Kudos to Lori Ballen for this amazing post !
Your website doesn’t generate leads, You do. That being said, the functionality of a website, and how you drive traffic to it can make a significant difference in your quantity and even quality of real estate leads.
When you spend some time creating a valuable, customer-centric (user friendly) website with strong IDX (real estate listings), Home Value Offers, Real Estate Market Reports, and Real Estate Advice (blog), you can do a big business on web leads.
What you can’t do - is “set it and forget it”.
"How Do You Know what Buyers and Sellers Want", you ask?
Great question. I appreciate you asking. I have a real estate business based out of Las Vegas, NV. Our real estate company has closed hundreds of transactions directly from the web since 2007. It’s how our company was built. We are now expanding in to other markets using the same strategies. We have followed Real Estate SEO (Search Engine Optimization) from the day we entered the industry. And with each major change in online marketing, we pivot, learn, and grow.
Before Real Estate, my husband and I had the top catering and entertainment company in Las Vegas, which we built on direct mail and fax marketing. The concepts haven’t changed, only the media channels have.
My studies run deep. I practice what I preach every day lead generating for my real estate markets using search and social strategies as well as SEM (Search Engine Marketing – Pay Per Click/Google AdWords). In building lead funnels, I’m involved in the study of lead sources, website capture and offers, IDX functionality, Home Valuation tools, The online user experience, user metrics, drip email campaigns, text cultivation, and so forth. I regularly measure on page lead conversion and in doing so, use scroll maps and heat maps and click overlays to deeply study how a visitor engages with a page. These studies are the basis for my advice in this blog post and the many others I write.
Start with Functionality of the Website
Most real estate agents make the mistake of starting with design. They shop website designs and themes based on how they look, not how they work. This is a costly mistake.
For one thing, desktop designs don’t transfer to mobile. On a desktop, everything is large. Your wide theme graphics and slideshows that excite you desktop won’t thrill you or your customer on a mobile device. We will talk more about mobile design later; yet suffice it to say here that it’s important to notice the difference between devices.
Fancy sometimes kills function. When a user lands on your website today, they have typically come for a specific reason. They found a page on your website through a quick Google search, email, advertisement, or a social share. They want what they want immediately, and don’t want to click or scroll unnecessarily. Large graphics above the fold (on the top part of the screen that shows before you have to scroll down) that are “fluff” and not function can chase away your visitor rather than bring them in. Sure, they look pretty to you, but does the buyer or seller care about that? You can have a nice, clean design that still has an overall style without having non-functioning distractions that aren’t what the user wants.
So What Platform is the Right Platform?
Great question! This is one I'm asked frequently. There is no one right answer either. There are many fantastic websites on the market. I like many. I've chosen WordPress.
Here's what you need to know when choosing a website platform:
- Free doesn't get you very far. Your website should be hosted somewhere. This would be a company that actually puts your site on a server and provides public access through it's servers. You would be paying for this service. Hosts would be companies like GoDaddy, HostGator, BlueHost and MediaTemple, just to name a few. You are not required to get your platform from your host generally. You could have a WordPress website and choose the host and change hosts later if need be.
- Your website should offer the ability to add unlimited pages. If you are going to build out community pages like I teach my students and do for my websites and client sites, you'll need them!
- It's fantastic if your website has a built in blog. Blogs are great for ongoing real estate articles, market reports, local news and events, directories and guides and other items of value that bring leads into the funnel.
- FAST! This generally starts with hosting. If your website is on an overpacked server and you are sharing space with a lot of other websites, your speed may suffer. Google reports that if your page loads in longer than 3 seconds, you will lose 40% of your customers after 3 seconds. Others have reported 70% will be gone after 5 seconds. Watch your WordPress Plugins. They are well known to create major lag in page load time. Another speed eater is images. Images should be resized and compressed to load quickly. Take a look at your images and make sure none of them are showing MB in the file size. You can load pictures 50kb in size and still have great looking pictures.
- No limits on codes and direct access to the source. You may not want to become a computer scientist overnight, yet you may want to install simple things like the Clicky Tracking Code or a LeadBox from LeadPages to make Offers, install chat software like Zopim or use heat maps like I do in Crazy Egg.
- You should OWN IT!!!! Wherever possible, own the domain name, own the content, own the platform. You don't want to be building someone elses
How to Set up Navigation on your Website
Contact – This should be a page that offers the visitor your phone, address, email, text, social channels and so forth. If you are using an about page as well, this information will suffice. However, it might be smart to combine your contact and about page and put the contact information at the top, and the most important again at the bottom.
