Why Create Content?
We’ve talked about content marketing a few times before: what it is, what flavors it comes in. But what makes it so special? Why bother creating pages of writing, hundreds of images, and hours of video when all you’re trying to do is sell properties?
- Content builds trust
- Establishes you and your company as experts in the industry
- Gives you something to share in the social web
- Drives organic traffic through SEO and social media sharing
To provide more detailed answers to these questions, we have to do some thinking about how the real estate industry has changed over the last decade.
Then and Now
Years ago, finding a realtor was pretty simple. Most of the time, you connected through a friend or relative; the rest of the time, you found one by reading an ad, a sign, etc. What’s important about these traditional search methods is that your radius was limited to the people, places, and publications you already trusted, knew, and read. There was no easy way to break out of your circle without sacrificing your sense of confidence.
Sure, you could search the yellow pages and find a whole host of real estate brokers and agents in your area, but all you’d really have is a phone number and a name. The question would always be, “how can I tell if this guy really knows what he’s doing?” Unless you went to the trouble to visit his office and talk to him, you’d have no way of knowing—and a fifteen-minute meeting wouldn’t necessarily answer that question, either. So people stuck to their circles, and were generally satisfied.
The web, of course, turned the whole industry upside down. True, connecting with an agent through friends and relatives is still the preferred method. (And why shouldn’t it be? After all, your friends and family are the people you trust most in the world.) Nevertheless, Internet search has made it much easier to reach outside what you know, to look for an agent or broker to whom you have no personal connection. Today, you can find out practically everything there is to know about an agent on the web with the click of a button and without having to go anywhere or speak to anyone.
How Good Content Makes a Difference
Some of the information that prospects find about you on the web—how long you’ve been in the business, which listings you have, etc.—is completely straightforward. That is, you can highlight it, but you can’t really change it. Other information is created by others—reviews, ratings, etc.—and is therefore beyond your control. But there’s plenty of information you can control and create, and this is what we mean when we say “content”: the stuff you write, shoot, and share that differentiates you and gives prospects something to go on when they’re considering whether or not to hire you.
Still, it’s not just about creating content: it’s about creating superior content. After all, the increase in availability when it comes to information also means an increase in noise. Years ago, your potential clients only had a few options. Today, they have seemingly unlimited options. So how do you make yourself heard? By producing content that’s better, more engaging, more informative than the other guy’s. We’re here to show you how to do it.
You’re About to Learn:
- How to establish your content creation goals
- How to design and create a professional real estate website and blog
- Content creation do’s and don’ts
- Ideas for both written, video and image based content
- How to create a year’s worth of content topics in an hour
Content Creation Goals
Clearly, the goal of great content is to grow your business. But let’s refine what that actually means.
To grow your real estate business, you MUST:
- Bring in more new leads
- Convert more leads to clients
- Close more deals
- Build existing customer relationships for more work or more referrals
- Beat out your competitors
Naturally, you should gear your content toward making these things happen—but creating valuable content is not about you directly. It’s about your audience and your audiences audience. You need to create content that serves your customers needs and is compelling enough that their friends and associates would be engaged.
Let’s look at some ideas for accomplishing this.
Start with a Great Website Experience
While we’re mostly concerned about the substance when it comes to creating content, it’s important not to forget the form—that is, the look and feel of your website. Just as you’d put your best foot forward when dealing with a customer, you want your website design to let visitors know that you care about your online image and have invested the time and money to do it right. If visitors start with a negative impression of the way your site looks, they’ll start with a negative impression of your content. Here are a few basic notes of things to look for in your website/blog design.
- Keep it simple. Don’t feel you have to fill all the empty or “white” space on your site with extra icons, or images. Avoid fancy animations and drop down menus. These are more likely to distract users from your content, rather than attracting them to it. Keep the look clean and uncluttered. Let the content speak for itself.
- Make sure it’s navigable. That is, make sure visitors know where to go, what to do, and how to find what they’re looking for. Be sure icons and text are large enough. Use a readable font. Label everything. Consult your favorite websites for examples.
