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.)

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