Digital Marketing – a brief survey of the Irish Property Market

Everyone knows the last decade has been a challenge for the Irish property industry.  Things have picked up in Dublin since the economic meltdown of 2008, but it’s still hard times out there, and estate agents continue to identify new strategies to find and engage with potential home buyers.

Newspaper and TV ads are slowly disappearing and are being viewed as especially prehistoric to the 25-34 crowd – a crucial demographic for the property sales sector.  These potential buyers instead are glued to social media, and believe it or not, they are posting about homes – trying to find a nice one, trying to sell one, fix it up or make living in one better.

The challenge facing Irish estate agents is to land on future and current homeowners’ radar, get involved in these online conversations, and set the stage before they need to choose a real estate agent.

In the USA, a recent study  from the Home Buying Institute noted that

  • 78.6% of agents who used social media as a sales tool outperformed those who weren’t using it
  • more than 40% of the agents surveyed said they have closed between two and five deals, as a direct result of social media marketing.

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“Yeah, yeah, yeah” I hear you say … but what is happening in Ireland?

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Digital marketing is marketing that makes use of electronic devices such as personal computers, smartphones, tablets and game consoles to engage with buyers, influencers and other stakeholders.  Digital marketing applies technologies or platforms such as websites, e-mail, apps (classic and mobile) and social networks.

  • Search Engine Marketing is, perhaps, the most widely used component of digital marketing
  • Social Media Marketing is a much debated component of digital marketing
  • Many organisations use a combination of traditional and digital marketing channels.

Search Engine Marketing (SEM)

At this stage we all know about the importance of having a website, or do we?

Google is by far the dominant method of finding a website, with Yahoo and Bing a distant 2nd and 3rd, respectively.  If your website is not Google compliant or Google-friendly, you’re wasting your time and money.  Since 95% of Google users do NOT go to the second page, your company needs to be on the first page of a Google Search Result Page (SERP).

The key to appearing on a SERP is know what people are searching for, therefore it is important to know what “key words” they use.  Here are a few examples.  Key words appear on top row and the figures shown relate to the position on the first Google SERP.  This is just a small part of Search Engine Optimisation (SEO) but it is an important one.

Google Search Biggest estate agent Largest estate agent Best estate agent Estate agent Dublin Estate agent Ireland
Coldwell Banker
Colliers Jackson Stops
DNG 2 4 2 3 3
Gunne 3 5
HWBC
Knight Frank
Lisney 7
Lowe 5
Savills 4
Sherry Fitzgerald 8 4 2

Clearly, there is much work to be done by the companies above in terms of key words for SEM and SEO.  The importance of appearing on the first page of a Google SERP cannot be emphasised enough and congratulations are in order for the smaller operators such as Henry O’Leary, Victoria Murphy, Young’s, Wilson Moore, Castle and MTS for beating the big dogs on their digital patch.

Apologies to those who felt they should be on the above list but I was only prepared to go so far down through the Google SERPs, so the list is what it is – the first 10 large companies that appeared on a Google search.  Big estate agency brands are probably already of their relative search engine invisibility already.

Google Search House for sale Flat for sale Apartment for sale Home for sale Land for sale
Coldwell Banker
Colliers Jackson Stops
DNG
Gunne
HWBC
Knight Frank 10
Lisney
Lowe
Savills
Sherry Fitzgerald

I expected better results than this, so perhaps my key words were not as intuitive as I thought.  I had another go.

Google Search 2-bed House for sale 3-bed house for sale 4-bed house for sale Country house for sale site for sale
Coldwell Banker
Colliers Jackson Stops
DNG 2
Gunne
HWBC
Knight Frank 8, 9
Lisney
Lowe
Savills 2
Sherry Fitzgerald 10 6

Another disappointing search.  It looks like the ONLY way to find a new home in Ireland today is to go to DAFT.ie or Property.ie or MyHome.ie

What can our leading estate agents do to improve this situation?

  • Optimise their websites for Search
  • Optimise their websites for mobile phone users
  • Utilise high ranking backlinks
  • Utilise social media to improve SEO

Are they dependent on the consolidators?

  • Unless you include a county in the search (key words) the consolidators dominate
  • This can be remedied

Is advertising on these consolidators’ websites adding to the cost of selling a property in Ireland?

