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Taking the long way there

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taking the long way there

Chest forward, notepad in hand we walked into our web designer’s surprisingly large office in the heart of West University. I had researched numerous companies and their portfolio looked exactly like what we had in mind. The perfect antithesis to Realtor websites: Fresh, contemporary, functional. And in my pad, I had the intricate blueprint of how we were going to make it happen. The more specific I am – I thought – the easier their work will be which should be a relief to my trembling wallet.

“We start at $8,500”

Before I got too far down my bullet list, he stopped me and without wanting to offend me (or anything) told me their work started at eight and a half Gs, for a basic site. Thanking him for his time-saving honesty, we walked out of that office, our doubts about how they paid the rent fully answered. Destination: Barnes and Noble Geek Section for some HTML fun. Numerous picturesque heavy books and about four Video Professors later, I was staring at a blank 900px wide square on (queue the dramatic music) Microsoft Frontpage, so help me God. I present to you the (then) finished product.

It’s been a long way

At first, I hated the fact that I couldn’t just hire someone to do what I needed. Instead I was stuck making sure I closed my tags and validated my code, both of which ranked just above sticking a fork in my ear on the fun scale. But even though my knowledge is still very much limited compared to pros, I am better off today because I took the long way here:

  1. I am better off, because I not dependent on my webmaster (what an arrogant job title, btw) to make even the slightest changes. This allows us to be nimble and flexible when we need to adapt our marketing message to an ever changing market.
  2. I am better off, because our site today looks like this and I built everything in it. Could it be better? Of course. But I’m proud of how far we’ve come from that blank 900px box.
  3. I am better off, because now I’m more aware of what’s possible. Believe it or not, having some fundamental knowledge about how websites work can help you make better decisions and demands when you partner with a pro to take your site to the next level.

What about you? I’d love to hear about your experience in the comments.

Houston Real Estate Rainmaker and Uberproud Father/Husband (not necessarily in that order). When I'm not skinning cats or changing diapers you can find me on Twitter or Facebook. I blog about marketing, social media and real estate. I might not always be in agreement, but you can rest assured I'll be honest. Oh, and I can cook a mean breakfast...

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21 Comments

21 Comments

  1. Ian Greenleigh

    August 13, 2009 at 12:57 pm

    Looks nice, Erion. If you’re savvy, quality web design is not as difficult as some may lead you to believe. I do, however, see a major benefit to having dedicated web guys, and that’s stability. I can make things aesthetically pleasing, but as far as the ones and zeros behind it, I’m an ignoramus. If errors were to occur, they would most likely be difficult to remedy.

  2. Seth Parker

    August 13, 2009 at 1:32 pm

    Been there before! For the past 5 years or so, I’ve been doing all of my own web design/development. Because of that, the ceiling on what I can provide in my site is only limited by what I can learn, not cost. I don’t have to wait on anyone for anything. If I think of something new to add, I can do it ASAP.

    There’s also a downside to this, though. TIME. Time is very valuable, and the thought has crossed my mind many times during one of those 36 Hour web sessions “Damn, I should just pay someone to do this, and I could spend this time running my company/selling real estate.”

    I imagine things will stay the way they are for me for the time being, though. I’m one of those guys that can’t get past the “no one can do it better or faster than me, so why let anyone?” (even though that’s not true) thing.

  3. Russell Shaw

    August 13, 2009 at 2:25 pm

    Nice job, Erion!! I totally agree. My first websites were all designed by professionals at high prices. Now – but not to save money –I design my graphics and my new web sites and pages myself. I do have a “computer pro” I can call to fix things when I hit a snag (and I do hit those snags) but I just love the freedom of being able to conceive something and to be able to go from my idea to seeing it on the internet without having to wait forever for someone else to get around to it. One company that hosted my site took weeks and weeks to get anything done and I often had to call my sales rep so he could call the president of the company to get the IT department to actually do the work. Now, those changes happen in just a few minutes (okay, some take a LOT longer:-) after I decide I want them.

  4. Todd Waller

    August 13, 2009 at 2:54 pm

    Erion,

    Seth hits pretty close to an analogy we use as agents.

    As real estate agents, we run into folks that want to sell their home by themselves. We generally take the viewpoint that folks CAN sell their homes without our assistance, but they often save time, money and hassle by employing a real estate agent to do what they do best.

    I think the same applies to web design and upkeep.

    Your final point about knowledge leading to better decision making is bang on.