- Search should be seamless. Besides the content that you provide, people are coming to your website to search for properties and that experience needs to be wonderful and fast. Consumers have grown accustomed to the ease of searching on Google, Trulia, Zillow and Amazon. They are now demanding that your site be just that easy as well. Don’t rely on older technology to deliver a seamless experience for you customers. The web is the new open house, make it a good one.
- Provide next click opportunities. If you’ve ever searched on Amazon or Zappos, you’ve experienced the next click opportunity. It’s where the site recommends the things you might want to click on next, as if reading your mind. “If you like 20th century modern, you might like this house!” It’s a way to keep the consumer engaged and get them that much closer to discovering what’s available and finding what they want.
- Make it easy to share. Sharing is not just about social media. Though that’s very important when it comes to sharing the great content you create. But when it comes to the home search process and the public display of personal finance, people are very reluctant to share their preferences with the world. They prefer to share with their very small group of trusted confidants. Husband, wife, sister, lawyer or best friend. Your sites job is to make that process simple. Build a private favorites component into your site and allow your customers to share their dream house with those they care about most.
- Link your blog to your website, and vice versa. If it’s not possible to integrate your blog into your primary site, add a blog link to the navigation bar on your main site. Do the same for your blog. Try to match the look of both sites as closely as possible so that visitors know they’re connected.
- Have help. Hiring a professional or building on an existing platform like WordPress will save you time and address a lot of design concerns automatically.
Whether it’s a news article, a blog post, or a tutorial, the majority of the content you create will be written. But what should you write about? Here’s a list of content creation ideas to get you started.
- Your customers. What better way to demonstrate your value to a potential customer than to describe the positive experience of a current one? Try choosing a deal you closed that went particularly well and describing the search from start to finish. Discuss the challenges you overcame. Profile the seller and/or buyer. Humanize the real estate process.
- The industry. Be on the lookout for interesting surveys, studies, and statistics about topics related to the real estate industry: home sales, new home construction, national and regional figures, etc. Break the stats down for readers and explain what they mean for the market at large and their buying/selling prospects in particular.
- Information on your niche. The more specific you can be about your market the easier it is to dominate the content for your market. If you’re the pet friendly vacation agent, your site should have so much information about vacation rentals and pets that it becomes a resource even for customers outside your geographic market.
- Public services. Buyers are always looking for information about the services and facilities in the communities they’re searching. Help them out by providing real estate-focused information and links related to schools, taxes, local government, transportation and commuting, etc.
- What your buyers are searching for. There is nothing that says you can’t post an ongoing list of the properties, price ranges and neighborhoods that your buyers are searching for. Just don’t provide your clients name. Example: Young family searching on the East Side for 3 bedroom with back yard 450-700k, in Darien school district. This type of post let’s potential sellers know you have buyers looking for homes like theirs.
- Businesses and entertainment. Give buyers insight on places to shop, eat, imbibe, and otherwise have a good time: restaurants, shops, bars, parks, attractions, etc. This will show them the value of the community you serve while demonstrating your expert knowledge of the area.
- Tips for sellers. Give those looking to sell their homes advice on how to prepare. Discuss things like home improvement, appraisals, staging, pricing, etc.
- How-to’s for buyers. Help buyers prepare for the process and show you are an expert. How to clean up credit in preparation for home buying. Choosing a mortgage broker. What to expect during an inspection. Even a guide on choosing an Agent. This let’s you articulate the things that set good agents apart from bad and show your confidence in the marketplace.
- Questions your customers ask you. Make a note of repeated or especially interesting/challenging questions from your customers. Pose those questions to your prospects and give them your expert answer.
- Social media. Comb Twitter, Facebook, forums, faq’s and blog posts to see what your prospects and peers are talking about. Then give your audience your take. If your view is decidedly different or more provocative than those of other agents, so much the better.
- Special properties and services. Don’t be afraid to self-promote! After all, your blog exists to advance your business. Highlight special properties you have in your inventory and special services you or your company provide.
