Guestbooks Are Lead Killers, Not Lead Generators

By
Real Estate Agent with Silicon Beach Properties • KW CalBRE #01712960

Guestbooks have been around since the beginning of website time.  Originally they were used for visitors to volunteer that they visited a site.  I had one on my wedding website seven years ago.  Later, guestbooks morphed into a "lead capturing" tool by being placed over information with perceived value.  In real estate you often see these over listings information and occasionally still (perish the thought) over "free reports."

Why do you still see so many guestbooks in real estate?  For low tech website vendors, it's the best they can offer for lead generation and these vendors push them like crazy.  Don't be fooled by these illusory promises of new business.  As explained below, today's online real estate consumers won't fill out these forms.  But that's okay.  For realtors, another better solution is available.

Consumers Hate Registration Forms Masquerading As Guestbooks

 Don't use a guestbook, even if it's cute!  They are a waste of time and bad for your brand for at least three reasons.  First, consumers are more sophisticated these days.  They know that listings information is freely available on the Internet.  If a consumer got to your site from a search engine, that consumer knows that he or she is only one back-click away from a hundred of your closest competitors and better, freer information.  If the consumer got to your website another way, they know how to find Google, if they are not getting the information they want or need from your site.

Second, guestbooks on top of listings information are the equivalent of meeting people at your office door and not letting them in until they sign your book.  Is how you conduct your offline business?  Of course not.  You need to demonstrate to your website visitors that you have something of value to them before you demand something valuable from the visitor (contact information).  The Internet is no place to brand yourself as a mememe taker.  You are a service professional.  Give a little service (like listings) before you demand anything from these visitors with whom you haven't even established a relationship.

Third, most guestbooks can be faked.  Do you really want to annoy your visitor (starting the relationship off on the wrong foot) and get fake information to boot?  Who wins there?  And don't tell me about services to verify the guestbook information before letting a visitor proceed.  Those are the epitomy of annoying for consumers.  You want me (as a consumer) to stop my search and go open my email application to retrieve some password or link?  No thank you.  I'm back clicking to the next real estate website.

A Guestbook Strategy Gone Terribly Wrong

I stumbled on an agent's website today where the agent employed not one, but two, registration forms.  I wasn't especially surprised to see one because her particular website vendor is notorious for pushing these worthless forms for "lead generation."  I clicked on "Find A Home" and proceeded to fake my way through the form.  What did I find on the other side?  Listings from another state!  Can you imagine being the Florida consumer who just gave up valuable contact information on this Florida branded website to get listings from two states away?  That would not be one happy camper.

This was bad enough, but for grins, I tried out her "Our Featured Listings" button and encountered the second registration form.  Wait a minute!  Why do I have to register again?  Didn't I just go through this exercise?  How annoying is that going to be to your prospective client?  And why, oh why, would anybody put a registration form over his or her own listings?  That limits exposure for your listing client.  And, if a consumer is interested in your listings, you're in the deal in any event.  Is this some lame attempt to grab both sides of the deal?  That probably isn't going to happen with this now totally annoyed consumer.

 Now I don't want to hear from anybody who is going to defend their guestbook because they get a couple of leads from it.  Even if you have good, solid, relevant listings information behind your guestbook, you're still going to lose more and more visitors as consumers become increasingly sophisticated and either click off your site or fake their way through your form.  Jump off that sinking ship while there is still time.

What To Do Instead Of Ineffective Guestbooks

Fortunately for realtors, there is a better solution.  Your stock in trade (listings) is reducible to database format and you can leverage this database to do the marketing dance with online consumers.  You don't even have to create the database.  Your MLS has already done it with its NAR-mandated IDX program.  Show visitors listings.  Show them a lot of listings.  It shouldn't matter to you.  This is an automated process.

Only after you've provided value in the form of lots of listings, do you even start to think about asking for something in return, but guess what?  A good IDX solution can help you here, too.  Invite your visitor to save specific listings of interest on a private page, or register to get daily new listing updates by email or see the complete address of a listing.  All of these equate to extra value and consumers will be much more likely to give up legitimate contact information once you've already provided value and are dangling added value.  Daily new listing updates by email are a particularly strong incentive to give you a valid email address. 

This strategy requires a sophisticated IDX solution, but lucky for you these solutions are not expensive.  Yes, they cost slightly more than free, which is what your MLS might charge for their IDX solution, but how much are you willing to pay for legitimate leads that you can actually use to grow your business?  Sophisticated IDX solutions like the one described here will run agents about $40/month.  I don't know about you, but my Starbucks budget is twice that per month.  I'd give up a few lattes to grow my business.  How about you?

