Tag Archives: Tech Pros

Blogger Spotlight: Cheryl Allin

I’m really glad Cheryl was interested in doing an interview. As I’ve said in the past, I think the vendors who serve real estate professionals offer a unique perspective that’s worth looking at.

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

As is the case with many, it seemed that blogging was fast becoming de rigueur for effectively marketing online. I was already providing extensive content articles on my site describing the services I offered along with my methodologies and blogging seemed the perfect solution to further build the stickiness of my website as well as a means to provide fodder for the search engine spiders to eat. It’s hard to believe I took the plunge into blogging over three years ago. I may not blog as often as many others, but I do strive to create value with what I do post.

Your blog, and entire website is built on Joomla. How does this platform compare to more common blogging platforms like WordPress or TypePad?

I adore Joomla. I started with Mambo in 2005 and made the switch when Mambo forked off into what’s now known as Joomla. I was the first Virtual Assistant to implement a content management system of any kind, now you find a great many VAs implementing Joomla. I considered WordPress, TypePad and a few others before deciding on Joomla for my website. I was even an early adopter of blogger.com prior to starting my business in 2001. I looked at it from an SEO angle as well as an ownership angle. I wanted to own my marketing and promote my own URL and I wanted the most powerful system that would make my job as easy as possible. WordPress at the time didn’t have the URL structure I wanted, I needed my article keywords in the URL as well as the meta tags, header tags and I also loved the richness of the admin interface of Joomla. While many may be a bit daunted, once you’re past the initial learning curve in running the backend of Joomla you quickly see the power and richness of the interface. Also, as a designer I found Joomla templates a breeze while the WordPress templates were a bit clunky to implement. Blogging on Joomla gives me tons of power – the ability to have certain ‘modules’ that display only on my blog pages and other ‘modules’ display on alternate areas of my website, the ability to use CSS to vary the styling (colors, graphics) of those modules for increased variety. I also love that with Joomla, you can create or purchase a template that will make your Joomla site look totally custom whereas many WordPress templates all look very similar. Again, that’s my designer peeking through.

Some agents have different independent blogs and traditional web sites. Others are combining them. What do you recommend?

Mostly it’s just a matter of preference. I adopt the KISS or Keep It Simple Stupid methodology for my own site/blog mainly since I get so busy with client work, I seldom have the time to manage multiple sites. If an agent feels there’s value in keeping his opinions (blog) away from his storefront (website) and has the time and budget to implement and optimize both, (s)he should go for it. However, if you like the idea of having just one spot on the web to manage (aside from your Twitter, Facebook, FriendFeed…), then Joomla gives you the ability to do so easily.

One of the services you provide is to help agents manage their presence on social networks like MySpace or Facebook. It seems to me that these sights depend largely on the personality of the agent themselves. How can one outsource social networking and retain authenticity at the same time?

Certainly, I’d never recommend fully outsourcing your social networking as that defeats the purpose of being social. While I have yet to have a client take me up on the service (it’s there more as a concept to encourage folks to consider social networking in the first place) I can offer some benefit by managing settings, accepting or rejecting comments/pokes/requests, finding more friends or associates for you on Linkedin or Facebook. If I can access your PC remotely, setup some basic social networking tools, create you a protopage.com browser homepage with links to all your new networks, create your MyBlogLog account and tie in your blog – basically get you started and advise you a bit as you get your feet wet, then I’ve done my job. It’s that initial inertia or fear to jump in that plagues many folks and I’m the ‘hand holder,’ if you will.

You market you services through these same social networks. In your experience, what is the most effective social network for connecting with real estate agents?

