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The Breakaway Brokerage, Part 4: Words, copy, content and opportunity

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The content opportunity in real estate has been obvious for a decade. A well-executed content strategy helps you get found on search engines, engages site visitors, lends authority to your brand, and differentiates you from your competitors.

But in 2013, it’s time to get even more specific about content. We’re no longer talking about slapping together a WordPress blog, filling it with pretty charts, market data, listings, a few posts here and there about local events and sending it off in a tiny URL over Facebook and Twitter.

This year, the opportunity is large, but the focus is narrow.

Not only must you show up to the content party, but you’ve got to plan what you’re wearing, bringing, and intend to say while you’re there. And you’ve got to be ready to do it well. To get you started, this post highlights important tactics for winning content in 2013.

But let’s start with your words. All of them.

Many times the word “content” translates to blog and Facebook posts when up for discussion. It’s actually much more than that, which we’ll get into below.

But first and foremost, your content is your words – your voice, your tone, your message. And your whitespace.

Before we get deeper into content strategy, if there’s only one thing you do this year in the content bucket, this is it: Mind your copy and tune your company’s voice.

Content, in the user’s mind, begins with the first word or image they see on the first visit to your website or any of the digital touchpoints that surround it. How are you speaking to them? Are you sending them jargon-filled emails that make their eyes glaze over? Are you communicating mixed messages about what you offer or who you are?

Give your website and marketing materials a scrub this year. Start today.

Some rules to live by:

¿Hablas inglés? Speak to users in their own language. Ex: Think “I need a place to live,” not “I need someone to help me fulfill my home ownership dreams” (who says that?!); “sell my home,” not “innovative home marketing system”; “help me find a mortgage”, not “talk to one of our professional mortgage consultants.” You get the point.

Remember the humans. You know, the ones who will be reading your ad, your website, your blog. They don’t understand words like “top producer”, “platform,” CRS, ABR or any of the other acronyms for designations. Don’t use terms that are too inside baseball or promotional in nature.

Don’t act drunk. Drunk people may be happy, but they’re also generally slurring words, losing their train of thought and not making much sense. It’s amazing how much of this you see in brand copy. Sober up!

Let users form their own opinions – they will anyway. In other words: Don’t say how great you are. Instead, give some hard facts about what makes you great. Anyone can say they’re better, smarter, number one. What can you claim that’s different from everyone else?

Don’t talk to two different audiences at once. If you want to talk to both agents and consumers, you need to divide your messages into separate rooms. At a conference, you wouldn’t expect two unrelated sessions to take place in the same space with no divider. Two conversations battling for attention means no one hears a word of what’s being said.

Reveal a bit. Everyone likes a good story. Companies and corporations are not people, but they are comprised of people. There’s a story there somewhere. Maybe it’s the demonstrated dedication of your agents. Maybe it’s the first leap of faith you remember in building your company. Maybe it’s an inspirational experience with a client. Find yours. It’ll make you more human and enable your target audience to pull down the BS guard a bit.

Understand the difference between voice and tone. The two terms are often used interchangeably. But they’re quite different. Understanding this will help you further develop both. Your voice is solely yours. It’s what makes you you. It’s all the experiences leading up to this moment that shape the way you view things and communicate with others.

Tone is more like mood. It will change from situation to situation – and it should. You would use a different tone when telling a friend about a great game you saw versus consoling them when they are upset. When tone doesn’t match a situation it comes across as non-human.

Cut the fat. Extra words don’t mean added value. You’ll probably need a true grammar nerd for this. Verbal economics is a fine skill that will do wonders for your copy and content.

Finally, two examples of brands that take great care with voice and tone: AppSumo and Mint. AppSumo promotes products that help you be more productive. You know that from a single line of copy on their homepage that gets right to the point: “We promote great products that help you kick ass at work.” Very clear what they do and their casual tone makes an immediate connection. They’re not selling innovation, platforms, systems or profitability. No. It’s products that help you kick ass at work. Beautiful.

Mint’s voice is refreshingly easy to understand and non-judgemental in a category that is otherwise full of jargon and people who often make us feel stupid and unprepared.

Once you nail your copy, you can move on to larger content initiatives, like:

Local first. Real estate second.

Think about this: 52% of actions on real estate brand sites come directly from a local search on a search engine (via Google/NAR research). Real estate is forever tied to location – both offline and online.

Just as consumers need to know you’re a local brokerage, Google wants to know you’re local and authentic before it considers you an authority worth ranking high for local searches. Google’s Panda updates since last year have placed more and more emphasis on a site’s unique, relevant content for ranking.

