“If your enemy is secure at all points, be prepared for him. If he is in superior strength, evade him. Attack him where he is unprepared, appear where you are not expected.” ― Sun Tzu, “The art of war”
No one likes to hear that they’ve lost — but you have to hear it, so I’ll be that guy: You’ve been duped by consultants, tech gurus and wannabes that tell you that you should worry about your Google ranking.
But no matter how much you invest in search engine optimization (SEO), how much you customize your website or how much you spend with that consultant, you can’t beat the portals.
You’ve lost your clients’ attention on search engines, and you’re not getting it back.
The portals’ position is entrenched with millions of pages of optimized content and fortified with deep pockets. Luckily, though agents might have been defeated in the battle, the war is not yet lost.
What’s the harm of having your clients search primarily on national portals? More and more of your clients’ home searches happen on online and mobile portals, giving you less visibility and less input over their home-search decision-making process.
This means that both you and your client have to work harder to stay on the same page, and you risk losing your hard-earned clients and leads. You can’t afford to let that happen, but it’s happening.
There is still hope in the overall war over your clients’ attention — a battlefront worth focusing on. To fight back, we need to consider some guerilla tactics and leverage innovations to win our clients’ mind-share back — with the humble email.
And for a little tactical advice, let’s have Sun Tzu’s “The art of war” guide us to victory.
“To know your enemy, you must become your enemy.”
— Sun Tzu
Let us walk in the shoes of what many in the industry see as our enemy, the portals. They are motivated by revenue — revenue they generate through consumer attention.
Portals accomplish this in two main ways:
- Ad revenue from non-real estate companies such as auto companies, big box retailers and mortgage firms
- Ad revenue from brokers and agents by selling advertisements and leads.
In either scenario, the commodity they’re selling is client attention, and they do whatever they can to gain it — and, more importantly, to retain it.
It’s no surprise that the portals have been incredibly successful at gaining attention. How many homebuyers do you encounter who have never searched on a portal?
This ubiquity has been achieved through portals dominating the search engine battlefront. But when you look closely, only a portion of portal traffic comes from new visitors. To sustain their high traffic, portals — not unlike real estate agents — focus on re-engaging repeat customers.
“If you know the enemy and know yourself, you need not fear the result of a hundred battles. If you know yourself but not the enemy, for every victory gained you will also suffer a defeat. If you know neither the enemy nor yourself, you will succumb in every battle.”
— Sun Tzu, The Art of War
Let’s try to understand what strategy drives repeat traffic to portals. The answer is rather unassuming: emails — new listing alerts, price change alerts, sold homes alerts and so on.
At every turn, portals encourage their consumers to sign up for email alerts so they can continue to harvest audience attention — even after visitors leave the website. Generating pageviews through email clicks is both surprisingly powerful and quite inexpensive.
Most troubling, portals also automatically opt-in consumer leads into a series of emails alerts, thus recapturing the attention of consumers that were already sold as a lead — even though an agent has already “purchased their attention.”
So portals utilize emails to engage and recapture the attention of their consumer and leads.
How do agents stack up?
Imagine a situation where a homebuyer is receiving emails from both a portal and from an agent’s MLS or IDX. Which email will they choose to engage with — the highly optimized portal email or the outdated agent email?
The answer seems obvious, but the consequences less so.
An email is a gateway to home search, a perfect lure to attract a client’s attention. If portal emails are beating out your emails, you can be sure your client is spending even more time back on the portals, interacting with other agent advertisements and making decisions about their home search that you know nothing about.
Consider visiting a portal, saving some home searches and setting yourself up for a few alerts to see what you’re up against.
“He will win who knows when to fight and when not to fight.”
― Sun Tzu
Why should agents bother to invest in the email battlefront, if, like the search engine front, agents are losing to the portals? The answer is two-fold:
First, unlike search engines, agents are on equal footing with portals when it comes to an email inbox. A search engine’s algorithm favors insurmountably large quantities of unique content and an extremely disciplined linking strategy, something that requires sophisticated technical resources and a lot of money.
An inbox, on the other hand, only cares if the message isn’t spam and that it was sent recently. Just like that, you are at the top of your client’s browser or smartphone, on top of all the emails the portals have bombarded your clients with.
Fundamentally, with email, you have a bigger opportunity to capture the attention of your clients without breaking the bank.
Second, a real estate agent’s strengths of human-powered expertise and access to high-quality listing data are dulled on search engines but shine brightly on email.
Search engines don’t care about highly customized recommendations or listing data accuracy — these highly valuable assets aren’t reflected in search rankings.
But on email, thoughtful advice and good data can be effectively communicated to the client, which builds trust — and ultimately locks in clients’ attention.
The picture is simple. While many agents might feel powerless against the technological prowess of portals, their dominance is only partial.
Don’t keep throwing your resources against the impenetrable search engine wall; you are at a disadvantage, and your strengths mean little.
Instead, invest in beating portals at their email game — not just because you can, but because an agent’s strengths play beautifully on this battlefront.
“So in war, the way is to avoid what is strong and strike at what is weak.”
— Sun Tzu, “The art of war”
When you get serious about taking back control of your clients’ attention, arm yourself with email tools that let you easily but effectively play to your strengths as an agent.
At minimum, it will blow your competition’s MLS and IDX (Internet data exchange) away, and your consumers will also favor these emails over portal emails.
Whether manually or through an automated property alert system, to send out the most effective listing emails to your clients, consider the following three factors:
- Modern design with clean branding. Consumers care about aesthetic feel, brand and usability. Make it about the information you are providing, not about you.
- Features that specifically highlight your expertise as an agent. Personalization and local data tie to an excellent property search.
- MLS-driven, accurate data. This is an easy way to differentiate from portals. But add high-res images and a personal touch.
Sun Tzu’s lessons intended for ancient generals are surprisingly relevant to the war over your clients’ attention.
Pick the right battlefront — avoid SEO, and focus your resources on email.
Understand the strengths you have as an agent and employ them against your enemy’s weakness, and make sure you pick the right weapons for your arsenal.
Now get ready for battle — it’s time to take back what’s yours.
Pierre Calzadilla is the director of strategic partnerships at RealScout.