How can you utilize the Internet with your blog and website content to attract prospects and grow your property management business?
Today, I am talking to John Ray, formerly of Inspect & Cloud. John decided to join the DoorGrow team to help entrepreneurs align with a higher purpose through transparency to grow revenue and attract new customers.
[02:45] Bromance: Similar passion, vision, and success for property management.
[08:50] Anti-SEO? Merging of minds and skill sets to increase customer base.
[11:16] What is property management? Lack of name recognition and understanding.
[12:15] Lead Gen: What clients want vs. what they actually need from marketers.
[15:13] Digital Marketing: Ancillary to foundational basics of a business.
[15:35] Purpose of Seed Program: Clients not quite ready for digital marketing solutions.
[18:17] SEO and Pay-Per-Click (PPC): Getting the cart before the horse.
[18:24] What makes marketing work? Storytelling. Do or say something interesting.
[19:07] Hook, Line, and Resonance: Shifting away from SEO the right way.
[21:48] Blue Ocean Concept: Opportunities for professional property management.
[27:35] FAQs: How do you respond? Are you a property management expert/authority?
[30:02] Quality vs. Quantity: Add value, not noise. Google’s goal is to please people.
Jason: Welcome, DoorGrow Hackers, to the DoorGrow Show. If you are a property management entrepreneur that wants to add doors, make a difference, increase revenue, help others, impact lives, and you are interested in growing your business and life, and you are open to doing things a bit differently, then you are a DoorGrow Hacker.
DoorGrow Hackers love the opportunities, daily variety, unique challenges, and freedom that property management brings. Many in real estate think you’re crazy for doing it, you think they’re crazy for not, because you realize that property management is the ultimate high-trust gateway to real estate deals, relationships, and residual income.
At DoorGrow, we are on a mission to transform property management businesses and their owners. We want to transform the industry, eliminate the BS, build awareness, change the perception, expand the market, and help the best property management entrepreneurs win. I’m your host, property management growth expert, Jason Hull, the founder and CEO of DoorGrow. Now, let’s get into the show.
I’ve got a very special guest today. He’s been on the show before. Jon Ray. Jon, welcome.
Jon: Hey, thanks for having me. We’re finally doing a DoorGrow Jon Ray-Jason podcast again. I’m really excited to share some of the things that we’re going to talk about on how to best utilize the internet, content on your blog, in your website, and some of the things that you can really do to dial in the way that you’re attracting prospects on your website using SEO. Also, just to talk about how fun it has been working for DoorGrow and joining the team.
Jason: All right. Let’s take a step back. I had you on the podcast, and we hit it off right away. We were joking before, we’re having fun afterwards. We have little conversations here and there. We talk about random crazy stuff. Then, for a little while, we started meeting just as entrepreneurial friends hanging out like on Fridays or something. We were just setting a time to chat.
You’ve joined the team here at DoorGrow, but you came to me and reached out at one point. I was thinking about something at the back of my head. I was thinking, “Man, it’d be so cool if Jon and I work together. It’ll be so awesome to have him on the team.” Then you reached out. Why don’t you tell your side?
Jon: Yeah. Part of my purpose is helping entrepreneurs figure out how to align themselves with higher purpose and use transparency in their business as a way to grow their revenue and attract more customers. My why and my purpose was really aligned with your why and your purpose. To connect some of the dots of my history, I’ve been an entrepreneurial consultant in the digital marketing space for over 15 years now. I went and worked for Google for a few years. I was helping run their global field marketing team.
A business partner friend of mine started a SaaS product in the property management space called Inspect & Cloud, which is a digital inspection tool that helps you determine how much security deposit to give back and make sure that your maintenance team and your property owners have clear communication with you. That was birth out of this marriage.
In my early 20s, I was a realtor and property manager. I was one of the people who had to go out and file eviction on people. This was over 15 years ago. When I had to go and file eviction on somebody, that meant that I have to drive up to the storage unit. I had to go through hundreds of file cabinets and files and hope that we had an inventory movement condition form, that we still had a copy of their lease, that wasn’t just stained in coffee and doughnut crumbs. Sometimes I meant moving like six or seven file cabinets out-of-the-way, so I can get to the one that actually had the information I needed, so that I can go and file eviction on somebody who had been in the property for three or four years. We just didn’t have good access to those records.
