In 2007, I began to take a hard look on my marketing.  It dawned on me that I was shooting darts on a less than clear target.

My direct mail campaign, which has been going for a whole year, attracted paltry response; my database of sphere of influence (SOI) was getting harder to update with all the change of addresses (short sales and foreclosures spreading like wild fire in Nevada).

I was spending 5-10 hours a week, $2000 in shipping costs & bulk shipping license on campaigns that gave me less than 2% response rate (professional direct marketers average 2.61% response).

I knew I had to switch my marketing heart and soul online — technology was getting too loud to ignore.  And I knew I had to start with search marketing (I didn’t have a budget for Pay Per Click Adwords).

Search engines made it possible to peek on user desires without spending a dime.  Dead, old school direct marketers like David Ogilvy would tear up with this kind of insight — unprecedented access to an ever increasing demand.

3 years, one blog and 7 sites later, I was all in.

Here are 5 Effective Strategies I’ve learned along the Way (#1 and #4 the hard way):

1.  Invest in a Strong Domain Name

If you are as smart and as hard working as the folks in Hawaii Life (led by the indomitable Justin Britt) or your name is Barbara Corcoran than by all means build a brand early in the game.  But for the rest of us who doesn’t have the luxury of manpower, money and time; a strong, generic, market-defining domain gives you a crucial head start.

In most cases you can get an estimate: “Reno real estate” gets  69 searches/day from the big 3 search engines.  “Las Vegas homes for sale” is estimated at 1,301 searches/day on Google.

Beware: many of these generic real estate domains cost more than gold.  The big reasons are its rarity, tested & proven to be the exact terms users are searching for and Google’s exact match domain bonus. It’s expensive because you’re buying instant respect and the domain owners know it.

I recently inquired about some names I was lusting on: is $15,000. is on the market for $24,000. I can’t afford both (plus I already had a 3 yr. old site in the niche that I can build out). But I didn’t stop there and I don’t think you should either:

Two alternatives:

  • Jay Thompson’s winning recipe: primary keywords with a sprinkle of branding  —Phoenix Real Estate Guy, In some cases you can get these names cheap, search at godaddy. Or go to secondary markets like afternic.
  • Search for smaller areas: was available for register price.  Sparks is the next major city adjacent to Reno.  It’s market defining for a price of two cups of coffee.

Additional thoughts:

  • I’m not afraid of using .net and .org in my online ventures when the .com is out of reach.  You still get the exact match bonus. And if you create remarkable content with loads of links and have an older site you can beat the .com
  • Let the domain age. Start building now. Put up a basic WordPress site, host it on your host server (like, put up decent content and point a dozen links to it (directory and blogs).  Google trusts older domains.
  • Real Estate terms commonly used in the U.S (city name and area precedes these terms):    “__Homes”, “ _____Real Estate”, “ _______Homes For Sale.”  “Real Estate” seems to be the most expensive and sought after.
  • In moderately competitive markets you don’t necessarily have to invest in generic real estate terms.  In many low to medium competitive markets you can build a branded name and point targeted links to it (“Reno Foreclosures Guy”).  And that could do the trick.
  • If you’re thinking of doing heavy public relations and investing significant time in Social Media; a branded site might serve you better.  Just know that it requires significant amount of time and effort to build a brand.  But the few who make it, make it big.
  • Real Estate has been depressed the past 4 years. Realtors and brokers are gun shy and have remained passive in their marketing.  Now is the time to search for good deals.  I just bought a Las Vegas related major keyword for less than $500.  It has an estimated 800 searches a day on Google alone.  Even at less than 10% of that volume, I still get 80 searches/day on just one keyword.

2.  Go after long tail keywords

Getting a good domain name is like buying premium land. Land is valuable but the true value of a vacant land grows in proportion to what you build on it. After I put up a basic site with decent content and let it age for 6 months to a year, I start my plan of attack – keywords to target.

The term “long tail” simply means targeting less competitive niche markets (“Reno Short Sale Expert”)  versus competitive broad keywords (“Reno Real Estate”).  There are tools out there that can give you an idea on what people are searching for in your market.  And as you learn more about what users are searching for in your site (through analytics), plan your site navigation accordingly (main menu, pages).

Back in 2008 I focused on targeting the long tail “Reno Short Sale Expert”.   I wrote extensive articles about the subject and conducted interviews with local industry experts.  For two years it brought me good, qualified leads and thousands of dollars in revenue.

Another thing that could work well is to target branded communities and luxury villages that are popular in your market.  Arbitrage brands. Build a page about it in your main website and create remarkable content through readable stats, high quality pictures and video.

Focus on giving people a sneak preview of the area’s lifestyle.  Be the best source of information about the area.  Companies like IDX Broker make it easy for users to search homes in niche communities (“Huntington Beach Foreclosures” or “South Vegas Homes under $200,000”)

This is where a good authoritative domain name (point #1 ) helps.  Because you’re standing on prime land (assuming you also built quality links to it), it’s easier for search engines to trust your other content.  It complements each other.

