You're listening to the “REI Marketing Nerds” podcast, the leading resource for real estate investors who want to dominate their market online. Dan Barrett is the founder of AdWords Nerds, a high-tech digital agency, focusing exclusively on helping real estate investors like you get more leads and deals online, outsmart your competition, and live a freer, more awesome life. And, now, your host, Dan Barrett.
Dan: All right, hello, and welcome to this week's episode of the REI Marketing Nerds podcast. As always, this is Daniel Barrett here from AdWordsNerds.com. How are you? Happy end of the year. If you are listening to this, when it comes out, this is the end of December 2021, and I don't know about you—I don't know about you. I don't know your business. I don't know how it went—but, for me, personally, 2021 was one of the toughest years I have ever experienced. [01:15.8]
It was tough on seemingly every level at once. It was tough for me, personally, in my relationships. It was tough for me business-wise. It was tough marketing-wise. It was tough just keeping up with the nonstop sort of sequence of changes and shifts, and strategic revamps and all this stuff, and most of the people that I talk to have had kind of a similar experience. I think, as we came out of 2020, we all kind of thought it couldn't possibly be more stressful than that, right? And, somehow, 2021 really stepped up, so props to 2021. [02:01.5]
But I think partially what happened, at least for me, and I don't know what it's like where you live and you may have had a different experience with the sort of rise of coronavirus, and we went through the lockdown periods and all that stuff in 2020, but I basically was very introverted in 2020.
I was at my house. I was at my office. I work in my office alone. We have a team of seven here at AdWords Nerds, but everybody is remote and always has been, so that was no big deal. I would go to work. I would go home. We'd order food. We'd hang out. We weren't really seeing friends and I kind of went into full-time introvert mode where I was just kind of inside all the time. [02:54.0]
Even though the outside world was incredibly chaotic and stressful, at least, for us, we were lucky enough that it was actually a pretty calm period. Of course, if you're watching the news, that's going to stress you out, but in terms of what was actually happening to my family, it was pretty chill.
Then, when 2021 came into play, I think we really started to see some of the downstream effects of 2020 hit for the first time. If you are a real estate investor and you have been investing in properties in 2021, you will, I mean, probably back me up that this has been one of the strangest housing markets we have ever seen. [03:46.0]
When you get into construction shortfalls, when you get into the trouble with even scheduling work and everybody is booked six to 12 months out, when you get into material shortages, when you get into millennials moving into the housing market for the first time, when you’ve gotten into these absolutely insane price wars over houses that are just kind of eh in any other market, you can really tell that there's this sort of pent up energy that got released this year, and so it's been a wild year.
Now, on top of that, on top of all that stuff that's just kind of percolating through the real-estate ecosystem, 2021 also saw a mass massive, massive change in how the online-marketing ecosystem works. You can be forgiven for having missed this when it happened because so much happened this year, right? So much was happening and we were all kind of scrambling, but if you have noticed a real kind of throttling of your online marketing volume and success, you are not alone. [05:11.6]
I have had maybe 20 conversations in the past couple of months with real estate investors all across the country, people not even in real estate investing, people who are in completely unrelated industries reaching out to me, coaching industry, people that know I do online marketing reaching out to me and saying, “Dan, my Facebook ads stopped working. My Google Ads stopped working.”
I would typically tell those people, not only are you not alone, the Facebook ads that I ran for AdWords Nerds and have run for probably six years now, spending on average between $10,000 and $15,000 a month for six years now, those stopped working, too. [06:00.0]
What I wanted to do in this podcast is take a step back and talk a little bit about what this year meant because it is absolutely critically important. If you care about online marketing as a lead channel for your real estate investing business, if you care about that at all, you have to understand what happened in 2021 and what it means for us going forward.
I am not just going to tell you this as a service provider. Obviously, I do online marketing for real estate investors. I'm telling you this because this has had a massive effect on my business and I am going to tell you what I am doing about it, because I really, truly view this past year as a major transitional year, as a year are basically the entire world rotated underneath our feet, and we as an industry, we have to adapt to that if we want to survive. [07:09.4]
All right, so let's back up. I talked a little bit about the housing market changes, and, look, you are an investor, so you're actually going to know more about that than I will. But what I know just from being in contact with markets all around the country through AdWords Nerds, through our clients, what I can tell you is that housing prices are incredibly high and that has done a fair amount of sort of not damage, but it has least change the way that the traditional investing model works.