When I left the real estate space to go work for Google, I still was in contact with a lot of these people. One of these people is Gilbert Quinones who was my business partner in Inspect & Cloud. He’s still successfully running Inspect & Cloud (inspectandcloud.com, if you want to check that out). The idea with Inspect & Cloud was we’ve got to solve the frustration of milling this status of a property and being able to effectively get that information when we need it. I married everything that I have learned at Google, doing digital marketing with the experience that I’ve had in the property management world. Those things joined together to become Inspect & Cloud.
We were very successful in growing that. I met a lot of property managers and really got inside the head of trajectory that property management was going. There were so many opportunities for property managers to dominate their local market because nobody was doing anything that I felt was remarkable. When I decided to walk away as an active owner-operator in Inspect & Cloud, to explore some personal things that I was interested—mostly coaching at a more philosophical and spiritual level. Really aligning businesses with purpose is what I wanted.
I was looking for methods that would pair traditional marketing and digital marketing with some kind of unique purpose that made a business remarkable. Ever since we’ve done our interview, it was so obvious to me that you were super passionate about what you’re doing. You’re seeing a lot of success with your seed program, growing people’s businesses, and helping them align with purpose, given so much overlapping our wheelhouses, and in the way we wanted to consult with businesses.
I’m a builder. I’m somebody who can build businesses, run a team, handle operations, implement marketing, and jump on sales calls. I do my best work when I’m aligned with a visionary and with somebody who’s helping create the intellectual property that then I could go and distribute. I kept seeing what you were doing, tuning into your podcast in the background. We started meeting on Zoom. It just seems like our two historical paths were meeting at this point that was better suited with us working together because I think we compliment each other really well.
Without going into more about this bromance, I thought that the most effective way that you and I could continue to deliver value to property managers and conscious entrepreneurs was for us to partner and capitalize on each other’s strengths. We could really grow DoorGrow to a whole new level. I think we’re doing that. It’s been really fun to talk to a lot of seed hackers, to be on the sales calls, to go through the seed program myself, and really have a whole understanding for the first time.
I was always somebody out here looking in and being, “Well, how much more value could this program really have?” Then I got to actually go through it. I was like, “Oh, this is so much more aligned than I ever even thought.” I think that has helped me in my genius zone since I’ve been working with you because I’m able to draw all of these other experiences that I’ve had working with entrepreneurs over the last 15 years and channel it through the lens of what you’ve created in the seed program. A big part of that was me bringing some of my skill set in, which as I was working for Google and in this past 15 years of digital marketing consulting, I’ve become an expert on Search Engine Optimization, and building really solid content campaigns that drive revenue, increase attention, and increase your customer base.
I think that for property managers, SEO’s is an interesting strategy that they can implement. I think that a lot of people think that you’re anti-SEO. I thought that would be interesting for us to have a conversation and talk about each of our perspectives—why I’m really bullish on SEO and why you’re (at least publicly) seemed to be more bearish on SEO. Maybe we can come to a merging of the minds on that.
Jason: Yeah, we’ll chat about that. I’m not really a builder. I help other people build their companies, but it’s through my innovation that I […]. I’m an innovator. I love sitting down, being the mad professor. I didn’t want to be the guy who’s been doing videos or in the foreground. I have business coaches who were like, “Jason, if you’re not going to do it, nobody’s going to do it. You got to do it.” They pushed me into that space and I’ve gotten a lot more comfortable on that.
Even still, it’s really nice to have somebody coming on the team that I trust to understand the vision behind what I want to do, and allow me the space to innovate and create new stuff. Now that I have you on the team, I’m really excited about the new stuff that DoorGrow’s going to be doing to solve property management problems here in the future. I’ve got some cool ideas and now I can start to focus on those, work on those, and we get along really well. We just have so much fun together.
