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Listening to Crash Davis


“Don’t think. It can only hurt the ball club.” – Crash Davis, Bull Durham


I consider myself a moderately intelligent person. And that may be my problem, for it seems I have managed to outthink myself when it comes to my own online marketing.

I’ve had the feeling for a while that what I’m doing isn’t doing what I want it to do. I’ve always been more than a little skeptical of some of the numbers bantied about – the visitors, the leads per day, the closings – as much as anything because I’m aware of where my reputation and reality collide. (Still having my best year since 2005 and still could surpass that, but I’m also not going to outsell Russell anytime soon.)

But even if I apply the “rule of three” from American Pie 2 (the only notable aspect of that movie) and divide all of the figures by three, they still end up being closer to where I want to be than where I am. And so the question becomes, how do I change that?

The answer, it seems, is to forget everything that I think I know.

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IDX Search Registration

Without rehashing the entire litany of Phoenix real estate bloggers (let’s say there are a lot, including four of us in the sidebar to the right), some of what I do has been predicated on what they do. I’ve never required prospective buyers to register to use the IDX-fueled Phoenix homes search on my website partially because I personally hate when I’m asked to register and also because few of the other bloggers utilize registration.

Why would they register to use my site, I would ask myself, if they can go to any number of other sites and not have to register?

The flaw here was based on my own knowledge. Just because I know these other sites exist doesn’t mean the particular people who land on my website know they exist. So what makes more sense, to base what I do on what I know or on what the people coming to my site don’t?

Registration was turned on last Saturday. Traffic hasn’t suffered. My bounce rate hasn’t increased. And folks are registering … a handful of day for the time being, but steady enough that I’ve had quite a bit of followup to do since I turned it on.

Online Marketing

I sat out the Localism land rush primarily because I had issues with the concept. I saw the negatives and not the possible benefits. My primary focus was protecting my own fiefdom – how dare they help someone with not the slightest clue how to market online – move on top of the search engines in the areas where I have been busting my own tuchas?

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It wasn’t until late last week that I turned that thought process on its head. Forget my backyard. What if I were able to utilize Localism to shift a portion of my business into areas of the Valley into which I’d almost certainly never gain entry? And I’m not talking the macro level (gee, Scottsdale’s already been claimed?) but the micro level … individual subdivisions where there’s a good mix of turnover and sales price.

I’m not going to say this is a no-brainer but the more I look, the more I realize I may have thought too hard about the entire thing when it started. (And that can be said for advertising on Trulia, answering general real estate questions outside Arizona on Trulia Voices and a few other things.)

All About the Benjamins and ROI

This isn’t to say I’m about to start throwing money around willy-nilly. I don’t have it and what I do have, I intend to hold onto and invest wisely. I’ve watched too many agents throw thousands and thousands of dollars away on absolutely useless marketing material – beautiful, but worthless.

That ain’t me.

At the same time, the time has come to challenge many of the notions I have about online marketing, many of the biases that I’ve held (paying for leads, competing against myself on large real estate portals) and look for the opportunities buried within.

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They say it takes few muscles to smile than to frown (I personally can’t verify this as I don’t try the former all that often.) I’m also thinking it takes fewer brain cells to embrace the opportunities than to constantly look for the flaws.

Written By

Jonathan Dalton is a Realtor with RE/MAX Desert Showcase in Peoria, Arizona and is the author of the All Phoenix Real Estate blog as well as a half-dozen neighborhood sites. His partner, Tobey, is a somewhat rotund beagle who sleeps 21 hours a day.

35 Comments

35 Comments

  1. Jay Thompson

    August 10, 2008 at 11:30 am

    I bounce back and forth on the IDX registration thing. Watching you with interest on this one. Great point on what you know vs. what most visitors don’t. The odds are overwhelming that someone who lands on your IDX page is not going to say, “To hell with registering here, I’ll just go to Jay’s IDX page” — though they are welcome to do exactly that 😉

    I actually like Trulia Voices and enjoy answering questions. I just can’t spend much time there as watching people stumble all over themselves practically begging for business makes me queasy. But it’s not a bad place to add a little “internet presence”.

    Finally, I’m with you on the sometimes wild claims of traffic, lead quantity and success. Just today I read some rambling thing from someone who shall remain nameless who was going on and on about their numbers. As the bile rose in my throat and the bullshit meter was ringing loudly in my head I suddenly realized, “who cares?” Does it even matter to me what this person is claiming? Even if it were true (and there is plenty out there to indicate what they say is nowhere close to reality) it really matters not one iota to me and my business. And lets face it — at the risk of sounding greedy and self-serving, it really does boil down to doing what is best for me and my business.

