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6 Ways to Market Yourself on the Internet/Users/adamp/Desktop/SolutionsGuide08/images/market_yourself

From Web commercials to innovative ways to use bulletin boards, we’ve got six cost-effective ways for you to market yourself online.

The Internet can be a great opportunity or a vast wasteland depending on just how much time, money and effort is put into developing a Web presence and combining it with add-ons like blogs, online videos, e-newsletters and other technologies that help deepen the customer experience. But how do you know where to allocate your valuable time, energy and money online?

Here are six places to consider as you shape your own Internet sales strategy:

Jump into Online Video
 Christian Frazier started using online videos, or Web commercials, to sell properties on the Web about a year ago and hasn’t looked back since. “It’s more engaging to prospective homebuyers than a standard virtual tour,” says Frazier, a sales associate with Century 21 Real Estate Professionals in Orlando. “I wanted to ride the wave of popularity of [sites such as] YouTube.com by using video to expose my listings to a different audience,” he says.

Frazier did that, and then some, adding elements like music to his online video presentations. Frazier loads the videos to Yahoo!, Google, YouTube, Century21.com and his own Web site, www.christiansellshomes.com. He says he gets the most video views from his personal Web site because that’s the site he promotes the most.

Some of the videos have been viewed more than 2,100 times each, and “buyers contact us all the time because of these videos,” says Frazier, who spends 30 to 60 minutes putting each video together. “The first couple of videos may take some time to get used to navigating through the software [Microsoft Movie Maker and Photo Story].”

He also loads the videos onto his PDA to show to prospective buyers while he’s on the road and burns the videos to DVDs to pass out.
 
Frazier says he drives traffic to his videos through URLs on his postcards, fliers and e-mail blasts. “We have subscribers who get the new videos [via e-mail] as soon as we post them,” says Frazier. “Whenever we do trade shows, we have videos of our listed homes playing.”

In return for an investment in a digital camera (which takes both still pictures and video) and the Windows Movie Maker and Photo Story software, Frazier says, he gets more exposure for his listings and an additional selling point for his listing presentations. “A few hundred dollars has translated into thousands of additional dollars in commissions annually,” says Frazier. “If I only close one additional deal per year, the solution has paid for itself.”

Write a Blog
Real estate professionals have been using online blogs (posting news, their opinions, latest listings and more on a Web site for all to read) for several years now to beef up their technology toolboxes and reach more customers. Blogs combine text, images and links to other blogs, Web sites and additional content related to a specific topic.

John Elwell, a sales associate with Century 21 Bill Nye Realty in Zephyrhills, set up his blog in November 2006 and started getting four to five hits a day. That number has increased substantially over the last few months to about 70 to 100. “I initially set it up to create a greater Web presence for myself, but since each post creates its own address, it’s like sticking signs up all over the place [particularly on search engines], rather than just one sign in front of the office,” says Elwell. “It becomes much more likely that a potential customer will have my name pop up when … conducting [online] searches.”

Elwell typically updates his blog several times a week, using news releases and original content to fill categories created for buyers, sellers, insurance issues, property tax matters, general real estate and “my homes for sale.” The results have been significant, according to Elwell, who says his listings now easily come up in Google and Yahoo! searches—an improvement that’s resulted in a higher volume of Internet leads.

Blogs are simple to set up (using a service like Blogger.com, e.g.), cost next to nothing to maintain and can be updated with just a few text paragraphs on a regular basis (ideally, four to five times a week). Sales associates can place blogs on their own Web sites, complete with home photos and listing links.

Leverage the Listing Portals
Listing portals are coming out of the woodwork these days, leaving real estate professionals wondering how they can maximize these new online entrants to the market. Trulia.com and Zillow.com, to name a few, offer myriad products and services to sales associates looking to beef up their own Web sites.

Jamie Schaefer, a sales associate with Keller Williams Realty in St. Petersburg, started posting her listings for free on Zillow about six months ago, after one of her investor clients informed her that there were several properties of interest on the site. Schaefer also uses the expert feature, which allows her to comment on specific homes and point her buyers to comments being made about those homes by other real estate professionals.

Schaefer says she likes the fact that Zillow posts its own estimated value for each listing, thus substantiating the asking price on homes that are priced well. “I’ve had several listings come in under the Zillow estimate, which makes them that much more attractive to potential buyers,” says Schaeffer. “In this market, every little bit helps.”

