As part of my job, I have the opportunity to talk to many real estate firms, which allows me to gain insights into their businesses and their markets in general. Given that 2020 has been an exciting year in real estate, to say the least, these conversations provide me a better understanding of the challenges that firms and sales associates face as well as opportunities that have emerged.
I had the opportunity to sit down with Jim Fox, V.P. General Sales and Operations for Stouffer Realty located in Akron, OH, to get his take on the first half of the year. They are a 170 agent firm servicing Northeast OH.
As with most, COVID blindsided the organization. In dealing with a crisis of this magnitude, leadership was critical in navigating the outcome of the situation. Jim mentioned that there has never been a time in history where leadership needed to stay connected with sales associates and staff. He went on to say that it as so important that he called all associates and staff members to provide support, comfort, and reassurance that the firm had their backs.
"It was important that we kept people employed and the team intact and the confidence to stay engaged," Jim added. As a note, they didn't have to layoff or furlough any of their employees or staff.
During the downturn, the dynamics of how the firm operated really changed as well. Leadership and staff took a more proactive role in how they supported their sales associates. They spent this time working with their associates on enhancing their websites, helping with creating fresh copy, guidance on how to better leverage social media, and instruction on how to utilize Zoom conferencing, to name a few.
In addition, education and planning also played a big role. They educated on the value proposition that agents provide in the market as well as how to better serve their customers and maintain longterm relationships.
With COVID, there are fundamental changes in how agents grow and run their businesses. One example that Jim provided had to do with traditional open houses. "In the past, open houses were a great prospecting tool. Now with COVID and the number of traditional open houses pretty much being halted, agents, especially new ones, need to find new ways to generate business. For this reason, we really worked hard with the agent's plan and strategized on to keep their business going," Jim added.
Outside of the business, the firm was very proactive in patronizing and promoting local businesses as well. "We sell real estate, but we also sell a lifestyle and introduce unique features of the neighborhoods," Jim noted. Through their Explore our Community, they feature local businesses through video spotlights and reviews. They also connect with each business through social media to help with promotion.
Now that it appears that real estate is back and everyone is busy (at least for now), I asked him one last question: what lessons did he learn?
"First, I learned to lead by example with sensitivity and compassion," Jim said. "The second lesson took the pandemic for us to recognize that we need to reevaluate how we communicate and engage with both our sales associates and our customers and the importance of staying connected," Jim added. "I feel that this crisis provided perspective into what our business is all about, the people, and we are now a stronger company because of it."
Margaret Rudd & Associates, Inc., REALTORS® maintains its 30-plus year reputation as a market leader in Southeastern North Carolina with unparalleled local knowledge, personalized customer service, and a level of trustworthiness beyond reproach.
A household name in both property management and real estate brokerage services in Brunswick County since 1981, the company has weathered its fair share of challenges throughout the years.
Jim Goodman, Vice President of Sales, Margaret Rudd & Associates, Inc., recounts how Margaret Rudd & Associates, Inc., REALTORS® has rallied during 2020.
In Southeastern North Carolina, the year 2020 began with standard real estate sales in January, and a dramatic increase in February led us to believe that it would be a banner sales year. On March 10th, all of the promising successes came to a screeching halt. The Governor of North Carolina declared a state of emergency! On March 24th, the Mayor of Oak Island declared a state of emergency stopping all short-term rentals. The short-term rental ban remained in effect until May 22nd. During that time between March 24th and May 22nd, staff began scrambling to refund deposits, modify cleaning procedures, and obtain additional disinfectant cleaning products.
Meanwhile, real estate agents were scrambling to close properties. Attorneys closed their offices to all visitors and real estate agents. Earnest monies were dropped in secured lockboxes outside the attorney's office. Our area of residential real estate sales felt the effects of COVID-19 in May, with decreases in new listings, units sold, and total sales.
In our local MLS, May was the first month with a drop in sales, and we were ahead of last year's red-hot pace. The number of new listings in May decreased by 11.3% compared to 2019, dropping from 638 to 566. The number of units sold decreased by 29.6%, from 496 to 349. With the average sale prices increased 7.5%, from $282,369 to $303,439. Total sales volume fell 24.4%, from $140,050,000 to $105,900,000.
