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Part 1: Forced Registration is a False Sense of “Permission Marketing”

Services for Real Estate Pros with softRealty.com

We published our first of several upcoming eBooks regarding “Forced Registration” and blogged about it here on ActiveRain: http://activerain.com/blogsview/1147742/7-reasons-why-forced-registrations-will-ultimately-hurt-your-business

Dan Quinn commented making a correlation between our message about “Why Forced Registration is Bad” to Seth Godin’s “Permission Marketing.”  For those who want a brief summary of "Permission Marketing," check out this short blog post from Seth Godin: http://sethgodin.typepad.com/seths_blog/2008/01/permission-mark.html.

As I started my reply to Dan, my comment quickly evolved into another blog post.  So, thanks Dan for starting the next conversation.

“Turning Strangers into Friends, and Friends into Customers”
– from the cover of Permission Marketing

The essence of "Permission Marketing" is about establishing trust and the terms of a relationship between how a consumer and business engage with each other.  It's about giving the consumer the opportunity to determine when they are ready to take the relationship to the next level and for the company to respect that process. 

Forced Registration is a false sense of “Permission Marketing.”  Some would argue that at least the consumer has given you “permission” to engage by filling out a registration form.  However, this request for that permission is made before the consumer knows what exactly the goods or quality of service are.  Forced Registration has been heavily criticized by consumers and real estate professionals alike for this reason. When asked the question, “Would you fill out your own IDX registration form to continue searching properties?” every broker and agent I’ve talked to admitted they would not.  They would leave the site or provide fake information.  I have yet to meet a consumer who admitted they would complete the form if forced.

Regardless, some agents still maintain that only serious buyers fill out the registration forms and anyone else would not be worth their time.  This position has always baffled me.  What exactly is the harm to have a visitor return to an agent’s site to search without registering?  Do agents pay extra for excessive use of the search tool? Do they just want to make it difficult for the visitor?  I hope neither is the case. So, what’s the harm?  The upside of allowing visitors continued access to searching on your site is you may eventually win the visitor’s business at some point in the future.  This can only happen if visitors are not chased away from your site. 

I still question the position held by many agents that only serious buyers register.  Excluding referrals and people you already know, how many registered visitors became real clients?  More importantly, how many visitors that left could have become real clients? Even those “new leads” that identify themselves aren’t necessarily ready to buy now.  It only proves they are willing to give their information.  You may not be as special as you think because these visitors probably give every website they visit their information.  These guys are no more “qualified” than the visitors that left your site.  On that same token, those who left may actually be "ready and able" buyers today. However, they don’t know the “man hiding behind the curtain” well enough to reveal their identity just yet.

Most agents will assert the majority of their clients are referrals, past clients, or people they already know or have met.  Very few will credit the internet as a source of new clients.  Yet, statistics show more than 85% of home buyers start searching on the internet before contacting an agent.  Something is wrong if agents aren’t connecting with this 85%.  What’s up with that?  Maybe this concept of “Forced Registration” is not working because strangers aren’t becoming friends.

What's your experience with Forced Registration? I would love to learn more from the community.

David Carroll, Founder Dude (a.k.a. CEO)
softRealty.com Corporation


Loreena and Michael Yeo
3:16 team REALTY ~ Locally-owned Prosper TX Real Estate Co. - Prosper, TX
Real Estate Agents

I'd love to answer some of your questions before I make my final comment:

What exactly is the harm to have a visitor return to an agent's site to search without registering? Do agents pay extra for excessive use of the search tool?
The answer is because we pay very good money for the IDX tool. No extra charges for extra usage, but in the end, it all has to be about the bottom line. Some agents believe that is a way they can get something back. Perhaps a fake name and phone number.

Thus far, about 70% of my business comes from the Internet ie people I do not know. I do not like the "forced" marketing but sometimes I signed up for the information knowing I will get called. I respect those who dont and you are right, in the end if no one bugs me, I might pick up the phone to call.

That being said, I know of at least several people who ended up going with another realtor because I didn't follow up with a phone call.

In the end, I have to do what I feel is right. I freely give out information on my website. It shows that I know alot about my turf. I get my clients that way. But that doesnt mean that everyone should work like me. I attract the like-kind clients who never like to be called. Then, other agents may attract clients that needs to be nudged.

