Search Vs. Social: Agents at All Levels Weigh the Varying Pros and Cons of Digital Marketing Strategies

With real estate marketing becoming increasingly digital, agents have invested huge slices of their budgets in online listing platforms while still tapping into the two most common bridges to the virtual world: search engines and social media.

Both offer tremendous access to potential buyers and sellers, but the approaches to the two tacticseither through paid ads or organic content strategiesare very different. Often, agents will opt for one over the other depending on the strategies they’re trying to implement.

“Facebook ads can get you a large amount of impressions for as little as $20, whereas Google (Pay Per Click) can be $10-20 per lead in areas like Washington State, where it is very competitive,” said Peter Kim, CEO of Odigo Realty in Lynnwood, Washington. “Social media ads are great for making impressions and getting your brand out there, but Google PPC, when targeted, can give you more direct connections to clients who are interested in making a move.”

When lead generation is the top priority, Kim advises putting money into search to make sure the brokerage or a particular listing comes up right away when someone is researching the market. That’s a very effective form of modern communication, which is akin to giving a direct answer to a user’s direct question. There is no ambiguity to what someone is looking for when they enter a basic query such as “3 BR single family homes, under $900K” or “real estate agents in Springfield,” so hitting them with an aggressive advertisement at the top of the results is completely appropriate.

But it’s not always that simple. While it doesn’t zero in on the intent of the user the way search does, social media can target potential clients based on their personalities, browsing behaviors and an algorithmic assumption that they want to be served with a real estate adand possibly engage with it.  

“Social media ads, common on websites like Facebook and Instagram, allow for highly targeted audience selection based on characteristics and interests,” says Nicholas McMillan, founder and owner of Hire Realty, a Century 21 brokerage in the northern suburbs of New York City. “These eye-catching advertisements promote user interaction and are frequently more economical, enabling experts to set specified budgets.”

McMillan notes the benefits of running parallel campaigns through each tool, deploying different ad strategies and investment sizes.

“Combining the benefits of each platform and adjusting their tactics to their specific objectives and target markets is a common strategy property agents use to succeed,” McMillan says. “Experts in real estate advertising divide their funds…according to the intended marketplace, setting, and the worth of the real estate. A sizable chunk of the money, between 40 and 50 percent, may be allocated to Google Ads for luxurious homes in competing locations to take advantage of its intent-based advertising. Mid-range real estate, on the other hand, might devote 30–40 percent of the money to attractive social media ads that are great for interaction and brand growth.”

On social, Kim stresses that it is important to pick the most strategic platform that is frequented by the buyers, sellers and/or long-leads who you are trying to reach.

“Go where the attention is,” Kim says. “Instagram and Facebook are where people in their late twenties and up to their 60s are focusing. People thought Facebook was dying, but if you look at the actual data, they are thriving right now, especially as they brought Reels into the picture and after they bought Instagram, which is a wildly popular platform for 20- and 40-year-olds. TikTok can be great for homebuyers investing in the future, but not in this season.”

Debra Dobbs, a 39-year veteran of the Chicago real estate market, has seen digital marketing evolve from its infancy, and her team at The Dobbs Group utilizes social media in a very purposeful way.

“Each has its unique benefits,” Dobbs says. “Facebook excels at keeping us connected with past clients. Instagram allows us to reach a wider demographic and various interest groups, while LinkedIn is indispensable for building and maintaining professional connections.”

However, the real opportunity for lead generation and growth is through investing in search, Dobbs says, noting that success can come from buying ads on Google or developing a comprehensive search engine optimization (SEO) program that places your business high in the results both organicallymeaning free and with more credibility than anyone off the street can get by simply paying for itand strategically according to certain search terms and phrases.

“My team and I started investing in SEO around 15 years ago, long before it became the industry standard. Today, we generate approximately 35 percent of our business from online leads, which speaks to the effectiveness of our digital strategy,” Dobbs says. “In terms of campaign effectiveness, our best-performing campaigns are hyper-targeted, both in subject and geolocation. We use carefully selected keywords to align with the searcher’s true intent. For instance, a keyword like ‘3BR condo for sale near Millennium Park’ will substantially outperform broader terms such as ‘pretty condo in Chicago.’ The former indicates a strong buying intent, while the latter could simply attract people looking for interior design inspiration.”

Of course, for every established and resourceful broker like Dobbs, there are many more agents who are just starting out and trying to build a network from scratch. Social media is an effective tool at this level as it enables users to create engaging content for free.

Most of the big social media platforms offer filters and editing features that can produce a quasi-professional look without needing any additional software applications. The results typically are not representative of a highly polished, corporate-looking qualitybut that’s not always the goal.

“I try to keep my social media content as authentic as possible,” says Allison Grant, an agent with Brian Sperry Real Estate Group in Newport Beach, California.  “As a new agent, it’s important to build relationships based on trust and integrity, so I want people to see me for who I really am, my family and everything.”

Grant says she integrates listings as well as information and imagery from the communities she serves into her personal Instagram output and people have responded positively.

“That type of soft-selling is starting to pay off,” Grant says. “I recently did a post that was just text asking if anyone was interested in a property and within 24 hours I had three qualified leads.” 

As she gets more deals under her belt, Grant says she’d like to start mixing in SEO strategies and paid Google ads into her marketing approach, but only when it makes sense to do soboth economically and from a relationship-building standpoint.

“To answer the question, ‘search or social?,’ the answer is ‘yes,’” Grant says.

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