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No. 110
July 16th, 2008

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A Few Thoughts on Real Estate Web Marketing

Mack Collier of Search Engine Guide published a great case study today of a Maine real estate agency who really “gets” real estate blogging.

That story gave me the kick in the pants I needed to jot down a few thoughts that have been floating around the space between my ears for a few days related to online marketing for real estate agents.

As Matt McGee predicted, HyperLocal Blogging is becoming a HUGE deal. In a hurry.

DM: If there’s ONE emerging area of Small Business and Local SEO that you’d advise small business owners to bone up on, what would it be?

M2: I’d go with hyperlocal blogging. I think blogging is going to continue to trickle down to the so-called Average Joes, and those people are going to blog about what’s happening around them — their street, their neighbors, their neighborhoods, their towns and cities. It will become incredibly pervasive because it’s so easy to do. There’s almost no barrier to entry for starting a blog.

That’s taken from an interview I did with Matt back in May. Yet again, Matt’s prescience shows why he’s seen as a thought leader in this industry.

In case you missed the announcement last week, ActiveRain, a popular blogging community for Realtors, is launching (or re-launching, I can’t quite figure it out) a subsidiary social news/networking site called Whereas ActiveRain itself is almost exclusively concerned with real estate information, Localism is going to be concerned with general neighborhood news, events, businesses, etc.

In other words, almost on cue from Matt, ActiveRain’s goal is to make this the HyperLocal hub for a vast number of communities around the country.

In my initial tour of the site, which I admit only lasted about half an hour, it seemed like AR was pulling the feeds of existing ActiveRain articles from Realtors that said they specialized in a particular area. So I’m not quite sure how they’re going to handle duplicate content, at least in the short term. Long term, it seems as though their goal is to get content from EVERYONE in a particular community–plumbers, hairdressers, non-profits, etc.

If you’re a small business, there’s never been a better time to get into HyperLocal blogging.

And here’s where we return to Mack Collier’s feature on Newcastle Square Realty. Mack’s point about what makes their blog so great is spot on: they don’t focus exclusively on promoting their own listings, or even on real estate content in general. Instead, they’re engaging their community, publishing articles about local wildlife, parades, news events, etc. From the homepage, it looks like their mix is about 60% “product” focused and 40% community focused, complete with photos videos, and YouTube fly-bys of their area. They truly give visitors a sense of what it’s like to live on the Maine Coast.

Newcastle Square is ALREADY doing what Localism would LIKE to do. My guess is that folks in the Damariscotta, Maine community are already pretty aware of Newcastle and their huge base of quality content means they’ll probably out-rank Localism, despite a huge DomainRank, for all KINDS of locally-targeted terms for ages and ages.

Yes, Localism is going to be a competitor (though perhaps one you can leverage in order to build your own personal brand) of your own blog, but if you can get out ahead of the Localism crowd, you can establish your OWN site or your OWN blog as the go-to spot for Local news and insights.

More and more people are going to be making connections online that they used to make offline, at tradeshows, Chamber of Commerce lunches, etc. And while there will always be a place for these in-person get-togethers, it’s time to start forging relationships with the web-savvy folks in your community, across generations and across industries.

Check out Matt McGee’s own post on the subject for more on HyperLocal Blogging.

But reading a real estate blog is only going to take visitors so far.

I make this statement with an experience from the weekend fresh in my mind. My parents are trying to decide where they’re going to retire; after 30+ years of living in Illinois they’re looking for a change of scenery (and climate!). So my mom and I headed over to nearby Hood River, a small town about an hour east of Portland overlooking the Columbia River, with spectacular views of nearby Mt Hood (what else?) and Mt Adams.

I’d been to Hood River on +/- three occasions prior and thought I knew the town pretty well. So we started out on our own driving tour for about 45 minutes and didn’t see any houses that we thought were going to be in my parents’ price range or fit their lifestyle. Slightly bummed, we parked downtown & walked around a few stores.

We saw a sign for the local Windermere Real Estate agency & decided to stop in and see if we could get a better map of the town to see what we missed. We got much more than we bargained for.

On the middle of a busy Saturday, Hood River, OR real estate agent Patty Rowan spent half an hour with two strangers who walked in off the street and went over in TREMENDOUS detail nearly every neighborhood of Hood River and its surroundings, showed us particular houses on the computer that might be attractive for my parents, and gave us a recommended tour route.

But even if Patty HAD a blog, most of this information she shared with us wasn’t well-suited for the web. It was her personal opinions of neighborhoods and particular homes in Hood River she thought my parents would like and which ones weren’t worth our time to visit–completely targeted towards her client’s unique needs.