Jul 10, 2009 02:01 PM
Eric Reid
Renaissance Realty Group of Keller Williams Atlanta Partners - Lawrenceville, GA

i never understood this idea of give me you name number and first born .. and I show you a listing or two seemed It like give the store owner you credit card before you walk thru the door heck i don't even know if you have wait I need

Jul 10, 2009 02:07 PM
David Carroll
softRealty.com - Duluth, GA

Loreena -> I understand the issue with agents paying high costs for IDX. It's the reason we built a FREE IDX Property Search Engine.  Additionally, we understand the issues with lead capture and getting a real return from the agent's perspective.  That's why we built a system to fix the problem with Lead Capture Redefined.

The key here is to know when to engage and how to engage.  Losing a client to another Realtor due to a delayed follow up is a very different matter.  The good news is you were approached for the followed up.  I have a sense you stay busy anyway. :)  Many agents simply aren't capturing any new and qualified leads. 

I will say it's awesome that you get 70% of your business from the internet.  This is how it should be and what we want to help agents achieve.  I'm sure that as I get more involved with the community, I'll learn there are more of you out there with these high numbers.  However, I also think the ActiveRain crowd is a breed apart anyway.

Eric -> You summed that up perfectly. I've used that same analogy with the store owner collecting your credit card before you walk in to shop.  Spot on.

Jul 10, 2009 02:52 PM
David Carroll
softRealty.com - Duluth, GA

By the way Eric, I just realized we live in the same county.  It appears you are using 2 different IDX services.  Georgia MLS IDX and Top Producer for FMLS listings.  Check us out at www.softRealty.com and register for your free IDX at the very least.  We service listings from both MLSs.  Let me know if I can help you out with this.  My email is david.carroll@softrealty.com.

Jul 10, 2009 02:59 PM
Lane Bailey
Century 21 Results Realty - Suwanee, GA
Realtor & Car Guy

David... this is an interesting conversation.  At Bloodhound Unchained in Orlando, I listened to both sides of the argument... and both sides have some points. 

The question is "How many people sign up if there is no force on the registration v. how many people provide valid info on the registration?"  The bottom line is that we are in business...  and we need clients to make money. 

I don't require registration... but I am thinking about something else...

Jul 10, 2009 04:40 PM
David Carroll
softRealty.com - Duluth, GA

Lane -> Good to hear from you.

The debate you referred to is confined to the limitations of traditional lead capture.  Asking the question "To Force or Not To Force" is like asking you to pick your poison to determine which ineffective method will yield the most collection of contact information.  There are Pros and Cons to both methods and therefore a debate ensues among the RE.NET talking heads. 

I assert that this should not be a debate. Rather, we need to revisit the approach and build a solution that embraces the Pros of both methods and eliminate the Cons.  

Pros of Forced Registration:

  • Visitor has identified they exist with (false or real) contact info.
  • You may be able to contact the visitor (if contact info is accurate)
  • Contact will most likely return now that they have an account to use.

Cons of Forced Registration:

  • People don't like being forced to register and may leave or give fake information.
  • Does not start the relationship off on the right foot. (Although, this is the only option available with other IDX services.)
  • Does not really qualify the visitor as a better "lead" than someone who left the site.

Pros of Not Forcing Registration:

  • People will most likely remain on your site giving them time to figure out if you are worth contacting.
  • People will end up on your site after leaving some other site that was Forcing Registration.
  • People who do register will most likely do so with real contact info.  

Cons of Not Forcing Registration:

  • People can continue visiting never revealing themselves.
  • There is no way to engage your unregistered visitor to start building the relationship.

Now, let's see what the Pros and Cons look like with softRealty.com's Lead Capture Redefined.

Pros of Anonymous Registration:

  • Agents will always be able to engage unobtrusively with visitors regardless of registration status.
  • Visitors can register without email address giving them another incentive to stay on your site.
  • Visitors contact info will generally be real contact info because the consumer chose to identify themselves through registration or InNetwork conversation.
  • People will end up on your site after leaving some other site that was Forcing Registration.
  • Visitors will return to your site because of the "safe" approach taken with starting the relationship.
  • More qualified home buyers will have a greater opportunity of sticking with your site. 
  • All visitors (registered and anonymous) are tracked and accessible.
  • Starts the relationship off right giving time to establish trust between the visitor and the agent.

Cons of Anonymous Registration:

  • Not as aggressive as some agents believe registrations need to be. (But, I defer to the pros and cons of Forced Registration.)
  • People can continue visiting never revealing themselves. (However, agents can still engage with the visitor.)