These challenges created changes in our day-to-day operations. All of our sales meetings and conferences were via ZOOM. The agents loved the ZOOM meetings, and participation increased by over 30%. We plan to continue to do 75% of our sales meetings via ZOOM, even when things return to normal. Plexiglass barriers were installed company-wide. Our company ordered two hundred company logo face masks for the agents and staff, which proved to be great for marketing and morale.
In June, real estate sales and short-term rentals made a significant recovery, and it appears that this recovery will continue for the rest of 2020. However, as I write this article on August 3rd, Hurricane Isaias is about to make landfall somewhere in the Southeastern North Carolina area.
So far, 2020 has been very challenging for our real estate professionals.
Whether searching for a sales associate or going on the hunt for their next home, most real estate customers begin their search online. Search engine results are a huge potential source of traffic for your real estate website, which leads to fierce competition for the top positions in search rankings. That's where search engine optimization (SEO) enters the picture. SEO is one of the most powerful tools for growing your real estate firm online, but the complexity of SEO means that not everyone understands it. Let's take a look at these SEO tips to help your business attract more and better-quality leads online.
It's essential to ensure that the name, address, and phone number (NAP) of your brokerage or offices are formatted consistently wherever they're posted online. This includes other websites, directories, and social media, as well as your website. Google uses this information to check its data, and having accurate information will help your business's visibility in search. NAP consistency across the web signals legitimacy and increases the odds of your site ranking higher.
There are many inexpensive online tools that can help you manage this process, including MOZ Local and BrightLocal. Not only do these tools make it easy to manage your NAP, but they also help you distribute this information across a wide range of websites and search directories. Doing so generates more online visibility for your real estate firm, and provides more backlinks to your site.
Google My Business is a free tool from Google that walks you through the process of creating a profile for your brokerage or specific offices, allowing you to provide more detailed information in search results. Search users will be able to check your hours, location, reviews, and more without leaving the page. Ensure that your profile is accurate and up to date, filling in every relevant field with consistent formatting.
A better optimized Google My Business listing, in addition to having a consistent NAP across the web, increases your chances that your brokerage or specific offices appear in Google's "3-Pack" of local results. These are prominently featured local search results at the top of the page. Results in the 3-Pack are given more space than regular search results, which allows for more key details to entice prospects to click through to your site.
Online reviews are incredibly important for any real estate firm, and not just for the social proof that they provide about the quality of your services. Reviews also factor into your search ranking, and having a larger number of reviews is good for business. The more Google can learn about your business--and what customers think of your business--the better your position in search results will be. Be proactive in encouraging clients to leave reviews on your Google My Business profile.
In addition to boosting your ranking, your review "star-rating" can appear in search results. Prospects from every demographic rely on reviews to learn more about what businesses have to offer, and a high rating can result in more click-throughs to your website.
Keyword research will help you identify the right keywords and build a deeper understanding of how prospects search for real estate firms. You can conduct basic keyword research using the Google search bar by typing in terms and looking at the most popular suggested results. For more detailed research, set up a free Google Ads account and use the keyword search tool to determine which terms generate the most impressions. If a relevant term is generating significant impressions of ads related to real estate, then it's likely a good keyword for SEO as well. Google Trends (https://trends. google.com) is another resource that can be leveraged to see how different phrases are trending within Google search engine. It is important to note that some of the more competitive phrases may be more difficult to rank for depending on your market.
Strong competition makes ranking for terms like real estate or REALTOR® a challenge. With general terms like those, many people clicking search results are conducting research, rather than demonstrating interest in buying or selling a home. Long-tail keywords are those four- and five-word phrases that are very specific to your services, a specific neighborhood, or listing. Typically, people who are ready to buy or sell will choose more detailed search queries to find more relevant results.
This is an important area to focus on with your SEO strategy as long-tail keyword phrases can generate up to 50% of the organic traffic to your site. Adding more detailed neighborhood information on your site and optimizing your listing detail pages will help create more traffic from these long-tail search queries.
While keywords are important to SEO success, you don't want to sacrifice the quality of your content to cram in as many keywords as possible. Instead, it's best to use keywords organically and naturally, in content that is relevant to your audience. Being consistent with creating unique and engaging content is one of the pillars of successful online marketing, whether it's content posted to your blog, website, social media accounts, or all of the above.
