Awesome New Tool for Agents… Gotta Love Free Stuff

Agent Resource Center

Wanted to share a resource with you guys that I’m pretty excited about…

It’s called the U.S. Inspect “Agent Resource Center“, and it’s basically an online resource that provides free content for real estate professionals. There are print, web, and video resources that can all be used freely in on & offline materials. Some can even be white labeled as if they were being provided directly by you. It’s a pretty incredible tool…

As most of you know, content can be very hard to come by unless you are prepared to make a significant investment in your time to create it. As bloggers on Active Rain, you know this all too well… it can be very challenging to continually come up with great content. But, in this competitive space, that is what is required in order to be a successful blogger/agent.

Customers are looking for valuable information about the buying & selling process. One of the most important topics for your customers is information about the home. What better peoeple to provide this kind of information than the experts: home inspectors.

U.S. Inspect is providing this tool completely free of charge to agents and real estate professionals, and I’m continually impressed with the quality of the content. So as you are looking for content or material for flyers, handouts, blogs, websites, email newsletters, etc… keep this tool in mind.

Here are a few examples of the kind of content you can get from the ARC (Agent Resource Center):

 

Print Based Content

All of the print based resources are offered in a Word document, pdf & txt versions.

  • The Word documents can be editing easily to add your own logo and content information.
  • The pdf versions are ready to print! Just download and start printing or emailing to customers.
  • The text versions are meant to be used on websites or emails to customers. All of the formatting is stripped out so you can manipulate the meat of the content as you see fit.

Example Print Content

U.S. Inspect has created a create video tutorial on how to add your logo and contact information to these print resources:

 

Web Based Content

U.S. Inspect has always provided great web based content for agents, but has just recently provided it in a great format for easy use. All of the blog posts, articles and informational pages can be copied and used freely under a creative commons license. There are also a number of embeddable widgets and tools that can be used.

Here are a couple of examples of web resources you can use:

Helpful Hint: When you see this at the bottom of a page, on the U.S. Inspect website, you can freely copy and paste the article into your website:

   

Video Content

U.S. Inspect has created some great videos on components of the home and maintenance related topics. These are perfect for website content pages. Videos can be found here. See below for an example video:

  

 

As far as I’m concerned, this is an unprecedented tool being provided completely free of charge by U.S. Inspect!!

Here is a quote from a blog post they just published today announcing the release:


“We’ve taken our inspector’s collective knowledge about the home and applied it to printable flyers, short videos and web content. All the content has been developed with average homeowners in mind as the audience, rather than hard core do-it-yourselfers. Directly from the site, real estate professionals can add their logo or brand to flyers and easily copy videos and Web tools to their website or blog, making the information available to their own clients. It’s all free, no sign up needed!”

Feel free to browse the library for educational or marketing ideas at any time at:

www.usinspect.com/ARC

 

 

Full Disclosure: U.S. Inspect is a client of AffinityXM where I am the VP of Online Services

Bing & Facebook Integration… Social SERPS Are Here!

Just noticed this… it may be old news but I found it to be pretty interesting.

Bing looks to be heavily integrating Facebook’s API’s into it’s search results. I haven’t done a search on Bing for a few weeks, but I immediately noticed that I was logged into Bing via Facebook (I was already logged into Facebook).

I can now see pages that other friends of mine liked in the serps. This is probably one of the coolest integrations of Facebook Connect I’ve seen thus far and it hits the nail on the head in terms of achieving Mark Zuckerberg’s vision for what he wanted FB Connect to be able to do.

We are quickly approaching the full integration of the social graph into our search engine results and daily routines. The promise is for more relavent, targeted, and personalized search engine results.

It is absolutely imperative that everyone interested in capitalizing on search engine traffic takes a close looks at their social strategy… not just the standard content/links SEO game.

It’s a new day. Are you ready?

For more info on this Bing integration stuff, Click

My Personal Experience with Getting Real Estate Listings Indexed By Google

Just wanted to share a recent experience I had creating a RE website. Granted, I don’t have a huge amount of experience building or designing websites, but I was up for the challenge and wanted to get my hands dirty with some of the new technologies available with RSS, IDX, social media, etc…

Luckily the client is a close friend so he was very patient with me…  He’s my dad!  He hired me on a limited basis to redesign his old Advanced Access website that he had for over 10 years.

