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Is Your Website Working Against Your Real Estate Career?

The-Bar-Has-Been-RaisedNo one is denying that there has been a shake-up in the real estate industry.
Empty cubicles, where there once was a waiting list, tell the story better than I could. 
A thinning of the herd is always a positive thing for those staying put, but the bottom line is that there will always be more agents in the field than ready-to-act buyers and sellers

So we ask, what are you doing to ensure that you are a 'stayer' in 2008? 
There is common saying that I can't see being much more appropriate than now: Fail to prepare, prepare to fail.

Along with this national 'shift in the market', that has many agents looking for a new career, there is another 'shift' that will certainly lead to the frustration and demise of many seasoned and novice agents alike.

The Digital Divide.

In 1997, an agent having an online identity was the exception and today it is the rule. 
Unfortunately, today 99% of these online real estate identities have been rendered mostly useless.
The typical agent's website is a glorified digital brochure with it's only useful tool being the ubiquitous home search button.
So the rhetorical question becomes: Of what use is a canned real estate agent website to today's ready-to-act buyers and sellers?

Your challenge: Today's internet user (real estate related) is looking for Right Now Answers to their Right Now Questions.  They are looking for and expecting Perspective and Insight from a changing industry.

Being a huge fan of Wired Magazine, I am going to lift one of their standbys in order to illustrate how the industry is failing to meet the expectations of the internet user and what can be done to improve the effort.

Introducing the Expired, Tired and Wired when it comes to the online presence of a real estate agent.

Expired:

Glorified-digital-brochurePersonal Domain Names
It's not supposed to be about you.  Its supposed to be about what you are doing for me.  Using your name as your domain name already gives me the feeling that I am about to land on a site where you tell me all about your designations, awards, hobbies, pet's name and top it all off with a Glamour-Shots headshot from 10 years ago.

The Intro Page
No Content = No SEO
Why are you making me click twice to get into your site?
Please tell me that you aren't still using flash to welcome visitors.  That's so 2001  

The Canned Welcome Message
Your message has been used on 1000's of sites.  Google ignores it.  And so does everyone who comes to your site.  Terrible first impression.

Local Links: Weather, Schools, Chambers...
If I wanted to check the weather do you really think I am going to think of your website?

Link Exchanges
First AdvancedAccess got nailed, now just recently it was RealEstateWebmasters.  It's SEO gaming, people.

Free Reports
At least you aren't charging for dated advice that you didn't write, and probably never even read.

Canned Drip Marketing Campaigns
"Spring is here.  Time for a little Spring Cleaning"  - I just threw up in my mouth a little.  This type of useless marketing sucks.
These are just as bad as the free reports you didn't write/read.  Worst part?  You are sending them to me and I never even subscribed.

Featured Properties
Is this as discriminating as it sounds?  This must make your other sellers feel like their properties aren't as important.  Just send me to where I can see all properties.

Sounds On Your Site
Please, no songs, no sound effects, no spoken intro messages. 
People like to choose when they hear sounds, especially when browsing at work. 

Wired-magMore Than 10 Buttons in your Navigation
How many choices are too many?  Some things are just to obvious.

Tired:

Home Value, Property Request and Pre-qualification Forms
With all the above working against you when it comes to being resourceful destination for your visitor, do you really think that you are going to have people filling these out?  Not a chance.

Mortgage Calculators
Why don't I just make up a number?   It will probably be just as accurate. 
If I knew exactly what the rate was that I was qualified for, don't you think I would have also already gotten past the 'what can I afford' stage?

Personal Logos
Leaning on your name is pretentious.

Framing anything other than your 3rd Party IDX Solution
Your site must be less than adequate if you are concerned I may not come back to it as a superior resource.

Wired:

Descriptive, Catchy, and/or Memorable Domain Names
Been here once?  Bet you never had trouble recalling it a second time.
Try these: RainCityGuide.com, PortOrangeJuice.com, UrbanDigs.com, ArlingtonDirt.com, RealEstateSnippets.com, and FocusOnCrofton.com

The Blogsite in Place of the Website

Participation in the RE.net
Embrace your fellow agents in the online community. 

The friendships, alliances and networks that you forge in this dawn of social media will payoff much faster and more frequently than establishing yourself as an online island.  Read your competition's peers' blogs, comment on their posts, encourage them to fight-the-good-fight.  This effort will earn and attract traffic to your online presence.  You can even twist this into a "keep your friends close, and your enemies even closer" sentiment if you needed to.

