At Homeflow our clients break down about 30-70; those with online marketing managers, and those without. In those agencies who have online marketing teams, the online marketing manager is almost invariably our direct client who calls the shots. And in those without, it’s typically the owner-manager who makes the decisions. If we, and they, are lucky, there will be someone within their team who has a natural flair, or an interest in online marketing, and in those cases, that person often becomes our operational contact.
So, it’s fair to say we spend much of our waking lives working with and for estate agency online marketeers. And they’re busy people, with a very varied task load. In this article we’re going to try and examine the types of things we see them doing with their days. Clients, having written this, we salute you! (And if you are reading this please email with any thoughts – we will edit appropriately).
This article is one in a series, which starts with our overview on the importance of the online marketer to an agency business, and goes on to look at ways you can organise online marketing resource at all different scales, from one branch and just 3 employees, right through to our biggest clients with 800+ staff, taking our full on enterprise services. In those larger organisations, online marketing becomes a set of departments.
We’re strong believers that if you’re on the cusp of being able to afford an online marketing manager, you should get one. And if you do decide to hire, we’ve put together a suggestion for a job description / advert, in the hope it’s useful for your recruiting – just remember to tell them that a key part of their role is to demand a better quality website ;-)
So, what activities do you need to cover?
In summary: you need your online marketing team or person to help set up, and co-ordinate all the activities which drive you towards trapping more valuation enquiries from your website. Great online marketing will also help with the (somewhat harder to measure) benefit of setting the right mental brand impression of your business in the potential vendor’s mind, WELL BEFORE you get out on the valuation with them.
Digging into the detail, your marketing resource – however you structure it – has to perform some prioritised mix of the following tasks:
(1) Planning / Learning / Adapting / Setting Strategy
At the highest level, a good marketer will be helping you watch the changing trends, educating themselves, making judgement calls on where to invest their time, and your cash, to get you in on the trends early. It’s a fast-changing world, which is one of the things that makes online marketing such a fun job. If they’re good, they’ll be experimenting cheaply, measuring and analysing, then either pulling back (think native mobile apps, videttes), or doubling down hard (think Google Adwords, or the importance of mobile).
Only a good marketer will be capable of performing at this level for you. Smaller businesses might well not hire a very senior marketeer, or, if they have an independent owner driver bias, they’ll probably have enough time and interest to set the plan themselves. In this case, you can afford to hire more of an operational do-er, instead of the full on professional senior marketeer.
(2) Building your website
Clients often ask, “how long does it take to launch a site”. The truth of the matter is, if we look back across the landscape of the sites we launched in the last 18 months, those with dedicated online marketing resource, on the whole, launched faster and certainly with higher quality written content, than those without. That’s perfectly natural if you think about it… operational management have got to focus on selling houses, so if you want to be good at doing the web, then ideally you’d have someone with freedom and responsibility to focus on developing excellence there.
But that risks making online excellence the sole domain of the bigger clients, whereas many of the sites we launch are for single office agencies. And unless you’re a “super agency” – our term for agencies with 200-300 available properties from one branch – then having a dedicated online marketing manager is a pipe dream. Yet one of the slickest launches we did this year was for a two-branch firm. The owner properly delegated their website launch projects to one of his lettings negotiators and gave her space to operate – online marketing resource in a right arm, and a left leg, if you like. Indeed the more nimble, focused single branch independents are often those who take our more innovative products, or “risk” a more interesting design, they act on trends faster, and can often be more open to innovation in general.
It’s also true that perfectionism is the enemy of effective online marketing. As soon as your new site is better than your existing one, you should push it live. Building a website is not like building a house, it’s never finished, and the launch date is the start line, not the finish line. You should aim to keep the task simple, arguably with just five or six content pages, to get live quickly, to get on the road harvesting the uplift from a better design/brand impression, and better SEO, then you can settle in to the task of working on a wider, deeper, higher quality content base over time. This leads us neatly to…
(3) Managing your website on an ongoing basis
As we just said, launching your website is just the first move in a chess game, not the end game!
