When you ask the management of any property portal or online real estate classifieds site about its main revenue sources, they usually describe an advertising business model reliant on listing revenue from agents and developers. The key metrics this type of business tracks are the number of listings, visits, total time on site, and agency numbers.
The challenge with this approach is that when the listing revenue is hard to achieve and cannot drive long-term growth, management has to innovate and find another competitive advantage using their existing business and its assets. This is particularly relevant in emerging market where agents, in particular, either cannot afford or do not want to pay for online advertising – particularly because there is not a history of paying for advertising in print.
The main goal of a property portal should always be to connect the buyer and the seller (whether it be an agent, developer or a private seller) and to provide a range of services to make the transaction happen more effectively and efficiently. So every new service that has this goal in mind has the potential to be a success and to reduce the reliance of the portal on listings based revenues.
For this to occur, there are a number of factors that the portal should take into account when looking at how they can extract more value from each visitor.
Knowledge about the visitor is critical
Historically portals valued a visitor if they generated an inquiry for the advertiser. As such, the focus was on getting more people to visit the site and then on improving the conversion of the visitor to a lead through better contact form placement and providing access to the agent contact details.
However, the portal is best placed to know the most about the visitor. They can understand what the visitor wants by what they are searching for and who they are by capturing some information about the visitor.
Many property portals are part of other portal families. Therefore, if they handle the visitors globally (across all portals in the family) rather than separately, there is the potential to gain significantly more information about the visitor. For example, moving is often connected to a change in employment. Therefore, if we use the profile of the visitor on the job portal, we already have a picture of their financial capacity for any new property.
The objective for any portal is to convert a visitor from an IP address to a name and address (and so much more information). Once this is done, the UX can be tailored to the specific user based on who they actually are.
Monetization of the leads
The easiest way for a portal to monetize visitors is via a range of displaying advertising options including banner advertising and native ads. A more complex way of generating advertising revenues is through targeted EDMs. This requires the building of an email alert database and then targeting these subscribers with advertisements.
Often these types of advertising are for financial companies or banks. The challenge with this approach is that there is no control over the lead quality and the final conversion to a transaction is performed on the advertisers’ site.
To create more value, the portal should look at lead qualification whereby learn more about the lead and then sell these leads to multiple partners. A portal that has developed good knowledge on its visitors has the potential to prequalify the visitor since their history and engagement has been tracked and can be attached to the lead.
Most property buyers invest significant time in searching for a property and the amount of time they spend on a portal provides significant opportunity for the portal to develop detailed information about the visitor. The more times they visit the site the more serious they must be in looking for a property. Therefore, asking questions based on the number of visits provides an opportunity to extract more information and therefore increase the quality of the lead.
During this process, it is possible to integrate external information to help build a profile of each visitor. For example, in the European Union the regulations of Open Banking are already available allowing data from the banks to be connected to the portal’s data and, with new predictive methodologies becoming available, portals will be able to better qualify their leads.
New competences are needed
To be successful in this new world of lead qualification, portals will need to be strong at converting a visitor’s IP address to an email address and then measuring and mapping out their users’ behaviours, collecting data and connecting this data with external sources.
Underlying all these competencies is data management and data analytics skills. These skills are in high demand across all industries as all online companies look for ways in which they can get to know their customers betters so that they can improve the targeting of their products and services.
On top of this, portals will need to think more carefully about the products and services that they are offering as there is a symbiotic relationship between the types of products offer to their visitors and the types of data or information required. Therefore, it is important that a portal focus on those products and services that are of highest value and that they have the highest chance of generating visitors who become “hot leads”.
Finally, the portal needs to think about the types of visitors it is attracting. Any marketing efforts should be shaped towards attracting those visitors that are likely to convert to high-quality leads.
The world of online real estate is rapidly changing. Traditionally, it was about attracting visitors to a site to look at listings and to charge advertisers for putting those listings in front of the visitors. However, portals are now realizing that they are generating highly valuable leads that others are capturing the lion’s share of the value and thus they are investing more time and money into understanding their visitors and then selling these qualified leads to capture as much value as they can.