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Starting From Scratch- Watch the Live Birth of a Website



bob wilson san diego

My Site Under Construction

I need a new web site. I have built dozens for myself and others over the last 11 years, but circumstances being what they are, it’s time for a new one for moi. I have a pretty good idea of what works and what doesn’t, having created two sites that have stayed at or near the top of Google for my targeted serps since Google was launched. They also generated business – as they converted traffic to leads.

The challenge now is to see if I can pull off the hat trick and do it a 3rd time. With the constant posts on SEO, conversion, IDX issues, and social media as a business source, I thought this might be an interesting adventure to share. Here is you opportunity to see what I think works, or watch me crash and burn.

I have a domain and my WordPress platform and am ready to rock. Everyone knows the rest of the punch list right? All I need now is a theme, some basic content, an IDX solution, a few cool plugins, some on page SEO magic and links or a ppc campaign to drive traffic, and I’m golden.

Well, not quite. See, the thing that matters most with a web based business model is that it needs to actually generate business, not just traffic. You could have the coolest plugins and the best SEO going, but the only magic that happens is when the traffic converts to a lead. Overlooking or not understanding conversion is why most real estate sites online are more hobby than business. My approach and focus is first and foremost on conversion.

Determine The Goal(s) And Then Work Backwards

With this site I want to find people who are going to buy or sell residential property in San Diego County. I want to do this effectively, and I want to get as many as I can by converting as much of the site traffic as possible. I also know that I’m greedy and I want to hit every community (well, almost every one). To that end I have already started to create a page for each.

You Can’t Measure Conversion If There Is No Goal

So now you may be thinking that I already stated the goal – buyers and sellers. That is the big picture – the goal of the site as a whole. However, conversion occurs at the page level, so in order to create high converting pages, we have to first determine the following:

  1. What is the intent (goal) of each page
  2. What drives the visitor to each page
  3. What is the intent (goal) of the visitor
  4. What is the call to action

Conversion Occurs When Visitor Intent Intersects With The Intent of the Page

Once you have created a page, there are four likely scenarios you will see:
1) Bounce rate above 50% and very low or no conversion rate
Synopsis: Little or no relation between the visitor intent and the intent of the page.
Exception: The page is informational with no conversion goal intended or defined. Most blog posts fit in this category.

2) Bounce rate above 35% and low to medium single digit conversion rate.
Synopsis: Some relation between the visitor intent and the intent of the page manifested in one of a few ways:
a) Some overlap exists, but not very much,
b) Some overlap exists, but the intent of the page is hard for the visitor to figure out.
c) Some overlap exists, but it’s too hard or annoying for the visitor to complete the goal.

3) Bounce rate above 25% with medium to high single digit conversion rate.
Synopsis: Good match between visitor intent and the intent of the page. These pages generate business.

4) Bounce rate under 20% and double digit conversion rate.
Synopsis: The brass ring. An excellent match of visitor intent, content, and the third critical factor – the call to action. You have reached Nirvana.

The difference between #3 and #4 is frequently due to usability. If so, then this will likely be reflected in your analytics where the top referring keywords closely describe the content on the page and matches visitor intent. Time to play with the call to action. For the average real estate site, this would be the IDX for buyers and a form of some sort for sellers.

Moving from scenarios 1 and 2 to scenarios 3 and 4 may seem like an easy task, but this is where we see the most common problem issue – the disconnect between the strategy behind the intent of the page, and the strategy behind what is actually driving traffic to the target. Something has to drive traffic (the visitor) to a page. If the visitor expects ‘x’, are they getting ‘y’ instead? Look at what traffic sources deliver to the page. Is the promise ‘x’ or ‘y’? Many tend to confuse this with longtail. The longtail is great, but if it delivers to the wrong page, it isn’t really longtail and conversion isn’t likely.

note: This is also where a PPC campaign can serve as an effective a/b testing ground as well as drive traffic while you are working on your organic rankings. Just remember that if the page doesn’t convert with a PPC campaign, it wont convert organic traffic either.

You can also use this as an outline to evaluate the pages of an existing site, but in reverse.

1) What is the call to action I want the visitor to follow on this page? Does this page have one? Is it intuitive? Eliminate anything that distracts or detours the visitor away from the desired course of action. Add one if one doesn’t exist.

2) What is analytics telling me about the visitor intent? The top referrers and keyword searches are representative of the visitor’s intent. Are they collectively on target with the intent of the page? If not, you have a few options:
a) Adjust the SEO or PPC campaign that is driving the traffic so that it matches up better.
b) If it’s SM driven, then change the target to a more appropriate page
c) modify the page intent to be in align with the traffic

3) Evaluate your goals within the context of your content. If you are goal is more business, then your content needs to be in line with that. We’ll examine this aspect in more detail next time.

