Internet buyer lead generation accounts for nearly 70 percent of my buyer business each year. Since 2006, I have been investing in buyer lead systems, and I now maintain a consistent 400 percent return on investment from Internet lead generation.

However, the Internet landscape has changed somewhat during the past five years. The cost of entry into this space has also changed. The top placement of the Internet market share is mostly controlled by Zillow, Trulia and realtor.com. In addition, more real estate brokers and third-party buyer lead generation platforms, such as BoomTown and Zurple, are bidding their way to the top of first-page results.

Due to this increased competition, pay-per-click advertising costs on Google, Yahoo, Bing and other search engines have risen. This can, in turn, make it difficult for the average real estate agent to compete for placement. But there is still a great opportunity for agents who want to compete for buyer traffic from search engines.

I recommend having a four-system approach to Internet buyer lead generation that involves organic search engine optimization (SEO); pay-per-click advertising; online marketing systems from services such as Market Leader, Zurple or BoomTown; and third-party lead providers such as Zillow, Trulia and realtor.com.

1. Organic SEO

Organic SEO is a process for obtaining natural placement in the big search engines, which can be accomplished through blogging, writing articles, and by having good content and a solid structure on your website. The goal is to be unique while providing value to potential clients. For instance, Zillow has influence, as it was and still is uniquely valuable to the real estate consumer. It provided an easy way to get a home valuation report and an easy way to search for homes at a time when no one else was. Its unique content just kept growing, and it is now viewed as an “authority” website. As agents, we can learn something from this.

First, it is a good idea to update your website or blog with unique content the reader cannot find anywhere else. The goal is to provide an immediate solution to a consumer’s problem on your website. The question to ask is, “Will this content help real estate consumers make better decisions and answer their questions?” You want to make your website an authority site for the real estate consumer. Of course, SEO can be time-consuming and a challenge for many agents; by learning just a little each week and implementing a bit at a time, however, SEO can go a long way toward capturing organic ranking and market share.

The best way to find out what people are searching for is to ask your buyer clients. Ask them how they search for homes and what keywords they use. The search engines are looking for “human” content that is unique and valuable.

2. Pay-per-click advertising

Pay-per-click advertising is when you pay to be found in the search engines. You can achieve this through advertising programs provided by Google AdWords, Yahoo, Bing and other search engines. As mentioned, the costs have risen in the past several years. As agents, we are not expected to be experts in setting up campaigns and utilizing keyword optimization. My advice is to take the time to investigate and learn how to set up a simple campaign with one of the major search engines, such as Google.

Then set a clear goal about what you are trying to achieve. Finally, create a realistic budget. It is important to send your buyer traffic to a landing page or website that solves a problem for the real estate consumer. Make it easy for the consumer to get exactly what they were seeking. But do not forget you are attempting to capture the consumer’s information (a name and phone number or email address) so you can build a list or database, which will give you the ability to follow up. You may need a website or “lead page” to accomplish this. (You can see my lead page to use as an example.)

3. Online marketing systems

Online marketing systems, such as Zurple, BoomTown and Market Leader, basically do all the work for you. They provide you with a complete website platform to manage your leads. They set up pay-per-click advertising for you, and many times their website platform is optimized to rank higher organically in search engines. Of course, there is a cost for all of these services.

Personally, I have had great success with such systems as Zurple, which is more of a management system for your leads. This system is real estate behavioral marketing on steroids. Systems like BoomTown provide more of a front-end and back-end experience. BoomTown can also act as your website, compiling the database and tracking management of your leads. Again, the benefit of any of these is that they are complete marketing systems that do most of the heavy lifting for you.

4. Third-party lead providers

Zillow, Trulia and realtor.com are what I call third-party lead providers. Love them or hate them, these are all authority websites in the eyes of the consumer and the search engines. It would only make sense to be involved with them in some form or fashion.

I would suggest building a profile on these platforms first. Then I would recommend featuring your listings for more buyer exposure. And I would further research how these platforms could help your buyer business. There is no easy answer here. Many agents have great success investing with these systems, while other agents will not invest the time nor money.

The bottom line is to explore, research and have an open mind to utilizing one or all four of these systems. I personally invest in all four. But this is my business model, and real estate is not a one-size-fits-all business. And no one can argue about how buyers find properties.

According to the National Association of Realtors, 92 percent of all buyers start their search online. From there, it is about building the right relationship with that consumer. Remember, marketing is the engine to get a conversation that will ultimately help you build a relationship, and you need that relationship to make a sale.

Robert McTague is the team leader of CNY Agent Team of RealtyUSA in Syracuse NY, where he simplifies the process of buying and selling and offers assistance with marketing, coaching, and speaking.

Email Robert McTague.