The way today’s buyers conduct their search for a home has completely changed. No longer are they spending their days driving from neighborhood to neighborhood searching for open house and for-sale signs; instead they are spending the majority of their time online. In fact, 90 percent of homebuyers search online during their homebuying process, according to the National Association of Realtors. Since this is one of the biggest financial decisions of their lives, they aren’t jumping on the first listing that catches their eye.

In fact, half of people begin their formal home search six to 12 months in advance, with about three-quarters starting within a year of purchase, according to a recent Google study. This time is being used for more than finding the perfect place to call home, as they are also spending an extensive amount of time researching the perfect agent to work with.

The Google study found that 66 percent of users researched prospective agents extensively online prior to working with them. While this can be a good thing for agents who have been proactively building a strong online reputation, it can be detrimental to those who haven’t. This makes identifying your audience, discovering where they are doing their research and maximizing your presence there a critical part of growing your business.

Here are five tips to ensure that when clients research your business online what they find will position you as the local real estate expert:

1. Stay active on social media

 Consumers are turning to social media for information on local businesses, so you’ve likely created an account on platforms like Facebook, Twitter or Instagram. But being “present” on social media is completely different than having a “presence” — simply having an account won’t win over a user who is thinking about contacting you. You must be able to provide true value.

Everyone shares information about their listings; it’ll be hard to stick out from the crowd if this is your strategy. Determine what the community is talking about, do some research, and find a way to keep them informed on these topics. When they are on your page and see that you actively share helpful content, it will give them more of a reason to keep you in mind rather than a competitor.

2. Get registered on local review sites

Business directories like Google Local or Yelp are growing in popularity because they provide online users with firsthand accounts of what it’s like to work with you. In fact, 90 percent of buyers are influenced by positive reviews of businesses that they read online, according to Dimensional Research. It cannot be stressed enough how important it is to be registered on these sites. You must constantly monitor what people are saying, and if an unhappy client leaves a review, address it as quickly as possible.

Consumers expect a business to be transparent, so don’t just delete the comment and consider it resolved. Respond to whoever left the review and work towards a solution. This will show your professionalism and that you value their input, which in turn will help a prospective client establish a level of trust before they decide to contact you.

3. A website is the face of your business

Your website is always accessible, making it one of the most valuable tools that you have to offer, and optimizing it should be a top priority. Times have changed, and having a website that is formatted only for a desktop will guarantee that you miss out on opportunities to grow your business. It’s vital that you are able to provide a high-quality user experience on any device, especially with mobile becoming the preferred search method during the homebuying process.

In fact, mobile queries for open houses grew 35 percent from June 2013 to June 2014, while desktop searches remained the same, according to the Google study. If a potential client pulls your website up on a smartphone and it doesn’t work properly, it will likely change their mind about contacting you. Invest in a responsive Web design platform, as it will allow you to seamlessly display content on any device.

4. Millennials are finally coming to market

Now that the job market is improving and unemployment rates are falling, millennials have finally starting to make the move from renting to buying. Millennial real estate-related Web usage grew 30 percent from May 2013 to July 2014, and millennial real estate mobile usage grew 81 percent over the same period, according to comScore. What’s important for you to know is that they are spending more time researching agents than other generations.

When asked how far in advance of purchase/sale they’d plan on doing a formal search, 83 percent of 18- to 34-year-olds said more than six months, versus 73 percent for those older than 35, the Google study found. Win over this generation by using listing videos to capture their attention, and provide valuable resources like homebuying checklists that will simplify the sometimes confusing process of purchasing a home.

5. Buyers are searching for more than a home

The last thing this Google study found was that when searching for properties online, consumers are already considering everything they’ll need to make their new house feel like home. For example, did you know that home improvement videos on YouTube grew by 35 percent in July from the same time last year, or that someone searching about buying a home is four times more likely to search for furniture than someone who isn’t? Think about what you would search for when moving to a new place and incorporate that kind of content into your marketing. Something simple like providing a link on your website to a local moving company can help position you as a valuable resource, as it will allow them to scratch one more thing off of the long “to-do list” that comes with transitioning to a new home.

If you’re an agent looking for a great lender, give me a call! My team and I are committed to providing great customer service and on-time closings.