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Box web solution versus self-hosted website: Rent versus own?

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Virtually on a daily basis we’re asked directly if a self-hosted real estate website is better than an out of box solution such as Active Rain or Posterous, and we directly answer, practically speaking, it is a rent versus own debate.

The setup

This debate spans back as many as five years as I’m aware and probably longer as msn blogs and other major brands offered this type of solution even before that. Personally, I’m not opposed to sites that offer this type of solution at all. I’m sure you’re shocked, but you have to look at boxed solutions for what they are. Simply put, they’re networks, or evolving networks in the case of Posterous. They’re also better results for your name in search terms when you consider you may be competing with many many Bob Smiths for a first page result in Google, or God forbid your name is Justin Timberlake. These solutions seen as networks are a choice, the same as Twitter versus Facebook. But who says you can only have one?

Let’s play Monopoly

The cons to a solution for your direct business however, is tantamount to depending on your Facebook fan page to be your business website. It is in fact only truly one facet of a complete web strategy. Links from your Facebook fan page should pull (push outward) to your actual business solution, what we would consider the actual web property that you own, not rent.

Being in control of your business in every possible way is critical when you consider cost of investment. It’s more than an ability to add a personalized domain name, in fact, that’s the least of your worries. What you as a real estate practitioner should be concerned with is the ability to control completely the presentation of content along with strategic capture solutions.

Another con is that your social web presences are in fact at the mercy of the provider. A inadvertent infraction could render your account suspended and deleted in most cases with very little remedy. You’re also at the mercy of network failures beyond your control with not a peep from your provider. Have you ever seen a 1-800 number for Google or Facebook? I haven’t, and you won’t, unless you’re paying for service. Free solutions also have a habit of becoming not free anymore, or ad supported. You may be able to pay your way out of ad support, but the service is no longer free. It begins to get even more insane when you’ve been with a network for years, have years of content generated, only to find it behind a pay wall. Depressing, right?

Questions you’re asking yourself

In your position asking the question of rent versus own, I would consider your budget. If your budget is zero as a new agent, then obviously, there’s a lot you can do with a free solution when you consider that having some web presence is better than none, and having a presence within some or all new media spaces (ie. ActiveRain, Posterous) is a positive. Ultimately, however, as a business owner you should be working towards a solution that is completely within your control. Your SEO is critical to your success, and specificity within your community as a result is crucial.

So again, out of the box solutions put in the proper perspective are advantageous tools for the real estate agent, but what is even more advantageous is your ability to scale your brand. As your business grows, as does your service offering with innovative search, and strategic marketing capture.

Scaling your business

The ability to add pages to your site and actually grow teams or even a brokerage come into play as a necessity as well. For example, do you have the ability to create a team page with all of the members of your team? Can you add the latest and greatest in IDX, or go even further with a full on consumer facing search solution? Can you partition the box solution for buyers and sellers? Or are you limited to only a forward facing blog site with no landing page to direct traffic? In some markets standard forward facing blogs under perform in comparison to general landing pages. Meeting the needs and level of your demographic is crucial to your success as a brand in the realm of conversion.

I know in our profession that the rent versus own debate is simple when we present it to our home buyers and sellers, but sometimes I wonder if we listen to our own advice and guidance? In most cases it boils down to the cobblers kid, doesn’t it?

Question for our savvy commentators

I pose this question to the self-hosted readers of AgentGenius Magazine: What are the pros and cons you to see to the rent versus own debate?

Benn Rosales is the Founder and CEO of The American Genius (AG), national news network for tech and entrepreneurs, proudly celebrating 10 years in publishing, recently ranked as the #5 startup in Austin. Before founding AG, he founded one of the first digital media strategy firms in the nation and also acquired several other firms. His resume prior includes roles at Apple and Kroger Foods, specializing in marketing, communications, and technology integration. He is a recipient of the Statesman Texas Social Media Award and is an Inman Innovator Award winner. He has consulted for numerous startups (both early- and late-stage), has built partnerships and bridges between tech recruiters and the best tech talent in the industry, and is well known for organizing the digital community through popular monthly networking events. Benn does not venture into the spotlight often, rather believes his biggest accomplishments are the talent he recruits, develops, and gives all credit to those he's empowered.

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16 Comments

16 Comments

  1. James Malanowski

    July 9, 2010 at 1:24 am

    With the cost of web hosting being so cheap it is foolish not to own your content. AR and others have their place but everything should lead back to the source … your own hub.