When you create high-quality content on relevant real estate topics, you boost your SEO in a variety of ways. Content that is widely read and shared also increases the authority of your website as a whole. When Google views your website as an authoritative source on real estate topics, you will see more traffic come your way. In addition to real estate advice, focus on content that highlights the communities where you do business, which will improve traffic for long-tail searches, and help you reach prospects searching for homes in your market areas.
No matter which methods you choose to achieve your goals, it's helpful to remember that success with SEO takes time. There are no overnight tricks to reach the top of the rankings, so a long-term plan is critical to SEO success. The payoff, however, is more than worth the time and effort. With quality SEO, you have a constant source of traffic for your real estate website and fresh leads for your real estate firm.
As I write this article during the last week in March, we are deep in the throes of the Coronavirus pandemic. We are attempting to navigate the disruption that the virus is having on our daily lives and businesses. My hope is by the time you are reading this article, the disruption is in the rearview mirror, and everybody is getting back to normalcy.
Looking at online data for the first few months of the year, I felt that we were in store for another great year in real estate. Traffic and leads to our clients' sites were up over the previous year, and there was great momentum heading into the selling season. Unfortunately, the outbreak caused some to pause a bit, which was understandable.
Many times, events such as the Coronavirus outbreak push businesses out of their comfort zones of how they run their professional, as well as personal lives.
Disruption drives change, and I believe it was for the good. Delta Media Group, for example, always kicked around the idea of working remotely. One, because the software space is heading in that direction, and two, to allow us to pull from a larger pool of staffing talent from across the country. The trigger was never pulled on the initiative because there were always other pressing matters, and from a logistics and technology standpoint, it would be a challenge. Can you imagine the logistics involved in moving the phone systems and other communication tools for an entire tech support department to work remotely?
Welcome the Coronavirus, it challenged us to get it done. Hats off to Shane Rogal and Josh Ritz in our Systems Department, who stepped up to the challenge and made it happen. Our entire team, including tech support, was able to work remotely, and it was a seamless transition. I, for one, always thought working from home would be a challenge, but I had to step out of my comfort zone and found that I am more focused and get more accomplished versus being in the office.
Everyone faced those challenges. For example, teachers had to step out of their comfort zones to adopt new technology and processes for remote learning initiatives. Small business owners set up e-commerce storefronts or doubled down on their online strategies by investing in paid advertising to drive traffic to their existing online stores. Restaurants switched to carry out and delivery when dining areas were closed to inhibit the spread of the virus.
You, as real estate professionals, faced similar challenges. With social distancing being enforced, traditional networking opportunities were no longer an option. It was the perfect time to step up your game with social media. People used social media channels to not only stay up to date on breaking news but also to stay in touch with family and friends they couldn't see in person. It was a great time to get better with social media, grow your audience, and become the local expert.
Having the right tools at your disposal allows real estate firms and sales associates to react accordingly. Without them, it's difficult to stay the course and keep marketing your brand effectively. Here are a few tools found in our DeltaNET platform that are beneficial to firms and sales associates anytime, but especially during a crisis situation.
AS OPEN HOUSES AND SHOWINGS WERE PUT ON PAUSE BECAUSE OF COVID-19, associates hit the play button with Virtual Open Houses and Showings. Video Open Houses and Showings expand interest in a listing at any time. As many people practiced social distancing, video is a welcome respite from all too familiar surroundings. Plus, you don't have to be a videographer to create a great virtual tour.
In the early days of the outbreak, brokerages operating on thin margins were scared, and they expressed thoughts of trimming online marketing budgets or cutting them out altogether. I advised exercising great caution with that strategy. My opinion was that marketing is the last thing you'd want to chop, especially since the market usually recovers in times like that. I suggested looking at other areas of the business to cut before anything to do with an online marketing strategy. Marketing would be the absolute last area I'd consider. What happens when the market comes roaring back, but you have essentially disappeared online? That is a scenario that no brokerage wants to experience.
While the way back to calmer seas is going to take time, we all need to remain steadfast and stay focused on positioning our businesses for that recovery. We need to embrace the discomfort and look at it as positive.
CONTINUE TO HELP YOUR SALES ASSOCIATES WITH TRAINING, EDUCATION, AND PLANNING. Re-evaluate your online presence, clean up your contact list, and create email campaigns you're ready as the market ramps back up.