Home – OK, this may sound a tad old school, and many leave it out, yet in my findings the home button still has a place in the navigation.
Browse Homes (Buy a Home) – Whatever you call this button: Browse for Homes, Find Homes, Search Properties, Browse MLS (check your market regulations), you need a clear call to action that offers a property search. Keep in mind buyers and sellers often browse home listings.
Home Values (Sell a Home) – It’s important to realize that today’s seller wants instant home values. Yes, that’s right, the Zestimate has spoiled the American population. Right or wrong, there is no way around it. We live in an instant gratification era, and with the onset of Millennials, followed by what are being referred to as the Centennials, this is sure to only grow. The old CMA is no longer our secret power. Broker Reciprocity took away our private access to data on real estate listings, and Zillow took away the secret power of the CMA. Sellers can get it, and they want it. In 2016 and beyond, I believe real estate websites should offer a home value calculator. The key then, is to do what we did, and build a campaign around why the seller should not take it too seriously, and still have one of our experts do a proper on site evaluation.
If you are not going to do an instant home value offer, my suggestion is to build a seller page telling them what your specialties are and how that is going to help them sell their property faster for more money and less hassle.
Locations (or Neighborhoods) – Buyers typically go straight for a search widget and start browsing for homes. In my case, they were usually brought in through a search query they performed on Google. That being said, once people are in browsing, they may want to search in a particular neighborhood, zip code, or even school zone.
Blog or Real Estate Advice – Very few people will click on the word BLOG on your website. Most buyers and sellers don’t really come to your website to find your “BLOG”. They will read articles, yet generally are directed there from another source based on my experience in studying the heat maps. This might be one for the optional menu or for the main menu if it fits nicely.
Some website themes will offer a secondary menu. You can use this to create a less important navigation if you like. The key is to test and measure your website and what works as well as what doesn’t. Less is more.
Overwhelmed? Don't Be - Call us at Ballen Brands and let's talk about how we can be your online marketing leverage.
The Best Lead Generation Tool on your Website – IDX
IDX stands for the Internet Data Exchange. This is the functionality that allows you to showcase real estate listings on your website. The Broker Reciprocity allows for us to all showcase the same MLS inventory on our websites. It doesn’t mean we are specifically marketing another agents listings. It’s simply the right to show the IDX listings in their syndicated form to our websites by which we capture leads.
I’ve been asked before if real estate websites should have IDX. My answer is always yes. Sellers use IDX to try to estimate the value of their home. They view current listings and sold listings. We find sellers all the time that register to browse and then tell us when we call that they really have a house to sell.
You may not know already that not all IDX is the same. There are IDX providers that you can sign up with to use their tool. Each looks different, functions differently, has different displays and templates, and captures leads differently. The backend on each has it’s own style and features. On some, you can customize the lead capture forms, the pages, the templates, the colors and even down to how a single page asks or forces registration. If you are just beginning to generate real estate leads online, you may not have thought of all of this. As you begin to bring in more leads, you’ll eventually find the importance.
For my Las Vegas Real Estate team, and for my real estate agent clients that I help with marketing through my company (Ballen Brands), I chose IDX Broker. I like the functionality of selecting requested or forced or off registration based on pages or features. For example, I have chosen to only ask for registration on the photo gallery unless it's a pay per click ad. On my pay per click ads, I ask for it at the second property. For Organic SEO, I want them to be able to browse at lists and perform searches at will. Yet when they are interested enough to view photos, I then require registration. After studying heat maps and click overlays for a while now, I can see that the majority of clicks on every page are on the photo.
With IDX Broker, I'm able to change the template for a listing and have it show only one main photo. This encourages the visitor to click. When they do, they are then asked to register.
Another reason I prefer IDX Broker to many other IDX providers is the capture and display of the IP Address in the control panel. The IP Address helps me to identify the user. I can then put the IP address into my analytics tool called Clicky and can then gather a lot of great information about the visitor including source of the lead, page they entered on, length of time on the site, exit page, how many actions they took and pages they viewed and so forth. This is incredibly valuable information when you get deep into lead conversion techniques.
The Geographic FootPrint
In our studies, we have found that buyers (and sellers looking to self evaulate their home value) will search by area (geography), price, style, and feature. Most websites as they come are not naturally ranking on the search engines for these types of searches. So we have to build them out.
