Category Archives: Blogger Interviews

Blogger Spotlight: Geno Petro

It will never earn him a dime, but Geno is one of my favorite real estate bloggers. I’m a huge fan of funny, but with Geno, it goes farther than that. He’s a great story teller.

Hi Gino, what made you decide to start a blog?

A couple years back our office, a boutique north side Chicago brokerage with less than 20 agents, changed names from Pinto Realty Group to Chicago Home Estates. These key real estate words, Chicago, Home, Estates, were chosen primarily for SEO (Google spidering) purposes as the new direction of our company shifted to almost 100% internet; no newspaper advertising, no direct mail, no flyers, balloons, etc. Our web guys suggested we agents start blogs for linkage and ‘organic’ purposes to augment the various pay per click campaigns that the main site had initiated. I chose my blog’s name, Chicago’s Home Weblog for recognition/association purposes to our main site. A few years later, I think I’m the only agent still posting on a regular basis.

I first started following you on Bloodhound Blog. I liked reading you stuff because, frankly, it was funny. This might sound weird, but… are you funny on purpose? Steve Martin is known to be a fairly serious person that works at being funny. Other people can’t help it. When you sit down to write a blog post, are you trying to be humorous, or does it just happen?

Greg Swann and Teri Lussier found me back in October ’07 and I joined Bloodhound then. I usually get an idea, sometimes it’s a very small idea, then start writing when I have a few extra moments throughout my day. It usually takes me 3 or 4 sittings to complete a single post over a period of a couple days. When I sit down and begin writing it just all comes out. When I sit down again to contiune, sometimes the voice is a little different and the piece takes off in another direction. The same with all subsequent sittings. I generally do a final rewrite to eliminate the clunkiness, tie everything together anecdotally then push the Publish button. As far as being funny; after I delete all the sad parts, the overly dramatic parts, the hyperbole and profanity…sometimes humor is all that remains. I like to leave the ‘semi-serious stuff’ between the lines (and beneath the tongue in my cheek) and the ‘real serious stuff’ for my fellow real estate bloggers across the REnet. Yeah, the funny stuff just happens, I guess. Satire perhaps?

Has you humor ever backfired on you in a blog post?

Every so often I get a comment reprimanding me but no one has ever threatened bodily harm or legal action. One time Dan Green e-mailed me at midnight to let me know I wrote something inappropriate. I concurred, yanked the post, rewrote it and posted it a few weeks later on another blog. I spend most of my time trying to sell my listings and appease my buyers, not writing politically correct content that a million (possibly more) other bloggers can do much better than me. I make it a point to do at least one complete rewrite before publishing to CMAss.

With so much of your personality on display, I can only assume that many of the clients who find you through your blog already feel they “know” you. Have you ever had an unnerving experience where a client relationship was too close for comfort because of your blog?

Nothing ‘unnerving,’ per se. Not surprisingly, most of my clients come through the ChicagoHomeEstates.com website and not my Chicago’s Home Weblog. Most have no idea who I am or that I even write about real estate at all. It’s probably a 30-1 ratio in favor of the latter. Most people who become my clients initially Googled ‘Chicago real estate’ and found themselves on our website to look at properties. They then register to use our MLS search engine and the verified registrants get distributed randomly to us by the managing broker. Most of my readers, I think, are actually other REnet bloggers. I think Greg Swann refers to it as an ‘echo chamber’ and none of them have ever bought anything from me to date. I do probably connect with a client from my blog every month or so but no one yet has gotten too close for comfort although one crazy woman did email me off and on for months telling me how she was in the market for a 7 million condo at Trump’s new project. I Googled her quite unusual name and hometown and discovered she was on a couple Medicaid chat room forums complaining how her and her children were in dire need of public aid and the her bi-polar meds had been cut off. I couldn’t help but spend the commission dollars in my head, though.

Geno From Chicago is an idea worth mimicking for any blogger who spreads their content around the Internet. Please share with us the motivation behind this project.

