What is the best digital advertising for real estate agents?

Breaking down the difference between buying space and buying results
  • Display advertising is more traditional, typically using billboards, postcards, newspapers and other physical spaces – but it can also be in digital formats.
  • With display advertising, you pay to put your message in front of just the right audience. Displaying your message is what you're paying for.
  • Pay-per-result campaigns are more based on results than space, but those results can be hard to measure.
  • Both forms of advertising are valuable for marketing and brand-building.

advertising for real estate

Remember the good ol’ days of real estate marketing?

You bought a bus sign, sent out a postcard — maybe put your face on a grocery cart — or some other form of “display” advertising. Times have certainly changed, however, and real estate agents can thank the internet for that.

You don’t have to put ads in the local newspaper and hope for the best anymore. The internet ushered in an era of “pay-per-result” campaigns like pay-per-click, pay-per-conversion, pay-per-lead and more. Now you pay only for the result you wanted, right? Sort of.

Yes from the standpoint that you could choose to spend all your marketing dollars on only pay-per-result campaigns. You’d sleep well knowing that all of your spending is being measured. For many, that is marketing bliss, but there are two things to consider before choosing this path:

  1. You are only paying “per result,” but there is still the issue of quality. Not all leads are created equal, and the difference between a high-quality and low-quality lead is substantial. It’s critical for marketers who pay per result to continue to keep track of the quality of the results they’re receiving.
  2. What if the result you seek is something that cannot be easily measured by technology yet?

Let’s say your marketing goal was to be the first agent in your neighborhood that people think of before selling their homes. An important goal, considering that 70 percent of people hire the very first agent they call.

If you’re a broker focused on recruiting agents, then maybe your goal is to get more agents to return your emails and phone calls so you can set up more meetings. Another very important goal, given that 96 percent of brokers report expending considerable time and energy toward recruitment.

In both cases, display ads may be the answer. With display advertising, you pay to put your message in front of just the right audience. Displaying your message is what you’re paying for.

Which one will work best for you? Here is a breakdown of the two types of advertising:

Display ads

Every real estate agent wants to reach an audience, but you want to get your name out there and be known as the local expert in your line of work – so you buy a display advertisement. The ad might be on a postcard, billboard, newspaper or even TV in some extreme cases. Even sponsoring a local Little League baseball team is a form of display advertising.

Types of display advertising for real estate:

  • Billboards
  • Newspapers
  • Grocery cards
  • Postcards/direct mail
  • TV
  • Digital ads

There is an exchange happening here, and it works like this: “I pay you to put my ad in that space so these people will see it.”

These endeavors always require payment upfront, because you are reserving space – or buying real estate to promote your business. The same goes for digital ads: You purchase the opportunity to be displayed through a digital ad network and in specific spaces used by that network.

Adwerx tools are a little more targeted. Ads are shown to people in your target area, but it focuses on people demonstrating specific browsing behaviors related to your business, like looking at homes for sale or using mortgage calculators.

With our sphere targeting product, you actually provide a list of individuals you want to see your ads, targeting your referral network, neighbors or others who can send business your way. For brokers, this is how to target top agents in the area for recruiting.

How do you know they work?

The purpose of display ads are to build brand awareness, which is very tricky to measure. But using the right measurement can help decide if something worked for you.

If used for brand awareness, digital ads offer more interaction than newspapers or billboards. Digital ads are also more targeted, catering towards a specific population that’s pertinent to your business.

The true brand-building muscle of digital ads is in the repetition. The more consumers see something, the more familiar it seems. And the more familiar it seems, the more they like that product or service. With repetition as the primary driver of value, display ads are more of a marathon than a sprint, as creating familiarity and trust with potential customers takes time.


The biggest risk in using display advertising is getting a false negative.

“I don’t know for certain that it’s working, so it must not be,” is a dangerous mindset because of how difficult it can be to measure the impact of this type of advertising.

If we applied that logic to brushing our teeth, we’d stop doing it after the first cavity.

Pay-per-result ads

A very common type of pay-for-result marketing is pay-per-click advertising (PPC). PPC campaigns are contextual, meaning you can decide under what circumstances the ad is shown. You select search terms and audience demographics, and decide your budget.

Another form of pay-per-result marketing is pay-per-lead ads. In pay-per-lead ads, you typically don’t have a say in where, when or to whom your ads are shown; the advertising company makes those decisions.

How do they work?

PPC ads are pay-as-you-go, but only for the outcomes they create. Their offerings usually have some sort of auction lever so that the going price can be determined every minute of every day.

For example, if you’re willing to pay $1.00 per click on a digital ad, you may get lots of clicks at that rate for a week. But if someone else is willing to pay $2.00 per click, then you’ll suddenly get no more clicks — unless you raise your bid.


Contrary to display ads, the biggest risk in using pay-for-result advertising is getting a false positive.

I’ve worked with a lot of agents and companies who take comfort in having a low cost per click on their ads. While this can be good for their budget, they weren’t always controlling for quality. The clicks kept coming, but the conversion rate was low.

Because of how easy it is to measure these types of ads, the tendency can be to say “It tells me it’s working, so it must be true.” Like those diets where you eat only meat, the scale keeps showing you results, but you’re not necessarily getting healthier as you’re also piling on cholesterol.

Bottom line

Both display and pay-per-result ads have a valuable place in the world of marketing and brand-building. Like all marketing tactics, be sure to start with a clear objective so you can measure and evaluate your results for next time.

Jed Carlson is CEO of Adwerx, an online marketing firm for real estate professionals. You can read more of his work on the Adwerx blog or follow him on LinkedIn or the Adwerx Twitter page.