(This is Part 2 of a two-part series. See Part 1: Smart real estate marketing strategies for 2005.)

Because major companies control the prime real estate turf on the Web, commanding premiere placement on the major search engines is already out of reach for most agents. There is a viable alternative, however, that allows agents to compete with big-name competitors.

According to a recent study by the California Association of Realtors, 47 percent of the people polled now use the Web to locate agents. Furthermore, the 2004 NAR Profile of Buyers and Sellers shows that 77 percent of all buyers use the Internet to search for homes.

“Pay-per-click” advertising is similar to placing an ad in the newspaper. Normally you have three lines in which to describe your services. Your fee is based upon how many people actually click on your ad. Each time someone “clicks through” to your Web site, you are charged the amount you agreed to pay. Like print advertising, the more you pay, the better your position. You can set a maximum amount you are willing to pay each month.

According to Marc Davison of VREO software, pay-per-click advertising is a smart investment because it allows agents to monitor where their inquiries originate. The only way to monitor this with print advertising is with an 800 number. Furthermore, pay-per-click programs can be an important addition to your listing presentation. “Imagine sitting in a seller’s home and among the many tools in your arsenal are screen shots of top placements in Google in several different categories of popular keyword searches.”

To maximize the effectiveness of your pay-per-click program, Davison suggests the following guidelines:

1. When discussing pay-per-click with your sellers, make sure the links from Google go to your “properties for sale” page, not your home page. Sellers will be far more dazzled if the link reveals a brochure on their home for sale rather than your mission statement.

2. If you are using pay-per-click to attract buyers, make sure the link on Google opens to your IDX or VOW page.

3. If you include school data, relocation information, mortgage rates or other ancillary needs, make sure the information is accurate and up-to-date. You will lose customers if your Web site promises information and it is not what the consumer expected.

4. Understand that getting placement in a pay-per-click program buys you nothing more than a click to your Web site. To convert Web leads into signed business you must make sure your site connects with your Web visitors. In other words, “When the consumer gets to the site, does the site welcome them, meet their needs, and lead that consumer all the way through a proper visit so the result is a truly viable inquiry?”

Sometimes the price of pay-per-click programs may be daunting. Davison feels these programs are worth it, even if the price is as high as $10 per click. (This figure is high and would be what you would expect to pay in aggressive markets like San Francisco. In most markets, the numbers range between 15 cents and $2). Davison argues:

“If it takes 50 clicks to derive one real client, spending $500 to earn tens of thousands in commissions should be a no-brainer and a big part of any agent’s long-term advertising budget. Frankly; I’d spend $500 a day, every day of my life for that kind of return.”

A final issue is how to incubate Web leads. VREO’s research indicates the typical Web visitor begins his/her home search about one year before he/she is typically ready to move. Their focus groups have also revealed consumers do not like aggressive drip e-mail programs or impersonal, canned, auto replies. Instead, consumers overwhelmingly prefer the eBay or Amazon approach where they can preview what is offered and not have to reveal who they are until they are ready to purchase. To capitalize on this, make sure your Web site has what buyers and sellers want and need – links to the MLS, useful information about the areas you service, and plenty of pictures and virtual tours. Keep your site current with up-to-date real estate news, interest rates and your current listings.

Ultimately, real estate is about personal connection and matching your marketing to fit consumer needs. Remember, automation and technology only enhance this connection – they are never substitutes for it.

Special thanks to Marc Davison of VREO Software who provided much of the information for this article.

Bernice Ross is an owner of Realestatecoach.com and can be reached at bernice@realestatecoach.com.

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