WordPress was the obvious choice as a platform since it’s so search engine friendly, but is also very flexible in terms of design and features.  I also jumped right on with Diverse Solutions as they have a really slick IDX system that allows the creation of RSS feeds based on a custom property search criteria.

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The design and set up went smoothly enough…  I used my favorite hosting company:  BlueHost to switch the domain over and got to work installing WordPress.  I chose a real estate specific theme called irealestate, that at the time was one of the first real estate WordPress themes ever created to my knowledge.  It has a really cool blue tabber on the right that can feed recent posts from any category you choose.

Without boring you with the details, we got the site up and running without too much trouble… but there was one thing that was really bothering me.  How do we showcase listings on the website without using a lame, cumbersome, framed in version of the IDX search?  It’s slow, confusing, and just looks crappy framed into the site.  You can see an example of what I mean here.

Not only that… from experience, I know that those iframes are very UN-friendly to search engine crawling and might as well be a blank page in the eyes of the search engines.

So immediately, one of my #1 goals became:  how do I fix this???  How can I get listings to show up as static pages of the website that can be crawled and found by the search engines?

As I was digging around and researching this problem, I stumbled upon a feature of the irealestate theme I had purchased that had a page template that allowed you to feed listings into into it through RSS.  Bingo!!  I thought I had found the perfect solution!.  You can see an example on this OC Foreclosures page.

The only thing that bothered me was that it just lined up all the listings on the page.  I had seen something like this before on Jay Thompson’s website under the Phoenix Listing Feed section.  It is really cool, but I recognized immediately that this wouldn’t solve my search engine problem.  Yeah, the search engine might crawl this page and find some of the listing data, but it was on a single page, and it would constantly change because of the data feed it was pulling from.  Not exactly the great solution I originally thought it was.

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So I kept looking…  I knew exactly what I wanted, but didn’t know how to make it happen.  My dream was to have a feature that allowed individual listings to automatically create a single blog post as they came into the feed under whatever criteria I chose.  So, if I wanted to have a category of listings in a certain zip code with a certain price range, I could set it up so every time a listing came up, a new blog post was created with WordPress.  This would ensure that each listing got it’s own unique URL on my site and would be able to be crawled and found by the search engines.

Alas, I began to start thinking that this was probably just impossible…

Around the same time I was looking for a solution to this problem, a friend of mine over at the Real Estate Tomato (Jason Benesch) announced the soft launch of a tool he called Listing Press.  It was almost exactly what I was looking for (and I highly recommend it if you want a plugin solution).

But being the DIY’r that I am, I had to find another way to make this happen and make it have the flexibility I wanted it to.  The the search continued…

Low and behold, after searching for many many hours, I found just the thing.  A combination of plugins and tweeks that would do exactly what I wanted.  I turned it on at about 2am one night after working for about 6 hours on it, crossed my fingers, and went to bed….  The goal was to set it up so the listings would populate as blog posts automatically without me having to do anything and I knew that by the time I woke up I would know whether I had accomplished this goal.

I rolled out of bed at about 8am to check the computer, and to my utter amazement, 95 new blog posts had been created over night!!!!!  Each one of them was a new listing pulled down from my Foreclosure feed that I had created with Diverse Solutions.  Amazing!!!

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Sorry, I know this post is getting long, but I almost feel like I need to journal it because what happened in the weeks to follow was incredible…

Because of some other work obligations and a vacation, I wasn’t able to really work on the site for about 2 weeks.  I did set up some new feeds…  I was really interested in the foreclosures because I knew that the REO market was really hot in Orange County and wanted to capitalize on that.  I created 5 categories on the blog, each one targeting a different price range of foreclosures.  I also found a really cool tool on Diverse Solutions that allowed me to find properties with price reductions… that was pretty cool too so I created a new page for that as well.

After a couple weeks, we had over 1,000 blog posts on the site as listings and noticed that many of them were even ranking when you did a search for the address, or even the street name.  I found that they even outranked sites like Zillow and Trulia for the same listings… and most of the listings were so fresh that most of the sites that publish listings hadn’t even found them yet.

But where was the traffic??!!  I was starting to get frustrated that my dad wasn’t getting any calls or emails.  Why wasn’t it working?

Then I got the call that changed everything…

My dad called me early on a Monday morning saying that he just got a call from very angry Orange County resident saying that he was so tired of his phone ringing off the hook for people wanting more information on real estate listings.  Bingo!

