The Key to the Kingdom is Not the Keyword: Why You Must Market Offline

Posted by: Joseph Ferrara on May 28th, 2008

The Gospel According to NAR

I had read the Gospel according to NAR (National Association of Realtors)—77% of buyers use the internet to search for homes.

The NARstat is sacred dogma, incessantly chanted by mainstream media and the bloggerati. It provides the philosophical foundation for the agent congregation putting their listings on all manner of real estate websites, especially, the largest real estate church on the net.

The NARstat requires agents do penance and upgrade to the revered “featured listing” pews. To question the holy NARstat would be a blasphemy akin to questioning the earth’s roundness (actually, the earth is an oblate spheroid, but I digress.)

The NARstat also justifies, to a large extent, the agent’s participation and marketing in the new Web 2.0 world where the Google keyword prayer box promises to bring roaming client pilgrims to the agent’s blog or their Truzilfacespace profile—leading to blessed business and salvation for all. But, are we worshipping a false god at the Tower of Google?

The Internet Reformation

Last summer, I took a little RV cross-country trip with Rudy, my partner at the time. We set out to spread the Word of Web 2.0 to the masses, who we suspected were unbelieving techno-pagans. Our odyssey took us to over 30 cities—places like Boston, Philly, D.C., NYC, Atlanta, Orlando, Miami, Tampa, St. Pete, Chicago, St. Paul, Denver, Phoenix, San Diego, Sacramento, Reno, Seattle, Portland, Salt Lake City, Boise, San Francisco -— and all the Waffle Houses in between.

We interviewed real folks young and old, owners and renters—to discover how and where they looked for the places they call home. After 5 weeks on the road and 10,000 miles logged on this beautiful country’s highways and byways, it was I who began to question my internet marketing faith.

We thought consumers would know (and use) the web big shots like Trulia, Zillow,, Redfin. Surprisingly, their answer was most often “Who?” (“Zillow is a dance” and “Redfin is a fish, right?”). Perhaps they knew about blogs and social media? “Huh? You mean MySpace?” Oh oh.

What? This was Web 2.0 blasphemy!

Don’t tell me people are still using the net to search stock quotes and porn and play games. I was internet immersed in the, how could others not be? Were we preaching to the choir while everyday folks looking for homes were reeling in the Dark Ages asking friends and family, reading newspaper ads and driving the neighborhood?

Apparently, yes.

I learned that while consumers do use the internet to search for homes, I did not sense it was the overwhelming NAR 77% (oh, NARstat sacrilege!). And for those that did use the internet, it was NOT the only place they searched and, more importantly, it was not always where they began.

Most, in fact, began offline, asking family and friends for recommendations and advice.

It was also very common to drive the neighborhoods and look at lawn signs (they usually know the neighborhoods they want to live in by the same old fashioned means –- family, friends, personal experience in the neighborhood). It is not uncommon for them to read newspaper ads, especially in certain markets with an established classifieds section.

And yes, folks did go to open houses.

Non-NAR Studies

Our research was admittedly unscientific but it raised the question—since real estate consumers are in so many offline venues, wouldn’t it make marketing sense to make contact with them in those venues?

Maybe, then, they would type your name in the Google box, instead of a keyword.
Since the Blog Tour, I have come upon other non-NAR research which suggests that most folks looking for homes to buy or rent, are not as tuned into Web 2.0 websites or tools as we think they are and that traditional methods are not obsolete.

According to two recent Pew Internet studies, only 8% are deeply engaged in the participatory Web 2.0 and only 11% said internet information had a major impact on their home decision.

Here were some findings:

  • 49% used the internet+ but it was not the only source for information
  • 49% read ads in the newspapers (who said print is dead?)
  • 47% asked a real estate agent for advice* (real people still matter)
  • 31% ask friends, relatives and co-workers

(+ For those moving to a new city, 60% used the internet and 55% relied on a real estate agent.)

Read the full studies here and here.

Do Not Make Offline Marketing the Sacrificial Lamb

So what does the conflicting scripture mean?

It does not mean you must give up your online presence or reduce its cultivation and expansion. The net is perhaps the nirvana of the future. But, for the here and now, I think it means do not sacrifice offline marketing, networking and client referral based expansion.

For example, if the studies indicate consumers consult family and friends, develop a referral system. Are you keeping in touch with your clients with the aim of keeping an ongoing relationship? A client who has closed a deal and is now a homeowner may still need “homeowner” advice and guidance.

If people attend open houses, do them.

Rather than abandoning them as unproductive sales tools, recognize that they provide opportunities to engage prospective home buyers face to face and get fresh leads. Network at offline events, get involved in community affairs and organizations, teach, organize events with other professionals in your market—heck, do an open house or foreclosure bus tour—stand out from the crowd … outside.

Don’t be tempted to abandon offline marketing because of costs (not all of it is costly) in favor of the internet promised land of “free”. If your time is money, the net is not free.

And let’s not forget the religion of real estate is not practiced in a Google pew box.

It is often more Zen than Zillow. Real estate is as much emotional and fluid as it is intellectual and statistical, with factors determining value and influencing decisions different from one person to the next.

It is still a people and relationship business with most consumers still valuing the real estate agent, with most business done face to face. So, how will you best get in front of your client?

Will you continue to wait for the keyword to bring them to you or will you be proactive and go out and get them on the street?

