Online Marketing: Advertising - What to Do and Who to Believe?
By: Mike Parker

A recently published (not in this newsletter) "study" - citing 431 interviewees - purports to convince real estate agents that "word of mouth, billboards and yard signs are the most effective sources of leads." Where is that, in Fred Flintstone's home town of Bedrock?

I'll tell you one thing folks, that finding is contradicted by the California Association of REALTORS'® 2006 Economic Study, which found less than 2 percent of all sales originated from those antediluvian advertising methods (Write me and I'll send you the study), and also contradicts everything the NAR tells us about Internet marketing. Yard signs and billboards were very handy when people spent hours driving around on weekends to see the then-new interstate highway system in the 1950s.

People now virtually "drive around" on the Internet when they want to go looking at homes. (With gas now selling for $3.00 plus a gallon that makes perfect sense, too! The Internet is FREE to the consumer.) Your Web site is the modern equivalent of a billboard. The trick is to be sure you place that modern billboard where people can find it when they go, "driving around on the Internet."

We all know there is nothing as strong as a good personal referral - I will never argue with that. However, there aren't enough of those to go around. Where then, to find more buyers? With yard signs? With billboards? I don't think so. When the NAR states that about 80 percent of all real estate sales involve the Internet, how can any knowledgeable person state the yard sign claim with a straight face? (Also, is a sample of only 431 REALTORS® a sufficient database on which to stake your future? Or, would the total statistical database of the NAR and its million plus members be a safer place to put your trust?). Folks, Internet search results are the new referral - people trust their browser and they trust the impartiality of pure organic search conducted in the privacy of their own homes.

Billboards and yard signs! Hello! Are you reading this article with your magic decoder ring while driving around aimlessly in your car or on your COMPUTER screen?

Business Week Magazine reported their, "Cautionary Tale for Old Media" in the November 5, 2007 issue. In a paragraph headed "IN DENIAL," the article states: "...newspaper spending last year totaled $24.4 billion while Internet advertising rose 17.3 percent to $9.6 billion, according to Advertising Age." The same article that straight-facedly said that billboards and yard signs are the way to go also stated that, "agents and brokers appear to be spending their advertising dollars mostly the same way and in the same forms of media that they did a year ago." I guess those folks spending $9.6 billion on Internet advertising didn't include REALTORS®?

When I see "studies" and "programs" citing incorrect information like that, it's easy to understand the mistrust of "the Internet" by so many REALTORS®. The trouble is, it isn't the Internet spreading that false data, it is people trying to sell you services and the like. The issue is this: How are you to determine who is telling the truth?

Lest we forget the Biblical admonition of, "Let him without sin cast the first stone," we must admit we do provide consulting services for a firm whose product we unstintingly recommend. However, when one uncovers a product with hundreds of endorsing REALTORS ® stating how that product has helped them, we believe it fully appropriate to bring that kind of product to everyone's attention and to let them evaluate it.

We recommend many other good companies, too; companies like Point2 NLS, for instance, but from which I (nor any company affiliated with me) do not receive one penny for doing so or for any reason. In my own humble way, I try to let folks know what really works, based on what I see every day that doesn't work. I try not to pander to what designers and management want to see if it doesn't work for the agent and the broker. I'm just one of a hundred voices competing for your attention, but nothing is as satisfying to me as when I hear from someone who followed a recommendation in one of these articles and changed their success in a positive way.

"Knowledge is power," it has been said. It is best to discount statements from people lacking knowledge because often what is being passed off as "knowledge" is, in fact, opinion. Opinions are fine, but when it comes to making important decisions about your advertising and Internet presence, facts are better. Someone who actually DOES what they tell you about each day is usually a better source of information than someone stating an opinion. Thus, you must do your diligence. You must determine if you are being told an opinion designed to foreclose your own investigation into whether something is valid. In our business, we see this every day.

I have actually had Webmasters tell me that they have "fixed" a deficiency when I am looking at the deficient code live on my own computer screen and can see that nothing has been done about it. Unfortunately, the agent we were working with believed what the Webmaster told him and still is getting no leads or sales from the brokerage site. Perhaps you don't know much about the Internet, but you surely can tell facts from horse puckey and you know in order to tell the difference sometimes you must see actual client results, look at actual reports and listen to the actual evaluations of true real estate professionals who are out there every day, just like you.

