Michael Russer, a.k.a. Mr. Internet®, is CEO of Russer Communications. He is a leading speaker and author in the real estate industry and has been writing about Internet marketing and virtual outsourcing since the dawn of the commercial Internet.
Niche Web Sites: A Success Story
It’s advice you often hear in the real estate business: To be successful, you must find a profitable niche and gear your marketing to that specific audience. However, when it comes to online marketing, few practitioners take that advice to heart.
March 1, 2007
Here, I hope to show you why it’s worth it to transform your Web site into a tool that actively serves the needs of your niche customers. I’ll make my case by highlighting a practitioner’s newly remodeled site that’s going way beyond generating business to help her build a more fulfilling career.
An Extreme Makeover Begins
Linda Jefferson, broker-owner of Jefferson Bentley Real Estate in Lawton, Okla., is at the center of the story. Several months ago, Jefferson realized she needed to bolster her Web marketing efforts to better serve her niche: Military families living near Fort Sill, about 80 miles southwest of Oklahoma City.
But her first attempt at redesigning the site didn’t go so well; the proposed site redesign was disorganized, hard to read, and didn’t come close to reflecting her passion for her niche market. In her words: “It was the ugliest thing I’ve ever seen.” She realized that a fresh approach was necessary.
Seeing a well of untapped potential, I put Jefferson in touch with two Internet marketing specialists who were looking for a makeover subject. Cherie Young, of Internet Marketing Strategies, and Web designer Suzanne Stephens wanted to demonstrate how they could turn a simple template site into a customized, targeted site. The best part — they would do it for free. Their cost for Web design overhaul usually ranges from $5,000 to $7,500.
A Military Passion
Jefferson’s dedication to her niche made her an ideal Web makeover subject. Not only are her neighbors in the military, but her son is currently serving in Iraq and her daughter-in-law just returned from there. “I feel personally connected,” she says.
Last fall, after her son was deployed for Iraq, she began volunteering for the Adopt a Soldier Now program. Jefferson ended up launching a local chapter of the organization, which provides care packages, letters, and other support to U.S. soldiers abroad.
With her passion brewing, she decided to gear her real estate business to the newfound niche. “Before, I was trying to be everything to everyone,” she says. “I didn’t want to risk losing business by targeting a niche.”
Over the next couple of months, Jefferson worked in concert with the design team to launch a drastically improved Web site, www.GoArmyHomes.com (pictured on right). The site went live on Feb. 1.
Ingredients for a Successful Site
Here’s what went into Jefferson’s new site:
- User-centered content. Prove just how well you know your target audience. Create an outline of useful and relevant content for your prospects that will convince them to return to your site often. Among Jefferson’s great ideas: online forums, one for military wives (MilitaryWivesClub.org), and another for military kids (MilitaryBratsClub.org), that help families keep in touch with friends they met while living near different bases locations.
- A catchy domain name/brand. GoArmyHomes.com is easy to remember and speaks directly to Jefferson’s niche. It’s more than just a Web address; it’s a brand. Because GoArmyHomes.com is focused on the niche rather than on the practitioner, Jefferson could license the brand in other markets, and sell the brand with her business when she retires.
- Powerful marketing tagline. Jefferson came up with a Unique Positioning Statement, or UPS, that spoke to her niche audience — “When you’re ready to move, we’re proud to serve.”
- MLS listings. With an information feed from Jefferson’s local MLS, her Web site visitors can easily access home listings from around the metro area. Remember, real estate is the reason why most people will visit your site, so make it easy so conduct a comprehensive home search. If you want to step it up a notch, you can use software such as IDX Broker Pro, which Jefferson is using, to display listings and manage lead generation.
- Flexible template. Don’t think that just because you have a template Web site, it has to look just like every other site out there. Personalization is the key to your success. Jefferson’s Web site, created with a Point2Agent Premium template, goes well beyond any run-of-the-mill real estate site. You may have to hire a Web designer to help you, but a highly targeted end result is well worth it.
- Ties to the community. Jefferson has natural ties to the military, but she took it a step further by founding a local chapter of Adopt a Soldier Now. On her Web site, she also includes links to Operation C.A.R.E. (an acronym for Continued Appreciation, Respect, and Encouragement) and to stories about military families in the community.
How Do You Measure Success?
Although the revamped Web site has been live for only about a month, Jefferson says she’s getting about twice as many calls and high-quality Internet leads from prospects. “I’m capturing more of my target market because they see we have a similar passion.”
But the real sign that Jefferson picked the right niche happened when she recently received a call from the director of the Adopt a Soldier Now program. Jefferson learned that ABC’s “Extreme Makeover: Home Edition” was considering building a new home for a military family in her community.
Jefferson used her ties to her niche market to participate in a campaign to send ABC more than 27,000 letters and e-mails in support of the Westbrook family getting a new, wheelchair accessible home for the family of Gene Westbrook, who was injured in Iraq, and his son James, who was recently paralyzed in car accident. (You can read more about the Westbrook family on Jefferson's Web site.)
“ABC was very much on the fence between us and another community,” Jefferson says. “We really made a difference.”
The team from “Extreme Makeover: Home Edition” arrived in Lawton on Feb. 15 to begin work on the new home. “By targeting my market I’ve been able to do the things I love the most, which is helping those people that I feel the closest to,” Jefferson says. “I now enjoy my career so much more and feel truly fulfilled in my business. I’m proud of what I am doing.”