Getting Dirty with Your Feed Reader

Because I talk so extensively about reading other bloggers and using a feed reader in general in the Online Marketing Seminar, I decided to post about that topic over on the Seminar blog so that attendees can have one place to go to “get started” with a feed reader. However, some RCG readers may find this information interesting! ūüôā

Interview with Joel Burslem of the Future of Real Estate Marketing

[photopress:joel_crop.jpg,full,alignright]When I first started reading Joel’s blog last Spring, it was like reading the type of posts I wish I was writing… He was covering a huge swath of the real estate technology field every day and making me look lazy! Needless to say, I always enjoy his writing and I consider him to be today’s gatekeeper of real estate technology news.

In terms of real estate technology, if it doesn’t go through the Future of Real Estate Marketing, it probably doesn’t matter.

What inspired you to start blogging?

I’ve always enjoyed writing as a way for me to help get my thoughts together on a particular subject and I’ve had a personal blog in one shape or another for about four years now. My first blog in fact was simply a way for my wife and I to keep our friends and family informed of our travels throughout Asia.

I have worked in different marketing roles over the years, in several different industries, but real estate was a new challenge for me. I quickly realized I had a lot to get up to speed with and started doing a lot of research online, which meant stumbling across and reading some of the existing real estate blogs, including RCG.

Naturally, after a while, I felt compelled to jot down a lot of what I was thinking about and so The Future of Real Estate Marketing was born.

Are there any special topics or issues that you enjoy covering?

I find it fascinating reading about and reporting on how the Internet, social media and technology are changing the real estate business. I’ve always tried to steer clear of market analysis or commenting some of the more pressing structural changes facing the industry. I prefer to leave that to the experts.

What have you done to personalize your blog?

I’ve always tried to have my own voice be heard through my writing. That’s by far the most personal side of blogging for me. Also, I’m fairly selfish on the things I write on; I tend to focus only things that interest me. But because I come from the high tech/consumer marketing world, and not strictly a real estate background, I think that I bring a fairly unique perspective.

From a technical standpoint, I use WordPress 2.0 with a heavily modified Qwilm theme. I did all of the design myself. I don’t consider myself a web design guru, but I can muddle my way through HTML, PHP and CSS. I love WordPress’ extendibility and am constantly installing and playing with new plugins. You can expect to see the sidebars on my site change fairly frequently.

Do you have any favorite posts?

Not any in particular. But I do like to think really big picture at times. Those are the posts that I really enjoy sitting down and hammering out.

What are some of your favorite blogs (real estate or otherwise)?

RCG of course. I’m not just pandering to the host either. Dustin was definitely a driving force in getting me to put my thoughts out there. His encouragement early on was what helped me stick with it too.

I love the Bloodhound, Greg’s prose constantly amazes me, even if it takes me a couple of times to read it and understand it. The guys at Sellsius do an amazing job of pounding out useful posts day in, day out. I’m especially excited about some of the newer voices on the scene; Mary at RSS Pieces and Pat at TransparentRE in particular.

Some others in my newsreader:

Required Daily Reading

Guilty Pleasures

What tools/websites do you find most helpful in putting together your blog?

I swear by Firefox and its extensions. I collect links and interesting articles with Del.icio.us and compose my blog posts with the Performancing plugin. I usually have several tabs open at the same time and I never have to leave my browser.

How does blogging fit into the overall marketing of your business?

I never saw blogging as a way to improve my business when I first started. I just started writing. It’s grown to a point over the last little while where it can support itself financially (advertising revenue covers my hosting costs now) and it’s definitely helped raise my own profile in the industry I guess, but I think I’d still keep writing even if no one was reading it.

What plans do you have to improve your blog over this next year?

Maybe another redesign? Who knows… I’ve always more or less done things on a whim with FoREM. I love the challenge of pulling something down and recreating it in an entirely new form. I’m not happy unless I’m constantly innovating. That’s led to a lot of sleepless nights.

What do you think real estate blogging will look like 3 years from now?

