Matthew Ferrara, Philosopher

Forget SEO. Focus on SOI

Social media is challenging us to answer an important business question: What matters more – advertising or ?

For some time we’ve argued that search is over. But that hasn’t stopped millions of dollars from pouring into the never-ending quest for the mythical Page One position on Google. We suppose there remains someone, somewhere who can’t recall the name of a single real estate company without the aid of a search engine. Last we heard, the two people who hadn’t yet switched from AOL had heard of REALTOR.COM and Zillow. So let’s be honest: does anyone really start by typing for “homes in our town” on the web?

Even if Vulcans landed tomorrow, they’d have a tricorder with an geo-enabled app to find the nearest open house.

Millions of people go days without ever using a search engine, yet remain fully connected to the internet. Smartphone and tablet users perform a full day’s work without ever Binging or Googling anybody (for which human resource departments are endlessly thankful). You can find a hotel, flight or coffee shop using a task-specific app like TripAdvisor. Sure, we might Google for the name of an author or an article or a research statistic. But to shop? I can honestly say that I pretty much know the sites I’m going to look at before I begin, whether it’s cars, clothes, travel or what my neighbor’s asking for his home.

And if it’s really complicated – like medical, legal or professional, I would hardly trust a computer to direct me. Not when I can simply ask my friends.

A quick story to illustrate: After a particularly rainy spring in New England, we found ourselves in need of a replacement window in our bathroom. Had this beenPreSocialEra (PSE) times, I’d have Googled for “replacement windows,” then opened six tabs in my browser. But this is 2011, so I solved the problem without a computer or a search engine. From my smartphone, I posted this on Facebook:













Problem solved. Thanks to my SOI, not your SEO.

The moral of the story: Search can never compare with trust. People trust people more than they trust computers, even supersmart ones. This isn’t news, exactly. We used to do it by group-emailing our friends. Social media just makes it easier, and perhaps broadens our reach. All without ever encountering a Page One ranked website.

Consumer Reports. The Kelley Blue Book. The Farmers Almanac. We’ve always trusted recommendations from friends when it comes to big decisions. TripAdvisor. Yelp. Angie’s List. We’ve even learned to trust people we don’t know. That’s why infomercials and testimonials still work.

Once the people involved are actually known to us, as they are in social media sites, new search habits are quickly formed. No SEO algorithm can ever compare to a simple cry for help. That’s the secret sauce to socially-influenced search results, and search engines know it: Witness how desperate they are to integrate social content into their search results.

Unfortunately, too many departments remain Deeply Devout Search Engine Optimizers. Sure, social is getting some play, but SEO and pay-per-click campaigns still dominate most budgets. Even Apple knows its success depends more upon good word of mouth than big banner ads.

One good Tweet is worth a thousand Page One rankings.

Working your SOI is easy. A blog, tweet or helpful comment on Facebook. No massive marketing expense or constantly adjusted optimization campaign. Email, text, even (gasp) picking up the phone. Selling to your sphere of influence costs little; but it pays a lot.

Research consistently proves it: Most real estate sellers find their agent from a personal referral (41%). Past clients comprise the second largest source of business (21%). Less than 4% of sellers found their agent through a website search. Disbelieve it at your own peril.

So focus on SOI, not SEO. Reaching past clients and friends of your friends is what it means to sell real estate, not advertise it. Master your sphere of influence and your success will last longer than the typical time it takes to fall from First Page grace. Better still, you won’t have to start over again every day trying to reach the top, either.

  • Debbie

    very profound Matt!

  • Socialmediaguy11

    I agree 100% and I have been able to convince several people of this very idea.  The issue I have is getting people to listen.  Preconceived ideas are hard to overcome with people that are over whelmed with the very idea of social media.

  • Anonymous

    Well said and agreed.

  • Exactly.  Being preferred and referred is about positive Top of Mind Awareness; first mental recall in the real estate services category. As you’ve shared, it’s well known that the majority of consumers consider 1 or 2 real estate agents when they need help:  not 12 or 20, or 100.  If the people you know (SOI) don’t think of you first or second when they need real estate help, or a friend asks for the name of trustworthy agent, you’re sunk.  

    Great distinction Matthew.  Andy Sernovitz said, “Advertising is the cost of being boring.”

    Thanks for the reminder.

  • Great points Matthew. I think it’s always safe to say I will have much less confidence and trust in a referral from “big brother” than I would from my actual big brother…or neighbor…or co-worker.

  • Thanks! But hopefully something people will take to heart!

  • I hear you! For a decade, agents and brokers have been convinced that “web
    traffic” equals “sales” but it doesn’t. All research shows that most
    agents find listings from referrals and buyers from their networking. In
    fact, when it’s an online lead, they often treat it worse than other forms
    of network-driven leads. But no matter; it’s really a question of
    mis-understanding that real estate shouldn’t be marketed using a
    commodity/widget marketing plan, but a sales/networking marketing plan.

    Just imagine how much money we could be saving – ourselves and our clients!

    Thanks for your comments!

  • Love that quote by Sernovitz – very cool!

    What amazes me is that once you understand this concept, you can clearly
    see that the road to success involves more FREE tools – or low cost ones
    like email or social media – than expensive ones. Especially in the sales

    Thanks for your comment!

  • Sean: Great way to think about it! I’m sure most agents would also agree
    that it’s exactly how *they* choose other professionals (dentist, doctor,
    lawyer) themselves, too!

  • SOI very important! But what happens once the connection is made?  That’s even more important.  In fact, it’s a make or break proposal. You (we) better live up to that reputation…  Taking care of the client (hmmmm. they used to call that “Customer Service”) is an art and if it goes… so does the business.  Getting “new” customers is not near as important as retaining “old” ones.  Reputation is everything!

  • Re2brokers

    So very right!  Before Facebook and Twitter, before the Internet, Home pages and SEO,  there was person to person social networking, your SOI.  Understanding that will be the core of your successful real estate career.

  • Right to the point!

  • Lburkard

    Very well said! This really leaves no question that social networking just multiplies the possibility of more referrals. How perfect is that?

  • Absolutely! As long as you use social to connect and stay involved with people you know, it’s a double win. Much better than paying money in search of people you don’t know via search!

    Thanks for stopping by and commenting!

  • ByronUnderwood

    My and I spoke about this just last night about the amount of chatter on her groups about people asking for recoomendations lfor specialists. Great article