I will tell you up front, this part is going to be work. It is not, however, going to be hard. It's steps. One after the other. Your project will be to build out every geographic area you service and then drill down by price, style, feature, school, zip code and so forth. The search widget is great for consumers, yet it doesn nothing for Google. When we build page by page by page on our websites based on geography or niche, we can dominate the search engines for those areas quite often. Ranking for your city homes for sale will be a challenge when competing against the search portals and big brokerages. Yet ranking on the top of page one for your city homes for sale with a walk out basement could be simple, fast, and generate a nice volume of leads.
If you can build parent and child pages or categories and posts (as in WordPress), a hierarchy is desired vs. a flat url structure.
Shown below is an example. Each item here would be a page under a parent page. Each page would contain real estate listings fed in through your IDX provider. In our case, we simply build a "widget" in IDX Broker. You would also include content about the area or neighborhood where applicable. Remember to always think VALUE. If you were moving to this area, what would a buyer be interested in? Remember, change the hierarchy to meet YOUR market. Start with highest level and work down. Even if you don't serve all of the highest level, it's good to have the placeholder in case your business ever expands into it and you can always refer out business as well.
- County (if Applicable)
- City/Town/Parish (Whatever applies where you are)
- and then Schools by price range
- Zip Codes
- and possibly zip codes by price range
- Such as: Victorian, Historic, Cape, Colonial, Modern
- And then Styles by Price Range
- And styles by price range + features (see below)
- Pools, Waterfront, Boat Dock, Casita or Mother in Law Quarters, Face East, on a Cul-de-sac, Single Story, number of Bedrooms, Green Certified, Accessibility options (elevator, hand rails, ramps) etc.
- And then by price
- Luxury, Distressed Properties, Fixer Uppers, High Rises or Condos, Floating Homes, 55 + etc.
- And then by Price
Here's a tip: When trying to think of features and niches and styles, use your MLS fields. Your MLS will feed out to your IDX provider. Whatever fields are available, you should build a page around. In the case of IDX Broker, you will need to go to Pages, Advanced Search, and then Fields and pull in any extra MLS fields you want to do this.
If you don't have control over your IDX, this will be more challenging. The WorkAround will be to use the search widget like a buyer or seller and copy down the URL and link it to a "See All Homes Now" hyperlinked text to send to appropriate pages. Won't be as powerful, yet it's still good to have these pages for SEO.
As I write this blog post, our top pages that generate leads are homes with pools, homes with casitas, and horse zoned properties.
Generating Leads Online through your Listing Inventory
If you have listings, you are already one step ahead. Congratulations. Listings are so powerful in the real estate industry. If you don't have any listings, you'll want to follow more throughout this blog and work on generating listings online as well. Yes, our seller listings come from the internet as well. The concept is the same. Create Blog posts, Articles, and Ads that offer value. Through that value, make offers. Those offers should invite a registration and then your follow up lead conversion kicks in.
Have you ever "Googled" the address of your seller listing? Go ahead, go do it now, I'll wait. (Oh yes, make sure you not logged into Google when you do that so that you have more accurate results. You could also open your browser in an incognito or private window. Or go to a friends computer.)
What did you find? Yeah, I was afraid of that. Unless you are already actively marketing your listings online, you may have found that the only place your listing showed up on page one was through Zillow, Realtor.com, Trulia, other big search portals, big brokerages, or maybe even that annoying agent who keeps popping up online in your area (in my market, I'm that agent).
Here's why. Google doesn't care who the listing agent is. They don't have to. There are no rules around how they rank pages based on the listing agent. Since all of us technically share the same inventory on our websites when using IDX feeds (syndication / broker reciprocity), Google sees all of us as having that property page on our website. Now it has to determine how to rank them, and it's not by who listed the property. Instead, they determine who they believe is the most authorative website. They want to return the most relative result to the user who performed the query (keyword search). For Real Estate, I'm afraid, that's usually Zillow.
Using these steps, you may not be able to beat Zillow every time, yet you could still bring yourself up on the search engines and land on page one, multiple times even.
Look at how it's done:
Step 1: Create a new Blog post on your website
Step 2: Title by the address, just how it would show up in a Google Search. I like to add an "Exclusive" or "Listed by X" in the front for good measure. The buyer really does truly want good info and they understand that the listing agent would probably
Step 3: Include that title again in the top paragraph for good measure. Nobody really knows how much that first paragraph keyword counts in the ranking algorithm, yet it's widely agreed to be a best practice. If you can, make it an H1 tag (header tag) or at least make it bold. Again, just a best practice more than a sure fire ranking signal.