Property listings may be highly relevant, but they aren’t unique. Google knows they’re everywhere now. If you want your content to drive traffic, your content will have to be consistent, unique and engaging. And local is how you get it at the brokerage level.

What this means for you, the broker, is more thought and strategy towards the people, places and things that surround the four walls of a home listing.

Go beyond text

For all the reasons Jeff mentioned last week in his post about SEO strategies, your content strategy should by all means go beyond text.

When it comes to sharing content, images win hands down. Think about what you see on Facebook everyday – it’s 90-95% pictures.

Here’s one idea: Make 2013 the year you stop using stock art and start using real-life, proprietary photography of your local market. You’ll produce unique, engaging content rather than cookie-cutter images that lack meaning to your audience.

Inspiration: Each of these brands has created some engaging, real-time Instagram galleries with the help of their customers: Lululemon, Marc Jacobs, Red Bull, and Tiffany.

These are smart tactics in your 2013 content strategy.

Hire for the part

There is a massive explosion of content about to take place. (This is a great presentation about the onslaught of crap coming our way.)

The opportunity lies in creating content that’s good. Content that cuts through the laziness everyone else will fall prey to. Content that’s different, useful and well executed.

You’ve got to push yourself here. And for that, maybe it’s time to hire some real-life professional content creators to take the pressure off. Your agents are good resources, for sure. But they are agents, not content producers. Think writers, photographers, videographers and producers. Agents produce listings; your brand should produce unique content.

Make online reviews part of your content strategy

This is a big one – not only for SEO, but also for good old-fashioned consumer trust.

Almost no one goes blindly into a purchase or transaction of any kind without a little Googling or Yelping first. If your agents do not have consumer reviews on these sites, they are invisible to a big chunk of consumers who lurk there before making a decision.

If you’re still squeamish about negative reviews, read this post in which we discuss that very topic and why you should embrace them rather than let them paralyze you.

Stop creating content for content’s sake

Creating content for the sake of creating content is the worst approach you can take, next to doing nothing at all.

In fact, content done half assed makes you look, well, half assed. It speaks volumes, but is not saying what you want it to say.

If you want results, you need a serious strategy, a talented team, clear objectives, measurable goals and a commitment to doing it over the long term. It’s not just designing a blog. It’s what comes after you launch it. Next month, next year and in three years.

Be wary of anyone who tells you content is easy. It’s not. It’s hard work. It requires time, talent and budget to pull off. But this is the way of the web. In 2013, whoever gets this right will reap deep rewards.

[Image used with permission, copyright Mekuria Getinet.] 


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10 Responses to “The Breakaway Brokerage, Part 4: Words, copy, content and opportunity”

  1. Tracy TC says:

    Great post, except it’s missing even a passing reference to listings content. Any industry can (and should) do all the things you mention. Real estate, on the other hand, has a whole big juicy database of prime content that potential clients really want.

    We have clients that don’t say a peep on their sites (talk about cutting the “fat”) and you’d be shocked at how many visitors and leads they get simply by slicing and dicing and offering listings data in ways that make sense to visitors. The search engines eat it up, too, because this content is highly relevant to this audience.

    Enough with the “words” already, people. The real “opportunity” in real estate is in the database.

    • Jeff Bernheisel says:

      Tracy,
      I mentioned using listings as good content in the previous post in the series…

      However, strictly relying on listings as “great content” won’t get you as far these days as it used to. People (and search engines) want and need content surrounding the listings. Of course, this should be good relevant content (as Jessica points out). It differentiates the brokerage/agent/website etc from the other thousand in the same market, with the same listing data, all competing for eyeballs.

      NY Times just published a great article related to this:
      http://www.nytimes.com/2013/02/03/realestate/making-web-sites-completely-addictive.html?pagewanted=all&_r=5&

  2. Tracy TC says:

    I read all the posts, Jeff. And yes, everybody has the same listings. Sadly, only a tiny fraction of agents and brokers know how to leverage those listings in ways that are relevant to their audience.

    Your NYT article completely supports my point. Corcoran isn’t writing about listings. They’re showing them. How do you think they’re doing all that cool stuff mentioned in the article? It’s database programming, not content copy writing.

    It’s time for agents and brokers to start looking more closely at that IDX database that has been handed to them with a bow on it. Consumers are increasingly more sophisticated and they want their online information to keep up with their tastes. Database programming is the ticket to connecting with those consumers and it’s not as expensive as it sounds.

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