  2. Russell Shaw

    August 10, 2008 at 12:13 pm

    I also have tried with and without forced registration. The difference is like night and day as far as number of leads (with phone numbers too). Yes, we get the two or three a week, “you suck, etc.” but we also get 70 – 100 new email addresses a week – about half with phone numbers.

    With forced registration turned off it was 1 – 3 new email addresses per day. I kept it that way for just two days and turned forced registration back on.

  3. Mike Price

    August 10, 2008 at 1:52 pm

    Hey Guys, I have been giving this a lot of thought lately and I would say if the number of Daffy Duck contacts are low and the quality of the captured contacts is high, it’s worth investigating further. I would be hesitant to call any of them leads until they are qualified. Maybe that’s my old sales mgmt. mentality kicking in. I also think If I were to require registration I would absolutely HAVE to be giving the site visitor access to content they could not otherwise receive somewhere else. I’ve often heard Guy Kawaski say he has no issue giving up contact info in a registration form as long as there is a value associated with it and that it conforms to a standard for user names (e-mail addresses) He also requires there be an easy to understand policy with regard to privacy and what will and will not be done with the information. As I thought about it, I came up with some ideas I would like to bounce off of you. DM me on twitter or email me and let’s set up at time to talk about it if you’re interested.

    Cheers,
    MP

  4. Jonathan Dalton

    August 10, 2008 at 1:57 pm

    No Daffy Duck leads … some little details that weren’t the most helpful, though, but I’m working on that.

    Mike – I’ll try and track you down tomorrow. Today’s a mess.

    In general, I agree with the idea of providing something no one else did … tried a few ideas and no one was much interested. Greater question is whether it’s well known that the information can be found elsewhere. Which is to say, will someone take the time to abandon my site and search again to find Jay or Russell’s site. Maybe, maybe not. Can’t really measure.

    Frankly, though, if I get even one serious contact a week … just one a week … this business is one heck of a lot different.

  5. Mike Taylor

    August 10, 2008 at 5:09 pm

    Echoing Russell’s comments, I tried registration both on and off and have had much better success with the registration on. I even require a phone number. Sure many of the phone numbers are wrong, but many are not. If I can get someone who is ostensibly actively looking for a home to give me their correct phone # even 1/2 of the time, this is huge! I agree with Mike, these registrations are not leads, not even close. By requiring a phone #, I can at least determine if some of them are real leads.

  6. Jonathan Dalton

    August 10, 2008 at 5:46 pm

    They’re not leads, I agree … but they’re potential leads and somewhat more viable than the folks who search without providing any information. Don’t want to get too bogged down in the semantics of what is a lead, what isn’t. Almost as productive as the argument of whether blogging can be prospecting.

  7. Carolyn Gjerde-Tu

    August 10, 2008 at 5:52 pm

    I am also a fan of forced registration. I don’t require a phone number and am working on ways to get more response from users who are repeat visitors to my site. If I can even just get that conversion up slightly, it will be well worth the effort.

  8. Eric Blackwell

    August 10, 2008 at 7:58 pm

    I am one of those who has long used only voluntary registration but in recent months have recommended modifying that to most all of my clients recently. The numbers simply speak for themselves. Forced reg works in terms of increasing ROI.

    My current preference would ( I guess) be for a modified forced registration that only kicks in a after a few searches or only if someone wants more detailed info, but everyone has their own competitive situation and their own needs.

    That having been said, I still use voluntary registration on my main brokerage site. For now. There are some reasons for this, but suffice it to say that my concerns are much the same as Jay’s…and since I am shooting leads to 120 agents with one site, I have some limitations…

    Speaking of Jay’s comments, if anyone wants to benchmark with me…using REAL numbers that come from a log file. (With the REAL intent of understanding them and improving them…).. I am always open to that. Shoot me an email. I have learned (and shared) a lot of info this way and I think it is a good thing to learn from each other.

  9. Mike Price

    August 10, 2008 at 8:02 pm

    JD, I think when it comes to the value proposition of giving them access to content they wouldn’t otherwise get on another site, you are increasing the chances of capturing potential prospects (like me) that will not register at a site unless it’s immediately clear that they will not become a part of a drip campaign and they are going to view something that makes their efforts easier somehow.

    It all boils down to a quality vs. quantity issue in my mind and I think forced registration might cause you to lose someone who is further along in the decision making process. I think there’s a way to go about it though. I will be on the west coast tomorrow and monday, so lets get together wed some time.

    Cheers

  10. Russell Shaw

    August 10, 2008 at 8:33 pm

    Each of you who spoke up about my use of the word, “leads” is correct. You are right, they are NOT leads, they are inquiries. They can only validly be called a “lead” after we have spoken to them and assessed their relative value. But I now have over 7,000 email addresses we send to at least monthly, sometimes several times a week – based on what they have singed up for. Some of them eventually do turn into leads.

