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   ARTICLE   |   From Scotsman Guide Residential Edition   |   October 2013

Juggling Today’s Technology Opportunities

Learn how to reach the growing number of tech-savvy homebuyers

Juggling Today’s Technology Opportunities

Two decades ago, when first-time homebuyers were making their purchases, they opened the phone book and either chose a mortgage lender at random or chose one whose name sounded vaguely familiar. Today, as those same homebuyers get ready to upgrade their families into larger houses, they search for mortgage brokers and lenders on their mobile devices, locating the most convenient service provider and then interacting with that provider’s feature-rich website and mobile app. Sometimes, by the time a client calls, the sale is already halfway closed and the application process may be well underway.

Many mortgage professionals would agree that the best leads are those that contact you and are ready to apply for a loan immediately. The changing nature of the Internet is creating more of these opportunities for originators all the time, allowing them to do more and more on something as small as a mobile phone. For the uninitiated, however, the breadth of recent innovations may be daunting. How can mortgage professionals juggle the different online tools available and set themselves up for technological triumph?

Unfortunately, many mortgage brokers and originators are missing out on the tools and strategies available to take advantage of the growing market of Internet-generated leads. As the digital generation starts buying homes, these mortgage professionals must get caught up or risk becoming obsolete.

The Web has changed how consumers interact with service providers, mortgage brokers and lenders included. As a result, the Web also is changing how originators should market their businesses. Today’s Web — a highly mobile, local Web — is creating an unprecedented opportunity for mortgage professionals who want to leapfrog over their competition rather than get left behind. To do so, mortgage brokers and originators must be aware of how marketplace trends are shifting, and they must learn how to take advantage of those trends.

The new consumer experience

Everywhere you look, people are using mobile devices. According to research conducted by Google, 44 percent of the U.S. population owned a mobile device as of 2012, and eMarketer.com forecasts a double-digit growth rate in smartphone market penetration through 2015, thanks to the proliferation of mobile devices such as smartphones, tablets and a new category called “phablets.” More people are using more mobile devices at home, at work and on the go.

Mobile devices are more than a convenience and are no longer the subpar second choice after desktop computers. Tablets are replacing desktops in many homes, and consumers are holding tight to their smartphones wherever they go. In fact, according to Google, 80 percent of consumers wouldn’t leave home this past year without their smartphones. Mobile devices have become essential accessories that keep people connected, entertained and informed.

And they aren’t just using their phones to access Facebook or play games; consumers are using their phones to conduct product research and make purchases. In fact, Google’s research found that 59 percent of smartphone users used their phones for product and service searches in 2012.

That’s a lot of product research through mobile devices, but the question remains: Does it convert to sales? Skeptics may wonder if all this mobile searching and on-the-go research actually leads to buying, as opposed to consumers just browsing more.

Fortunately, however, the numbers are just as exciting for transactions. According to a recent joint study by Google and Nielsen, every mobile search triggers nearly two follow-up actions, and more than half of all mobile searches trigger a follow-up action (such as a phone call or in-store visit) within the hour after the search.

This isn’t just a mobile phenomenon. Mobile users are driving this, certainly, but this is also a local business phenomenon. In the past, the Internet was proudly global, but mobile users who are on the go and ready to shop are pushing the Web to reemphasize the local businesses that are prepared to help them. According to a 2012 study by online advertising network Chitika, approximately 25 percent of Google and Yahoo searches have a local intent, and approximately 28 percent of Bing searches have a local intent. These numbers may grow even more substantial as more people adopt mobile technology.

Additionally, people are searching in new ways. For years, people have typed queries into search lines, and although many still do that, voice-activated searches recently have swelled in popularity. Today, when someone speaks into their phone and says, “I want to refinance my home,” that device will display a mortgage lender’s name, address and phone number on a map. Will it be yours?

This is great news for forward-thinking loan originators. These mobile trends are turning Internet users into warm, educated leads long before they pick up the phone. The question that originators must ask themselves is this: How can I take advantage of this mobile phenomenon and position my company so that it reaches the most targeted, well-qualified prospects available?

There are many ways that brokers and originators can take advantage of the growing mobile/local trend. The easiest and fastest ways, however, can be divided into five categories. These are a starting place, but mortgage professionals also should be aware that the industry is changing constantly. With that in mind, be prepared to learn about new opportunities as user adoption increases.

1. Search

The first place to start is to make sure that you’re visible in consumers’ online searches. Although many people have heard of search-engine optimization (SEO) and think of it in terms of more conventional websites, there also is local SEO that businesses should be deploying. Here are four action steps to get you started optimizing your business for local search.

