An Introduction to Inbound Marketing for Real Estate
By Seth Price
About Inbound Marketing
Inbound marketing is a new take on lead capture that uses modern media and communication tools to make the process of attracting clients simpler and more efficient.
Inbound marketing has changed the way people do business, not just in the real estate industry, but in just about every industry. Hereâ€™s how it works. Rather than cold calling or posting billboard ads to potentially unqualified leads, inbound marketing focuses on getting your message out to receptive leads who are already searching for what you have to offer. In the old process of outbound marketing, you spent most of your time sifting through cold leads. These are people youâ€™ve never met or spoken to, who donâ€™t know anything about your company or product. The goal is to take those cold leads and â€śwarm them upâ€ť by convincing them that youâ€™re trustworthy and that you have something they want–in this case, real estate listings. There are a variety of ways to go about warming up leads; traditionally, cold calling via telephone and advertising via print publications and mailers were most common.
Naturally, the conversion rate for leads like these isnâ€™t very high. When it comes to the real estate industry, most people arenâ€™t inclined to be sold something they donâ€™t already want by people they donâ€™t already know, and even if theyâ€™re willing to listen, thereâ€™s a good chance they arenâ€™t in a position to buy. Because of this, volume in every sense of the word was key to the sales process. In a nutshell, the mantra of traditional outbound marketing might be, â€śshout it loud, shout it often.â€ť Though salespeople accepted this as a way of life, the fact remains it was a costly, time consuming, and often painful process. Breaking down a cold lead took hard work and a thick skin. Watch films like â€śBoiler Roomâ€ť or â€śGlengarry Glenn Ross,â€ť and youâ€™ll get a sense of just how difficult this could be.
The advent of the Internet, however, changed all this. Consumers now have access to all kinds of information that was previously limited to professionals, and they can parse that information without having to sit through conversations with overeager salespeople. Consequently, the flow of the entire process has been reversed. Suddenly, an effective marketing strategy wasnâ€™t just about finding the right people–it was also about making it easy for the right people to find you. Instead of pushing your message out, youâ€™re drawing your clients in–hence, inbound marketing. Still, this process presents its own challenges. Outbound marketing can feel like pushing a boulder up a hill, but at least you control which direction youâ€™re taking it. With inbound marketing, you can create the path, but the consumer ultimately decides which direction to go. The task, then, is to build a path thatâ€™s smooth, straight, scenic, and most importantly, well-maintained.
The five key components to creating an effective inbound real estate marketing strategy:
- Foundation Content
- Created Content
- Social Media
- Search Engine Optimization
Letâ€™s begin with the first two components: Foundation Content and Created Content.
Content is King
Inbound marketing is about being found. When you consider that there are somewhere in the neighborhood of a trillion web pages on the Internet, itâ€™s hard to imagine ever getting noticed, even by the people who are interested in your products and services. But thereâ€™s good news here: first, many of those web pages arenâ€™t indexed, which means you canâ€™t find them if you donâ€™t already know about them; second, many of the pages that are indexed are old, and contain information thatâ€™s no longer useful or relevant.
Think of the Internet as one big stack of webpages. One of the ways search engines help users find what theyâ€™re looking for is by constantly stacking newer webpages on top of older ones. By creating new content, you can ensure that your website will stay near the top of the stack.
But what, you might ask, does this content look like? Generally speaking, content can be broken down into two parts: foundation content, and created content. Let’s start with the former.
1. Foundation content stems from your products.
This is the main reason your clients are searching you out in the first place. As a real estate professional, you have an advantage over people in a lot of other industries: youâ€™re blessed with a nonstop stream of fantastic foundation content that your customers want to look at, content that is constantly changing and readily available. That content, of course, is made up of your property listings and the geographic information inherent in a real estate transaction. Your leads or potential customers want more information about where they might want to relocate, what properties are on the market, what their asking prices are, etc. Foundation content comes from the raw data supplied by property owners and databases, which means that aside from acquiring more desirable listings (or, say, convincing a seller to install new fixtures), there isnâ€™t much you can do to change it without being dishonest. Nevertheless, you can control how you present foundation content to your leads by providing more detailed information, higher quality pictures, easier search, and better ways for people to capture that information in preparation for their ultimate decision.