A lot of people do think I’m anti-SEO. In the past, I love throwing stones at different things that I think are causing challenges in the industry. Because we were focused on SEO—we did pay-per-click management, and we’re focused on the search engines in the beginning—the challenge was, this is an industry (I saw) that has very little name recognition. It’s an industry that has very little understanding in public opinion as to what property management is or what a property manager does. Random people that have rental properties just weren’t looking for property management. It’s what seemed to be the situation.
The challenge was we just had clients that would play that game, and they found the trap of some of the marketing agencies. Every marketer sells what’s easy. It’s very easy if people still come to us. It’s very easy if somebody comes to us and says, “Hey, I want SEO, I want pay-per-click, I want content marketing, I want social media marketing.” This is what everybody says you’re supposed to be doing online. “I want pay-per-leads.”
These are the things people were looking for. Sometimes the confusion people have about DoorGrow is like, “What do you guys do if it’s not those things?” That’s all people know what to do, is what marketers are telling them. Why? Because that’s what marketers sell. They’re selling it. They’re not doing it because they’re evil. They’re doing it because that’s what customers are asking them for. Maybe they’re in some ways smarter than me. This is what the client is saying, “I want.” Even though my perception is, “It’s not working. It’s not working for a lot of these companies.”
The challenge I saw is that if the companies weren’t at least 200–400 doors, it didn’t even make sense to be running ad campaigns, getting all these cold leads, and trying to take the time to do it. Really, there should be part-time sales people that only have 10–15 hours a week to focus on leads. If they’re getting these leads that are colder, they weren’t even answering their phones. The lead’s only good for maybe 5–10 minutes a lot of times. Then the close rate or conversion rate dropped significantly. The challenge was when we’re running ad campaigns and doing these things for clients, they weren’t capitalizing on the leads. And because they didn’t have the bandwidth, they weren’t answering the phone calls.
Usually, companies have to be about 200–400 doors minimum, they needed a full-time BDM, they needed that just to do pay-per-click on the SEO side. If they’re in a big city market and it’s super competitive, maybe there’s more search volume, even still property management’s very little search line. No matter how big the market is, there are very few people looking.
It felt dishonest or disingenuous to sell it to clients just because we can make money. All the time I started realizing, it’s not effective. I started because I’ve talked to thousands of property managers. We literally have hundreds of clients right now that are active. I get to see inside their business. They come and ask me for help, and they ask me for coaching. I would occasionally run into a client doing something unique. They come to me and say, “Oh, yeah. We’ve been in business for three years. We’re at 300 doors.” “That’s amazing. How did you do that?”
Every now and then I would notice an exception. I will pay attention to these things. I will get super curious and I’ll ask questions. Over time, I suddenly noticed things that were working, and it wasn’t the digital marketing stuff that they were doing. Now, that doesn’t mean that if you don’t do the foundational basics, that it wouldn’t make sense to then shift and start doing more. The analogy I would typically use with clients once I understood this, I would say, it’s just like in bodybuilding. You can go get creatine, glutamine, supplements, protein powders and whatever, but if you’re not getting sleep and you’re not eating food, even though you’re working out, you’re not going to get great results because those things are ancillary.
That’s how I view a lot of digital marketing. It’s ancillary to the foundational basics that are involved in a business. The sales pipeline and word-of-mouth is significantly impacted by your brand, your website, your reputation, your sales process, all these things that we focus on in seed programs. That’s why I built the seed program to shore up these leaks.
The ironic thing is I originally built the seed program because clients weren’t ready for the digital marketing stuff that I wanted to sell. They weren’t ready. I was like, “Let’s get them ready. I’ll create a program that once they do it, they’ll be ready for all this digital marketing stuff. They’ll want to do cold lead advertising and marketing with us. Then we’ll make more money.” If there weren’t enough companies that can capitalize on it and if they’re going to try doing it and fail and quit, I’m going to create a program that gets them ready to have this stuff. So, I built out my first iteration called the SeedPackage of the seed program. I created this and clients get these amazing results.