If a real estate investor's basic value proposition is “It's hard to sell your house. It's a pain in the butt to sell your house. Sell your house to me. I'm going to make it easy, and in exchange, you are going to give me a portion of the value you would have received on the open market.” That's basically what the real estate investing model is, right? I pay you for the convenience you create. [08:02.8]
That value proposition became less appealing over the course of the last two years. When the price of a house on the open market gets higher than the marginal utility you gain from the convenience, the convenience is less attractive. Similarly, if a house is selling extremely quickly on the whole open market, and by the way, we're sort of past this point, I think, right now, but for a long time in 2021, houses were selling for cash, for more than asking price a day or two after the house hit the market. What does that do to the real estate investors value proposition? It changes it a lot. It changes it a lot. [08:56.8]
Now, I'm not saying that motivated sellers no longer are attracted to what real estate investors offer, and, in fact, there is always going to be this, and I think of it as the bullseye area of a dart board. That's the sort of core market for what real estate I do. Those people are still there. I've got to move tomorrow. I can't do any. I’ve just got to get out of the house, whatever. There's still opportunity there. But what ended up happening was the people on the outer rings of that dart board, the people that aren't necessarily “the” most motivated of sellers, but in other markets might have sold to an investor, those people went away.
So, in general, one of my theses for what happened in 2021 is the overall market, the available market of motivated sellers that are going to sell to an investor, shrank. It shrank. Now, that's not even getting into whatever happened with the actual supply of houses on the market and yada-yada-yada, but I think that volume of potential clients went down. [10:05.8]
Now, is that still the case today? I'm not sure. Obviously, things are always changing. It's not static, right? It never stays in any one place. It's always give and take, and, obviously, as houses are taken off the market and prices go up, then more people are incentivized to put their houses on the market and so on. The economy is complicated, you get it. But, I would say, in general, the total volume available motivated sellers this year went down.
Now, at the same time, when the supply of leads and deals goes down because there are less motivated sellers—remember, those outer rings of that dart board are sort of eaten away—how are investors going to react to that? This is where we bring basic game theory into the equation and we say, okay, if this happens, if X happens, what happens next? Does Y happen next or Z happen next? What happens? If my opponent moves his pawn to e5, where do I move my pawn next? [11:08.3]
I think it's pretty rational to assume that when the supply of leads and deals declines, but the demand for leads and deals does not—because it wasn't suddenly the case that investors wanted to do fewer deals this year. It wasn't the case that investors were like, Whatever, I’ll take a cut to my annual revenue, that doesn't matter to me—the demand for deals among investors was the same or greater because there are more investors in the market now than ever.
We are at the highest competition point for investors that has ever existed. That is not even including entrance into the market like iBuyers. Zillow kind of dropped out of buying houses this year, but Opendoor, Knock, Trulia, all these companies are still in the mix. You had hedge funds entering the market, trying to buy properties and so on—so the amount of competition increased. The amount of available leads decreased. [12:17.0]
This is economics 101. When the supply goes down and the demand goes up, prices rise, and that is exactly what happened. We saw this happening in the housing market with sort of bidding wars among people trying to buy homes, right, so the price of homes are going up, but we saw this in the online marketing space as well with prices going up in every single advertising channel. Google Ads saw a significant cost-per-click increase. Facebook saw a significant cost-per-click increase. YouTube, Bing, Microsoft ads, everything, and this is totally rational. [13:04.4]
It's totally rational, right? Supply goes down. Demand goes up. Prices go up. This is as old and tried and true of market dynamic as you could possibly name, but this has had significant follow on effects.
Let me back up a little bit and let's put these pieces in place here. When you have supply going down, okay, so there are less motivated sellers, and by the way, I also said the appeal of the core value proposition of a real estate investor declined, because, again, I could sell my house real fast for cash, at least for a while there, on the market. I could get a ton of money, so why sell to the investor for 70 cents on the dollar, right? So, the value proposition of an investor declined. The total supply of motivated sellers declined. The total amount of investors in the market increased, and the total amount of price competition increased. [14:03.4]
What this did was make it, if you were running, let's say, Google Ads—because that's my baby and it's the thing I know the best. Let's say, you're running Google Ads—what you saw this year was a decline in total volume, a decline in the conversion rate of the people you’ve got on your website, an increase in your cost per lead, and most likely a decline in your close rate.
