You’re probably paying too much for Google Ads!

Realtors: Have you ever had a call from a random sales guy that goes something like this?

Sales guy: “Hello, you already know how important it is to be at the top of google search results for “[your city] real estate”. Unlike some services that are auction based, I can get you there with for a flat fee of $XYZ [usually $50, $75, or $100].”

I’m pretty sure I already know the answer because when I asked this same question to a group of REALTORS yesterday during a presentation at a WCR event, more than half the hands in the audience of around 200 agents went up.

So here’s the deal… The only way to buy Google Ads (i.e. the ads that show up above the google search results), is through a “pay per click” (or CPC) process where Google charges for each time someone clicks on an ad. At least for ads that show up in search results there is NO way to pay Google a “flat” fee.

In every case I’ve seen of a company charging real estate professionals a flat fee for google ads, it’s ONLY because they know that the ads they are buying are MUCH cheaper than the flat fee they are charging you.   For example, if they know that “[Your City] real estate” is likely to cost them $15/month because they are likely to get 15 clicks that cost them a $1/each, then they might charge a real estate professional a  $50 “flat fee” to buy the ads for you.

In practice, this would mean that you’re paying someone a $35/month “service” fee each month and all they have to do is configure a Google AdWords campaign to run on autopilot.

Even worse (at least in this situation), Google lets the people who manage Google AdWords campaigns set a daily and monthly limit as to what they’ll pay, so the people providing you the service can KNOW they will never exceed the flat fee they are charging you.  When you pay someone a flat fee for your Google Ads, the odds are completely stacked in their favor!

Now, I probably wouldn’t have written this post, except after I mentioned this situation in my presentation I was surprised at the number of agents who came up to me afterwords just to confirm their situation wasn’t the “exception”.  I found no exception, but lots of agents overpaying for their Google Ads…

So, what’s the solution?

Buy your own ads on Google’s self-service backend called Adwords.    It’s really not that hard to set-up an ad campaign and even if you simply bought the same exact ad you’re now paying a flat fee for, you’d likely save  hundreds of dollars a year.   Not only that, when you start buying the ads yourself, you’re likely to be far more selective because Google gives you the tools (and the encouragement) to test out using different campaigns and see which ones are working best for you.

I’ve found that the main factors that determine how successful your AdWords campaign will be are:

  • The price you’re willing to pay per click
  • The keywords you target
  • The text you use on your ad
  • The landing page that you send people to

As I mentioned, if you manage your own ad campaign, google gives you all the tools you need (and many more) to experiment with adjusting all of these factors so you can find the ads that are most cost effective for you.

Screw consumers… Let’s use internet tools to do what REALTORS do best!

I gave a presentation last week in Portland where I asked the audience of about 300 REALTORS two questions:

  1. Do you drive most of your business from referrals… friends, family, past clients, other agents, etc.?
  2. Do you drive most of your business by reaching out directly to consumers… ads, online home search, etc.?

A little over half the audience raised their hand to the first question, while under 10% raised their hand to the second, which didn’t really surprise me because I asked a similar (but more convoluted) question in an online poll about a month ago and got similar results (i.e. 58% said referrals).

I think it’s extremely safe to say that in terms of generating business, most real estate agents (and most professionals for that matter), are better at reaching into their network of friends (and friends of friends) to drive business than reaching consumers directly.  And yet, almost all online tools, commentary and critiques of social media within real estate focus on the inability to of the tools to directly reach consumers.  (One of the more eloquent critiques was written by Marc Davison).

Let’s break down the skills and tools that an agent needs to successfully run online campaign that directly targets consumers:

  1. Project management. Hire someone with web design, marketing and coding skills (or sometimes a team of people with these skills) and make sure the site actually gets built!
  2. Writing. Either need to write content, or at least advising and managing the person creating the content.
  3. Online promotion. Either need to optimize your landing pages and drive lots of inbound links to your site (so that you can get free traffic from the search engines) or buy traffic through online ads
  4. Conversion optimization. Optimize your site to get consumers to register (probably through a IDX/home search tool, which also has to be integrated into your site)
  5. Prospecting. Prospect the database of users (assuming your IDX allows for this) and ask them for your business. Otherwise, wait for the consumers to contact you (probably when they “request a showing”).

