The Internet embodies instant gratification, with the promise of volumes of information at the click of a button. And while real estate companies may find it is best to respond as quickly as possible to inquiries they receive from consumers who are surfing the Web, patience with these online consumers can also pay off, said participants of an Inman News audio conference this week.

Some consumers are not quick to commit to real estate services online, and it may take several months and even more than a year before they make a serious inquiry about buying or selling a home. As marketing dollars shift to the Internet, the real estate industry has been seeking ways to improve its response, tracking and return on investment for these leads.

(See the Inman News special report, “Web ROI lead secrets,” that discusses ways real estate companies are tracking their online investment dollars.)

Kim Gorsuch-Bradbury, senior vice president for strategy and corporate development at LendingTree, said a company study found that about 25 percent of the Internet leads it provided to real estate professionals in its network led to closed transactions, and the bulk of those closed within six months while about 35 percent closed after that period.

“You don’t just measure what happened in the first 30 days or the first 60 or the first 90. The horizon has to be at least six months, and preferably longer,” she said.

But when it comes to lead response time, “speed matters,” she said. “Study after study shows that the speed of response works. What matters is that the broker and their agent picks up the lead very quickly and then calls the consumer.” LendingTree operates RealEstate.com, a site that connects consumers with an affiliated real estate professional.

Even small brokerage companies in the RealEstate.com network have developed systems to quickly respond to Internet leads, Gorsuch-Bradbury said. As for tracking costs per lead, she said it can be as simple as creating a spreadsheet that includes such variables as the amount of spending for each type of online marketing and the total closings and revenues related to leads from those online marketing efforts.

Brokers differ on where to place lead management responsibilities. She said that some companies choose to put their relocation groups in charge of lead management, while others will give that responsibility to their information technology or marketing departments.

Gorsuch-Bradbury said that real estate professionals can help their cause in online marketing by providing lots of ways for consumers to reach them, including a prominently displayed phone number. “Consumers definitely vary in their behavior. Give consumers a choice. Some will go with a Web form and some of them will call you,” she said. Those brokers who arrange face-to-face meetings with prospective clients have a higher success rate in converting leads than those who do not, she said.

Tina Bean, sales and marketing director for VisiStat, a Web analytics and statistics company, agreed, “Personal relationships win the sale. You want to be visible … you want to be out there with a Web presence as well as with an open-house presence.”

Bean said Web sites are no longer considered an optional marketing tool for real estate professionals. “In the past, the argument has been that you need to get a Web site. Now it’s taken for granted. People understand that’s a part of the business model.” Now, she said, the key is to understand the value of online marketing efforts.

Online marketing is not “a dart on a dartboard,” she said. “It is a systematic way of marketing and tracking exactly where those dollars are spent.” Technology now makes it possible to measure the effectiveness of advertising campaigns in real-time, she said, so that advertising dollars can be immediately adjusted.

“Not only are there applications out there than can tell them the amount of traffic your Web site has, but how did that traffic find you.” Bean said that one of her company’s clients, a real estate team operating in the Tampa, Fla., area, spends about $10,000 a month advertising at the Realtor.com home-search site, which they consider to be the premier source for attracting new business.

Joel Macintosh, CEO at WolfNet Technologies, a real estate technology company, said quality of Internet-based leads can be more important than quantity. WolfNet offers Web metrics that track users’ history of visits to a Web site, and these analytics can prove useful in reviewing the effectiveness of online marketing, he said.

“When a lead comes in, wouldn’t it be nice to know that the person had originally visited that site 45 days ago, was the result of Google AdWords, and the phrase that got them there was ‘X,'” he said.

WolfNet has found that between 1-in-130 and 1-in-150 Web site visitors will make an inquiry, while about 1-in-60 to 1-in-100 site visitors will make a telephone call. Most people searching for real estate information on the Internet are not ready to commit to a real estate transaction, he said.

Online marketing is in its early stages, and real estate professionals are still experimenting to find the right fit for their online marketing dollars, said Gorsuch-Bradbury.

***

Send tips or a Letter to the Editor to glenn@inman.com or call (510) 658-9252, ext. 137.

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