How about those SEO tweaks?

I thought about labeling this post “Does SEO work?” or something similar until I realized that is just stupid. SEO stands for search engine optimization and not only does it work, but in many ways, it is the basis for why blogs work so extremely well for promoting yourself as an expert within a niche topic (as Rhonda has done… Or even a nationally recognized expert!)

So where am I going? I recently had another meetup with my project blogger and I realized I hadn’t made some simple SEO-related tweaks to his wordpress blog that I made to RCG last December. The tweaks I made were to:

  • edit the title tag of all my posts
  • add keywords to the blog

I gave one update to this post, but essentially failed to follow through, so I’m hoping to remedy that right now. 🙂

First, I’m a bit surprised that many of my one week observations held steady. For example, RCG is still the #1 result for [Agent Recommendations]. Also, RCG has essentially dropped off of Google’s radar for a search that used to be our #1 organic traffic generator: [Seattle Real Estate]. My expectation was that Google’s algorithms might be temporarily confused by my changes to the site, but that they would pick up our new configuration after a while and continue to drive us traffic on this key search term. No such luck after four months.

As a matter of fact, I’m pretty sure that Google is still somewhat confused. My logic stems from the fact the page Google has decided is most relevant (using this search term) from RCG changes on a weekly basis. This week it is the link to Robbie’s articles which shows up somewhere down the middle of the page (if you show 100 results per page on Google as I do)

[photopress:robbie_search_result.jpg,full,centered]

However, the real genesis of my SEO tweaks were to see if I could get the “other” search engines to send RCG a higher percent of our organic traffic. The idea is that Google was sending about 92% of the organic traffic to RCG and I wanted to see if I could get MSN and/or Yahoo to send more. As you can see from this Google Analytics chart for stats from the month of March, 2007, I failed:

[photopress:search_origin.jpg,full,centered]

Google sent 91.73%, or approximately 92% of all organic traffic to the site in March of 2007, which means there was essentially no change at all! In other words, the SEO-related changes I made did not have the intended effect of increasing the percent of organic traffic that RCG received from non-Google sources.

However, I’d be ending too soon if I made it sound like the SEO changes were not beneficial. Here is the marketing summary from Google Analytics for the month of March 2007 compared to the month of November 2006 (i.e. well after the changes to before the changes!).

[photopress:stats_mar07_nov06.jpg,full,centered]

What you see is that our visitors from organic sources is up 138% between those months and the visitors from organic Google searches is up 139%. This is almost double the increase from “referral” sources which makes me think that the changes I made to the site were effective and not just background growth!

(Of course, it can’t go unnoticed that the Seattle Bubble sent us over 2000 visitors in March. Wow! That’s well worth a juicy link to the most bubblicious real estate site in Seattle. 😉 )

Also of note… Google really seems to like our article on moving to Seattle. I love that my “little bit of serendipity” has turned out to be so helpful. You can never tell what post is going to kick start an interesting conversation.

Finally, as a treat, I thought I would present the chart that never fails to impress at my seminars. In March 2007, there were almost 25K people who came to RCG once and never returned. 🙁 (that is NOT the impressive part…). On the flip side, there are over 1,800 people who have visited the site more than 200 times.

[photopress:visitor_loyalty.jpg,full,centered]

For the RCG contributors (and commenters!) who wonder how widely that your stuff gets read, realize that there are a HUGE number of people who read without ever letting their presence be known. If you fall into that category (at least 95% of the regular readers do), feel free to introduce yourself in the comments any time! (The first comment is free.) 🙂

So, to wrap this up as a “project blogger” post… I’d highly recommend that anyone starting their own blog get Google Analytics. It’s free, easy to use, and provides a wealth of information about how people use your site! 🙂

Starting with Community Outreach

Even before we were done building out the InsideBu website, I recommended that Madison start doing some research. And I started by advising him to fill up his sidepanel with links. My logic is that the process of building up a blogroll forces a new blogger to read other bloggers. The fact that it also also has the benefit of building up some good will with prominent local bloggers is just icing on the cake!

