Gating content is a controversial topic, with real estate conversion professionals and agents often on opposite sides of the "gate." I'll explore both arguments briefly...
Most real estate agents I've spoken with believe that since IDX listings appear on almost every agent website, they should of course be public. Their feelings are that requiring registration will reduce engagement, and the visitors will just find what they need on another site.
They have a valid point; most sites display the very same IDX data. I was doing some competitive marketing research yesterday for a client, and came across the very same IDX (called MLS Reciprocity in B.C.) results on a few sites in a row. For the neighbourhood I was searching, the same 56 results were showing up, with the identical home displayed at the top of the list. That piqued my curiosity and I eventually discovered more than 80 sites with identical IDX results, and only 2 with unique curated results and layouts.
Home buyers I've interviewed believe gating schemes are an insult to their intelligence. It doesn't take long for home shoppers to realize they've been duped into providing their contact information, when the very same information is available on thousands of other sites without having to disclose their contact details and invite harassment by an aggressive sales rep. The reasoning here is that tricking the contact information out of a visitor is no substitute for providing enough real value on the site, so they willingly choose to make an inquiry on your site. Agents have been quick to pick up this, and real estate search engine results on Google and Bing often display a notice in the description that MLS search is free, and no registration is required.
Publishing enough valuable hyperlocal content, so prospective home buyers are spending a lot of time on your site, researching their purchase, is still the best way to build trust, and convince your visitors you are knowledgeable, professional and will be genuinely helpful. Clicking an IDX listing on your site, and booking a showing, instead of on one of the many other sites, just makes sense.
1. People want to have access to insider information. It makes them feel privileged. Presented well, engagement can actually increase significantly with a registration requirement. But you have to actually give them something more once they've become a VIP member. It has to be more than the IDX feed.
If you decide to require registration, and login for subsequent visits, use a landing page to sell the visitor on the merits of signing up, with a form for doing so. Hire a conversion copywriter that specializes in landing pages, if needed.
Then follow up with substantially better information than the average real estate site in your area is offering. We work with third party IDX providers that curate the data from various real estate boards, and it is indeed possible to build a better user experience that makes the member happy they exchanged their name and email address for the the upgrade. Ethical bribes are good marketing.
And, it goes without saying, once you have their details, you must keep the valuable content coming.
2. It addresses "search, scribble and drive" visitors. If you are already doing everything right...
you should have a flood of quality traffic and subscribers.
If your IDX provider delivers analytics data, you should see evidence of considerable interaction with your IDX search bar widget or MLS pages.
So where are the #$&^%#!! leads?
If your visitors are scrolling through your IDX listings, but they aren't contacting you, you've got nothing! If that's currently happening to you, giving gated access a try can't hurt. It's all about leveraging your traffic.
If you get a name and email address from them, you can check your IDX analytics to see what they were looking at, based upon time stamps, and offer to show one of those properties to them. Worst case, they're on your list, so you are able to influence them with your helpful email updates. But the emails must deliver value (about them), not your listings and open houses (about you).
If you decide to give gating a go, conduct an accurate A/B test. Make sure you have all of the data you need for the last complete month, then get systems in place for registered IDX access, with a proper landing page for signups and a better user experience.
Earning trust is the longer term play. The reason visitors need to be tricked into giving you their contact information, by exchanging it for IDX search results they can get without any commitment on your competitors' sites, is because there's no perceived value on your site. You haven't earned any trust. Outstanding content can keep visitors engaged on the site for hours, without any manipulation. IDX requests are then based upon trust; trust you've earned by giving them a lot of value first.
More and more, we're seeing other agents rise in the search engine rankings at Google and Bing by announcing that visitors can search their sites all day for "free", because their visitors "do not" have to submit their contact information and then receive unwanted calls from a sales agent.
I welcome your questions and comments below. Have you tried gated access to IDX results? How did it affect visitor engagement? Do you have some reservations?
Cole Wiebe helps brands and professionals grow their influence and value online; so they can “out content”™ their competition. Cole is a content strategist, content writer, conversion copywriter and online marketing coach.
Real Estate Marketing Tips Blog