When you add all those elements together, you get an absolutely brutal push, squeeze on the sort of average, what we'll call the middle-class investor, the mom-and-pop investor, maybe the investors that don't have the absolute best backend systems in place or the absolute biggest budget, or the absolute biggest target areas. They just want to target a particular city or a particular neighborhood or whatever. Those investors saw massive difficulties. Massive difficulties. [15:10.2]
I will say that, as an agency owner, one of my failures this year was that I failed to realize that this was what was happening. See, when our clients started running into issues and we had more people sort of struggling to get lead volume than we'd ever had, we were trying to solve the problem with the ads. We were saying, “We'll write a better ad. We'll make a better landing page. We'll use a more efficient bidding structure.”
We were pushing the buttons and pulling the levers that we knew how to push and pull. We were doing the things we knew how to do, but the problem was that that didn't address the underlying problem. The underlying problem was not that our Google Ads were suddenly bad. The underlying problem was that the market had shifted. [16:17.0]
The universe that our clients are in today in terms of how they have to market and how they have to close deals is very, very different than it was in 2019 or even 2020. Now, I personally think that this change is going to be longstanding. I don't want to say permanent. Nothing is ever permanent. But I think we are in a very different world and I think we're not really going to go backwards.
Now, I'm going to add two elements to this narrative that I'm spinning here and then I'm going to talk about what you can do about it at the end, okay, but here's why I think these changes are going to last—because there were other things happening. [17:04.8]
While all this economic stuff with the price of houses and the amount of investors, and the amount of price competition and the conversion rate, and blah, blah, blah, while all that stuff is happening, other things are happening as well. For one, culturally, I think we are shifting away from a direct-response marketing universe online. What do I mean by that? Let's just look at investing because this obviously is a podcast about real estate, so let's talk about that.
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There are different types of market for any industry and the most basic earliest type of market is called a problem-aware market, which basically means the people you are targeting in this market—for you, this would be motivated sellers—they know they have a problem. [18:28.0]
They've got a problem. The problem is the house, the property, right? They're motivated to sell it. Selling it is going to be a pain in the butt. That's the problem and they know it, but they don't know what the solution is going to be. They don't know that real estate investors are out there. They don't know that there's someone who is going to pay cash for their home and do all the paperwork, and take care of all the repairs and just take care of all their problems for them. They don't know that, okay? This isn't a problem-aware market. [19:03.2]
Now, in a problem-aware market, the way that you do effective marketing to these people is by simply telling them there is a solution. “Hey, Mr. Motivated Seller, you've got this property. It's a big pain in your butt. Selling it is going to be a pain. Guess what? I am a real estate investor and I want to buy your house for cash.” If that sounds familiar, that's because basically every piece of marketing for real estate investors for the last 30 years has been about telling the seller there is a solution to the problem.
What is a yellow letter? A yellow letter is basically a piece of paper where an investor writes down what they do. “I want to buy your house fast for cash, no repairs,” blah-di-blah, and that has worked. I'm not saying that's bad. In fact, that is absolutely “the” most appropriate type of marketing for a problem-aware market. [20:05.5]
The issue is that we are no longer in a problem-aware market. How many people know that real estate investors exist today versus 10 years ago? It is not comparable in any way. There are real estate investors on TV, on national TV channels every single day, flipping houses. People know what real estate investors do. There are so many investors that the number of people who have seen a bandit sign or gotten a postcard, or gotten a ringless voicemail or gotten a text message, it is massive.