Geno From Chicago is just a landing page for a collection of my most well received postings on Bloodhound Blog, Chicago’s Home Weblog, Active Rain, and the occasional guest spot on other sites. I use this trimmed down platform mostly as a hyperlink in my query letters to publishers. I usually disable the comment section and do a minor rewrite unlinking all the ‘unliterary’ extraneous sales stuff. This way they can read a variety of my content without getting sidetracked by all the sidebar linkage, widgets and SEO stuff. So far, not much has shaken from it although AARP The Magazine has taken a few looks, or so they’ve told me in an auto-reply.

What are some of your favorite blogs?

I always liked Bloodhound and Sellsius (ironic, isn’t it?) as well as Pat Kitano’s TransparaentRE and Hanan Levin’s Grow-a-Brain. They all ‘sent the elevator back down’ as it were, when I was starting out and shared samples of my writing with their much larger respective readership bases, as well as took the time to comment favorably. I also check out the ‘bubble blogs’ for the same reason as I listen to NPR and occasionally Christian radio; to find out what the other half is saying about issues that may affect my destiny and to foresee how I might end up if I ever decide to; make a living trashing realtors, become more liberal, or get religion…and jump ship.

What advice do you have for prospective bloggers who are sitting on the fence.

Stay seated unless you’ve found your own voice. I find myself on such a fence most days with nothing to say and nothing to say it with.

A final note.

In ending I’d like to share with you my response to something Jay Thompson wrote in one of my comment sections a few years back. He wondered if I sold real estate as well as I wrote–to which I replied: “I closed 30 deals last year for over 16 million in volume but didn’t make a nickel from anything I wrote.” Glad (sad?) to report that while the sales numbers are around half that amount for this most recent fiscal year, the writing revenue has held steady at 0. Now I ask you, is that or is that not… funny?

Peace

Blogger Spotlight: Missy Caulk

Whenever I do a set of theses interviews I always ask for bloggers to step forward if they would like to participate. This time around, Missy Caulk, of Ann Arbor Real Estate Talk was actually nominated by another blogger. That should give you an idea of the impression Missy sets among her piers.

Hi Missy, why did you adopt blogging as a marketing medium?

It was only when I started blogging on Activerain that I began to get business from blogging. Both from other agents as referrals and from local people finding my posts. Now it is the 2nd most important venue I use for generating business.

You’re an active member of Active Rain. Which came first for you, Active rain, or your own personal blog?

I actually set up a blog on blogger, long before I had run into Active Rain in December 2006, but really didn’t “get it” until I started using Active Rain consistently. My personal blog Ann Arbor Real Estate Talk was just launched in November. When the whole issue of Move buying Active Rain hit the press, I knew I wanted something that was truly my own, just in case…..

What made you decide to contribute in both places? (AR and your own blog)

I rarely duplicate content, occasionally. Honestly, I’m still trying to get ranked in search engines on my own blog. I sold a house to a Google employee back in August. He was in charge of Google in Poland and he told me Google didn’t penalize for duplicate content and I believe him. My Ann Arbor Real Estate Talk Blog I am trying to have just strictly focused on Ann Arbor and Saline, market, real estate, events, human interests. Active Rain is a great place to learn and the relationships are phenomenal so it is probably more social to me now. It is a great platform to bounce real estate issues off other people and pick up new techniques.

I noticed that you occasionally include your listings on your blog. There’s a lot of debate about if this is a good idea. Have you ever received any negative response for doing so?

No, not at all. I am a Realtor, I sell houses, and blogging helps get great backlinks for my sellers on their homes.

I know you’re also a Flickr user. Would you share with us a little about how you use Flickr to promote your blog/business?

Todd, I am just getting my feet wet on flickr. As soon as it gets warm and we have green grass, I am going to do sets of things around Ann Arbor, like art fairs, music events, shopping, schools, University of MI and group them all together in sets. Then I plan on when I get leads send out the set to people relocating to Ann Arbor in my email responses. But, I really want green grass, flowers and full foliage. Ann Arbor is a beautiful city, they call it Tree Town.

