By Michele Lerner
By now, most REALTORS® know that more than 85% of consumers begin looking for information about their local real estate market online. But with more than one million licensed REALTORS® nationwide and over 20,000 in Massachusetts alone, the competition for grabbing the attention of those buyers and sellers in cyberspace is fierce.
Real estate agents experienced in building their online presence say that online networking functions best as part of an overall marketing plan which incorporates old-fashioned methods of staying in touch with past clients and reaching out to new ones, along with developing an informative website, regularly updating a blog, and using social networking to link all these strategies together.
For each of these agents, a well-designed website is the hub of all activities, the central place to which all other networking should drive visitors.
“Your website needs to be the center of everything and should function like an offi ce,” says Jack Peckham, co-founder and executive director of the Real Estate Cyberspace Society.
A well-written website needs to have a mix of content which includes plenty of keywords that will drive traffi c to your site, yet will also provide valuable information to potential customers.
“Don’t forget that it isn’t just about being found, you also need to give people a reason to get in touch with you,” says Jacob Clayton, broker/owner of Clayton Realty Group in Bedford. “You can see when something is too keyword-driven, which just turns people off.”
Jonathan Adler, director of account strategy for Union Street Media, says that REALTORS® need to recognize that the way to make a website stand out to potential clients and to have it place well on search engines is the same.
“It’s all about content. Not just the volume of content, but the value of the content,” says Adler. “If you are a good REALTOR® offline, you will be good online. A good REALTOR® knows their market and will be able to communicate that knowledge through their website.”
When developing a website, some REALTORS® make the mistake of writing too much about themselves. Adler says, “Don’t write about how great you are, write about your area and demonstrate your knowledge of the local market.”
He also says that studies show that return visitors are three times more likely to contact a website than first-time visitors. This makes useful content crucial to converting someone from a site visitor to a client. He recommends an “Ask a Question” form, rather than a “Contact Me” form, since his company’s survey results show that the first format results in more contacts for REALTORS®.
A key element to a successful website is determining who you are trying to reach, and gearing your content and keyword use to that audience. “Agents should use their website to show the buyer or the seller what they can do for them,” says Peckham.
Clayton recommends that agents decide on a niche, such as new construction or a particular town, and then fi gure out how potential customers might search for information on that topic. Agents can then write web content geared to that topic using some of the potential search topics as keywords.
Adler gives the example of an agent who has a lot of condo listings. “The agent can put the standard information about various condo buildings on his website, but then should add a sentence or two of unique comments, which demonstrate his knowledge of the building,” says Adler. “Search engines like unique content and clients will also be interested in the information.”
Lori Jurkowski, a REALTOR® with Kinlin Grover GMAC Real Estate in Chatham, says her buyers tend to be second home buyers coming from off-Cape, so she tries to reach them before they get there. Her site includes photos and links of interest to visitors as well as buyers.
Deb Agliano, an associate broker with ERA Andrew Realty in Medford, includes videos on her website and now creates a video for each listing which she credits with improving the average days on the market of her listings to less than 30.
“I’ve always had buyer leads from my website, but now I am seeing a shift to include sellers,” says Agliano. She stresses the importance of making your personality stand out on your website. “In my welcome video, I talk about the importance of a sense of humor,” says Agliano. “If I don’t laugh at least once during a fi rst meeting with a new client, I’m not sure we should work together.”
Promoting your Website
Peckham says that the important thing for REALTORS® to recognize is that the basics of promotion have not changed, even now that everyone uses the Internet.
“Things that worked before, such as sending out a press release and mailing a monthly newsletter, are just as effective on the web as they were when they had to be mailed,” says Peckham. “Now they reach a wider audience
Agents can link their website to profiles on social networking sites, associations, and the local Chamber of Commerce. REALTORS® can sign up for Google Analytics, at no cost, in order to track visitors to their website.
“No one should just pour money into a website without taking the time to track it and really know how it is working for you,” says Clayton, who always makes sure that when a new blog post is added to his website, an e-mail is sent to his database.
“We e-mail a monthly newsletter to a large database,” says Shawn Cayer, broker/owner of Windhill Realty, LLC in Ipswich. “The newsletter in turn drives readers back to our website and our blog through links in the articles.”
Most agents who write a blog link it to their website and generate fresh content at least once per week.
“Some of the most successful bloggers provide information about local events, financing, and local contractors, such as moving services, in addition to market information or posts about new listings,” says Cayer. “The idea is to become a fullservice agent for the entire community.” The home page of Cayer’s website picks up the most recent blog posts so that the content is never stale. In addition, his blog automatically feeds new posts to Facebook, Twitter, and LinkedIn.
“A good blog will have a mix of short-term information as well as content that plays more of an advisory role to buyers and sellers,” says Cayer. “Bloggers also have to find a balance between the use of keywords and the content.”
Adler says he recommends that every agent start to blog and post to their site at least once per week. “A blog will drive traffic to your site because the posts are automatically updated on your website,” says Adler. “Agents are sometimes afraid of starting a blog, but they should realize that people expect a blog post to be informal. REALTORS® can write on their blog just as they would talk to a prospective client and share information about anything—volunteer work they are doing, the Fourth of July parade, a new listing, or their analysis of market statistics. It doesn’t have to be perfect and it doesn’t have to take a lot of time.”
Adler says that because so few agents update their blogs regularly, any agent who does will automatically get plenty of attention online.
Working with Social Media
In addition to having blog posts automatically fed to Facebook, Cayer has created a “Fan Page” for his company; other agents have created a personal Fan Page with a name such as “Northwest Boston Homes,” (Clayton’s Fan Page) which allows automatic notifications and updates to be sent to anyone who agrees to become a Fan.
“If you had to do just one thing, in many ways Facebook would be my first choice, since you can easily use it to stay in touch with past clients and have conversations with current clients,” says Agliano. “Agents just need to be careful to keep Facebook a little personal, too, and not just use it as a selling tool.”
Clayton says that agents should, at a minimum, create a complete and relevant profile on Zillow, Trulia, and ActiveRain, along with creating a Facebook fan page. “Each of these profiles should have a link back to your website on relevant keywords,” says Clayton. “Best of all, these are all free ways to connect with potential clients.”
Peckham says that while free networking can be an excellent way to drive business to a website, he warns that REALTORS® can find their time consumed by social networking rather than meeting people in person. “The most effective way to network online is to make sure you are expanding the possibility of meeting face-to-face with actual clients,” says Peckham.
Promoting your Listings
Jurkowski says that her most effective tool for increasing her online visibility is making sure she has enhanced listings on every available website.
“I have multiple high-quality photos for every listing and pay extra to have enhanced listings on Realtor.com,” says Jurkowski. “I write personalized text for every listing, which also helps my properties get noticed on Trulia and Zillow. I get as many calls from this as from my own website.”
Cayer uses keywords such as a town name or a condo building in listing remarks, which increases their visibility in a Google search.
Adler says, “Realtors® typically have great social skills, so they just need to use those skills and their knowledge to make a website work. The technology is just the background.”
Websites to Check Out