Three Most Important Tools for Bloggers

Joel Burslem over at 1000watt has proclaimed July 9, 2010 as the day that the real estate blog died, and given the thoughtfulness and intelligence of the author, it’s difficult to disagree with his conclusion.  Given how Joel defines “real estate blog”, the conclusions he draws are somewhat difficult to escape:

For every Phoenix Real Estate Guy, there are likely umpteen dozen soulless me-too real estate blogs in any given metro these days. Many are filled with meaningless “market reports,” meandering “community updates” – and most were last updated many moons ago.

These blogs float like drift nets on the web, hoping to snare the clueless web visitor who stumbles in through some long tail Google search.

I, however, don’t necessarily agree with his premise.  In order for something to die, it had to have been alive at some point.  Since I don’t believe that the “real estate blog” as defined above was ever graced with the spark of life, I don’t know that I would mourn its death.

Instead, I would like to recommend some tools that are critical to the aspiring real estate blogger in the hopes that we might change the definition of a ‘real estate blog’ from “soulless me-too” Google-farming wanna-be blogs to an actual blog: a weblog, a series of thoughts.

These are not free tools, unfortunately, but for someone interested in blogging — whether in real estate or hyperlocal or something else — these tools are absolutely essential.

Essential Tool #1:

Essential Tool #2:

Essential Tool #3:

There they are.

Together, they’ll run you about $30.  But there’s no monthly subscription fee.  You pay it, you own a perpetual license (as long as the pages don’t fall apart).

Chances are, you already have #2 — a dictionary of some sort.  And if you’d like, you can always go to any number of online dictionaries.  Stephen King’s book may surprise you if you’re not a fan.  No matter what you might think of his body of work, the man is passionate, driven, obsessed even with the craft of writing.  There is no more inspirational work.

And of course, Elements of Style sets a bar that all modern scribes aspire to… even while falling short constantly.

Blogging Is Writing, Not Content Creation

The point, if I have one at all, is that blogging is writing.  (And for those about to rise up indignant about photoblogs and videoblogs and the like… please read to the end.)  The written word is at the source of blogging as a communication vehicle, as a means of self-expression, and really as a technology platform as well.

The reason why the Jay Thompsons and Kris Bergs of the world have such popular blogs is not, in my view, because they’re such great content creators.  It’s because they’re great writers.  I asked a number of top-flight real estate bloggers at REBC San Francisco just this past week whether they would continue to blog if they were no longer in real estate, or if blogging lead to no business at all.  All of them said they would.

Because they’re passionate about it apart from the ‘business’ of blogging.

Maybe we’re all just frustrated wannabe Hemingways.  I know I am.  But there is something magical to the act of creation, the act of putting words on paper (or on pixel), whether those words add up to talk about great human issues or how to deal with a short sale.  Actually, the two might be related these days….

Mere content creation of the kind described by Joel in his prescient post is not “blogging” in my book, because it isn’t writing.  It isn’t creation.  It’s just… marketing.  Attention-seeking behavior.  Not much different from the inflated gorilla balloons you sometimes see at car dealerships.

Not a blog.

Those kinds of content creation and marketing are probably better off on the various social networks like Facebook or LinkedIn or Twitter.  You don’t much care about power of a properly formed phrase, the structure of a paragraph, or any such thing when you just want to put stuff out there to go, “Hey, look at me!”  You just want an audience.

But if you write to please yourself, rather than an audience, if you write because something in your soul makes you want to put words down, and you want to share those words with the world for whatever unknown reason… then the blog is your modern day printing press.

The same creative urge, the same inner-drive to express something, exists in photoblogs and videoblogs.  As a writer, I will always consider the word to be superior, but that’s only because I’m not good at taking gorgeous photographs or expressing my thoughts on film.  But I know that the same urge to create, to express, to share exists in the real photo/video bloggers as well.

Is that ‘content-creation’?  I suppose that if one wished to argue semantics, all blogging is content creation… in the same way that a McDonald’s cheeseburger and the painstaking work of a Tom Colicchio are both “food”.  But readers, like diners, know the difference.

The real estate blog is not dead.  But it hasn’t ever really been alive either, if by that term one means mass-adoption and effectiveness as a marketing channel.  Because the blog, like most of the creative arts, is the province of the enthusiast, the amateur (in the original sense, meaning lover), and those who do it for the love of doing it.

So let me end on a piece of advice for those considering starting a blog for their real estate business: Don’t.  Use Facebook instead.  Or pithy Twitter messages.  Or Yelp or Foursquare or whatever.  Use postcards.  Use email.  Do cold calls.  All of those take less time and far far far less effort to do than a blog.  Do those.

And then, once you’re doing all those, and you find yourself sitting alone at night, feeling the itch to write something… and that itch doesn’t go away while watching the latest Law & Order rerun… then start a blog.  Start writing.

You will be rewarded in surprising ways.

-rsh

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34 Comments

Join the discussion and state your opinion. Some comments may be held in moderation. I try to get to them as soon as possible, but may be traveling or unable to approve comments immediately. I do not censor comments, but reserve the right to remove anything that looks like spam, trolling, or just outright inappropriate.

  1. Rob Hahn at his best – the real estate blog dead?

  2. If blogging is dead, then long live content creation. Meaningless “market reports,” and meandering “community updates” tend to get indexed by Google and read by consumers looking for a house to buy. Like I told you in person last week, arguing over what is and isn't a blog is like arguing what is and isn't a sports car. Lot's of people say the Ford Mustang is not a sports car. Call it whatever you want, Ford still sold a ton of them. You don't have to be a great writer to leverage a blog for real estate, in fact, quite the opposite.