Ok, any questions or comments?

A real estate vet, 2009 marked the beginning of Bob's 20th year in the real estate biz, with the last 10 years spent online. Bob practices in San Diego, California and is well known for his expertise in online real estate marketing, SEO and lead generation strategies.

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  1. Missy Caulk

    October 14, 2009 at 7:29 pm

    Can’t wait… I have a high bounce rate but my return visitors are growing.

  2. Dan Connolly

    October 14, 2009 at 7:40 pm

    Bob, glad to see you are sharing your skills in this area. Everyone on AG should pay close attention, Bob Wilson is a true expert in this subject! I have no doubt that this website will eclipse the others.

  3. Jeff Manson

    October 14, 2009 at 8:53 pm

    This post is dead on. Give the user what they want and expect to increase conversions. Not sure if the average EGO maniac agent will get it though.

  4. Rob McCance

    October 14, 2009 at 10:40 pm

    Should be cool to watch, bring it on!

    WordPress and plugins though, c’mon really design something!

    Just kiddin’

  5. Bob Wilson

    October 15, 2009 at 12:34 am

    Rob, I hear ya! the last thing I want is to have a visitor arrive at the site and think, “Oh, another blog…”
    Jeff, an agent centric site serves a purpose, but again this comes back to the goal of the site. I’m fairly certain this will be a topic of discussion throughout the process.
    Dan, Thank you.
    Missy, thanks for chiming in. Bounce rate is an interesting metric. Sometimes a high bounce rate is not really an applicable metric for certain pages if you know why the traffic bounces. We’ll get into analytics a lot more.

  6. Benn Rosales

    October 15, 2009 at 2:45 am

    Bob is back, and I’m thrilled- outstanding setup with high expectations on your intro post. I know youll have many silently watching and learning, and hopefully repeating in their own way how you build advantage out of value.

  7. Mack Perry

    October 15, 2009 at 8:37 am

    There is no doubt in my mind that Bob will pull off the hat trick. I’ve seen him do it before. He has forgotten more about SEO with real estate sites than I have learned. I can’t wait to follow this build and once again learn from the master. Thanks for sharing Bob!!!

  8. BawldGuy

    October 15, 2009 at 11:24 am

    Hey Bob — This post reminds me of the few remaining Old School gyms. No frills, no irritating music, no metro-sexuals preening in mirror after every exercise.

    Just results — phenomenal.

  9. Bob Wilson

    October 15, 2009 at 2:13 pm

    Jeff – Funny how old school is perceived. Google leads the universe in pushing the envelope and thinking out of the box, but is very ‘old school’ about it’s decision making process.

    I saw @1000wattmarc tweet the following and agree 1000%::
    “Next time ur web vendor tries 2 sell u a load of ideas, be like Google and ask 4 data 2 support their “ideas”“.

    From where I sit, I think many confuse tools with methods. I noticed that there is a panel at REBW on measuring ROI of SM. I would like those folks to first show me conversion rates before they talk about ROI. #WWGD

    Mack – Thanks. One thing about this is we are still in the gestation period. No labor pains yet so delivery and slapping this baby on the butt isnt happening overnight.

  10. BawldGuy

    October 15, 2009 at 3:15 pm

    Skinnin’ Cats — the name of my new band. 🙂

  11. Keith Lutz

    October 16, 2009 at 5:40 pm

    I can’t wait. My overall bounce rate is 31%, but it is conversion from leads that counts. That is a number I need to start tracking. I use google analytics and was wondering what %exit is compared to bounce?

  12. Bob Wilson

    October 16, 2009 at 7:17 pm

    Break the bounce rate down by page, then look at each page . You can check the paths visitors take from each page. Do you see any trends? Do you have a conversion opportunity on each page, or does the visitor need to get a certain page first? If so, what percentage are taking a path that lands them on the conversion page?

    Your home page has a lot going on. Conversion is the result of funneling the visitor to the point where they need to make one of a few choices. If you give people too many choices, they tend not to make one.

    The next post will discuss site navigation, info overload, and for for those hanging in Vegas right now at REBWE, card counting.

