January 05, 2009

Special Report II: Online Strategies from Real Estate Marketers – Try Blogs, SEO, Social Media

SUMMARY: Here is Part II of our Special Report on online strategies from real estate marketers –among the hardest hit during an economic downturn. Marketers in all industries can cherry-pick from their survival tactics and strategies, which embrace Web 2.0.

Part II focuses, in particular, on the use of blogs and social media sites to improve SEO and generate and nurture leads. Includes 11 steps to creating a blog.
To survive in an industry in depression, many real estate agents have embraced Web 2.0 efforts, especially blogs and social media, to generate leads online. It’s an inexpensive – although time-consuming – way to generate potential buyers in addition to posting properties on multiple listing websites.

Social media sites, such as YouTube, Facebook, and MySpace, also are getting more attention from real estate professionals. But they haven’t taken as strong a hold in a market that’s intent on getting leads and closing deals quickly. Like blogging, these marketing methods take time.

In the end, though, these marketing tactics contribute to increased SEO and, ultimately, increased awareness for Realtors ® and real estate companies.

11 Steps to Creating a Blog

Step #1. Read real estate blogs

Spend a few weeks reading other real estate blogs before writing your first post, says Paul Chaney, a blog coach and co-founder of the blog software company, Blogging Systems. Reading posts can give you a sense of the blogging “voice,” which develops over time, and the kinds of things to blog about. Plus, it’s good research for finding bloggers to link to posts, which helps boost SEO.

TIP: Don’t forget to subscribe to blog RSS feeds.

Step #2. Practice blogging on Active Rain

A good place to establish a presence and practice is ActiveRain.com, an online real estate network with 119,528 registered members.

“It’s a good place to go and cut your teeth because the community is very vibrant,” says Chaney. Just one post will garner several comments from the community. It helps encourage Realtors ® because they can see immediate feedback coming in. If they were to start a blog first, they might feel like they were blogging in a void.

Keep in mind that Active Rain is a place to build relationships with colleagues, not with home buyers and sellers.

Step #3. Create your own blog

You can create your blog in a couple of ways. You can take advantage of preset, free blog platforms, such as Blogger.com, WordPress.com, and TypePad.com. Or you can hire a company to create a customized blog. But make sure that whoever you hire knows how to optimize a blog for SEO purposes.

Step #4. Write posts about the area you’re targeting

Ines Hegedus-Garcia and her husband, Enrique Garcia, Majestic Properties Realtors® in Miami, get good rankings in search results by posting about their city and its neighborhoods.

Start with interesting facts about a neighborhood, town, or city. Write a post about the schools in each neighborhood. Localize national news related to the industry. Compile a report on housing values in a particular neighborhood, for example. Write a review of your favorite restaurant and post it on your blog. Talk about your favorite fruit market, barber shop, shopping mall. Write a post about the history of the neighborhood, town or city.

To collect some post ideas, pay attention to the questions your clients and prospective clients ask each day. Write the answers in the form of a blog post.

“We figure if a customer is calling us to ask us a question, they probably aren’t the only ones who don’t know the answer,” she says.

Remember to include a call-to-action in some of your posts. This could be a request to contact the agent or leave feedback. Or it could be a prompt to leave their name and email address, so you can send them information, including listings of properties they might be interested in.

Step #5. Gradually develop your voice

Hegedus-Garcia says learning how to write in an informal voice was one of the toughest challenges she faced when creating her real estate blog. She had to train herself to write the way she speaks, and that came from practice.

Step #6. Start incorporating posts about yourself

After creating a good base of posts about your area, beginning writing anecdotal posts about yourself, says Chaney. People want to know the person who’s handling the important transaction of buying or selling a home.

When Hegedus-Garcia and her husband switched to Majestic Properties from another real estate firm, for example, they wrote a post about why they made that decision. An even more personal post is the one Hegedus-Garcia wrote about being an architect and her love of historic homes.

Posting on a more personal level builds credibility and acts as an inspiration for someone to work with you if they have similar interests. But do it sparingly, so people don’t misinterpret your site as a personal blog.

Step #7. Upload videos, podcasts and photos to blog posts

Almost every post on Hegedus-Garcia’s blog has either a photo or video. She says it helps achieve a balance of text and visual stimulation, which gives you a better chance of connecting with readers.

Hegedus-Garcia and her husband create and edit homemade videos of Miami, including shots of the beaches, skyline and particular neighborhoods. All of these, when tagged properly, can contribute to a higher search ranking for your blog – podcasts included.

Photos, especially of property, with quick catchy descriptions are key, says Ralph Roberts, owner of Ralph Roberts Realty in Washington Township, Michigan.

When blogging about a new listing, email a link of the blog post to the seller of the property. Make sure here aren’t any mistakes. Then ask them to forward the link to everyone they know. This action could make the posting viral and drive more business for you, he says.

