This article was originally posted on Active Rain in August 2007.
Yesterday, we talked about the various sources of new business to grow your real estate business and the importance of marketing to search engine consumers. Today, we look more in depth at two strategies for leveraging the search engines for generating new business.
Organic Ranking or Advertising — One, The Other or Both??
Having defined your audience (just like with offline marketing), your next step is to define your strategy for reaching this audience. There are two marketing strategies to pursue with the search engines – organic ranking and advertising.
If you look at the Google screenshot above, you’ll see organic results for the query “ipod” down the middle of the screen under the blue box. The blue box and the right-hand column represent the “sponsored links” or ads. People also generically refer to these sponsored links as “pay-per-click” because the revenue model is based on advertisers paying for the ad only when consumers click on the ad.
Incidentally, for you agents out there buying leads from third party lead generators, these companies get their leads to sell to you through search engine advertising. You can do your own advertising for a fraction of the cost per lead that these companies charge you.
Everybody has an opinion on which strategy they think works best, but smart agents do both, and here are a couple of reasons why.
The Case For An Organic Strategy
There is a perception that coming up at the top of the organic results lends credibility to a site. The perception definitely exists, but it is not necessarily grounded in fact. A substandard company can have a superior web marketing consultant and be at the top of the results. Longevity of a site, solid content and steady traffic are not reserved for only the good companies. Consumers will start to realize this and discount the perception.
Because this strong perception still exists, however, you will want to work on improving your organic ranking, but the process can take time and money. Why money, you ask? Because the search engines want to see steady traffic on your site to increase your relevancy factor (i.e., your ranking). In competitive markets you need lots of traffic to be at the top of the relevancy heap, and getting traffic to your site generally involves money.
The Case For An Advertising Strategy
Sponsored links, on the other hand, have strong upsides, too. In my mind, they are almost more important than organic ranking for a couple of reasons. First, a strongly worded ad can distract consumers from the organic results. In the screenshot above, what consumer could resist a result at the top of the page that says “Official iPod Store” in blue? Or what about the ad on the right that says ‘ipod – cheap prices?” The consumer who typed this query is most certainly not researching the history of ipods. He or she is more likely looking for a hot deal. A cleverly worded or placed ad can make a consumer forget completely about the organic results. It only takes one click and the consumer has left those results.
Another huge advantage to the ads is that a good consultant can write you ads that have variables in them that get matched to whatever a consumer is looking for. Let’s say for instance that you sell real estate in Mytown. To work on your organic search engine optimization, you need to think up all possible combinations of words and phrases that your desired consumer would likely put into a search engine query and then get those words and phrases prominently sprinkled throughout your site, including your content, title tags, meta tags and the like. Well, you can’t think of everything, at least not think of everything and keep it organized and productive. Your best search engine optimization strategy is to come up with a list of the most likely candidates and optimize with those words and phrases, and then hope that you can connect with most of the consumers.
But what if I told you that you could put up an ad that seemingly “reads the consumers mind?” For instance, maybe you didn’t optimize for “Mytown lofts under $500,000” because it’s not a typical consumer query in your area. With search engine optimization, you’re playing the odds, but why lose the prospect who puts this phrase into a search engine if you offer related services? With an ad, you don’t have to think of every possible combination of words because you can use variables.
This is a paraphrase of the process (because more technical people than me create the actual algorithms), but if you had an ad with variables that contained (city = Mytown) + (property type = lofts) + (price = under $500,000), your ad will appear when the consumer types in the query “Mytown lofts under $500,000,” even if your site is not optimized for this phrase. Your ad might also appear for the consumer who types in “TownNextDoor condos under $300,000” if your variables support it.
The point I want to make, is that you can reach a much broader, relevant market with ads than with straight search engine optimization for organic ranking. And, the search engines can also put your ads in other relevant, online venues besides search engine query results screens. For instance, if you send a Google mail message to your brother about homes for sale in his neighborhood, guess what appears next to the body of that email message? An ad for a realtor offering homes for sale in that neighborhood. While this starts to sound a little Orwellian, you can’t argue with the broadened exposure that ads offer over straight search engine ranking. And before you get up in arms over the fact that you may not know where your ad is going to appear, I believe that you can opt not to have your ads appear on the sites of the search engine’s marketing partners. Check out the options for yourself or ask your search engine consultant.
Long Story Short
So that, in something of a nutshell, is a description of your search engine marketing options. My central point is that the search engines are where you should be focusing your marketing budget because this is where you can most easily connect with consumers who need you and your services now. Two strategies exist for marketing in the search engines and both should be utilized for different reasons. If search engine marketing is still greek, read this post again and find yourself a consultant. You don’t need to know all the details to effectively oversee a consultant. You just need a big picture understanding.
Two last important notes about search engine advertising. It does not have to be expensive and it can really help your organic ranking results. There are some tricks to keeping your advertising costs down, but please know that if Google is quoting $5.00/click for a search term, there are ways to get that same term for $.50. Regarding organic results, one measure of relevancy of a website in Google’s mind is the level of traffic on a site. Aggressive advertising can bring you significant traffic. Significant traffic makes you appear relevant to consumers and search engines will start moving you up the ranks.
Tomorrow — what to do now that your marketing machine is generating the leads faster than you know what to do with them.