Do you know somebody that is still using a guestbook?  Be a swell** person and send them a link to this post!

To your unlimited online marketing success!

 

** Yes, I've been watching Mad Men on AMC and highly recommend it!

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Tracy Thrower Conyers
Silicon Beach Properties • KW, CalBRE #01712960
m: 424.272.1339 | w: www.SiliconBeach.properties

buy. sell. lease. residential in silicon beach.

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Rainer
22,469
Tracy Thrower Conyers
Silicon Beach Properties • KW - Venice, CA
buy. sell. lease. residential in silicon beach.
Adding value is definitely where it's at, Jon!  Thank you for commenting.
Aug 22, 2007 02:09 AM #2
Rainmaker
281,779
Mike Mitchell
Real Living Kee Realty - Saint Clair Shores, MI
REALTOR (R)
Tracey, good post, I completely agree with you. I was going to do this when I started my web site, but then I thought, I hate when I'm surfing the web and the site asks for my email or phone #, & what do I do - just what you said, back click and go to the next site for free info.
Aug 22, 2007 02:11 AM #3
Rainer
22,469
Tracy Thrower Conyers
Silicon Beach Properties • KW - Venice, CA
buy. sell. lease. residential in silicon beach.
Alas, Mike, too many agents are seduced when the web vendors dangle the "lead generation" promise and they don't even stop to consider whether they would even use a form like that themselves.  Thanks for emphasizing that important point.
Aug 22, 2007 02:15 AM #4
Rainer
17,389
Susan Raposa
South Dakota Real Estate Company - Rapid City, SD

I HATE (yes - I know that is a strong word) FORMS!  The only time I ever require someone to complete a form is when they are requesting my online relocation packet.  I got sick of mailing things to every looky-lou around so I created a page with a lot of links to local information, organizations, etc.  Before they can receive the automatically generated email they have to fill in their email address and name.  Then the automatic email is sent and I don't ever bother that client unless they specifically ask me for information.

Do unto others.....

Aug 22, 2007 02:17 AM #5
Rainer
27,487
Tiffany Wilson
Compass Properties - THE Costa Rica Real Estate Expert - Manhattan Beach, CA
The Costa Rica Real Estate Expert
Great post Tracey.  I actually have one of these "guestbooks", only because I "borrowed" some web code from a colleague.  It's been on my to-do list to get rid of it for some time.  I better do it soon...
Aug 22, 2007 02:19 AM #6
Rainmaker
728,602
Christine Bohn
RE/MAX Professionals - Gainesville, FL
The Bohn Team, Gainesville FL

Tracy - thanks for that advice.  I will make changes to my web site!

Aug 22, 2007 02:21 AM #7
Rainer
34,435
Joyce "Joy" Mahaney Brewster
High Profile Realty - Glendale, AZ
Thanks for the info!!!!!!
Aug 22, 2007 02:23 AM #8
Rainer
22,469
Tracy Thrower Conyers
Silicon Beach Properties • KW - Venice, CA
buy. sell. lease. residential in silicon beach.

Yes, Susan, websites are a great tool for automating your business, but do keep in mind that it can be a powerful tool to generate new business, too.  You've got a strong tool for presenting listings information?  Anybody interested in relo wants to see what the market looks like locally.

Thanks, Tiffany, Christine and Joyce, for stopping by.  Sounds like my post is timely for you.  With slowdowns in the market, it has never been more important to have a friendly and efficient website to support and yes, even grow, your business.

Aug 22, 2007 02:45 AM #9
Ambassador
802,059
Brad Andersohn
Executive Director of Education at eXp Realty - Fairfield, CA
ActiveBrad - 707.646.1876
Tracy - awesome post!  I always wanted to see a post regarding the "Infamous Guestbook" and how it really doesn't work.  I found in the past that the only people who actually sign those are family and friends!  Bookmarked your post to share with others, thanks!!
Sep 05, 2007 05:29 PM #10
Rainer
22,469
Tracy Thrower Conyers
Silicon Beach Properties • KW - Venice, CA
buy. sell. lease. residential in silicon beach.
Hi Brad!  Please do share the post and share it with the aunts, uncles and distant cousins of your "others," too!  A basic misunderstanding of the superior options available (especially for realtors) makes me crazy.  There is plenty of room up here on my soapbox for you too!  =-)
Sep 06, 2007 01:07 AM #11
Ambassador
802,059
Brad Andersohn
Executive Director of Education at eXp Realty - Fairfield, CA
ActiveBrad - 707.646.1876
I love sharing the "soapbox". Thanks Tracy!!  :-)
Sep 06, 2007 03:28 PM #12
Rainer
22,469
Tracy Thrower Conyers
Silicon Beach Properties • KW - Venice, CA
buy. sell. lease. residential in silicon beach.
I knew you were "my people," Brad.  =-)
Sep 07, 2007 02:15 AM #13
Rainmaker
120,967
Richard Sweum
1st Security Bank - Everett, WA

Thanks Tracy,

as one who visits many open houses each month, I have had this very conversation with "Guestbook" fans.

