Blogger Spotlight; Maureen Francis

First with REblogs, and now with REMBEX, I’ve been on the hunt for RE Bloggers for well over two years. Will well over 1000 blogs personally reviewed, then indexed into REMBEX, I’ve seen a lot of blogs. As many blogs as I’ve indexed, more than half do not make the cut because they appear to be abandoned. Blogging over the long haul can be tough. That’s why I was elated that Maureen Francis accepted my invitation to be interviewed. miOaklandCounty – The Scoop on Michigan Real Estate, was established long before most of today’s RE bloggers even knew what one was. I wanted her to reflect on over two years of blogging, and how it has evolved.

Hi Maureen, when people ask my why I started my own blog, I like to joke that it was so long ago, I hardly remember. You’ve been at it just as long. Do you recall what inspired you to start a blog?

After two and a half years of real estate blogging, like you, I hardly remember. Actually my first foray into blogging was 4 years ago when I started a blog for my newborn daughter. I thought that an online journal would be easier for me to keep than scrap booking.

I have had a template website for business since 2002 and I was constantly trying to get it to act like a blog. At the time, I kept calling around to different real estate web site vendors and asking if they had a built in blogging application. Nobody did and they kept telling me there was no demand for it. So I researched, got overwhelmed, researched some more and ended up on blogger.com, also for reasons I no longer recall. Last September I moved off of blogger and onto wordpress, and that was the best thing I ever could have done for my blog. My traffic skyrocketed, and I started getting a lot more consumer requests.

Well over two years later, do you approach the process of creating content for your blog any differently than when you started?

Most definitely. Two years ago I thought it was OK to reprint an article from another source (with proper attribution, of course) and call it a post. Now I know that links do that really well, and don’t get anyone else angry with you. I think many new bloggers make this mistake. They find something interesting and want to share it.

I am also more conscious of what will bring me more targeted traffic. I use keywords, write better headlines, and use technorati tags to help with search engine optimization. I track the searches that are landing people on my blog and if I want to get better placement for a particular term, then I write a post about it. For example, someone Googled “Little San Francisco, Birmingham MI” last week and they landed on my blog. It is a nice little neighborhood in the city where we do most of our work. There is almost nothing on the web about the neighborhood so I put out a brief post so that if anyone else is interested in that neighborhood they will land on my page. The next day a local journalist called me to ask me questions about Little San Francisco.

I used to publish a lot of statistics in a very raw format. I rarely do this anymore, though there is demand for it and it is great “Google Food.” First of all, our MLS does not provide the best stats, so I have to pull them all manually and there are still lots of ways they can be incorrectly interpreted. Second, it’s really time consuming and I find it boring. So I now do what I call anecdotal market reports. If I see a trend changing or something new happening, I write a post about it. That keeps it fun for me and hopefully more interesting for my readers.

Over on Active Rain, you recently posted a story about how companies like Zillow, Trulia, and RIS Media have all “invited” you to contribute to there services, and why that really doesn’t serve your business very well. What advice do you have for new bloggers about the tradeoffs in participating in these social networking sites?

Personally, I feel it’s pretty easy to get sucked in to those social networking sites and lose track of your own best interests. Your own best interests are served by putting your local content on your site. Period. Yes, I have gotten referrals and opportunities from sites like ActiveRain, Zillow and Trulia, but I no longer put much of anything related to my market on them other than listings. In the end I want the consumer landing on my site, not a site where I am likely to get lost amongst a sea of 30,000 of my competitors who are using my content to get business. Personally, if I were starting now, I would use sites like Trulia, Zillow and ActiveRain to network with other Realtors, build my referral network and discuss industry wide or national issues. Anything local or specific to Michigan belongs on my blog on a separate platform. Real estate bloggers need to reach out to non-real estate bloggers in their local markets to build their local readership, gain valuable incoming links and establish themselves locally. This needs to be done from a blog that is not part of a social network. I heard someone say recently that his blog was “ActiveRain.com” and I cringed. How would a consumer find him, if the consumer could not remember his name? Not easily, and in the meantime, the consumer would be scrolling through a long list of other local experts eager to assist.

How does your blog fit into your overall marketing plan?

It is a big part of it. There are links to many of our listings on the blog, a vflyer widget highlighting a few, and we just put on a Trulia map widget with more links to the listings. It is a great marketing tool for getting new listings and for attracting buyers. It also gets us a fair amount of media attention that is 100% a result of the blog. Free advertising is usually a nice thing.

What are some of your favorite blogs?

I read a lot of blogs and if there is one thing I have learned it is that when I answer questions like this I invariably leave off a blog that I love and I feel bad about it later.

Do you have any tips or advice for a fellow real estate professional that’s looking to get into blogging?

Start first by reading. Look around for people you think are doing it well. Click through their blog rolls and you will find more people who “get it.” Make comments on others’ blogs. Blogging takes a commitment to writing frequently and reading others blogs if you want to do it effectively. Find your voice and let your personality come through or you will tire of it and so will your readers.

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