Again, the point isn't that agents don't have a right to engage with their visitors.  They have every right. The issue is the method taken to achieve this is ineffective and therefore harmful to your bottomline.


Take a look at our informational video and eBook regarding this:


Jul 11, 2009 03:15 AM
David Carroll
softRealty.com - Duluth, GA

To clarify... my opinions are simply that, my opinions.  However, I respect that real estate agents run their businesses with a specific approach and my intention isn't to criticize agents. Rather, I criticize the limitations of the technologies you have access to.

While I support and believe Anonymous Registrations is the most effective and appropriate way to engage with your online traffic, it makes no sense for softRealty.com to impose a different set of limitations from our competitors.  Therefore, we are going to give agents the option to choose between Forced and Anonymous Registrations this month.  Our objective is not to alienate any of our real estate agent customers. Rather, enable them to be more successful.

Jul 11, 2009 03:33 AM
Lane Bailey
Century 21 Results Realty - Suwanee, GA
Realtor & Car Guy

I'm kind of ducking it... I won't force registration for my IDX, because there are options eslewhere.  But, I WILL require registration for other information which isn't available elsewhere.

Jul 12, 2009 04:18 PM
Dan Quinn
The Eric Steart Group of Long & Foster Real Estate - Silver Spring, MD
Dan Quinn

David, Your welcome!  I really enjoy reading your posts and I hope to inspire you again on your next post!  I've got to go now, I'm going to check out your site...

Aug 19, 2009 12:33 PM
Eric Bramlett

The bottom line is that required registration produces far more leads and far more closings than open registraion (at least right now.)  Whe my site went live in 2005, I started off w/ open registration, assuming that the required reg sites were chasing away all their traffic.  When my friends convinced me (with data) in 2007 to turn on required reg, the # of registrations increased by ~1000%.  I had assumed that the "good" leads - those people calling in or filling out property info/contact requests - would go way down.  I was wrong.  The number of "good leads" actually increases over time, as those visitors that you "forced" registration on develop loyalty to your site, because you're drip marketing to them.

I run with a group of guys that do a good amount of business revolving around internet and referral marketing.  We've tested required vs. open registration in 2008 & 2009.  Nothing has changed - the gap between the two methods hasn't even shrunk.

It's fun to speculate about what the consumer will like the best, or philosophize over where the internet is going (it will eventually go to open registration, IMO) but we're selling properties today.  I'm closing deals today.  I operate based on what works today.

Aug 28, 2009 02:59 AM
Matt Barker

This is one of the hottest debates going right now.  We are currently testing forced vs. unforced registration on two of our real estate websites.  They look similiar but have different content.  One forces registration, one doesn't.  After one weeks data, the forced registration website is producing twice as many leads as the unforced.  We will be continuing to test the two websites and the results will be posted at http://www.barkerhedges.com/blog/real-estate-technology/   

I would encourage anybody that hasn't tested both concepts to do so. 

Oct 11, 2009 05:10 AM
David Carroll
softRealty.com - Duluth, GA

Eric and Matt - Thanks for chiming in and sharing your experiences. I completely agree that forced registration will capture more lead information than open registration. It's the reason forced registration is still heavily used today. I also appreciate the arguments for forced registration.  However, the options shouldn't be limited to just Forced Registration or Open Registration. If it were possible, would you want to identify those anonymous visitors that were most actively searching for properties on your site and then reach out to them?  Check out this new video to better understand how this concept works within our Lead Capture Redefined application: http://www.softrealty.com/Video/LeadCaptureRedefined/.

To better understand the full effectiveness of Forced Registration, would you mind sharing additional information from your experiences?

Regarding Registered Visitors

 - What percentage of your unique visitors registered on your website?  

 - What percentage of registered visitors did you know before they registered? 

The following applies only to registered visitors you did not already know before they registered:

 - What percentage of registered visitors provided real contact information?

 - What percentage of registered visitors became clients?

 - Do you personally email or call all your registered visitors? What percentage of those contacted were fine with you reaching out?

We've done this exercise in the past and found that many agents will respond based on recollection or gut feel.  After reviewing the data, their findings have proven to be much different from what they thought.  Since you guys are actively collecting data anyway, it would be interesting to see what your findings are based on the data.

Oct 11, 2009 10:05 AM