Local SEO

Local SEO is another term for getting your name on the free local directories.  Some of these directories also allow their users to rate their experiences, i.e. review the service suppliers.  A key aspect of digital marketing is TRUST and LOCAL – this is causing a problem for estate agents who have a reputation for exaggerating the truth to the point where their ads range from funny to appalling.  Perhaps the best known and most well-used local directory is YELP, so I did a quick survey.

For a more indepth look at Local SEO for Irish business, please go my recent blog post on this subject for more details.

YELP.ie Best match Highest rated Most reviewed
Coldwell Banker
Colliers Jackson Stops
DNG
Gunne
HWBC
Knight Frank
Lisney
Lowe
Savills 9
Sherry Fitzgerald

YELP works via cookies and they know where I live, so they list what they think I want to see, i.e. local suppliers.  Since I live in South Co Dublin, they listed estate agents within an 8 kilometre radius of me.  All of the service suppliers above fall into my geographic area, so their absence was a bit of a surprise to say the least.  That said, who IS doing well on YELP?  See the table below for links to the underdogs that are boxing above their weight for Local SEO.

Best match Highest rated Most reviewed
Premier Business Centres Premier Business Centres Premier Business Centres
O’Keeffe Estates Property Shop Maypole Properties
Property Shop O’Keeffe Estates Maguire Fay Auctioneers
Maypole Properties Maguire Fay Auctioneers Property Shop
Maguire Fay Auctioneers M Kindregan Building Contractor O’Keeffe Estates
Kelly & Co ERA C O’Donoghue & Sons Cuala Property Management Company Ltd
Baxter James A Morrin & Son M Kindregan Building Contractor
Mannix Ryan Estate Agents Declan Flynn & Associates ERA C O’Donoghue & Sons
Savills Horner Beckett James A Morrin & Son
Morgan Allen Estate & Letting Agents    

OK, so far, I have established that work needs to be done for SEO / SEM (website rank, key words and content).  And they also need to do more locally.  On 25th July 2014, Lisney’s entry on YELP displays their address as 62 St Stephen’s Green – someone took their eye of the ball on that one.

What next?

Is there anything else that can improve their SERP positioning?

Yes, social media … but like SEO/SEM there is more to it than just having a website or just opening a social media account.  There is a huge difference between the terms “social media” (SoMe) and “social media marketing” (SMM), so I was sufficiently interested to explore what these estate agents were doing on social media.

  Facebook Twitter YouTube Pinterest LinkedIn
Coldwell Banker Yes Yes
Colliers Jackson Stops
DNG Yes Yes Yes
Gunne Yes Yes
HWBC Yes Yes Yes
Knight Frank UK Yes
Lisney Yes
Lowe Yes Yes
Savills Yes Yes Yes Yes
Sherry Fitzgerald Yes Yes Yes

As previously mentioned, there’s a huge difference between having a social media account and actually using it to market your products and/or services.  To do the latter, you have to be active, engaging and responsive.  If you do this, you will earn trust and social authority.  Let’s look at the above social media attributes and performance for our Irish estate agents.

Going back to the underdogs that did well on Google Search, how many of them are leveraging social media to improve their SERP performance?

  Facebook Twitter YouTube Pinterest LinkedIn
Castle Yes Yes Yes Yes
Henry O’Leary Yes
Victoria Murphy
MTS Yes Yes Yes
Wilson Moore Yes Yes Yes
Young’s Yes

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Facebook

Facebook is the most popular online social networking service with some 1.3 billion registered users – of which 680 million are mobile users.  Over 48% of all Facebook users log on every day and 48 million are fake profiles.

  • There are some 2.2 million Facebook users in Ireland and
  • 57% of everyone in Ireland over the age of 15 has a Facebook page.
  • Dublin has the highest penetration of Facebook users of any county
  • 3 in 4 Dubs have a Facebook profile
  • Outside of the capital the number of users drops significantly
  • Limerick has the next highest penetration with 2 in every 4 people having a profile
  • Louth and Waterford feature high in the ranking (3rd and 4th) respectively
  • Although the second largest county by population, Cork came in 7th place
  • In 14 of the 26 counties 1 in 3 people (or less) use Facebook
  • Leitrim and Roscommon have the lowest penetration with 1 in 5 people using Facebook
Facebook Likes Visits Reviews Av. Rating People Talking about this
Coldwell Banker 7 1 5.0
DNG 596 17 4.7 25
Gunne 286 1 2 5.0
HWBC 2 0
Knight Frank, Fan Page 4,602 63
Savills, Cork 1 0
Savills, South Dublin 1 0
Sherry Fitzgerald 760 10 17 4.4