Sep 07, 2007 02:31 AM #14
Rainer
22,469
Tracy Thrower Conyers
Silicon Beach Properties • KW - Venice, CA
buy. sell. lease. residential in silicon beach.
That's right, Rich!  In that offline context, why make people feel intimidated and like they've done something wrong for not signing, simply because it's their first peek at the property and they don't want to subject themselves to the inevitable "follow up" that is associated with guestbooks?  I think agents get caught up in doing what they've been told to do by their "forefathers" without considering whether they themselves would want to be treated the way they are treating their potential clients.  And times change.  Practices that might have worked for first generation realtors don't fly with today's consumers.  Thanks for commenting!
Sep 07, 2007 05:44 AM #15
Ambassador
802,059
Brad Andersohn
Executive Director of Education at eXp Realty - Fairfield, CA
ActiveBrad - 707.646.1876
Yes I am! :-))
Sep 07, 2007 05:16 PM #16
Rainer
7,467
Robert Johnson
Your Family Realty llc - Eau Claire, WI
Hey Tracy.  I like the idea of saving searches.  We don't have that technology yet, but hope we soon do.
Sep 28, 2007 01:16 AM #17
Rainmaker
215,037
Mike and Dawn Lewis
The Lewis Team at Keller Williams - San Diego, CA
The Lewis Team at Keller Williams in San Diego CA

Tracy,

What about the VIP MEMEBRSHIP. I use it on my sites and it works pretty good.

Mike Lewis

Sep 28, 2007 01:48 AM #18
Rainer
31,349
Jason Lopez
SmartRealty Solutions - San Diego, CA
Could not agree more!  Conusmers know they can get info anywhere without providing any personal info and I would reason that for every one person that signs a guest book, 20 do not.  So what is the value?  Value added information, quick and easy access to what they want (lisitngs in you did not know) and a simmple method for contacting you.  DONE!
Sep 28, 2007 06:46 AM #19
Rainmaker
250,018
Mike Klijanowicz
Cummings & Co. Realtors - Perry Hall, MD
Associate Broker @ Cummings & Co. Realtors
I make my visitors register to view ALL of the listings from my IDX site which will allow this and never used to!  The difference I have found is that now that I make them register, sure my stats are a little lower as far as the clicks, BUT THE QUALITY OF THE LEADS ARE MUCH BETTER AND I HAVE GOTTEN MANY MORE CLIENTS FROM THIS WHO ACTUALLY CLOS THEIR DEALS!  I definitely recommend making people register!
Sep 28, 2007 01:49 PM #20
Rainer
22,469
Tracy Thrower Conyers
Silicon Beach Properties • KW - Venice, CA
buy. sell. lease. residential in silicon beach.

Thank you, Ron, Mike, Jason & Michael for stopping by!  I've been sooo sick.  We just started kindergarten with my only child.  Who knew there would be so many new germs to get used to!  =-)

Ron, if you're looking to your MLS to find saved searches, forget it.  You need to look to the private vendors.  Private solutions are not that expensive, but bring you an exponential amount of functionality over the MLS solutions.  You're in an urban area.  I'm guessing you can google your board name and the word "IDX" and you'll get information on local private vendors.  I don't think there is a private vendor in business anymore that doesn't have saved searches at a minimum.  The sky is the limit after that.

Mike, I'm all for anything that gets you leads!

You got it, Jason!

Hey, Michael, if that still works in your market, go for it!  But see Jason's comment above.  If you think things are great now....  I noticed on your site that you are using password authentication, too.  At some point you'll want to dump that, too.  Think about it this way -- you've got a hot prospect that wants to see listings.  The first thing he or she runs into is your unfriendly "guestbook."  OK, she or he might be willing to forgive you this little slap, but once they gave you the information, you've now broken their energy and attention span by making them leave your page to go to their email.  You're in big trouble if they find something to distract themselves there.  You're in bigger trouble if the authentication email wound up in their spam folder and they didn't look there.  Or maybe by now they've decided you're too high maintenance for them.  Would you go through all this if you went to cars.com to start looking at a new car?

Oct 04, 2007 02:31 PM #21
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Tracy Thrower Conyers

buy. sell. lease. residential in silicon beach.
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