One of the proven ways to generate leads from the Web is with a "stealth" Web site. The question is: Are you putting your license at risk by using this strategy?
Stealth Web sites, which are sometimes called unbranded Web sites, are designed to focus on consumers’ needs. They tend to be focused on a single market niche and often have little resemblance to most other real estate Web sites.
Most stealth sites consist of a landing page where the Web visitor provides an e-mail address to automatically receive a foreclosure list or some other offer. If the person doesn’t provide a correct e-mail address, that person doesn’t receive the information.
Agents who use stealth sites typically have a personal Web site, too. Those who use both often find that their stealth sites are generating a greater volume of leads. To illustrate, an agent could have a stealth site that uses the URL "MyTownForeclosureList.Info" — this site would be set up exclusively for the purpose of providing foreclosure lists to potential buyers.
The same agent could create a second site called "MyZipCodeShortSalesList.com." This site would provide a list of the short sales currently on the market. In many cases, there is little or no branding to indicate that the person hosting the site is a Realtor.
The people visiting these sites are usually more willing to provide accurate contact information. The reason? People don’t want to be bombarded with drip e-mail programs from agents.
Instead, they want to remain anonymous until they are ready to buy or sell a property. Their thinking is that sites without brokerage branding are providing this information as a service rather than by a salesperson.
Is it legal to use stealth sites in your business? The answer is maybe, provided the site is set up appropriately. In some states, stealth sites are illegal. Even in states where they are legal, you must still follow the National Association of Realtors’ standards of practice with respect to disclosing the following:
Standard of Practice 12-9
Realtor firm Web sites shall disclose the firm’s name and state(s) of licensure in a reasonable and readily apparent manner.
Web sites of Realtors and non-member licensees affiliated with a Realtor firm shall disclose the firm’s name and that Realtor’s or nonmember licensee’s state(s) of licensure in a reasonable and readily apparent manner (adopted January 2007).
Standard of Practice 12-10
Realtors’ obligation to present a true picture in their advertising and representations to the public includes the URLs and domain names they use, and prohibits Realtors from engaging in deceptive or unauthorized framing of real estate brokerage Web sites; manipulating (e.g., presenting content developed by others) listing content in any way that produces a deceptive or misleading result; or deceptively using metatags, keywords or other devices/methods to direct, drive or divert Internet traffic, or to otherwise mislead consumers (adopted Jan. 2007). …CONTINUED
It’s clear from the guidelines above that you must disclose the name of your firm, your name and contact information, and, in many states, your license number. You must also do it in a way that is "readily apparent." In other words, you can’t bury it at the bottom of a home page that has multiple pages of text ahead of it.
What makes the stealth sites "superior" to most agent Web sites? Is it the lack of Realtor branding that makes the difference? This is probably partially true. A better explanation, however, is that most stealth sites have very clear, niche branding. These sites are popular because they provide the exact information the consumer is seeking.
When you look at most agent Web sites, they’re packed with pictures of the agents, flash applications that look pretty but take up unnecessary space, and a host of other information. In contrast, most stealth sites provide a specific service. Web visitors can pop in, get what they need, and then continue searching.
So is going stealth a good idea for your business? Before doing so, investigate whether real estate law in your state prohibits you from having a stealth site. Second, you must follow the NAR standards of practice. Third, do you really need an entirely different Web site to accomplish the same result with a stealth site as compared to your normal real estate Web site?
What if you set up your own Web site so it was just as simple as many stealth sites? To do this, set up interior pages of your Web site that look like home pages and have separate URLs that redirect back to your main site.
Make the page very simple and include a landing page that requires people to register to receive your short-sale list, foreclosure list, or even the "25 Best Buys" in your ZIP code.
The reason most agent Web sites aren’t generating the same type of response as stealth sites is they lack compelling offers that motivate consumers to register with their correct contact information. Furthermore, by setting up these interior pages on your main site, you generate additional traffic that can help you achieve higher search-engine ranking.
Before going through the hassle of setting up an entirely new Web site with additional hosting fees, consider the strategy above: Simplify your landing pages, provide the information your Web visitors are seeking, and always make the required disclosures as mandated in the standards of practice.
Bernice Ross, CEO of RealEstateCoach.com, is a national speaker, trainer and author of "Real Estate Dough: Your Recipe for Real Estate Success" and other books. You can reach her at Bernice@RealEstateCoach.com and find her on Twitter: @bross.
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