None of these skills are particularly hard, and I’ve seen agents with almost zero internet experience pick them up and start generating business in less than half a year. However, I’ve seen way more agents get frustrated at the lack of results afte they “master” only one or two of these skills…

For example, I’ve seen agents spend two years just trying to get a good site built (project management #fail)… or they get a beautiful site built for them, but never add any content (writing #fail)… or they write well, but don’t know how to get anyone to link to their content (promotion #fail)… or they get people to their site, but don’t give users a logical way to register (conversion #fail)… or they get people in their database, but aren’t setting appointments (prospecting #fail).  In other words, none of the skills are all that hard, but they aren’t necessarily intuitive to everyone either.

Now, let’s compare that to the skills and tools used for a referral campaign that’s the bread and butter for most agents:

  1. Networking. Make a connection with friends, family, past clients, other professionals, etc. (could be through events, organizations, or outreach via postcards, etc.)
  2. Sales. Ask them for your business (or more likely, if they know of any business they can send your way)

If it’s not obvious, the skills that drive the bulk of real estate business today (i.e. referral business), are vastly different than the skills needed to convert consumers into clients on the internet… so no wonder most agents get frustrated when their initial internet activities don’t effectively reach online consumers.    It’s a completely different set of skills.

    Instead, if you’re an agent that does most of your business from referrals, you should be thinking “how can I use internet tools to reach and build my referral network?”

    And the answer to that question is definitely something I’m going to continue exploring in the near future.   My opinion is that the tools currently marketed to real estate agents do really crappy job of building up a sphere because they almost inevitably focus on helping REALTORS reach consumers directly.  When I searched for a referral networking tool last month to feature in this article: Getting Serious about Lead Management, I couldn’t find one that I liked well enough to mention.

    However, I’m going to write a post in the next day or so on a new favorite tool of mine: Gist.   It’s the best sphere building tool I’ve used, because of the way it let’s me filter through people within my network based on criteria that I set… a feature simply not available on tools like Facebook, Twitter, Google Buzz, Seesmic, TweetDeck, etc.

    I’m going to be presenting the general idea mentioned in this post at lots of conferences in the next few months (Chicago, Atlanta, Las Vegas, Toronto, etc.) and more than your agreement, I would really love to hear your critiques…

    Where are the holes in my argument?   Am I screwed up thinking agents should forget focusing on reaching consumers directly and instead focus on building up their referral networking?

    I hit publish on a RCG post earlier toda…

    I hit publish on a RCG post earlier today talking about how I’m super excited about the HomeQuest Social Media Summit that’s set to take place next week in Portland!

    In addition to myself, the HomeQuest team has lined up David Gibbons, Gahlord Dewald to talk about Search Engine Optimization and Garron Selliken, some of the smartest folks in online real estate marketing.

    [One of my inspirations for this post was to test out the “eventbrite” countdown widget. Pretty slick, huh?]

    7 Tips to Getting SEO Value Out of Your Social Media Efforts

    Recently, I was asked by the folks at MOTM to give a talk on Social Media.  I typically present to real estate audiences, so I decided to rethink my usual approach for this tech-audience.  More than anything, I wanted to present something that was worthy of the group.

    After more than a few conversations, I decided to explore the “gray” areas of social media, and especially how you can use social media engagement to improve search engine rankings.  It feels like I’ve been living in this gray area for quite a while now, but I don’t often blog about it because most SEO works best when it is not widely shared. 😉

    In terms of SEO strategies, the stuff I presented last night was relatively tame (i.e. on the black hat to white hat scale, the ideas trended toward the lighter side of gray). And at the request of more than a few of the people who attended, I’ve decided to publish (most of) the slides I used in the presentation.

    As with most of my presentations, the slides don’t begin to tell the whole story.  That’s especially true with this presentation since the conversation that came out of the slides was by far the most informative part of the evening.

    Nonetheless, the 7 tips listed below offer some insight into how you can start to improve your website rankings (SEO) by taking part in various social media sites.

