In the previous two emails, we discussed the strategies behind two ways real estate professionals are using websites: the “business card” approach and the “content marketer” approach. Today, we continue this series by looking at a third way real estate professionals are using websites in 2017. We call it the “Lead Machine” strategy.
Before we dive into the specifics of this strategy, let’s quickly review the topic of organic traffic vs. paid traffic that we touched on in the previous email. It’s crucial to understand the difference.
Organic traffic refers to getting web traffic from search engines as a result of your website naturally appearing in the search engine results when a user searches for a given topic or search phrase. SEO, of course, is the process of working to boost a website’s standing in the search results in order to increase organic traffic.
Paid traffic refers to using various advertisements (typically Google Adwords or Facebook ads) in order to boost traffic. Google and Facebook allow people and businesses to buy ads which appear at the top of search results or in the Facebook news feed in order to get people to click on it and then visit a website.
You might ask why anyone would buy traffic when they can just get organic traffic for free? It’s a good question, and the answer is simple. Getting organic search traffic takes hard work and is a long-term strategy. We often recommend pairing a paid traffic campaign with a SEO campaign to get immediate traffic and lead generation while working towards increasing organic traffic over time. If you’re looking to turn on lead generation as quickly as possible, nothing beats paid traffic done well.
How paid traffic works
When buying paid traffic, there are two ways you often pay for it: by impression or by click. Let’s look at each one quickly so you understand thoroughly how paid traffic works.
When buying by impression, you’re paying for the number of impressions regardless of performance. Impressions simply refer to the number of times somebody sees your ad. Regardless of how many people click on the ad or how many people turn into customers, you pay for the impressions. Period.
When buying by click, you pay only when someone clicks on your ad regardless of how many times somebody may see it. PPC and CPC are two common terms you’ll see regarding this method. PPC refers to pay-per-click and CPC refers to cost-per-click. It essentially means the same thing: you pay only when somebody clicks on your ad.
A lower cost-per-click (CPC) means you’re paying less for each click. This is a common way to measure performance across a number of paid ads (though by itself not totally indicative of performance as we’ll talk more about later).
In most cases, you’ll be buying traffic on a CPC basis if you’re using Google Adwords. However, if you see impression based pricing on a different platform, you now know what that means.
How do you get started with paid traffic?
We recommend starting with Google Adwords since it’s the biggest paid traffic platform that exists. After you get familiar with the process, you might consider experimenting with Facebook ads as well.
Let’s get started on Adwords.
If you have a Google account (gmail counts), you can create an Adwords account easily by going to adwords.google.com.
Google now has a Adwords Express option which makes getting your first ad online much quicker and easier for a first-time user. Google will ask you some basic information such as: the location you want to target, the business/services you provide, your ad text and your daily budget. Google will help you determine the appropriate budget based on the other information you supply.
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What kind of ad text should you use? Keep it simple as you get started. I might consider using an ad to target buyers of homes in a community called Winter Park. In that scenario, my ad headline might be “Winter Park Homes for Sale” and my description might be “Browse active listings of Winter Park homes for sale.” Make sure the location you target matches the community.
The important thing is to get up and running, so you can get familiar with the process and the metrics of your campaign. You’ll be able to view how many people clicked your ad, what each click is costing you, and more.
Over time, the metrics will start to make sense and you’ll be able to tweak your campaign to improve the performance.
Before we jump into lead generation on the actual website, here’s a very important aspect of paid traffic campaigns to always remember. Traffic is not your goal. Lead conversion is your goal. If you’re paying hundreds of dollars a month for web traffic that is not turning into leads, then you’re wasting your money.Now, let’s turn our attention to turning traffic into leads.
Let’s talk lead conversion
Lead conversion refers simply to converting a website visitor into an actual lead. How do you do it? A user might fill out a contact form on your site giving you his or her contact information. Or, a user may supply his or her email address in exchange for a report you’re offering. Or, a user might fill out a registration form in order to browse a property they’re interested in. We’ll touch on each of these methods.
A standard in web design for businesses is to always make it easy for a user to contact you. This is achieved pretty easily with intuitive navigation and a user-friendly contact page. Other than that, generic contact forms throughout the site rarely result in high conversion rates.
