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….

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.

4 Do It Yourself Local Search Marketing Tips

I’ve been finding alot of uses for SEO lately in the local business arena.  So many small business owners are trying to supplement their marketing efforts by moving online, and many of these owners understand that online search is ‘where it’s at’.

So, because I’m a nice guy  ;-)    I want to reveal a few of the tactics I use to help small businesses succeed in local search:

Getting Started:

First, you’ll want to have a website of course.  Most small businesses already have this covered, and hopefully the site is at least somewhat search engine friendly.  There is alot that goes into this, but generally, if your site is text based, easy to navigate, and has helpful content, you are probably ok.

Next, you need to get it into your head that your website is more than an online business card.  It can work as a marketing tool too.  But this means that you have to commit to developing it (which I’ll touch on in a minute).  If you’re willing to spend the time writing, marketing the site, and networking online, you’ll stand a good chance of turning your local website into a successful business generator.

4 Local Search Marketing Tips For a Local Business Website

1)  Create More Content:

This is a really common tip in the internet marketing industry, but most local business owners don’t realize that they need to spend time writing and developing more valuable content on their sites.  Try to write a few new pages per month for the site.  Having trouble coming up with ideas?  Here are a few:

Martial Arts Studio: Publish up to date class schedules.  Take video of some talented students for the site.

Accountant: Articles on new tax code and how it will effect local tax payers.

Real Estate Agent: Publish up to date market reports on local housing market activity.

Plumber: Post helpful home plumbing tips, or seasonal information about maintaining your home.

Dentist: Publish coupons for certain services and write about proper care of teeth.

Local Marketing Consultant: Publish cases studies on previous successes you’ve had with other clients.

Hardware Store: Post on new inventory, or a new tool or equipment line you carry.

Hair Salon:  Post pictures of recent customers that had styling done.

Those are just a few… hopefully you get the point.  You need to have valuable content on the site in order for local visitors to even consider visiting.  It can also work as a great marketing hook and help you drive more search engine traffic based on all of the new content you are writing about.

2)  Reach Out To a Local Audience:

Surprisingly, this is rarely practiced among most business owners.  In order to be effective locally, you have to connect with a local audience.  This is just as important offline as it is online.  Local networking groups, clubs, chamber of commerce, recreational groups, etc.  All can be effective in getting your name out there.  Online is just as important depending on the size of your target market.  If you live in a location with less than 20,000 people, it may be difficult to find online communities to participate in.  But most of the time, there is alot of opportunity right under your nose in the local online scene…

  • Find local blogs and participate by commenting or writing guest articles.  Try to reach out to the author of the blog for networking or linking opportunities.  (this is where having useful quality content on your website would come in handy)
  • Find local message boards.  Usually the more popular ones will be on a local newspaper website, or a large national community site like Topix or Yelp.  Participate where available and don’t forget to place your website in the signature of your posts.
  • Give something away for free to other local business owners to earn their trust.  Even if you’re not targeting them directly as a customer, chances are they have a significant amount of influence and have their own client bases.  If you can build a solid relationship, they will probably recommend you to others.
  • Reach out locally with sites such as Facebook, Twitter, Flickr, and any social site that allows you to group together with local people.

3) Get Included in Local Directories

Very few people use the text version of the Yellow Pages anymore.  That market share has been snatched up by search engines, and other sites called IYP’s (Internet Yellow Pages).  These IYP’s are important to be listed on because a large number of people use them to find local business.  And when someone is looking for a local business they are usually in the mood to buy something…

You can start with the major sites like Google Local & Yahoo Local, but you’ll want to move on to some of the others such as:

YellowPages.com

Yellowbook.com

Superpages.com

WhitePages.com

CitySearch.com

There are a host of others, but ths will get you started.  If you’re interested in a service that will create all of these listings for you, try Universal Business Listing.  They will submit to about 40 sites for only $30.

4) Market the Website to Current Customers

The often overlooked audience of potential web marketing is your current customer base. They already know you and your business to some extent.  They trust you, and they are one of your largest sources of new business.

  • Do any of your customers have websites?  If so you should be exchanging links with them and talking about how you can help each other market.
  • Hand out some small cards with your website address, or social networking contact information.
  • Start an email marketing list that continuously offers coupons, special services and reminders.
  • Place your website and calls to action to your website on every piece of marketing material you have.
  • Provide exclusive web content.  Tell people that you have special online only coupons, or some other valuable information that they can only get online.

I hope these tips were helpful.  Keep a look out for a special small business marketing DIY checklist I’ll be publishing soon…

Podcast Interview: Lorelle VanFossen – WordPress & Blogging Expert

Click Here to Listen to this Podcast:

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I had the great pleasure of being able to interview Lorelle VanFossen yesterday afternoon.  For those of you that are not aware of her work, you can head on over to Lorelle on WordPress.  She is considered to be one of the top blogging and WordPress experts in the world and can be regularly seen keynoting at large blogger conferences such as WordCamp, and SOBcon.

The podcast is quite long for an interview, so I won’t be able to transcribe the entire thing, but I will hit a few of the key points here.

  • 0:58 – Lorelle launched one of the first websites in ’94 – Taking Your Camera On The Road
  • 2:10 – Lorelle as one of the early adopters of WordPress just after the 1.2 release.
  • 4:45 – Development of early coding, plugins, and early testing.
  • 5:10 – WordPress 1.5 and the launch of modular themes making design incredibly easy.
  • 5:50 – Alpha testing WordPress.com based on the WordPress MU.
  • 6:31 – Creating a blog network using the MU (New York Times, REI, and many other companies currently using WordPress MU)
  • 7:52 – “blogs are not to be replaced by Facebook or Myspace, they are your online business card and resume.  They speak very loudly for who you are, what  you do, and what you’re offering to the world whether it’s your opinion, your product, or your service.”
  • 8:40 – Discussing the number of websites that run WordPress, and the difficulty measuring downloads versus installations.
  • 12:50 – Plug for the WordPress Sandbox Theme as a structurally sound theme that acts as a blank canvas.
  • 13:35 – “micro-formats are very critical to the future of the semantic web”
  • 15:43 – Lorelle’s prediction for 2009: “Alot of development in comment WordPress plugins”
  • 16:25 – “The Captcha is dead – if you have a captcha comment system on your site, kill it.  People are seeing it, and not commenting”.
  • 17:25 – Video commenting, image uploads, more integration with microblogging; Twitter, etc.
  • 18:05 – Biggest prediction for 2009: consolidate online administration, monitoring, and management of online tools.  Better monitoring, and tracking.
  • 19:02 – New social networking platform theme: BuddyPress
  • 20:38 – Tips for new bloggers:

“You can’t get anywhere without a plan; my tip is multi-fold…”

  1. Write down all the words that describe what you want to write about (what you want to write about, what you want people to search for, etc.)  25-50 words
  2. Narrow the list down to 5-10 words.  These should ultimately describe what you are going to write about, and will become your categories
  3. Write a minimum of 5 blog post titles for each of the 5-10 categories (these are poswts that you could write immediately.  You have the concept, the material, the ideas, in your head already)
  4. “As you’re working through your list, you will naturally gravitate towards the things that are inherently important to you, and not just the things ‘I think I should be doing’.  If you find yourself struggling to find just 5 articles per category, then don’t blog about it.”

This is just a sample of some of the great tips Lorelle has to offer from her book: Blogging Tips – What bloggers won’t tel you about blogging.  Make sure to check it out!

Thank you again Lorelle for your time.  I am genuinely thankful for the time you gave for the interview.

Make sure to check out Lorelle on these sites as well:

** Lorelle On WordPress

** Camera On The Road

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