The most amazing aspect of RE blogging to me is how established bloggers are so eager to help basically what amounts to their competition, become better Bloggers. Some do it by contributing to sites like Active Rain, Others occasioanally contribute to blogs like the Tomato, or RealEstateWeblogging101, while others take the extra step of creating dedicated blogs, just to help other bloggers. That’s exactly what Dave Smith has done with The Real Estate Blog Lab.
Todd here is the quick back story. I was the Database administrator for the largest real estate company in Southern Arizona for 6 years. While working there I met my wife Barbara who is an agent. We actually met at McDonald’s and I had no idea she was an agent. In July 05 I quit my position, got my license and went to work with Barbara. In March of 06 she asked me to create her a new website. I had worked in SQL Server and MS Access, I hated the www. I didn’t want “my” data exposed. But when she asked I grabbed a book on XHTML and CSS and went to work. It wasn’t long and we were climbing in the search engines with only 25 pages of content.
The first blog Tucson Real Estate in The News was started for a couple of reasons. I was frustrated with the way the local news media, primarily newspapers, would report what was going on the Tucson Real Estate Market. At the same time I knew from creating our website it took anywhere from two weeks to two months to get a new page up and indexed in Google. By that time no matter what I said it was going to be old news. I wanted a way to get information out quickly. I had been hearing little snippets of information about blogging. One day I sat down and did nothing but searches on blogging and blogging platforms. Got the only book out on WordPress (This was back in early September 2006) and read it a couple of times. I was already hosting our website and had complete control so I decided to start a blog and see if the content was indexed as quickly as what I was reading. At that time it would only take a blog post 2 to 4 days to be in the Google index. Since then they have added blogsearch Google. I can see a new post there 2 minutes after publishing and in the past few days I’ve had posts that are just hours old appearing in the regular Google search results.
There was a lot of trial and error in those early days of blogging, trying plugins and themes and finding what worked and what didn’t also what worked but caused issues. I had learned while creating the website it was important to have clean code and be W3C compliant. About a week into blogging I found a couple of plugins were causing more than 20 errors on each page. They quickly went away. This is the segway into the creation of The Real Estate Blog Lab. The process of setting up a blog and activating plugins was very frustrating. A lot of it due to programmers being pretty good at code and terrible at documentation.
There were always holes in the information on how to install and activate plugins and make theme modifications. I wanted to share what I was learning along the way. I put a few posts up on the first blog but it was like a mixed message of Tucson RE News and RE Blogging. I make a pivitol post about Real Estate Blog or Real Estate Blogging and the advise was keep the message on Tucson focused and start a new blog. The Lab was born.
The new blog Tucson AZ Real Estate came out of a desire to put all the things together I had learned over the last 10 months of blogging. The Tucson Real Estate in the News blog has been far more successful than I could ever have imagined when I started it. But I wanted it to be better and it wasn’t possible to make some critical changes to that blog and not risk losing traffic. All the technical reasons are outlined in posts at the Lab. I’ve tried to document everything so other are free to make different mistakes and avoid the ones I made. This latest blog is designed to get content indexed quickly, it provides me a much bigger content area for larger images. It has a better look and feel than the News blog. Since starting it on July 15th I’ve had more fun blogging than anytime before. I’m watching it grow and from the very first day I’ve had the tools in place to track how it is doing. There is so much more I could say but need to move on.
How does blogging fit into your company’s marketing plan?
Our brokerage doesn’t have a blog nor has it said anything about blogging, they support an agent page on their website. That is pretty much it.
For our personal real estate business it is our marketing plan. We decided early in 2006 the web was where we were going to focus our marketing. I actively post on 4 blogs, besides the three you’ve found I started one for Oro Valley Real Estate about 3 months ago and 2 months ago I started a blog on a local subdivision. I also create single property sites for all of our listings using WordPress for each of those sites. I have created 14 of these blog sites and have found them very successful in marketing our listings. This process is also documented at the Lab. Blogging is a fantastic tool for us. Having said that I need to add this, I’ve been a writer for most of my life, I’ve started taking pictures when I was 5 and had my own darkroom before digital cameras. And 20 years of experience as a programmer. Blogging has been like putting a hand in a glove. You don’t need these skills to be a good blogger, but you do have to write, that is a must. The rest you can learn.
I first saw The Real Estate Blog Lab earlier this spring. To be honest, my initial reaction was that it was just a way for you to test out new stuff for your “real” blog. In reality, it’s a very good “How-To” site for other bloggers. What drives you to produce it?
I wanted to give back to all the RE bloggers that helped and encourage me in the beginning. Joe and Rudy at Sellsius were the first to add me to their blogroll. The RE Bloggers in Phoenix were very supportive. I made some big mistakes in those early days, but was accepted and helped. It didn’t take long to realize there wasn’t much out there for RE bloggers on getting started from the technical side. There are plenty of sites giving advise about content and tags and what goes into making a good RE Blog. But there isn’t much out there on the backend technical side of blogging. I’ve found so really good content blogs that aren’t being read and can’t be found because of the choice of themes or plugins that are hurting them in search engine placement. It doesn’t matter how good your content is if no one can find it. I wanted new RE bloggers to get answers quickly without have to spend hours and day finding information. You’re right I needed a place to test new plugins and themes without breaking the Tucson RE in The News blog. Here is the final sentences summing up the RE Blog Lab from the “About this Blog” page.
