Editor’s note: This three-part series examines structural changes within the classifieds industry, obstacles newspapers have to overcome to stay in the game, and what some publications are doing to differentiate  themselves and to build a heavier online footprint with real estate.

Editor’s note: This three-part series examines structural changes within the classifieds industry, obstacles newspapers have to overcome to stay in the game, and what some publications are doing to differentiate  themselves and to build a heavier online footprint with real estate. (See Part 1 and Part 2.)

Amidst a rapidly changing real estate advertising market, a newspaper in West Palm Beach, Fla., has made waves with new Web classified programs, winning awards for best classified site and earning top recognition from publishing peers.

The Palm Beach Post has about 17,000 local property listings for sale in its database, said Dan Shorter, a representative with the newspaper. Part of the newspaper’s strategy for remaining a vital source of real estate classifieds information has been to build one of the deepest and broadest databases of property listings, he said.

“To make sure we had the largest database of local listings, a few years ago we started digitizing every display ad we had,” Shorter said. “That gives us thousands of listings we otherwise wouldn’t have for people to click on.”

The newspaper also accepts listings from real estate brokers and agents for free. “We’ve got 6,000 listings that come from agents and brokers directly,” Shorter said. These are properties the brokers and agents are not advertising through display and classified ads, he said.

For more than 65 years, the nation’s real estate agents advertised mostly via newspapers and yard signs. Now a plethora of options is available online and newspapers face the possibility of losing market share as agents pull their ad spend to invest in the Web.

Some newspapers and media companies have stepped up to the challenge of maintaining a high spot on consumers’ radar in the home-search process.

The Palm Beach Post is located in South Florida, which has been one of the hottest real estate markets in the nation during the housing boom. Taking advantage of the housing frenzy, the newspaper started installing classifieds kiosks in its six-county area, which includes Broward, Palm Beach, Martin, St. Lucie, Indian River and Ochechobee counties.

Consumers can browse photos, detailed listing information and maps using the kiosks, which reside mostly in shopping malls, though some have been installed in ballparks, libraries and college campuses, Shorter said.

There are 60 kiosks in total and, “about 5 million people are exposed to them each month,” he said.

The newspaper also has devised ways for advertisers to track leads that are coming from the Palm Beach Post. One program enables a home shopper to click an icon within a property ad to talk to the seller, which in some cases is a listing agent. The prospective buyer enters his or her phone number and a time they’d like to talk with the seller, and then a call takes place on the advertiser’s end, letting them know the call is coming from a Post ad, Shorter said.

“This brands the lead as coming from us,” he said.

Another thing the paper has done is give each print ad a Web identity number so a person can go online and enter that number to go directly to the home listing they saw in the paper.

Other new classifieds features at the paper include the ability for individuals to build their own ads and upload their own pictures, video or audio files, Shorter said. Advertisers can see how many times people clicked on their ads and site visitors can comment to the sellers.

“We’ve been surprised that real estate would dominate,” Shorter said. “We offer these services in all of our categories and real estate is by far the top category for all these features just mentioned.”

While implementing these changes, the newspaper’s online revenue climbed 97 percent from April 2005 to April 2006, according to Shorter, though he conceded that the real estate market had been extremely hot during that time.

And the paper will be rolling out more classifieds tools moving forward, he said.

Using a different approach, Massachusetts company Enterprise NewsMedia has taken property listings from its real estate and news publications – including the Patriot Ledger in Quincy, the Enterprise in Brockton, and MPG Newspapers’ publications – and incorporated them into a newly launched Web site, Wicked Local Real Estate.

The site, launched on May 17, aims to be a comprehensive local resource for the region south of Boston. “Wicked” refers to a local colloquial expression meaning “extremely” or “a lot,” said Robert Kempf, vice president of interactive media at Enterprise NewsMedia.

The site gets property listings from the company’s newspaper and real estate publications, Kempf explained, and has created tools that enable brokerage companies to put all of their listings on the site, including an opt-in wrap technology. In addition, individuals can pay to add individual listings to the site.

At launch, Wicked Local Real Estate had about 1,800 listings online, Kempf said.

In addition to property listings, the site includes tools for home buyers, sellers, renters, agents and brokers; searchable open house information; a directory of real estate professionals; targeted paid search property ads; and buyer alerts and portfolios of saved searches.

“What we’re trying to do is broaden the interactivity,” he said.

Another feature Wicked Local Real Estate has in the works is a search tool that will enable a person to enter property search criteria and click directly through to a broker’s IDX platform. IDX, which stands for Internet Data Exchange, is technology that enables brokers to display all MLS properties on their Web sites.

The search tool, not yet live on the site, is designed to give a better user experience while sending traffic to broker Web sites and will operate on a pay-per-click model, Kempf said.

The company is also looking at partnering with the region’s major multiple listing service, he said.

“The most important thing is to find multiple ways to connect the consumers who come to our sites back to the agents,” he said.

Even with the new online developments at Enterprise NewsMedia, Kempf believes that real estate advertising will remain a two-medium business, using both print and online channels.

“The classifieds business is slowly but surely moving to online, but in certain categories – namely real estate – comprehensive marketing requires both,” he said.

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Send tips or a Letter to the Editor to jessica@inman.com or call (510) 658-9252, ext. 133.

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