Ask any digital marketing expert, and you'll quickly learn that both search engine optimization (SEO) and pay-per-click advertising (PPC) can be effective digital marketing tactics for real estate. After all, a beautiful, information-rich, mobile-friendly real estate website is only an asset if your audience knows where to find it!
Both PPC and SEO are geared toward making sure your website shows up in a prime position in search engine results, but they are not created equal. Let's first take a closer look at the pros and cons of SEO and PPC to help you identify the most effective marketing approach for your real estate business.
While SEO does require time to see the best results, it's a reliable, proven method for increasing the visibility of your website. In looking at the data, it just makes sense that SEO should be an important part of your overall online strategy. According to Search Engine Journal, 93 percent of online experiences begin with a search engine. Organic search results receive 40 - 60 percent of the total click share depending on whether the user is on mobile or desktop. Compare that to the 4 – 5 percent total click share SparkToro says pay-per-click ads on Google typically garner. From my experience in actively working with over 100 real estate firms on their ongoing digital marketing strategies, the cost per SEO-generated lead is usually significantly less expensive and better qualified when compared to PPC-generated traffic and leads.
If you're new to SEO, it can be tough to get your head around many of the nuances in doing it properly. Results aren't instantaneous; it does take time for SEO efforts to ramp up as search engines crawl and index your site's pages. Patience is key as you commit to a long-term strategy with ROI down the line. Always remember that with SEO, you're at the mercy of the search engines. Changes to indexing algorithms can have an impact on your rankings, but with a solid SEO plan in place and working with an SEO firm with a proven history, those dips will usually be temporary.
The biggest benefit of pay-per-click advertising is that it provides immediate visibility on the first page of search results. This is important for real estate firms that want to, and will, pay for immediate exposure. In addition, it provides advanced end-user targeting, which will allow you to reach the right audience with increased precision. Finally, PPC has been around for years, so it's fairly easy to find competent people to help manage a campaign.
The biggest downside to PPC is the long-term investment: To remain competitive, PPC can be very expensive, especially in the real estate market. You're not only competing with your local competitors, but you also have the major portals and franchise sites that have (and will continue) to drive up the costs. For example, I have a client whose "cost per click" cost increased 55% in the last year alone. The impact has been felt even more since their ads were actually showing less, resulting in a decrease in traffic and leads.
If you're dependent on PPC, you have to determine when the expense outweighs the benefit. The significant long-term investment has led some providers to deploy tactics such as forced registration to inflate lead totals. Unfortunately, the results are a frustration for the consumer and the sales associates who are receiving low-quality leads. In many situations, real estate firms are being forced into PPC-focused strategies by third parties because of their lack of ability to execute SEO strategies for the firm. This is not a viable long-term strategy.
Another fairly significant downside is one mentioned above as an SEO pro. PPC ads only get 4 to 5 percent of the total click-through to your site, making it even more important that you have good quality ads showing up as much as possible.
What's Better For You?
PPC is a solid channel for traffic and lead generation if this your only option, especially if you are working with a tech provider that isn't good at SEO, and you have an adequate budget to work with. However, it doesn't come close to the traffic
SEO can generate when done properly. For example, one of our enterprise clients is spending nearly double on PPC advertising when compared to SEO, and the results are telling. They're spending $28 per lead for PPC advertising compared to $1.15 per lead through SEO, they also received eight times more organic traffic and 13 times more organic leads through SEO when compared to PPC over the course of 2019.
While it may feel like you have to make a choice between PPC and SEO, the truth is that the most successful real estate businesses will see the best marketing results by combining SEO and PPC strategies. If you're relatively new to digital marketing or haven't prioritized SEO in the past, then PPC is a great way to temporarily bridge the gap while building your website's SEO footprint. At the same time, if your SEO is already in a good place, then PPC can still be a very effective tool when you want to target a specific group of prospects or stretch your influence into a new area.
No matter which option(s) you choose, find a competent partner to help you make your plan a reality. Unfortunately, many companies will claim they know SEO, but typically it's a bunch of buzz words being thrown around in the attempt to make you think they know what they're doing. The best partner will help you understand your metrics and what you're getting from the investment you're making, and how SEO and PPC are impacting your bottom line.