Thinking About Requiring Users to Sign up?

I have to admit, I am often temped to include signup forms on our client’s MLS and map search pages. After all, my job is to create real estate websites that fills my client’s inbox with lots of leads. But I always advise against doing so. Why? Well that’s exactly what this blog post is all about.

It’s not an equal playing field

Most real estate agents who require visitors to sign up to search the MLS think there is a balance of power. The agent has something the visitor wants (MLS access to thousands of homes), and the website visitor has something the real estate agent wants (their contact information). But here is the reality. It’s not equal. The site visitor is holding all the cards. The visitor doesn’t need you or your website. After all, if they do make it to your website and see that you require them to sign up to search for homes, they could give bogus information or easily hit that looming back button and move on to any of the other million or so results that Google has retrieved. And that’s not even mentioning the fact that they could search, Google Real Estate, Trulia, and so on.

Go After The Savvy Ones

The California Association of Realtors recently conducted a study comparing Traditional Buyers vs. Internet Savvy Buyers. The results were quite amazing. It turns out that Internet Savvy made much better clients than Traditional Buyers. They require you to show them less houses, they buy quicker, and they require less work on your part. So how does this relate to the forced registration vs. free search debate? Internet Savvy Buyers will typically find another resource if they see a website where they have to sign up to search for homes. But traditional buyers with less experience on the internet will simply follow the instructions. This means that you are actually pushing away the “easy” clients and catering to the clients that are going to make your life more difficult.

Extra Hoops for a Real Lead

Strangely enough, forcing visitors to sign up on your real estate website actually makes it less likely to receive quality leads. Why? When it comes to home searches, one of the best leads is a request for a showing. But by forcing visitors to first sign up, you are putting one more road block between them and that precious “Request a Showing” form.

Be a Leader and Not a Follower

There are a few real estate agents that require their visitors to register before searching the MLS. They seem to operate in clusters. While it may be easy to follow the crowd, the reality is that you have an excellent opportunity to differentiate yourself from your competition. While everyone else is making people mouse in handcuffs, you can shout it from the rooftops that you allow people to freely search without requiring people to register.

Search Engine Optimization

Oh yeah. Requiring visitors to sign up effects your search engine optimization also. This is because Google can’t “sign up” to search the MLS. This means that all those pages that Google would otherwise know about goes into a black hole. Ouch!

The List Goes On

There are more reasons such as having to deal with all the leads clogging your inbox and database, pushing away repeat visitors and the appearance as a gatekeeper but you get the idea.

But I need More Leads!

So what’s the answer if you are not getting enough leads? The first step is to not make things worse by putting more stipulations on your site visitor. The savvy ones are too smart for that. Instead, take the opposite approach with your real estate web design. Give even more information away! Make it easier and faster for a visitor to get the information they need. Become the true resource for information in your area. It’s only then that all those savvy visitors will start flooding your inbox with their information.

Feature Free MLS Search Forced MLS SignUp
Search Engine Optimization Yes. Google can freely index the content. No. Google cannot access the MLS because they can’t sign up
Viral Marketing Yes. Unique and Easy to use MLS search features are shard though out the online community (including bloggers) No. Nothing to see because it’s hidden behind a sign up form.
Attracts Internet Savvy Buyers Yes. Savvy Buyers know the internet is all about information. They respect sites that are “transparent.” No. Savvy buyers will move on to a site where they can freely search.
Quality Leads Yes. Since internet savvy buyers are encouraged to use your site as a resource, and therefore know exactly what they want when they contact you. No. Searching your site makes it more difficult. This means that they require more time and resources from the agent.
Positive Trust Transference Yes. Psychology says that people use trust association and transfer that trust to other aspects. Since the MLS Search is transparent. They assume the Agent will not try to hold back any information No. People will associate the agent as a gatekeeper.

15 thoughts on “Thinking About Requiring Users to Sign up?

  1. A great article about the importance of keeping open information open. There are more effective ways of capturing lead information rather then forcing a client/visitor to sign up.