- Internal improvements. Without getting too technical, try talking about the changes you’re making to improve the quality of your business. What are you doing to make your clients’ homebuying/selling experience even better?
- Something new. While it’s a good idea to join an existing conversation, don’t be afraid to do your own thing once in a while. Have a question or idea that no one seems to be talking about? Explore it!
Stories about your day-to-day experiences as a real estate agent can also be useful, as they give prospects a sense of your style and personality. But remember: this content exists to promote your business, not to serve your career as a professional blogger and Internet celebrity. Your focus in writing content should always be on adding value for your clients.
No matter what industry you’re in, video is an increasingly important part of content creation. This is especially true for real estate agents, who deal in physical spaces. Here are a few ideas for using video in your content strategy:
- Property tours. People do more in their homes than stand and sit around: they move, and so should you. While pictures can give prospects a rough idea of what each room looks like, video tours give buyers a better sense of the layout, sound, and feel of your properties.
- Neighborhood tours. An exterior photo of a home can only tell a prospective buyer so much. Try taking your camera for a ride through the residential and commercial sections of the neighborhoods your properties are in. Let prospects get a feel for the culture and character of the area.
- Local business highlights. Interview the business in your area, highlight what they do and why they are special. Ask them to say something personal about why they choose to open their business in the neighborhood. This let’s you build a relationship with local business, possibly getting back-links from them as well good will.
- Client testimonials. These are an advertising staple for consumer goods, so why can’t they work for you? Interview your customers about their buying and selling experience, then pull out the best comments.
- Staff testimonials. If you’re a broker or a lead agent, record your support staff talking about what they do to support the companies clients, why they choose to work with you, etc.
- VIP interviews. Seek out influential people in your community: local politicians, principals, merchants, and other notable residents. Ask them why this is a great place to live.
Photo and Graphic Content
Images play a huge part in our day to day content consumption. Pinterest is a prime example of how images can be used to engage audiences far and wide. Don’t worry about a fancy camera, with a smartphone or portable camera you can produce fantastic images worth sharing. Here’s a list of image creation ideas to get you started:
- Beautiful property photos. Don’t skimp on the quality and the quantity of photos for the properties that you represent. People engage with a home online when the can see lots of images. If you feel you don’t have the skills, hire someone to help.
- Local home styles. Take pictures of all the house styles in your community, it’s an easy way to provide a speedy architecture lesson and showcase the community at the same time.
- Neighborhood photos. Take pictures of all the cool places where you live. The more the merrier, group them into categories, make them easy to share and Pin on Pinterest, flickr and instagram or whatever photo sharing tool is current.
- Slideshows and presentations. Slideshows are an easy way to tell a visual story that’s quickly consumed. Some of your how-to’s can be done in slideshow format, as can market information or on the other end of the spectrum, inspirational content. Just follow the instructions from SlideShare.net and keep it short, make it visual and get to the point.
- Photos of your team. Invest in great photos of your team. If people buy from those they know, like and trust. You need to bring the web experience to personal level. Don’t settle for bad DMV photos representing the backbone of your company.
- Photos of your community participation. If you participate in your community, show the world how you give back to others.
Content Do’s & Don’ts
- DO provide archives.This will give your old posts a second life by allowing visitors to browse some of the great content that’s been knocked off the front page of your site.
- DO create categories/tags. They help visitors find those posts that match their questions and interests, both while searching within your site and on search engines.
- DO allow subscriptions.If your content is good enough to entice visitors to come back, you’ll want to make it easy for them to view it in the future without having to type in your URL or check back every day. You can allow users to subscribe to updates via email, or provide an RSS button for use with feed reading applications like Google Reader.
- DO provide a “back” link at the bottom of page. This may seem like a small detail, but it’s actually incredibly important. Whenever your visitors reach the end of a page or post, they should know exactly what you want them to do—which is, in this case, to stay. Including a back button will keep visitors on your site longer, encouraging them to explore all the other content via your home page.
