October 25, 2014

Online Personalization and What It Means for CRE

personalization and commercial real estate searchPersonalization is nothing new.  Every time you use your credit card or sign up for a “member” card, you’re letting someone collect data on your purchasing habits.  But online technologies bring personalization to a new level.

By mining through data trails that you leave as you browse the web, a business or other entity, in conjunction with an ad company, can serve you “relevant” ads.  In the case of search, the search entity serves you “relevant” results.

The big deal now is that this can be done in real time so if you trash your browser cookies, no problem!  They’ll just track you during your next session.  And current data is more useful than old data anyway.  Most companies consider tracking data older than a few weeks useless.

Users can block cookies all together but doing so degrades the browsing experience.  You need them enabled, for example, if you’re shopping online or want to comment on some blogs.  Luckily for companies, most users don’t turn them off.

Even better than cookies is tracking online activity while you’re logged into search engine and social media portals – inside and outside of the network.  This is why Google has been scrambling to create a social network.  The more they know…well, the more they can “personalize.”

Personalization has its critics.  Most users have mixed feelings about it though younger users find it more palatable – useful even – than older ones.  Privacy advocates are suspicious about the use of the data outside of serving ads, data security and unaware users.

Plus there are concerns about whether being “fed” only what you ate before makes you an uncurious, narrow minded person – or if current personalization models are over-simplified.  Just because you read an article about Company X doesn’t mean you always want to read about Company X.  Some of this can be overcome with better algorithms and use of “discovery” features – like “trending now” or “popular” lists not based on your preferences – just to keep you well-rounded and better informed (and to see if they’ve missed anything…).

So what does this mean for CRE?

Search Results
Because of personalization, one user’s search returns can differ from another’s depending on what tracking cookies are installed or if they’re logged into a social network or portal.  You will see a scenario where, if you have friends who +1ed, liked or visited a certain site or even if your online behavior aligns with strangers, then that “history” could influence your search results.  You’ll also notice that sites you’ve visited before are remembered and given “preference” or are highlighted in some way (so much for checking your search engine rank yourself….).

While searches for commercial real estate – generally and specifically – are not the volume of a consumer brand, it won’t hurt to start collecting some positive buzz. Time to commit to a social networking strategy and start racking up those likes and plusses.  And not from just anyone.  You’ll want buzz from people in your market because a lot of personalization is about…

…Location
CRE may be a global industry, but everything is still local.  Search results are increasingly favoring the searcher’s current location (determined by IP address or stated preferences) unless a specific city is included with the keywords.  Mobile is driving this as well.

If you claim your local directory listings you can try including other locations in your profile (sometimes at a cost…) or use Adwords but I suspect those have limited value.  It will be difficult to overcome the advantage national brokerages and listing aggregators have – not to mention compete with their marketing budgets.  Plus, mobile apps, with their emphasis on a user’s location, are expected to take an increasingly larger share of internet activity.

Local or regional brokers will have little choice but to concentrate on promoting superior local knowledge and service.   If you’re not including your location keywords in your content, do it now.  Make sure you’re the local expert users can find.  And keep your eyes open for location based mobile apps that can work for CRE.

 

Photo credit: Some rights reserved by BenSpark.

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