Social Networking
This movement is more than a fad.  It is the reality you are going to find yourself behind with if you don't get involved now.
Take the time to participate in a few, and grow your online reach.  I spend time working with Linkedin, ActiveRain, Facebook.

Pants-DownStaying Ahead Of The Media
Before blogging it was virtually impossible for agents to counter the media and their claims. 
As the nation braced for the "resettling" of home values, for lack of a better phrase, real estate was caught with its pants down, and unable to curb the media frenzy.

When it comes to the perception of your potential client, you are not just competing with the agent next door; you are also competing with perception set by the local and national media.  Right now, there is plenty of money being made in real estate, just not in commission checks and equity.  The doom and gloom are great lead-ins to the 11 o'clock news and selling the Sunday paper.

Having your voice in the ears and eyes of your past, present and future clients will continue to have you being seen as their trusted resource for real estate consulting.  The news may not always be good, but building an audience that trusts your perspective is the goal.
—-

So, this whole article was originally inspired by conversations we had with many dozens of agents… and although we could have just ended it a sentence ago, the intention of starting it would not have truly been accomplished. 

You see, over the last year, we've received several hundred inquiries to our site, looking for more information on taking advantage of the services we offer.  Recently, we personally attempted to re-contact every inquiry that did not end up becoming a client.  Hard to believe I know... but there were a few :).  What our team found, was a strong portion of those that never acted, still haven't.  They are hanging on to their "Wait and see" mantra.

If you were to jump into a real estate career today, would you be volunteering for more floor time?  Organizing mass-mailers?  Sitting in others' open houses? 

Well, that's what we are hearing over and over again as the Safe Strategy.  Agents are still willing to try and ride out the storm with more and more of the same old, same old.

The other alarming uncovering was the many stories of seasoned agents whom, with as many as 12-15 years in the industry, just 12 months ago were on cruise control, are now scrambling to get their business back on track. 

Is Playing It Safe Really The Safe Play?

Or would you be making an effort to pave the way for your voice to be heard in the arenas where it is being sought?

Let's look back at that Safe Play:

Do not get left behindWhen the industry was healthy, it seemed that to generate a relationship with a potential client, all one needed to focus on was placing oneself in front of those looking to buy or sell.  The media was either positive or indifferent. 

But in 2005–6, things changed. The media got involved and ran with the story of a housing bubble. Ellen Renish, speaking for NAR on the topic said "What happened to us is the media."  Stories about a real estate "bubble" and its potential to burst caused consumers to "not do anything," she says. "And nothing happened. The bubble stories really stopped things for three months," Renish said. "It was pretty scary." 

What was most compelling about this situation in 2006 was the inability for agents to counter the media and their claims.

And then the bottom did fall out.  Predictably, the media kicked up their reporting in full swing. 

Earlier this month, RIS media held a round table discussion on the topic.  Ron Peltier commented "The media likes to create sensationalism, but the fact is we're going through a national correction....There are only local stories, and they're more relevant."  Well yeah!  Of course… it is local. 

The challenge is, real estate agents, for the most part, are not geared to "talk" local.  If agents are to counter the media, they need to COUNTER the media.  Fight words with words.  But just how do you do this when your marketing is based on recipe cards, newspaper ads and a clickable brochure with a home search?

With the media covering real estate more now then ever before, do you really think people are going online to just look for homes?  They are looking for knowledge and wisdom.  Simply put, your template website doesn't have a snowball's chance in hell of offering them what they are looking for.  They are looking for PERSPECTIVE and INSIGHT not for links to the zoo or a free report on the 10 steps to getting your house ready to sell.

The gap of the Digital Divide is only widening.

—If you enjoyed reading this article, why not Subscribe to be notified of the next one?—

Hat tip to Chris Daley for the research on this post.

Related Must Reads:
The Business Blog vs. The Real Estate Website
The Real Estate Blogsite Myth
Why Blogging Makes You A Better Realtor
Part 1    Part 2    Part 3

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Comments

LOVED this post. (Of course then I had to stop and make sure I don't have any "expireds" or "tireds" on my blog...) I know someone who just paid $2000 to have a website designed for them and it has this fancy-shmancy flash landing page. arrrrggghhhh!!! I threw a fit. Unfortunately I think they ignored me.

It's the law of natural selection. Those that step out and take the lead will thrive, those that lag behind will not.

Back in 2000, I was the first real estate agent in Dothan to have their own personal website. Now there are nearly 100. We now have the first blog, but I don't think blogging will catch-on like the websites did. Blogging takes work, and many agents are not going to put in the effort.

Thank goodness for that.

Jim,
Great article. I sent it out to everybody in my office. I know it will make in impact. Thanks for the great writing.