    SMM for SEO Assumptions
    Assumptions Going Into the Presentation

    The four assumptions I start out with are:

    • Off-site SEO is where you can get the most bang for your SMM buck
    • You should focus on anchor text of inbound links whenever possible
    • Social media sites can often pass along ridiculously great SEO value
    • You should focus on DoFollow sites whenever possible
    White Hat SMM:  Corporate Blog
    Tip #1: Create Value on Your Own Site (URL)

    The typical corporate blog is about as white hat as they get in the SMM world. Here the company is trying to outreach to consumers and/or clients by providing useful, interesting or otherwise valuable content and thereby earn inbound links and other positive word-of-mouth from their blogging.

    Black Hat SMM:  Automation
    Background on Black Hat SMM
    • Automation is not all that effective in social media and often pretty easy to detect
    • While there are examples of useful automation (think: google news), most is spam and does not add value
    • [Note: this slide generated a fascinating conversation at the presentation with an active discussion on the role of automation within social networks.]
    Gray Hat SMM:  How Hard You Promote
    TIP #2: Promote your Posts... HARD!
    • Level of “gray” really depends on how hard you promote.
    • It’s trivial to join/create a group that attempts to “game” the social news/bookmarketing sites.  Is this “black hat” or just using your social network effectively?
    • [Note: I do have a group for online real estate professionals where we help each other promote posts. It’s in invite-only thing, so as long as I know who you are and you run a quality blog, then feel free to let me know if you’re interested in joining.]
    Create Active Profiles
    Tip #3: Create Active Profiles... lots of them
    Get Creative With Your Profiles
    Tip #4: Get Creative With Your Profiles
    • One example is that you can use delicious to push “topics” to mybloglog to get SEO value from a “nofollow” site
    Play Hard on One Social Network
    Tip #5: Play Especially Hard on One Social Network
    Develop an Exclusive Database
    Tip #6: Develop an Exclusive Database
    • If you can develop something that media outlets want to pick up, then it’s quite possible to drive a ton of traffic and great inbound links by feeding them exclusives
    • In the real estate space, this is celebrity listings, but most industries have their exclusive stuff you can mine from databases
    HomeSyn:  Real Estate Listing Syndication
    Tip #7: Think SEO When Syndicating
    • While this example is specific to real estate, most industry could benefit from thinking of SEO when they push their content around the web.
    • In this case, I work with agents all the time to create listing detail pages on their sites and then make sure that they link back to those listing detail pages in a savvy way to ensure SEO value is getting past to their site whenever possible.
    • It’s worth noting that I created a syndication tool for my real estate clients called HomeSyn that syndicates listings in a savvy way  (i.e. links back to the listing detail page of an agent’s choice whenever possible).   However, it’s an invite-only tool.   If you have some listings and are interested in testing out the tool, let me know and I consider throwing an invite your way.

    If you think I’m wrong or have something to add, let’s continue the conversation in the comments… and if you found this information helpful, then help spread the luv by returning to the top of this post and giving it a digg, save, bookmark, stumble, or whatever it is that  you do!

    The trouble with Marc’s approach to Twitter

    Like many real estate professionals who are using the internet to market themselves, Marc seems to be overlooking the fact that the best clients come from your friends… your real friends.

    Most agents know this implicitly, but don’t necessarily make the connection to how they need to operate online.

    For example…

    A good friend of mine, who conveniently happens to be a real estate agent, hates internet leads. Doesn’t want to deal with them.   For years (he actually attended one of my bloginars in July ’06) , I’ve been telling him about the importance of SEO, “owning” his own domain, link structure, quality content, relevant traffic, etc, and while he humors me (he’s become a good friend after all), his heart has never been in it.  As he likes to remind me, internet leads are crap and he just passes them off to others when he gets them anyway.

    However, on a recent conversation, we were talking about where he’s getting his business and he mentioned Facebook (he’s very active on Facebook and MySpace having uploaded thousands of photos and shared countless stories).  Says his friends on Facebook have been treating him well lately sending him great clients and he’d love to get more.  But he doesn’t consider those “internet” leads since the clients typically come to him on a recommendation from a friend.

    I think it’s worth reiterating.  People who find him on the internet aren’t worth his time. People who get recommended to him from his Facebook friends help pay his bills.