Salvation, I think, lies in a 360 degree marketing approach, one that blends and complements offline marketing with online—with offline efforts drawing clients to your online presence (website, blog, profile) and your online presence adding to your offline resume — all with the objective of reaching the consumer, wherever they may be, and getting a phone call and a meeting, where your expertise, experience and unzillowable charm, will convert the client.

What offline marketing/networking methods have proven successful to attract clients to you?

[By the way, I did a little research on the NARstat. I learned the stat was created when 7,800 of 145,000 selected buyers answered a NAR questionnaire. Having never seen the question, I am curious to read how it was framed. Years of legal wrangling has taught me how the framing of a question can almost guarantee a desired answer. Now, I am not suggesting that NAR did anything sinister, but I’d like to see the question, and its context, since getting a high percentage would convince the congregation to continue to worship at the altar of Forget for a moment that less than 5.5% of the “selected” buyers responded—I understand in the statistician’s number crunching church, this may be enough to sanctify the stat— but still, that’s a lot of empty pews.]

Joe Ferrara is publisher of Sellsius Real Estate Blog.



9 Comments on “The Key to the Kingdom is Not the Keyword: Why You Must Market Offline”

Mike Farmer

Using one method does not exclude other methods for me, but, Google search is paying off big in my business. It’s becoming the most important part of my marketing plan because I’m getting results. I don’t know if that holds true for others, but it does for my business.

Mike Farmer

I meant to add, though, while you are travelling, preach to all the agents in Savannah so they won’t be trying so hard to get good placement.

I’ll take Google and leave them the rest if they’ll make that deal.


I think this is really interesting how this article is on the homegain blog, an entire internet based broker. If internet wasn’t such an important aspect of real estate, would homegain even exist?

Louis Cammarosano

The HomeGain real estate blog is a place where agents and professionals share marketing tips.
There are many ways to market, HomeGain is one of them.Indeed we have customers that only use buyerlink and can’t get our other products to work and we have customers who use Agent Evaluator or Source4Sellers and can’t get buyerlink to work.

There are agents who only blog, only buy key words on Google but not Yahoo., or who only buy on Yahoo. but not Google.
The point is not every marketing solution works for everyone. Joe is pointing out that some offline marketing solutions work.
online solutions might not work because you may get lots of traffic to your web site either through blogging, homegain’s buyerlink or buying keywords doesn’t mean that you can convert those visitors into transactions. You might be better at handing out your card at public events.
No marketing system is a magic bullet; all require work, follow up and a certain temperment.
Realtors should examine marketing solutions to fit their style and budget and then gauge which is the most effective. Eliminating all offline marketing solutions might not be prudent.
I would argue done correctly, internet marketing is the most effective. Joe actually posted here an article why the internet buyer was the best customer.
That view, however should not preclude offline marketing.

Joseph Ferrara


You make an excellent point. HomeGain’s advantage is that it is further up the Google stream to get more leads than its clients can get. Same with Trulia. This frees the agents to use other marketing methods. HomeGain squeezes the Google juice for the agent. HG, I imagine, spends a lot of money to get that juice for its clients.

In any case, the post is not about abandoning the internet for offline marketing. It is about not being tempted to forego offline marketing completely– clients are still reachable offline.

The sermon is “Do not to put all your marketing eggs in the online basket relying on a keyword to bring you a client.” IMO, salvation lies in a blending of the two.

In the end, we all must discover what works best for us. Heck, some folks are just better at networking offline. Who would argue their success?
I wish you all success and happiness in whatever church you pray.

A. Longo

My dear friend Joe…you hit it on the head here. Thx for you tips and tricks along the way…as always.

Mark Eckenrode

interesting and on point article. as a person who has built several internet-based businesses i will say that offline is where my “business happened,” online is where i leveraged all of my efforts. basically, without the net i couldn’t have developed the reach, without going offline i wouldn’t have closed the deal.

these are not mutually exclusive. wherever your target market is, you need to be there too.

true leverage and even “control” of your market is being able to move your prospects from one field to the other and back again.

Rebecca Levinson

Interesting information. I am not surprised that many of the consumers you encountered on your travels weren’t well versed in the as we know it. Yet I am sure the majority use the internet when they are considering a purchase or sale, and so that is why it is important for real estate agents to embrace technology.
I agree with you about the 360 degree approach. A good marketing campaign will combine both online and offline techniques. I think open houses are still a good opportunity for agents and homeowners. I have seen other agents employing older solutions- door to door sales- with some hard and fast results. I think what is key is not to get so far behind on technology that you are left in the caboose and your competition is riding the gravy train. Also, allow others to help you with your marketing so you can flex your skills and time in different directions.

Ryan Ward

I still contend that “2.0″ is not where the internet buyers are – mostly. They look at regular old “1.0″ websites with listings. Besides, most consumers won’t want to engage the way that some of us who work diligently at writing on the web would like to think. Homes, simply as another ecommerce website, is far more important to consumers than what any of us have to say. At least that’s what my analytics tell me.

Blogs, myspace, whatever…it doesn’t register with the average consumer. Show them homes and you will find buyers. I suspect that ultimately, it will remain this way. Consumers don’t want me and they don’t want you. They are interested in the product.

In any event, you are correct in that putting all of your eggs (read leads) in one basket, be it the internet or otherwise, is not a good idea for real estate or just about anything else.

Cross marketing on and offline provides a win-win. Advertise youe internet marketing offline and advertise other items online and open houses work if you advertise them correctly and know the inventory.

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