Real Estate Developers Need Web Marketing Strategy

Much has been written in 2006 about the shift in real estate marketing and classified ad listings on the Web. In June, Borrell Associates released a report predicting that by 2010, the Web would account for 32.1 percent of all real estate ad spending, reaching $3 billion. This is paltry compared to the $11 billion spent in 2005 on total real estate advertising. The study notes a large disparity between where buyers are spending their time (77 percent used the Web as the primary source) and where agents spend their ad budgets (only 15 percent of agents placed ad dollars online). In October, the Kelsey Group released a similar study.

A March 2006 Borell Associates report notes that despite being slow to embrace the Web, Realtor spending online actually led all local search spend. It cautions, “Of all the advertising segments ripe for change, the real estate market might seem so ripe as to be nearly rotten,” especially with the rapid increase of “free” listing sites that could collapse the $6 billion print classifieds business on which too many agents now rely.

Real estate brokers and agents merely selling homes muddle through implementing fairly straightforward online marketing tactics, but real estate developers have more to consider. Both residential and commercial developers have different online marketing objectives and issues than real estate agents.

Developers are trying to build brand and hype, for both themselves and their projects, often even before ground is broken on a project. If it’s a residential project, they’re trying to market to multiple audiences (both the tenant or home owner, and the real estate agent) with different marketing considerations. Retail commercial developers have similar concerns, but they also have to consider their projects’ ongoing marketing to attract customers to the location. Finally, many real estate developers market to a third audience: the investment community.

Perhaps because of the tricky mix of objectives, or because development projects typically take longer to create and sell than single-family homes, developers are even further behind on Web marketing. They’re uncertain whether to build slick, glossy sites with clever tools, or build functional sites and dedicate more dollars to online advertising and marketing. Many are certainly considering search marketing, but few seem to understand search engine optimization takes time, perhaps longer even than the life of the project. That makes a less viable tactic.

The good news for real estate developers is there are so many opportunities with Web marketing they have almost no where to go but up. For starters, they can compete with the rest of the real estate industry with paid and local search, but it shouldn’t just be about banal keywords. These development projects are often created with a certain type of lifestyle, niche, or attribute in mind. It’s what separates the community or building from its neighbors. For search marketing, the real estate developers must identify and play on those characteristics in their keyword selections. They should use adjectives and active verbs, not just “apartments in New York.”

Since these projects take time to complete, it’s critical to develop an end-to-end qualified lead-generation and follow-up strategy. Attracting leads, be it through search, listings directories, aggregator sites, or display advertising on lifestyle or other affinity Web sites, only initiates the process.

Often overlooked are using repeated calls to action, simplifying the lead-generation process, and databasing leads into a robust CRM (define) system that allows for lead segmentation. E-mail marketing, via opt-in e-mail list rental or in-house e-mail list cultivation, must be part of the equation. Cross-marketing properties both on site and via e-mail should be done, and call-tracking systems that help marry online visits with call-in leads should be used. Dabbling in social media applications like blogs or podcasts can also be effective on-site marketing tools, while hip, urban blog sites like Curbed might attract the younger buyer.

As the June Borrell report warns, “The biggest issue for real estate professionals now is how to adjust the dials of their marketing expenditures. That’s not as easy as scaling back newspaper or magazine spending and increasing Internet advertising.”

There’s definitely a lot more that can be done.

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