The crazy side effect of it was when they went through, and we shored up all these trust leaks that existed in their sales pipeline because trust is what closes deals, they didn’t need or want cold leads anymore. It didn’t do what I wanted to do. It didn’t get us more marketing clients to actually prevent them from meeting it at all. Even though they were the ones that most likely to be able to use it now. But they didn’t need it because they’re getting so many warm leads and warm leads the closer is so much higher.
Then I started putting up this message like, “SEO won’t save you.” A lot of people view SEO as savior. They thought, “If I could just get the top spot on Google, all my hopes and dreams for my property management business would come true.” It’s just like playing the lottery or gambling. If I just get that one jackpot, I’ll have everything that I need financially. It really is. It’s like the SEO lottery. They would play the lottery and I kept getting stories of losers coming to me from other property management marketing companies.
They were sad, they were upset, they’ve done a one-year contract of doing uncomfortable videos, doing SEO, doing content marketing stuff, and they didn’t have doors to show for it. They were really, really frustrated. They didn’t trust me. There was a distrust in all marketing in general because they’ve been burned. I think a lot of property managers have been burned because it’s very easy for people to sell what people don’t need if they’re asking for it. I felt like it was unethical.
Jon: Yeah. It’s definitely a space where there’s a spectrum of charlatans and all the way to people who are in integrity and really good at SEO. I think everything that you’re saying is right in many ways. SEO and pay-per-click is getting the cart before the horse.
From a fundamental level, what makes marketing work is really great storytelling. You have to be doing and saying something that is interesting or remarkable for any amplification of that message to convert. What people think they need to do is just hire somebody to write four articles a month, and eventually they’re going to be on page one of Google. That’s the lie of digital marketing and SEO.
I’m going to give some really practical tips and advice for any property manager that wants to start doing an effective in-house SEO campaign. I promise that before the end of this podcast, we’ll give you some action items that you can walk away, so that you can start shifting away SEO in the right way. What happens is when you first start, especially if you’re in new business or never done any type of optimization on your website, you’re likely showing up on page 8, 9, or 10, or not even being indexed by Google. The way that people search the web is they type in “property management Austin Texas.”
Then they open the first 10 links on page one of Google in 10 different tabs. Then they quickly scan each of those pages looking for something that feels like resonance to them. They’re looking for some kind of a hook that says, “That’s the person I want to work with.”
If you haven’t effectively created that hook for your business, then no SEO is going to convert for you even if you’re in page 1 because the page 10 spot is going to convert better than the page 1 spot if the page 10 spot has a better story and is creating more interesting trust indicators on the website. What that comes down to is making sure that you have a really solid reputation in your local community—that has a lot to do in online reviews—then making sure you’re showing up as a thought leader and an authority in your local space. That means that you actually have to be an authority or bring an authority onto your team. You have to learn how to effectively communicate that authority.
SEO can be a really good delivery mechanism for thought leadership and authority but only if you already have those things and are showing up in your community as that. One of the things that I always resonated with the way that you approach digital marketing and SEO—it’s the things I always have reached in my own consulting practice—is that you have to learn how to tell an effective brand story before you spend any money on any type of amplification of that.
Jason: You’re right. SEO and […] Google’s […]. It’s really hard to dethrone somebody that’s been there for 10–20 years. It can be really expensive, it can be really time costly, and a lot of these property managers starting out, that maybe not the game they should play. You’re right. There are companies with the top spot in Google right now, due to the way the market is right now, they’re losing more doors than they’re getting on due to the sell off.
It’s really difficult to outpace the market when the market shifts with marketing. Yet, there’s this huge blue ocean of potential property management clients that are not aware of property management yet, of real estate investors, people that run rental properties. We see only in the single family residential only maybe 30% are professionally managed versus Australia which is 80%.