    Todd

  5. Austin Smith - Goomzee.com

    August 13, 2009 at 5:25 pm

    Nice job Erion! Some of the pix on your site didn’t load for me, but what I did see was impressive! I especially like the “Education Corner” and the mortgage rates on the left-hand side. Very informative!!!

  6. John Wake

    August 14, 2009 at 3:25 am

    Well done!

    The next challenge for us real estate geeks is to develop systems to convert more of those internet leads into sales, incoming referrals and long time clients.

    Generating internet leads isn’t the big problem anymore for many. Lead management is the main constaint and the solutions aren’t going to be purely technical despite the tendency of many of us who are good at generating internet leads to try to find technological solutions to all problems.

  7. Fred Romano

    August 14, 2009 at 9:19 am

    Why not just use WordPress and a nice theme? That’s a better start them messing with Html, then you can modify the theme to your taste.

  8. Matt Stigliano

    August 14, 2009 at 9:57 am

    @ErionHouston – I’m actually impressed with the first site you built (the second version’s not so bad either). It’s shocking what can be charged for a website and even more shocking what some of these companies charge real estate agents. I think our industry has a sticker on their foreheads that says “I don’t know nothin’ ’bout them computer machines. Please take my money.” The amount we as an industry spend on technology that we could do for less (or get for cheaper) is astounding to me.

  9. Laurie Matthias

    August 14, 2009 at 10:56 am

    Erion,
    You’ve inspired me to follow in your footsteps and try my own site.
    Thank you!
    Laurie Matthias
    Long and Foster Real Estate, Inc.
    Haverford, PA

  10. Erion Shehaj

    August 14, 2009 at 2:50 pm

    Something that would certainly condition the decision to fly solo or have “dedicated web guys” is the complexity of the site and its popularity (traffic). Having an esthetically gorgeous site that no one can reach because is down all the time in no way to play it either.

    @Seth

    The opportunity cost of time is definitely a valid argument. You could focus your energy on your primary business (RE) and leave the tech to the techies. But I would argue that taking the time to learn how your site works, is working on your real estate business. Because, if you know what’s possible, you might implement it on your site thus helping yourself save some time on generating business or converting more out of your traffic.

    @Russell

    The flexibility to change and try out different strategies on your site is key to getting it right, especially when you are a new agent. After all, no one comes in this business with clear ideas about what marketing message will surely work. We are always fine tuning, trying out new variations, measuring and fine tuning some more. Having to wait weeks for your webwiz to turn your changes around is no way to go IMO.

    @Todd

    If all we’re offering to our clients is time savings, we’re in trouble. Our value proposition should be that even if the homeowner did it themselves, they couldn’t match our results because of our expertise and market knowledge.

    @John

    >Generating internet leads isn’t the big problem anymore for many

    Generating leads, no. Generating clients, yes. There’s a difference. Most people’s troubles with internet leads is their quality or lack thereof, but that’s an entirely different post for a different day.

    @Fred

    At the time, I had no idea what WordPress was 🙂 And now that I love WP and I have about 4 blogs running on it, I’m still in favor of the idea that a company site, needs to be a site with a blog element, not just a blog. You can use magazine style themes that transform WP in a content management system but to get something that will work requires extensive customization.

    @rerockstar

    Thanks! If you only knew how long it was taking me to update it every day back then, you’d freak 🙂 You do bring up a solid point however. The “market rates” on real estate websites that are not template based are out of control. When I was considering an upgrade to my site recently, I was talking to a company which I will not mention by name. We were talking $9k website and this salesperson was treating me like I was buying a pair of tubesocks at a dollar store. On a different note, while I was following Inman Connect on Twitter, I found out that one of the real estate sites that I admire the most cost $40,000 and its owner could not change a thing – no copy, no pictures, nothing. You’d think you should get at least a t-shirt for forty grand…

  11. Erion Shehaj

    August 14, 2009 at 11:18 pm

    Thanks Laurie. You made my day.

    If you need any assistance while your go through your design, hit me up on Twitter @ErionHouston and I’ll help you out any way I can.

  12. Paula Henry

    August 15, 2009 at 12:03 am

    Erion – Very Nice! I paid the high price for one of mine and wouldn’t trade the freedom of time. I have a lot of freedom with it and only need to pay for custom work and design. It’s a fair trade off for me.

    OTOH – I have a couple of blog sites I am totally responsible for and like learning new things. When I get stuck, though, I need people who can help me.