  11. Eric Blackwell

    August 11, 2008 at 5:55 am

    @Russell-

    Exactly. And they do (some of them) turn into the label that we all love most: client.

    I am fine with not calling them leads, but do they have value? Absolutely.

    Just my thoughts.

    Eric

  12. Jonathan Dalton

    August 11, 2008 at 8:18 am

    So far … 29 registrations in 3 1/2 months without forced registration. 32 in 9 days since. Donald Duck has not yet registered.

  13. Jay Thompson

    August 11, 2008 at 8:38 am

    “Donald Duck has not yet registered”

    They have now.

    Sorry, someone had to do it… 😉

  14. Jay Thompson

    August 11, 2008 at 8:40 am

    “29 registrations in 3 1/2 months without forced registration. 32 in 9 days since.”

    In all seriousness, that is pretty telling evidence.

    Did you give any thought to turning on registration after a certain number of listings views? Of course, I have no idea what the “right” number would be…. but it may be a reasonable “compromise” between no registration at all and forced registration.

  15. Matt Thomson

    August 11, 2008 at 8:43 am

    Kind of a painful post. I’ve always spoken out against forced reg. Not ’cause I’d tried it but because I don’t like it and assumed nobody else did either. I also laughed at the Localism land rush. Who needs to buy leads when my spectacular content gets me top presence anyhow? I never really verified that, just felt that I didn’t want to spend the money and hold firm to my beliefs, regardless of how unfounded they were.
    Looks like I’ll have to look into some of my practices.

  16. Matt Thomson

    August 11, 2008 at 8:54 am

    Okay, so I went in and updated my IDX. I’m assuming the answer to my question is “Try and see,” but I thought I’d ask. I didn’t require reg at the front page. I required reg to see addresses, and allowed them to view 3 property details prior to having to reg. Thoughts? Is it better to reg up front?

  17. Mike Taylor

    August 11, 2008 at 9:03 am

    Personally, I let them see 5 before requiring a registration. I admit I have not tested this out, but I feel you must at least show them some value before asking for the registration if you are going to yield the best results. It seems more people might be inclined to bounce off your site in search of another site not asking for registration if you ask for it up front. Once you show them your site offers value, you then have more of a right to ask for information for them to continue. Besides by that point, they hopefully are at least a little familiar with your site and it is probably just easier to register than to search for another site.

  18. James Bridges

    August 11, 2008 at 9:40 am

    I have a tough time on the mandatory IDX registration. I have received way too many phone calls from customers saying they voluntarily signed up because I was “the only one” who didn’t make them register. With that being said, I do have mine turned on to prompt them to register after performing a numer of searches, that way it’s like a soft call to action. As long as your numbers don’t change though then it couldn’t hurt, just gotta keep looking at what’s going on.

  19. Ginger Wilcox

    August 11, 2008 at 9:48 am

    Jonathan,
    why is it scaring me so much that you and I are thinking alike this week?? I am also embracing new opportunities. I posted to localism for the first time in many months yesterday. I included a link back to my blog and guess what- I can already see the traffic being driven from AR on just that one post.
    I personally want to try and leverage the power of other opportunities. As for IDX, my free no obligation search has been too free, and provided minimal leads. I agree that it is worth exploring the registration. If you do turn off some people, so be it. I would like to see SOME leads coming in vs the quantity I have now.

  20. Holly White

    August 11, 2008 at 9:53 am

    Having no registration at all to me is just throwing away potential clients. These people are on your site for a reason, why not capture them? Especially if you feel that your service is far superior to anyone else’s service in the area. Quite frankly to that end it would be selfish for me not to capture them knowing they would be in hands less apt than mine if I didn’t capture them.

    I’ve tried both ways and a modified forced registration works best for me. After 5 looks, the surfer is required to register. I had set it to 3 for a long time and switched it to 5. I get less registrations but they seem to be more quality. Thinking about changing it back to 3 again though and digging through the trenches.

  21. Chris Lengquist

    August 11, 2008 at 11:35 am

    Register. Not register. Okay. But I love the photo.

    “Anything that travels that far that fast ought to have a stewardess on it. Don’t ya think?”

    – edited for family reading.

  22. Charleston real estate blog

    August 11, 2008 at 12:29 pm

    I’ve always been a “no registration required” kind of guy but after I added the diverse solutions idx, I found I was getting even less inquiries than from my previous search portal because more and better information was now available to visitors.

