Online Marketing in Real Estate – Fast Start to Stagnation

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Online Marketing in Real Estate – Fast Start to Stagnation

Changes in the Industry like no other
It can be argued that no other profession has been so affected by the internet as Real Estate. I count myself lucky to have been in the industry right when it “crossed over” into the Internet age. When I got into Real Estate the agents were the true gatekeepers of information. Every two weeks, a book of listings within your county was published, and every Realtor received one. Buyers were primarily reliant upon their agent to communicate new listings to them in a timely and efficient manner. The only other source of Real Estate information was the circular in the local newspaper, published once a week.

Enter the internet, which enabled forward-thinking brokers to start placing listings online. As early as 1996, buyers were using the internet to find homes, especially if they were relocating to new areas. The advent of the internet was amazing, as it transformed the industry in a few short years. I saw amazing results from advertising properties online, and it didn’t take much for me to make the decision to pursue a career in online marketing rather than Real Estate.
horrible pictures on a real estate listing online
Unfortunately, while the accessibility of property listings has increased, the level of knowledge and online marketing has not grown with the times. In fact, from shopping for homes the past few months, I am convinced that the learning curve for online marketing among many Realtors has stagnated. When came on the scene in 1997, they sold to Realtors, using ploys such as: “the average listing on receives “x” views.” I felt like the lone ranger trying to explain to my fellow Realtors that a lot of the sales lines were bad data improperly applied. It showed me a lot about the lack of understanding of technology in that industry. Some have only recently accepted that the Internet is here to stay.

Here is my recent experience from the past few months of searching for a home. They say that doctors are the worst patients. It may also be true that former Realtors who are now online marketing veterans may be the worst sellers or buyers.

Bad Photos – are you kidding me?
In this day and age of inexpensive, high quality digital cameras, you post low resolution photos that are pixilated and hard to see? Worse yet, you show laziness buy simply uploading everything you took a picture of?

a little dark?

If I had my house on the market, I would be going ballistic on my Realtor, as there are no excuses for :

  • Low res, pixilated photos
  • Blurry pictures
  • Pictures of toilets and mirrors
  • Less than 3 pictures uploaded for any listing
  • Cameras held at an angle, making everything look like it’s on a slope
  • pictures of beds, which I am not buying
  • No pictures of the items listed in the description. If there is a workshop – take a picture!
  • everything seems to be leaning to the right

  • no labeling of photos that have been uploaded
  • No interior pictures!?!?
  • Snow on the ground – and it’s late May
  • The same three photos – repeated 2-3 times.
  • Misspelled adjectives – “Emaculate Condition!” (really?)

Each one of these things is something that can easily turn off a buyer. Not taking the extra time to take a good picture, not considering presentation, and not labeling photos will negatively affect the buyer’s decision as they shop online. Not enough information is one of the worst problems an online listing can have. pixelated photo

Realtors and Responsibility
Pictures are meant to present the sellers home in the best light. Can a little thought be made about the selection and the quality of pictures that are used? The responsibility of the listing Realtor is to represent the seller. This includes the responsibility of the online listing. EVERY part of that online listing should be attractive, explanatory, and sensible. Anything less is a disservice to the seller, who pays your commission. I am very surprised that more sellers do not get online to check their listings. I think more Realtors would be fired if sellers checked their listings.

Expectationsa picture of someone's bed
If the listing description highlights certain areas of the home, such as an in-law suite, over-sized garage, pond or other feature that can be a potential selling point – please, add a picture. There are so many homes that had excellent descriptions, but then no photos of any if the items described in the listing. The description is the first area we read, and it sets up the expectations, but then the lack of pictures is more than disappointing, it lessens the property.

When there are an almost unlimited number of pictures that can be uploaded, only loading two to three outdoor shots is inexcusable. If there is an in-ground pool, please add the picture. Someone may want to see it. If you have green or lavender bathroom toilets, you may want to go ahead and add it as well, just to keep expectations in line.