Stupid me!!!!  I had placed the wrong phone number on the IDX feed!  LOL!!!!  There were hundreds of listings being indexed by Google with this poor guys phone number on them.  I immediately deleted all of the posts and started from scratch.  But the good thing was, I knew it was only a matter of weeks before we started seeing some real leads and traffic.

It didn’t even take 3 days…  My dad called me on Thursday telling me he had 4 calls that day for people wanting more information on “listings they had seen on Google” and it looked like at least 2 of them were going to use him to represent them as a buyer’s agent.  Pretty amazing.  We had done it, and the scary thing was that we hadn’t even scratched the surface yet.

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That was a couple weeks ago.  Since then, the phone is still ringing off the hook, the listings are still getting posted automatically, and the traffic for the site is around 200 visitors per day when it was previously about 25 per day.  Over 90% of the traffic is coming from search engines and I’m just amazed at the potential.

Some possible opportunities and deals have opened up, and I’m weighing my options on what I should do with this technology.

I wanted to get some feedback from you, my readers on what you thought about this whole thing.  Even though I’m a nerd, I’m not as smart as I look.  I feel like I’ve got a tiger by the tail and am not totally sure what to do with it.

You’ll notice that I didn’t get into alot of detail on how I did it, and that is for a few reasons:

First, I’m not completely sure what I should do with this information.  Should I share it with the world, or keep it under my hat?

Second, I don’t want everyone and their mother flooding the Google index with listings.  A wise man once told me that if I have something good going, why try to publish it to the world and risk running into unforeseen problems (that man was actually Jonathan Washburn who gave me personal advice on another business I had in late 2006)

Third, I’ll be honest… I’m selfish.  I’m not sure I want to release it on a broad scale because there might be some business models I can create out of it.

So, I defer to you the my readers.  What do you think I should do with it?  I’m trying to be as transparent as possible here.

Here are a few of my ideas… you let me know if I’m crazy or not…

  • Keep it secret and just make my dad a ton of money.
  • Release it to a few key brokerages around the country that could benifit from it as a source for leads.
  • Create a business that designs basic WordPress sites, or takes existing WP sites and add this functionality.
  • Hire a developer to create a WordPress theme that has this functionality built in.
  • Create a bunch of sites around the country and use them to farm leads and create a referral network.
  • Lastly (and this is my favorite and the one I’m leaning towards)…  create a large video series on how to do it and release it for a small fee.  There are a ton of features and possibilities that I didn’t even go over in this post.  Like how to exclude listings from showing up in your main blog, how to syndicate this feed to Twitter and Facebook, how to create a custom email subscription box for a certain search criteria, how to create a feed based on any search criteria you choose… the possibilities are endless and I think I could create about 5-6 hours of video that would explain how to do everything…

What do you guys think?  Am I crazy?  Shoud I try one of the above ideas or just keep it under my hat???

Thanks for listening to my ramblings this morning….

Local SEO Tips: Address Citations Can Improve Search Engine Ranking

Local SEO

A quick post tonight for the small business out there interested in how they can rank well for local searches…

There has been alot of data out lately (and I have confirmed this in my personal tests) that seems to show a huge shift in ranking factors for local search queries.  My personal opinion is that this has been a gradual change over the last year.

What is the primary shift???  Citations

What is a citation in the context of Local SEO?  A citation is an occurrence of a business address on a website… typically an IYP site (Internet Yellow Page websites).  There is alot of evidence to show that these occurrences can improve ranking significantly in the local search results area on search engines like Google.  Here is some more evidence

Here are a few places where you can submit your business address to help improve your local search engine ranking:

Hope this helps.  Local SEO is really hot right now, and it’s never been easier to get really good ranking in local search.

3 Simple Steps for Geo Targeting Your Web Page

There are alot of these types of tips online, but I’ve found that many of them are outdated or just plain don’t work.  These 3 steps are proven tactics that I’ve used to help small businesses rank better for local search terms.

Before you dive in, remember that a site that targets local customers can be a huge advantage.  When you use your physical address freely on your website, it allows the search engines to help you place more emphasis on the searchers in your local area.

If you have multiple addresses, I highly recommend that you create a unique page for each of those addresses, and make it a quality landing page for customers coming directly to that page.  You also want to make sure you reference these specific pages when submitting a local business listing to search engines.