A better approach is to use specific calls to action for each individual page or piece of content. For instance, you might have a page on your site providing a detailed summary of the Winter Park community. On that page, rather than a generic contact form, it’d be more effective to have a contact form with one of the following calls to action: “Add your email address below, and we’ll send you a report of what homes in Winter Park are selling for this year” or “Submit your email address below, and we’ll send you property alerts for new listings in Winter Park.”
There are ways to automate the distribution of such information following a user opt-in, and your web designer should be able to handle the implementation. However, in the beginning, even if it’s not automated, you can still handle the manual follow up of new leads. If the lead generation increases and you can’t keep up, well, that’s a good problem to have, and there are plenty of solutions to address the volume concerns.
IDX integration is the best lead conversion tool available
Most of our clients request or desire IDX integration. IDX integration refers to the ability to browse active listings or search the MLS without leaving your website. It’s a great feature for your users.
Many clients ask about IDX in relation to SEO and many third-party IDX providers will tout the SEO benefits of their offerings, but we typically see very little SEO value in IDX integration. It’s rare that indexed individual property pages on your site will outrank the same property pages on the big sites such as Zillow, Trulia and other major real estate websites in Google’s search results. Note: We are strong believers in SEO, it just doesn’t typically involve IDX.
The true value in IDX integration is in lead generation. No tool will turn traffic into leads as well as the IDX features built into your website.
Most IDX providers enable you to force registration on users at a certain threshold of viewing active listings. For example, a user can search the MLS, then click on a property, but before they can view the details and photos of that property, the website will prompt them to complete a contact form before they’re permitted to proceed. This is very effective.
Being able to thoughtfully sprinkle IDX-generated listings throughout your site, seamlessly into the content, increases the effectiveness of this strategy even more. This provides you with natural, widespread lead generation capability throughout the site. It effectively turns each piece of content into an entry point of your lead generation funnel.
What do we mean by sprinkling listings throughout the site? Well, most IDX providers enable you to create widgets based on certain MLS criteria, and then embed them in different parts of the site. A simple, yet effective way to do this is to create a top-level communities page on your site which then lets users click on the various featured communities in your area, taking them to a page dedicated to that community.
Let’s go back to our Winter Park example. A well implemented Winter Park page would include high-quality content about the community and a widget showcasing active listings in Winter Park. Users can then learn about the community and view homes for sale at the same time. When they click on one of the homes, they’re immediately prompted to enter their contact information in order to proceed. Giving users relevant listings to view on every page, then prompting them to register will turn your site into a lead machine.
A common question: Won’t users get upset about being forced to register in order to view listings? The answer is yes. But it doesn’t matter. Your goal is to generate leads, not to provide a free service just like Zillow. IDX integration costs money. You need a return on it. Force the registration.
Taking it further: the landing page
Our community page example above leads us into the next area of discussion: landing pages.
Landing pages refer to specific pages on your site that are optimized for lead conversion and are used as “landing points” from external sources such as other websites or Google Adwords campaigns.
Do you need to build individual landing pages if you’re running a paid traffic campaign? It’s not mandatory, but it will likely increase the performance of your campaign. You will likely get more leads per dollar spent.
How do you create a landing page?
Landing pages are optimized for lead conversion. This means that they are often more simple than other pages on your site. While other pages may have extensive navigation to make it easy to hop around between pages, your landing page might have no navigation at all. The goal is to eliminate other options for the user to click on other than the lead generation entry points. Again IDX-generated listings are a great lead generation entry point on landing pages.
Let’s look at our Winter Park community example again. Previously we setup a Google ad to target people using Google to search for things like “Winter Park real estate”, “Winter park homes for sale”, etc. Rather than send that traffic to our home page, or even our typical Winter Park community page, we’ll instead send them to a new Winter Park landing page designed especially for converting paid traffic into leads.
Many WordPress themes offer a “landing page” template which strips out some of the extra navigation and sidebars in order to provide a more optimized landing page design, but if you’re not familiar with this, talk to your web designer to set up something similar.
On the page itself, you’ll want a clean headline to make it clear what the page is, perhaps a single paragraph of verbiage explaining the page, but then the page should jump right into IDX listings for the user to browse. Make sure forced registration is turned on.
