Big changes are coming in how our buyers and sellers will find us online. Will you be one of the savvy agents who capitalizes on the change or will you find yourself with a dwindling supply of leads and wondering, "What happened?"

The way we do search is going to be radically different in the not too distant future. In a recent article I examined how lifestyle search will revolutionize the way that buyers will find the perfect property for their lifestyle.

There are other innovations, too, that will change how this process will take place.

I recently attended a webinar about how search engines are starting to use social media as part of their search process. Hubspot provides a number of services that are designed to help users with online marketing.

Their tools include a website grader, a blog grader, and a Twitter grader. What’s cool is that they don’t charge to evaluate your site. What’s especially useful about the website product is that it makes specific suggestions about what you can do to improve your website.

Mike Volpe, who led the webinar, drew the distinction between inbound and outbound marketing. Outbound marketing is what we were doing 20 years ago. We used print, the telephone, television, radio, and other advertising media. It was expensive.

I remember some agents in my office paying $5,000 to have a major spread in one of the luxury print publications for their high-profile clients.

Today, inbound marketing is what matters. This approach attracts people to the Realtor. Strategies include blogging, video testimonials, or any other word-of-mouth activity where someone other than the Realtor is saying how good this person’s services are.

Volpe supports this contention by noting that the typical company spends $332 per lead from outbound marketing vs. $134 per lead from inbound marketing.

As Guy Kawasaki puts it: "If you have more money than brains, use outbound marketing. If you have more brains than money, use inbound marketing."

In the past, you could get high search-engine placement by making sure that you had the right keywords and metatags on your site. "Real estate," "homes," and "buyers," and "sellers" are among the most commonly used keywords in our industry.

We also know that Web visitors generally search for homes using the street name, the area, and/or the ZIP code. This strategy still works, but there’s much more to consider.

According to Volpe, a common marketing mistake that most people make is that they fail to investigate the words their clients use to find them online. For example, will a Gen Y buyer who wants a downtown loft condo with a view be searching using the terms "high-rise condominiums," "downtown view condos," "loft condos," or "view condominiums?"

This is one of the most important reasons that you must monitor where your leads originate. If you don’t know, you will be wasting your time and money marketing with terms that don’t match with users’ searches.

Another strategy that works is to build the number of links that come into your site. Participating in "link farms" (i.e., using strategies exclusively for building links rather than using great content to attract links) actually can hurt your Web ranking.

According to Volpe, the beauty of having a blog is that it automatically creates twice as many links as compared to posting on your website.

Their research shows that individuals and companies that blog generate 55 percent more visitors to their sites than those that don’t blog. The key to blogging is great content and frequent, relevant postings that appeal to your market.

Volpe sees the search process becoming more personalized based on social media activity. This is very bad news for agents who are resisting social media engagement.

In fact, sites such as Facebook, Flickr, LinkedIn, Twitter, and YouTube are search engines in their own right. Many search engines are now including your activity on the social media sites as a part of their ranking process.

Thus, as buyers and sellers begin their search for homes, their results will be influenced by what real estate professionals have posted on the various social media sites.

Users’ results will be more personalized and will be dependent upon where they search, when they search, the topic they search, as well as what their friends and followers are currently posting on the social media sites.

Consequently, Volpe argues, "Your Web ranking at any specific time is pretty much meaningless."

To improve your Web presence, Volpe suggests taking out local ads on the various search engines. This will help to put your real estate business "on the map" for each of those search engines.

Volpe also suggests creating groups around local content. This goes back to one of the old principles of real estate that now has a new name: "hyperlocalism." This is the notion of being a specialist in a specific type of buyer, or specializing in a geographic area in much the same way that Realtors have "farmed" in the past.

The bottom line is that if you want to convert more leads for your real estate business, get engaged with the people in your market area. The Hubspot research is clear on this point: the more you put in, the better your results will be.

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