Up until now, Internet marketing has been dominated by two major mediums: websites and email messages. Websites require input from many different people: designers, programmers, maintainers, content generators and marketers. Email can be mastered by a single person. Real estate websites generally look prettier, function better, contain more information and are viewed by more people than sporadic agent email blasts. Email content remains mostly static, basically text, with few graphics or photos added. Websites have other advantages, too, such as multimedia and interactive features. Most of all, they change frequently – positioning new homes or limited-time offers on the main page – according to what’s hot on any given day. For brokerage companies, with dedicated marketing and programming staff, leveraging a website to attract customers and sell inventory is expensive but pays off. For an individual agent, except for intermittent email campaigns, their web-based marketing looks hardly better than a photocopied bio-flyer online.
In fact, that’s the biggest challenge facing real estate agents on Web 2.0. They know how to send email, but their mass blasts are all text and attachments. Nothing anybody’s going to say “wow” to when it lands in their Inbox. Any web pages they have on the web are mostly miserable. If attached to their brokerage’s website, agent pages are generally restricted to “biographical” formats containing a few bullet points, a paragraph or two and a place to post an outdated photo. Hyperlinks to inventory might be built in, but in most other ways, the vast majority of agent web pages are incredibly underpowered. Compared to a basic MySpace page, agent pages cannot handle videos, audio messages, daily news entries, an instant messaging link or more than a couple of low-res photos. So what’s an agent – trying hard to get the web to work – to do?
Certainly not make their own website, that’s for sure. While I’m sure there are lots of exceptions out there (seems like everyone I talk to is the exception?) the vast amount of research data shows that agent websites (like www.agentsite.com) are financial black holes. First, they suffer from the number one killer of websites: consumer apathy. NAR research continues to show (year after year) that consumers search for homes not agents when online. Second, most websites are insufferable temples to the agent’s ego. This further alienates consumers because a list of type-A personality traits usually fail to answer “what’s in it for me” for the consumer. And ironically, it isn’t even links to housing inventory that’s useful, because consumers have all the inventory they need before they find an agent’s website. Oh, and did I mention that most agent websites change less frequently than the seasons? Add in the fact that any marketing money spent on an agent website is also money spent against their company’s traffic-building efforts: Who needs competitors with agents like that?
So what’s left for the average agent who’s looking to get the average return on Internet marketing while doing (ahem) the average amount of work? In a word: Blogs. Web site logs – or blogs as they have become known – are the next big thing for agent Internet marketing, for three reasons.
First, agent blogs are usually attached to the agent’s bio page on the company website. This works incredibly well because the company drives traffic to the company site, where the consumer finds an interesting property, and then is tempted to learn more about the related agent by reading their latest blog entries. To be clear, agents should only blog as part of their company’s overall marketing effort. Creating a random blog somewhere on a larger blog portal is like shouting across the Grand Canyon. Agents simply don’t have the daily stamina to out-post the hundreds of blah-blah-bloggers who can sit in their office cubes typing rants all day long. So the only way an agent’s blog entries can have value is when the postings are positioned in the right place at the right time. And that’s attached to the inventory which attracts consumers in the first place. (Make no mistake about it: Most agents’ postings will fall shy of E.F.Hutton fame, so it will still be inventory that drives web traffic.)
Second, blogs make it possible for an agent’s website to become a real time phenomenon. Posting an entry on a blog is like typing a short note in your word processor and having it show up on your website. It’s an instantaneous bulletin board for an agent’s business – creating a venue for market alerts, new listing announcements, price reductions, and other marketing techniques. Blogs also accept multimedia content – so a posting can include a PDF file like a property disclosure, an Excel spreadsheet with finance information, a video clip from the agent’s digital camera and a few updated photos since the snow melted. The technology behind blogs – mostly typing into a box, attaching a file and pressing post – is within the grasp of almost every agent, even the dedicated technophobe. Without learning a scrap of HTML code, agents can transform their profile pages online into rapidly moving marketplaces for real estate traffic and information.
Which brings up an important etiquette note: Keep your blog professional. Sure, most people use their blogs to empty the contents of their minds on the page. Which in turn causes their readers to empty the contents of their stomachs on the floor. Real estate agents cannot afford to speak their minds in their blogs. It is not a luxury that a licensed professional has when using the Internet for interacting with consumers. All it takes is a single incendiary comment on your blog and you’re labeled madder than Dr. Frankenstein – and not even an updated airbrushed photo will save you.
Of course, this still leaves the third important reason why blogs can be a powerful medium for agent advertising on the web: Social networking. Most blogs are two-way systems: you post some information, and visitors reply. They post their thoughts about your posting. And so on. If you post information about a new listing, hopefully a visitor will post an inquiry about the property. A posting on mortgage issues might engender a conversation with the first-time home buyer who has questions. Within literally hours, your blog will be like having your own syndicated real estate column (and it only took me ten years).
Unlike newspaper and website columns, blogs can be “read” using a variety of devices. Consumers can subscribe to your blog using an RSS (syndication) reader built into their email program. Blackberry devices or other smartphones can display your blog wirelessly while on the go. A blog-reader with instant messaging (IM) software can display your latest postings while chatting with friends about them. In fact, blogs can even become podcasts which means they will be picked up by consumers heading to the gym wearing their iPod.
Like a warp-speed correspondence with potentially a large number of pen-pals, your blog will become a hub of your online social networking activities. Visitors may come to anticipate your next posting – or just as equally abandon your blog altogether if you go weeks without making your presence known. Especially hot topics – such as subprime loans or recent sales in your marketplace – can create the opportunity for you to attract the interest of pre-customers – people who are interested in the issues but not yet directly engaged in buying or selling real estate. In effect, your blog-based social networking is priming the pump of your future pipeline of business.
And that's Internet marketing for agents.