This is an ongoing debate among real estate brokers and agents.
Here’s the situation, you’re marketing your real estate website online, you’re investing in SEO, maybe you’re working with PPC, maybe your office site is getting hundreds of visitors every day. The question is this: When do you ask the user to sign up? How do you acquire the most leads and, more importantly, customers? Which is your priority, quantity or quality? Let’s explore:
When a buyer is looking for a new home, they’re going to be looking for information. Most often, they’re going to want to search for real estate that’s on the market. Maybe they want market data or some other kind of information beyond simply listing search results. At any rate, they want to visit a site and get some information. Knowledge is power and they want to feel empowered.
Now, there are some horrible website vendors out there who sell websites that require the user to sign up to access just about every part of the site other than the home page. You make the user sign up to search, to get a report, to get a home valuation, to do just about anything. These sites will kill your prospects of achieving good search engine placement. Remember, the search engines will not fill out forms. They will not hit the submit button. In short, they won’t know about the majority of your content. If you want to optimize your site for SEO purposes, make sure the search engine robots can get to the information using regular HTML hyperlinks.
Now, when we build sites, we usually put the sign up in one of a few places:
- Sign up before the user can see search results. Yes, most visitors to your site will want to use the property search. So, it makes some sense to have them sign up in order to search or to see the results of their search. There are two major objections to this method
- Plenty of other sites don’t make the user sign up to see their search results and lots of users don’t want to sign up for anything. They prefer to remain anonymous. So, you risk loosing the possibility of converting this user into a lead and sending them to your competitors’ sites.
- If you make a user sign up just to browse, they’re somewhat likely to give you fake contact information. This is a risk. Our experience shows that when a site forces a sign up earlier in the search process, then they see more fake leads who are tossing bogus information into the sign up form just to get to the good stuff. Now, you may be willing, as many folks are, to sift through these fakers in order to get to find the real leads. There’s nothing wrong with this tactic.
- Allow the user to browse and only ask them to sign up to use advanced features
If your site is built well, then it should provide the user with many different interactive features. This might include the opportunity to register for an account, save favorite listings, save searches, sign up for nightly listing updates by email, schedule a showing, inquire about a listing, etc. Lots of sites allow the user to browse the search results without registering. In other words, the user doesn’t convert into a lead until they’re ready. The argument in favor of this strategy is that the user who inquires or requests a showing is a better lead. The argument against is that you’ll see fewer leads. Indeed, when someone requests a showing or more information or signs up for nightly email listing updates then they are indeed a more qualified lead. That said, there are lots of folks who don’t want to sign up until they’re ready to buy and using strategy #1 above may turn these folks away.
- Hybrid approaches to lead gathering
- You can give away some information and require the user to sign in for more. Lots of sites don’t give away property addresses, for example, until the user has signed in.
- Another approach is to allow the user to use the site for a while – say giving them access to 2 searches or 4 listing details pages – before requiring them to sign up. This is sort of like tempting the user. You show them that there’s a lot of inventory and features for them to use and entice them to sign up in order to stay inside the promised land.
- One of our favorites is to show the user the search results, but to then use something called a Lightbox in order to ask them to sign up. That’s when the screen goes dark/opaque and the user is presented with a sign up box. They can still see that search results are behind the sign up and they’re more compelled to sign up to see what’s just beyond. Again, some users may just click the back button and go back to the search engines to find another site where they don’t have to sign up at all.
Customers come to us all of the time and ask about the best ways to implement lead acquisition within their site. It’s not a simple question to answer. If you have a lot of agents to satisfy, we recommend going for quantity. Make the user sign up early in the search process. If you have a lot of traffic and you want to get the best quality leads farther down the search road, then ask them to sign up later in the process.
Overall, your site must be engaging and the user needs to want to stick around and come back again. If you’re not designing for a superior user experience, then you’re just not going to get the leads that you need out of your real estate website.