The following is an excerpt from the new edition of the firsttuesday Career Manual, a best practices guide to help new real estate licensees establish their personal brands and boost income.
Why online marketing is important
Most all homebuyers use the internet at some point in their home searching process. To capitalize on this online consumer investigation into housing, you need to market your real estate services online to attract potential new clients for yourself and buyers for your listings.
Due to this consumer behavior, perfecting your online presence is fundamental to a successful real estate business. Unlike effective traditional marketing such as direct mailings and door knocking, online marketing is low-cost, time-efficient, and relatively easy.
You, as an agent, use online marketing to:
- solicit new clients;
- publish your listings; and
- retain contact with past clients.
The first step in your online marketing strategy is to create a compelling real estate agent website.
For your website to be effective, you need to reference its destination in all your digital and printed marketing materials. As a starter, choose a URL title that is easy for clients to glean from your print materials and enter in the address bar of their browser (i.e. WhittierRealEstateAgent.com).
Funneling ads, listings, and reviews back to your professional website helps you stay in control of how you present yourself online. Through your website you concentrate all your marketing and promotional material in one spot.
On your website, display all your:
- listings (if you have few listings, it is enhancing to include the listings of other agents in your office);
- real estate experience and expertise;
- awards, commendations, and education received; and
- contact information, including a professional photo.
Recognize that the old saying, “Build it and they will come” does not apply to websites. So how do you best direct traffic to your website?
The simplest way is to purchase ads to solicit online consumers to come visit your webpages. Google AdWords is a tool-for-hire that gives your website a traffic boost from Google search inquiries. So, when an individual searches “Whittier real estate agent” (and Google’s keyword terms has categorized your website), your site will appear at the top of the results.
Webpages, Keywords, and SEO
However, your use of Google AdWords compels you to invest time and thought in search engine optimization (SEO), initially and on periodic keyword updates. SEO activity is wording you use to improve your website communication with search engines, like Google. It also alerts you to individuals who are searching for your services and related information.
To increase the visibility of your website when clients search for a real estate agent like you, include the relevant keywords throughout the copy you post on your website. What are the right keywords? Think about what your would-be client is searching for. They are likely looking for a property – a home or investment – in a specific neighborhood or area, so include the names of the neighborhoods and the community you serve on your homepage. This shouldn’t be every neighborhood in a ten-mile radius. Limit neighborhoods or corridors to the handful where you actually practice on a regular basis – your FARM location.
When you specialize in a particular type of real estate (foreclosures, rentals, single family residences (SFRs), condos, etc.), include the title of your specialty on your homepage as well.
Further, online reviews are extremely important. Yelp and Google+ can be especially helpful. Yelp is a form of stranger marketing. Buyers and sellers seeking information about a real estate agent rely on the reviews of people they do not know – strangers – to direct them to a good agent. Facebook, on the other hand, is a personal form of word-of-mouth marketing, where someone posts that they are looking for an agent and their friends respond.
Nudge your buyers and sellers to review you online. This is all part of your branding and bonding activity. Getting it right takes a bit of finesse.
Marketing property you listed
Aside from your individual website or your broker’s real estate website, where are the best places to market your listings online?
There is no shortage of listing sites, but here are some good places to start:
- ListHub; and of course
- your local multiple listing service (MLS).
Uploading a listing to the MLS usually ensures it gets posted automatically to major aggregators like Zillow. Aggregators extend the reach of your initial MLS entry to a greater sphere of potential buyers.
You also need to check how your listing appears on the aggregator’s site. The data might not translate properly when transferred. When it does not, you need to correct it to best market your listed property.
Submitting your listing to a neighboring MLS is also a must. In heavily populated areas, like the Inland Empire, MLS territories overlap. When you are a member of one MLS you may be able to post to a nearby MLS without paying further MLS fees. It may be as simple as requesting permission from your local MLS (a questionable interference with marketing) to repost your listing with other MLSs, though some are less possessive of data and amenable to giving consent than others.
Include the right number of photos with each listing. Listings with only a couple photos (or none at all) take longer to capture the interest of buyers. Getting the angles and quality of the photos right also affects how quickly listings sell.
Finally, just like you will do on your website, use the right keywords in your listing so buyers can easily find it online in a search. Think about what words buyers might use in their search for a home, such as the property’s:
- school district;
- area; and
- basic features.
Keeping tabs on past clients
Agents do count on past clients for future business. They ought to, and need to encourage it. For some reason, only 12% of homebuyers and 22% of sellers surveyed by a national trade association hire the same agent to purchase or sell their next home.
Even filtering out the first-time homebuyers (who make up one-third of homebuyers) and those relocated out of the area or whose agent retired, 12% is lower than it ought to be. To complicate this forgetful behavior, 63% of homebuyers and 70% of sellers said they would recommend their agent to others – if they could recall who they were.
Considering that most homebuyers and sellers are satisfied with their agents, why do so few contact their previous agent for help with their next home sale or purchase?
Well, for starters, clients over years are unsure whether their agent still practices, or simply forget the agent’s name. Inability to recall a name is also likely to exist when the marketing strategy of other real estate agents outshines and erases the past marketing of their previous real estate agent by interfering with the bonding they had.
On average, homes in California sell once every 16 to 20 years. As memories fade and sources of listings change, a periodic reminder to past clients that you remain a viable part of the industry strengthens your referral base for your future years in the business when clients upgrade, retire, or need to refinance.
Providing excellent service in the first place is a good start to being memorable. However, once the ink has dried after closing and the move-in boxes are unpacked, agents who maintain an ongoing presence in their client’s life experience greater rates of referrals. The easiest, most efficient, and least expensive way to do this is through online marketing. To this end, always harvest email addresses from clients and adult family members and their advisors who have contact with you.
Several social media outlets are useful for keeping up with past and potential clients. Connecting on social media allows you to reach out effectively to multiple former clients at once, coordinated in one effort.
Customer relationship management (CRM) programs assist real estate agents in tracking and organizing their customer service goals. CRM works to stay in touch with past clients and forms a network to create new client leads – in a word, referrals. Many CRM systems organize and track drip emails. These can be sent to your client list periodically and are an excellent way to keep your name fresh in the minds of past clients.
Dos and don’ts for messaging
A potential drawback to frequent online marketing is that you run the risk of appearing less personal, distant, and unattached than when you use other forms of communications. While trying online to make your brand appeal to as many potential clients as possible, you may come off as insincere and fake (read: untrustworthy).
For the personal touch, connect with individual clients whenever you have a reason unique to the client, even when it is just online. Send an email on their birthday or a social media message on the anniversary of closing the home they purchased with your assistance.
CRM software can help you keep track of these dates, and clients are more inclined to respond favorably to an individualized message than a mass email. The email is about them and not generic or about you.
Don’t give up too soon. Just as with any marketing strategy, it may take months or years for your online efforts to pay off with a steady flow of clients. Write out your online marketing strategy and evaluate it every quarter. Then enter adjustments where necessary.
Do track your progress. Keep track of activity on your real estate website with Google Analytics to see how your visitors are finding you. Use this information to adjust your self-promotional efforts and grow your network.
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