  13. Gwen Banta

    August 15, 2009 at 1:22 am

    OMG – You mean my template SUCKS? I can’t take the pressure, Erion. …But maybe I don’t need to worry about it, because no one visits my website anyway. Or is that the point? 🙂

  14. David Sherfey

    August 17, 2009 at 12:47 pm

    Very nice site, Erion. My first impression is that it feels trustworthy. Very clean, not loud, just very cool.

    Of course, now you’re a web developer…. and now that you have done this you probably understand why web developers charge so much. They know how much work they are ‘saving you’ so there you go… If you add all the time you have spent and charge it out at developer rates it is a bunch of bucks.

    Much better to do it yourself and know what it takes. When you get so successful that it pays to have someone else do it, you will know how to supervise them.

  15. Duke Long

    August 18, 2009 at 10:14 am

    Oh the rant I could go on.I have been thru every scenario.
    I have told countless experts exactly who what how where when and why I want my site to be.
    Proposals not submitted e-mails not returned ,I got a guy I went to school with,my husband does that from home,Our company only works with 5 milllion and sales or up,we are a social media intergeator, web/social media expert or(insert the latest bs catch phrase)DOOOOD.
    I applaud your path and will follow and hopefully learn along the way with you. WOW I feel better already Thanks for the post.

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Business Marketing

Marketing amidst uncertainty: 3 considerations

(BUSINESS MARKETING) As the end of the COVID tunnel begins to brighten, marketing strategies may shift yet again – here are three thoughts to ponder going into the future.

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Open business sign being held by business owner for marketing purposes.

The past year has been challenging for businesses, as operations of all sizes and types and around the country have had to modify their marketing practices in order to address the sales barriers created by the pandemic. That being said, things are beginning to look up again and cities are reopening to business as usual.

As a result, companies are looking ahead to Q3 with the awareness they need to pivot their marketing practices yet again. The only question is, how?

Pandemic Pivot 1.0: Q3 2020

When the pandemic disrupted global markets a year ago, companies looked for new ways to reach their clients where they were: At home, even in the case of B2B sales. This was the first major pivot, back when store shelves were empty care of panic shopping, and everyone still thought they would only be home for a few weeks.

How did this transition work? By building out more extensive websites, taking phone orders, and crafting targeted advertising, most companies actually survived the crisis. Some even came out ahead. With this second pivot, however, these companies will have to use what they knew before the pandemic, while making savvy predictions about how a year-long crisis may have changed customer behavior.

Think Brick And Mortar

As much as online businesses played a key role in the pandemic sales landscape, as the months wore on, people became increasingly loyal to local, brick and mortar businesses. As people return to their neighborhood for longer in-person adventures, brands should work on marketing strategies to further increase foot traffic. That may mean continuing to promote in-store safety measures, building a welcoming online presence, and developing community partnerships to benefit from other stores’ customer engagement efforts.

Reach Customers With PPC

Obviously brick and mortar marketing campaigns won’t go far for all-online businesses, but with people staying at home less, online shops may have a harder time driving sales. Luckily, they have other tools at their disposal. That includes PPC marketing, one of the most effective, trackable advertising strategies.

While almost every business already uses some degree of PPC marketing because of its overall value, but one reason it’s such a valuable tool for businesses trying to navigate the changing marketplace is how easy it is to modify. In fact, best practice is to adjust your PPC campaign weekly based on various indicators, which is what made it a powerful tool during the pandemic as well. Now, instead of using a COVID dashboard to track the impact of regulations on ad-driven sales, however, companies can use PPC marketing to see how their advertising efforts are holding up to customers’ rapidly changing shopping habits.

It’s All About The Platforms

When planning an ad campaign, what you say is often not as important as where you say it – a modern twist on “the medium is the message.” Right now, that means paying attention to the many newer platforms carrying innovative ad content, so experiment with placing ads on platforms like TikTok, Reddit, and NextDoor and see what happens.

One advantage of marketing via smaller platforms is that they tend to be less expensive than hubs like Facebook. That being said, they are all seeing substantial traffic, and most saw significant growth during the pandemic. If they don’t yield much in the way of results, losses will be minimal, but given the topical and local targeting various platforms allow for, above and beyond standard PPC targeting, they could be just what your brand needs as it navigates the next set of marketplace transitions.

The last year has been unpredictable for businesses, but Q3 2021 may be the most uncertain yet as everyone attempts to make sense of what normal means now. The phrase “new normal,” overused and awkward as it is, gets to the heart of it: we can pretend we’re returning to our pre-pandemic lives, but very little about the world before us is familiar, so marketing needs a “new normal,” too.