Hands down, Twitter. As a Real Estate Virtual Assistant, I work 100% from my home office staring at the same four walls all day and having a resource like Twitter where I can socialize and network with my peers and defeat the isolation – that is priceless. I’ve made fantastic connections – @gotbob Bob Carney was kind enough to allow me to save his website from Advanced Access, we converted it to Joomla www.gotbob4homes.com, I’ve found several new clients who need help with this or that and I’ve connected also to several wonderful Virtual Assistants with whom we share ideas and referrals. Every other social networking platform pales by comparison. What’s also fantastic is the ability to have clients stay connected and aware of my daily grind – they now can rest assured that I’m *real* and in the trenches working on their projects. I look forward to the time when social media will be more distributed – sites like FriendFeed and SocialThing are headed in the right direction, but the ability to pull all these great services into my website so you get the ‘big picture’ would be amazing.

What are some of your favorite blogs?

Oooh, that’s hard – there are so many! Here are several that I read regularly and why:

Agent Genius – If it’s tech and real estate, I love it and these folks *are* genius!

Chris Brogan – He never fails to leave an impression and topics are always spot on.

Freelance Switch – Terrific for entrepreneurs of all kinds, often they make me feel like they’re writing about me, very relatable

Future of Real Estate Marketing – always has the news you need to know first
Geek Estate Blog – They speak geek and they’re in real estate, brethren!

Problogger – Darren is a wealth of blog knowledge and his style is clean, love it.

Tech Crunch – I always want to know about the hot new toys

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

Build it now! Even if you only post once per month to start, get that blog domain name into Google today so when/if you do decide to go full force into blogging, you won’t suffer the Google sandbox aging delay. Look at your local market – is anyone else blogging? You could build relationships with RE.net bloggers and perhaps grow friendships and referrals – you could become the authority on your market and have the local network affiliates calling you for your opinion. Carpe Diem, as Robin Williams said in Dead Poets Society. How will you know the amount of benefit unless you try?

My parting shot is actually to shoot myself – I promised myself I would work on blog posts over the weekend and got caught doing client work instead – thus, I’m the shoemaker whose children run around barefoot! I’ve improved, but I often blog in bursts when some bit of amazing news or creative idea strikes. My saving grace has been the book ‘Getting Things Done’ by David Allen which is a fantastic system of organizing your life in order to alleviate stress. Many other netizens agree as it has an almost cult status online.

Blogger Spotlight: Michael Price

Just a few days ago, I published a post commemorating the third anniversary of lenderama as a blog. Originally, my blog used the same simple template that Mike Price uses today. Fancy graphics, widgets, and even multimedia are cool additions to a blog. But as Mike proves, blogging is more about what you say, than how fancy it looks.

Hi Michael, as the head of video intensive company, one might expect your blog to be multi media intensive. Instead, you concentrate primarily on the written word. I’ll ask you more about multi media next, but first, what is the biggest advantage to good old text as a medium for blogging?

Speed, flexibility, easier to compose, edit, absorb, consume….you name it. Video blogging is fine if you’re showing other people and places, sitting alone in front of camera lens as a means of communicating just doesn’t make any sense to me. I think people prefer the tried and true methods of the message and replacing it with another medium just for the sake of being able to do it seems like a waste of time and resources to me. We will be doing some cool new video blogging based content in the coming months, but I can promise you I wouldn’t subject my readers to a video of me after I just kwaffed my first cup of joe in the a.m. It is not a pretty sight.

There’s now doubt that audio and video content is becoming more and more viable as a way for real estate agent to showcase their listings on over the Internet. Please tell us a little bit about how your company helps agents do that.

I”ve spent quite a few years working on marketing and software tools for the industry, a great deal of that concentrated on listing enhancements like virtual tours etc. I realized before the whole web 2.0 thing came around that syndicating content on the web would allow forward thinking agents to expose listings and communities in a much more proactive way by using things like RSS and Podcasting. When it comes to video, I also realized that it will be a long time before agents will be able to a acquire the skills to produce their own presentations or be able to afford to hire professional videographers to do it for them. We created a way to use an agent’s exisiting collateral material, photos, narrative text, keywords etc, to create a polished video presentation with a professional voice over and professional music score. By converting these slide shows to a video format, we can use advanced syndication tools to distribute them across a huge network of portals and sites within and outside of the traditional realms of content distribution for real estate content. We do it at an extremely affordable rate that opens up the realm of advanced new media marketing to any agent, on any budget. $49 one time set up, $29 per listing or neighborhood tour and that includes a professional narrator and music.