Step #8. Link an MLS-supported search system to your blog

Linking a search system to your blog provides a way for Web visitors to search the area for real estate based on criteria they enter.

You can also attach a feature that asks for the person’s name and email address if he or she wants to see more details about a listing. That way, you build a database of leads to nurture via email or other contact methods.

Step #9. Create a second blog to focus on a niche

If you find yourself blogging too much about a particular industry niche, such as the retiree market or the second-home market, that might be your cue to start a second blog, Chaney says. That should work much better for search rankings.

If you want to attract second home buyers, for example, you’ll have a separate set of keywords to incorporate into your blog posts. (See SEO Strategy #2)

Roberts has found success with this method. Because he is passionate to stop real estate/mortgage fraud, Roberts started a blog called FlipplingFrenzy.com. If you do a keyword search for “real estate fraud,” his blog pops up as the first result.

“It will help you get better qualified leads, too, because if I land on your site due to a certain keyword search, then the likelihood of me being a qualified candidate for what you offer is much better,” Chaney says.

Step #10. Stick with it

When starting out, it’s important to write a blog post each day. You need to build a good foundation of information that people want to read. After a couple of weeks, you can start cutting it back if you want to three or four times per week. Google likes sites that are updated frequently.

The worst thing you can do is start a blog and then stop blogging, says Chaney. Don’t get discouraged if you’re not generating leads or showing up higher in Google rankings after a few weeks of blogging. Chaney warns, “you’ve got to be patient … it’s not a quick fix.” For some real estate agents, it can take six months to start reaping benefits. Then you might not need anything else to generate leads.

Step #11. Market your blog

Put your blog’s URL on business cards, in your signature in email, and on all other marketing materials you send out. Also, create a link to your blog on your website, if you have one. Include the URL on individual listings on different sites, if you can.

Two Strategies for Blog Success

Strategy #1. Be real and be open

Don’t think blog posts are like real estate ads. Blogging is a more indirect form of marketing. It’s important to write interesting and useful information about neighborhoods, events in the area, schools, and culture in an informal way. Being real also involves being open to receiving comments that aren’t always positive.

“The agents I think of, who are doing well on the Internet, they tend to be the ones who are willing to engage the people who criticize them or give them feedback that’s not always pretty,” says Dustin Luther, an online real estate marketing coach and founder of the Rain City Guide blog and 4Realz Internet Marketing Education. “They’re willing to engage in a dialogue, whether it’s pretty or not, and there’s a certain amount of authenticity that goes with that.”

This kind of dialogue generates a lot of interest and a lot of traffic. Plus, if someone is interested enough in your blog to leave a comment, maybe that person is a hot prospect. Therefore, it’s important to respond to their comment or start a conversation via email.

Strategy #2. Make blog your website

Chaney believes the corporate/company websites of the future will incorporate blogging or another social aspect as a main function. But some companies are already one step ahead. They are creating a blog and skipping the website step. They believe a blog can provide all of the information that a website can in addition to being easily optimized.

Roberts agrees. He says that if you don’t have a website, just blog. Don’t even bother with a website when starting out.

Improving SEO for Websites

Strategy #1. Create multiple websites

Realtors ®, including RE/MAX Agent Sam Miller of Mount Vernon, Ohio, have found SEO success by creating multiple websites. Miller owns and maintains 10 sites – two that are identical but with different URLs. One is SamMiller.com; the other KnoxCountyOhio.com.

The rest of his websites are dedicated to specific purposes:
-attracting buyers
-attracting sellers
-promoting specific listings
-promoting the automated listing search system for the MLS

Miller says that this strategy helps him become easily located by people searching for real estate in Knox County or Apple Valley. And it works! Miller’s website ranked second on the first page of Google with the keyword, “Apple Valley Ohio,” in November. It ranked fourth on the first page with the keyword, “Knox County Ohio,” in November.

TIP: Miller employs a full-time webmaster to facilitate the many functions of the websites.

Strategy #2. Create a virtual tour for each listing

Here’s a good rule of thumb to remember when posting any property online: the more pictures, the better. Create a virtual tour using snapshots of a property. Post them with each listing. You could also hire vendors to create these for as little as $19.95 per month.

Improving SEO for Blogs

Since starting a blog in June 2007, Hegedus-Garcia and her husband have seen a rise in business coming from the internet.

“It helped to be up in the search rankings and that’s what blogging accomplishes,” Hegedus-Garcia says. “I can tell you right now -- about 75% of our business comes from the blog.”

Hegedus-Garcia’s blog showed up in November on the second page of search rankings for the keywords, “Miami beach real estate,” and about sixth from the top of the fourth page for the keywords, “bay harbor islands real estate.”

She and her husband get those results by focusing blog posts on the areas they target in their real estate business.

