Every now and again the question of ROI from advertising on Zillow, Trulia, and Realtor.com makes the rounds. Yesterday my friend Jimmy Mackin posted the question in his FB group in preparation for last night's WaterCooler show with Chris Smith. The answers were what I usually see, which is about 75% "No" with a few quiet "Yes" entries. I get the sense that too many agents buy subscriptions and advertising as raw lead generation and then are disappointed when the results don't pan out.
I buy advertising and subscriptions on all 3 sites and it's a successful component of our overall marketing communication program. I hate to see agents waste money so I put together a list of do's and don'ts for advertising on Zillow, Trulia and Realtor.com
1) Know the site: Use it, play with it, understand how it's laid out. Each site offers a dizzying array of products and services to consumers and agents. Some of the new products are incredibly cool, like Zillow Digs and Trulia's Add Sold Homes.
2) Know the apps: 50% of real estate site traffic comes from a mobile device. Most consumers have 3 or 4 apps on their smart phone or tablet. You need to understand what your client experiences when he uses the app. Realtor.com's Mobile App lets you brand yourself, a feature that all agents should take advantage of.
3) Have a strategy: Mine is, first and foremost, support for our listing business. Consumers use these sites and we want our listings there, period. Make sure your listings have all the fields filled out and that all the photos are there. Add a video link, fill out the neighborhood information, enhance the descriptions.
4) Understand the programs: The ability to enhance and manage listings is provided through the subscriptions: Zillow Premier Agent, Trulia Pro and Realtor.com Showcase Listing Enhancement. While some leads may be generated off your listings, don't expect a lot of leads unless you also advertise. Do not chat with the ad sales guy while you're driving around town. Sit and take notes, look at the products he's describing, really understand what you're buying and what the results should be.
5) Understand the subtleties: For example, If you're thinking of buying on Trulia you need to understand the the mobile ad is a separate charge, and that while mobile device traffic is exploding, only 1% of the total number of click throughs are off the mobile ad it self. But I believe you need the mobile ad program to protect yourself on your listings when they display on the mobile device.
6) Create a presence: My belief is that any of the programs work best when an agent carries a good number of listings. The agent who simply hopes for buyer leads is competing with the listing agent who commands more presence. You have to create what I call "Magic Circles" of Listings, Ads and Reviews. I can't overstate the importance of reviews. If a consumer is looking for an agent, credibility is naturally given to the greatest presence. The new Sold Listings on Trulia is awesome.
7) Understand the inquiry: People are not leads, they are consumers who have questions. Buying advertising on these sites is a long term play of building your presence with that site's user base. People might have a question about the community, the house itself, or might want to schedule a showing. Do not assume all inquiries are from buyers because many inquiries are from future sellers. People are often on these sites a year or more before they need an agent. This is a chance to create a relationship by providing a service.
8) Create a personal response system: The very best response is a personal phone call, followed by a personal text or email. Brad Andersohn, former AR God and now the head of Zillow Academy, taught me one simple formula for responding to someone: Acknowledge the inquiry and ask a question: "Hi Sue, I see you have a question about 123 Main St. I have information about that house. What is the best way to get back to you, by phone call, text or email?"
9) Create an auto-response system: Unless you personally answer your phone 24 hours a day, you'll need some kind of response that lets the consumer know that you'll get back to them. Do not rely on the site's auto-response to do the job. Do something unique. I've got a crm that kicks off a bombbomb email with a video in it. It's memorable. We rotate getting back to the person personally and I have a loan officer embedded in the response system if it's a buyer. We don't create a new relationship with every consumer who asks a question, but we sure try.
10) Provide value immediately and over time: Put those market reports or community event schedules to work. Send interesting information that relates to the original question. If they open the report, contact them ask if they would like to receive monthly updates on property values. But do not rely on a crappy drip campaign that you bought for $50 back in 2009. If you don't have time to personally interact with people, you don't deserve their business.
11) Do not insult people: I think it is a mistake to try to get someone to immediately start using your site. If the person called in while using Zillow, they have chosen Zillow before you, and they are likely to continue using Zillow. If your relationship grows, and your site provides different or interesting information, maybe they'll start to use your site, too.
12) Use the site's resources: Zillow Academy has a great set of course offerings. Trulia and Realtor.com need similar programs.
1,000 words and I could write 3,000 more. I hope this gives at least a framework for not wasting your money on the 3rd party sites.