Everyone is buzzing about Zillow’s acquisition of Trulia and what it means for investors, MLS, brokers and agents. The real issue for agents, however, is whether an ad spend on Zulia is the best place to spend your online marketing dollars.

Everyone is buzzing about Zillow’s acquisition of Trulia and what it means for investors, MLSs, brokers and agents. The real issue for agents, however, is whether an ad spend on Zulia is the best place to spend your online marketing dollars.

No one can argue about the fact that Zillow and Trulia have massive numbers of visitors to their sites. The question with any form of advertising, however, is: To what extent does advertising on that platform generate not just leads, but closed business?

Prepare to play the game
Before spending money on any form of advertising, you must be prepared to track your results — your return on investment. Very few agents do this. Instead, agents throw millions of dollars at both print and online advertising without ever having any real understanding of what is and is not contributing to their bottom line.

If you don’t know how many leads come from your prospecting, and print and online marketing, start tracking those numbers now. For example, how many leads do you get from realtor.com vs. Zulia? If you’re not willing to track ROI, you lose.

Second, do you have a system in place that allows you to respond to both online leads and sign calls within the five- to 30-minute window that’s required to convert those leads? If not, hire someone to take the calls and/or automate your lead follow-up system. Again, paying for Internet leads and not responding to them is a waste of money.

Third, what is your conversion rate? If you’re getting leads and they’re not closing, you could be wasting thousands of dollars that would be better spent marketing elsewhere.

By the way, if you don’t happen to know about where your closed deals originate, here are the most recent statistics on this topic from NAR. Only 4 percent of sellers and 9 percent of buyers said they found their agent through an Internet website (2014 Home Buyer and Seller Generational Trends exhibit 3-4 p. 42). In contrast, 71 percent chose their agent based upon a referral or face-to-face prospecting.

Based upon these numbers, the smartest place to spend your money is on getting face-to-face contact with past clients. Once you have mastered those fundamentals, you’re then ready to advance to the more competitive online game.

Play to win
How can you win on Zulia, especially if the Premier Agent slots are already taken? Zillow recommends that you get on their waiting list. There is always “churn,” or agents who are leaving the leads program, having a bad year or leaving the business.

Even if a slot becomes vacant, is it the best way to win the game? Are Zillow leads coming from the ads or from the agent reviews? Moreover, even if the lead did list or sell with an agent they saw on Zillow, what other steps did they take in making a decision to work with that agent?

For example, most consumers look at multiple websites throughout the search process. Did the consumer check that agent’s personal website, blog, or social media profile on LinkedIn or Facebook? Did the consumer choose the agent because they have so many signs in the area? Did the consumer speak to a trusted friend who did business with that agent in the past? What combination of factors led to their decision — were the ad and/or the review on the site really the only deciding factors?

Regardless of whether you sign up for Zillow’s paid leads program, winning involves making sure that your testimonials and reviews are posted. It costs nothing, and the reviews increase the probability that the lead will convert into closed business.

What’s your advice?
When Trulia first launched, answering questions in the advice section was a great way to generate leads. When I searched for seller advice on Zillow and Trulia for Austin, Texas, Zillow had only four questions posted since April 10. The advice section on Trulia was even worse. The most recent question was posted in 2008.

Where the consumers are posting on Trulia is in the Q&A. Many agents report this has been a free, albeit time-consuming, way to generate solid leads for the business. If you’re going to answer questions, the Q&A section generates the most activity.

Capitalize on your home court advantage
A number of major companies have marketing arrangements with Zulia and realtor.com. For example, the NRT FAB program is probably the sweetest online advertising deal in the industry. FAB includes premium placement for eight of the major portals in the industry, including realtor.com and Zulia, at a minimal cost — if you’re with NRT, take advantage of it. If you’re with a different brand, ask your broker about what is available through your company.

Here’s the bottom line: Unless you make the effort to discover how your clients arrived at the decision to hire you, there is no real way to know where your ad dollars are best spent.

Consequently, make it a point to ask every one of your clients how they found you and what motivated them to hire you. Then make your decision about where to spend your ad money based upon your real results — in the long run, those are the only ones that really matter.

Bernice Ross, CEO of RealEstateCoach.com, is a national speaker, author and trainer with over 1,000 published articles and two best-selling real estate books. Discover why leading Realtor associations and companies have chosen Bernice’s new and experienced real estate sales training for their agents at www.RealEstateCoach.com/AgentTraining and www.RealEstateCoach.com/newagent.

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