A “virtual” paradox is happening in real estate: The Internet has become the major medium for real estate information, yet real estate agents find it increasingly difficult to generate good leads using their Web sites.

The cause for this is simple: The majority of early-stage home buyers start their online searches with major classifieds portals, making it difficult for individual agents to be “seen” by these consumers. Yet, these are people who could be the most valuable potential clients because at this stage they probably haven’t yet committed to another agent.

Another way of looking at this problem is that no matter how interesting or informative an agent’s Web site is, it will be only as useful as the traffic it gets. But traditional traffic-generation techniques pose problems for many agents.

The options for generating traffic to a Web site are limited and expensive: keyword advertising, search-engine optimization (SEO), banner ads, blogging, e-mail farming, or “traditional” media advertising. In most markets, these methods will produce spotty and unpredictable results because the majority of agents and brokers employ the same strategies, making it increasingly difficult to differentiate even the best agent Web sites.

Another problem with traditional traffic-generation methods is the low quality of leads they produce. The best leads for an agent are those consumers who are early in their home-buying process, the ones who have just started looking, because they have not yet committed to another agent. However, surveys show that the majority of consumers start looking for listings on the major online classifieds portals — Realtor.com, craigslist, Google Base, Trulia, Zillow, and others — rather than start their home-buying experiences by looking for an agent. These consumers may end up establishing a relationship with a listing agent they come in contact with via a listing or classifieds ad.

What can Realtors do to fish for leads in the big classifieds portals pond?

The obvious solution is to post featured listings to these portals using one of several single-property Web site or syndication services. Single-property site services enable agents to create compelling Web sites for featured listings with photos, slideshows and video, and then post them with a click of a button to several classifieds ad portals and search engines. Many brokers and agents already syndicate their listings, either on their own or using one of many service providers available.

A common mistake agents make today is they assume their listings will be indexed by search engines simply because they are available in the “Featured Listings” section of their own Web sites. This is not the case.

Another common misperception is thinking that simply because agents’ listings are syndicated in bulk by their brokers that it’s not necessary for agents to promote these homes on their own. Listings syndication works just like advertising — the more the better — and given the low effort and low cost involved this should be a no-brainer, must-do activity.

As with any marketing, results usually depend on how unique the approach is, and how it stands out from the crowd. With listings syndication it is no different. In most markets, the majority of listings are already being posted on classifieds portals so posting a few listings will not be as effective as it was one or two years ago. Also, it is unlikely that a home buyer who finds your listing will actually consider it to be a good fit with his or her needs. In that case, the buyer will just click on to the next listing and you will have lost him forever!

Stand up, stand out

Instead of doing what everyone else is doing, here’s a novel approach that will increase effectiveness of lead-generation with single-property Web sites: embed an interactive MLS search into each “Featured Listings” Web site. The benefit to agents doing this is that a buyer who finds the listing on one of the classifieds search portals can immediately see other MLS properties and start a full search directly from the page they are on instead of having to click over to the agent’s Web site. Remember that many consumers might never click over to an agent’s site for an additional search because at the time they are in the mindset of searching for and viewing properties on a particular classifieds portal.

Instead of just trying to “pull” potential clients to an agent’s Web site, the agent ends up “pushing” their branded MLS search to the best locations where most early-stage home buyers go when they start their home searches.

The ability to search the whole MLS with an interactive map focused automatically on the area of the client’s interest increases the likelihood that they will contact that agent for more information on any of the listings found.

An example of a listing Web site with this functionality built in can be found at http://www.58Northgate.com. Note the “Nearby homes for Sale” button and “MLS Search” tab.

With each active featured listing that agents publish to the major classifieds portals, they create several additional “touch points” on the Internet. Compare this with only one — the agent’s own Web site where normally the MLS search resides.

What about agents who don’t have listings of their own? They could use this lead-generation technique by borrowing some sellable listings from a colleague (with the listing broker’s blessing) and ask for permission to advertise the listings on the Internet. Agents doing this will have to make sure they have written permission, display the listing broker’s name, and comply with local MLS rules.

Turn sold listings into future business

Once a listing is sold, agents can continue to beef up their lead generation tactics by changing the status to “sold” instead of deleting the individual Web site, which has already been indexed by Google. Google will continue to index the sites, which will grow into a number of additional touch points for an agent’s active MLS search tool. Over time, this increases the likelihood that home buyers will find the agent, while also creating an “organic” lift effect for the agent’s search-engine standing.

If, for example, an agent sells 10 listings each year, then the number of Google-indexed “entry points” increases from 10 in one year to 20 after two years, in addition to the active listings to be found on the major classifieds portals, as outlined above. Each of these sold listing Web sites will have an agent’s MLS search embedded, and thus whoever finds these listings on Google or some other search engine will be able to search for active properties on the market from right there. Each “sold” listing thus becomes a potential conduit for new leads.

Gabriel Gross is president of RealBird.com. He can be contacted at gabe@realbird.com.

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