  13. Portland Real Estate

    October 16, 2009 at 7:26 pm

    A call to action is very important. Make sure to have a clear one for each page. Also, make sure that your navigation for the site is simple, if people cannot get around quickly, they will move onto a site that does


  14. Bruce Lemieux

    October 16, 2009 at 11:37 pm

    This is a great topic that I’ve been thinking about a lot lately. I’m a pretty smart guy, but I continue to be amazed at how difficult it is to delivering a clean, effective, well-organized site that’s meaningful to my customers. I’m currently making significant renovations to site #4. I’m a student in web marketing and am not qualified to give any advice. Having said that, here’s what’s currently guiding me right now:

    1. LIke you say, keep it simple. Home Buyers/Sellers care about homes, the market and the process to buy/sell. Strip away everything else. Most of our customers have many distractions and have tiny attention-spans. It’s too bad that delivering “Simple” can be so complex.

    2. IMO, Buyers/Sellers don’t care about blogs. I *think* that the traditional blog format organized around sequential posts is not the ideal organization of information for consumers. I *do* think that a blog architecture is ideal for a real estate site. WP is ideal for delivering fresh, organized and rich content — consumers definitely want this. But, they don’t want a blog. A great blog site may not be the best model of organization for a real estate site. IMO.

    4. In addition to “What’s the call to action?”, another question to answer on each page/area is “How am I connecting to consumers?” How can I help? How can I provide expertise? How will my reader relate to me?

    I look forward to following this discussion and learning something.

  15. Bob Wilson

    October 16, 2009 at 11:47 pm

    @Bruce = dead on. People scan, they dont read, so make it easy for them to scan and not miss the important stuff.

    Your observation about blogs and real estate sites can get you tarred and feathered in some places, especially this week. We will get into this in detail.

    The questions you pose in #4 (or #3?) are all calls to action if answered by the visitor.

  16. Bruce Lemieux

    October 17, 2009 at 12:10 am

    Ha, Ha — I’ll be wary of anyone who approaches me with poultry and petroleum products for the next couple of days!

    An agent has to do so much right now – know your market, know how to negotiate, get leads, convert leads, market homes, service clients, close sales, be a part of the community, master technology — it can be overwhelming. If one wants to keep his/her eye on their business, they should be wary about the distraction of becoming a blogger. Be a real estate agent who uses blogging (and social media) as a marketing tool — don’t become a blogger who also does real estate. Another angle – don’t set out to create a great blog; use blogging tools and disciplines to create a great real estate web site. It’s a nuanced, but important distinction…. I think.

    Booo to bloggers! Booo!!! Just kidding. It’s really late…. I should be working on my site (or going to bed).

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Disputing a property’s value in a short sale: turn a no into a go

During a short sale, there may be various obstacles, with misaligned property values ranking near the top, but it doesn’t have to be a dealbreaker!



magic eight ball

magic eight ball

It’s about getting your way

Were you on the debate team in high school? Were you really effective at convincing your parent or guardian to let you do things that you shouldn’t have been doing? How are your objection-handling skills? Can you flip a no into a go?

When working on short sales, there is one aspect of the process that may require those excellent negotiation or debate skills: disputing the property value. In a short sale, the short sale lender sends an appraiser or broker to the property and this individual conducts a Broker Price Opinion or an appraisal, using special forms provided by the short sale lender.

After this individual completes the Broker Price Opinion or the appraisal, he or she will return it to the short sale lender. Shortly thereafter, the short sale lender will be ready to talk about the purchase price. Will the lender accept the offer on the table or is the lender looking for more? If the lender is seeking an offer for a lot more than the one on the table, mentally prepare for the fact that you will need to conduct a value dispute.

Value Dispute Process

While each of the different short sale lenders (including Fannie Mae) has their own policies and procedures for value dispute, all these procedures have some things in common. Follow the steps below in order to conduct an effective value dispute.

  1. Inquire about forms. Ask your short sale lender if there are specific forms that you need to complete in order to conduct a value dispute. Obtain those forms if necessary.
  2. Gather information. Your goal is to convince the lender to accept the buyer’s offer, so you need to demonstrate that your offer is in line with the value of the property. Collect data that proves this point, such as reports from the MLS, Trulia, Zillow, or your local title company.
  3. Take photos. If there are parts of the property that are substandard and possibly were not revealed to the lender by the individual conducting the BPO, take photos of those items. Perhaps the kitchen has no flooring, or there is a 40-year old roof. Take photos to demonstrate these defects.
  4. Obtain bids. For any defects on the property, obtain a minimum of two bids from licensed contractors. For example, obtain two bids from roofers or structural engineers if necessary
  5. Write a report. Think back to high school English class if necessary. Write a short essay that references your information, photos, and bids, and explains how these items support your buyer’s value. This is not something that you whip up in five minutes. Spend time preparing a compelling appeal.