Here is the advice I gave him:

In the first week, there is no need for any blogging (although you should be writing a few posts just to get the blogging muscles exercised!). My recommendation is to spend a few hours this week researching the online competition for your area. At the end of Week 1, I would expect for your sidepanel to be filled with a bunch of links! (For background, see this blog post on Linkation!).

To give you an idea of where I’m going, I recently revived a bit of the neighborhood focus on RCG, which resulted in these Neighborhood Roundup posts. You simply will not find as many neighborhood blogs in Malibu (any?), but that doesn’t mean you should slack on the links… In terms of where to start, here is where my gut says should be the order of importance:

  • Local Bloggers
  • Celebrity Bloggers
  • Project Blogger Participants
  • Local News sites
  • Local Real Estate Professionals
  • Los Angeles bloggers

Some places to start looking for bloggers and other sidepanel links:

To see how Madison has implemented these recommendations of Project Blogger, check out the sidepanel of InsideBu!

Steps to Hosting Your Own WordPress Blog

It has been so long since I initially set up a blog on a new server that I had to pretty much re-learn everything in order to build InsideBu. The process isn’t all that hard if you’re comfortable with terms like FTP and database. If not, there are many great blogging options for people who will host your blog for you (The Top Producer team I work with will happily host a WordPress blog under your URL as part of their real estate website product!) and both WordPress.com and Blogger offer good, free blogs (hosted under their URL).

BTW, I feel compelled to mention that this blog post is LONG LONG LONG overdue as I promised it way back on December 15, 2005, but never could put together all the steps into a blog post and never had the need to build a new blog from scratch.

Here are my running notes taken directly from a Google Doc I used to document the process (but cleaned up to add links and delete out usernames/passwords)…

We choose to use Yahoo Hosting because I’ve heard good things from other bloggers about the service. I was less concerned about the price (good hosting options for a blog differ by at most $5/month), and really focused on ease-of-use. I’d heard that Yahoo has a really easy install for WordPress (WP) blogs and that definitely appealed to me!

However, I was immediately disappointed that the blog they install was an old version of WP and not in the root directory. This would mean that I would need to do a manual upgrade before even blogging! OUCH! Anyway, I ended up bypassing Yahoo’s “easy install” option and instead, I installed the latest version of WP from scratch.

The manual install required three extra steps:

  1. I needed to create an ftp user using Yahoo’s admin panel (easy!)
  2. I needed to created an “empty” MySQL database (which also required me to install PHPMyAdmin) and note the name of this database (again, all of this was done through Yahoo’s admin panel)
  3. I needed to install use an FTP client (I used the free and open source FileZilla)

None of these were particularly hard and I noticed that Yahoo provided help files for all three of these tasks should you need that kind of thing.

With the back-end ready, I simply followed the instructions for the 5 minute install of WordPress

This required me to create an admin profile for the blog (again, pretty straightforward).

At this point, InsideBu.com was live and functional, but with a generic theme and no plugins…

Here are some of the steps I took to spice up the blog and get it ready for launch!

  1. I installed and activated some basic plugins.
    • To install I simply used FileZilla to drag and drop the files from my hard-drive to Yahoo’s servers. Once configured for a server, FileZilla operates somewhat like the Explorer tool on Windows.
    • To activate, I simply clicked the “activate” button within the “Plugins” tab of InsideBu’s Admin panel.
  2. The plugins were:
  3. I tried to update and optimze the permalink structure, but this screwed up something on the new version of WordPress and I couldn’t find the .htaccess file to update (long story!), so I gave up on this one for the time being and used the generic linking structure (i.e. “?p=33”)
  4. Installed and activated the appropriate theme! In our case, Madison choose Orange Sunrise. This required me to
    1. download the theme
    2. unzipp it
    3. ftp the files to the “themes” folder on Yahoo’s servers
    4. activate it on the wp-admin panel
  5. Create a tagline
    • For SEO reasons, I included the words “Real Estate” and “Malibu” but my phrasing could easily be improved!
  6. Unselect “comment author must have previously approved comment!”
    • Want to do everything possible to encourage comments early and often! 🙂
  7. Organize sidebar items via the widget feature (very slick!)
    • I’ve put links at the very top for now closely followed by comments. As the site gets more comments, I’d flip this order in order to encourage community participation!