- DO include promotion for your business. As we’ve said, your content exists to promote your business, so this one’s a no-brainer. All the videos and articles in the world won’t do you any favors if users can’t connect them to the product or service you’re offering.
- DO provide links to social media profiles. If you aren’t using social media already, you should be. Linking your site with accounts social networks like Facebook and Twitter allows visitors to interact with you on multiple channels, and also makes it easy for them to share content they like with their network of contacts, vastly increasing your marketing reach.
- DON’T post “filler content.” This is especially true in the beginning stages of your content strategy. Just because you don’t have a lot of content yet doesn’t mean you should pump your site full of hot air. Ultimately, people don’t come back because you have a lot of stuff—they come back because you have great stuff.
- DON’T write novels. Longer blog posts make your content seem more authoritative and well researched, but they’re also time consuming, both for you and for your readers. Furthermore, most of the time, visitors won’t read the article in its entirety, and you risk either boring them or confusing them with too much information. Instead, try to keep articles under 1000 words.
- DON’T use outside advertising. It may generate some revenue in the short run, but allowing outside companies to advertise on your site distracts from your content and your business. You also won’t have much control over what those ads will look like, meaning you could end up with a bunch of tacky images or animations that clash with your design and make you look bad by association.
- DON’T do link exchanges. A link exchange is an agreement you make with another website or group of websites. Basically, you agree to post links to their content on your own site; in return, you’re guaranteed links to your content on their websites. While this is a quick method for boosting traffic to your site, the effect won’t last—after all, these sites are posting your links only because they’re obligated to, not because they think your content will be relevant to
their visitors. In the other direction, you’re obligated to post links to their site even if you don’t recommend their content to your visitors, which could reflect poorly on you..
- DON’T do excessive promotions for others. Promoting quality content from other websites and writers can be a good way to increase your visibility, both to your customer base and to more successful content marketers. But remember, your first responsibility is to your business. If you spend all your time plugging others, your content will suffer, and you won’t gain anything by it.
Stick to a Schedule
Content creation isn’t just about what you post. It’s also about when you post, and how often. While you don’t want your content to become repetitive or boring, it’s extremely important that it be regular. Here are a few scheduling rules to follow:
- Create content like a professional, not a hobbyist. Make no mistake, creating great content isn’t easy, and you’re in this for the long haul. The more seriously you take it from the very beginning, the
better the process will be.
- Post new content at least twice a month. Again, you’re a real estate professional, not (presumably) a writer. No one’s expecting you to post new content every day of the week, or even every week of the month. Still, you need to post often enough that people will remember to visit. By putting new content up once every two weeks or so, you’ll ensure that no one forgets about you.
- Post/promote new content when people will see it. This is especially important to remember when publicizing your content on social networks. Promote your content on Twitter or Facebook at the wrong time, and by the time people are looking for something to read or watch, your posts will be buried under six feet of newer noise. Optimal posting times differ from service to service; the best time to post to Facebook, for instance, is around noon. Regardless, common sense dictates you post when people will be on their computers or phones, but not necessarily working: in the morning before work; during lunchtime; during the late afternoon doldrums; and right after work. On the weekend, Saturdays are probably your best bet.
- Depend on discipline, not inspiration. You might be thinking, “Twice a month? No problem. I can come up with something to write twice a month.” But inspiration doesn’t play well with others, so don’t leave your content at her whim. Instead, set aside a day for brainstorming and knock out as many topics as possible. Pull your favorite ideas from the content creation lists above and use them to generate a list of 24 topics—an entire year of content kernels. This will remove uncertainty from the equation while leaving room for the occasional visit from your muse.
- Keep your content on track with scheduling tools. Use technology to your advantage by putting the topics you’ve brainstormed into your calendar of choice—Google Calendar, Outlook, etc. Set reminders and priorities. Consult your calendar at the top of every week and month so that you have an up-to-date look at what’s on the horizon. You’ll find that content creation is a lot easier when you know what you’re looking for and when you need it.
These tips should get you started on your own content marketing strategy. Now, it’s up to you to take the most difficult step: start creating!