I wonder how many people are “liking” these pages without actually visiting the Facebook page?  This, in turn, begs the question “how many people enter the sales funnel from the Facebook marketing funnel for each of these, i.e. what is the sales lead conversion rate?”  Only DNG and Sherry Fitz have got significant reviews (advocacy) and the numbers are not exactly inspiring.  Getting a perfect 5.0 score from one or two reviews doesn’t exactly inspire trust either, i.e. it looks like the reviewers “might” have been friends.  This is an example of when too little might be worse than none at all.

Facebook Likes Visits Reviews Av. Rating People Talking about this
Castle 189 0 2
MTS 39 8 0
Wilson Moore 105 0 0
Young’s 491 14 12 3.5 0

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Twitter

Twitter is an online social networking and microblogging service that enables users to send and read short 140-character text messages, called “tweets”.  There are almost a billion Twitter users in the world – of which approx.. 645.75 million are active registered users.

Over 600,000 people in Ireland use Twitter on a daily basis.  It is the 3rd most used social media platform (after Facebook and YouTube, respectively).

Twitter Tweets Photo’s Following Followers Social Authority
@CB_Ireland 29 16 104 15 1
@dngcommercial 83 4 58 113 1
@HWBCIreland 2 11 2 1
@KFIreland 353 6 97 208 4
@LoweRathmines 1,177 220 113 1
@SavillsIreland 413 46 1,181 1,159 15
@Sherry_Fitz 930 20 680 1,764 31

The figures speak for themselves – “could do better.”  Only Savills and Sherry Fitz have significant numbers of followers on their Twitter accounts.  Sherry Fitz and Savills are the only ones with any significant social authority but all seven are attracting less than 1 new follower per day – not enough to fill a marketing funnel and not worth measuring for quality of lead generation or ROI on Twitter activities.

Irish estate agents on Twitter - SherryFitz Savills & Lowe 2

The other interesting factoid is that although Sherry Fitz and Savills share a lot of their followers, Lowe’s seem to have a very different (and much smaller) set of followers, i.e. Lowe’s specialise in rentals in Dublin, whereas the other two are nationwide in terms of sales.   

Irish estate agents on Twitter - SherryFitz Savills & Lowe 1

Lowe Associates, Sherry Fitz and Knight Frank are the best of the bunch in terms of the number of tweets they generate – an average of 2 per week for Sherry Fitz and Knight Frank and 2 per day for Lowe.  These three companies are relatively active on Twitter compared to the others but are they engaging enough and how far do they reach?

Tweet Reach - Lowe 

Lowe’s tweets are not even registering in terms of engagement, so we have to question their worth.  Lowe’s social authority score = 1, which is the lowest score possible, so once again, we have to ask what business value are they generating.  

Tweet Reach - Sherry Fitz Tweet Reach - Knight Frank

Sherry Fitz and Knight Frank do better in terms of tweet reach, but their minimal tweet levels (an average of just over 2 tweets per week) results in low re-tweet and reply volumes.

Sherry Fitz and Savills are the only two with a significant following but how likely are they to become customers?

twitter - sherry_fitz - follower locations 3

Just over 52% of Sherry Fitzgerald’s followers (see above) are based in Ireland – therefore only 51% are potential sellers.  These 51% could also be thinking about moving house (buying or renting) whereas the other 49% could be thinking about buying/renting a property in Ireland.  Further analysis might shed some light on why they are following Sherry Fitz.

twitter - knight frank ireland - follower locations 3

Just over 51% of Knight Frank Ireland’s followers (see above) are based in Ireland – therefore only 51% are potential sellers.  These 51% could also be thinking about moving house (buying or renting) whereas the other 49% could be thinking about buying/renting a property in Ireland.  Further analysis might shed some light on why they are following Savills.

Twitter Tweets Photo’s Following Followers Social Authority
Castle 209 9 897 324 4
MTS 40 9 2 1
Wilson Moore 2 0 0 1
Young’s 1 35 1

Of the underdogs, only Castle are utilising Twitter to any great extent but they do beat 5 out of the 7 big dogs for Twitter usage and this might be helping their SEO performance.