    Effectively I was getting less return for a higher cost. So I switched to registration required and get 3 to 5 emails a day on average. Once in a while, lkgvheorfg registers but …

  23. Paula Henry

    August 11, 2008 at 5:13 pm

    Jonathan – I wrote about this recently; it seems there is no clear cut answer, but I prefer to have some information, than none. I have been testing forced registration vs. no registration with two different IDX solutions to evaluate the difference. Forced registration definately brings in more names and phone numbers.

  24. Brad Nix

    August 13, 2008 at 11:31 am

    I am always tweaking my registration requirements and can’t say that I have found one to be better than the other. I do know that I prefer simple registration with one or two fields and very few sign-up screens.

    “He hit that ball like he knew what was coming. He did, I told him.”

  25. Jay Thompson

    August 17, 2008 at 3:03 pm

    I turned on IDX registration a few days after this post (on Aug 12).

    Here are my stats:

    Registrations during unforced period: 239 registrations in 124 days = average of 1.92 registrations/day

    Registrations after forcing registration: 58 registrations in 5 days = average of 11.6 registrations/day (and 2 of those 5 days are weekend days – which have significantly lower traffic than weekdays).

    That would be a 600% increase with forced registration.

    I don’t require a phone number, only name, email and “are you working with an agent?”. I allow the user to make 5 searches/home views before requiring registration.

    3 of the 58 registrations are obvious bunk email addresses. About one third leave a valid phone number.

    I plan to let this run for a few more weeks, then turn on requiring a phone number and see what happens then.

  26. Paul Francis, CRS

    August 17, 2008 at 4:01 pm

    I’m a firm believer that if you have a really good IDX that is user friendly, people are not going to search around any further for another one and will not hesitate to register. Somewhat intelligent people understand that registration is not a commitment to buy… and they also know how to use the Spam buttom or “unsubscribe” button for those that abuse the information given to them.

  27. Eric Bramlett

    August 17, 2008 at 4:03 pm

    Jay –

    I’ve tested this pretty extensively. Turn on immediate required registration, and require a phone number. You’ll be happy.

  28. Eric Blackwell

    August 17, 2008 at 5:38 pm

    I would agree with Bramlett’s assessment. I cannot use this on the brokerage site of mine…but several sites I have access to use this to GREAT effect.

    Best;

    Eric

  29. Mike Taylor

    August 17, 2008 at 9:14 pm

    So, both Eric’s, if I am understanding you correctly you are saying that from your experience/testing that requiring registration initially (after 0 views of a details page) is producing the best results for you/your clients?

    Have you taken tested this while tracking registrations to closings? Are you just shooting for sheer numbers and the “quantity is the quality” or are there any other measures you are judging this against?

  30. Mike Taylor

    August 17, 2008 at 9:16 pm

    “Have you taken tested ”

    WTF does that mean? What I meant was “have you tested”….

    I definitely second an edit button on your own comments.

  31. Eric Bramlett

    August 17, 2008 at 9:16 pm

    I use closed transactions as my metric. Those settings = more money.

  32. Bob

    August 17, 2008 at 9:44 pm

    Turn on the registration.

  33. Eric Blackwell

    August 18, 2008 at 3:46 am

    @Mike- essentially, it boils down to this: REALTORS are great at converting from phone numbers. If you don’t require the phone number, your conversion rate will likely drop below what you’d get otherwise simply due to the fact that you are getting an email address only.

    As for registration right off of the get go…I’d RATHER let them search a few times and then ask for the registration BUT the reality is that the numbers go the other way IMO. More will sign up off the top and you will likely convert one or two.

    I know a LOT of REALTORS who say that YES there could be an increase from that, but let them go 5 searches or whatever because they think the user experience is better. I am FINE with that.

    I do think the user experience is important in building long term traffic via word of mouth.

    What we cannot measure easily is “Will people refer their friends to a registration site less readily than a free site?” I am not sure what the long term is there.

    Best;

    Eric

  34. Jonathan Dalton

    August 18, 2008 at 9:51 am

    After turning on the registration I can’t see turning it off. The numbers bear it out (not in closings, not yet … it’s a little too soon) but in registrations pre- and post-forced.

    The only debate left is whether to allow a set number of searches before. Registration on my site kicks in on the results page. You run the search, the results come up (with addresses and beds/baths … I can’t shut addresses off through my IDX provider) and if you click on a result to see the details, registration is required.)

    For me, letting someone look at a set number of results or run a set number of searches makes the forced registration feel like a takeaway. “Great, let me search freely twice and then you want all my info. Why now?”

    Forced registration from the get-go feels more direct. And I’m not seeing major bounce rate changes since I went to it.

  35. Charleston real estate blog

    August 18, 2008 at 10:03 am

    JD, I totally agree with you, if you give it away and then ask for registration later, it almost seems contrived. That would more likely drive me to another search site.

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