Four SEO Tips

Tip #1. Incorporate important keywords

When blogging, try to incorporate your keywords into as much content as possible. Include keywords:
-In headings for blog posts
-In the text
-In headings for photos
-In headlines of homemade videos

Tip #2. Work with someone who knows about SEO

Hegedus-Garcia hired a firm to help create her and her husband’s blog and SEO strategy. She says that was key to their strategy because they didn’t know the first thing about SEO.

Tip #3. SEO is all about ‘linkation, linkation, linkation’

If you’re not linking, you shouldn’t be blogging, Luther says. Linking to other blog posts, to articles, to your main website, to your listings is going to improve the SEO of your blog. It encourages others to link to your site. You need as many inbound links as you can get because that boosts SEO.

“There is a certain amount of link baiting that agents can do,” says Luther. “If you can find some really interesting topic and publish it and be the kind of lead source, you can often get a lot of traffic.”

Tip #4. Nothing drives traffic more than celebrities’ real estate listings

If you can find a blog post about a celebrity listing in your area, link to it and write a little post about it.

Social Media
Social media participation is a matter of ubiquity – being on all possible forms of social media, video sharing and photo sharing sites.

“I think it can only bode well for you in terms of generating business,” says Chaney. It builds a level of trust when people see the same name over and over again in different mediums. It also generates leads.

Six major social media sites and how to use them

1. YouTube

When Miller and his team create a virtual tour for a listing, they post it on the website, on YouTube and on other video-sharing sites.

“We’re doing that mainly because of the search engines on YouTube,” he says. “If someone goes in and types in ‘Apple Valley Ohio’ or ‘Apple Valley Lake’, I want my listings to show up.” The idea is to place listings on as many sites as possible to increase the chance of being found.

TIP: Miller imbeds his name, photo, phone number and, sometimes, his website on each YouTube video created.

2. MySpace

Miller finds that he gets just as much business from his personal side as he does from his professional side, and MySpace is a good example of that.

Miller is a huge Corvette enthusiast; many people he befriends on MySpace share that interest. The typical situation: He and a MySpace friend will start chatting about Corvettes and, eventually, the conversation turns to real estate. For example, a Corvette owner in Texas recently asked if Miller could find someone to help him buy his first house. That could turn into a referral for Miller.

TIP: You don’t have to blast your MySpace friends with new listings because, chances are, many will not be in your immediate geographic area. Since the site is for social networking, try to relate to people through your interests. But keep the site professional at all times.

3. & 4. Facebook, LinkedIn

Marketing on Facebook is similar to marketing on MySpace. Create a profile. Make sure to keep it professional, but don’t be afraid to add personal interests. Befriend people in your network first, and then build from there.

One unique feature in Facebook is the ability to create a group and ask people to join it. Dustin Luther knows of one Realtor ® who did this with great success. She created a group for the condo she lives in. On the group’s page, she would post events in the area, news about the condo complex, and news about residents. She invited all residents in the building to join. The benefit for her was the fact that these were people in her target market.

Through the group, she found out who was moving out and which areas of the condo were better to live in and why. It has generated business, Luther says.

LinkedIn works much the same way, but it is built specifically for professional networking, not friend/family socializing like MySpace and Facebook.

5. Twitter

Twitter is a micro-blogging site, so it is very different from social networks. The best way to use it, says Chaney, is by simply joining the existing conversations. He says to “follow” (i.e., make friends with) real estate agents you know who use it.

In addition, search for people in your local area who use it and “follow” them. Post a few times per week. Make sure it’s information that could be useful to your “followers” (people who read your posts on Twitter). “Twitter is now getting indexed by Google,” Chaney says. “Realtors® are making use of this. They aren’t overtly selling. They’re just participating and socializing.”

6. Flickr

Flickr is a photo-sharing site to which real estate agents are uploading photos of properties. These photos, when properly tagged with the town, county and state or other geographical identifiers, are found by people doing keyword searches on Flickr.

Useful links related to this article:

Creative Samples from Ines Hegedus-Garcia:

Blog platform sites:




Active Rain – the largest online social network in the real estate vertical, used by many Realtors ® to practice blogging or host their own mini blog sites:

RSS Pieces – real estate blog, SEO, and lead gen firm used by Ines Hegedus-Garcia:

Real Estate Shows – a virtual tour creating tool used by Ines Hegedus-Garcia:

Tour Factory, virtual tour tool, used by Sam Miller:

Social Media sites:

RE/MAX Agent Sam Miller’s websites:

Sam Miller’s YouTube account homepage:

Sam Miller’s MySpace page:

Ralph Roberts Realty:

Ralph Roberts’ niche blog:

Blog Coach Paul Chaney’s blog:

Majestic Properties Agents, Ines Hegedus-Garcia’s and Enrique Garcia’s blog:

Dustin Luther’s Rain City Guide blog:

4Realz Internet Marketing Education:

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