People know there is a solution, and when people know there is a solution, they know that real estate agents and realtors are not the only way to sell their house anymore. They know they could go to Zillow. They know they could go to Trulia. They know they could go to iBuyers. They know they could go down the street to the local investor. They know that we are no in a problem-aware market. We are in a solution-aware market. [21:14.5]
A solution-aware market, and in a solution-aware market, it is not enough to say, I will buy your house for cash, because they already know that. In a solution-aware market, you are not saying sell to an investor. You have to tell them why they should sell to you instead of someone else. As an industry, we have to switch from making the case for selling a house to an investor to making the case for “here's why you should choose me,” and I think as an industry, we have not caught up to this at all. [22:01.3]
This is the primary reason, beyond some technical advantages and efficiencies that they have, this is the primary reason that iBuyers are eating our lunch. This is why. They are competing on brand. They're saying, You know us, you trust us, we've been around.
Zillow provides home values for free. Why? Because the more time you spend on there, the more time you come to associate the word “Zillow” with just everything having to do with buying and selling a house. That's the play, and why would you ever go anywhere else? If I tell you I need to look up something online, you probably don't go to Ask Jeeves or Bing or DuckDuckGo. You go to Google. In fact, we call it “googling it” because they have the brand awareness. Okay? [23:01.6]
That is one reason I think a lot of these changes are at least semi-permanent. It’s because once a market is solution-aware, it doesn't go backwards. It doesn't go backwards, and so the next decade for investors, it's all about differentiation. It's all about differentiation, not from real estate agents, but from each other.
Now, there's one other change that I think profoundly sets these sorts of deeper changes in stone, so to speak, and that is the technological shifts that are happening in the online marketing space. Now, maybe you were aware of this or maybe you were not, but this year, Apple pushed out an iOS update. iOS is the operating system that runs on all Apple phones and tablets and everywhere, okay, and represents an absolutely massive chunk of all internet traffic, because the iPhone is the most popular phone. [24:13.0]
Most people are using mobile phones to do pretty much everything, including selling their house, so when something happens to iOS, it happens to all the iPhones, and when something happens to all the iPhones, it basically just happens to the entire industry at once. This is why Apple is always changing the cord you need to plug this in, because they know when they change the cord, everybody else has got to change their cord, too. It's just the way it works.
All right, so iOS made an update and essentially what they did was say, We are giving everyone the opportunity. It's just going to pop up in front of them to opt out, opt out of cookie-based tracking, and that means that apps have trouble tracking your behavior. It means that Facebook has trouble tracking of behavior. It means retargeting campaigns where you follow someone that has been on your website, much harder to do. I'm sure you've noticed all these pop-ups telling you about cookies and all this stuff. [25:18.5]
Not only that. It's going to be harder to understand who opens what emails. It's basically going to be harder to understand where your leads come from, what they did before they got there, who they are and how they behave.
Now, Apple pushed this as a privacy move, and maybe it is, and in that sense, it might be better for the world as a whole. Now, Apple also has their own advertising channel that, of course, they're pushing out, so we'll see, right? I'm a little cynical. Maybe you're a little bit more optimistic about these things than I am. But the flip side of that is that channels that operate largely based on understanding human behavior, for those channels, this change is existential, and the biggest channel like that is Facebook. [26:15.8]
Facebook basically runs on an algorithm that watches your behavior. Every website you go on that has a Facebook pixel sends that information back to Facebook and Facebook uses this sort of breadcrumb trail you make across the internet to understand your behavior and say, Hey, Dan, if you really like cold-brew coffee, you're probably going to like this really fancy hot water kettle thing, and usually they're right. They’ve got really good at that and that has been the reason that Facebook has been one of the dominant advertising channels online. It has basically only been Google and Facebook. [27:00.0]
But this change by iOS, by Apple, to essentially stab Facebook's business model in the back, is serious, and if you noticed your Facebook campaigns take a giant dive this year, that is why. That algorithm can't optimize around behavior if it can't see your behavior.
Now, what does this mean for Google? Google also uses behavioral algorithmic-based tracking, but less so than Facebook. Most of their advertising revenues still come from Search and YouTube, which are channels you stay inside. You don't have to go around the internet. You're typing in what you want to Google and to YouTube, and so it was less of a deal for Google.
But it is a huge deal for Facebook and it is a big deal for lead attribution, which is tracking back which lead came from which ad, and that in turn affects Google Analytics and Google Ads and all sorts of stuff. [28:15.6]
Now, this might sound like inside baseball to you, this kind of marketing stuff, but what this is doing, this is the lead domino. It's the lead domino, and what it's going to do and what it's already doing is setting off a chain reaction, and that chain reaction, I'm going to be honest, I don't know where it leads.
