Lost Property: How The Real Estate Industry Is Fighting Back Against Digital Platform Reliance
9 minute read

When realestate.com.au was established in 1995, many real estate agents and business owners initially dismissed the platform.

It was new, it was untested against the traditional forms of real estate advertising and many believed it would never take off. Even though it was free to advertise on the platform (at that time), many were hesitant to list their client’s properties on the platform – for various reasons.

Domain.com.au joined the property portal race in 1999, established by Fairfax Media, and we started to see the introduction of paid advertisements, but with limitations…

As the years rolled on, some agents still resisted uploading their listings to these two websites but most accepted the reality that the internet was here to stay and consumers would be utilising it as a go-to resource for property search.

I recall in the conversations I had with real estate business owners in the very early 2000’s that some were concerned about the ownership of data as one of the reasons for not wanting to go ‘all in’ with advertising their listings online. But their hand was somewhat forced when consumers started insisting that their property be advertised online, in their mind, to attract a larger pool of potential buyers.

With the birth of social media – starting with MySpace in 2004 and then Facebook in 2007 – the internet became somewhere people lived their lives rather than simply a resource for information.

As more online platforms were launched, real estate agents started using these as well to promote their listings, their profiles and their results – significantly increasing the number of channels in their digital marketing mix.

Facebook Pages, in particular, came at an interesting time when the rising cost of advertising and subscriptions on the major property portals was becoming a topic of conversation among irate real estate business owners and so Facebook was seen as an exciting new opportunity. It was also free (at the time) and many agents dove straight in and started using Facebook as yet another channel in their digital marketing mix.

But as the major property portals showed, free advertising and a free profile on someone else’s platform will only last for so long. Facebook’s reach eventually declined and brands were forced to pay for the privilege of reaching their followers.

Everything is exciting when it’s free but once a platform has the content and data they need – your content and data – to attract their (or their investors) desired number of daily active users (DAU’s), the free ride doesn’t last for long. Subscriptions go up, features are limited or – in social media’s case – you need to pay more to reach your followers.

Every digital platform has followed the same formula – and probably will in the future – and while it’s the rising costs that most real estate agents and business owners complain about, there is a much more important conversation that needs to be had about control, ownership and utilisation of your own data.

Today, there are hundreds of online marketing channels that you can use to market yourself, your listings, your reviews and your results.

All of the green highlighted platforms above are real estate industry-specific but this list doesn’t come close to the full list of platforms and technology/software being used by real estate agents today.

I’ve been in this industry for most of my working life so hopefully I can say this without losing your attention…

We are very easily sold to.

When a new platform comes along that promises to make our lives easier and our marketing cheaper, we’re like Dug from the movie “UP” – constantly distracted by the squirrel (i.e. the new shiny marketing tool).

We’re busy listing and selling and we trust that what they’re saying is worth a try. Plus it’s free (or close to free), so what have we got to lose, right? Well, a lot actually.

The more we keep handing over our data to third parties, the more reliant we become on those third parties for new business and the more they use our data to bolster their commercial arrangements with other stakeholders. As subscriptions inevitably increase, this puts your business under more pressure to find new ways to fund your reliance on their platform. And if our industry’s worst fears become a reality and one of these platforms decides one day to turn around and become an agency on their own, where will that leave us?

Do we need the major property portals? Yes. It’s baked into the minds of consumers that property search starts there and you should absolutely be there too.

But, do we need them as much as they make you think you do? Absolutely not, and the same answer applies to ratings and review websites and other platforms to whom you have willingly handed all of your data.

We need to protect ourselves as an industry.

How The Real Estate Industry Is Fighting Back Against Digital Platform Reliance

During the rise of our major property portals and other third-party platforms, most real estate businesses have neglected the only digital platform that belongs to them – their own website.

Rather than sending traffic to their own website, most have been actively sending people to the major property portals, third-party review websites and their social media pages instead.

When it comes to social media specifically, most agents will post all of their content with no link to their own website because they’re embarrassed by their own website and they believe the major property portals provide a better user experience. Most agents are probably right.

But with real estate businesses now investing in more sophisticated websites with advanced lead generation tools for their agents and are upskilling their internal marketing teams on a strategic approach to traffic generation, the tide is turning on where agents send their traffic.

The old approach to real estate websites is broken

Real estate business owners would be wise to change their view of their own website more broadly as competitors bolster their website capabilities and upskill their internal marketing teams.