  • Optimize your business information on sites such as Yelp andGoogle Places. Ensure that the information is accurate, especially your address and telephone number. Use compelling descriptions and keywords, as well as location-specific information in your description. This will help your site not only appear in Web searches, but also will give you the ability to be found by smartphones’ voice-activated searches, fully equipped with your phone number and directions to your office.
  • Cover all your bases. Do the same thing in the business listings available on all the other major search engines, especially BingPlaces.com and Local.Yahoo.com.
  • Check for accuracy. With all of these major search engines, make sure that you double-check any information that they input for you. It’s not uncommon to have an old address or the phone number for a different branch office in your listings. Don’t assume that the information is correct just because the information is there.
  • Check regularly. Search engines have so-called “Web crawlers” that regularly search the Internet for information and update their findings based on the information that they find. Considering that, mortgage professionals should regularly check their listings on the aforementioned engines. This is also a good step to remember in case your office hours change between the summer and the winter; make sure that your hours are always accurate.

2. QR codes

Quick response (QR) codes are square images made up of black and white pixels. Although they mean nothing to the human eye, mobile devices read them as Web addresses. When mobile users scan a QR code, the device will send those users to a website.

QR-code adoption is growing. According to research by eMarketer.com, nearly one in five Americans has scanned a QR code. As more consumers grow comfortable with QR codes, brokers and originators can use them to drive traffic to websites, apps and social media sites. They can be a great way to bypass search engines and generate more action from magazine ads, posters, signs, direct mail and social media posts.

It’s relatively easy to get your own QR code and use it for marketing. First, find a QR-code generator online and create your own QR code. Point it to your website, lead-generation page, app or business listing. Then be sure to include your QR code on every marketing document and Web page that you produce. You can make your QR codes even more useful by linking to a location that encourages users to take action and get in touch.

3. Mobile site

Many websites are built and configured with conventional desktop or laptop screen sizes. With a growing market of mobile users, however, businesses must revisit how their sites are configured. Otherwise, frustrated mobile users will click away from your non-mobile-friendly website to your competitor’s mobile-friendly site. At the current rate, mobile traffic to your website could overtake desktop traffic in less than two years. That means a major portion of your current traffic is already mobile, and if your site isn’t mobile, smartphone visitors may be having a difficult time navigating through it.

Mobile sites still should contain as much information as your regular site — especially in light of the number of mobile users who use their smartphones to research products and services — but the site also should be configured differently for a smaller screen size. No new website address is needed, as any good information technology (IT) professional can program your website to display the appropriate site depending on the device being used. But first you will need a mobile-friendly website.

Don’t ignore the growing number of people who search on mobile devices. Hire a company to create a custom mobile-friendly website that can be enjoyed on smartphones, tablets and phablets. Use analytics and surveys to determine what activities your mobile users are doing most often on your site and build the site around those common purposes.

4. Apps

Mobile applications — “apps” — are a way for prospects and clients to engage with your brand before and during the sales process. Apps are purpose-built, branded programs that are downloaded to a mobile device and used to research, engage and connect. Apps help to keep you top-of-mind with your prospects and position you as a value provider before the mortgage-application process.

An app helps to bypass search engines in that your prospects and clients already can have your app on their phones and won’t need to search for another loan originator when they have your brand at their fingertips. Take advantage of this growing market by getting your own app and making sure clients — and prospective clients — know about it.

  • Get an app. You can hire people to create your own customized mobile apps for your prospects, clients and partners. If you hire someone to create an app for you, be sure to note any pertinent laws and regulations — such as compliance with the Truth in Lending Act — to which your apps must adhere. Alternatively, you can buy “white-labeled” (that is, able to be branded) apps that you can pass on to your clients and partners. Some companies, for instance, offer fully compliant mortgage-calculator apps and document-scanner apps that customers can then brand and distribute.
  • Market your app. Market your app just as you would promote your business. Include a link to your app in your e-mail signature, your QR codes, on your website and in your social media posts.

5. Social

The social trend is a phenomenon closely connected to the mobile/ local trend. People are using Facebook, Twitter, Foursquare and other sites to find out who is nearby, what stores are nearby and what product recommendations their social network may provide. Additionally, many social sites have a mobile-friendly interface, which gives your company a quick way to start connecting to mobile users.

When you get started in this arena, the first step is to choose a couple of social media sites where your customers most likely are spending their time (Facebook and Twitter are the most probable candidates). Set up accounts at each site. If you only have the time resources to choose one, you may want to choose Facebook instead of Twitter, as this will give you more room to post information.

Next, tie it all together. Once you have some social sites set up, connect your various online efforts, cross-promoting your QR codes, website and apps.

•  •  •

Technology is constantly changing, and it can be hard to know what to do first and when new trends might emerge. Today’s mobile/local trend is a huge opportunity for mortgage originators who want to act fast and capture the eyes and engagement of the growing market of leads on consumers’ mobile devices.  •


 


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