If you want to perform, you’re going to need to fine tune it… Write new content for it; build new functionality from time to time; change the graphics; update the navigation; change the footer links when you join new associations; or add new social media channels pop up, etc etc.
Having resource to resize graphics, sign off web pages, test new bits of functionality, demand further bits of functionality, change SEO meta tag structures, write new landing pages, and so forth, will make a big impact to the operational performance of your marketing foundation. In sum: once you own a really fast car, you’ll want a good racing driver to get the best out of it.
(4) Writing content, or even filming video
A big part of a marketing team’s responsibility has always been writing the brochures, and marketing collateral. However, there have been two big shifts in the fast changing landscape of online marketing which have really bitten in the last 2 years: the increasing role of content in helping our your SEO performance, and the move to “content marketing” which is to say reaching out and engaging with your customers through genuinely useful content, about their problems, rather than about your business. Heck, you’re reading some now.
Fitting in the writing of content between into your day job is a tall order. So, having some resource to give this the focus it deserves, is key. Indeed, in the bigger teams we work with, content origination is a small department in its own right.
The other rising trend is filming great videos, which you can then hang in a variety of places on your website. Again, this takes time and intiative to manage. You might be able to produce a bit of video in house yourself if your marketing manager has an interest, but at a minimum they can help you find a really good videographer, and organise production of some really compelling video.
(5) Optimising for Google (SEO and SEM)
This is arguably “the biggy”. After your Rightmove advertising, your performance in Google is probably the biggest marketing swing factor your business has at play. Getting this right is massively important: even if your business has just had a great year, you won’t know how much better it might have been; if you had got it really right in Google, you could have had even more valuation leads. Higher fees anyone?
Actually there are two parts to it: natural ranking in the results, (Search Engine Optimisation – “SEO”), and paid for traffic (Pay per Click – “PPC”, or Search Engine Marketing – “SEM”).
As the teams expand in larger scale agency groups, this role very quickly becomes an individual, and on into a small department. There are often consultancies or specialist agencies in the mix, but if you are spending on SEO consultancy, without a dedicated online marketing resource on staff, we’d strongly encourage you to consider trimming the budget on the SEO advisors, and hiring resource with SEO experience onto your team, which will give you the ability to act more effectively on the advice you get.
A good online marketer will have this down. We’re almost at the point where kids don’t leave school these days without a good understanding of the basics of SEO, so the great news is we’re no longer talking about a rare skill.
(6) Managing your portal relationships
Interestingly, very few of the smaller or medium sized agencies we work with (and we mean anywhere up to 20 branches) delegate the responsibility for the portal relationships to their online marketing teams. It’s not clear why, maybe just because they’re a long entrenched part of the overall marketing landscape, so they get bundled in with the newspaper advertising relationship, and they represent hard and substantial costs and negotiation, so the boss remains involved directly.
However, there is a whole world of tricks and tips to optimising your portal relationships. You want great images in your feeds. You also want a considered data feed strategy – there’s a lot to talk about in there. There is great data and intelligence coming out of the portals if you gear up to use it. And there are branding and email products galore too. We’ve also got logos to worry about, and tracking of response levels and quality. Then there’s the lead response processes within your branch(es). Furthermore, if you’re really on it, you’ll be looking at Boomerang too! So, even if you keep hold of the negotiation land border with portals, there’s a lot your online marketeers can get their teeth into to optimise how the portals work for your business.
(7) Tweeting, Plusing, Liking, Poking, Pinning, Connecting, Sharing, Listening
In the long run, responsibility for Social media needs to be engrained wide and deep within the fabric of your own organisation. However, to get it there is typically a journey. This work starts by just getting the low maintenance basics set up on the major networks. It goes through being fed, watered, loved and cared for, which requires someone who cares about this stuff at the helm. And the final step of getting it embedded into the whole business requires processes, policies, training, coaching and monitoring.