It is entirely possible that some lenders will not be particularly open-minded when it comes to valuation dispute. However, more times than not, an effective value dispute leads to short sale approval.

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Short sale standoffs: how to avoid getting hit

The short sale process can feel a lot like a wild west standoff, but there are ways to come out victorious, so let’s talk about those methods:



short sales standoff

short sales standoff

What is a short sale standoff?

If you are a short sale listing agent, a short sale processor, or a short sale negotiator then you probably already know about the short sale standoff. That’s when you are processing a short sale with more than one lien holder and neither will agree to the terms offered by the other. Or… better yet, each one will not move any further in the short sale process until they see the short sale approval letter from the other lien holder.

Scenario #1 – You are processing a short sale with two different mortgage-servicing companies. Bank 1 employees tell you that they will proceed with the short sale, and they will offer Bank 2 a certain amount to release their lien. You call Bank 2 and tell them the good news. Unfortunately, the folks at Bank 2 want more money. If Bank 1 and Bank 2 do not agree, then you are in a standoff.

Scenario #2 – You are processing a short sale with two different mortgage-servicing companies. Bank 1 employees tell you that they cannot generate your approval letter until you present them with the approval letter from Bank 2. Bank 2 employees tell you the exact same thing. Clearly, in this situation, you are in a standoff.

How to Avoid the Standoff

If you are in the middle of a standoff, then you are likely very frustrated. You’ve gotten pretty far in the short sale process and you are likely receiving lots of pressure from all of the parties to the transaction. And, the lenders are not helping much by creating the standoff.

Here are some ideas for how to get out of the situation:

  • Go back to the first lien holder and ask them if they are willing to give the second lien holder more money.
  • Go to the second lien holder and tell them that the first lien holder has insisted on a maximum amount and see if they will budge.
  • If no one will budge, find out why. Is this a Fannie Mae or Freddie Mac loan? If so, they have a maximum that they allow the second. And, if you alert the second of that information, they may become more compliant.
  • Worst case: someone will have to pay the difference. Depending on the laws in your state, it could be the buyer, the seller, or the agents (yuck). No matter what, make sure that this contribution is disclosed to all parties and appears on the short sale settlement statement at closing.
  • In Scenario #2, someone’s got to give in. Try explaining to both sides where you are and see if one will agree to generate their approval letter. If not, follow the tips provided in this Agent Genius article and take your complaint to the streets.

One thing about short sales is that the problems that arise can be difficult to resolve merely because of the number of parties involved—and all from remote locations. Imagine how much easier this would be if all parties sat at the same table and broke bread? If we all sat at the same table, then we wouldn’t need armor in order to avoid the flying bullets from the short sale standoff.

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Short sale approval letters don’t arrive in the blink of an eye

Short sale approval letters may look like they’ve been obtained simply by experts, but it takes time and doesn’t just happen with luck.



short sales

short sale approval

Short sale approval: getting prepared, making it happen

People always ask me how it is that I obtain short sale approval letters with such ease. The truth is, that while I have more short sale processing and negotiating experience than most agents and brokers, I don’t just blink my eyes like Jeannie and make those short sale approval letters appear. I often sweat it, just like everyone else.

Despite the fact that I do not have magical powers, I do have something else on my side—education. One of the most important things than can lead to short sale success for any and all agents is education.

Experience dictates that agents that learn about the short sale process
have increased short sale closings.

Short sale education opportunities abound

There are many ways to become educated about the short sale process and make getting short sale approval letters look easy to obtain. These include:

  • Classes at your local board of Realtors®
  • Free short sale webinars and workshops
  • The short sale or foreclosure specialist designations

As the distressed property arena grows and changes, it is important to always stay abreast of policy changes that may impact how you do your job and how you process any short sale that lands on your plate.

The most important thing to do is to read, read, read. Follow short sale specialists and those who blog about short sales on AGBeat, Google+, facebook, and twitter. Set up a Google Alert for the term ‘short sale’ and you will receive Google’s top short sale picks daily in your email inbox. Visit mortgagor websites to read up on their specific policies and procedures.

Don’t take on too much

And, when you get a call from a prospective short sale seller, make sure that you don’t bit off more than you can chew. Agents in most of America right now are clamoring for listings since we are in the midst of a listing shortage. But, if you are going to take on a short sale, be sure that it is a deal that you can close. And, if you have your doubts, why not partner up with a local agent that can mentor your and assist you in getting the job done? After all, half a commission check is better than none!

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