Anything less than 10 photos is a crime against the seller. For newer homes with more than 2000 square feet, 20 photos. Three or less is negligence. Negligence not only towards your seller, but to any buyer who is comparing properties.

Real Estate 2.0? When?
I am waiting for more social aspects of marketing to be implemented. While real estate was one of the earliest adopters of the internet (not without resistance) it has not grown out of a 90’s mentality of online marketing. The only things I can do are email the realtor, email the listing to a friend, or make a printable brochure. Some sites allow me to create lists of the properties I like with registration, which I liked, but I was still disappointed with the lack of flexibility in ranking, saving, excluding, and comparing properties.

I for one am waiting for the ability to add comments to listings. I would love nothing more than adding what I liked or didn’t like about homes, and I am sure that it would help to make some homes more attractive. I am also sure that the comments would also shock some sellers into reality when buyers can be directly honest about the home and the outrageous prices that some are asking for what they are offering.

Some comments I would have left:

The house photo is at a weird angle because of the mobile homes and cars on blocks in the neighbor’s yard.
This home advertises 2 full baths. The second bath is in the basement and has no walls.
The separate 3 car garage and workshop makes this house well worth the asking price.
The pool and the outdoor chimney are amazing, but the yard was too small for us.

URL Addresses
At my previous company, we went to extraordinary lengths to create search friendly URL’s in order to have the database of homes spidered by the search engines. Ultimately, each property had its own short, unique URL, based on the MLS number. We celebrated. Simply searching by using the MLS code in Google would result in the property page showing up in the rankings. Unfortunately, the client had no idea how great an accomplishment this was, nor the implications. Now, the average URL that I cut and past from real estate websites are well over 50 characters . . . Check this out (if you can):

These tend to break. I send these URLs by email, Instant Messaging, and SMS. My wife and I share URL’s incessantly, as it seems we change criteria every week. Sometimes, our friends help out, but rarely does anyone use the “Send to a Friend” option. Could it be that they are not visible or too cumbersome? My opinion is that people do not use these forms because the policy is not clear about using email addresses gleaned from the website. Every send to a friend form that I viewed had no clear policy or explanation of how the emails would be kept, used, or maintained.
frustrated website user

Final Thoughts
Having been in the real estate industry and cutting my teeth on real estate websites in the 90’, it frustrated me beyond belief to see the lackluster attempts at online marketing. I would dare say that the majority of buyers are looking online before they ever contact a Realtor. How a Realtor sells a property, the pictures they use, and the description they provide, are all keys to how well they will do their job. It’s a business card. It’s an opportunity for the Realtor and their seller to shine, yet most do not seem to take the time to learn the tools or create effective presentations.

Sellers Need to Demand More
Maybe it’s the area where I live, that many Realtors seem to uncomfortable with a digital camera and creating well-crafted, marketable property descriptions. I am sure that there are Realtors out there who take the time to build an amazing online profile of the houses they list. As a seller, I would demand nothing less than a professional listing with clear, hi-res pictures that present my home in the best possible light. Anything less would be unacceptable.

A friend pointed me to a Realtor’s blog where he has created the Bad MLS Photo of the Day. I like his style, and I am sure that he will have a never-ending source of content.

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About the Author:

Matt has taught Google employees how to understand and use Google Analytics, consulted with Experian on how to present data, developed online marketing training for both Proctor and Gamble and Johnson & Johnson and presented analytics methodologies to Disney, ABC & ESPN. As founder of SiteLogic, Matt teaches marketers how to create measurable and profitable strategic marketing plans.


  1. Steve Woodruff May 28, 2008 at 2:02 pm

    This is so right on. The old real estate “club” is ripe for total disruption. All the tools are present and accounted for. Just needs implementation.

  2. Mike Bradbury May 30, 2008 at 3:58 pm

    I am so in the same boat.

    I came over here from cre8pc and, man, can I relate.

    Trying to find a home online is almost impossible. Of course, that’s the idea. They suck you into the site and then, when you can’t find all the information, they figure you’ll call and buy the home through them.