2. Created content supplements, highlights, and enhances your foundation content.
Picture the video game console section at your local electronics store. Sure, the consoles will probably do a fine job of selling themselves–after all, plenty of people arrive at the store knowing theyâ€™re going to buy them. But a colorful, attention-grabbing display, with informative and exciting descriptions of the consoleâ€™s features and games, will attract even more prospective customers–and even if they donâ€™t buy just yet, thereâ€™s a good chance theyâ€™ll come back. Created content is as much about selling yourself as it is about selling your product. Whether the information it presents is useful, entertaining, provocative, or some combination of all three, great created content will show leads youâ€™re worth paying attention to and doing business with.
Created content generally comes in two forms:
- Copy, the text you put on every page of your website. Whether itâ€™s a heading, a description, a photo caption, a contact page, or anything else that calls for text, your copy helps explain to visitors the expertise, results, and value you and your team have to offer. More than that, itâ€™s your individual or company â€śvoice,â€ť broadcasting your particular character and style, your brand. Your copy is an opportunity to tell your clients what they can expect if they decide to work with you, so youâ€™ll have to decide what to sell about yourself. Your twenty years of experience? Your technology savvy? The best price for their home, guaranteed? Â Etc. Your listings and your companyâ€™s niche will help determine what sort of voice to adopt. If, for example, you handle a lot of apartment rentals in an area with a large student population, copy that communicates your understanding of what young people need and are interested in is key. If, on the other hand, youâ€™re a commercial firm with office listings, a culture of professionalism might be more suitable.
- Images and Videos. Fun science fact: about half of the human brain is devoted either directly or indirectly to perceiving, processing, and understanding what we see. The takeaway is that human beings are as visual as they are verbal, if not more so. That means your content has to stimulate your site visitors in both ways. Weâ€™re not just talking about pictures attached to your listings, either. Slideshows, video tours and interviews, floor plans, even illustrations are all part of the mix. While you donâ€™t want to go overboardâ€”remember, youâ€™re trying to enhance your foundation content, not replace itâ€”your created content should give leads as complete an image of the properties in your inventory as possible. If youâ€™re withholding information in the hopes of getting leads to call and find out more, youâ€™re doing more harm than good. At the same time, if youâ€™re worried all these great visuals will render you obsolete, youâ€™re overestimating their power. The truth is that no matter how good your images and videos are, theyâ€™ll never replace walking the halls and rooms of a home, office, or retail space. They will, however, get leads excited about your properties and make them more willing to make the trip to see them.
3. Blogging is your way to a stronger relationship with your leads and clients.
Years ago, the relationship between real estate agents and average consumers didnâ€™t involve much sharing. Agents brought their industry expertise and market knowledge to the negotiating table, and clients didnâ€™t ask many questions about their job, so long as they did it well. Today, however, consumers can get more of an inside look at the real estate industry through the web. More importantly, the wide use and availability of this kind of information means they want as much of it as they can get. Blogging presents agents with an opportunity to give your site visitors that inside perspective, and at the same time, create the kind of trust and respect that turns leads into customers.
Blogging can also give you something incredibly important to achieving success in the real estate industry: visibility. In 2011, Forty-one percent of buyers found their agent through a referral from a friend or family member. As for the rest, they didnâ€™t just choose any agent. People need to trust you before theyâ€™ll do business with you. That starts with simple name recognition, and ends with trust and respect. Blogging accomplishes all of this. Whether youâ€™re writing about the day-to-day life of a real estate professional or about trends and events in the market at large, your blog gives leads a way to separate you from the rest of the pack.
Furthermore, blogging isnâ€™t just an â€śI talk, you listenâ€ť kind of arrangement. A good blogger allows for a certain amount of give and take. Cap off your posts with a call to action or a question. Encourage readers to ask questions and provide comments. By showing that youâ€™re open to learning and discussing other perspectives, youâ€™ll be presenting yourself as an agent who will work with a client to get them the price or home they want, rather than one who will work for a client to get them what she thinks is realistic.
Finally, itâ€™s important to remember how important stories are to people in general. We make sense of the world and entertain ourselves through stories. A personal story has an emotional impact that a list of facts and figures canâ€™t make, and making the decision to buy or sell a home is just as emotional as it is logical (if not more so). Blogging will give you the opportunity to not only display your record of buying and selling homes, but also assure prospects that you can factor their feelings into the equation.