It certainly made me reconsider the future of the real estate industry. I’m not sure that ZIP Realty, HomeGain and some of these other “commoditized” marketplaces will ever be able to offer the kind of service that Patty offered us this weekend.

The question is, will local Real Estate boards evolve with the web, and realize what Realtors’ true value is to buyers and sellers? Or will they continue to protect their MLS listings at all costs, even as that mindset causes their organizations to wither and eventually die out completely?

  • Hyper-local blogging is what it is all about. Unless someone has aspirations to become a national agent, or nationally known… what is most important is being the expert in the field locally. Great article… Don’t for get to check out and our hyper-local product – PropertyLife, we go a step farther than most, and use that local data from agents and such and show it when someone is looking at a listing in that area. Find a listing, read a blog about the area…

  • David –
    Great thoughts about Localism and hyperlocal blogging.

    It will be extremely tough for any real estate web site to replace what a good agent does. My favorite comment about this is Bryant Tutus’, from an interview with Brian Brady –

    “I don’t sell real estate; I solve problems for folks. People who aren’t in the business do not understand this. They think it’s all about the money; that is far from the truth. Real estate is about people not money. People sell because of divorce, illness, death, financial hardships, old age and many other … real life problems. A good REALTOR can assist them by getting through these difficult situations. Until they can invent a machine that provides genuine care and concern, my job is secure.”

    I absolutely believe that to be true. Agents like Patty Rowan will continue to attract business because they help, they connect the dots, and not even Web version 84.0 will ever do that.

    In addition, a great hyper-local blogger might attract more business than they can handle, but if they don’t have the inside info, if they don’t help the client, they won’t CLOSE any business, and in real estate, if you don’t close, you don’t pay your bills.

  • Good Evening David!

    What an insightful article and kudos to Matt for being the first person I heard the word hyperlocal from.

    A couple of thoughts:

    I have always thought the question, “What’s it like to live in ____” offered a potential goldmine for anyone who found a way to answer it on the web. Looks like there are some very smart folks trying to provide a very 3-D answer to this. I’m excited!

    Isn’t there some way in which the blog could be used in the way Patti helped you and your mom? Especially if it included something like Skype videos. Though this might not be essential for someone looking at real estate in person, might it not be an awesome service for a real estate blogger to offer in a situation where the client is looking to move long distance? What if the blog facilitated meetings, utilizing live video, that allowed to realtor to do just what Patti did when you were in her office? What if these videos showing particular neighborhoods, houses, including commentary from the agent about what is good/bad, etc., could be archived in the blog? What if you could search the blog for 325 West Avenue, Hood River and be shown an archived video that the blogger created in the past, discussing the homes in that neighborhood?

    I see a chance for both archived blog content of immense value as well as the ability for live, online consultation. How cool does that sound!

    What I don’t know about, and I’d love to hear what Cari has to say about this, is the way in which the realtor would need to balance her time so that she wasn’t wasting it in online meetings with people who were really just browsing. Perhaps by charging a fee for such a specialized service, you could weed out lukewarm prospects, but I’m guessing the time factor for realtors would be a pretty big challenge. They are some of the busiest folks I know.

    Loved this article, David!

  • That’s actually a really good idea, Miriam. As far as time spent, it would be akin to a really long phone call, or an afternoon showing properties. I know that my colleagues and I do that all the time anyway, without any guarantee of compensation. I don’t think I’d charge for it. Remember, any penny most agents are paid as part of the services they provide goes to the broker first, and then divvied up between the brokerage, various expenses and the agent. So, in order to actually see anything from an online meeting, the prices charged would have to be pretty steep.

    Some agents, myself included, are creating individual property web sites (IPW) which display all kinds of information about a particular listing. I’d love to someday really flesh those IPWs out with a link to a video of a walk around the community, interviews with neighbors, etc. Then, even after that home sells, that info is still on the web forever. Which is great advertising for the agent in perpetuity, and can establish them as a true neighborhood (read: hyperlocal) expert.

  • When I moved to Jacksonville… I had never been here, I had 2 weeks to move and start a job… Back then, I didn’t have a resourse that would tell me “STAY AWAY FROM THE WEST SIDE”…

    That’s what Hyper-Local blogging should be about… I want to find someone blogging about the area I intend to learn about, connect with them on a similiar level of living standards ect.. and have them “guide” me around the city, with desirable areas, and WHY. To me that is where the value is…

  • David, unfortunately an agent cannot do as you suggest without violating the Fair Housing Act by engaging in a practice called ‘steering’. From –

    “If you have a real estate license, you know the definition of steering: the illegal funneling of home buyers to a particular area based on the desire to keep the makeup of that neighborhood the same or intentionally change it. Racial steering receives the most consumer complaints, but the practice is not acceptable for any reason, and it goes against Fair Housing laws.”