    I’m surprised you didn’t find more sites that you had to give your email address to just to see the house.

    How about trying to find a house on their map, but its in a new subdivision that hasn’t been picked up yet so instead of plugging in information manually, you just have no idea where it’s located.

  3. Blog Marketing Journal June 2, 2008 at 5:10 pm

    This article is on point…. more Real Estate folks must realize these things! Seems they are a bit old school with their ways.

  4. Mordechai Boaziz June 10, 2008 at 9:33 am

    Very well put and how true… thank you for the excellent article.

  5. Mordechai Boaziz June 10, 2008 at 9:34 am

    Sorry, looks like the citation didn’t go through… I meant this part of your post:

    “Unfortunately, while the accessibility of property listings has increased, the level of knowledge and online marketing has not grown with the times.”

  6. Mazda June 22, 2008 at 5:06 am

    thanks for this info. seems like everything for marketing online is just there but everyone is just not making the better use of whats available

  7. Fanny Cuiso July 18, 2008 at 3:48 pm

    Real estate agents aren’t as dumb as we all think they are. I honestly believe all of this is done just so we all will get aggrivated in out search and then go into thier office and buy the first thing that is even remotely close to what we’re looking for. My mother is in real estate, sorry Mom!!!

    Fanny Cuiso

  8. Matt Bailey July 22, 2008 at 8:14 am

    Andy – very good points, all around. I understand your points and appreciate the strong effort to meet the needs of the customer.

    You made one statement, “they tell me its because I was available and accessible when they emailed or called with a question.” That makes me smile, because even with the technological age – it’s still the same old selling – be available with information.

  9. Ann Arbor MI Homes For Sale July 22, 2008 at 7:28 am

    Your points are on target, there is a small percentage of the agnets and brokers that fully use internet technology to a high level in marketing real estate.

    As a real estate pro Ann Arbor MI with a strong interest in internet marketing, I have been able to put the internet to use in my business very successfully. My company and my broker Keller Williams Realty have done a lot of research on what the internet consumer wants, and agents that use this research have been able to build successful Internet based real estate marketing businesses built on delivering value to the client – both sellers and buyers. while my site is not perfect, I strive always to improve and get feedback from my users. When I ask buyers why they chose me, often times they tell me its because I was available and accessible when they emailed or called with a question and that I had lots of local content, access to listings and, I didn’t make them sign in to use the site.

    I spend the majority of my marketing budget on Internet marketing and it has returned huge dividends. There is a small percentage of agents that are really using web technology to develop better real estate shopping and selling experiences for their clients – maybe 5 percent of the agents have top level internet tools. Old school agents that still have the gate keeper mentality are being left in the dust.

  10. Nick Stamoulis July 22, 2008 at 12:40 pm

    This is a great post! It always it amazing how real estate agents truly still don’t use the web to drive leads and sales. Often many times we have real estate clients who “nickel & dime” our internet marketing services because of the poor US real estate market. But they have no problem spending tons of AD dollar marketing their listings in newspapers…

  11. Good Therapy October 2, 2008 at 8:53 pm

    I really glad that Real Estate “crossed over” into the Internet age. I couldn’t have imagined just using a newspaper to find my house. I think the internet allow they real estate agent to reach more customers. I think that putting pictures of the property on the internet will make more potential buyers want to come and look at the house.I really enjoyed the article.

  12. Imobiliare ploiesti June 10, 2009 at 3:50 am

    Bad pictures are common unfortunately. Great post. Very usefull.

  13. Zac Coplan June 9, 2011 at 10:37 pm

    I am the webmaster for a remax firm in gilbert and I could not agree more, As an agent myself I am aware just how bad the typical agent is with internet and marketing. thanks for the post

  14. Matt Heisler July 9, 2011 at 9:25 am

    I’m glad so many agents are in denial about the internet. Creates more opportunities for those of us who are working to be experts in this area.

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