What do you imagine the future holds for multi media opportunities for agents marketing on the Internet.

The industry is finally coming to the realization that their roles as advertisers and marketers now include that of publishers and producers. Publishing content via blogs, syndicated video and audio talk shows, video based community tours, listing presentations, tetstimonials, social networks…you name it, the real estate industry will be a participant one way or another in this new interactive stream of communication both b2c and b2b. It’s executing on a balance between traditional media and new media that will become the most important job description in the brokerage of the immediate future.

Like myself, you are a volunteer for RE Base Camp. I know that you also attend many real estate tech conferences. What can a face to face meeting with other technology focused real estate professionals provide, that can’t be captured on the Internet.

You can’t really tell how much beer someone can handle over the web. Some people seem to be able to drink and type really well. Kidding aside, when it comes to business, nothing replaces the ability to shake a hand and look someone in the eye. Human interaction. Thank God nothing can ever change or replace it. So it goes with the real estate industry, you can not disintermediate the need for humans to connect on emotional levels that can only be done through a physical presence. Besides, you really can’t tell how strikingly handsome I am by looking at my photo 🙂

I listed to your comments on a podcast over at Zebra Talk, and one of your comments paralleled my own opinion that RE.net is not proportionally represented by mortgage professionals. Do you have an opinion as to why the disparity exists, and any idea of how to close the gap?

I think it’s just been the natural progression of the industries, the trade associations etc. The mortgage industry seems to have always lagged when it comes to the more visible of technologies like the web and web marketing. That’s obviously starting to change and every participant in the process is looking for a new way, angle, edge, anything to be able to reach today’s consumer. I’ve always thought that the MBA and NAR should get together in the play yard more often. On local levels I think the trust factor is one element, I’m not in the trenches every day with agents or mortgage brokers, but I speak to people every day that are. It seems to me that developing the right networking relationships based on trust and good service would go a long way, but from what I hear from my friends, there seems to be such a lack of trust, that long lasting and mutually benefcial realtionships are few and far between. On a side note, I did talk to Joel at Inman about this issue and I think they are in agreement that more content regarding the mortgage industry for the upcoming event is in order.

What are some of your favorite blogs?

Does somebody other Greg Swann write a blog? Kidding aside, as far as blogs I read on a regular basis, the usual suspects, Jay, Kris, Jim Duncan, Joel, Chico (the zebra), Kevin, Curbed, Inman, Teresa B., most of the bloggers at Agent Genius. I know I’m leaving some people out, If I did, call me I will be happy to issue a full mikes_link_bait_shop.com refund, I want only satisfied customers.

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

Ask yourself why you’re starting a blog. If the only answers you can think of are

A. Because everybody told me I need one.
B. Search Engines Love Blogs
C. Leads. Leads. Leads.

Don’t bother. Seriously don’t waste the bandwidth, starving Realtors elsewhere will gladly put your wasted bandwidth to good use. If you’re still serious about the effort set up a feed reader and put these blogs in it.

Copyblogger
At Home In Scottsdale
The Harper Team
The Housechick Blog
State of Mind Real Estate

Follow them for a couple of weeks to get an idea of the kind of effort you will need to put into a well done, consumer focused, hyper local, professional business communication and marketing tool. The first blog will help you develop better marketing communication skills. The rest set the tone for the kind of content that will eventually help you garner business from the effort. Ask the authors of any of those blogs and they will tell you, it didn’t happen overnight and the leads don’t just come streaming in, but the business does eventually come and the quality of the leads they do receive are head and shoulders above most any other effort they engage in.

Blogger Spotlight; Loren Nason

Do you ever get the feeling you’re missing out on a really great blog? Probably because it’s true. I first read Loren’s blog months and months ago, but for some reason, I forgot to subscibe to him in my feed reader. It was only during his excellent coverage of the NAR convention last November that I realized my error. If you’re not tuning in to Loren’s Future of Real Estate Technology, trust me, give it a shot.

