The spam and the phone calls just keep coming from those companies that promise to put my blog on page one of Google. I am on page one, and in the number one positions for the keywords that they are trying to sell me, and it isn’t as wonderful as it sounds. It makes me look smart but doesn’t pay the bills.

Agents who want their sites to come up number one in the search engines may not understand what that really means. It generates traffic, which is good, but it isn’t the same as generating revenue. Traffic can be labor intensive, and time has to be spent "capturing leads" that are a challenge to "convert."

When people use Google to do a search they use all sorts of search terms to get what they want. I track the search terms they use to find my blog so that I know what to write about. I want buyers and sellers to contact me so I don’t have to spend my time chasing leads.

The best clients I have are not the people who find my site by typing the name of my town and "real estate" or "Realtor." That brings in the woman in South Dakota who calls on the Fourth of July and wants to buy houses for $1 and sell them for a few grand because she watched an infomercial and is looking for an easy way to make money.

There are also assorted crackpots and weirdos from all over the planet who contact me while I am on the freeway trying to keep from getting run over by speeding semis. They ask me questions, and occasionally the questions are real estate-related. To think people pay search-engine-optimization (SEO) experts to improve the visibility of their sites so they can field calls from anyone and everyone about anything!

The best clients come in through the "long-tail" searches. A long-tail search is one that is more obscure and strategic, like "lofts by the Mississippi." The idea behind author Chris Anderson’s long-tail theory is that there are endless opportunities in the long tail.

The more obscure keywords that people find my site through are related to niche markets. I sell a certain type of real estate on one side of town that is purchased by persons who represent a specific demographic, which is easier and less expensive than trying to sell everything to anyone.

It is simpler than it sounds, and it doesn’t cost a dime. I see some of the Web sites of the people who have paid some big dollars for SEO — they have little to offer consumers and I’ll bet consumers don’t stay on them very long, but sometimes long enough to become a possible future client, or a so-called "lead." Some of those sites capture leads, but the conversion rates are very low and working with all of those leads is tedious and time consuming. It is the same business model that the big brokerages seem to use, but they have the staff to deal with the mess and agents to take the leads.

Internet marketing is like any other kind of marketing. If it is strategic instead of generic there is a higher return on investment for each dollar spent. There are a lot of business opportunities in the long tail.

With so many competing for the big generic search terms it isn’t hard to dominate a local niche on the Internet, as there are many: neighborhoods, historic homes, senior housing, lofts and investment properties, to name a few.

Most of us cannot provide all types of real estate services to all types of clients, yet often when we market our services on the Internet we strive to be found by everyone, leaving us with more "leads" when what we need are closed sales and dollars.

Teresa Boardman is a broker in St. Paul, Minn., and founder of the St. Paul Real Estate blog.


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