    Even if that is not an agent’s intent, the perception could be that they were deliberately leading you to a particular area. Even if the guidance was in your best interest, they still would be guilty of violating the law.

    So of course a licensed agent cannot blog, “The best place for families is …” or “Everyone knows the crackheads and freaks live in …” because they would in essence be screaming, “I’m breaking the law!”

  • Cari, thanks for pointing that out. I know you were responding to the other David but I want to jump in 🙂

    I think the kind of thing that Miriam talks about would be terrific though — talk about what it’s like to live in an area; the kinds of architecture, typical home size, lot size, neighborhood hangouts, how long it takes to get downtown, etc. Surely that wouldn’t be seen as racially-motivated steering, if there is objective evidence for the things you are blogging about.

    Also, it’s unclear from David’s assertion STAY AWAY FROM THE WEST SIDE why the west side is so bad…is it pollution, is it crime, is it schools, etc?

  • Yes, a good hyperlocal blog should have fact-based information at the heart of it, because you cannot get in trouble for reporting the facts. All the points you mentioned –
    “the kinds of architecture, typical home size, lot size, neighborhood hangouts, how long it takes to get downtown,”
    are all things that could definitely be addressed in a hyperlocal blog because the blogger is not making a judgment call. One could write “The Plumacres subdivision primarily consists of homes with Victorian architecture…” and could even go on to say, “I HATE Victorian houses and groan when called upon to list one…” (which would not be the smartest move, imo!) but which would be a way of letting people know the personality behind the blogger and getting info about a neighborhood out at the same time.

    I suppose, using David’s West Side example, one could link to crime stats, school stats, police contact numbers and invite readers to do their own research. However, I would definitely advise against any agent putting a blanket statement like, “Stay away from the West Side…” out there because it is a judgment call. An agent is not hired for his or her ability to make judgment calls on neighborhoods. Hopefully, an agent is hired for myriad other reasons, none of which will bring him or her under legal scrutiny.

  • David,
    I wish I could take credit for for being good at hyper local blogging but to be honest I never heard the term until recently and had no idea that’s what we were doing. Originally we started our blog to help with SEO on our site but as I looked around at other RE blogs I found most of them dry as toast.
    We quickly decided that writing about homes was just going to be more of the sam old same old so we started to talk about our area and that seemed to resonate. We have a lot of summer residents and they let us know that they really enjoyed keeping up with the goings on here in the winter. To date our most commented on post is still the one where we complained about the small size of the town Christmas tree one winter. (I think I used the phrase “size does matter”)
    We find that people really like pictures of local scenes and I think many blogs I’ve looked at would be better served by less words and more pics! I think of the blogosphere as a wild and wooly place and organized efforts like ActivRain will probably fail because they will be too pat and formulaized (new word?).
    We do try to be serious and provide useful content but at the same time we want to have some fun with it. The consumers we’ve connected with through the blog seem to appreciate that. Since that’s the way we are we have the greatest chance for succes with them. If we were trying to be something we weren’t I think we would ultimately fail as we would attract clients we probably couldn’t connect with.
    BTW, the blog was a spectacular failure at SEO.

  • From one David to another, thanks for the tip on I actually think this site could work if they get the real estate market to take notice. I was shocked to find my town already had a posting, about the local festival they have. Many of the real estate sites I have seen of this vein seem to only cover the top MSA’s and are barren of any true local content. Again I think those guys could have something.

    Great article, and excellent and informative blog. I am bookmarked and a active reader, keep them coming.

  • Jim, thanks for stopping by. There are a couple of reasons that might cause you to think your blog is a “spectacular SEO failure” (including the fact that it is on a separate domain from your main website) but I’d be curious to know a little bit more about your tracking of online leads before deeming it as such. We are also still very early on the Local Search front and HyperLocal blogging is more a long-term play than a short- or mid-term one. I think you’ll find the cumulative effect after another 12-18 mos. of blogging to be tremendous…

    David, thanks for the kind words. I do think that Localism could be on to something big for smaller markets (probably like Newcastle’s) but in that case, my intuition would say that a dedicated local blogger could rank his/her own website above Localism with a little elbow grease. Nevertheless, long tail search in the aggregate can yield tremendous traffic and that seems to be the crux of ActiveRain’s strategy, IMHO.