“The lab is open to test and try things to see how they work and report back to the blogging community.
The lab is open for experiments and results of experiments to help all real estate bloggers as our numbers keep growing exponentially.
I’m sure the lab will evolve and grow with time. It is my effort to give back to the many real estate bloggers that have helped me in these early days of my personal adventure in real estate blogging.
I’m also sure we are all just scratching the surface of what we will experience together in the next few years.”
Todd, here is the crazy thing about all of this; the blog lab was started to give something back and as a personal reference guide. It doesn’t do a thing for our business, it never has and never will produce a lead. It has better RSS traffic and double the regular readers than any of the dedicated Real Estate blogs. It is my “Hobby Blog” that is bringing the most attention from the blogging community. I’ve always wanted the Tucson Blog to be like Jay Thompson’s Phoenix Real Estate Guy and Teresa Broadman’s St Paul Real Estate Blog. I’ve wanted to be known as a good hyper-local blogger blogging about Tucson. But it seems the Lab is the one that is getting the most attention.
Out of all the plugins, widgets, and tools you run across, what percentage do you find to actually be useful?
There are a lot of plugins and widgets and tools available and more everyday. I would say about 5% are really helpful. It is unfortunate, this number is low because so many plugins and widgets could be helpful if they were coded properly. They function, but they do more to hurt some blogs than they help. Those 5% that are helpful are very helpful. It is the plugins and widgets that really add SEO functionality to a blog. They also add to the functionality of the user interface which makes coming to the blog interesting and I might add fun.
What’s your all time favorite of these tools?
This is the easiest question you have asked, for me it is a no brainer, I don’t even have to think about it. Have I strung you along enough, it is Hittail.com. This is one tool I can’t live without. Mike Levin knows me by name. I’m always asking for something. I’ve never had a company so responsive to requests or dealing with issues. They are fantastic. I wish every company with blogging tools provided the level of support and quality of product found at Hittail.com
What are some of your favorite blogs?
Todd, this is an interesting question, for this reason, I’ve found my favorite blogs are based on the blogger and not the blog. I hope that makes sense. As I have the opportunity to meet more bloggers in person I’m finding this list is growing. Some I haven’t met yet, but feel like we are old friends. I read everyone of these everyday so in no particular order. Teresa no “h” Broadman’s St Paul Real Estate Blog and The Real Estate Weenie I love the weenie blog, Jonathan Dalton Phoenix AZ Real Estate, Jay Thomspon Phoenix Real Estate Guy, Athol Kay, RE Agent In CT whom I’m encouraging to write more of his own stuff Greg Swann Bloodhoundblog, Jim Cronin The Real Estate Tomato, I’ve go to add Jim gave me the opportunity to be on the vine when I was deciding whether or not to start the Lab. We had several email conversations that provided to be invaluable. Maybe someday I’ll be on the Vine for now I love reading it. Joe and Rudy Sellsius, Maureen Francis The Scoop on Michigan Real Estate, there are more and the list is growing all the time.
What web sites, blogs, tools, or people do you find most helpful in building your blog?
Number 1 tool Hittail.com, Google webmaster tools, I’m singling out The Christian Real Estate Network blog because I’ve gotten some of the best ideas tool and recommendations for things to implement on the blogs from them. People, All the guys in Phoenix for me they embody what RE Blogging should be. They don’t view the others success as their failure, they don’t view each other as competitors and when you see them together you actually think they are friends. Teresa Blogging Goddess Broadman has become a friend. She has some of the best images, I can’t just call them pictures, I’ve ever seen. We have a mutual love of photography. I can always send her an email and run an idea by her and she gets back almost before I hit send. I think we sometimes forget just how much Real Estate Blogging is still in its infancy. That translates into not a lot of help and we are all pretty much making it up as we go along. Of course we all have Google keeping us on our toes with the rapidity of their changing algorithms.
Besides visiting The Real Estate Bog Lab, do you have any tips or advice for a fellow real estate professional that’s looking to get into blogging?
The first and biggest question. Will I write? If you won’t write, don’t get into blogging. The best platform, theme, plugins and widgets won’t be of any value if you won’t write. Second, if you are going to blog for leads, forget it. Blogging isn’t for blatant self promotion, It is all about the readers. Third, what is your focus? Local, Hyper-local, Industry or Eclectic. Finally, Read RE Blogs and ask question. Use the contact form on a blog and ask a lot of questions. Every RE blogger I’ve come into contact with has been very helpful. The Lab will help with some of the technical aspects especially if you choose WordPress for your platform. But it only comes into play once you have decided to blog.
A final tip, make your categories keywords, it will help.