For many real estate businesses, their view of their own website has traditionally been akin to a piece of stationery – a nice-looking static online brochure, if you will – and a necessary item to run a business. But once their website is launched it is rarely updated, if at all, let alone used as a marketing platform that generates any remarkable amount of traffic. Instead, all of their efforts are focused on outspending their competitors on other websites i.e. the major property portals, social media and review platforms.

The idea that your own website is the most important digital asset, and can drive new business at a much lower cost than any other platform, is a concept that will be difficult for many to grasp. But as more and more businesses bolster their website capabilities and upskill their internal marketing teams, many will be forced to catch up or continue to rely heavily on third-party platforms at a significantly higher cost to their business in the future.

The tide is turning in real estate when it comes to website design and a growing number of real estate businesses are moving away from the ‘off the shelf’ templated website approach and toward customised marketing platforms with cutting edge technology built into the website itself. Template real estate websites, while cost-effective, are simply not capable of providing the same level of functionality, data security and lead generation opportunities as the latest websites being released today.

Taking on the big players and stealing back traffic

A look at the top 20 visited online real estate platforms shows where we, as an industry, are sending the bulk of our potential clients.

While these rankings have remained somewhat unchanged for many years, it is not uncommon today that we see a relatively small independent real estate business receive more than 100,000 visitors to their website each month – which translates into significant vendor lead generation and property enquiries on their own website at a much lower cost by comparison to their presence on other platforms and places their own website in the top 50 most visited real estate website portals in Australia, according to data from similarweb.com.

Many businesses we’ve spoken to have even reduced their spend on the major property portals and other platforms to fund the traffic generation to their own websites and the growth in popularity around “off-market” sales in some markets has seen an increase in listings being advertised exclusively on an agency’s website with zero portal advertising.

The portals hate this by the way. They wouldn’t create ads like this if they didn’t see the growing number of “off-market” deals as a threat.

Related: How Harris Real Estate Dominates Their Market With Off-Market Listings PortalRead Article

The goal of having one of the most visited real estate portal websites in the country is growing among many independent brands looking to take back control of the eyeballs on real estate in their local market.  Using platforms such as social media, Google, email marketing, SMS and good old fashioned print marketing to drive significant levels of traffic back to their own agency website is providing these businesses with something they don’t get on any other digital platform – someone’s full and undivided attention.

Remember…

Your website is the only digital platform you own. 

Your website is where the cheapest form of lead generation happens. 

Your website is the only place online where you are not competing for attention. 

Some pundits have believed that building an industry-owned and backed portal was the solution to fighting back against the control and authority of the major property portals but perhaps the solution is a little more selfish than that. Maybe, just maybe, it’s about each business fighting for traffic to their own websites in the market they operate. The only thing holding you back is knowing how to use the internet to your advantage and getting people to your own website before they go somewhere else.

The ability to offer real estate consumers exclusive content and experiences on your website, experiences they can’t get anywhere else online, is easier than ever. Combining this growing list of exciting new website integrations with the upskilling of internal marketing teams on a strategic focus around website traffic, real estate businesses are able to create their own market for buyers and sellers alike.

Related Video: Lachlan Turner, Managing Director @ Turner Real Estate (Adelaide, SA)

 

In closing…

In the olden days, we only had four third-party channels to market our businesses, our listings and our agents:

  1. TV
  2. Radio
  3. Print
  4. Display Ads

To access an audience, we had to pay for the privilege to access their audience. Today, we can reach the same audience ourselves and direct them back to our website at a very low cost compared to other third-party channels. The challenge every real estate business has right now is learning how to do this before it’s too late. And the race has already begun.

Are you ready to compete? I certainly hope that you are, or that you will be very soon.

Author: Josh Cobb

Phone Number: 0427 184 183

Email Address: [email protected]

Stepps was founded by Josh Cobb in 2014. Josh has advised more than 100 brands since starting the company and hundreds of agents who have attended his workshops. He is the host of the popular Real Estate Pros podcast, oversees digital strategy for top performing real estate agents and teams, and travels the globe with several international speaking engagements each year.

Josh was named as a finalist in the REB Awards for Industry Thought Leader of The Year in 2017, 2018 and the winner of  Brisbane Young Entrepreneur of The Year 2017 – Marketing, PR & Events and a finalist for the same award in 2020.

In addition to web development and digital strategy consulting, the company also runs Stepps Media, a fast-growing education company that produces an iTunes top-ranked podcasttraining events, email and webinars.