Four Steps to Building an Online Mortgage Lead Generating Machine

December 2, 2013

Can you explain in 60 seconds or less how you will execute your new marketing strategy when rates finally go up the refinance boom ends? You may target renters, make cold calls to aged leads, sit open houses, work your referral partners or learn how to improve your website to start building your own equity online. And yes, you may even consider talking to real estate agents about helping their buyers get qualified.
I built a business on developing real estate agent referral relationships that served me well for many years, so I definitely know the pain of sitting in an agent’s office trying to explain your net benefit to them.
With more than 42,000 organic mortgage leads generated in the month of May alone from our online marketing efforts with localized consumer focused mortgage and real estate related Web sites, I do not have to buy real estate agents lunch to earn their business anymore.
The transition from referral to consumer direct happened for me in late 2006 when all of my real estate agent partners disappeared as soon as the bubble popped in our Las Vegas housing market. I had one agent remaining, and that was because he and I had been building sites together since 2004.
After a painful crash and burn that lasted for about six months, I realized that all of the weekend phone calls and late night pre-qualification letters for agents who counted on me to jump through hoops at a moment’s notice … and buy them lunch, didn’t equate to a true business model.
However, I learned that simply driving traffic to a well-optimized and designed Web site could actually turn into transactions and a marketing system that could be measured and trusted.
As an originator, there is a sense of empowerment and security that comes from being the one who holds the “referral card” in an agent/originator relationship.
The online mortgage Web marketing strategy
While the Web has evolved from the old social networking days on MySpace when I started playing online in 2004, much has remained the same with regards to the strategies necessary for converting targeted traffic to leads, prospects and then closings.
Different tools, definitely more shiny objects, search engine algorithm changes and a more confused consumer are the primary things that I have noticed changing since I have been paying attention to the web over the past 9-10 years.
Before we talk about the four steps in our online marketing blueprint, let me mention the two most important things to pay attention to in everything you do online:
Trust + Authority = Quality Leads That Convert at a Higher Ratio Into Closed Loans
Developing trust and authority is your goal and benchmark for everything from your Web site design to your personal bio, your message, landing pages, testimonials, follow-up campaigns … and the list goes on.
As we go through the next four steps, you’ll see specific examples and patterns of how we focus on building trust and authority online.
Step one: Establish a target audience
The secret to winning on the Web is simple: “Niche and Grow Rich.”
Buyers or borrowers are not asking Google for a "mortgage professional that believes in integrity, has good communication skills and strives to be the best of the best of the best at everything."
Instead, they are searching locally for a “(city) 203k Mortgage Lender” or a “(city) HARP Mortgage Lender” that specializes in a type of loan program that will help them achieve their goals.
Buyers want a home and borrowers need a loan. Borrowers are both looking for an expert they can trust to help them with their unique scenario.
The Web is a beautiful place that allows you to be whatever you choose, and market to whomever you want. So step outside of your Web site profile page and start thinking in terms of who you are marketing to and what words they may be using when searching for someone like you online.
Step two: Craft the message
Now that you have identified your target audience, we need to create a marketing campaign for them. Before we begin building sites and landing pages or worrying about where we're going to drive traffic from to those sites and landing pages, we start with the message. In simple terms … we need content.
Borrowers, buyers, refinance, purchase … depending on your niche program you are marketing... there are different needs that your target audience is trying to satisfy.
If you write your content with the consumer in mind, you'll connect with them easier by establishing that trust and authority I mentioned earlier. Consumers express their needs, fears, frustrations and challenges in several ways online.
Two great resources to tap into the mindset of your target audience are Google Adwords for keyword research, and Forums like Yahoo Answers, Ask.com and even Zillow or Trulia to see what type of questions people are asking.
As mortgage professionals we know that program eligibility is determined by LTV, DTI, Credit, Employment, Income, Assets.
But from a consumer's perspective, they want to know what their minimum downpayment is, how long they have to wait after a short sale to buy again, what first-time homebuyer programs are available and the list goes on.
Start with the top 10-15 frequently asked questions, give a basic program overview and show them how you can match their unique lending scenario with a solution to get them what they really want.
Having "Buyer Empathy" when you craft a message boils down to articulating this complex mortgage process in a manner that they can understand.
If your message connects with them and gives them a sense of confidence, then they'll trust that you will be able to hold their hand through the transaction without overwhelming them.
Another benefit of having a lot of content about a particular niche is that you establish yourself as the authority on that topic. When comparing your niche site of 10-15 pages of FAQ's to a competitor who copied a few paragraphs from the government's FHA site, who do you think is going to win?
Step three: Design your niche sites and landing pages
Now to the fun part—showcasing your authority as a “local” mortgage program expert by designing a niche Web site that is full of content, videos and consumer-friendly information.
