Thursday, October 26, 2006

White Paper Part IV - Online Branding


Traditionally, the best source of advertising for a real estate brokerage is the ‘for sale’ yard sign. It brands the agent and the brokerage in the specific neighborhood. Search sites are now providing a new and similar branding opportunity online through the broker’s listings. Sites like, Trulia and Point2 Homes provide different branding options for displaying listings. In short, the more sites your listings are posted on, and the more sites they are branded on, the stronger your brand will be online. Considering the shear volume of consumers researching real estate online, branding on the Internet should be just as important to brokerages as offline branding.

Unfortunately, few brokerages are taking full advantage of the different ways they can today brand themselves on the Internet. Service providers offering syndication tools should facilitate the different branding options as well.

Effective online branding can be optimized further by enhancing online exposure for the brokerage website as well as its affiliated agent sites.

There are several common brokerage models in as far as agent websites are concerned:

Centralized Model - Some brokerages choose to operate one website and focus all their marketing efforts on it. Agents affiliated with the company are not permitted to have their own websites. Brokerages that provide their agents with a web page, directory, or 3rd level domain name derived from the main brokerage site fall under this category. The main benefits of this model include the brokerage’s ability to protect and control its online branding, control lead generation and management, and effectively manage its responsiveness in the marketplace.

But these benefits come at a price. The major draw back is that the brokerage ends up losing important search engine visibility advantages. A number of well marketed, interlinked websites that connect the brokerage’s main site with all of its affiliate agent sites is easy to set up and maximizes visibility and exposure on search engines. Such a system optimizes search engine rankings for both the broker site as well its agents’, turning the network into a highly competitive online exposure and lead generation engine that delivers significant, incremental benefits to the entire organization.

In-House Service Provider Model - Some franchises and real estate companies offer agent website solutions that are free standing, and typically not directly linked to the brokerage site. The benefits of this model is that the website solution can be a revenue source for the company, provided development and support costs are manageable. The obvious downside is that few companies invest enough into these technologies to keep their agent solutions on the leading edge. They suffer in their visibility, flexibility and lead handling capabilities.

De-Centralized Model - Other brokerages choose to operate a website of their own but give their agents the option to have their own separate website irrespective of whether they use the same service provider or not. This is the more common model, especially for smaller brokerages. Companies like RE/MAX where agents largely operate as independent contractors also use this model. The main draw back from this model, which is a source of pain for many brokerages we have spoken with is that it does not allow the brokerage to control how its brand is represented online.

On the other hand, some of the benefits this approach delivers is more personal marketing freedom for agents, and linkage between sites, which is valuable for enhancing search engine rankings and exposure for everyone involved.

With this approach being the most popular, many brokerages who deploy this model face more challenges over and above controlling the consistency of their branding online, namely:

1) How to maximize online exposure by leveraging website linkage;
2) How to streamline and manage the lead management process between the brokerage and its affiliate agent sites; and,
3) How to ensure the solution remains ahead of the innovation curve to benefit from its technological advantages as well as its value as a recruitment and retention tool

A proven model is to provide agents with a quality template website solution that gives them personal marketing and positioning flexibility, yet reflects the brokerage’s branding accurately and professionally. When distributed to agents, the sites would link to the brokerage site, right out of the box. The benefits are far reaching and go beyond brand control and natural search optimization. Distributing a strong agent solution is also empowering for the brokerage, as it can be a valuable top talent recruitment and retention tool.

An important footnote is in check at this point. Although providing strong template solutions can be a very sound strategy, there are no easy ways around work that must be done in order for it to be effective. Agents cannot all be provided with websites that feature the same canned content. Each agent must customize their site and add unique, timely and relevant content, in order to optimize search engine positioning for the entire organization. An innovative way to help achieve this goal is to provide agents with websites that incorporate blogging functionality.

Where a template solution may have a few canned pages such as an ‘About the Company’ page, home valuation and home search forms, the focus of the sites should be the agent listings, which are all different and, ideally, blog content.

Blogging not only promotes unique content but also benefits the site from the long tail of search (Broad Search terms) and the linking benefits blogs inherently bring to the mix.


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