There are some efforts to replace cookie-based tracking with advanced statistical modeling and there are people trying to make Facebook work better by not sending people off Facebook at all. Facebook is going to roll out all kinds of advertising options that just keep you in Facebook, so kind of like lead forms in Facebook or chatting in Facebook, stay in Facebook. That way, they don't need cookies because they can look at anything you do in Facebook. [29:11.0]
But these are going to have absolutely massive changes on the way that online advertising works and the way that companies go about getting leads. It used to be the case that I could simply, Okay, look, anybody that opens this email, put them into an automation, I'm going to send them a different email. It's not really going to work anymore.
Not only that, we see the younger generations—I’ve been really trying to tap into what younger people are doing online. I've been getting into Web3 and the blockchain and all that stuff because there's a very vigorous, vibrant community of young people around those technologies—and those people don't even go on Facebook. They're not on Instagram. They're on Discord, right? They're not even on these websites. [30:05.0]
To me, this feels like, what's happening is we are moving away from this era we've been in for a really long time, where online advertising was all about getting as specific as humanly possible on the front end, so targeting, I would say, only middle-aged women with brown hair who love wiener dogs and wear sweaters, only those people. That was what online marketing was like, get as narrow as possible. As narrow as possible.
In Google, it was pick the longest tail keyword with real buyer's intent, target in exact-match format, get as narrow as possible, and that's the way, and I think we're getting away from that and I don't think we're ever going to go back. I think what all these advertising channels are going to look like is much more similar to what happened with the magazine advertising. [31:04.8]
Magazines, back in the day, their ads all used to be direct-response. “Write in and I'm going to send you back a coupon for …” blah, blah, blah. It was all direct-response, like, Send me the thing, send me a check, I'm going to you money, they're doing transactions directly in the back pages of the magazine, but you don't see that anymore, or at least very rarely.
What you see now when you open up a magazine is a cool picture of a watch and it says Rolex or a picture of an athlete holding a drink and it says Coca-Cola. It's branding. It's brand-awareness, because I think we are moving into a cultural ecosystem where people have grown up with the internet. They swim in the internet. The internet is everywhere and they all know what ads are. They all know that if you're going to get their email, you're going to send them a bunch of stuff. They all know it and they're not interested. [32:10.7]
What people want is to buy into an identity, to join communities of their own accord, because they find value in the things that brands produce, and I’ve got to tell you, that's a more challenging advertising paradigm, a more challenging marketing paradigm. In some ways, it's a better marketing paradigm. At least, I hope it can be.
I'm getting a little bit high level here. I don't know where this is going to end up for an investor, but if I were an investor today and my clients are, and this is what I tell people to do, here's what I tell people, okay, and we're getting into the tangibles. What do you do about all these changes? Because these are big, big changes. [32:55.0]
Again, take my words with a grain of salt. I could be wrong. I'm no Nostradamus, but here's what I'm doing. Here's what I'm investing in and telling my clients to invest in. First things first, brand is king. Brand is king. Your reputation is king, and so investing in your reputation is always a good idea.
Maybe that means producing things that are truly of value for free, simply because it benefits the communities that you are targeting. Maybe it means putting out high-value content or putting time into a YouTube channel, or coaching a Little League team or going to the board of ed or whatever it is. It's different for the community. In the Web3 community, people are joining Discords and they're doing coding work for free because they believe in the program, and they think that that's going to lead them somewhere down the line. [33:57.8]
I think that kind of approach we where you say, How do I create value for the community and just raise my reputation, so that people seek me out? that is truly what the new marketing paradigm is going to be all about, and people have said that for a long time, but really what it boiled down to is “opt in for my email list and I’ll send you the lead magnet” and all this stuff. It was still direct mail just or direct-response, but with a different veneer on top.
The second thing I would be very aware of is that advertising channels are moving to an algorithmic paradigm, and what that means is you are going to give them money and they are going to run with it. There are less buttons to push. There are less levers to pull. There is simply less control and we have to be okay with that. We have to have offers and business models that can adapt to that. We have to be willing to close in multiple ways. You have to have multiple exit strategies. You have to have a bigger target market. You have to put in a bigger budget. [35:04.0]
Why? Because algorithms feed off data. If you can't feed it data, it's going to underperform. The people that win are going to be the people that feed the algorithms the most data, and you can feed it the most data by having the most ways to win.