As always, let me know if you have any questions, and feel free to share and link to this post!  ;-)

1. Put Your Address in HCard Format (micro formats)

If you aren’t familiar with this, click here first.  It does require a bit of mucking around in the html, but you can simply use the code below as a guideline.  Just copy and paste it into your site and replace the location details.  This will basically allow the search engines to parse your address when they crawl the page you place it on and correspond it with your local listing (assuming you have one).  If you don’t, hang your head in shame, and then follow this link to get added.

<div class="vcard">
  <a class="fn org url" href="http://www.commerce.net/">CommerceNet</a>
  <div class="adr">
    <span class="type">Work</span>:
    <div class="street-address">169 University Avenue</div>
    <span class="locality">Palo Alto</span>,  
    <abbr class="region" title="California">CA</abbr>  
    <span class="postal-code">94301</span>
    <div class="country-name">USA</div>
  </div>
  <div class="tel">
   <span class="type">Work</span> +1-650-289-4040
  </div>
  <div class="tel">
    <span class="type">Fax</span> +1-650-289-4041
  </div>
  <div>Email: 
   <span class="email">info@commerce.net</span>
  </div>
</div>

2.  Put Your Address Info in the Meta Section

This is another piece of code that you can simply copy and paste and fill in the proper information.  It needs to be placed in the head section of the code for the page you want it on (normally the home page if your business only has one address).  I usually place my right below the title tag.  If you need help knowing what to place in the ICBM section, try this link.

    <meta name="country" content="USA, United States, United States Of America, America">
    <meta name="ICBM" content="39.7114, -104.8192">
    <meta name="geography" content="14501 E Alameda Ave Ste 1, Aurora, CO, 80012">
    <meta name="DC.title" content="Aurora Counseling Center">
    <meta name="zipcode" content="80012">
    <meta name="description" content="Aurora Counseling Center at 14501 E Alameda Ave Ste 1, Aurora, CO  80012">
    <meta name="state" content="CO">
    <meta name="keywords" content="Aurora Counseling Center, reviews, ratings, recommendations, best, worst, map, directions, hours, Community &amp; Social Services, Counseling, denver, Directory &amp; Services, social services">
    <meta name="city" content="Aurora">
    <meta name="postalcode" content="80012">
    <meta name="address" content="14501 E Alameda Ave Ste 1, Aurora, CO, 80012">

3.  Submit Your Address & Business Listing To IYP’s

IYP stands for Internet Yellow Pages.  These sites are great to submit to when you want to build up some basic links, but more importantly, they will help solidify a strong listing on the sites that really matter like Google and Yahoo Local.  When Google Bot sees a large recurrence of the same address and lots of references to the web page associated with that physical address, it can really help to boost local rankings.  If you’ve never submitted your business listing to an IYP before, start with Google & Yahoo, then move on to InfoUSA (they help populate over 25 websites).  TIP: keep all of your listings very consistent, and if you have more than one address, make sure to link to the specific page on your website that references that address.

Guest Blogging to Gain Traffic And Links

So I’m right in the middle of a link building campaign for a large site, and one of the tactics is guest blog articles.  If you’re not familiar with this, it’s a great way to build traffic and links, and all you have to do is create some quality content and be willing to give it away…

So here are a few basic tips.  This is not meant to be comprehensive, but will at least get you started:

Here is how to do it:

  1. You choose a blog you want your article to appear on.  (be picky)
  2. You approach the author of the blog to make sure they accept guest articles (most of the good bloggers do)
  3. View past articles that have been published on the blog to get a good sense of the topic and quality
  4. Write your post (make it truly valuable and unique otherwise you’ll be wasting your time)
  5. Submit the article to the blog.
  6. Get rich and famous  (some results may vary)

Best Practices:

  • Do your research (know what the other blogger likes and doesn’t like)
  • Make it relevant and valuable to the other blog’s audience.  Don’t write about what your audience is interested in… write something valuable for the other blog’s readers.
  • Make it clear up front to the blogger that you want a resource box at the bottom of the article.  (this is where you add your link!)
  • Once it’s published, promote the heck out of it.  The other blogger will appreciate this, and you’ll reap most of the benefit.
  • Explore your opportunities to become a regular contributor.

What’s the Point?:

  • Free links from blogs of your choice.  (if you don’t count the time investment)
  • Expand your reach to target other blog readers
  • Traffic from popular blogs.
  • Extra brand awareness.
  • Subscribers.  The saavy blog reader will recognize that you wrote the article and visit your blog to subscribe.
  • A new relationship with a blogger that loves you for taking the time to add quality content to their site.