Step 4: Include your phone number in the top of the blog post as most leads that are warm, right now buyers will stop what they are doing and call you.
Step 5: Find the best picture of the property. The best, not the easiest to grab. Typically, this would be the kitchen, a bathroom, or a feature like a Pool for an area that heats up in the Summer. In our findings, the top clicked spot on a listing page like this is the photo. If you give them all the photos, they have no reason to register. However, if you place a pop up form behind the photo through a hyperlink, you can request registration and then send them to the photo page. This is a personal preference of course and you will have to test and measure for results of your own. Any forced registration is going to alienate visitors. No requested or forced registration, however, will result in low registrations (although typically stronger leads). You have to decide what's right for you. There simply is no one size fits all.
Step 6: Describe the property. Include hyperlinks from keywords that will take the user to other pages on your site. Remember, you want to sell that house, yes. However must buyers won't want to buy that house for one reason or another. So as soon as they eliminate the property, they move on. Often, they move on to Zillow! You want to keep them on your website. Give them options. Give them reasons to click elsewhere if they don't like that property for whatever reason.
Step 7: Include similar listings. We simply build a search widget. If our listing is a 4 bedroom, waterfront home, with 2400 square feet, listed at $620,000, we would build a widget for homes in that same area (zip code, city, neighborhood, school zone etc.) that have 4 bedroom, are waterfront properties that have at least 2000 square feet and are listed at under $650,000. We get as close as possible where we will be able to showcase at least a few similar properties. Get them clicking. When they find what they want, they will be much more inclined to register. In addition, these clicks are great for your SEO. User metrics show Google that someone who performed a query on the search engine (entered a keyword phrase), and found your web page, and clicked through, then also clicked through to several other pages and spent more time on your site. This is a positive ranking signal.
Step 8: Make a vide for your property. Fancy, Simple, Whatever works. Make a slide show, use a virtual tour, make a "movie" out of your photos, or go take a live video walk through. Whatever you need to do, make a video. Often, your pages won't rank, yet your Youtube Video will. When you upload your video to Youtube, make sure you have a live link in the body (description) of the video. To make it live, you will need the http:// or https:// instead of your www domain .com.
You can wait til you publish the post and use that URL to send the video back to when they want to find out more about this property. You don't need to add the video to your post unless you think it really sells the home.
Step 9: Take the contents of your post and blast it (syndicate) it onto other channels you use for blogs and classified ads. These would be sites such as ActiveRain.com, Realtytimes.com, ClassifiedAds.com, Backpage.com, Blogger.com, and anything else that makes sense. Make sure EACH of these blog posts contains the original URL of your post we had you create so that those backlinks are directing traffic back to your page. This is good for SEO and those extra visitors can become leads.
Step 10: Share your post on every social channel that makes sense.
Generate Leads through your Websites Blog
Today, a great real estate website will also have a blog. Your blog can be something you manage yourself, writing from the heart. If you are a writer, this may be a great addition for you. Passion pieces and blog posts that invite debate are known to generate more comments that a standard "informational / educational" type of post. Blog posts today on real estate websites have become much more informational. The good news is, you don't have to write all of these yourself. You can get help. There are writing houses all over the web that offer writing services. If you dig hard enough, you can even find writers that specialize in the world of real estate. They will cost you more, and it might be worth it.
The best blogs solve problems. An easy way to start your blog would be to use the questions your clients and customers ask you when on a listing or buyer presentation, when handling offers, when negotiating home inspections, on the home tour, and at the closing table. Let your clients questions become your inspiration for content.
If you hate to type and simply can't get through a written blog, record your answer on your computer or smart phone and have it transcribed by software like Dragon or a service like Rev.com.
Write out the title just like it would be asked, as a question. People use Google for "Do, Know, and Go" queries. They are looking to do something, learn or discover something, or go somewhere. You'll find many of these are typed or voice searched as questions.
Take your time when answering the question. Really thing to yourself, if I've never bought or sold a house before, what would I want to know when I ask this question.
You might be able to solve their problem or answer their question in 150 words, yet if it's a truly valuable answer, I bet it's closer to 750 words, or maybe even thousands if you get REALLY behind it as I did in this blog post which I could have also named "How do I get more Leads Online through my Website?".