That could mean targeting the biggest possible area, so that you can close in multiple markets. That could be giving it the biggest possible budget, so that you can get the most clicks and the most conversions. That be having the most exit strategies, so that you could close the most often and monetize the higher number of leads. It could be some combination of all of those things. But the days of saying, I'm going to really, really zone in on a particular zip code and a particular keyword and just spend on it, I'm not saying it will never work—there are always situations where that kind of strategy is going to work—but it isn't going to be what wins. [36:04.4]
Scale brings efficiency in a world driven by algorithms, and, my friend, I'm telling you, we are living in a world that is ruled by algorithms and it is only going to get worse before it gets better.
The final thing I would think about is that this is the time to invest in change. This is the time to rethink what you do. I was recently talking to a client of ours, an investor, having incredible success using our Google Ads setup, and he's a coaching student of mine, so I'm not even managing it. He's using our setup and they're just crushing it, and I'd actually had a client in a similar market really struggling and I was talking to this coaching student. [37:02.3]
I was like, Why are you guys killing it? because he didn't have a huge budget, didn't have a huge market. He wasn't really doing any of this stuff I just talked about. He was like, Dan, I have spent the last five years increasing my profit margin on every single step of the flipping process. I have zeroed in on how to get my construction costs as low as possible. I have zeroed in on exactly how to make offers that make me the money I need. I have zeroed in on my staff. I don't have anyone on my staff that I don't need. I have zeroed in on every single part of the process, and what that means is I can bid more than my competition and make more at the exact same time.
This is the time we're investing in the basics, investing in the backend, investing in your follow-up, investing in your CRM, investing in your team, investing your knowledge of real estate. This is the time to invest in those things because we are entering a world where the path forward is going to be unknown. [38:13.0]
Sooner or later, we're all going to settle on the model that works best, but for now and for the foreseeable future, we don't know what it is, and the people that survive these times of transition are the people who have their foundational skills locked in.
This isn't just something I'm lecturing you about. This is something I'm doing at AdWords Nerds. We are changing the requirements we need for clients. In fact, we're making them more strict. I am restructuring my team, so that we can survive with fewer clients. I'm requiring higher budgets. I'm changing my coaching model to appeal to more people and doing it much lower ticket. Why am I doing these things? Because the market has changed and we need to change with it. [39:04.2]
I'm telling you, my friend, Nick, always says, you’ve got to eat your own dog food. I'm taking my own advice. I am investing in change and I highly suggest that, going into 2020, you do the same, because I'm telling you, the world is different. It's different today than it was last year and it was the year before, and the faster we realize that as an industry and wake up, and change and test and experiment, and iterate and find the new way forward, the better off we are all going to be.
Look, this is my last podcast episode of the year, okay? I'm going on vacation. I'll be back early in 2022. But I just want to say to you thank you so much for supporting the REI Marketing Nerds podcast and listening to this. I do this every week and sometimes it feels like I don't know who is listening. I can't see you, right? You can't see me. But I get on the phone with people who are coming into work with AdWords Nerds and they say, Hey, I’ve been listening to your podcast for years and I just finally decided to pull the trigger. I cannot tell you how much that means to me. [40:16.0]
I want to tell you just straight up, straight from my heart, okay, this year has really taught me how important it is for me to care deeply about what is happening to my clients, what is going on in their businesses, what is going on in their markets, and I want you to know, next year, my whole self, every bit of my effort is being put into upping my game. That means better podcast content, better YouTube content, better Facebook content. I am going all out.
My goal for next year is that the stuff I put out for free absolutely outshines and smashes the stuff that other people make you pay for, and I just want to say, without you, none of that would be possible and I just want to say thank you. [41:10.6]
For me, Justin, Shane, Carina, Lou, Jason, Patti, Andrew, the entire AdWords Nerds team, thank you so much for being here. I hope you have a wonderful holiday, a wonderful New Year, and we will be back in 2022. Until then, thank you very much and cheers.
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