Blogger Spotlight; Eric Blackwell

In my opinion, the most important reason there is to blog, is to prove you are a cut above the typical real estate agent, or loan officer. But sharing your experience has no worth unless you find people to share it with. Google can be a tremendous tool in attracting an audience. My search for strategies in improving my results led me to Eric Blackwell. Now it’s my pleasure to introduce him to you.

Hi Eric, I’m pretty sure the first time I ever read your advice, was while lurking around the Real Estate Webmasters forum. Just a few years ago, Web forums were how most groups of people communicated on the web. With the explosion of blogging, do you think forums the Real Estate Webmasters still have a place at the table?

Sure. Good online communities are what bring value to the web, whether they are in the form of a blog with posts and comments or in the form of a forum like REW. The key to it is understanding how to build an online community that adds enough value to its target audience. Morgan Carey (from REW) is a great example of how to build an online community. Greg Swann is as well. Both bring TONS of information and value to the web. Either one could build an online community with a blog, a forum, heck, even carrier pigeons if that’s all they had. I think many times we look for “Was it the blog? Was it the forum?” when it was the talent of the community builder that was/is the driving force. It’s the singer not the song.

That having been said, I DO think that forums will decline in their popularity for some subjects as blogs are MUCH more able to provide “long form answers” to questions. They are much easier to put pictures and videos into and are much more customer friendly. I think if the subject matter lends itsself to that type of visual presentation blogs will win over forums every time, and rightfully so. I tried launching a forum on my real estate website this past year. Thousands (literally) of readers went to it from the main page of our site. It went nowhere. It failed MISERABLY. (grin) We then started small niche and hyperlocal focused blogs with our agents. The results have been VERY positive.

In short, I think that for many customer focused online community building efforts, blogs have quite a few advantages, but I think that there are selected applications (such as where people have quick questions-like “I just did this to my site and Google did that, WHY?”) where forums will continue to be useful for years to come. .

You started your own blog over the summer. What lead you to start it?

Funny you ask. I started to post a long post on the forum which I since moved to my blog on REW about “Defensible Link Building”. Morgan shot me a PM complimenting me on the observations I made and suggested that I start blogging more on the subject. I found that I like the ability to add pictures and multimedia (although I have not done that yet to my blog-I’m about to).

Then I started to pick up clients and build my business here locally. People started calling and asking about us doing web projects for them. True to form, they were already sold on me and my abilities, because they already felt like they knew me to a certain degree.

Your blog is more than a blog. It’s your entire website. In that, I mean that you use WordPress to power your entire web site. Your landing page is static, like a traditional site. With a few months behind you, how would you grade WordPress as a traditional web site platform?

Overall, I really like WordPress as a content managment system. What it lacks in flexibility, it makes up for with several strengths.

  • It is quick to deploy a new site
  • There are LARGE base of developers and it is EASY to get plugins and themes to do almost anything that you want.
  • It it the closest thing that I have found to search engine friendly right out of the box.
  • I like working with PHP/mySql and have been able to do a lot of tweaking and coding on many sites beside my blog since then.
  • It is also easy to teach to the REALTORS in our office. We have one team that has created 3 sites with WP and IDX that have done REALLY well.

Much of your work is in search engine optimization. For re agents just starting out, can you explain to them why blog platforms are currently in favor with search engines?

The technical explanation of “how” is complicated and ever changing, but the principle of “why” this is the case is fairly straightforward.

Search engines crave relevance. By that I mean that when someone searches for “information about x”, search engines compete to find the most RELEVANT site that can provide that information to their visitors. It is crucial to their survival as Google has proven in their battle with Yahoo!. They have won the battle to date because they provide more relevant answers with less “gunk” appearing in their results.

If you think about it (as I posted a bit ago at the Bloodhound Blog) being relevant comes from two components a) that a web page is about the subject matter being searched and b) the timeliness of the information. If Google (for example) pulled up a page based PURELY on the strength of the site alonem it would tend ot favor older information. Search engines realize that they are LIKELY to find recent, relevant, frequently updated information on blog platforms.

What are some of your favorite blogs?

Hmm..that’s difficult, because I read a LOT of them–72 in my RSS feeds to be exact. In the real estate sphere, I have been reading Athol Kay’s blog a bit and actually teaching from it to the REALTORS in our office. His posts about Bad REALTOR photo of the day are spot on and not only that, he gives great advice about how to correct the photos. I think it is important to provide solutions as well as point out problems. He does a great job of that.

Another one is Dave Smith’s RealEstateBlogLab…Dave’s a great guy and provides solid info about how to tweak WordPress. I usually check in with his site regularly just to trade knowledge and the latest thinking there. I love people who give back as well as take. He’s that kind of guy.

Terri Lussier and Teresa Boardman also get frequent visits from me and I don’t even live in their areas. Mostly I view them as solid online community builders and like watching great people at their craft. They are good.

Outside of the real estate sphere, I do a LOT of SEO reading every day. Three of my favorites there are Michael Gray, Joost De Valk and for heavier reading about search engine patents, Bill Slawski’s SEO by the Sea. I have met Michael and Bill in person and trust me, they are EXACTLY who you picture on their blogs. I am sure if I met Joost, he’d have that same authenticity as well. I value people who are authentic.

What advice do you have for agents who are just starting a new blog?

Be yourself. There is no substitute for authenticity. If you are not being authentic, people will smell it a mile away. I picked up the phone and called Brian Brady the other day after reading one of his posts. Who got on the phone is who I was reading on the blogs. That is HUGE. There is authentic and there is fraudulent. No distance in between there.

Don’t be afraid to write and to break new ground. Your first post will feel like passing a kidney stone. It did for ALL of us. Get through it. It gets much easier with time.

Read great blogs. The best authors have also typically been voracious readers.

Think of your audience and blog with passion.

Add pictures as well as text. Put the pictures at the fold just like the newspaper guys do…you’ll see more people read the entire article.

Don’t get hung up on SEO hype (and this is coming from a guy who’s in the business). Don’t stuff keywords into posts.The guys who TRULY know their stuff understand that they are talking to an audience and they realize that they must build online authority in order to make their blog a TRUE asset.

Give back. When people ask you to participate on their blogs, it is a privilege. Pay it forward. Works EVERY time.

My parting shot. Just an observation.

I do think that the mainstream media is becoming more savvy to online marketing. I think 3rd party websites are trying hard to compete with us. That is a good thing. It will raise the level of our game. Everything that can be done by a third party site or mainstream media can, in fact, be done by a tech savvy REALTOR with the determination to not be bound to pay the freight of the marketing middle man.

Can sites be search engine friendly and customer friendly at the same time. You bet. Can hyperlocal and small niche blogs generate GREAT sales results? Absolutely. If you think 2008 is going to be a better year than 2007, you’re right. If you think it will be worse, you are also right on a personal level.
My 2008 will be better. I wish the same to all of your readers.

0 thoughts on “Blogger Spotlight; Eric Blackwell

  1. Eric Blackwell

    Joost and Teri;

    Well deserved in both cases. You guys are both tremendous. You are more than welcome. Thanks to Todd for the chance to respond here.

    Teri-next time I am going that way, I will drop by…grin.

    Joost-It’s a bit longer of a trip to the Netherlands, my friend…but there WILL be a search engine conference where we hang out at SOME point–grin.

    Eric.

    Reply

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