    So, now to bring this back to Marc’s post on twitter…  Marc says:

    “You can either post gibberish or you can choose instead to post content about what’s happening in your marketplace right now that does or could have consequences for your reader.”

    I can guarantee that if my friend had spent the past two years limiting his online participation to writing content that had consequences for his marketplace, he’d not only have a small fraction of friends on the site, but Facebook would not be providing him any meaningful business.  Worse, his most common “friend” would probably be other real estate professionals who accept this boring banter on social networks.

    With that said, I’m a HUGE fan of agents creating a place where they can share their knowledge and expertise by creating content that has consequences for their marketplace… And my other website, Rain City Guide, does a great job generating business by creating this type of content (and I’d argue generates more business for our agents, mortgage brokers, title reps, lawyers, etc. than any other real estate blog).

    But to compare the value of Twitter banter (or banter on Facebook or any other “social” network) to the content created on a site like Rain City Guide is to completely confuse the value of unknown internet clients with clients recommended to you by your friends.

    If you don’t mind dealing with internet leads, then by all means focus on building out a website like Rain City Guide that will drive relevant traffic.

    However, if you want your real friends to start sending you clients, then you better start interacting with them in a “real” way.  Maybe that means throwing ridiculously cool parties, joining the local PTA, coaching a little league team, or sharing inside jokes and other gibberish on Twitter.  Either way, your real friends expect you to be a real person.

    Maybe I can offer a totally different perspective

    Hurricane Fannie Freddie got me thinking about an email that I sent out to a Seattle real estate agent not too long ago.     The agent emailed me to say that she thought Rain City Guide’s negativity was only making the Seattle real estate market worse and that we should provide a more positive outlook.

    This was not the first email I’ve received like this (far from it), and so I thought I’d share my response with 4realz readers since it may help you uncover a bit of what has worked on RCG over the past 3 1/2 years (note: I modified the email substantially to protect the innocent):

    Dear Seattle real estate agent,

    Maybe I can offer a totally different perspective.

    As you seem to understand by your email, Rain City Guide is an awesome marketing tool that generates lots of interest among seattle real estate consumers and substantial business for many of the active participants.   However, I think the reason we are successful often gets lost on industry insiders.

    There’s no doubt that the group of contributors to RCG often takes a slightly negative twist (some might argue “realistic”) on the market and that in general, the most active participants are extremely pro-consumers at the expense of the industry.   For industry-insiders like yourself, this can often seem completely inappropriate (as you mentioned!), but for those of us generating business by tapping into an honest dialog with consumers about the market, it can often seem odd that anyone would take any other position.

    Truth is, I can’t think of one successful real estate blogger (i.e. one who is generating substantial business from blogging) who views their job to look out for the industry.

    While it might be in the best interest of the industry for RCG to put a positive spin on today’s market, from my perspective, it’s in the best interest of each contributor to take a position that a vast majority of consumers can relate to.   For consumers, the market sucks… and that includes most of the people who are considering buying and/or selling right now.    And my experience has been that if you tell an internet consumer anything they don’t want to hear, they’ll simply do another google search and find an agent, website or blog that matches with their reality.

    My recommendation? As you contribute comments (and maybe some day posts) to RCG, focus on consumers and (pretty much) ignore the other contributors.  And if you do decide to give industry-spin, then be prepared that RCG readers love to point out self-serving agents and RCG contributors are often more than happy to distance themselves from industry insiders because they’re looking to earn clients, not industry friends.

    Essentially, don’t be the “example” that other contributors can focus on to differentiate themselves.  Instead, focus on relating directly to consumers with the most authentic dialog you can muster.  There’s plenty of business to be generated by all if you fight for the consumer’s heart and mind.

    And just to be clear, this perspective has everything to do with the expectations of internet consumer and very little to do with RCG.  This honest dialog between agents and consumers goes on, and will continue to go on, with or without RCG.

    I hope this helps! Best,

    -Dustin

    I’d be fascinated to hear your thoughts on my email.  Does this philosophy work outside of Seattle?  Or am I just totally missing the boat on what makes RCG tick?

    “In fact some lawyers would rather see their name…

    …at the top of search results or on the back of a phone book than have a reputation as a trusted and reliable authority in a niche area of the law.”

    Notorious Rob has some interesting insight around how to use social media