Hacker Connect January 16 in New York
An event for and by the real estate tech community

We’re going to define exactly where the 240 million unique visitors to real estate websites went and how they got there.

The statistics for this article come from a RealTrends newsletter (4/10/15) on a study they did on the market’s interaction with real estate websites in 2014. The analysis, discussion and suggestions are my fault.

Wow, 204 million unique visitors to real estate websites in 2014 — all to sell 5 million homes, plus or minus. From a marketing perspective, this tells me that you need to qualify your leads pretty well before tossing them in the back of your car. One of these individual website users has a statistical chance of just under 5 percent of either buying or selling a home this year, assuming both a listing side and a buying side to each of the 5 million homes sold.

This also means that you had better have an excellent customer relationship manager (CRM) program in place because 95 percent of the people interacting with a real estate website aren’t going to buy or sell this year — but perhaps sometime in the future.

For all of you portal haters, here’s the bad news: 120 million of those unique visitors were on Zillow, Trulia, realtor.com or Homes.com — yep, that’s half of all Internet real estate traffic.

The major real estate brands’ (the newsletter did not name names) websites received about 30 million unique visitors — a quarter of what the four major portals pulled in.

Now the good news for the individual brokers, independent brokerages and the large regional brokerages: Your sites pulled in 90 million unique visitors.

Now, let’s run through the vital marketing statistics.

A very relevant note is that 40 percent of the 240 million visitors came via mobile. If your site is not “responsive design” or the more expensive specialized “app” design, you need at least two: iOS and Android, you are probably losing prospective clients or at least irritating them to the point of exploring another broker’s site.

Although the costs to build responsive sites or specialized apps are all over the board (where did that cliché ever come from?), I can tell you from experience that a custom responsive site will be no less than $20,000 and custom apps about $30,000 for each of your two main choices. Maybe you’ll find somebody cheaper, but more likely you’ll spend double any of my figures quoted here. And all of this assumes a pretty darn basic website offering. Complex sites go up in price exponentially.

Custom programming is a pain; it’s time-consuming; it’s pretty unpredictable. And if you find a good programmer, they’re expensive and in-demand, and their rates are going up perpetually, as everyone needs a good programmer right now.

From a marketing perspective, if your marketplace offering is not remarkable it is invisible, loosely quoted from Seth Godin, Purple Cow.

Thus, if you have one of the two million or so IDX sites cranked out by some shop calling it custom because you got to pick out a color scheme and put a picture of your head somewhere — you are invisible.

I suggest that you choose your specialized market niche first and design your website offering built solely around that market segment’s exacting desires second. I’ll discuss several reasons why.

From the newsletter, 92 percent of website visitors came from within the U.S., and 8 percent from international locations. If you want to be an international player, your site has to cater exclusively to the desires of this group. And I further suggest you would have to create a specialized site and service for each country you wish to attract. And that’s just the beginning because you have to create a plan to get your site in front of their eyes. This is a big undertaking, so be sure it’s what you want.

Domestically you might concentrate on sellers, buyers, affluent people, first-time buyers, neighborhoods or, ideally, something far more specialized than these somewhat generic demographics. The more focused your service and site is, the smaller the niche it will attract, but the higher the percentage of that niche you will dominate once they realize you are the go-to person for their desires. Think about this as we look at the following paragraphs on organic searches.

Here’s the most promising statistic from the newsletter: 51 percent of traffic to your site comes from organic searches. I cannot overemphasize the importance of this fact. Whether you are a big brokerage or an individual agent, you need to put 90 percent of your effort into creating what I call a “black hole” keyword and content strategy.

In space, a black hole is when a giant star goes supernova and then implodes to a tiny size — but with a massive gravitational pull that nothing can escape. Your website should have that same effect. You should put nearly all of your effort into building engaging and relevant content based on your market niche’s desires. And it should be chock-full of keywords so that any time a seller or buyer types in anything related to your specialty, they can’t help but get pulled into your website.

My advice is great content — relevant articles, videos, advice and blog — all tied together with any social stuff you do. Experiment with “long-tail” use of keywords in your information. In other words, it’s hard to beat the portals with “home values in Denver.” So don’t be afraid to build in some sentences such as “home values in Washington Park went from $275 per foot to $325 per foot between 2013 and 2014 with most buyers leaning toward fully remodeled homes.” Create your content based on how sellers and buyers think and what they want to know.

I don’t think you have to pay someone a lot of money to build out your SEO all of the time. Google changes its ranking algorithms constantly, and it is on to the games “SEO specialists” play pretty much thwarting the specialists’ efforts. Google is indeed trying to find and suggest the best sites relevant to a user’s need. Make your site is that site.

Per the newsletter, 34 percent of visitors knew and typed in the URL of the site they wanted. Hey, you might have the most catchy website name on the planet, but I bet the greatest percentage of the direct URL inputs went like this: “Z-i-l-l-o-w,” “T-r-u-l-i-a” and “R-e-a-l-t-o-r.” I don’t mean to get your hopes down, but isn’t Zillow spending about $100 million per year to get people to remember to type in that name directly? I think you are better off concentrating on your organic, ultraspecific content.

Jumping back to CRM a little bit, the newsletter stated about 14 percent of site traffic came from users’ interaction due to auto-notifications such as a “new listing.” These are probably motivated potential clients, so make sure these kinds of functions on your website are running hot.

I have very mixed feelings about some of the “marketing software” — I think of it as “spyware,” where every time a user interacts with your site or gets an automated email that you also do. It’s your personal choice whether to email a user your pitch every time they visit your site, essentially confessing that you’re tracking their every move. I know it’s becoming standard practice in the marketplace, but I don’t like it — that’s my personal choice. I’ll focus on offering something so remarkable that they’ll desire my services over everybody else’s without spying on them.

About 9 percent of your activity comes from outside “referral” sources, such as portals. Your organic connections are over 500 percent of that figure, so you decide where to spend your time, effort and money.

Some 5 percent of the traffic to your site comes from your social site interactions. This is fine if you enjoy using these kinds of sites a lot. But let me just reiterate the 51 percent of organic results …

Finally, 2 percent of your site’s use came from paid advertising, such as Google AdWords. So either brokers aren’t spending much on paid advertising, or their ads suck, or this is a poor return on investment for most. No, the newsletter did not mention Facebook specifically.

That’s a wrap; now go and build out your articles to capture what matters to your niche: in-depth, local information about subjects they care about.

Creed Smith is living the creation and implementation of innovation via QValue.net and DemonOfMarketing.com.

Email Creed Smith.