  2. Ken Brand

    July 9, 2010 at 7:39 am

    I agree with the “own your own” philosophy. Which, fundamentally is about controlling your own Personal Brand, and independence.

    Like everything else of value, it will cost you more. Maybe a little more money if you can DIY, more if you have to hire help to get yourself set up and running. More time as you learn how to navigate, and populate your new HQ.

    My 2cents added to an informative article.

    Cheers

  3. Matthew Rathbun

    July 9, 2010 at 8:43 am

    Benn,

    I like the entire framework of this post (25 points, please)… Seriously I do like the way you setup the question and made me think a bit.

    Benefits (for me) of Self Hosted:

    ~I went self-hosted because I’m a control-freak.

    ~I don’t think you can truly understand anything until you’ve tinkered with it and seen it develop from the ground up.

    ~I don’t have to worry about adding content for a few years and then the hosting site start to charge me to keep up with it

    ~If I don’t like the layout, I have total control to redevelop and relaunch in a different direction

    ~I add my self-hosted content to Posterous and the rest, but ultimately I try to make my blogs the hub for all the other channeled material. Posterous and others help build a following to my site and not the other way around.

  4. Sophia

    July 9, 2010 at 2:29 pm

    I think its less about brand and more about asking what it actually is that you want from your page.
    I read a report recently that said that even the big guys only have a 2-3% conversion rates on their websites and for the average real estate business this wouled be closer to 1%.

    Having an all singing, all dancing website is fantastic, but what you really want is lead generation, so you can start the relationship that leads to a sale. Landing pages (which you could have in wordpress or using software like Open Road or Freedomsoft) just do the job better. Clear, direct calls to action focus the propsect and makes it far more likely to become a lead (the same report said conversion rates for landing pages are closed to 20-40%).

    It also depends on whether you are looking to have your page purely as information or you are looking to make online sales. If you are not looking for online lead generation, I would reconsider to be honest! If you are really determined to have your own site self made I would advise a couple of things.

    -really, really know what you want, I wanted a website which had a matching component within it which needed some fairly complex technical aspects, the local company really screwed it up to be honest and a big part of the problem was that I was totally unclear about what I wanted.

    -get technical architecture done, first if they are worth their money your technical architect will give you advice on what could be done more cheaply, or in a different way. The second version of the above website cost me about $3000 for technical architecture and $3000 for website, in comparison to the $15,000 the first website cost. Make them give you at least 3 different options and include future proofing elements.

    -consider going half and half, get a website built, but use plug ins that can easily be updated, this can cut down on costs.

    Just to repeat myself, really, really know what you want, if you do not know, there is no way someone can produce it for you.

    Having gone through the whole cycle I actually use Open Road now and as I do most of my business online suits me much better, it also has lots of systems to help you with online lead generation and the realtionship building parts. They are having a re-launch at the moment with lots of bonuses, so its a good time to check it out if you are looking to switch into mostly online sales, or are considering the in-a-box own website debate. Here’s the link, simsprofits.com/webinarvid/

    Hope this was helpful!

  5. Chris Lengquist

    July 25, 2010 at 9:52 pm

    I just use the AR and a couple others to drive to my owned sites. And to use their PRs, of course. 🙂

    Take care my friend.

  6. Nick Nymark

    July 30, 2010 at 8:52 pm

    Hosting is cheap, and many domain names available. I think getting your own website is definitely the way to go.

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Business Marketing

A personalized daily digital marketing checklist

(MARKETING NEWS) For all businesses, it is not only essential to develop an digital marketing strategy, but also necessary to utilize it in order to gain customers, and ultimately make a larger profit. This app can help.

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clearpath digital marketing

There is no doubt that starting your own business can be overwhelming. Along with promoting your business at events, meetings and in person, digital marketing strategies play a key role in the success of a company. For all businesses, it is not only essential to develop an online presence, but also necessary to utilize it in order to gain customers, and ultimately make a larger profit.

Simply creating a website and Facebook page for your business is not enough. However, software tools can help simplify digital marketing. ClearPath is a tool that organizes and creates tasks to optimize your online marketing. By creating to-do lists for you based on your online marketing strategy, you can focus on the areas of marketing that improve your business, all the while receiving useful tips and advice.

Using ClearPath is pretty straightforward and only requires one prerequisite. Before beginning, you must have a website.

If you are already lost, don’t panic. ClearPath can help you develop an online presence. Once your website is linked up, you get to choose the marketing channels that you would like to focus on. These include Search Engine Optimization (SEO), email, social, content, analytics, local, pay-per-click (PPC) and Conversion Rate Optimization (CRO). Again, if you are lost, ClearPath is there to help you strategize.

