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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?