NEW YORK — The secret to effective online marketing is engagement with your audience, according to speakers at the Real Estate Connect conference today, who focused on using blogs, mobile applications and search-engine optimization to compete effectively in the real estate industry.
There are four steps to making a blog successful (read: make money), according Jake Dobkin, founder and publisher of Gothamist.com, a network of city sites. The first is to have good content. Content is "good" when it’s original, it’s helpful, it links out, and it’s fresh. The last is especially vital.
"Quality is important, but frequency is more important," Dobkin said, pointing out that Gothamist.com’s New York site updates up to 30 times a day.
Original means it can’t be found on other sites. Helpful means it’s written so that the audience — people who generally don’t know very much about real estate — understands what you’re saying and finds your information valuable. Linking out signals your engagement with others who are also interested in your area of expertise.
The second step is to tell the right people about your content, including other bloggers working in your area, the mainstream media (reach out to that editor at your local paper), search engines and social influencers. Social influencers are the real estate movers and shakers on Twitter and Facebook. Dobkin advocated "social hacking," i.e., making friends with the experts.
The third step is to measure everything. Page views, bounce rate, popular authors, popular content, yes, but it’s also important to know your readership and track your goals.
"If I got this number of clicks that I didn’t have to pay for [from search engines], that lead to this many goals, then I know [something] is working," Dobkin said.
The third step feeds into the fourth step: Repeat what works.
For those who find blogging daunting, Tumblr may be the answer, said David Karp, the free blogging platform’s founder. Tumblr allows users to share text, photos, video, quotes, music and links.
"Even the least wordy, least editorially savvy people can produce useful content," Karp said.
Tumblr also has a "Reblog" feature to repost others’ content.
"Even when you’ve got nothing original to say, it makes reposting a quote from someone else’s blog easy, with full attribution," Karp said. …CONTINUED
That particular feature also means content on Tumblr goes viral constantly, Karp said.
Dobkin emphasized that bloggers should be good writers, however. If not, "don’t have a blog", he said, and instead use other social networking tools like Twitter. And if you do have a blog, keep blog posts short.
"A constant problem I have with my editors is that they want to be like Joan Didion or write their Moby Dick. It’s a blog, so that means two to four paragraphs," Dobkin said.
Karp also spoke about a new Tumblr feature for the first time, Tumblr Projects, that connects users with designers and Tumblr’s development team.
"If you’ve got an interesting project you’re building on Tumblr, come talk to our guys," Karp said.
Panelists in another session, "Marketing on the Small Screen: Understand the Mobile Platform Better than Your Competition," noted the growing group of consumers who are using their smartphones to search for properties.
Real estate professionals will need to market to those consumers through mobile applications, said Matt Snyder, associate vice president of brand partnerships at Zumobi, a mobile applications company. "If you are not reaching out to your customers with a mobile app, someone else is."
Mobile trends are accelerating and Generation Y is your next audience, said Eric Blumberg, chief technical officer of Smarter Agent, a mobile applications company specifically for the real estate industry.
"Mobile (is) a way to reach out to these people. They’re going to use their phone for everything so you have to reach them where they are," Blumberg said.
Zumobi’s Snyder demonstrated key features of an app the company built for Better Homes and Gardens Real Estate. The app allows users to snap pictures of a property, store them, tag them, and share them on Facebook.
"When I search for a new property, for the life of me I can’t remember which bathroom needed fixing; which one had that ridiculous pink carpet," he said.
The app also lets them look up local demographic information like school scores. …CONTINUED
Apps are a great branding vehicle, Snyder said, but what is most important is that they are "useful to the user, not a glorified advertisement."
Accessibility is also important. While many companies are intent on building an iPhone app, only 8 percent of cell phone users have iPhones, while 72 percent of phones sold last year were not smartphones, Blumberg said, and that’s why Smarter Agent created a platform for all users.
He brought up the old fable about the tortoise and the hare.
"If you’re only thinking about the iPhone, you’re the hare. The tortoise is all mobile platforms. There’s 270 million cell phone users. Do you really want to use only one platform? If you do, you need to have a strategy. Start with one and then go to that one," he said.
Matt Goyer, director of online marketing at real estate brokerage Redfin, admitted that his company is the hare in the story — they built an iPhone app — but he also recommended building your own app rather than outsourcing the job or buying one.
The company wanted their app to be fast, to integrate well with its site and to "delight the user" on those obsessive late nights looking for properties, he said. In order to build the best app, it’s important to listen to feedback, he added.
"Redfin ran a lot of focus groups and surveys ahead of time and did a lot of usability testing. We got a lot of great feedback that radically changed our course," he said.
"IPhone visits are 18 percent of our site visits on Sundays from people out and about looking at houses, so it was totally worth it from our end," he added.
Search has become something so ingrained in what we do that we don’t really think about it sometimes, but nevertheless it is a powerful way to connect to a global audience, said keynote speaker Vanessa Fox, "entrepreneur-in-resident" of Ignition Partners and a former employee at Google and Zillow.
Search engines try to determine intent from one word. After a user enters a single word, the engines track what users click on next or how they refine the search. For example, Fox said, people who searched for "Britney Spears" often wanted videos and then refined their search by adding "video" to the name. Therefore, Google now shows videos right away when someone types in the name.
Try to predict what people are searching for. Traditional navigation starts at a site’s home page, but search-based navigation means that any page on your site can be a home page, so look at how well each serves that function. What are the most important words about each page? Make sure those are in the title because users generally don’t look beyond the first three or four links that show up in their results.
Fox also recommends that agents verify their listings on Google Local to make them more visible in search. And she cautions against reciprocal linking.
"Google cares very much about its page-rank algorithm. They don’t want you to do link exchanges, reciprocal links, or buy and sell links for page-rank purposes. Some agencies will offer reciprocal links or suggest you buy links. You might want to be a little suspicious of that," she said.
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