It’s December. Few people are looking online for real estate right now. You’re probably gearing up for next year. December is as good a time to start thinking about how we might apply all the various marketing techniques at our disposal for the coming season.

Partly because if the Google Insight chart linked to above holds true for this year, then there may be a big jump in interest sometime next month.

In the past year we’ve heard a lot about social media. We’ve heard a few things about online advertising.

It’s December. Few people are looking online for real estate right now. You’re probably gearing up for next year. December is as good a time to start thinking about how we might apply all the various marketing techniques at our disposal for the coming season.

Partly because if the Google Insight chart linked to above holds true for this year, then there may be a big jump in interest sometime next month.

In the past year we’ve heard a lot about social media. We’ve heard a few things about online advertising. Search-engine optimization tends to be a perennial favorite as well. And our own Web sites are always in need of a tune-up. It seems that all of these have their time, but knowing when is the trick.

This article is going to be about time and how we might use it wisely in our online efforts. Because different methods of online marketing work best in different timeframes, knowing when to use something is critical in the success of the implementation.

SEO and time

Let’s start with the most technical online marketing discipline: search-engine optimization (SEO). Chances are very good that someone reading this article wants to be "No. 1 on Google" for some search term and chances are equally good that they want this to be true tomorrow.

However, search-engine optimization rarely works that way. SEO is an endurance sport. It requires effort over time. It isn’t a set-it-and-forget-it discipline (if for no other reason than search engines change their algorithms — see some of my other articles for this).

SEO is, by nature, an online marketing technique that is long term. There is a lot of competition for terms that are perceived as being important to making money so it takes awhile for the search algorithms to sift one to the top.

Once a page has risen to the top and been there for some time, chances are good it will remain at or near the top for some time so long as nothing too drastic occurs (and that the methods that were used to get to the top don’t run afoul of future changes in the search-ranking algorithms). Search-engine optimization is a sort of long-term asset-building practice.

What does this mean for your online strategy in 2010?

Once all the basics of having your Web site code and site architecture straightened out, it may take six months or longer to see any sort of result on what you’re doing. This means if you start on your search strategy today, you might start seeing results in the middle of June.

If you wait until after the holidays then you might start seeing results in early July. So as a prerequisite, I encourage you to make sure your existing code-base supports your search-engine-optimization efforts.

If you want to see search-engine results more quickly, then start with smaller and less competitive terms. This is a good way to hone your skills and learn what works and doesn’t work with your own team and resources.

Accumulating a variety of "long tail" search terms that are related to your real estate market is beneficial to going after some of the more competitive terms as well. You will find long-tail terms in being specific about geography (neighborhood, development name, street name) or perhaps property type (specific architectural styles, specific uses for property, "lifestyle" stuff). …CONTINUED

Paid advertising and time

For the purposes of this column, paid advertising includes all forms of online advertising: cost-per-click (CPC) ads on Google (often referred to as search-engine marketing or SEM), banner ads on local and national publications, and so on. Anytime you give someone else money to show an ad or give them money when someone clicks on your ad, it’s paid advertising.

Paid advertising is, by nature, a quick and ephemeral online marketing technique. You can have your ads displaying in front of a live audience as soon as you pay, sometimes within minutes.

It can, of course, take some time to learn what phrases are likely to influence audience members to click on your ad or learn where on a page to place an ad and so on. But once you have learned these skills, the results of advertising can be assessed quickly.

Of course, the moment you stop paying for the ads they disappear. Compared to search-engine optimization, the results are not as long-lasting. But, compared to search-engine optimization, the results are also quicker to achieve. How well you understand how to optimize your advertising campaigns will have a large impact on the quality of your results.

There is, perhaps, some long-term branding benefit in paid advertising. People remember that they saw your name or brand somewhere before, even after the ad is no longer running. This will depend to a great degree on the creative of the ad and perhaps having a wide and consistent placement.

The value of this branding is what traditional media built their foundations on over the past 50 years. Even though traditional media isn’t doing so hot right now, I do think there’s some value to the branding thing. But if you’re especially focused on short-term results, then branding won’t help you (unless your brand is already well-known and liked).

What does this mean for your online strategy in 2010?

Once you know how to prepare and manage a paid advertising campaign, then you can achieve results relatively quickly. So if you will have a time in the coming year when you will want to reach your audience quickly, then learning those skills should be a priority.

For example, around June or July there tends to be a noticeable uptick in search activity for real estate terms in the U.S. You may want to be able to reach as many of those searchers as possible. This will be especially true if your search-engine optimization isn’t where you want it to be at that time.

There may also be events or other short-term and one-time happenings that you might want to use to your advantage without having the time to develop and implement an SEO plan. For these sorts of short-term opportunities, paid advertising may be perfect.

Social media and time

Social media can be worked for both short-term and long-term benefits. The basic premise behind social media is that you share some sort of relationship with your audience. Either a topical interest (typical for a forum or blog or e-mail group) or shared friends (Facebook and other networks like it) or shared business connections (LinkedIn and other networks like it) and so on. Your reach in social media is limited by your shared relationships. …CONTINUED

Social media, by its nature, is only as fast as you are. So if you have a large number of relationships then social media may be able to deliver quick results. But social media is only as deep as you are, too. So your ability to influence thinking and behavior will be limited by your contributions and relevance to the social media network you are in.

Facebook is a great example. How many fan pages do people belong to? Yet they may never read or respond to the updates. Just as with paid advertising, there is perhaps some branding value there. But I’d wager it isn’t much.

If your presence in the social media networks that are important to you is perceived as worthwhile and generally contributing, then you’ll likely get more results.

What does this means for your online strategy in 2010?

If you have amassed a large number of friends and followers via social media and you want to be able to leverage this for business reasons, now is the time to start working on the depth of those relationships.

How you might improve the depth of your relationships is beyond the scope of this column (maybe something for your shrink?) and is likely to be different for each company and network anyway. Taking the time to figure this out is pretty important.

If you have a small number of friends and followers in your social media networks, then perhaps now is the time to learn how to get more. Hopefully you’ll seek out sources of followers who are relevant and who you can build worthwhile relationships with. Can’t buy love, you know.

Time and your online strategy

The following graph suggests the time it can take to build up a lasting benefit through various online marketing channels. Click the image below to view a larger version.

Gahlord Dewald is the president and janitor of Thoughtfaucet, a strategic creative services company in Burlington, Vt. He’s a frequent speaker on applying analytics and data to creative marketing endeavors.

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