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Business Marketing

Advertising overload: Let’s break it down

(BUSINESS MARKETING) A new study finds that frequent ads are actually more detrimental to a brand’s image than that same brand advertising near offensive content.

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Advertising spread across many billboards in a city square.

If you haven’t noticed, ads are becoming extremely common in places that are extremely hard to ignore—your Instagram feed, for example. Advertising has certainly undergone some scrutiny for things like inappropriate placement and messaging over the years, but it turns out that sheer ad exhaustion is actually more likely to turn people off of associated brands than the aforementioned offensive content.

Marketing Dive published a report on the phenomenon last Tuesday. The report claims that, of all people surveyed, 32% of consumers said that they viewed current social media advertising to be “excessive”; only 10% said that they found advertisements to be “memorable”.

In that same group, 52% of consumers said that excessive ads were likely to affect negatively their perception of a brand, while only 32% said the same of ads appearing next to offensive or inappropriate content.

“Brand safety has become a hot item for many companies as they look to avoid associations with harmful content, but that’s not as significant a concern for consumers, who show an aversion to ad overload in larger numbers,” writes Peter Adams, author of the Marketing Dive report.

This reaction speaks to the sheer pervasiveness of ads in the current market. Certainly, many people are spending more time on their phones—specifically on social media—as a result of the pandemic. However, with 31% and 27% of surveyed people saying they found website ads either “distracting” or “intrusive”, respectively, the “why” doesn’t matter as much as the reaction itself.

It’s worth pointing out that solid ad blockers do exist for desktop website traffic, and most major browsers offer a “reader mode” feature (or add-on) that allows users to read through things like articles and the like without having to worry about dynamic ads distracting them or slowing down their page. This becomes a much more significant issue on mobile devices, especially when ads are so persistent that they impact one’s ability to read content.

Like most industries, advertisers have faced unique challenges during the pandemic. If there’s one major takeaway from the report, it’s this: Ads have to change—largely in terms of their frequency—if brands want to maintain customer retention and loyalty.

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Business Marketing

7 simple tips to boost your customer loyalty online

(BUSINESS MARKETING) Without a brick-and-mortar store, building rapport and customer loyalty can be a challenge, but you can still build customer loyalty online.

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Man and woman at kitchen table online shopping on laptop together, boosting customer loyalty.

With many businesses – both big and small – operating online, there are less opportunities for building those face-to-face relationships that exist in brick and mortar stores. According to smallbizgenius, 65% of the company’s revenue comes from existing customers.

It’s important to keep in mind the different tactics at your disposal for increasing customer loyalty. Noupe recently released a list of actionable tips for increasing this loyalty. Let’s examine these ideas and expand on the best.

  1. Keep your promises – Stay true to what you’ve agreed to, obviously contractually, but stay true to your company values as well. Even if you feel you’ve built a good loyalty where there is room to take a step back, don’t rest on your laurels and be sure to remain consistent. If you’ve provided a good experience, keep that going. The only change that should happen is in it getting better.
  2. Stay in communication – In addition to the ever-so-vital social media platforms, consider creating an email newsletter to stay in touch with your customers. Finding ways to have them keep you in mind should be at the front of your mind. By reaching out and being friendly, this will help retain their business.
  3. Be flexible with payments – No, don’t sell yourself short, but consider installment plans for pricier items or services. This will help customers feel more at ease when their wallet’s health is at stake.
  4. Reward programs – Consider allowing customers to accrue loyalty points in exchange for a freebie. The old punch card method is still an incredibly popular concept, and is a great way to keep people coming back. The cost associated with giving something away for free will be minimal in comparison to loyalty you receive in order for the customer to get to that point. Make sure that what a customer is putting in is about equal to what they’re getting out of it (i.e. don’t have a customer spend $100 in order to get $1 off their next purchase). If all of this proves successful, this can eventually be expanded by creating VIP levels.
  5. Prioritize customer service – A first impression is everything. By prioritizing customer service, you can help shape the narrative of the customer and how they view your business. This splinters off into them giving good word of mouth recommendations to friends and family. Be sure to keep positive customer service as the forefront of your mind, as giving a bad review is just as easy – or even easier – as giving a good review.
  6. Value feedback – Allow customers a space to provide their feedback, either on your website or on social media. Find out what brought them to you and gage how their experience was. Be sure to thank them for their feedback and take it into consideration. Feedback – both good and bad – can be vital in helping shape a business.
  7. Avoid laziness – Stay sharp at all times. Don’t treat all customers as nothing but currency. Include personalized touches wherever you can. This will make all of the difference.

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