SAN FRANCISCO — As invasive and creepy as it may seem, tracking and following every single step that Web visitors make is a valuable approach for Realtors to seek potential clients and simply makes for better business, according to Jim Marks, founder and president of Virtual Results.

Marks spoke during a panel discussion on Web analytics and return on investment Thursday during the Real Estate Connect conference, which ends today.

"It’s not something to be scared of, and you can jump right in," Marks said.

He was joined by three other panelists: Brian Balduf, president and CEO of VHT Inc.; Gahlord Dewald, founder and president of Virtual Results; and Oren Michaels, founder of Mashery.

"Mainstream media is like a retail storefront. You can watch people come in and see what they do at a store. With analytics, you are watching consumers and what they do (online)," explained Dewald.

He added that watching what consumers are clicking on, which Web sites they visit, and how long they stay can help Realtors decide what they can do to fix their online presence and implement those changes based on consumers’ online activities.

The aim, panelists noted, is to lower the "bounce rate," which measures the share of initial visitors to a Web site who leave or "bounce" away to a different site rather than staying to view other pages within the site.

Marks said that investing a lot of money on branding may not be good for the bounce rate, citing the example of a Realtor who "wanted to put a caricature of her face on her ad." Once that image was added to her site, the bounce rate increased — the caricature was removed and the bounce rate dropped back again, he said.

Michaels, who two years ago launched Mashery, a Web services company, said it’s important for real estate professionals to keep up with trends.

"Two years ago, real estate leaders started blogging … but it didn’t evolve. Fashions change, things change and you need to get to that right away," said Michaels.

He said Web analytics can be useful in gauging customer acquisition, activation, retention and revenue.

"As an individual of a large (brokerage) company, you have to get more anecdotal by seeing what people are doing, what places they are visiting. You can learn about the profiles of people, what they click on, what interests them. Get to know these people," he said.

So, how do you track these people and what’s the cost of hiring a computer analyst?

"All of our clients use Google Analytics, which is a great place to start. Web developers could add that to the Web site. Clients put them onto their dashboards," said Dewald. "It is also useful to (use a) spreadsheet for checking on data that Google doesn’t provide. Have control of your data."

As for the cost to hire a computer analyst for this service, Marks said, "You’re not looking for a marriage — you’re looking for a date. They … teach you how to do it. Hire them once a month, you move along, and if you want them for more than a year they’re not doing their job. A year is all it takes," he said.


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