There are all these opportunities, yet people are fighting over the scraps that fall off my client’s table. They’re not focused on the word-of-mouth. They’re not focused on networking. They’re not focused on community marketing, going out, connecting with that blue ocean, establishing rapports, building trust, and being an authority. They’re focused on, “I’m just going to pay a company to just shotgun for leads and hope I get something,” then you’re getting the coldest, most price-sensitive worst stuff, that are what’s leftover at the end of the sell cycle, after word-of-mouth capture the good stuff.
Jon: Yeah. When you talk about the blue ocean, I want to unpack that a little bit. I think that’s an important concept because when you’re paying for leads or when you’re trying to SEO your website to be able to compete for search terms, you’re only competing for a very small sliver of the overall pie that is available. Only maybe 10%–15%, depending on your local market of property owners that are open to finding a manager, are actively searching at any given moment. That means that 85%–90% of the potential market place isn’t actively searching. You wouldn’t be able to track those people through PPC or SEO anyway.
I think there’s a misconception that if you rank on page one of Google that you’re going to have access to all of the available leads out there. Actually, the larger slice of the pie that’s available in the property management industry, and really in any industry is the 85%-90% of people who would be open to some kind of service or some kind of value add, but they don’t have enough pain to be actively searching for it. However, if someone they trust said, “Hey. You know, this person works with people like you or businesses like you. They’re showing up in the community in a really interesting way right now. Maybe you should talk to them,” that’s a much easier handoff to somebody to make. That’s why having a really strong community-driven purpose is an interesting foundational element to create that will then benefit you when you start to do an active SEO campaign or pay-per-click campaign.
If you don’t have that powerful story that is going to create a resonance and the competitive advantage over the other 10 people that are in the 9 of their tabs that somebody has opened in their Internet Explorer or Google Chrome, then no amount of investment in the pay-per-click or SEO is going to be able to convert at a ratio that will make it valuable for you. That’s why at DoorGrow and the advice I’ve always given when people come to me for SEO advice is, what’s your story? How are you aligned with your community? How are you aligned with some purpose above and beyond just making money?
That comes back to good business planning. In the property management space and in a lot of service-based industries, people start as a solopreneur. They’re not always thinking about the big picture. “Where is this business going up in the next 5–10 years?” They’re just kind of nickel-and-diming trying to make enough where they can pay for their families’ expenses. That puts them in the weeds and fires of the business, which doesn’t allow them to show up as a visionary or even develop their authority in the community. They have no real competitive advantage. Because they’re operating in the place of solopreneur scarcity, they’re not closing at a conversion ratio that would warrant spending money on advertising or SEO.
One of the things that SEO can be really good at doing is helping you create that community authority. You have to look at what you are actually an expert at. What a lot of people do, they hire somebody in another country, or they hire somebody who’s just a generic content creator, who’s good at writing but knows nothing about the property management industry. What does that person do? They pull up property management on Wikipedia. They rewrite some of those articles so that you have the right keyword density in your article. Ultimately, it’s a big nothing burger because when somebody comes to that page, it creates no emotional resonance. Yeah, maybe you captured the click-through from Google, but they’re going to immediately click back. That actually hurts your ranking.
You always want to make sure that the SEO post that you are writing is providing genuine value to the person who lands on the page. Google will actually penalize you if you have content that ranks on page 1 of Google and somebody clicks through it, then it’s not the answer to the question or it doesn’t hold them on the page for longer than 90 seconds, if they click back, you’re going to be penalized for that.
The thing to think about as a property manager, when you’re meeting with prospects, what are the most frequently asked questions that you get? How do you answer those questions in person? Sometimes I’ll have people record the way that they answer certain objections or questions, and then transcribe those. That could be a good basis for a solid SEO article that starts to give the prospect value and sets you apart as an expert and an authority.
Another really good piece of content is neighborhood-specific content. Everybody’s focused on these macro keywords. If I’m in Austin, Texas, then the keyword that every property manager in Austin, Texas thinks that they want is “property management Austin.” All the articles are targeted towards that macro keyword phrase. There’s actually all kinds of what we call long tail phrases which would be like neighborhood phrases.