With the proper data before you, the choices are plain as to what you should be doing to help yourself the most and the least expensive. You have to learn more about this yourself if you are to make proper choices. You are a professional real estate agent and should not get buried in technical minutia, but you need to be aware that the entire way North America shops for homes has changed to an Internet-based evaluation process.

In light of that truth, one of the things every agent should do is to shift some of their advertising dollars to the Internet. A cautionary word of advice: In my opinion, any company promising you a set quantity of leads for any price is no substitute for Internet advertising. "Ten Quality leads for $499.95." is an oxymoron. Purchasing names and addresses of visitors to OTHER people's Web sites is no substitute for obtaining those names and addresses from your own Web site. It's like the parable about giving people lessons in fishing as opposed to giving them a fish for dinner: once you know how to catch fish, you will never have to buy anyone else's "Catch of the Day."

To further that analogy, you want your Internet marketing to target the proper catch, not to drag the bottom for every thing in the ocean. The Internet is a very large ocean and you cannot waste time with information not relevant to your business. Even better, you will be working with real prospects: those who have seen what YOU offer and are interested in talking to YOU in order to learn more, not someone who signed in to some site to find out what their neighbor's house might be worth, or to see what interest rates were on a loan application two months ago.

I firmly believe purchasing Internet leads is a fool's game, and I have received the e-mails to back up that opinion. The only lead that means anything to you is one from a buyer looking at your properties or your Web site and wants more information. That is what you should put your Internet ad dollars into obtaining. This does not mean you should eliminate all print advertising. It simply means you should integrate it with your online advertising and you should track the results from print advertising and our online advertising with management tools showing you where each and every inquiry to your site comes from. In this way, you can quickly eliminate ineffective print advertising and keep print that does work as well as manage your online advertising.

In that line, I receive real writings from true real estate professionals almost every day on a wide variety of topics. While I can report I have not received one note about billboards and yard signs, I do get a lot of notes about what the Internet is doing for real estate agents. These statements ring true to me. Here are a few examples of messages received in the last couple of weeks and please let me know if they don't ring true to you, too!

• "...Coming from where I was just six months ago and with the legitimate leads I am now receiving, I eliminated qualms I may have had about the Internet. I know this is working because of what people are telling me: 'you place well in the search engines:' and 'your Web site came up first in my search.' are phrases I now hear regularly. The collapse of the sub-prime market and subsequent real estate slowdown has impacted the dollars coming into my brokerage...however, that is temporary...I am closing on two properties within the next week...just so you know, my last four sales came from the Internet, not hard copy newspaper advertising...I want to continue working with Blackwater and you... I am impressed with results for the search engines and I am convinced that they are the critical component in my online survival. I know the phone companies are doing away with phone booths because of the universal use of cell phones, but recently, I stopped at a Carl's Jr. to get a phone book for an address. The gal gave me the phone book with the comment "we never use these anymore." I know why that is - all the buyers are on the Internet!" - Diana Russell , Utah real estate broker, www.RealEstateUtah.com.

• "...after two years without getting a single lead from my Web site I finally decided to give Search a try. Within a month, I was number one on all the major search engines for my market area, within that month I got six really strong leads, within two months I had a closing on one of them." - Lilo Clacher, Tennessee real estate agent, www.lilorealtor.com.

• “....I just wanted to jump in here and say that I have been very pleased with my decision to put my advertising money on the search engines. I signed on back in May 2007 and have seen tremendous improvement in performance on my site, www.fortmillhome.com. All stats since June 1 have more than tripled from the period January 1 to May 31. I can also credit Kathleen Allardyce (www.buildrealestateresults.com) for sprucing up the look and user-friendliness of my site. The all-important numbers for me are the numbers of prospects and sales generated. So far the site has generated 70 new prospects in five months. I have not had any sales activity yet, but it looks like it may be coming soon. The site generated three prospects prior to SEO.I am also seeing the numbers of new prospects increasing. Early-on, after SEO, I was seeing one new prospect per week. Now that number is averaging five per week. As you all know, this is a numbers game. The more people who will give you valid contact info on your site, the better chance you have of actually transacting business." - Gary Nagle , South Carolina real estate agent, www.fortmillhome.com.

