Does Your Site Measure Up?

You need a yardstick by which to measure the success of your online content and promotions; otherwise, how will you ever know what visitors like?

July 1, 1999

Putting up a Web site is only a small part of online marketing success. If it languishes in cyberspace, not updated and not visited, you're better off spending the hosting fee on magnets and other giveaways. To ensure that your site jazzes up your bottom line, you must attract visitors and continually measure the site's value to prospects.

As you gain Web savvy, you should employ a variety of strategies to gauge how well you're promoting the site—that is, how many people are interested in its content. Options include free online services that compile records of activity—who visits the site and when, the referring page, how long they spend there, and what they look at—and software with built-in monitoring functions. For some, the best indicator of success online is simply the amount of E-mail they receive from serious buyers and sellers.

Meet four practitioners who've assimilated tracking into their site maintenance.

Build in involvement, and they will come

Whereas other real estate practitioners search for measures of online success, salesperson Judy McCutchin of RE/MAX--Preston Road North, Dallas, can put her finger on it.

"We [the Judy McCutchin team] did $11 million—one-third of our sales—directly from the Internet last year," she says. In fact, her site is the initial point of contact with clients and customers.

The numbers are the product of an early, aggressive commitment to market property on the Internet. McCutchin set up her site in 1994—the Web's early days. Since then, she's experimented with ways to promote the site and gain insight from activity there.

"I tried running a banner ad on America Online for six months, but it was expensive and didn't work," she says of one promotion, which wasn't seen by enough people interested in her market. What have worked are strategic links with complementary businesses, such as home inspectors; promoting the URL address wherever, whenever possible—on business cards and signs; and building a site that informs as it encourages involvement."The more interactive you make your site, the more visitors will become involved with what you offer," she says.

For instance, in addition to extensive information on real estate and Dallas, visitors find links to local businesses and services. They can put real estate questions to site mascot Chester B. Chatsworth (a dog) in a live chat session hosted by the Internet company Liveassistant.com. The session host guides visitors through the information available on the site and advises them to call or E-mail McCutchin with their questions about the local real estate market.

"My team uses software called WebTrends (starts at about $399) to keep track of all this activity," McCutchin reports. "Our site also uses ColdFusion softwareforms to capture information about visitors, including E-mail addresses, as they visit different areas of the site. That information is linked directly to GoldMine," her contact management database program.

The system allows McCutchin to generate automated responses to all E-mail that has been received and compile a mailing list of visitors interested in receiving an online newsletter. "We take advantage of everything we can to promote the site," she says.

Cost-effective promotions and tracking

In Texarkana, Texas, salesperson and Web host Tony Hager, Century 21 All Points Realty, uses a combination of software and free online services to promote his Web site and monitor its effectiveness.

"I use WebPosition software (single user price, $149) for promotion help," he says. "All you do is enter your URL and any relevant keywords. It automatically creates a page that it submits to the 10 major search engines."

Once Web surfers find his site, Hager relies on the free tracking service offered at www.hitbox.com to track which pages and content are of most interest to them. In return for the service, his site carries an ad for HitBox.

HitBox assigns him a Java code, which he posts on his site to enable the tracking system, and a secure account password, which he must use to view the records, he says. "Whenever I want, I call up a report on all site activity—the number of visitors, where they came from, how long they stayed, what they looked at—whatever I want to know."

"That information tells me what I'm doing right, which search engines are working best for me, and where I may need to put more effort,” he says.

To effectively use tracking information, Hager says, it's important to understand what the reports describe. "Different counters may look at the same activity differently," he points out. For example, one counter may record every time someone arrives at the site as a hit, but another may require a visitor to spend a minimum amount of time there before being included in the tally. A counter using the first method could provide an inflated view of activity and interest. "Before you rely on the information from these services, make sure you understand how they compile the records," Hager advises.

Tracking results leads to site redesign

In the three years since he's been online at www.GoodHouses.com, Jim Mirek of RE/MAX--Advantage, Antioch, Ill., has found it takes a combination of effective promotion offline and accurate tracking online to make a successful Web site. "We include it on everything we send out, on our signs, and in our advertising," he says.

As part of its services, the company that hosts his site includes a tracking module. "It tells me the date and time visitors are coming, which search engines or other sites they're coming from, and what they're looking at," says Mirek.

That has helped him fine-tune content to the needs of visitors. "Most visitors were looking at houses, and most interest seemed to be in less expensive homes—those in the $140,000 range," he reports. "After homes, there's interest in information about the area, but only 10 percent of visitors look at that."

To make sure people were able to easily access what they wanted, he revamped his original site format from one of eight continuous unlinked pages to one in which visitors can jump directly to the topics that interest them. There are now direct links from his home page to all current home listings and his personal information. Visitors are encouraged to E-mail him on every page of the site.

From tracking reports, he's learned many people visit late at night. "They don't hesitate to E-mail me at times they would never think of placing a call," he notes. Mirek believes a timely response is one of the best assurances of online success and a beefy tracking report: "If you don't answer your E-mail, you’re telling people you don't want their business," so there's no reason to come back to your site.

Tracking as Important as Site Content

"What you need is a site that people will visit even when they aren't thinking about real estate," says Terri Murphy, a practitioner with Coldwell Banker, Libertyville, Ill., and a member of The Internet Crusade, a real estate education publishing company. "You've got to push people to go to your site."

And she's done that successfully. "I suspect that about half of my volume for this year was Web related, translating into about 3 million so far this year," Murphy says.

And tracking's the only way you'll know what's working and what isn't, according to Murphy www.terrimurphy.com, who's been online for four years. "Tracking capabilities should be considered as important as site content," she says. "You need a way to tell what's happening on your site, where people are coming from, and what they're doing."

She gains that kind of insight with Statistics Server, a $289 software package from Media House. The software is set up to track all site activity and to produce up-to-the-minute reports on demand. The reports help gauge the interest and effectiveness of the total site and its content. Among the report options: the number of sessions during any time period; the total length of time visitors remain at the site; how long they spend on each page; what information they download; referring pages, links, keywords, search engines, or online ads that send traffic to the site; and entry and exit points.

The tracking helps her focus her site content and advertising on the needs of people who've made the most use of her site. Of course, Murphy says, the ultimate success of these efforts is easily measured by the answer to the question, How many leads are you actually getting from the Internet?

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