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

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?

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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?

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Benn Rosales is the Founder and CEO of The American Genius (AG), national news network. Before AG, he founded one of the first digital media strategy firms in the nation has received the Statesman Texas Social Media Award and is an Inman Innovator Award winner. He has consulted for numerous startups (both early- and late-stage), and is well known for organizing the digital community through popular offline events. He does not venture into the spotlight often, rather he believes his biggest accomplishments are the talent he recruits and develops, so he gives all credit to those he's empowered.

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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