It’s important to remember that with regards to online mortgage marketing, borrowers are looking for a reason to “Disqualify” you, not “Hire” you to do their loan.
Compared to a generic mortgage company site or profile page that typically converts less than two percent of Web visitors into a form or call, our niche sites convert organic traffic at eight to 12 percent. This also depends on the specific search phrase or link they followed to hit a certain page.
Keeping trust and authority in mind, here are the primary things to pay attention to when designing your site:
►Niche specific: Be the program expert
►Easy to navigate: Simple menu and sidebar navigation with less options
►Availability: Large text phone number (not image) in top right
►Geo-targeted: Target one city or state per site and optimize accordingly
►A clear call-to-action: Above the fold with value benefit highlighted
►Content rich: Frequently Asked Questions (FAQs) to establish you are the trusted expert
►Communication: Add video and infographics to help educate
►Trust icons: Better Business Bureau (BBB) or any affiliations that show consumer protection
►Clarity: Cut the noise and take out all clutter on your site
The bullets from above apply to landing pages as well, but let's separate the difference between a landing page and a Web site in our online lead generation blueprint:
►A Web site targets a niche and should convert at around eight to 12 percent.
►A landing page targets a message and should convert at around 28 to 32 percent.
►Your landing page is a component of your Web site, but can also stand on its own, depending on your traffic strategy that we'll get into momentarily. Basically, a landing page is your Call-to-Action (Money Page) that should generate a form or phone call. The message should be highly targeted, such as purchase versus refinance.
►You should clarify the benefit or value, which should remain consistent with the message they followed to get to your page, as well as throughout the entire lead conversion and follow-up process.
►Include trust icons, testimonials and even additional content or FAQs for the purpose of building trust and authority.
►Definitely remove all exit links, which would include the navigation bar, footer links (except for required privacy or licensing links).
►Make it simple … trust me, simple sells.
A great resource for you to use when building or learning about landing pages is www.unbounce.com. They even have free or premium templates that you can use to get something up and running quickly if you want to skip the niche site process and just send paid traffic to one landing page. 
Step four: Traffic
Consumers are looking for a local niche expert, which is why it is beneficial to launch a local version of your niche website in every city you do business in.
From a search engine marketing and "getting found on the Web" standpoint, a local content rich site that is optimized for the right keywords at the city level will have a greater possibility of showing up in the search engines for people in that area.
Spreading your content across a few top ranking real estate blogs, dropping some press releases and a little activity on a niche specific Google+ page will help your target audience continue to find you as they are on their journey for a niche expert that they can trust.
Targeted traffic to a landing page that converts at 28 to 32 percent will produce you a certain amount of leads that are measured in quality based on how much trust and authority you've established up to this point. This means that 28 percent of your traffic should fill out a form or call. If you send 100 people to your landing page, you should get 28 forms or calls. Traffic is not free, unless you do not value your time.
Paying for traffic can include things such as:
►Pay-per-Click (PPC)
►E-mail
►Press releases
►Buying a database or aged leads
►Banner advertising
“X” amount of traffic converts to a lead. There is a Cost-per-Lead, and then you have a conversion ratio on that lead. Basically, you can spend anywhere from $100 to $1,200 per closed loan after everything is said and done.
Free traffic examples include:
►SEO: Optimizing your niche sites so that they show up on page one of the search engines.
►Referrals from other agents or sites.
►Guest blogging on other industry sites, news publications or agent's Web sites
►Social media links such as Facebook or Google+
►Your own database
Bonus tip: Go where the buyers are
This is a free tip for you today. As I mentioned earlier, I started out in the online marketing game by helping an agent build a real estate site. The best leads I have ever received as a lender came from real estate sites because that's where the buyers are. Buyers spend five to six months obsessing over homes on a real estate agent's site, compared to the 90 seconds, if you're lucky, that they'll spend on your mortgage site. This gives you an opportunity to be in front of your target audience earning their trust and establishing your authority for a much longer period of time. If you take some of that content you created earlier and post it to a top ranking real estate agent's blog in your area, you'll generate leads for both of you.
Agents with top ranking real estate sites are always looking for good original mortgage content, and they can never seem to find an originator who gets the concept of being a true “marketing partner” online as opposed to just another lender waiting for a free handout.
They will allow you to include a link in your bio after the article, which should go back to your landing page or niche site. And definitely make sure your mini two sentence author bio matches the message in your article.
To quickly recap …
Pick a target audience, create your message, publish your content across several geo-targeted niche Web sites and drive traffic to high converting landing pages.

Mark Madsen manages a portfolio of more than 13,800 consumer-focused mortgage and real estate niche Web sites which has produced more than 42,100 organic mortgage leads from top search engine marketing strategies. He runs one of the largest mortgage professional networks on Google+, as well as a few very active private mortgage and real estate blogging communities on Facebook. He may be reached by phone at (702) 496-5626 or e-mail mark@markmadsen.me.

Marketing, Technology