4. Social media gets you involved in the conversation.
The newest generation of web applications and companies is shifting the focus of the Internet from commerce to communication. People increasingly connect with one another through social networking sites like Facebook, Twitter, and Linkedin. In fact, a recent study shows that one out of every five minutes spent online is used on a social networking site. By using these services, you can create and cultivate conversations about your properties which have the potential to reach and influence people you never thought possible. Letâ€™s talk about some of the major avenues youâ€™ll use to accomplish this.
- Facebook: 900+ million users globally, 150+ million in the U.S. Dominating 95% of social networking time, FacebookÂ is the undisputed king of social networks. In addition to having the most users, the site claims the most active users, with 50 percent of those with accounts accessing Facebook on any given day. Since youâ€™re familiar enough with the web to have found this guide, letâ€™s assume that you already have your own personal Facebook page. You should start by adding past and present clients to your network, thereby making it easier for them to contact you and refer others. Then, your next step should definitely be to create a page for your business so that you can engage them during all the time they spend using the service.
- Twitter: 140 million active users. Twitter is the second largest of the big social networks and itâ€™s growing rapidly. But whereas Facebook has tried to integrate just about every means of social networking into its service, Twitterâ€™s format has remained the same: users interact by sending tweets, 140-character messages, often with links or direct mentions of other users. Twitterâ€™s greatest value is in its immediacy. That is, more than any other social network, activity on Twitter is governed by whatâ€™s trending right now when it comes to news, links, photos, etc. Because of this, Twitter gives you the ability to demonstrate that youâ€™re current and plugged into whatâ€™s note- and newsworthy. Additionally, Twitter has the potential to provide you with free marketing thanks to retweets and mentions. Produce consistently high-quality content on Twitter, and youâ€™ll find others will start increasing your brand awareness for you.
- Youtube: Over 3 billions views daily. These days, your clients are looking for as much access as they can get to the properties theyâ€™re searching before they actually get in their cars and drive there. Creating a Youtube channel for your business will give you a place to post video tours of your listings. The necessary film equipment is becoming increasingly affordable, and while the total cost of producing these videos can get into the thousands, itâ€™s still far cheaper than putting an ad on television. Donâ€™t forget, too, that Youtube has far less content available to browse than an ordinary search engine, making it easier to stand out. Now, instead of jostling with millions of web pages that share the keyword â€śboston homes,â€ť youâ€™ll only have to compete with a few hundred or thousand.
- Linkedin: 160+ million users globally, 55+ million in the U.S.Â Linkedin is largely considered the professional social network, a place to post your resume, make business contacts, and connect with potential employers. As a result, the site doesnâ€™t have the day-to-day user numbers that Facebook and Twitter can boast. That being said, LinkedIn profiles receive a fairly high PageRank in Google. Thatâ€™s because LinkedIn allows you to make your profile information available for search engines to index, which makes using the service a good way to influence what people see when they search for you. Furthermore, the fact that LinkedIn is a professional network should be a good thingâ€”after all, everybody works somewhere. More than that, thereâ€™s a good chance that the prospects you find through LinkedIn, as professionals, will be better qualified leads with higher incomes, leading to better commissions. Finally, LinkedIn can help you connect with people in your industry that can make your life easier: mortgage brokers, bankers, home inspectors, attorneys, contractors, etc.
- Geosocial Networks.Â Geosocial networks and applications are specifically geared toward connecting and sharing based primarily on your location (and, by extension, what youâ€™re doing there). These days, most social networks have geosocial elements and features. Facebook, for instance, now allows you to â€ścheck inâ€ť at restaurants, concert venues, and just about anywhere else. Still, those sites that are specifically dedicated to geosocial networking, rather than retrofitted for it, have a lot of potential for real estate marketing. Real estate, after all, is all about location. As an agent, your assets are geographical, so it follows that you can use geosocial networks to illustrate your connection to the areas you serve. For example, by using foursquare (10 million users) to establish your presence in a community, you create a public record of your expertise when it comes to advising clients looking to purchase their first home in your area. In addition, people looking for homes are doing a lot more of their own research when it comes to investigating schools and businesses near prospective homes. You can make contact with these leads by writing reviews of local businesses on sites like Yelp, Urbanspoon, or Tripadvisor. The added bonus? You get to try new things and learn more about your community.