Those were my steps to creating a brand-new blog using the free and open-source tools available from WordPress. It is probably too complicated for most agents, but probably not too complicated for many of agents that are reading this blog.

Choosing a Name for Your Blog

The perfect time to name your blog is after you’ve blogged for a while and really developed a personality around your site. Only after a few months of regular blogging will most agents be ready to give their website a name.

However, the time necessarily to develop a personality (before a name!) doesn’t coincide with the reality of Project Blogger or Google. While it is kind of like putting the cart before the horse, the reality is that the first thing we had to do was develop a name (that included an available URL!).

So, how did we end up at InsideBu.com?

Here are some of the ideas I planted with Madison to pounder:

  • First brainstorm on ideas, and then (after you’ve assembled a bunch of ideas!) check to see if the URL is available.
  • Make sure it has a community focus (i.e. we’re building a community destination website!)
  • Take yourself out of the URL… Make sure that you’re creating a site that others will want to take part (Don’t name it after yourself or your business!)
  • Think of the niche you want to create with your blog… who are you trying to reach?
  • Are there any local names you can capitalize on? (things like local high-school mascots, community nicknames, community centers, etc.)
  • Keep the URL short and sweat

A good name for a community blog will make a “local” think, this website “get’s it” and at the same time, won’t alienate people who are not local.

After many emails back and forth, we decided to capitalize on the name for Malibu (“the bu”) that is used by the locals (as in, “we’re heading back to the bu”).

However, TheBu.com was already taken (and doesn’t convey any “actionable words” that really tell you what the website is about), so we started thinking of other ways to connect the website name to the community. In Madison’s case, our plan is to have the blog focus on the unique aspects of Malibu. I happen to think that the beautiful beaches and the celebrity element of Malibu are going to be huge drivers of traffic and links into the future.

We tried a whole bunch of different words like “connect” and “community”, and combinations like “BuLife” and “LiveBu” but I happen to think that “inside” conveyed both the exclusive nature of the community along with the opportunity for insight that only a real estate agent can convey. Hence: We decided to go with InsideBu.com.

Maybe the blog will change focus into the future and the name will “feel” wrong, but thanks to the fact that we’re already seeing some LinkLove (in particular from celebrity bloggers), we’re going to have to live with the name and URL into the future!

Next up: Setting up a WordPress blog from scratch… (I’ve been taking thorough notes! 🙂 )

Owning the Malibu Community

About a month ago, I got a call from a friend who highly recommended that I give a chance to a real estate agent who is working very hard to break into the Malibu market. The idea of “owning” a piece of Malibu is somewhat irresistible to me (even if it is only the digital dirt!), so I couldn’t refuse, despite the many wonderful options (or maybe because I had too many wonderful options!)

[photopress:madison.jpg,full,alignright]Anyway, to make a long story short, I met up with the agent for breakfast, had a wonderful conversation and decided to coach him as part of Project Blogger. So, without further ado, I’m happy to introduce Madison Hildebrand and his most wonderful blog, InsideBu.com.

Probably one of the most appealing aspects to working with Madison is that he already understand how to use self-promotion in the real estate context (he could teach me a thing or two!), so our conversations really get to focus on the ways in which he can use the technologies behind online social networks (we’ve got ideas for Flickr, YouTube, ActiveRain, the Move Blogs, etc. in addition to consistent and inspired blogging!) to build up a healthy online community around a local real estate market. Malibu is an incredibly challenging market where a few big names dominate the local scene. I am thrilled to have this chance to work with Madison to bring this unique market into the digital age! 🙂