After ClearPath analyzes your site, they start sending you customized tasks based they believe can improve your online marketing.

As you finish each task, you can simply check it off and it will disappear. New tasks will appear each day, and some may even repeat as they need to be updated.

Whether you are well-versed in digital marketing or not, staying updated with the newest ways to optimize your business online is a constant struggle. Tools like ClearPath give people a place to start. Although I don’t think it can supplement an active and experienced digital marketer, it is a tool that can help small businesses that cannot afford to add to their team yet. At the end of the day, it aims to save you time. And since time is money, your business will hopefully be more profitable.

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What you absolutely *must* know about digital marketing in 2019

(MARKETING) Because you have a pulse, you know you should be focused on digital marketing, but if you haven’t been, this guide will get you up to speed quickly!

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social media digital marketing

Justin Staples is an entrepreneur who specializes in providing businesses with results-driven SEO, custom web design, and content development. Below, he offers a modern guide for any business to ensure their efforts are modernized and effective:

Growing a successful business is anything but easy.

If you want your business to scale, you need more than a good product or service. You’ll also need tried-and-tested processes to deal with anything from sourcing products, managing employees, dealing with customers, and more.

Beyond that, you also need to figure out how you can reach as broad of a customer base as possible, and that comes down to marketing.

There are a thousand ways to market your business. However, every day that passes, digital channels become more important. Now more than ever, customers are more likely to look up products online before spending a single dollar.

If you’re not familiar with the concept of digital (or online) marketing, now’s a great time to learn some basics, so let’s get to it.

A Quick Introduction to Digital Marketing:

Every type of promotional activity that involves electronic devices falls under the banner of digital marketing. However, some online channels are far more important than others when it comes to promoting your business.

Social media is the easiest example. Unless you’re a hermit, almost everyone you know probably uses it.

Perhaps the best thing about digital marketing is it enables you to reach a far broader audience than old-school approaches – such as handing out flyers, magazine ads, and others.

If you run a local business, you can use online marketing to gain customers from all over the country, and even the world (depending on what you’re selling!). It all comes down to choosing the right channels.

10 Must-Knows of Digital Marketing in 2019:

In this section, we’ll walk you through the key terms you must know to get started with online marketing and some of the best channels you can focus on.

Keep in mind – some businesses will find more success in some channels than others, and it all depends on who your audience is. By the time we’re through, you’ll have all the information you need to make some important decisions!

1. Framework

Throwing money at marketing without a plan might work, but it’s not a sustainable or scalable approach.

To reap the full benefits of online marketing, you need a framework, which is a fancy name for a business plan. Here’s what it should outline:

• What your goals are (i.e., finding new leads, getting more traffic, sales, etc.)?
• Who is your audience?
• What online channels will you focus on?
• How much money do you plan to spend?
• What process will you use for tracking your results?

Frameworks are the basis of a great online marketing strategy. By laying out all that information, you’ll gain insight into why some marketing approaches work while others fail.

2. Brand Story

Branding is essential for any business. It enables you to establish relationships and build trust with your audience, which can help transform them into customers and keep them around.

The concept of branding is often very vague, but you can boil down what your brand is by answering a few simple questions:

• Who are your ideal customers?
• What problem do you help those clients solve?
• How do you want your audience to perceive you?

To put it another way, the products and services you offer may be at the core of your business. However, it’s your branding, web design, and the value you bring to your customers that determines what they think about you.
Before you embark on any marketing endeavor, you need to have a clear idea of what your brand is or what you want it to be. That way, you’ll be able to keep things consistent throughout every channel.

3. Traffic Acquisition and Conversions

When it comes to online marketing, we often don’t talk about sales, sign-ups, or leads. Instead, we refer to those things as “conversions.”

The more traffic you can drive to your website using digital channels, the more potential conversions you get. Those conversions might not always lead directly to sales, but ideally, they’ll get you one step closer to that finish line.

At the end of the day, the value of your services is what convinces visitors to become clients. Digital marketing is just the set of processes you use to get them in the door.

4. Paid Ads

Most online channels enable you to pay in exchange for traffic. That includes social media platforms, search engines, websites, and more.

Depending on which channel you use, you’ll be able to run different types of ads. Usually, you’ll pay for clicks, impressions, or more specific interactions.