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Instagram

Facebook CEO Mark Zuckerberg said his company acquired mobile app Instagram (for $1 billion) so the social networking site could offer “the best experience for sharing beautiful photos”.  But are there other reasons for the billion dollar buyout of a company which has never earned a cent in revenue and only has 13 employees?

  • Instagram already has 30 million users, so it was becoming the biggest threat to Facebook
  • Zuckerberg admitted that his company will “try to learn” from Instagram’s experience so it can build “similar features” into other Facebook products
  • So will Facebook asset strip the technology and quietly allow Instagram to die?

How many of the top 10 estate agents use it?  Answer = none

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Pinterest

Pinterest has over 70 million users worldwide and 80% of these are female.  

twitter - knight frank - follower gender Knight Frank gender profile (Twitter)

twitter - sherry_fitz - gender Sherry Fitz gender profile (Twitter)

It takes time to view a property.  I want to know where it is (preferably accurately located on a map), what it looks like (preferably via some photo’s of the interior and exterior), a clear description of the rooms (with measurements) and a clear idea of the price.  I have got to the stage now where I will NOT view properties unless they have all of the above.  This might seem harsh but there is nothing more negative for me (and lots of others) than wasting my time looking at a property that I would not buy or rent if I was desperate to do so.  This also has to be pretty demoralising for the estate agents who arrange the viewings – wouldn’t they be better off with better sales leads?

Since Pinterest is predominantly used by females (80%) and, as can be seen from the two Twitter comparisons, estate agents do have a significant female following, therefore Pinterest might be of interest to them from an SMM viewpoint – particularly for interior /exterior photo’s.

How many of the top 10 estate agents use it?  Answer = none in Ireland

Many people “pin” photo’s from Knight Frank’s various websites around the world as “dream homes” and this drives traffic to KF’s website.  To a much lesser degree this also happens with Sherry Fitzgerald property sales photo’s.

Pinterest Boards Pins Likes Followers
Coldwell Banker Ireland
Coldwell Banker (parent company USA) 6 3,041
Coldwell Banker Case Realty 6 970 56
Colliers Jackson Stops
DNG
Gunne
HWBC
Knight Frank (UK) 10 517
Lisney
Lowe
Savills
Sherry Fitzgerald

Of the so-called underdogs that appeared on the first page of some of the Google SERPs, only Castle Estate Agents have a Pinterest account but they are not very active and their social engagement (followers) stats reflect this.

Pinterest Boards Pins Likes Followers
Castle Estate Agents 8 39 21 16

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LinkedIn

LinkedIn, the social network for professionals, has more than 259 million members worldwide, and the number of members from Ireland reached 1 million in November 2013.  More than 100,000 of these Irish LinkedIn users are living and working abroad, half of whom are still based in Europe.  

These emigrants are 47% more likely to fill corporate officer roles than their counterparts based in Ireland.  In fact, there are more Irish emigrants working as corporate officers in corporate, high-tech and finance industries than those based in Ireland.

We all know what a socialite is but do you know what a “sofalite” is?  

  • Apparently it is an individual that socialises for hours at a time on social media while lying on a sofa – this is probably not your target audience. 
  • The biggest sector employing Irish users on LinkedIn is the high-tech industry, followed by financial services and construction – as such, LinkedIn must be a target rich social media platform for realtors.

How many of the top 10 estate agents use it?  Answer = 7 out of 10

Over 92% of companies in the USA use LinkedIn as a recruitment tool – either as a direct recruitment method or for doing background checks.  Yes, folks, you DO need to be careful what you say and do on Facebook and Twitter – your comments or tags may come back to haunt you.  

But how many companies use it for marketing purposes?  Are your LinkedIn posts business-related or solely for recruitment?  

LinkedIn

Irish

Co. Page

Posts Followers Current Employees Ex- Employees
Coldwell Banker 5 227
Colliers Jackson Stops 8 18
DNG Yes 163 60 186
Gunne Yes 24 77
HWBC Yes 46 24 33
Knight Frank 19 59
Lisney Yes 826 105 207
Lowe Yes 50 26 47
Savills Yes 1,365 188 469
Sherry Fitzgerald Yes 1,244 210 317

Knight Frank UK do have a LinkedIn corporate profile and they have a massive 23,498 followers due to their high end luxury status.