If you want to get a little fancy, create multiple sections down the page of homes for sale in Winter Park at different price levels. Let’s say Under $250,000, $250,000-$500,000, $500,000-$750,000 and over $750,000 (obviously those should make sense for your market). Then, provide quick jump links at the top of the page for each price category. This will let users immediately see upon arrival the different price links, then when clicked, the page will scroll them down the page to the section where those applicable listings appear. The goal is to get the information most relevant to the user in front of them as easily and as quickly as possible.
Putting it all together
Now you have ads sending paid traffic to your landing pages that are converting into leads. It’s important to monitor the performance of your ads and landing pages. Here are a few tips to help improve the performance over time:
- Try different combinations of ad text in order to see if you can improve the cost-per-click (CPC). The higher the CPC, typically this means more advertisers are going after the same keywords (CPC is a function of how competitive that keyword or set of keywords is). Try to find less competitive keywords to target with a lower CPC.
- Is your traffic converting into leads? If not, you might be targeting the wrong traffic. There are a couple of solutions to use if this is the case. First, check the search keywords that are being hit by your ad. You can use the Adwords dashboard to find this list (if you can’t figure it out, try calling the Adwords support phone number). You can use this list to add some negative keywords (filter out certain keywords that you don’t want your ad to show up for). A few to consider right away might be “commercial”, “rental”, “rent”, “vacation”, “warehouse”, etc. Think of common real estate-related words that you don’t want your ad to show up for. You can add these as negative keywords meaning any keyword phrase that includes them will immediately be eliminated from consideration and you won’t waste your money on that traffic. Additionally, inspect your landing page. Is the IDX forced registration turned on? Is it simple with a clean design?
- Make sure you have Google Analytics installed so you can track your traffic patterns. You’ll also want to install conversion codes from Adwords so you can track conversions. This will help you identify your cost-per-conversion which is even more important than your cost-per-click. Ask your IDX provider or web developer where the Adwords conversion code should go so that your IDX conversions are tracked as well.
The final piece: nurturing your leads over time
We’ve talked about getting paid traffic to your site and how to turn that traffic into leads. Now it’s important to talk about what you do with those leads after you have them.
Real estate is a unique animal where the sales cycle can be rather lengthy. You might get a lead that doesn’t actually buy or sell a house until a few years later. The fact that countless individuals passively browse real estate listings online even if they’re not planning to buy or sell extends that sales cycle even further. Maintaining and nurturing these leads over long periods of time is crucial.
Ideally some of your leads turn into closed pieces of business in a relatively short period of time. But it’s a fact that the portion that do is a small portion of all of the leads you gather.
A standard, personal follow-up process probably makes sense for all leads. This will address the leads that are ready to move on a transaction. But after that, you need an automated process that will handle nurturing your leads over time so that you stay in front of possible clients. When they’re ready to buy or sell, guess who they’ll call?
Getting your leads into an automated DRIP campaign or an automated IDX-driven email property update system is crucial. There are ways to automatically move leads into an email list which triggers pre-set emails at given intervals, or alternatively, you can use most IDX systems to setup automated email alerts to a lead for new properties according to the search criteria which interests them. Both are excellent ways to nurture leads over time.
Interestingly, this component is rarely implemented by real estate professionals that are doing paid traffic campaigns. This means that perhaps upwards of 90% of leads that they generate are wasted because there is no process implemented to stay in front of them over time.
Using your paid traffic campaign to generate short-term business and build a long-term list of prospective clients is the best way to get the most return on your ad spend. If you set it up correctly, you could have automated property alerts going to thousands of qualified leads each month down the road. Who wouldn’t want that?
Let’s attempt to sum up what we’ve discussed today. First, get started using Google Adwords. Simply getting familiar with the dashboard and how paid traffic works is a big step for many real estate professionals. Send the traffic to IDX-driven landing pages in order to improve your lead conversion rates. But before you start spending increasing amounts of dollars, make sure you have a process in place to handle all leads with regards to both near-term follow up and long-term nurturing.
If you have any questions on the topic of lead generation, please feel free to ask!