  2. You are absolutely right, while it may be counter intuitive to throw the doors open and remove any barriers to information, it does pay off in the long run. Site users are looking for content – information that is applicable, relevant and useful. If they have to work hard to get it, they will simply go somewhere else.

  3. This not only is an idea that I agree with, but it’s the best exposition of why it’s true that I’ve seen. Nice job. I’m working on a weekly feature where I link to several interesting posts — I’ve made a note to include this one.


  4. Ok, I’m confused. We have 2 different searches out on the web. One search has an optional sign up (meaning the can just click a ‘no’ button and go on) and the other search requires at least an email address.

    We get very few people who optionally put their information in the ‘at your option’ site, while the site that requires at least an email captures every email address. Less then 1 in 10 are ‘fake’ emails. Not only that, the ones who do provide information on the ‘optional site’ are not better leads than the ones on the required info site.

    I only started doing the required info as a test and now, I’m pretty much sold on it. What I thought was a better option though was to have a ‘half search’ where they see 1 photo and basic info on the property but for more info they do have to sign in.


  5. I’d be interested in seeing numbers that back this up. I say this because I’ve been doing MLS websites since they first allowed it in our market 6-7 years ago. I used this argument back in the beginning with the first couple of websites.

    After a couple of years of essentially no good leads coming from the sites, but TONS of traffic, I decided to recommend the change to a required registration. Sites went from nothing to several registrations daily. Yes, lots of bogus registrations, but those are easy to spot, and the honest ones began to pay for the sites quickly.

    Then the issue of no indexing arose. I partially conquered that by allowing sample listings.

    I have entirely overcome the indexing issue using newer techniques. I allow the search engines to index all of the content. I also allow new visitors who land on an inside page full access to the page, but require registration after a pre-determined amount of time, or if a user uses the search function. This has generated tremendous success. The sites get plenty of registrations, and because of the indexing, we are getting targeted leads. This has lead to users now actually requesting showings and direct contact.

  6. I agree 100% – after 2 years of “capturing leads” and then investing tons in drip campaigns and followup with a minimal return we switched 3 months ago to wide open and client friendly – the results are amazing – we are getting the best now buying clients and to compare in a small way – in 9 months on Active Rain I had @50 MSL/IDX clicks. We are now averaging over 1300 a month and the quality of info is so much better needless to say we are working next week with out of town buyers while others are having Christmas and New Years. Now we get real phone numbers, real contacts, real buyers – great post – please keep it coming.
    Also we’ve gone from investor type buyers / can I steal a property to now most of our buyers are luxury buyers $600K and up – truly amazing – I suggest people “try it” for themselves. – Cyndee Haydon

  7. Thank you so much for validating what I have been feeling for quite awhile now. I even ran across a site recently that claims it’s illegal to show mls listings openly. Can you believe it? If I come across it again I’ll even send the address. After unfortunately bumping into their website more than once I finally sent them an email (Rare for me to do) and told them exactly the gist of what you were saying. I will however refer them and others that act so selfishly to your site. Thank you so much. I just wish the word could get out more so as I browse I don’t have to keep being help up by such poor decision making. 🙂

  8. We concede you will garner a few legit email addresses by requiring an email address and name to search. In the web 2.0 environment, the philosophy is one of transparency and being the trusted adviser to consumers. They hold all the cards anyway. Michael Russer accurately calls them the “Internet Empowered Consumer”. All though not scientific, take a look at these comments:

  9. This is a great article, for a while now i have been allowing customers to register voluntarily and I wondered if I forced a registration if I would get more leads. After reading this article, I am convinced that I should leave the registration process strictly optional. Thanks for this post.


  10. I totally agree, and it seems this view has become the consensus. My rule of thumb is to ask of others what I would have done or asked of me: I would not want to be forced to sign up and give my contact info; therefore, I would never want to force others to do that.

  11. I found your blog on google and read a few of your other posts. I just added you to my Google News Reader. Keep up the good work. Look forward to reading more from you in the future.

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