• "...my decision to ‘go organic' with search a few years ago has paid off handsomely. In addition to staying level with last year's sales and revenue even in this market, I was able to save the $50,000 a year I was spending on pay-per-click!" - Fred Roven , Massachusetts Independent Real Estate buyer's agent, www.mvbuyeragents.com.

• "...When we started with Search, we received about 50,000 visitors monthly to our site. Now, we receive as many as 250,000 each month! Our traffic continues to grow and so does our Internet business!" - Jan Golden, internet marketing manager, Prudential New Jersey www.prunewjersey.com.

• "Since we joined the network...our traffic went from under 200,000 page views monthly to close to a million monthly in less than a year! We also have over 55,000 new unique visitors each month coming to our site for the first time because of this program." - Joe Balla, Chief information officer, Florida 's Watson Realty Corp., www.WatsonRealtyCorp.com .

• "In the past two years, I have listed and sold more than 35 properties each year in my target market because of my Internet presence. Because I have utilized Search and direct mail, I spend very little on what people would say is ‘conventional' advertising. The reason for that is simple: I tracked where my 35 sales come from every year and they come from the Internet!" - Richard Beckman, West Realty Independent broker, www.washingtonrealestateresource.com.

These people apparently didn't get the memo about yard signs and billboards. These folks (and hundreds of other professional real estate people just like them) put their faith in the NAR's reported facts and the CAR's reported facts and they moved a portion of their advertising and marketing dollars to the Internet. They will succeed because the Internet is where the future lies for all of us. Bill boards and yard signs are not the future of real estate marketing, the Internet is. And, making sure your site is properly optimized is as basic and as important as having a site. Your site is useless if it cannot be found.

When one considers you can assure your appearance on all the major search engines for an entire year for less than you would spend on a billboard for a month, the reality becomes clearer. Change is here and you need to change your focus, too. Do not listen to those telling you not to change. A 431 interviewee sample is not representative of the million plus REALTORS ® in America who are members of NAR and whose data is cited in this article. Can any REALTOR ® ignore the estimated 880 million visits to the Internet from people looking at homes on the Internet each month?

You can quote me on it. Better yet, you can quote those people above who have seen the light and who are succeeding now while others are trying to choose their new yard signs and trying to find a billboard location that is in a town center. The search engines and things like "City State Real Estate" are your new town center for people looking for real estate.

Just as you wouldn't think of trying to sell a home in a strange town where you weren't familiar with services, schools and prices, buyers wouldn't think of buying under those conditions, either! Buyers use the Internet to determine all that information, then they choose an agent and they don't move one inch from their computer keyboard when they choose their agent more than two-thirds of the time. Association statistics show that the searcher sticks with the first REALTOR® they contact if they are promptly responded to more than 80 percent of the time. Bill boards and yard signs the best source for leads? Not even close to the truth; the Internet is the best place to find leads.

What to do:

Cancel part of your print advertising and start learning to be an Internet REALTOR® now!

Who to believe:

As for whose advice you should be taking to further your online marketing efforts, just as a personal referral is the best kind of lead, the experiences of genuine real estate professionals are the best kind of recommendation. The seven people above have permitted me to share their experiences with you. Take a look at what they are doing and try to make their success your own. For certain, you can trust them.

If you would like to do something about being found on the search engines, follow this link (http://zjaf0zx8.1landing.com) and fill out the form. We will determine if you can or can't be found and we'll talk to you about your site and whether it can be found. You don't even have to buy anything. The review is 100 percent free.



About the Author

Mike Parker: Mike Parker is a principal at the Blackwater Consulting Group, Inc., and specializes in online marketing for business 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" by writing to realestate@theblackwatercg.comand mentioning Broker Agent Pro. It will be sent to you free and no one will call you. To request a free review of your website 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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