[Agent Perspective] So, which site is the best? What service is the best?

As Realtors, we are always looking for the best way to promote our services and listings in a cost-effective manner. We tend to spend a significant amount of our hard-earned money in an attempt to grab the attention of homebuyers and sellers.

This article will provide insight into my experience with several online websites and services.

According to a National Association of Realtors survey, 88 percent of homebuyers use the Internet in their home search. It is because of this trend that websites like Trulia, Zillow, Realtor.com, Homes .com and others have flourished. So which site is the best? What service is the best?

Trulia experience

Trulia is a well-recognized website that attracts a tremendous amount of traffic from people looking to buy a new home. The site offers several options.

  • Local Ads: You can potentially own your market based on ZIP code, hence locking out the competition.
  • Trulia Pro: Monthly membership that matches you to potential clients in your area. Also guarantees that another agent is not advertising your listing.
  • Mobile: There’s an app for that. Trulia has a suite of mobile apps.

I personally took advantage of all these features. Buying Local Ads, signing up for the top-tier membership, and spending a lot of money in the process. Did it work? Yes. Within minutes of my ads going live, the calls and leads started to come in. I was pleased with the results.

I immediately started showing buyers around town and closed a couple of deals quickly. I never did get a listing lead.

What did I learn from the experience?

Be prepared for the sudden influx of leads, which is a great thing. A skill that is really needed is to qualify those who are serious from those who are ready to buy in five years. Also, the cost of the service is steep.

Depending on the ZIP code, in order to own 100 percent of the market it can cost you around $1,000 per month. Every ZIP code is rated for a different price based on search results.

Is it worth it? Yes, if you can afford the initial investment.

Zillow experience

Zillow is also a highly visited website. The company offers three basic packages:

  • Basic: $39 per month but no buyer leads. This offering features 10 listings in which no one else can be advertised on your listing.
  • Silver: $79 per month. This is the same as above but gives you 25 featured listings.
  • Platinum: Starts at $128 per month, based on ZIP code. This option gets you buyer leads, which is good, and allows you to feature 50 listings.

I signed up with Zillow for its Platinum plan and the leads started to come in. I did it alongside Trulia and found that buyers saw me on Zillow, then on Trulia, and that’s why they contacted me. This is a synergistic approach.

Is it worth it? When you sign up with Zillow it is for a six-month contract. So you need to be sure that you are going to fully utilize the service. If you are looking to get buyer leads then you need the larger plan, which will cost you. Some ZIP codes can be very expensive.

Realtor.com and Homes.com: I use these sites only for syndication of my listings, since Trulia and Zillow were the most-visited sites in my area and since money doesn’t grow on trees.

Google AdWords and pay per click

It’s tax time, and when I was going over my expenditures I realized that I was spending a small fortune on getting buyer leads. I never did receive any listing leads with either service. So I opted on a different route.

I went old school. I purchased some books on Web design and within a few months had my very own website with an Internet Data Exchange (IDX) feed that showcased all homes for sale from my multiple listing service. Note: Since I designed my own site, I was able to save thousands of dollars.

My site went live and nothing happened. Guess what? The major search engines just don’t place you on Page 1 on day one. That kind of makes sense. So I hit the books again and learned all about search engine optimization and pay per click.

When I talk about SEO, I mean the good kind.

  • Designing the site properly, so that the search engines can crawl your site and easily index your pages.
  • Using an XML Site Map.
  • Creating useful content.
  • Using appropriate keywords.
  • Submitting my site to directories.
  • Using proper internal linking structure.
  • Getting relevant back links from similar sites. Careful with this step. When I first started researching this online, I saw a ton of ads for what are referred to as “link farms.” They are bad for your strategy since Google is in the business of helping searchers find organic relevant content. You might get close to Page 1 with link farms, but Google will find you out and quickly knock your page off this pedestal.

Using proper SEO, I went from not even being indexed or recognized by Google, Bing or Yahoo to now being on Page 4 of the search results for my main keywords, all in a matter of a month.

Page 4 doesn’t get you many clicks. So in the mean time I’m using pay-per-click (PPC) ads.

PPC is highly recommended for those who are not on Page 1 or Page 2 of the major search engines. There are a host of companies that you can use for this service.

My opinion is to start off where people go: Google and Bing. You can have your ads show up on Page 1 of searches by competing for clicks based on your bid amounts and in display texts and ads on affiliate sites.

Note:

  • Do keyword research.
  • Local agents should advertise locally. I’m in the Bronx so “Bronx Homes for Sale” is one of my main keywords. You are paying per click and can lose your shirt competing for clicks on a national level when you are looking to help people locally.
  • Use exact match for keywords so you can control your ads.
  • Set a daily budget.
  • Set a monthly budget.
  • Track your results daily.

Using this approach I have seen a significant increase in website traffic. I use Google Analytics, which is free to verify site traffic. This week alone I already have five new buyers who I am working with and an appointment for a rental listing.

Part of my strategy is also to use social networking sites like Facebook, Twitter, Google Plus and LinkedIn to promote my website.

My goal is to own my lead generation system vs. renting it. I am investing my time and energy in creating and optimizing my website and utilizing pay per click to advertise my site until I reach my goal of being on Page 1 on Google and Bing in organic search.

Is it working?

The leads are coming in and I am showing people around again. Online marketing is definitely the way to go since everyone has a smartphone, tablet or computer. Google AdWords has proven to be a great lead generator.

When deciding which system works for you, the main thing to remember is the cost per lead. You can spend a fortune getting leads that don’t pan out to a deal, or you can fine-tune your system to make sure that the leads are coming in without breaking your bank.

If you have deep pockets and want to dominate the market, use a blanket approach and be seen all over the Web. Just make sure you have great time-management skills and a team that can help organize your schedule, because you will be busy.