LinkedIn Co. Page Posts Followers Current Employees All Employees
Castle Yes 17 4 ?
Henry O’Leary
Victoria Murphy
MTS Yes 9 2
Wilson Moore Yes 5
Young’s

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YouTube

YouTube is the second-most viewed social media platform in the world today. 

  • More than 1 billion unique users visit YouTube each month
  • Over 6 billion hours of video are watched each month on YouTube
  • 100 hours of video are uploaded to YouTube every minute
  • 80% of YouTube traffic comes from outside the US
  • YouTube is localized in 61 countries and across 61 languages
  • According to Nielsen, YouTube reaches more US adults ages 18-34 than any cable network
  • Mobile makes up almost 40% of YouTube’s global watch time

From an Irish context, 

  • 67% of Irish people viewed music videos on YouTube
  • 52% of Irish people viewed comedy clips

Examples of YouTube estate agency video clips

Best of Irish on YouTube  

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The social networks with the youngest audience are relatively new ones – Vine, Tumblr and Snapchat – probably not the best platforms for someone selling or renting property.

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I am not recommending or endorsing any of the above social media platforms for use by Irish estate agents – merely using them as examples of how Irish estate agents are currently utilising them (or not).  Choosing your social media platform(s) should be a unique process, taking into account your budget (time and money), your marketing strategy (segments, personas, etc.) and your KPI’s.

I only work for one company from any one sector at a time.

I do not believe that one consultancy simultaneously advising the top players in any industry is good value for money because they all usually end up getting …

  • the same advice at the same time
  • and no competitive advantage can be gained from this

There is no ONE magic formula that fits all.

  • you need a solution that fits alongside and delivers your business vision
  • a mixture of creative & innovative with pragmatic, affordable & deliverable 

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James O’Brien

  • Business Improvement Specialist
  • Business Analysis, Project Management & Delivery

Contact me in Ireland on 087 925 2746 or via 

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Key take aways from this article

1. Use the right Social Media platform for your message

Social media marketing is usually best tackled with a multi-strand strategy.  While you may be more personally familiar with one network than the others, all of the major social networks have a feature or angle that can be exploited for real estate purposes, and it’s important to differentiate them.

  • A Facebook page can be used exclusively to spotlight new releases
  • An Instagram feed can showcase exterior photos of the latest available houses in the area
  • A Pinterest page can focus on avant garde or fashionable interiors
  • A Twitter account can feed in relevant local news and housing updates.
  • A YouTube video clip does not have to be a Hollywood production to sell a house

Consistency and “staying on message” is key, so if you don’t have the time or resources to run 4 or 5 social media pages with different content on each, a consistently single SMM platform updated one with all of the above is probably the next best thing.

2. Local, Local, Local

Whatever network you use, there is nothing that says “We really know this area, so you should be talking to us” via a steady stream of local news flashes and comments aimed at homeowners.  This is a double-edged sword as you might also gain new sellers as well as potential buyers.

There is more to buying a house than the house itself; the restaurants, cafes, schools, playgrounds, sports facilities, transport links and shopping opportunities all play a role in the decision.  Re-tweeting or sharing other people’s posts about new local business start-ups, sports and scholarship winners from local school, sports clubs seeking new members all help develop your following and earn trust.

Highlighting localized snippets of housing data could be key to someone seeking a new place to buy or rent.  This data can include where the highest or lowest rent can be found, current mortgage rates, highly rated developments, and even the local shops that might have the best sales on patio furniture or home decorating goods.

3. Establish Trust and Social Authority

Although many will be personalized, sharing content from outside sources can be just as effective as original content.  Curating from a wide range of trusted third-party sources — whether it’s the Property Pages in the Irish Times or Irish Independent, or a local paper.  Social media posts can result in more attention, respect, and engagement than static web page content.

4. Actively Seek Leads

Social media is a great source for sales leads.  For example, if you’re an estate agent in Wicklow or Carlow, keep an eye on tweets in which users ask for recommendations or houses that recently went on sale, or who best to engage to sell your property.  If you don’t have the time, utilize a “listening post” service to find them for you.  Ignoring this ongoing stream of comments and inquiries on social media platforms = turning your back on countless new customers.

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