If you want to know how to survive – and thrive – amid the 21st century digital marketing disruption, take a page out of the playbooks of Lori Ballen and Cal Carter. These Keller Williams associates are generating qualified Internet leads with a few dollars and a little elbow grease.
Ballen, founder of The Ballen Group in Las Vegas, Nev., sold nearly 65 homes in 2014 using a combination of digital marketing strategies like press release distribution and content development to improve search engine optimization (SEO) and Website rankings. The Ballen Group also has a growing social media presence that contributes to 200 leads a month at no cost.
“We have to be where the consumer is – online,” Ballen says. “We have to have what they want – products, home values and information. And we need to be available when they finally do need us. SEO is about first learning how people search, determining what type of product they want, and then dominating the search engine page results so consumers find us again and again.”
Ballen boasts more than 1,000 No. 1 ranking terms, such as “Summerlin real estate agent,” “Las Vegas short sale agent,” and “the vistas Summerlin.” With such a strong SEO showing, it’s no surprise that all of Ballen’s leads are Web-driven. About 23 percent come from property portals, while more than threequarters come via content marketing. This focused strategy has reduced her marketing costs from about $1,500 a month to $200 a month. Essentially, she pays about $1 a lead.
“I use a lot of photo and video – both for the consumer and for search. I title the images and videos around the topic I am creating the piece for,” Ballen explains. “Video ranks faster on page one of Google and stays for a longer period of time than much of your content can. I have a video on page one of Google focused on sellers that has been there since 2011. That’s what great optimization will do for you with media.”
Diverse Digital Strategies
Most of Ballen’s pay-per-click budget goes to Facebook ads generated to offer home values in Summerlin or other hyperlocal communities, but she prefers not to invest heavily in paid advertising because free strategies like SEO and press releases offer stronger ROI. As she sees it, Google is changing the way it values press releases because the distribution has become “spammy” with too many people tossing out 300-word articles and calling them news just to gain rankings. But she still finds value in the strategy.
“We issue a press release every time we have a closing, win an award, donate, are involved in a big event or make a new hire – sometimes several times a week,” she says. “Our press releases are about 750 words and always full of statistics and valuable information with proven results. Our press releases show the seller – or buyer – that we solve problems and get results.”
Ballen started over four years ago with no money and no help, so she understands the challenges associated with launching a digital strategy with a small team. Her advice: hire ghostwriters from sites like CrowdContent. com or Ghostbloggers.net to take on the Website content, blogs and press releases. You can even check with a local college about hiring an intern.
“It’s hard to hold the direct activity responsible for ROI because it’s part of an overall strategy,” Ballen says. “I used to create my own content. I didn’t start hiring it out until we had it in the marketing budget to do so. It must be in your budget. Period. And then the strategy has to be held to whatever your ROI standards are. Going forward, search will become more social, bringing in the social networks to give authority to the influencers and content creators, in my opinion. Social media this year has actually passed search for me in closed volume.”
The Conversion Funnel
Carter averages about 45 leads a day – up to 100 a day in the high season – via just one of his Websites. He has two additional Websites that generate about half that volume. Most of his landing pages are specific to subdivisions and condominium complexes.
“We attract lots of buyers,” Carter says. “I haven’t cracked the code for getting sellers from the Internet, but I’m pretty sure it is more of a script problem and not working our database properly to find them.” Carter notes that several years ago he created landing pages constantly but has since shifted his strategy to improving his conversion rate. He has learned this lesson:
[Tweet "Although templates are fine for landing pages, original content is king. - Cal Carter @kwri"]
“One would be foolish not to map out a thought process to quickly and efficiently cover a lot of ground with a template of some sort,” Carter says. “Likewise, it would be foolish for someone with a template to start stamping out a bunch of garbage that will end up shooting them in the foot.”
Carter once spent more than 160 hours a month on the site and content. He hasn’t created any new content in about two years. The site is now on autopilot because it’s working so well that he doesn’t want to rock the boat. “I have more to fear from breaking something that works than I do from not adding more leads,” he says. “We can just handle the numbers we have now, why get more? We need to first fix the conversion funnel before getting more.”
In terms of tracking performance of landing pages, Carter, who handles Web administration on his own, doesn’t have time to get that granular, so he pulls back and focuses on the overall Website. At a glance, he can tell if return visits are down and work to determine the root cause. He calls the ROI “infinite” because he invested mostly sweat equity to build his Internet kingdom.
Google Is Your Friend
On the social media front, Carter doesn’t have much time for Twitter anymore. He finds Pinterest intriguing and leverages it, but admits he just doesn’t get it. Carter focuses most of his social media energy on Facebook. He has developed a formula that works: 80 percent social activity and 20 percent or less business. This strategy offers him “infinite” ROI because there’s no upfront financial investment.
“If you aren’t going to socialize on Facebook, then don’t go throw your business at people – it is wrong-minded,” he advises. “Facebook has been a huge part of my growth by connecting me with big thinkers in multiple Facebook Groups,” Carter says. “It was a big part of getting me into Recruit-Select and Fierce Conversations.”
His advice for agents just getting started building a real estate business and building a Website: Invest in real-time analytics so you can see what works and what doesn’t, and consider Google your friend when it comes to developing your Internet strategy.
“If you love it, all the answers are out there. Google will help you find your answer. There is no quick fix, easy fix or magic bullet,” Carter says. “If you love it, do it and keep doing it. If you don’t, find someone who does and help them with their problem, which is going to be conversions – become the best of the best of converters with the best of the best lead generators.”