What are some of your favorite blogs?

Well currently I subscribe to 153 in RSS. I learn from many of them. I love Sellisus and 4Realz.net, Agent Genius, 1000 Watt, Pro-blogger, Transparent Real Estate, Word Press SEO and Blog Marketing, Blog Fiesta, Common Craft, Real Estate Zebra. Gee, I can’t name them all, but I am really enjoying Twitter too, it has introduced me through links people publish to lots of good blogs.

What advice do you have for prospective bloggers who are looking to start a blog.

Join Active Rain, learn, read, comment and jump in. You will grow and it is a good place to find out if blogging is something you love and want to be a part of your marketing plan.

A parting shot.

I think we are still at the beginning stages of blogging, as far as many agents and Brokers that don’t understand or “get it”. I’m very thankful that I found it early. My world has been enhanced and enlarged.

Blogger Spotlight: Aaron Wall

If you don’t read SEO Book, you really should. It’s a read and repeat blog. Bloggers read Aaron’s post, and then repeat these concepts as their own all over the blogosphere. Why not get this advice straight from the horses mouth?

Aaron speaks largely on search engine optimization, but my favorite posts are the one where he talks about viral marketing and the new media in general. When he offered up the chance for his readers to interview him, I knew this was a perfect opportunity to bring in an outside the RE.net perspective.

Aaron WallHi Aaron, thank you so much for participating. As you may know, the real estate blogging community (we call it RE.net) is by far, one of the largest, and still fastest growing small business verticals for social media. It’s a close knit group, but with differing opinions as to what makes the best real estate blog strategies. Here’s three hot topics that I’d like to get an outsider’s opinion on.

Blog Rolls– Many RE.neters maintain a blogroll on their real estate blogs. Sometimes the links are local, other times, they’re other real estate blogs from around the country. From the standpoint of SEO, how important do you think it is for real estate bloggers to maintain or avoid a blogroll?

Well when you create a blogroll if you link to it sitewide you are passing out PageRank sitewide. What I do if I use blogrolls is either just link to the blogroll from the homepage OR link to a page I call blogroll where I list blogs I read often. The nice things about making the blogroll an actual blog post are that more people will end up seeing it when they do link searches on sites like Technorati, and you are passing out less link equity while still getting all the benefits of a traditional blogroll.

You still want to link to some of your core sales pages sitewide though such that they get maximum benefit from your site’s link authority.

Listings – Unlike ad driven revenue model blogs, real estate bloggers are generally trying to generate business for their own company. A popular school of thought is to avoid “selling” on the blog. This means that writing about a new listing is frowned upon. However, other bloggers report great success in blogging about their listings. What are the pro’s and cons with regard to search engines when blogging about your own product? In addition, as a consumer how would you react to a real estate blog that wrote about it’s listings?

If you want to write a blatant advertisement but do not want your core audience to suffer through reading it, consider backdating the post a week or month. 😉

People buy auto trader and it is nothing but ads. And few people would want to go to the million dollar homepage everyday because aesthetically it looks like crap. The key is to editorialize any sales information as well. Do you offer me tips on why I should stay in neighborhood x or the type of people who should avoid neighborhood y? Do you offer any unique ratings of areas? Have you visited the house you are pitching? Can you talk about your experience from an informing standpoint rather than using hard sales tactics? Those are the types of questions to ask. If you are teaching and informing it doesn’t feel like a sales pitch, even though Teaching Sells .

Keywords – Real estate bloggers are always striveing to own localized keyword search results. We all know it’s important to include these words in our posts, but at what point (from the perspective of SEO, or the blog’s readers) does keyword rich turn into keyword stuffing?

