Study: Should Real Estate Websites Use Forced Registration?
If there's one contentious issue when it comes to real estate websites, it's registration settings. Some agents swear by forced registration and others shudder at the mere mention of the words.
The purpose of this blog is to provide a powerful example of how forced registration can impact real estate lead generation in a big way.
What is Forced Registration?
Before we jump into our experiment, let's clarify exactly what it is we mean by "forced registration." In this case, we mean that users are required to provide their email and phone number before they're able to browse a single listing on your website. To be clear, this is totally non-optional registration—the user has to either fill out the form to view a listing or back out of the page.
There are two schools of thought on this:
1. The argument against forced registration
The typical line of thinking for real estate agents is that forcing registration creates a negative experience for the site user. Agents fear their site will be considered "spammy" if they ask the user to fill out a form.
In an ideal world, any potentially viable lead would voluntarily register or contact you directly. By forcing registration, there's the fear that you'll receive fake names and phone numbers. Although the quantity may be there, the overall lead quality will suffer.
It's a valid complaint, in theory.
2. The argument for forced registration
Of course, nobody wants to force registration, but there's a reason many sites use it: people won't register otherwise.
You've fought hard to get visitors to your site in the first place, so don't squander away the opportunity by not asking for the user's information. You will certainly receive the occasional fake name or phone number, but it's worth it to weed through the fake registrations because ultimately you'll still receive more business.
The argument for or against forced registration will come down to three questions:
- How does forced registration impact lead quantity?
- How does forced registration impact lead quality?
- How does forced registration impact the bottom line?
So let's find out!
Testing Forced Registration
JB Goodwin REALTORS® of JBGoodwin.com recently asked us to put forced registration to the test—by not forcing registration at all.
Real Estate Webmasters has been managing JB Goodwin's PPC campaign since 2016 and, while the client has been delighted with their lead generation so far, they wanted to experiment with different registration settings.
We haven't outright stated it in this blog post, but we at REW believe that forced registration is the only way to go. Time and time again, we've seen that clients who force registration see astronomically higher lead generation. If you've been part of our PPC program, you already know that forced registration is a default requirement.
But one of REW's core company pillars is innovation, so we're always willing to put our assumptions to the test through experimentation.
Previous Campaign Performance with Forced Registration
Here's a weekly look at JB Goodwin's campaign stats between January 1 and March 4, 2018, using forced registration:
As with any PPC campaign, we see minor fluctuations in conversions (yellow) over this 9-week sample, but overall, the campaign was extremely steady, averaging approximately 1,042 visitors and 65 conversions (or leads) per week.
Turning Forced Registration Off
REW received a request to turn off JB Goodwin's forced registration for a two-week test trial. Forced registration was turned off on March 7. Here's a look at daily data from the first week of the test (without forced registration), compared to the week prior (with forced registration). The dotted line represents forced registration and the solid line is without registration:
As you can see, conversions immediately dropped to less than one per day on average. The campaign continued to receive the same number of ad clicks, but people stopped registering. The site received 1,042 visitors and only 5 conversions (down from the previous average of 65).
When given the choice, people simply didn't take the extra step to provide their personal contact info. That meant JB Goodwin Realtors was paying for people to visit the site without any mechanism of turning those visitors into future clients. In essence, they were advertising for people to come to their business, but once they arrived, they were giving away the product for free.
Because this had a real and immediate impact on the client's business, our experiment only lasted a week. When we turned forced registration back on, the conversion rate immediately skyrocketed up to its previous average:
What about non-PPC traffic?
While this was intended as a PPC experiment, only a portion of the site's traffic comes from PPC. But the story is nearly identical for organic and direct traffic as well.
From January 1st to March 6th, with forced registration on, the site had a 2.0% conversion rate for non-PPC traffic. From March 7th to March 13th, with forced registration off, the non-PPC traffic had a conversion rate of 0.4%.
One thing is for sure: forced registration results in more leads. Looking at PPC alone, JB Goodwin's site averaged 65 leads per week with forced registration on, and 5 leads per week with forced registration disabled, or a conversion rate of 6.2% versus 0.5%.
In other words, forced registration led to 13 times as many leads generated through PPC. For non-PPC traffic, the site received 5 times the lead volume with forced registration turned on.
Do we expect users who have been forced to register to be inherently low-quality leads? Not at all!
According to Inside Sales Agents, more than half of people who register online (on sites with forced registration) are planning to purchase a home within 3 months. It's hard to argue that people buying property in the short term are low-quality leads.
Finally, if a user was willing to register when registration was optional, they are, in theory, just as likely to register when forced registration is enabled. Therefore, the lead quality argument overlooks the fact that you're not losing any of your existing high-quality leads.
What impact does forced registration ultimately have on business? With forced registration enabled, we expect agents to close between 1-3% of all online leads.
Let's return to our experiment. Through PPC, JB Goodwin REALTORS® received 5 leads in one week without forced registration and 65 leads per week on average with forced registration. That's an extra 60 leads per week. If JB Goodwin Realtors can close forced leads at a rate of 2%, that's an extra 1.2 closings per week generated by forced registration.
What type of improvement does that bring to their bottom line? In a perfect world where JB Goodwin REALTORS® are able to close all 5 unforced leads, an extra 1.2 leads per week results in a 24% improvement to their closings. If they are only able to close a more realistic 1 out of the 5 unforced leads, an extra 1.2 leads per week means a 120% improvement to their closings.
The numbers speak for themselves.
Unless your business is absolutely drowning in highly qualified leads, it simply isn't worth missing out on potential business from your online traffic. In conclusion, our recommendation is to turn on forced registration. Yesterday.