At this moment exactly, there are 4204 words on the page. I wrote it over 2 days on an airplane, and when I'm done, it could be thousands more. Why? Because I understand the question is deep and therefore want to include everything that would make sense to someone wanting to generate leads online. At around 5000 words, I usually add a cover, save it as a PDF, and offer it as an ebook. Later to make it easier to digest, it would make sense to break it up into many pages, linking from one to the other, and then offering the complete download as an ebook. If you are reading this once the blog has been live for a while and is ranking well on the search engines, you may already be digesting it this way.
Go LOCAL with your Real Estate Website
As a real estate agent, it would make sense that you would be a local expert, right? Yet we see very few real estate agents taking on the challenge. Want to beat the search portals? You do it by building the biggest castles in your own sandbox. Google Rewards Local
Let's start with something very simple. Your Nap. No, your nap is not that thing you do when you lay down on a cozy bed, curl up in a blanket and head into dreamland. Hey, WAKE UP! Your NAP stands for Name, Address, Phone Number. And when you take the time to set up your Google Business account, the more consistent you are with your NAP on your websites and social profiles, the more likely you are to rank in Google's Local Pack on the search engines.
Create a Local Directory for your Real Estate Website
Think of what anyone who lives in your area or visits your area would want to Do, Know or Go. Remember, those are the most popular queries on Google.
Personally, I suggest doing this on a blog using posts and categories. Here are some Examples:
- Category: Living In
- Post: All about The Transportation
- Post: The Average Temperatures in X
- Post: Getting through the DMV
- Post: How to get treated, Medically
- Category: Things to Do in
- Post: The Movie Theaters
- Post: Things to Do in X for Free
- Post, Things to Do in X on a Budget
- Post, Things to Do in X on a Date
- Post, Things to Do in X during the Summer
- Post, Things to Do in X when it's Raining
- Category: Best of
- Post: Best Steakhouses
- Post: Best Pizza in X
- Post: Best Pet Parks
- Post: Best Hair Salons
- Post: Best Summer Camps
- Post: Best Place to take a Staycation
There's more coming! Subscribe to the Blog to receive updates!
Lori Ballen, Search and Social Visibility Specialist.You may not be familiar with Lori Ballen, Ballen Brands, or The Ballen Method - but I’m almost certain one of your respected professional peers is. Someone you know likely knows my name. Talk to your associates, your friends in real estate, and ask what they know about the Ballen name. I’m confident you’ll be intrigued. My reputation wasn’t crafted by accident, irony, chance, or luck. I earned respect (and rewards!) the hard way. Using the stepping stones I’ve spent more than a decade constructing, you, too, can build your success story in business. I share my failures (and my win/wins!) to help you succeed.Long before 2010, I was a business owner faithfully (and sometimes embarrassingly!) practicing my motto, “fail forward”. I built millions in various business ventures, and I threw millions away through haphazard mistakes, dangerous habits, and bad choices. Although I lost millions, no one can subtract experience. The valuable lessons I learned were engrained in my being. My marriage was also on the brink of disaster. But my husband and I held on by the tattered threads of our rags to riches dreams, gathered up our life lessons, and joined Keller Williams Realty in September of 2010 with a wish and a prayer. When we became a part of the Keller Williams family, all we had was a computer, faith, and an undying need to succeed. By the end of that year, we closed 100 internet driven transactions… with no database.In the six years that followed, growing organically through trial, error, and triumphs, I also launched a training and marketing company, Ballen Brands, to assist honest, hard-working professionals like you. I know how difficult the road to success is, and I know no one needs to walk it alone.All of my lead generation - all-of-it - is done through search engine optimization (SEO) and social media. I learned the difficult way and I validate my experiences by recycling my hard knocks to demonstrate for you a simple way to dominate digital strategies. And the good news is, your success story won’t cost you millions over decades like mine did! It will only take you a short amount of time and a small investment to build your business, your reputation, and your riches. My marketing class was designed with you in mind.You are invited to join me on the evolving journey. If you’ll allow me, I can show you mind-blowing tricks of the trade and secrets of success. I’m so sure of your potential growth in my classes, I’m willing to put my name on the line. All you have to do is register now. Need to think about it? Click here to learn more.I’m so excited to meet you, to shake your hand, to answer your questions, and to help you grow your business.Sincerely yours,Digital Marketing StrategistBallen Brands - Helping Business Professionals Rise Above the Noise.
702.917.0755P.S. You may just love my new B.R.E.W. websites! B.R.E.W. stands for Ballen Real Estate Websites, and they’re gorgeous as well as functional. To learn more about B.R.E.W.s and other Ballen Brands services, you’re invited to visit us at BallenBrands.com, or call Jeff at (702) 917-0755.