If you were your prospective client or prospective reader is the content you are writing something you would want to read or subscribe to? If not, then you need to fix it. Nobody is going to buy from or be impressed by poor reading content even if they do stumble upon it from a search.

Some people who keep adding keywords to try to match an arbitrary keyword density level end up stripping out important modifiers. Use a keyword tool to find modifiers that you can sprinkle in the copy… concentrate on fitting them in the page copy in a logical way more than concentrating on repeating the core keywords. Also it may make sense to use a few core keywords in your site template to help the pages be relevant for related queries.

Some WordPress plugins allow you to make your h1 headings different than your page titles. Using these sorts of tools allows you to get added keyword diversity without making the content sound bad.

Also in many cases if your site is structured well you have sales pages ranking for the most important target queries. Make sure to link to the pages you want to rank where it makes sense.

Besides SEO Book, what resources would you recommend for small business bloggers?

Study and learn your own industry inside out. Become the person reporters call when legal changes change your field.

Read Don’t Make Me Think to learn usability. And read the Cluetrain Manifesto and The Purple Cow to get a grasp of online marketing.

Finally, do you have any parting advice for real estate or small business professionals who are interested in starting a blog?

Sooner is better than later. Get launched. No big deal if you are not perfect off the start…it takes a lot of time and effort to become a good writer. Subscribe to a lot of other blogs you find useful and learn from them while you develop your own unique style. Plus tracking your industry and seeing what ideas spread and why they spread teaches you how to create and launch similar ideas.

And this will seem a bit self promotional, but I would also read the Blogger’s Guide to SEO. It is probably the best blog marketing guide on the web…and it is available in more than a dozen languages. 🙂

Thanks Aaron, I really appreciate your perspectives here on our corner of the blogosphere.

Blogger Spotlight: Daniel Rothamel

I think the thing I love most about today’s Internet is that all the tools are their to let pure talent rise to the top. Daniel Rothamel generates live audio, video, and the written word on the Real Estate Zebra. Maybe as few as five years ago, a talent like Daniel might never be seen, heard, or maybe even read.

Hi Daniel, what made you decide to start the Real Estate Zebra?

My wife, Kari. When I first began blogging, the title of the url was CvilleAreaRealEstate.com. I had really intended it to be a blog focusing on the Charlottesville area real estate market. A few months in, I started writing posts about my experiences as a basketball official and how they related to the practice of real estate. People responded very positively to the posts, and I did more and more of them. I realized that being a basketball official gives me a unique perspective, and I wanted to highlight that. I struggled with a way of effectively doing it and promoting it. As I usually do, I discussed the issue with my wife, being that she is the smartest, most insightful person I know. As usual, she had the answer– RealEstateZebra.com.

Looking back at your posts from 2006, and then comparing them to today, your blog seems to be evolving from focusing on content for consumers, to focusing on content of interest from other real estate professionals. How did you get to where you are today?

Similar to my migration from CvilleAreaRealEstate.com to RealEstateZebra.com, the change came about as a result of actively blogging. I enjoyed doing the coverage of local real estate news and consumer issues, but I also wanted to talk about bigger, industry issues that really don’t interest most consumers. For a long time, I tried to do both, and I think that the schizophrenic nature of that endeavor caused me to hold back some things from both sides. After being active in the real estate blogging community for a time, I realized that agents are very hungry for knowledge, much more so than I had ever experienced before. If you look at most real estate blogs, be they consumer-focused or not, most of the comments are from industry professionals. As I looked around the blogosphere, I saw plenty of blogs claiming to talk to consumers, when most of the content was actually indirectly focused on professionals. Heck, I had created some of that content myself. I decided that I wanted to remove all the pretense and talk to an audience made up primarily of professionals. I tend to be a guy attracted to big ideas and the need to spread those ideas as a means of inspiring change and achievement by others. Having an industry-focused blog allows me to satisfy that attraction.

