local media insider

Houston Chronicle increases self-serve real estate ads by 65% in two years

Here's how to do it from product manager, MyAgentAds, Darrin Davis

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Key Executive: Darrin Davis, product manager, MyAgentAds.com

Technology partner: Wave2Media

Objective: Darrin Davis joined the real estate classified department in 2012 with the goal of  turning around the declining self-serve advertising division. 

Strategy:  Darren created two main strategic approaches to growing self-serve ads:  Re-evaluating products and packages that utilized the self-serve platform and creating an e-mail marketing plan to continually engage realtors and convert sales.

Self serve advertising platforms typically have built in promotional widgets; in this case a call-to-action widget stays  on a bottom left position on the  real estate  home page:

These online promotions  link to the self-entry portal:

This promotion in turn, leads to a simple form that captures contact information and an email, and lets users build and pay for their ads.

While one of the lessons learned from this initiative is that self-serve needs external marketing,  the initial  focus was on products and packaging.

Products and packaging

A basic assessment of the original  self-serve packages showed that many of them were not actually transacted self-serve at all. So the first step was to evaluate the product list  with two goals:

a.  Eliminate products that still need support. Premium high-end print and online buys were eliminated from the options.

"Some packages intended for agents that handled $2 million properties were never truly self-serve - and never would be," Davis said.

"These realtors always required extra service and hand-holding."  

b. Create a less expensive DIY package for smaller brokers that do not need a high a level of service

To create a lower-priced print option geared to smaller brokerages, Davis designed a set of three print ad sizes, 1/4, 1/2 and a full page,with a set number of listings that fit  in each size. Once a company's  logos are added to the ads, realtors or agents can populate the ads with new listings via the self-serve platform.

There is a small ammount of visual "tweeking" on the back-end, Davis said, but otherwise, the brokerages "do it themselves" after some in-office and webinar training sessions.

As with other ads in the production cycle, the self-serve ads are turned into a PDF and booked like any other print ad. There are no digital services in these packages as yet.

Each listing inside the ads  started out selling at a $75 price point, although that price has gone up to $108, and is the only price the agent pays for the ads. 

The two other basic self-serve online products are featured open-houses and featured agents, which alternate on the online home page of the real estate section.

The combined affect was to make self-serve lower-priced and more affordable to a broader group of brokers and agents, while maintaining higher rates for print andonline ads that still need a higher level of customer service.

E-mail Marketing 

The Houston Chronicle's real estate emails are designed as real estate newsletters, with the offers added on. Content includes market-related news regurgitated from the Chron.com; newsletter editors look for news that han as impact on the real estate market, from oil and gas prices  to commercial transactions.

“The lead part of the e-mail is keeping people abreast of the market,” Davis said.

The e-mails are branded with myagentsads and include a promotional offer and reminder of ad deadlines.

While  the team has experimented with some creative offers -  for Valentine’s Day they offered the price of a dozen roses back - the gimmicky promotions don't work as well as a simple percentage off, Davis said.  The most effective offers are 25% to 30% off the price of a listing. 

Results and lessons learned

So far, Davis' approach has been successful; first year sales increased by 25%, then last year by 42% increase-and revenues are still on the rise.

The biggest lesson learned is that self-serve does not work on its own, some kind of regular email marketing is needed.

Tactically, the time of day to market - at night the day before deadline - and kinds of offers that work - 25 to 30% off are good tips to know.

So far, no products have addressed needs of individual agents. So, the next initiative will be a product aimed at that part of the franchise. “It’s all part of the grand scheme.”


Darrin Davis, Product Manager - My Agent Ads 
Houston Chronicle

Wave2Media  contacts are available through their MediaExecsTech listing. 

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