Honestly I think there’s going to be a shakeout. People are dipping there toes in right now and I expect over the next 6-12 months we’ll see a big rush of Realtors trying out blogging. But I’m guessing most will quickly tire of it. Those who are still at it in 3 years time will be the ones who persevere and stick it out.

I also hope we’ll see a lot more netcasts/vlogs – right now there’s a real lack of decent real estate-related content outside of the written word.

Thank you Joel!

If you liked this interview, you may find some of these appealing:

How to Get on the Ball with Your Blog

I got this email the other day, and with the authors permission, I thought other agents looking to start a blog might find my responses helpful.

I am an agent with Coldwell Banker in Los Angeles and I attended your bloginar in July. I have really been researching (reading The Corporate Blog Book by Debbie Weil, searching out other blogs, and reading your archived posts on the subject) since then and I am extremely interested in getting the ball rolling on my blog.

I have a few questions I hope you can help me with.

1. BRANDING: I already have a website (RobinForman.com). As I understand it, I establish a blog under a separate URL and then I can link it to my website (I see Jim Duncan does this). Is there an issue with having to give people 2 separate URL’s? Should I put both on my business card? Or is it better to just give everyone the RobinForman.com URL and have them access the blog through the website.

This one is personal… I realized early on in creating Rain City Guide that I didn’t want this blog to be all about Anna. (I started this blog to promote my wife’s real estate business). So I choose a name that represented the area that she was doing business. It is so much easier to draw people to raincityguide.com than www.annaluther.com.

2. HOST: I see you had a hacking problem with WordPress. Are you still recommending them?

I’m definitely still recommending WordPress… As I stated elsewhere, WordPress wasn’t really hacked, but rather I made the mistake of leaving one file open to be overwriten by the server. If you are planning to start your own blog but don’t have the technical knowledge to manage the files and upgrades, I’d highly recommend going with WordPress.com (or, better yet, if you’re a Top Producer client, go with their hosted version of WordPress). With the WordPress.com option, they will even let you host the blog under your own domain for a nominal fee.

3. TARGET AUDIENCE: I notice on your blog you and your contributors publish stories/info that might appeal to buyers and sellers as well as trade issues that appeal to Realtors. I assume you recommend publishing for both target audiences at the same time.

I’d flip the logic on you… Instead of focusing on an audience, think of building a community. At that point, the question because where is the community you want to enter.

The problem with focusing exclusively on buyers and sellers is that it is a transitional community. Even if they enter your community for a short-while by leaving comments, they are likely to move on to other topics before long. If you want a sustainable community, making friends with other real estate professionals is key!

4. LINKAGE: Although outgoing links are important it seems that the incoming links are the most productive. Am I correct that I should concentrate on linking to other blogs that are likely to link back to me?

Don’t worry too much about inbound links… As you note, they are extremely valuable, but the highest quality links come when you least expect it. Focus on being interesting and the links will come.

Permeating Self-Promotion

Here’s a few stories from around the real estate blogsphere I found interesting…

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Phil is obviously have some fun in Boise, although others may find his anatomy of a listing he won’t take more relevant to recent RCG conversations…

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Jonathan sends out a blogger’s prayer and some really nice words about RCG.. Thanks!

Fortunately, I ran into Ardell DellaLogia, her blog, and the Rain City Guide. Between her advice and her blog, and the larger Seattle based blog to which she contributed, I got a sense of what a blog could be – articulate, meaningful, educational. And that’s what I decided I wanted and what I’ve strived for, with mixed success.

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The xBroker is clearly and definitely over-the-top. Yet, despite the self-promotion that permeates all of his posts, I really like this guy. In emails and blog posts, he’s come across as someone who is definitely informed and wants to communicate his knowledge… There’s definitely a there, there…

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Tech alert: Greg Linden turned me on to a very interesting post by Google’s Steve Yegge, where he looks at the management of Google through the lens of the Agile programming philosophy. The story would have been good enough, but then Microsoft’s Dare Obasanjo made it better by comparing the ideas to the (failed) management structure at Enron… All three posts are worth reading (but make sure you have some time!).