I am lucky in that my brokerage is made up of only myself, my wife, and my Mother-in-Law. They decided that we should start a blog for the brokerage that would be exclusively consumer/community focused. This gave me the flexibility that I wanted to turn RealEstateZebra.com into an industry resource.

Has this shift changed, increased, or hurt your ability to attract clients through your blog?

Very honestly, I have no idea. I do know that it has increased my ability to serve my clients, regardless of how they find me. Creating content for RealEstateZebra.com has forced me to think about things in new ways, and consider issues I might have otherwise dismissed. Blogging creates an opportunity for unsurpassed knowledge just by the sheer amount of research that is required to create good content. This makes me a better agent, even if I never get another client via the blog.

Will I attract less clients via RealEstateZebra.com? Probably. But I’m fine with that. The purpose of RealEstateZebra.com is not to attract clients, that is what my personal site and our brokerage site/blog are for. RealEstateZebra.com is meant to attract professionals. In fact, it is designed to attract a specific type of professional. A professional completely dedicated to improving the practice of real estate and delivering to the consumer a level of commitment, service, and expertise that has been heretofore unknown. This purpose was set forth early in the birth of the current RealEstateZebra.com through the “Zebra Manifesto” that I made available on the site.

You’ve been avidly engaged in both video and audio blogging. For RE agents who are considering multi-media, what’s your advice concerning the pros and con’s of video, audio, and the written word.

Each of these forms of content creation poses incredible challenges. The best advice that I can give is to pick what works for you. I am the type of person that likes all of this stuff. As an English Major in college, I was trained and conditioned to write. Writing comes naturally to me. That isn’t true for everyone.

The video and audio is something that I thought might be interesting, so I have given it a try. While I love doing that type of content creation, and I think that it has tremendous power and potential, I also know that it isn’t for everyone, either. Each person has strengths and weaknesses. Play to your strengths. If you love to write, WRITE. If you are good at taking photos, incorporate that into your content. If you are handy with a video camera, maybe vlogging is right up your alley. Think that you stink at all of them? Not true. You probably just haven’t tried. No matter what you do, realize that it takes effort and continued practice to make it work. It might be easy at first, but at some point, it is going to get difficult. How you respond when content creation gets difficult will determine your success. Above all, trust yourself and be genuine. Regardless of what you do, make sure that it conveys your true voice. In the the internet age, their can be no disconnect between the voice and personality that you convey online and reality. People are too smart for the bait-and-switch.

Recently, you changed your blog to more of what I’d call a magazine layout. By this, I mean your home page isn’t a reverse chronological list of blog posts. Why the change?

In my experience, the people that have never been exposed to blogs sometimes have a hard time interpreting the sites. To those of us who read blogs, it seems second nature. I wanted a site that would allow for both. The front page has a more traditional website look and feel to it, but the blog itself is still prominent and available to people. It also allowed me a format to highlight some of the content that I would like to emphasize to people. Sidebars can get cluttered, and info can get lost, so this provides a good alternative. Plus, the theme is Revolution, designed by Brian Gardner. His work is great, and the theme is still pretty easy to use and customize.

What are some of your favorite blogs?

If we are talking Real Estate blogs, there are a lot of them. Just check out my blog roll. As of writing this, I have been without RSS for about 21 days (self-imposed embargo). During that time, I have found that the blogs I seek out the most are AgentGenius, VARBuzz, RealCentralVA, BloodhoundBlog, and anyone who is on Twitter. Does Twitter count? As far as non-RE blogs go, I always check out Chris Brogan, CoppyBlogger, and TechCrunch. That covers the social media geek, the writing geek, and the gadget geek in me.

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

The best advice I can give is to stick with it. A good blog is not created over night. It will take a while for you to find your content-creation stride. Whether you are doing writing, video, pictures, or a mix, just stick with it. The other thing I tell people is don’t worry about it sucking in the beginning. Everyone thinks that their blog sucks in the beginning. I know mine did. The good news is this: no one will find your blog if it sucks. People only start following and reading when it gets good.