Real estate companies have been slow to embrace online marketing, according to a survey by Brandeis University’s International Business School and digital marketing firm inSegment, Inc.

According to the National Association of Realtors, 90 percent of homebuyers start their real estate search online. The survey, a "Digital Marketing Survey of the U.S. Real Estate Industry," conducted in 2009 and released this month, found that 76 percent of surveyed companies commit 40 percent or less of their marketing budgets to digital marketing, preferring traditional venues like newspapers and display ads.

The survey covered three hundred companies nationwide in investment, commercial and residential real estate. The survey was conducted through confidential phone interviews of key decision-makers in each of the companies, according to inSegment.

More than half of participating companies (58 percent) did not run search-engine marketing campaigns. Of those who do search-engine marketing, 33 percent do not invest in search-engine optimization.

"There is nothing surprising about the fact that all real estate consumers are on the Web. This is true for just about every industry. What is surprising is that while Google generates approximately 3 billion unique daily searches, only a small minority of real estate players are tapping into the opportunity in a serious way," said Oleg A. Vyadro, inSegment’s founder and principal, in a statement.

The survey found that 23.5 percent of companies believed that between 60 and 80 percent of consumers began their search online, and 37.5 percent believed between 40 and 60 percent of consumers did so.

More than half of participants (53 percent) expect to increase their digital marketing budget in the future, the survey also found, while 37 percent plan to keep it at the same level and 10 percent plan to decrease their digital marketing budget.

Companies cited reduced marketing budgets and the "complexity" of digital marketing as the main reasons for the discrepancy.

Among the top marketing objectives in next five years for participating real estate companies: 42.5 percent seek to increase their brand awareness, 35 percent seek to increase return on investment of their marketing budget, and 22.5 percent seek to solicit new clients.

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