Back when Facebook wasn’t for business, before Twitter was born, and in the days when we were still throwing our checkbooks at the classified sections of our local newspapers because people actually read them, I started a blog.
It wasn’t such a big deal, this little Web log. And the whole idea didn’t come to me in an epiphany of forward-thinking genius. Rather, it was just Experiment No. 372 in my ongoing struggle to differentiate myself and my business from the 85 million other licensed real estate agents in my market area.
I had no idea what I was doing. I didn’t even know what "it" was. I just knew that I had been hearing stuff — that my once novel, static website was now as common as the cheap seats at a royal wedding, and that the process of not only achieving success in this business but hanging onto it is just that — a process.
So I Googled "How to create a Web log." I did this right after I Googled "What is a Web log?" Then, armed with pages of printed how-tos with mysterious instructions involving foreign terms like "server" and "WordPress," I removed the children and domestic animals from the profanity zone and created my masterpiece.
It sucked. But the beauty was that no one knew it sucked because, much like the Edsel, there was little basis for comparison. I had a blog, most people didn’t, and that made me Technology Girl Extraordinaire. But aside from the fact that I am pretty good at reading and following directions, I was and remain a poser at the geek party.
Yesterday, I was reminded of the sham that I am as I sat with the man who helped dress my website in some new "bloggy"-platform clothes and introduced it to the 21st century. The topic of our meeting was search-engine optimization (SEO).
Now keep in mind that I have been given too much credit for too long as being one who gets this stuff. So, as he rattled off the ways in which I might improve my search-engine traffic and ranking, I had to come clean. I wouldn’t know a metatag if it walked into my open house wearing a name badge.
More importantly, I don’t care.
"What?" you scream. "Haven’t you heard the news, silly, unenlightened girl? The customers are online now."
That they are. The question becomes: Which customer are you trying to woo? And if you can’t answer that question, you can’t possibly make thoughtful and ultimately profitable business decisions.
There is no right approach, but understanding who it is you are targeting is paramount in understanding how to go about the whole new-business-capture thing. With my little blog lacking initial purpose, I admittedly lucked out, but hoping to get lucky is a pretty bad business strategy in the long-term and not one I would recommend.
Yep. I lucked out. You see, instead of intentionally packing each post with so many search-happy keywords that one might suspect I suffered from Tourette syndrome ("If you are searching for San Diego homes or San Diego real estate in San Diego and haven’t found the best San Diego real estate agent in San Diego …"), I just wrote stuff. Crazier yet, it worked.
I learned over time and quite by accident that the right words tend to find their way into the post all by themselves if you stay on topic.
For me, these include words like "San Diego" and "Scripps Ranch," and in the case of a more recent post, "Gisele Bundchen" and "Weebles." In any event, my blog magically started to rank well beyond the pages of anonymity for many popular search terms and a larger number of the more obscure ones.
It’s harder now, of course — now that everyone has one of those blog things. And I have since recognized that a little purposeful word selection does tend to help the whole getting-found process along.
At least, I’m pretty certain it doesn’t hurt. It just shouldn’t be the focus. The goal is to write something someone, like, say, a potential client, might want to read without having a gun pointed at his head.
But here’s the thing about optimizing for the search engines (and it only applies where my business and goals are concerned — unless you are currently targeting my market, your mileage may vary): The more random, "I just stumbled in," sort of traffic is not the business opportunity I am after. It’s not the kind of opportunity that pays my bills.
Much like I resigned my position from my former company’s relocation team years ago, recognizing that playing Chamber of Commerce to buyers from out of town who might or might not accept the job offer was time consuming and a distraction from my core business, not to mention expensive, so goes the average Internet inquiry.
Sure, we do our share of advertising online, and our agents don’t object when we can refer opportunities to them, but even they recognize that actually turning these opportunities into closed escrows is a small-percentage play.
To find one sincere, motivated, qualified client, we find we must field nearly a hundred queries from people looking for only the listing agent, for a commission rebate, for a too-good-to-be-true deal, or for a rental. Or we find ourselves responding to people who already have agents, are agents themselves, or are just using Mom’s computer past their bedtime.
Maybe it sounds like I just don’t want to work that hard, but I don’t see it that way. Rather, I see it as wanting to work smarter. I would rather spend my limited time focusing on the investments that consistently yield a higher return.
In my ‘hood, this means I am better served maintaining relationships with past clients, mailing brochures, running ads in community newsletters, and promoting my blog and my website in every instance.
In other words, my approach is backwards; use traditional media to drive Internet traffic and let the Internet presence put the icing on the relationship — not the other way around. I guarantee that, whatever your market, sticks in the ground — those all-important yard signs — will trump any online lead generator you can find or manufacture. Every time.
Your business model may be more of the rainmaker model, of course. You’re a big or small broker, or simply a referral business. Your only clients are the agents. For you, SEO should be the tail wagging the dog, because your job — your only job — is to man the call center or camp out at the back end of your Internet Data Exchange platform and hand out the leads.
For the average agent, however, the job is to connect with committed and qualified buyers and sellers and earn their business. For the average agent, the goal is to build an impressive following of happy past clients who will do repeat business and refer prospective clients.
Which brings me back to my meeting with the man who is way smarter than I about the peculiar relationships between tags, titles and all those search engines. He suggested I tweak a few things. "If you did these things," he said, "you could be on Page 1 for the search term ‘San Diego Schools.’ "
That’s just the problem, I told him. I’m not selling schools. I’m selling my services to people in my neighborhood, my community and my city. My approach is to use my online presence to turn that cold call into a warm one. It’s the digital bow on my local, old-school marketing package.
Your approach may be different. But whatever your approach, just remember whom it is you are targeting and be sure to allocate your most valuable resource — your time — accordingly.
Oh, and it’s not a bad idea to give each page on your site a unique name, something other than "New Page." At least, that’s what they tell me.