I believe that real estate agents are either in marketing or…

  1. Google is doing a major update on their backlink calculator. One of the updated datacenters is showing over 1600 backlinks to RCG while the regular search is still only showing 733. This is great news! The more often Google re-indexes backlinks the better because we get so many more (recognized) backlinks than the typical agent website and I’ve noticed that each time Google updates these backlinks (they only do it every 3 to 6 months), we placed much better in organic search results shortly thereafter. Yum!
  2. Talking about organic search results, I let Greg know that I thought he was potentially hurting himself in Google by posting identical articles on both his regular blog and his ActiveRain blog (no longer available). Put very simply (and definitely an oversimplification), when Google sees two identical articles, they are forced to make a choice in determining which article is “good” and which one is “spam”. Assuming you don’t want either of your sites to be labeled “spam”, then don’t have identical content floating around in full. (When a spam site copies your articles in full, you’re just have to trust that Google will figure it all out!) If you’re going to put articles on more than one site, make sure that you change things up a bit, or better yet, summarize the article and link to your main site where the full article can be found. I would point out some of the other people besides Greg who are doing this same thing on ActiveRain, but it appears that word travels fast via email and most of the guilty have taken their ActiveRain blogs down (Joel being the only exception I’ve found at this point… and he really should not be doubling up his content at this point considering he’s still in the process of “teaching” google about his new domain.)
  3. However, all this makes me feel bad… Matt, I promise my intentions were good and I wasn’t looking to get people to drop their activerain blogs. I think you’ve got a great platform and others should definitely consider blogging on your site. I just wanted to warn people that they might be committing googlecide (a great phrase coined by Greg!) if they post identical content in both places! For everyone’s benefit, Matt Cutts gives a comprehensive explanation on how to get re-included in Google searches should your site ever be listed as spam, but I don’t think that should be necessary as the re-inclusion request is typically for sites that have actively tried to trick Google in ways much more devious than duplicate content.
  4. Steve Hurley let me know about his new blog for the Tacoma area (South Sound) and he asked for some advice on how to get more readers. My advice: start linking to other real estate blogs! There are a lot (a ton!) of real estate blogs with good content that will never get “discovered” because they live in their own bubble (yes, real estate has lots of bubbles!). I think a lot of real estate agents have a view that they are smart enough to be the one and only resource of real estate information. Even if that held water, very few agents are good enough to break out of the mold without some major help from other real estate bloggers. So, regardless of how good your stuff is, find someone else to link to in every post! Really, every post!
  5. Another way to drive traffic is to leave comments on other people’s blogs. The nice part about leaving a comment is that you’ll get a link back to your blog with each and every comment. However, that won’t generate traffic nearly as effectively as if other bloggers are linking to you within their posts. What is the most effective way to get the attention of other bloggers so that they will link to you? Link to them! Want more? Here are the three most important elements of real estate… blogging: Linkation, Linkation, Linkation.
  6. Greg: Ardell’s going to kill me for that title. I promise I wrote it before I became a believer in the church of Ardell! ūüôā I really wish I could give you a “on a related note” to this story, but I simply can’t blog about a meeting I had last week with the master of real estate marketing…
  7. I agree with Chris Pirillo that social bookmarking buttons have gotten out of hand. I’ve not added any to RCG because it seemed like it took up valuable real estate and I’m not sure it provided a valuable service to our readers. The only one I’ve considered adding is del.icio.us, but considering most del.icio.us users have a button installed on their browser (they tend to be a tech-savvy bunch), I’ve never bothered. Adding a button for a site like digg (let alone sites like reddit) seems pointless for a real estate blog since I’ve never seen one real estate article promoted by those communities. (In other words, why would I give them an ad (i.e. their logo) on every one of my posts if they are never going to send me traffic?)
  8. I want one… Sony is preparing to introduce a light-weight geocoder with software to make geocoding photos easy. Although I wish geocoding photos was easier than dragging along another device…
  9. Taken one step further (and two steps too far): Wouldn’t it be great if you could search for an item based on where you were when you were working on the file? As in, “I remember taking those notes while in San Francisco…” and then have a document filter based on where you were when you made those edits (obviously, this only makes sense if you’re working on a laptop or mobile device). The secret weapon in this idea would be taking advantage of the wifi positioning from Loki so that you don’t have to lug around another device…
  10. Everyone knows that Loki was the god of mischief, right? (Due to a simple twist of fate, I know a lot more about Nordic gods than I do bible stories, but I can’t go there because I’ll get to sidetracked…). Well, the mischievous people over at Trulia have blocked Move’s IP address so that I didn’t read what Greg liked so much about their post until I got home. (I know I could have proxied in, but I didn’t bother). Anyway, the article is hilarious and definitely shows the benefit of not taking yourself too seriously. Tell your kids: real estate is fun!!!