Nice article, Websites are a lot of work and so are blogs, you just have to reserve the time to schedule to work daily. I however think blogging wil catch on. The big difference will be the quality and placement. Working on it daily.

Great post. I bought my own website last year. I also got some cheesy url name with my name in it and no one ever found it. The only purpose of the site was to simply say I had one since I didn't have the money to market it in google. I am very thankful I discovered the blog.

Thanks all...It took a few days to write... and was actually about 3 times the length when I looked up from the keyboard.
We've got a few more on the subject in the hopper needless to say.

Bunn, that blog of yours is great! I hadn't seen that one yet. I love it.
So memorable.

Great post Jim. Reminds me of some of our early conversations.

If you have good content- you don't need a "cute" url. Someone in my office wanted to sell me a domain name of one of the arlington urban villages- that she's not using. She said I could use it so people can find me. I told her that people are finding me very well without it.

I hope you talk about this "blog bandwagon" that everyone is jumping on- using this "blog" that is on their canned website.

Mary,

Great points and stay tuned. We have just scratched the surface.

The same companies that are mentioned above are quickly adding a "blog" feature to the templates. In reality this is only done to prevent the loss of agents when the light goes on. What is the point of adding a blog to your 20 page website and keeping the 20 worthless content pages? Over time, 99% of your content is found on 5% of your navigation. Added to that, these "blog plugins" do not even come close to having the same tools, reach or results as actually using the right technology.

Maybe a la mode will add those neat sound effects they have on their websites to the blog categories and rss icon. Nothing says cutting edge technology like beeps and buzzes on a website. :)

Hi Jim,

Thanks for the reminder to always evolve.

Many of the Expired items are really applicable to Realtor marketing offline as well in my opinion. There is nothing so tiresome and dull than seeing a Realtor note achievements. Sometimes I often think they note such accolades to explain why they've gained 20 lbs and 20 stress wrinkles based on their dated vanity mugshot.

Bunn's Blog is produced and powered by the Real Estate Tomato...you mean to say you don't "sign-off" on each and every Blog your team produces? Say it isn't so.

Question...Is there any SEO madness behind your decision not to truncate your posts using the "read more" feature? Do you advise against it?

Thanks

I agree with a lot of what you said, however, I DO get several clients from my featured properties portal. And sellers love being "featured" ...

Also, you said: "The other alarming uncovering was the many stories of seasoned agents whom, with as many as 12-15 years in the industry, just 12 months ago were on cruise control, are now scrambling to get their business back on track. " More than just seasoned agents are "scrambling" right now.

Thanks Jim,
Many things you have touched on here are on the same page with what I believe and think.

It might seem crazy that more have not adopted blogging, but really the adaptation to technology in the real estate industry has always been this way. So now agents have 20 page websites, but no blog. Well, they will work their way more mainstream, and then something else will upset the apple carts. Evolution is the key to survival. The strong and strong willed who desire to prosperity will survive.

This was a great article. So, it took 3 days to write? It shows. Thank you. I'm sure you'll be making a difference in many careers! Glad I clicked over from Active Rain!

Lovely post, as always, Jim. You know, I met Ron Peltier when he was the general regional manager for Edina Realty in 1990. I interviewed with him when I moved back to Minnesota -- some sort of marketing position that I no longer recall. I guess he got my number all right -- some arrogant California broker who wasn't going to stick around for the long haul -- so I never heard back. But I never under estimated his ability, drive nor talent.

Jim,

This is encouraging, and I hope you are dead right. I have been posting 4-5 times per week since the start of the year and using a more targeted topic approach - still with the "if I write it they will come" kind of blind faith, while almost no one else in my area is doing it. Like I said I hope you and all the Tomato trainers are right about what you predict....if nothing else I'm honing my writing skills....
Cheers!

Jim-
I was ala monde, Z57. I'm glad I found a home with the Tomato. I emailed you an article that further makes your point. Can't wait to read the next chapters of this topic!

I think one of the toughest concepts many agents face is understanding how they can effectively market themselves without explicitly selling themselves all the time. Show, rather than tell, that you're knowledgeable. People will figure out the rest.

Excellent post!

Good examples, and thank you for the comprehensive analysis of things that are wrong with some websites, and some things that work.

I don't think a good website needs to be a blog-site necessarily, but having a blog, and having it on your site, is important.

If agents would create their own "destination" websites, they wouldn't need to rely on listing.bot sites like Zillow, Realtor.com, and Trulia, because they would be getting their own leads and building their own brands.

Thank you! Thank you. Thank you.