In online marketing, we refer to groups of paid ads as “campaigns.” Ideally, you’ll test different campaigns across marketing channels, figure out what works, and then scale upwards to get more conversions.

5. Email Marketing

When it comes to digital marketing, email is king.

Almost 90% of online marketers use it as their primary channel. That’s no coincidence, either – email marketing offers an average ROI of 4400%, and that’s not a typo.

To reap the full benefits of email marketing, you’ll need to build up a sizable list of subscribers and develop engaging campaigns. It’s a ton of work, but the numbers speak for themselves.

6. Live Chat

If you take a quick look at some of your favorite websites, we’re willing to bet a lot of them have live chat windows.

Nowadays, live chat is by far the most popular channel for customers to communicate with you. In fact, 44% of visitors say having someone that can answer their questions directly is a big factor deciding whether to make a purchase.

Once someone gets to your website, it’s your job to explain what your products and services can do for them. The best way to do that, by far, is telling them yourself, and live chat provides you with a channel that enables you to do that.

7. Affiliate Marketing

Think about affiliate marketing as a commission program for the digital age. In short, businesses that run affiliate programs pay end-users or marketers to promote their products.

These days, affiliate marketing drives over 16% of all e-commerce sales, which is a staggering figure. If you can set up an attractive affiliate program, it can become a cornerstone of your digital marketing strategy.

8. SEO

If you’re trying to grow an online business, then you need to learn how to love search engine optimization (SEO).

Search engines can make or break websites. If your business shows up on a high position in the search engine result pages (SERPs) for popular terms, they can drive massive amounts of traffic to your website.

The problem is, there’s no magic formula when it comes to SEO. What you can do is follow best practices, which evolve all the time as search engines refine their algorithms.
SEO involves a lot of trial and error, but it’s key to the growth of most – if not all – online businesses.

9. Public Relations (PR)

If you want to get people talking about your business, one of the best ways to do it is through good old-fashioned PR.

Traditional press releases, for example, can drum up a lot of interest if you can get attention from publications with a big following.

Nowadays, there are a lot of online tools you can use to build relationships, with leading online publications. What that means is that in 2019, you don’t need the help of a PR firm to get the word about your business out there.

10. Social Media

As a marketer, the only thing you need to know about social media is that almost 44% of the entire world uses it.

Some platforms are more popular than others, of course, and not all of them might be a great fit for your business.

What you want to do is identify which social media platforms are more popular among your audience, and then use them to promote your business. In most cases, that means running paid ads, setting up profiles to promote your content, and engaging with your followers as often as possible.

What Digital Marketing Will Look Like in 2020:

The main thing you need to know is digital marketing is only becoming more important with every year that passes. Over half of the world’s population is already online, and a lot of them use the internet to decide where they’re going to spend their money.

As far as specific trends go, 63% of online marketers say they want to focus on social media in 2020.

Mobile use only keeps growing as well, which means more and more people are using voice searches to find what they want. Making sure your digital marketing strategy is mobile-friendly is key to staying relevant.

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Business Marketing

Create perfectly coordinated font combos with this online tool

(MARKETING) Typography is an important component of any design. Type Genius helps ensure everything coordinates beautifully.

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Designing a website can be one of the most important things you do to boost your business presence, but doing it on your own can be frustrating, and hiring someone can sometimes become costly. Luckily, there are several other alternatives you can examine to to help your business shine.

Type Genius is one such alternative. This site helps you keep typography clean, consistent, and professional. Typography is the art of creating and arranging text in a visual manner. This is one a fairly critical element of your design, especially considering all the advertising placed in front of consumers on a daily basis. It becomes even more important to design and use type in such a way that it attracts the reader’s attention and gives them a clear understanding of the message.

After all, the advertising will not do any good, if no one wants to engage with it. This is where Type Genius comes in to help.

When you click on the site, you will be prompted to select a font style you would like to start with; if yours is not listed, try to find the closest match. Once you have selected your starting font, Type Genius helps you find subsequent complementary fonts to enhance your website, or marketing materials. By having fonts that truly “go together” your marketing materials will look more professional and become more useful.

For example, I selected, “Comic Serif Pro” as my desired starting font and the suggested font was “Quicksand.” They look similar, but there is enough difference that you could use one for titles and the other for headers to emphasize the differentiation.

Type Genius displays the new font for you to see and if you like it, you can find the suggested font quickly by clicking on the gray square right above the description; this will launch a Google search for the font. This is a great place to begin formulating design ideas before you take a bigger leap into web site design or promotional materials.

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