3.  Create Remarkable Content

Do unto others as you would have them do unto you.”

When I sit down and write articles I try to put myself on my target reader’s shoes, “what would I want to learn about this area?”, “Who are you? Why should I trust you?”, “Don’t talk down on me.  And be honest about the market.”

Your content should be personal. It needs to be you, a readable you.  What do you like about the area? What do you dislike about it? If you are passionate about nature, create a comprehensive article on the nearest trail, take pictures as you hike.  If you enjoy analyzing numbers and charts, that’s wonderful, mix it with a twist of practical reality and what it means for Mr. Joe.

If you act like yourself, are willing to be human, and feed into your character flaws, sometimes those are more citation worthy than what you’re good at.

Learn how to create simple graphs on Microsoft Excel and brand it to your site (email me if you need help).  This will give your site credibility.  Don’t be scared of writing long copy (1,153 words in this article so far).  Weave stories and learn how to make your writing readable through bullet points, short paragraphs and summaries.  Read Copy Blogger and Ogilvy on Advertising.

Be the default website for the area/market you are targeting by having the most detailed information.

Try to mix personal experiences and feelings in relation to what you are writing.  This is how readers begin trusting you when they hear your real voice.

My first slogan in my blog was, “A Reno Real Estate Agent who Lost $50,000 in the Real Estate Market is on a mission to understand the market just a little bit better.”

4.  Get professional design on your site.

Seth Godin gave this sage advice, “copy from a remarkable site that’s not directly competing with your business.” This will make it easier to communicate with your designer and give you a faster turnaround time.

I’m a firm believer of what you say is more important than how you say it.  Content is more important than how pretty your site is.   But if you want to increase your chances of attracting high quality links and to let your readers know you are serious about what you do — a credible, well-made design will help you get to the next level.

My first major design overhaul cost me $2,000, anchored on a bad design idea.  It was mostly my fault and I hired the wrong person to do it.  I also wish I went to WordPress earlier, using the flexible and SEO-ready THESIS theme.

What I paid $2,000 two years ago, would now cost me much less.  But if you have the budget, go with a well-referenced programmer/designer who can put your vision online.  It’s a good investment.

If you don’t have a budget for a designer-programmer, you can go to freelancer, they have an “ebay-like” feedback system that makes it easy to know who to trust.  You can usually find a capable talent at $10-$15/hour.

Read about web usability and don’t make me think.

I prefer simple, easy to navigate layouts.  I try to make my main menu under 8 options to avoid analysis paralysis.

4  things I prioritize when improving site design:

  • A clear, understandable and well put logo
  • Slogan that explains what you do in one sentence: “A straightforward guide to buying homes in Carson City”
  • Heavy Color Contrast: like black letters on white background.

5.  Links:  Build and Cultivate Relationships

“You can’t save souls in an empty church.”

A link is a vote for a site.  The web is a social network where good ideas will want to spread naturally.  It is far easier to spread an idea worth spreading that it is to push for a bad idea.

Link building is the most important activity in determining the success of a site.  It’s also the most time consuming.  But every minute you spend here is time well spent.

I abide by 3 rules: do it consistently, be personal and the more you use your imagination, the better (vertical related fields).

Here are some things that have worked for me:

  • Try to hit vertical fields.  If you are in residential real estate, you can also create a viral article on Heart Centered Real Estate and offer your content to do-gooder bloggers.  Or write something about the assisted living real estate market and share it to small business bloggers/senior bloggers .
  • Register your sites in these top directories: Yahoo! Directory, DMOZ,, JoeAnt, BOTW and Gimpsy. Will cost money. But worth it.
  • Get to know the webmaster before asking for anything (guest post, links, etc.)
  • Make a list of the top blogs and active websites in your city or community.
  • Call local webmasters and introduce yourself, tell them what you appreciate about their site.  Go as far as inviting them over coffee.
  • Write comprehensive articles on hot topics.  As early as 2007, Jay Thompson started writing helpful articles about short sales and he even made a separate page out of it.
  • Guest post on leading industry sites.
  • Leave value adding comments on local and top blogs in your field.
  • Don’t be afraid to request a link.  Be extremely personal and do it consistently.  Don’t be afraid of rejection.
  • Be involved in Activerain and Bigger Pockets community.  Be interested and interesting.
  • Identify top real estate bloggers on major Cities and States. Try to be part of the conversation by being interested in what they do.
  • Get to know local chambers of commerce & industry associations and offer to speak (if you have something good to say).  Ask for links from their websites.
  • Take part in industry related websites: Transparent RE, 1000 Watt Blog, Real Estate Tomato, Inman,etc.,
  • Use Hub Finder (FREE but need to register).  Hub finder makes it easy to help webmasters find co-occurring links.  Hub pages that link to multiple competing sites are also likely to link to your site.
  • Create tools and guides that help certain segment of people.  “A short sale guide to wells Fargo loans.” Email bloggers who might be interested in posting it.