Corporate Blogs – Yes please!

RSS IconDustin’s comments in his last blog post got me thinking (which is never a good thing). Dustin¬†said “You just set my blogging efforts at Move back by a year or so”. To which I reply, “I hope not! You don’t have that much time!”

One of the cool good things that has happened recently is the rise of corporate blogging. What’s interesting is you’re finding them in places you wouldn’t expect. Did you know Dell has a blog, meanwhile Apple does not? I think it’s an excellent way for a company to get in touch with it’s customers (and vice-a-versa), without the reality distortion and¬†corporate hubris that happens when communicating via a scripted¬†“public relations firm” message.

You may be surprised to learn that even the venerable General Motors has blog (In case anybody from GM management reads this – Good luck turning the company around¬†and keep up the great work at Cadillac and Saturn. I’m rooting for you). If a 100 year old company in the rust belt¬†has seen the¬†value of blogging, I have to wonder why hasn’t every large¬†company?¬†

In case you doubt the potential of corporate blogging, look no further than Microsoft. Robert Scoble¬†helped put a human face on the “evil empire”, by spearheaded¬†Microsoft’s Channel 9 video blogs and wrote the book on corporate blogging. When¬†he¬†left Microsoft for PodTech, it created nearly as much news as when Bill Gates announced his “retirement”.¬†An anonymous Microsoft employee, through his blog has changed the company¬†for the better. Even though the Human Resources dept¬†has a blog, and prominent engineers have them too, a small corporate blog can as useful as the MSDN blogging network¬†is to the “Redmond Giant”.

I personally enjoy reading Zillow’s blog, RedFin’s blog, and Trulia’s blog¬†every day. Even the¬†HouseValues’ blog¬†can be interesting on occassion (it seems like they have¬†a fun corporate culture, even if they just sell leads for a living). But where is the John L Scott, Coldwell Banker¬†and Windermere blogs? I know countless agents of those brokers¬†and independent brokers blog and do it very well (I think I’ve seen most of them on Rain City Guide at one time or another), but where is the human voice of those companies?¬†They should at least give me a way to search for their agent’s blogs. Are these brokers¬†nothing but a logo for an agent to put on their marketing?¬†They may not realize it, but I think they¬†are losing mind-share (which may become¬†market-share) by being silent in the blogosphere.

Which brings me back to my original question, regarding Dustin’s comment. When is Move¬†going to¬†get a corporate blog?

Although, Rain City Guide is an excellent blog, it’s not the most appropriate venue for Move specific information (nor should it be). Why¬†hasn’t Move¬†added RSS feeds to any¬†page that offers e-mail¬†alerts?¬†How¬†are Move’s product offerings¬†better than other things out there? What¬†cool stuff¬†is Move is doing?¬†Why would a Software Engineer want to work there?¬†Why should a realtor advertise with Move instead of one of these “Web 2.0 upstarts”? Heck, why not feature profiles of happy customers (something HouseValues does well)? I’d love¬†to hear somebody explain the the Innovator’s Dilemma that Move faces to your constituency, so they’d understand why Zillow, etc are steeling the mind-share that realtor.com used to have. What’s the best MLS in the country to deal with and why? If¬†Dustin or his co-workers explained why things are the way they are, maybe somebody in a position to change things would read the blog and start talking? After all if GM blogs, the CEO of Sun Microsystems has a¬†blog,¬†and Mini & Scoble can change Microsoft, I think anything is possible.

I’m not trying to pick on Dustin, but I really want to add the Move blog¬†to my RSS feed reader and I can’t!