Zillow also allows sales associates to contribute to its “Tell us it’s for sale” feature, through which anyone can submit information about homes for sale in their neighborhoods. “We show where that information came from, once again giving the agent exposure to consumers who may be interested in the home,” says Jeff Somers of Zillow.com. “And while you don’t get the same advertisement that a listing agent would get, you do get to show people that you know the neighborhood.”

Joe Dallorso posts his listings on craigslist.org. “I started using it as soon as it came to Ocala earlier this year,” says Dallorso, a sales associate with Keller Williams Realty. He posts all his listings on the site and reposts the still-active ones every two weeks.
Through his personal Web site, Dallorso tracks referrers and views “click throughs” on a daily basis. “The best part is that it’s free, and once you’ve done one ad you can cut and paste renewals,” says Dallorso.

Distribute an Online Newsletter
Why pore over newsletter designs and content every month or quarter when you can outsource the whole task to a third party for a reasonable fee? That’s what Marilyn Farber Jacobs asked herself a few years ago after realizing how much time she was spending on her biweekly e-newsletters and e-alerts. This sales associate with Lang Realty in Boca Raton chose MyHomeManagementClub.com as her provider, using the company’s products to stay in touch with her 1,700-plus list of prospective customers and clients.

Jacobs personalizes each newsletter by writing the introduction, and then chooses content from a slew of real estate–related topics. The newsletters are sent to Jacobs’ e-mail list monthly, providing her customers (past, current and prospective) with valuable real estate information as well as links to streaming videos and more.

Jacobs likes being able to track responses to her newsletters, and says she’s had nearly 1.5 million hits to her site as a result of using the online correspondence. “I’m viewed as a prime source of information for real estate matters, and this enhances my reputation and that of my agency,” says Jacobs, who spends about a half hour every two weeks writing the newsletter introduction and then offloads the rest of the work to the third party. “It keeps my name in front of my community and presents a positive image,” she says.

Pay-per-Click Advertising
Randy Chapman knows that trying to market a single home on the Internet is a lot like floating on a raft in the middle of the ocean, hoping to be found. That’s why this sales associate with RE/MAX Connection in Vero Beach has taken a more targeted approach to the Internet by going after numerous geographical niches. “The goal is to turn Web searchers into clients,” says Chapman, who uses Yahoo! and Google pay per click and submits his site and listings to Trulia, Yahoo! Real Estate and Google Real Estate.

Chapman uses 10 different URLs targeted for a particular geographic area. All lead to the same Web site. For example, www.VeroUSA.com, www.FortPierceUSA.com and HarbourIsleResales.com all lead to www.RandyJChapman.com.

Search spiders also pick up certain phrases from Chapman’s home page:  “Riverfront Island Property—new construction resales from $120/sf,” “First Time Buyers Programs” or “No or Low Cost Downpayment Programs” all either help placement not only on Yahoo! but also on homegain.com, city-data.com and Ask.com.

According to Chapman, both Google and Yahoo! have short-term descriptions in their sponsored advertising. “Since the idea is to have an individual Web browser click through, many of my sponsored ads include the phrase, ‘Search the MLS. No registration or private data required,’” says Chapman, who adds that after nearly three years of requiring registration to use his IDX search, he decided to go with this new approach. “Now, when a customer registers, it’s because they want to interact with me.”

He compares the site to an Internet-based open house: while it may bring customers through the door, the likelihood of closing the sale is slim. By focusing on the community (such as Vero Beach), Chapman says, he can tap secondary marketing points that aren’t limited to a specific home or condo.

Community Forums
Scott Daniels is never one to shy away from new technology. Consider online community bulletin boards, which he started using to connect with other real estate professionals in 2004. He says it’s a great way to share ideas with other real estate professionals, earn referrals and network.

As broker of Florida List for Less Realty Inc., in Cooper City, Daniels currently uses the free bulletin boards on ActiveRain.com, Landbroker.com, Agentsonline.com and Zillow.com to compare notes with other professionals, to fill positions at his three offices and to attract both buyers and sellers.

 “I use them every day,” says Daniels, who invests two to three hours a day in the strategy. “It’s worth the time,” he says, as he gets an average of three referrals (both buyers and sellers) a week. Daniels logs on each day and writes about his real estate experiences, current market conditions, best strategies for buying or selling a home, and his current listings.

“Tons of people read my articles and want me to either help them purchase a home here, or list their homes, based on what I’m writing,” says Daniels, who recently received an online bulletin board referral from a sales associate in North Carolina whose daughter needed a sales associate to help her sell a home in Ocala. “People definitely read what I’m writing.”
    
 Bridget McCrea is a Clearwater-based freelance writer.