Every now and then, we’ll get an email from a broker who’s had about enough with Apto ads.
“Please take me off your list!!! I see your ads everywhere.”
We even got a similar email from someone in the commercial real estate industry who markets herself as a thought leader and digital marketing expert. This person didn’t understand paid advertising either.
The thing is: it’s just not that simple for us to “turn off” those ads off for any one person, across multiple platforms. That’s just not how it works. It’s not an excuse―it’s digital advertising, and if you want to use it to your advantage as a broker, then there are a few things you should know.
What is digital advertising?
Digital advertising—also known as online advertising or pay-per-click (PPC) advertising—is the practice of promoting a business through ads that only cost the advertiser money when someone clicks on them. This type of advertising takes myriad forms, but these three are the most relevant to commercial brokers seeking to drive business:
Paid search. These are the text ads you see at the top and bottom of the page when you conduct a keyword search on Google, Bing, Alta Vista, or Ask Jeeves.
Paid social. This comprises sponsored images and videos (with accompanying text and links) that advertisers deliver through the homepage feeds on social networks like LinkedIn, Facebook, Twitter, and Instagram.
Remarketing. Also known as “retargeting,” these are ads that reach prospects on their favorite news and entertainment sites because they visited an advertiser’s website. For instance, if you visit apto.com, you will start seeing our banner ads on sites like CNN and The Weather Channel. We don’t have to actually buy ad space on these sites; we place a small piece of tracking code on our site and then AdRoll, Google and other providers add visitors to a remarketing list and deliver ads on our behalf.
There's a lot to learn about these three tactics, as well as some more advanced methods like native advertising and programmatic advertising that you may want to explore. We’ll cover some of these in future posts, but in the meantime you can read comprehensive how-to-guides by experts here and here.
Over the course of the last four years, we’ve learned a few things about digital advertising that you may or may not read in those primers.
10 tips and tricks for brokers to make the most of every dollar spent
1. Make sure you have a decent website.
Don’t even think about paying to drive traffic to your site unless it is modern and professional-looking. If it hasn’t been updated in the last five years, then it almost certainly needs a refresh. If your website is outdated, you simply will not be taken seriously by prospective clients. There are dozens of cheap and simple all-in-one website builders (like Squarespace and Wix), so there’s no excuse for creating a bad first impression on your digital visitors. They will assess your expertise and credibility within ten seconds of visiting your site.You wouldn’t wear corduroys and a Smash Mouth t-shirt to a client meeting (would you?).
2. Build or buy an extensive prospect database.
Hopefully you and the rest of your team have been using a CRM (or even just a poor man’s CRM, also known as a “spreadsheet”) to compile contact information for clients and prospects over the years. If so, aggregate everyone’s contact information into one master CSV file to upload into your advertising platforms of choice.
The most cost-effective digital advertising you do will be to these people, and you want the list to be as extensive and clean as possible. Most sites only need email addresses, but some (like Facebook) can serve ads more effectively if you upload additional fields like phone and city. You can also supplement your own database with contacts you’ve acquired from purchased lists and directories.
3. Invest (a little bit) in creating ads, imagery and copy—or reuse what you already have.
If you’ve created ads for other purposes, or you have effective copy that you’ve used elsewhere, then get started right away by using what you already have. This is especially true for paid social advertising, where you can get away with your ads being a bit less professional because the medium is more informal.
For paid search, you only need text so just make sure it doesn’t have typos and misspellings. The word limits are incredibly tight on search ads so you really just need to be direct and succinct. For retargeting, you’ll need various sizes of banner ads, and this is where you may need to pay a freelancer to create something professional-looking. Take it from us, you really don’t want to see your crappy homemade banner ads on the Washington Post homepage next to an Apple ad and a Chanel ad.
4. Make sure your social media ads have a clear call-to-action.
Don’t just post ads with your brokerage tagline and value prop and then link to your homepage. It’s not disastrous if you do, but it’s much more effective to offer something of value (even slight value) like a consultation, a guide, a personalized analysis, a sneak peek at a new development, basically anything. Drive that traffic to a concise landing page with a short form, which will maximize the number of leads you capture. Simplicity is key: visitors won’t spend time reading a lot of text (they’ll just leave) and they won’t fill out a form that has more than a few essential fields.
5. Refresh your creative often.
This is most important for social media advertising. For paid search, it’s only important to refresh the copy if you’re testing new wording or concepts. Otherwise, you can stick with what is working. And for retargeting, it’s best to create a handful of nice ads in various sizes and then use them for a while to help build brand awareness. For social, though, your audience will soon become tired of your ads and will just start ignoring them if you don’t switch them up regularly. We try to refresh ours at least once a month, if not more. The best approach we’ve found for doing this is to insert new ads into the rotation and retire the lowest performer(s) each time. This does mean that some ads hang around for a long time, but if they’re still high performers they are worth keeping in the rotation.
6. Track your leads and traffic.
Add UTM tracking markers to the end of your ad URLs so you can track the source of your leads. This means that instead of driving traffic to “brokerage.com/request-info” you drive the traffic to “brokerage.com/request-info?source=linkedin” or some variation. Anything after the “?” is ignored by browsers, so you can devise whatever tracking system you like based on your preferences.
7. Measure cost-per-lead and lead quality.
These are the two most important metrics to track. Cost-per-lead is pretty simple: it’s just the total amount you spend on a particular platform during a time period, divided by the leads you capture during the same period. The trickiest part is defining what you consider a lead, and accounting for cost differences between the types of leads. You should be willing to tolerate a much higher cost-per-lead for visitors who request a phone call than for ones who simply subscribe to your blog or download an ebook.
Likewise, determining lead quality can be subjective but it is essential to measuring success. Here at Apto, we track leads at every stage, so we can distinguish between website visitors who request a demo and ones who actually complete a demo, for example. Lead quality is an expression of the likelihood that a lead moves to the next stage(s) in the sales cycle, so you first need to come up with some simple stages and definitions in your CRM.
8. Beware of “Lookalike” or “Similar” audiences.
Almost all of the major digital advertising platforms offer the ability to deliver ads to people they consider similar to the ones in your remarketing list or the prospect list you uploaded. Our advice is to be skeptical of this. If you try it out (and usually it’s just a checkbox in the ad settings) it will expand the size of the audience you are delivering ads to (great!), but it is likely those people will not be viable prospects for you (not great!). All the platforms swear that their algorithm can identify the right Lookalike prospects, but every time we’ve done it we’ve gotten a bunch of leads from hair salons and funeral parlors.
9. Try every channel.
Try out as many of these channels and tactics as you can (using minimal daily budgets), and then once you’re comfortable and you’ve learned which ones are the most cost-effective for you, start allocating more money to those platforms. Alternatively, if you don’t have the time or budget to do wide scale testing, just start dabbling in one of them. Pick Facebook or LinkedIn or another channel that you’re already comfortable using, and spend as little as a five dollars a day to see if it’s worth dedicating more resources.
10. Hire an agency or contractor if you prefer.
If you can afford it, just pay an agency or freelancer to do all of this for you. If you’re really a baller, there’s no reason to get your hands dirty with all of this digital advertising stuff. Pay an expert and sit back to wait for the leads to start rolling in.