5. SEO ensures youâ€™re found early and often.
Though it may feel silly to imagine competing with huge, third-party real estate websites, the fact is that together, individual real estate agent and agency websites are slightly more popular than the leading third-party site (Realtor.com) as an Internet resource for people searching for a new home. Moreover, as the agent or broker in charge of your listings, you have a more direct relationship with a seller than any of these other sites, which means most clients will end up on your website at some point anyway.
Still, by making use of search engine optimization (SEO) techniques, you can increase your odds of beating the Trulias and Zillows of the world to the top of that big blue list we call a search engine. Weâ€™ve already discussed the first way to ensure leads can find you: by producing a steady stream of content. But there are other ways to maximize your visibility, provided you have a general sense of how search engines â€śthink,â€ť how they decide whatâ€™s relevant.
- Keywords. These are the single most important components of search engine optimization. Keywords are the words and phrases people type into the search bar at Google, Bing, or any other search site to find what theyâ€™re looking for. The more specific keywords become, the smaller the number of people using them becomes, and by extension, the fewer leads youâ€™ll find by owning them. At the same time, the most general keywords are highly sought after by just about everybody in the industry, so that putting all your time and effort into â€śreal estateâ€ť or â€śpropertiesâ€ť hardly makes sense. Furthermore, even if you do somehow rank highly for terms like these, the percentage of highly relevant and qualified leads youâ€™ll receive from them will be much lower. Instead, you should find a happy medium with terms of as few words as possible that relate to exactly what you have to offer: â€śnew jersey real estate.â€ť Figure out which keywords sound best and try to imagine every variation on them: â€śchicago apartments,â€ť â€śapartment rentals chicago,â€ť â€śfind apartments in chicago,â€ť etc. Once youâ€™ve decided your keywords, youâ€™ll want to make sure they appear at least in part in every element of a given webpage: not just page titles and body text, but also things your users wonâ€™t see most of the time: image titles, for instance.
- URLs, in plain English.Â Weâ€™re not just talking about securing www.companyname.com as the address of your main site. Thatâ€™s certainly important, but even the most specific page on your website has the potential to come up in a search. As such, you should think before accepting whatever default URL your software generates. This is obvious when the automatic URL is something with random strings of lots of letters and numbers: www.companyname.com/396/jWr43n68gL9sx/. A URL like this is impossible to remember and ugly when shared. Your blogging software will probably generate URLs automatically based on the page title, and these arenâ€™t always bad–a page titled â€śReal Estate Experts,â€ť for instance, will be generated as www.companyname.com/real-estate-experts/. But if the keywords you want to rank for arenâ€™t in your page title, youâ€™ll end up with something like www.companyname.com/were-the-best/, which doesnâ€™t say anything about the page content, let alone what you do or who you are.
- Meta descriptions. On any search results page, these are the small blocks of text underneath the page title and URL of each entry which describe the content of that webpage. Often, these descriptions simply draw from the first several words of text on the page itself. But if that text doesnâ€™t include the keywords or ideas you think people are searching for, you should consider writing something different. For instance, if your blog post about buying a foreclosed property begins with an anecdote about your cat–and far be it from us to say it shouldnâ€™t–your automatically generated meta description probably wonâ€™t include any of the keywords (real estate, foreclosures, homes, etc) that are likely to attract the leads youâ€™re looking for.
Other Ways to Drive Inbound Traffic
In addition to blogging, there are many other types of great content that you can create to bring interested searchers. Hosting webinars, offering e-books or guides for download, and developing microsites will all attract leads who are interested in what you have to offer and eager to engage in a conversation with you about your organization. By sticking with these inbound marketing strategies, you’ll continually bring in new leads and grow in authority. However, it won’t happen right away. While inbound marketing will save you money, it does take some commitment and patience. You won’t become the top Google result for desired terms overnight, and your first few blog posts may only get a handful of page views. Nevertheless, if you make a long-term commitment to inbound marketing, you will see results.
Published on January 5, 2012
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Written by Seth Price
Seth is a brand and marketing strategist with 20 years of digital marketing experience. Heâ€™s a founding team member and VP @Placester, author of the bestselling small business marketing book, The Road to Recognition and host of The Craft of Marketing and Marketing Genius podcasts. As a speaker, writer, and marketing workshop leader, Seth brings levity, mentorship, and a dose of reality to the businesses and entrepreneurs he coaches.