The rise of the web caused a massive upheaval in a lot of industries. The real estate business was hit particularly hard. The advent of the internet meant agents could suddenly reach a whole new world of prospective clients and market to the masses-- regardless of location-- cheaply and effectively. Gone were the days of connecting to buyers through print ads and yard signs.
The continual commoditization of online real estate listings has recently led to listing aggregators Zillow and Trulia joining forces to create a monolithic vehicle for displaying property data. But keep in mind that they aren't the first to try, and it's unlikely that they will be the last!
Remember Google Base? OK, maybe you don't. But for a long while Google was allowing agents and MLS associations to syndicate their listings to Google, who then put a front-end search on the whole massive load of data. They discontinued this a few years back after realizing that they couldn't deliver the quality data and search experience they wanted.
Remember Microsoft's HomeAdvisor? Another unsuccessful attempt by a huge company to horn in on the real estate world and impose its will.
Using a different tactic, companies like Redfin are using their powerful web presence as an online brokerage to cut out the local brokers from the sales cycle, dropping commission rates across the board to entice homeowners to list with them.
These developments are rightly concerning to agents and brokers alike. And it's becoming clear that for agents there's a choice to make that boils down to quantity vs. quality.
Agents have to make the decision to play ball with the aggregators and accept lower commissions and higher marketing costs, or spend the money and effort finding and exploiting a niche market that they can own. It's been reported in several major outlets that the leads coming from the big aggregators are not generally high quality. Major brokers have started pre-qualifying efforts to scrub these web leads before they even get to their agents to avoid wasting their time.
It's a major topic of debate whether it's really in the best interests of the agent to push listing data to the big sites in the first place. The agent is the one who worked hard to get the listing-- but in many instances the listing agent is cut out of the display in favor of higher-paying advertiser agents. Several large MLS associations have decided to pull their listings from ListHub and / or Zillow for this reason, and more may follow suit.
Now, I'm not advocating the "ostrich approach" to technology that so many MLS associations have taken. Pretending the internet doesn't exist and clinging to listing data through overly complicated and restrictive regulations, and making data schemas convoluted and difficult to connect to creates walls around the very data that you want the world to find! An aggressive online marketing strategy is a MUST, and a clean, functional and search engine friendly site with fresh and accurate listing data is at the top of the list.
But when you read a statistic like 80 - 98% of home listings are made by referral, it suggests that it might make sense to concentrate on your own turf, both internet and local, to make yourself the best agent you can be rather than trying to compete as "just another agent" in the biggest pool you can find.
That means find your niche-- whether it's only "downtown" listings, a specialization in waterfront, condos, or REO properties, or a focus on young familes looking to upgrade. It pays to focus on your core market-- leverage your expertise in your local scene. Blog about your community. Become the "go-to guy" (or girl!) for your specialty.
Cultivate your contacts via social media and by simply being social-- be active in your hometown and, most importantly, stay in touch with your customers. Get your clients to leave feedback on Yelp, Zillow, and Google+ to build yourself a track-record of success. Don't neglect postcard mailings, attending local functions, auctions and school events, and just being a good neighbor. Old school approaches still work.
By following this advice, you can increase your site's search engine ranking, find targeted, well-qualified traffic and establish yourself as a subject matter expert and trusted resource rather than "just another agent". Having a ton of leads in your pipeline is great, but it's even better to have closed sales-- concentrate on your niche, and the quality and quantity of your leads will increase.