Hey Loren, why did you create the Future of Real Estate Technology.

I created Future of Real Estate Technology for my customers and also to spread the word to everyone else. Future of Real Estate Technology is run by me, under my company Your Local Tech. I have 2 part time employees that help me with my work. About 50% of my customer base is in the Real Estate Industry. I blog for the real estate industry because of my customers. I would get constant questions of “What’s new” or “what should I do” so I started the blog to publish my thoughts and keep my customers informed. Most of my non real estate customers also read my blog.

Where did I get the name for FoRET? Well, there is another blog with future in the domain name. Joel copied me. LOL!

Most readers of this post will be real estate professionals that are trying to attract home buyers/sellers. You are marketing to the agents themselves. Do you think B2B blogs should be written any different than a consumer blog?

Not Really. No matter who are writing to, you are writing for the benefit of your customer or potential customer. Real Estate Agents are MY customers. I got a call one day from a business broker whose daughter found my blog article about how to export your AOL contacts to Gmail. Many RE agents get similar calls from readers to help them in their real estate transaction. Blog for the benefit of your readers, but it’s ok to throw personal stuff in there that doesn’t matter for the business. I’ve done it. Search ‘Hot Spring’ at my site and you’ll see what I mean. That’s what’s great about blogs, it makes your business personal.

Your a user of Feed Burner. What advice can you give as to why you use this service?

I’ve used Feed Burner since the beginning. I can’t think of any other service to use. As far as I know all big time bloggers use Feed Burner. The main reason I use it is so I can know how many are subscribed. I don’t look at the stats much on feed penetration. The main reason I use it is so those customers who don’t want to use a feed reader still get my posts by email.

What’s the value of RSS/email subscribers, verses people who occasionally visit your blog to read it?

The value to subscribing is that I don’t post just to see myself speak about technology. I post about new products that actually might be useful and not some piece of new shiny crap product. I also write about how to setup new or current technologies. Subscribing gives you the benefit of filtering out the noise from the rest of the tech industry. I am not trying to sell you a product, except for the occasional affiliate link. I am selling my services of technology coaching for those who need a hand in learning to use their technology efficiently or set it up correctly.

From your experience talking to RE agents, what is the top perceived obstacle that keeps agents from adopting technology solutions like blogs?

The biggest obstacle is that most agents think this is hard. If you remove that road block of “I can’t” or “I’m too old” or “this technology stuff is confusing”, then you can grasp technology and use it to make your business grow by making it more efficient.

When you (agents) got into real estate did you understand all the jargon that was involved? Did you understand all the contracts and forms? Of course you didn’t, but you put your mind to it, opened your mind and learned the industry. If you put that same energy into grasping technology you can understand technology. If you say “I can’t” or “it’s too hard” you have already put in the mental road blocks and you won’t learn.

What are some of your favorite blogs?

3oceansrealestate; 4realz; 1000watt; blood hound blog; blown mortgage; flexmls;

future of real estate technology; transparent re; geek estate; gottabemobile; jkontherun; gigaom; techcrunch; john chow; mlpodcast; reagentinct; agent genius;

Blog Fiesta; scobleizer; self made minds; my tech opinion; seths_blog;

douglas karr phoenix real estate guy;

Ok, I’m done with typing. All the blog’s I read are on my blog on my side bar. I like them all. I am addicted to reading blogs. I need more. I only have about 200 subscriptions.

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

Don’t do it halfway. If you going to create a blog use your own domain on your own hosting account. Doing it this way gives you complete control. Also don’t do it because “it’s the next new whiz-bang tool to get customers” yes it does work but it’s not immediate for everyone.

Start your blog for the benefit of the consumer/customer and the results will come with time. Now you can’t just start a blog and hope they come, you still have to promote it. If you follow all the other RE.net bloggers out there you will learn how with ease.

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.