All of those tasks require resource, if you want to get the best out of social media and the knock on SEO benefits an active presence in the social sphere gives to your Google rankings.
One bit of good news… Kids definitely don’t leave school without being completely native on social media activity, so step back and get out of the way, empowering your youngest negotiators if you can. Or, if you do want to be involved, ask them to teach an old dog new tricks; it’s surprisingly fun.
(8) Managing your email activity
Email is huge. Really, it’s huge. It’s also typically a preceding media, by which we mean it’s often the first meaningful touch point a customer will have with your brand, where they are really focused on you and your service: people will experience your brand and develop a view of it whilst they are staring at an email reader.
And “email” is not easy. There are blanket email campaigns to worry about. There are purchased third party email campaigns to take advantage of. And there are blacklists, deliverability levels, and spam filters to worry about. Then there are matching property email alerts. And company auto-signatures for when your negotiators email their customers from their phones on the way back from a viewing. And now there are auto-responders to consider too.
A good marketeer will help you ensure all of those emails go out in a consistent brand style. They’ll make sure the links are all coming back to freshly written content, or directly to beautiful property details pages on your own site (rather than a template page, spun out of your software system, with no connection to your website to continue that user journey smoothly).
(9) Coaching and building process into the wider business
With so much to do in the field of online marketing, if you’re not careful you could drown one person. So the real art is picking and prioritising campaigns, then getting activities engrained into normal business process as far as practical.
Whether that’s co-ordinating written content from managers at the front line, or identifying the keen amateur photographer in the negotiator team, it doesn’t matter. Or perhaps it will involve training employees on social media, and encouraging branch managers to clean up their LinkedIn profiles. On each strand of their activity, the online marketing manager should be seeking to encourage the wider organisation to carry as much of the marketing activity naturally, within their normal course of business, as possible. That requires coaching, training, and process expertise. It’s also only something that you can expect of a more senior marketing hire, someone with a bit of management clout and people leadership experience.
Perhaps the clearest example of embedding online marketing into the ongoing operational processes comes in the area of encouraging “reviews”. Getting five good, solid Google reviews on each of your branch Google+ pages is essential for your SEO. And the best way to get those reviews, is to build a follow up process into the post-exchange checklist that happens as a course of business. We’ve watched clients organise this like a military machine; you know who you are and you’re super impressive.
(10) And, finally, analysing and measuring the efficacy of it all
The beautiful thing about online marketing is that it’s a science. There’s nowhere to hide in fluffy brand impression stuff that can’t easily be quantified. That’s not to say the fluffy brand value isn’t there too, and very important with it, don’t get us wrong; we’re just saying that that the traffic and lead flow analysis is much easier to measure and optimise.
The often-quoted quip that “half my advertising is wasted, the trouble is I don’t know which half”, needs to be revised. Something like “half my advertising is wasted, the trouble is I now need an online marketing manager to measure exactly which half that is and to stop it immediately”.
So, your online marketing team needs to take stock and measure everything. Broadly speaking, that’s going to involve really using Google Analytics to understand the heartbeat of your site. If you have over five branches, they’re likely to want to get comparisons of your performance from our LABS project. And they’re going to want to communicate the key high level reports with management, to build the management team’s involvement and understanding. And they’re going to want to trim back on activities that don’t generate traffic, or leads, and double down on those that do. They’re going to shift around your marketing investments to more efficient media, and your business will perform all the better as a result. Modern marketing is measured.
Wow, there’s rather a lot to do. Yikes! How do I fix all this?
So, if you’ve read all this, you’re going to need to find a way to devote more time and attention from people in your organisation to getting your head around all these tasks. That might mean taking the first commitment to engage with a bit more of it, borrowed from a few hours of negotiator time here or there. Or maybe you’re considering hiring an online marketing assistant, or even team, for your marketing manager. One way or another you’re going to have to look at solutions for different ways in which you resource your online marketing requirements, and perhaps even set about hiring them.
We’re always here to chat about it too, so, please do get in touch.