As a consumer - I don't want hear about YOU (the agent). I want useful information and I want to know that I can contact you anytime either via phone, - or perhaps even text or IM (ha ha fat chance no?) and quickly get honest (not canned) answers to my questions as soon as possible.

I also am NOT going to fill out my information just to look at listings when I know I can find what I am looking for many other places. I leave as soon as I stumble upon forms like this.

Hey look, me and Purva are wired. Who knew?

Thanks for the link and the recognition.

Jim,
Good article and good links for some of those new Tomato bloggers.

It's always good to hear your thoughts and recommendations. Boy howdie...the vine has certainly grown.

Sounds like sound advice on what to write and what the public wants to see and read. Now, for making time for all the social networking...

Just got rid of my old template site and I am concentrating on building my blog. I like the ability of being able to quickly change/update my blog. The old template site pretty much stayed the same for years. Even I didn't go to it!

Terriffic post Jim! You've summed up everything we tell our real estate clients about their webiste and we have recommended to them in our blog that if there is just one other real estate article they read this year, it shoud be your post.

We only beg to differ on one little point where you advise against property request forms and the like. We find time and again that a prominent quick enquiry form on an estate agent's website helps conversions a lot, whether visitors are coming from natural search or pay-per-click. The trick is to keep the form simple though - none of those daunting 'tell us all about yourself' jobs that will only discourage your visitors!

Great Article.. This is exactly the message that Realtors who care about their online success should understand.

Carl,

RE: Bunn's site, I had heard about it, but hadn't seen it yet. He signed off so quickly, I never got to give my two cents. But I'm giving them now... and I love it.

RE: the fact that I don't truncate my articles... it's just a personal preference. It may in fact may not be the best for SEO, or tracking clicks, but I am trying to create a specific experience with my site: The intention is to have it be seen as an educational destination. The articles are commonly long, detailed and thorough. I want the impression upon visit to be that I have invested a good amount of energy for your enjoyment, and you'll have to invest some back to get out of it what I intended. If I were to truncate the articles, I feel that the impression would be a bit more whimsical, and clicking over to find a long article would have readers assuming they got the gist from the first paragraph or so, and then give up. Whereas if you see the whole article at once, the impression is that there is a commitment to reading it that is understood from the first impression.
I don't know that I am explaining it properly... but it all comes down to the impression that I feel my readers are getting upon landing on the site.

That said, I don't usually recommend to our clients that they try and blog as I do. The audience you are reaching is hopefully very different then the one I blog to. This is the topic of an article I have been meaning to write... so look for it soon.

Hey Jim,

I can appreciate a lot of what you have said but to be honest with you I have looked at a lot of real estate blogs and this is what I have observed:

I see a lot of work being done by a lot of agents who have written a lot of articles that have gotten 0 comments.

I have seen a lot of blog home pages with 0 Google PR.

I have read the titles of a lot of blogs and Googled those keywords and have not seen those blogs appear anywhere in the first 10 organic search results.

I have seen blogs with the same search features and featured listings as I find on "canned" websites, just in a different place on the page.

So.... I am not really sold on dropping all other marketing practices to spend all of my time and budget on a custom real estate blog.

I will grant you that most offline marketing practices are dead, but there are still a few practices that I think are useful and do incorporate those into our marketing mix.

But I get the feeling that you are trying to get us to believe that a real estate blog (particularly hosted by your company) is some kind of silver bullet.

Your method is great and everyone elses is not is the feeling I am getting from the post that you just wrote.

I am no blogging guru. I know a bit about it, but not a whole lot. I certainly don't want to slam something just because I don't understand it or can not see the bottom line.

So....

Can you point me to some case studies on your blog that indicate to me:

1. How long the client has been using the blog as a real estate marketing tool.

2. How many closed transactions can be directly related to the blogging activities.

3. How much time that person spent working on the blog to generate the lead that led to a converted closed transaction.

If I could see some hard data like that it might help me determine about what roi I could expect to see and how fast my cash would be returned to me.

And by the way, my wife and I work together and the only thing I blog is a weekly market update for five cities. We have a semi-custom website that I toy with and it uses my wife's name for the url, the home page has a Google PR of 2. We have been in the real estate business for going on 10 years and we closed 35 transactions in 2007, about 1/3 of those deals came from our antiquated 1.0 website. We have closed over 400 transactions since starting in the business with about 1/3 of that business coming from internet leads.

Please stack me up against some of your clients and tell me specifically how many of them did better than we did in 2007 and let me know exactly how much of their business could be attributed to their blogging efforts.

If I see a solid pattern then I will be knocking on your door!

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