Jay Thompson is a former brokerage owner who spent six years working for Zillow Group. He retired in August 2018 but can’t seem to leave the real estate industry behind. His weekly Inman column publishes every Wednesday.
Some time last week, I stumbled across a conversation in a Facebook group. Unlike many gatherings and discussions that occur online, this one actually provided substance, maybe even a little enlightenment. If nothing else, it got me thinking once again about a topic that has come up on a regular basis since the day I passed my real estate license exams back in 2004 and probably since the advent of the internet.
The conversation was around why an agent no longer needs a website. Posited were the thoughts that a Facebook page, an Instagram account, or even TikTok is more than sufficient to establish an agent’s internet presence, that the “hassle” of maintaining a website isn’t worth the effort and that today’s consumers don’t even expect it.
What a load of nonsense.
Let’s make this clear upfront: I’m not proclaiming that to be successful an agent needs a commanding web presence. There are roughly 1.4 million Realtors out there today. There are many successful agents carrying little to no web presence. Of course, there are many agents who derive almost all of their business online. Most fall somewhere between these two extremes.
I will argue, however, that the vast majority of today’s consumers want and expect their agent to have some sort of tangible web presence. Something they can actually find with relative ease. A way to at least vet their agent and see what others think of them before committing to work with someone on the largest financial transaction of their lives.
If you want to increase your business, be that tripling your GCI (gross commission income) or just adding a couple more transactions a year to your coffers, the ability to be found on the internet is a reasonable place to start. I don’t have the stats, but it’s not hard to believe that every potential homebuyer and seller in the U.S. — all your potential clients — have internet access and use the internet on a daily basis. Why wouldn’t you want to be found online?
The case against having a website
To be fair and balanced here, it seems prudent to review the points made by those who say web presence, and specifically a “traditional website,” are no longer necessary.
You can’t compete
By far, the most cited point is that there is no way you can compete online with the Zillows, realtor.coms and Redfins of the world. If you’re hoping to build the greatest home search experience on the planet, these folks are right — you can’t compete with the search portals or well-funded brokerage and franchise sites such as Redfin. This isn’t because these entities are evil or hellbent on destroying and eliminating agents.
It’s because you don’t have access to the hundreds of millions of dollars these sites spend for ongoing development. You don’t have hundreds of the best web developers on the planet on your payroll. You cannot go toe-to-toe with them when it comes to making a user-friendly home search, nor can you drive traffic to a site like they can. You are resource limited, they are not.
Want to know how you can compete with the big fancy search sites? Go hyperlocal. The term hyperlocal was batted about frequently back in the blogging boom of the 2000s. It means just what it sounds like. Go deep. Think providing niche information. The big sites don’t know, or care, about what’s happening in neighborhoods — potential clients do.
Want to rank well on Google for a term like “Phoenix real estate”? Good luck. The portals own that. Instead, work on ranking for “Phoenix golf course homes for sale.” Don’t just jam listings down visitors’ throats; jam useful information at them — what should buyers look for, is it better to live on a fairway or green, how much is a golf course membership, do you need insurance for people like me that shank golf balls into windows? You can own the search rankings for things like that with a very simple website.
No one uses Google
Over the past couple years, this claim has been popping up more often in online presence discussions. “No one uses Google any more.” Right. That’s why Google’s parent company, Alphabet, currently sports a stock price around $1,500 a share and has a market cap of over one trillion dollars. Trillion. With a T. The only other U.S. companies with a market cap of over $1 trillion are Apple, Microsoft and Amazon.
Look up “highest trafficked websites in the world,” and you’ll see several companies bouncing around between No. 2 and No. 10. You know what site doesn’t bounce around and has been locked in the No. 1 slot for years? Yep, Google. Don’t tell me “no one uses Google” — that’s utterly preposterous.
Everyone is on Facebook
True, it does seem like everyone is on Facebook. And it does have the most users (but not the most traffic) of any site. You probably should have a Facebook page, and that — if done properly — can help your online presence.
The problem with relying solely on Facebook to generate your web presence is that Facebook’s internal search feature is notoriously bad. The majority of content you put into Facebook can’t be found in search engines such as Google, Bing or Yahoo.
For Facebook users to even know you have a Facebook page, they usually have to like or follow it. Even then, most of what you add to your page won’t show up in users’ news feeds — which is where most Facebook users get their content. Simply put, Facebook is a terrible place for finding content specific to a user inquiry. A website, on the other hand, is easy to find and search.
Your options for having a website, and therefore a reasonable online presence, are many and varied — from full-blown custom sites costing tens of thousands of dollars to a blog on WordPress for free, and everything in between.
You can have a site with hundreds of pages, including a built-in IDX (internet data exchange) for home search, or you can have a one-page “vanity” site that’s basically an online business card. Your time and budget are the primary decision points. There’s much to talk about in this regard, but if you’ve read this far you’re almost 1,200 words in and probably need a break. More on this in a future column.
To reiterate, no, an agent doesn’t have to have an online presence to be successful. But if you want more clients, be that a thousand or just two, then being online beyond a Facebook page no one sees is one route to success. If nothing else, think about what it says to today’s consumer if they can’t find you online.
If they can’t find reviews and testimonials online. They want to know your opinion on real estate matters, so give them a simple way to search, find and inform themselves about you. Give them a website.
Jay Thompson is a real estate veteran and retiree living in the Texas Coastal Bend, as well as the one spinning the wheels at Now Pondering. Follow him on Facebook, Instagram and Twitter. He holds an active Arizona broker’s license with eXp Realty. “Retired but not dead,” Jay speaks around the world on many things real estate.