Free Bloginar in L.A. for 200 Agents!

Russ Cofano and I are giving our 2nd Bloginar for agents next week on how to use blogs to effectively generate leads. Interestingly, the sponsor of the event, Coldwell Banker, decided to open up our seminar to all southern california real estate agents and not just Coldwell Banker agents (WOW!)… Not only that, but they decided to make the even free (Double WOW!).

The catch is that the facility can only hold 200 people and they’ve decided to offer seats on a first-come, first-serve basis! The only place to register is on this fancy flash page they created for the event! (A little bird has told me that there are already over 50 people 70 people 80 people 100 people registered for the event, and the organizers are expecting a full house!)

The event is scheduled to start promptly at 9:30am and last until 12:30 on July 19 at the Skirball Cultural Center in Brentwood.

Last time, we ended up rushing things (and skipping one of two planned breaks) because we really have four hours worth of material we’re trying to condense into three hours. I’ve attempted to filter things a little more this time, but with the inevitable (and valuable) questions that real estate blogging encourages from the audience, I’m sure we’ll be rushing to cover everything in the end this time as well!

Some of the reviews we had from our first bloginar were very encouraging…

Dale Crockatt:

Dustin and Russ, your first bloginar class was awesome! I have not been so excited about a new idea in years. We have been searching for an idea for the fourth generation of our website www.MountHoodHomes.com and I am convinced this is it! I was surprised you were not selling something at the end of the “show

The Five-Minute-a-Day Habit

[photopress:brazilsoccerhead_small.jpg,thumb,alignright]It’s been a while since we did a plug for David’s AHI blog. His blog is insightful, fun and for the price of only a few minutes a day, you can learn a lot! I don’t know how he does it, but he manages to write a quality article every day and they are almost always at the high level of today’s article on the relationsip between the World Cup, the world’s future, and affordable housing.

(You can learn more about David from this RCG interview!)

Inman’s Innovation Awards!

Congrats goes out to all the contributors on Rain City Guide! We were nominated as a finalist for the “Most Innovative Blog Award” by Inman News. In my world, contributors are not only the people with their photo up on the sidepanel, but also those of you who return to give your comments on a regular basis. This site thrives off of your continued involvement!

The winners in each category will be announced in SF at the Inman Connect Conference. I’m definitely going to be there (I’m speaking on a panel on lead conversion)… Additionally, I would really enjoy organizing a meet-up of bloggers one evening. If you’re interested in joining us, then leave a comment below and I’ll send details as things get closer!

[photopress:Luther_engineering.jpg,thumb,alignright]In the meantime, I’m not proud to say that I didn’t know many of the non-blog nominations so I spent some time this evening on google researching the other companies nominated. Here are some notes (or at least links) I took while scanning the other nominees.

Most Innovative Brokerage

I wish Inman provided some more context so that I could know why they picked these particular real estate brokers. If anyone can let me know what sets these firms apart, please share!

Most Innovative Web Service

[photopress:Luther_engineering_2.jpg,thumb,alignright]Most Innovative New Business Model

Most Innovative Real Estate Blog

Most Innovative Real Estate Data Site

[photopress:Luther_engineering_3.jpg,thumb,alignright]Most Innovative Technology

Most Innovative Mortgage Company or Service

Most Innovative Media Site

Most Innovative Rental/ New Home Online Service

Keeping Real Estate Entertaining…

[photopress:twinkies.jpg,thumb,alignright]
David A. Smith, founder of the Affordable Housing Institute, has a great blog that is loaded with articles that are both interesting and informative (is that possible?). In terms of readability, his posts are up there with grow-a-brain except David keeps more focused on real estate.

He posts on a wide variety of topics. Today he gives some lessons on how home owners can learn from haggling in third world contries in the Economics of Haggling. A few days ago he had an article (What destroyed your home first) where he relates the killing of Rasputin to whether or not insurance companies will pay to rebuild homes in New Orleans (read the article and it will make sense!).

All in all, David is a great writer, and if you’re interested in real estate, I highly recommend adding him to your reading list.