In Austin, there’s a neighborhood called Brentwood. You could write a post all about why Brentwood is an interesting place to live as a tenant, but as a property owner, how you serve the Brentwood community. That is going to be an easier term for you to rank for. You’re going to be able to provide some actual expertise about how you manage properties in that specific neighborhood. You’re going to be able to reference landmarks, grocery stores, and local venues that makes the property owner feel like you know what their property needs because you’re familiar with the neighborhood.
What that does is “property management Brentwood Austin ” is an easier keyword to rank for. It gives you SEO juice that then points up to the main keyword phrase that you want—that macro phrase of “property management Austin.” You build out 50 neighborhood pages and those all start ranking well, you’re going to rank for this macro phrase. But most people do it in reverse order. All their articles are these boring regurgitations of Wikipedia trying to rank for a macro term. They’re providing no value. They’re not ranking for any long tail keywords. Ultimately, their SEO investment nets them nothing because they’re not tuned into how competitive the marketplace is.
Jason: And it’s just that noise instead of value. It’s not having real value. One of the things I always said to clients for over a decade, my philosophy when it comes to Google is, “Google’s goal is to please people. That’s how it’s able to sell ads.” If your goal is to please people and help people, you’re always in alignment with that. Now, what most people do is their goal is not to please people. It’s to manipulate the search engine and the robots. If that’s your goal, eventually, you’re going to be penalized for that. That’s going to be viewed as black hat.
You might find the hack, somebody who has the hack that they’re doing, where they’re doing SEO on videos, and they’ve got 20 different company accounts. They’re making them all, liking comments on each other’s stuff. Google’s smart. It’s going to figure out that you’ve got a game going on.
I had one property management company out in Atlanta. He had paid these guys in India to do backlinks. Any backlink was considered relevant. A backlink, for those listening, is a link to your website. So they would go out, scour the web, and find any website they could, directory they could, and they would put links to his website in Atlanta. Then Google realized people were playing that game, trying to manipulate the search engines again.
What they did is they started adding a quality score. They started gauging websites that are not reputable or not relevant and which ones are. Then they release an update. His site wasn’t just down-ranked. It was removed from Google rankings all together because he had so many shady, […] backlinks. Google said, “This site must be bad. It’s dangerous to people.” They pulled it down. It was like a sandbox.
Jon: Yeah. One of the things on any consulting call that I have was somebody about SEO, very often that comes up. “What if I invest all this money in SEO and then Google decides to remove my site from search?” They’re only going to do that if you’re working against their terms of service and if you’re not providing real value. Ultimately, like you said, they want Google to be the search engine that immediately takes you to the content that is most relevant to you. Their algorithm is always shifting to determine what the most valuable content is. That’s why everything, even as they’re moving to artificial intelligence, everything more and more, is being catered towards who is the thought leader and who’s the authority in this local market place around this topic.
The way that you identify yourself as that person is by having a stellar reputation with a lot of five star reviews, and then making sure that every single article that you write is providing value where if you were your customer, and you read that article, would you actually read it? Or would you immediately be like, “This is an SEO article”? That’s a dead ringer. If you go to a website and the first word is bolded out, there’s all these links linking to other pages, it’s all keywords that are linked, and you’re not actually answering the question that is in the user’s head, then you’re going to be devalued in the eyes of Google because if that person bounces off your website which means they clicked on Google to your website, they didn’t see what they wanted, so then they clicked back to Google to go to a different website, that ultimately is not going to serve you.
You can spend a ton of money on SEO, and if it’s not the right content, it can actually hurt your business and hurt your website. It’s better to add one really high quality piece of content a month than it is to add 30 super low value pieces of content that don’t help the user in some way.
Jason: You just listened to the DoorGrow Show. We are building a community of the savviest property management entrepreneurs on the planet, in the DoorGrow Club. Join your fellow DoorGrow hackers at doorgrowclub.com.
Listen, everyone is doing the same stuff. SEO, PPC, pay-per-lead, content, social, direct mail, and they still struggle to grow. At DoorGrow, we solve your biggest challenge getting deals and growing your business. Find out more at doorgrow.com.
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