Nov 272013

The last year in particular has seen a major shift in the online landscape. Google has morphed from being everyone’s favourite search engine to one that is geared towards smartphone use. For the competitive commercial keywords Realtors target, their results now look more like a telephone directory rather than a search engine. Once a searcher drills down past the ads and phone listings initially presented to them, the major listing aggregators and listings pages of large brokerages follow. The days of individual Realtors ranking in Google for “my city real estate” are over.

The reasons for this are clear. People do not use computers in the same way they did in the past. The peak time of day for web browsing using laptops and computers is noon. Browsing using tablets and smartphones now rule after business hours. Currently web browsing volume is split down the middle between computers and tablets/smartphones and the share by tablets and smartphones is growing. Google saw an opportunity to dominate the mobile space and has taken it.

Where does this leave Realtors? If you are one of those that strives to obtain most of your business from the web you are probably noticing your total business is greatly affected and really feeling the pain. If you have been reading this blog for any length of time the chances are that your business comes from more varied sources and you are not feeling the pain so much. You are also probably more likely to appreciate that some business coming from the web is still good and that there are things that can be done to increase that business.

The last few years there had been a major push (by IDX providers) for Realtors to spend large sums of money integrating IDX listings systems into their websites. The promise was that this would allow them to dominate the search engine results and increase their leads. If you are not familiar with IDX listings, they are a listings sharing system that is basically a way for Realtors who do not have listings to maybe scoop some buyers from those who do.

This idea of the expensive integrated IDX systems being beneficial for search engine placement and lead generation was always dubious. If that is your prime online marketing strategy today you may find you get similar results by just burning your money. The odds of your IDX feed being the one a home searcher clicks on were always extremely small and now even more so with Google’s tilt towards the large aggregators.

The other search engines such as Bing, Yahoo, and DuckDuckGo still work much the same as they always did and if you were ranking well in them in the past for those high traffic competitive commercial keywords chances are that you still do unless you made major changes to your website in attempts to appease Google. The other engines will still send you traffic but fail to make up that big chunk that Google used to send for those high traffic keywords.

For Realtors, online promotion may actually have taken a step back to the way things used to be where traffic came from a number of different search engines plus from one’s own promotion by conventional advertising. Relying on a single source, Google, was never a good idea and getting back to the basics is probably a good thing.

There still is traffic coming from Google, just not as much as in the past since the placement for high traffic keywords has been handed to the big companies. Google still sends traffic for a large variety of long tail keywords. If you want to increase the traffic search engines send to your website(s) and thereby increase your leads, the way to do that is not to spend a fortune on an expensive integrated IDX. The way to increase traffic and leads is to increase the content about your market area that you make available on the web which thereby increases the numbers of long tail keywords you will be found for. The quickest and easiest way to increase that market area content and to speed up placement for those long tail keywords is to use a search engine friendly WordPress Blog.

Further to the consumer shift to mobile devices, one needs to keep in mind that in the mobile space there are at least two distinct devices and they are used differently for the most part. People use their smartphones took look things up. IBM’s data from Black Friday confirms that this has not changed.

Browsing the web using smartphones with their small screens is not really such a pleasing experience. Users tend to look things up rather than surf. That is where Google’s focus on mobile is really geared and why they have become more of a click-to-call phone directory than a search engine.

How do potential real estate prospects use their smartphone? They are probably not typing in keywords and doing searches as they would on their computer. More likely they see your name on a sign or in an ad and search for that. If you have any web presence at all they are guaranteed to find you. It could be your own website or they find a listing for you in a directory etc. When they do find you they will probably phone you or your office rather than email or fill in a form. If you do get a lead you would never know it came from your website or your online marketing. If it is your office phone number they dial rather than your direct line you may never receive a lead at all.

Prospects using smartphones would also be searching for properties by address or the listing numbers they find as they see signs and advertisements. Once again, these leads will go through the large listing aggregators and not you as I wrote above.

It probably is not worth obsessing over marketing yourself to smartphone users.

Tablet users are different though. Tablets are like computers only portable. Where in the past people would sit for an hour or two in front of the family computer in the evening they now surf the web from a variety of different locations using their tablet. They sit watching TV with their tablet in hand looking up the performers, shows, and search for more information about subjects they are seeing on TV. They may not often be searching for real estate while doing this but there are other opportunities for them to do this using their tablets. The good news is that as long as your real estate website displays well in tablets you can pretty much think of them as much the same as your laptop or computer. People will email and fill in forms on your website when using their tablet device.

To sum up how Realtors should view web promotion in 2014, think of it as it was in the early days of the internet. Gone are the glut of visitors from one source and we are back to the days of targeting all of the search engines rather than just one. Prospects are generated from a wider variety of keywords and not just a few. Because of this database marketing is not such a good idea. Going back to personally following up with these internet leads will work better.

Your web presence is no longer so much of a “set it and forget it” thing. You do have to be willing to do a few things such as the personal following up of leads, promoting your website in places other than online search engines, and you should be willing to write the occasional blog post about one of your market areas. You also need to recognize that maintaining a good online presence is a necessity but should not be counted on for the largest share of your overall business.

Our web promotion system for Realtors includes multiple search engine friendly websites plus a WordPress blog all for a reasonable cost. Everything you need to effectively market yourself online is included!