  3. Semantics to a certain degree … but as I said on Joel's post,

    If you’re pronouncing the real estate blog deceased because so many lazy agents people don’t update their blogs or because they regurgitate uninspired posts, then the format was never born.

    My reaction? Meh. A lot of agents think they need to compete with the content farms – http://www.readwriteweb.com/archives/content_fa

    If that is their chosen path, good luck and god speed. Customers and clients don't want to connect with volume for the sake of volume. The reason that good real estate blogs/sites/homesontheweb are successful is because the reader connects with the author.

    Perfect example – I am working with new clients this week who told me that they chose to work with me because they had been reading and watching my videos for so long that they felt they knew and trusted me. Content for the sake of content will not achieve that.

    My advice has always been – focus on writing about that which are you passionate and knowledgeable. If you're writing to “get business,” don't.

    Your recommendation for a dictionary is welcomed; many new (and experienced bloggers) think that neither spelling nor grammar matter – “it's just a blog” and “the internet is evolving” away from cogent writing and thinking. They're wrong. Hopefully more will recognize that thoughtful writing is a sign of a thoughtful mind as well as a sign of respect for the reader.

  4. Rob,

    I agree with you 100%.

    When it comes from the heart, is REEKS of authenticity.

    And people can FEEL authenticity.

    And people CRAVE authenticity in the digital world full of “wait I need to add more keywords in that first paragraph to create better SEO” crap that defines 90% of what gets posted on blogs these days.

    Continuing your commentary on the Kris Bergs and Jay Thompsons of the world, I don't think people read them because they are great writers…I think people read them because they are GENUINE, AUTHENTIC writers.

    That they are also great writers is just the icing on the cake…

    It all comes down to the motivation for writing the blog: is it PASSION, or is it something else, something less, something not truly from the heart?

    Great post, sir…

    Best,
    Michael

  5. I don't really get it Rob…

    Real estate blogs HAVE been alive. I can point to great real estate blogs that I've consistently read over the past five years that have great content, engage the community, and generate substantial amounts of business (millions and millions in sales).

    Just because there are also crappy ones out there (and we can all find examples of poorly written magazine and books as well…) doesn't mean it hasn't been done well consistently, by a lot of people.

    There are quality blogs out there, and there are junky blogs out there.

    People can be TERRIFIC writers and bloggers without reading the dictionary or Stephen King (who?) books. Those are neither essential for learning how to write, nor for delivering quality content to your audience.

    There are some people who deliver terrific content, but are not polished writers. They still are providing great value to their audience, and they're CRUSHING it, getting results.

    There are others who are polished writers, but just put out run of the mill stuff – not the quality content we all like to consume.

    I know which I'd rather read…
    What makes people “good” bloggers is having a passion for their community/demographic/niche, and sharing lots of information about it, in a way that's easy for their community to access. Video, podcasts, articles, courses – give people what they want.

    People need to start writing, and do it consistently. The more you write, the better you get.

    PS for everyone reading, do not take Rob's advice to skip starting a blog and “use facebook instead” – (respectfully) that's dumb. You don't own your facebook page/profile/friends, but you can own your blog & email list. Spend time building the web property you OWN, not the one you RENT (but use FB to interact with your community). This will pay off in the long term.

  6. Key elements to a successful real estate blog:

    1 – Passion
    2 – Dedication
    3 – Genuine interest
    4 – Ability/Talent
    5 – Humility
    6 – Knowledge and experience in your field that you can and want to convey to an audience.

  7. I agree with Jim.

    Being able to write well is a great skill. Notice it doesn't make the top 6.

    I'd rather someone who has the skills listed above team up with an editor or writer.

  8. You know, of course, I agree. The key is in defining those things that make a writer. Where blogs are concerned, unless you are Copyblogger, the author needn't be a polished writer. I am living proof, having spent the better part of the past four years dangling my participles for all to see.

    A writer is someone who can convey an idea and at the same time capture and hold the attention of the reader. The content has to be thoughtful and relevant, but it also has to be entertaining. One without the other simply won't work. Fail to provide either, and your time would have been better spent driving through the neighborhood with a bull horn and shouting, “I'm Number 1!”

    Admittedly, the entertainment part is a hard cat to skin when you are talking about the latest Case-Shiller numbers or termite inspections, but I suppose that is where the “art” comes in.

    Years ago, at a high school reunion (my 85th, I think), some nice man I did not remember, apparently from my class, showed up with boxes of his “book.” He was giving them away FOR FREE! Who doesn't like free? I took one and as soon as I was settled into my coach seat (I'm a Realtor, after all) for the flight home, I dived in. The problem was that it wasn't a book at all. His self-published masterpiece had a hard cover, a dust jacket, a title, and a whole lot of words, but the similarities stopped there.

    In a forgiving mood, I suffered through about 20 pages of typos and poorly constructed paragraphs before stuffing the “book” in the seat-back compartment as a gift to the next occupant of 17A. The problem wasn't that he hadn't mastered his craft; that there was no story.

    And, that, I believe is the difference between what makes a book versus a bunch of bound pages. It is the difference between what makes a blog versus a bunch of words wrapped in WordPress clothing. Contents and keywords and consistency will get you Google love, but in return, you will attract visitors bouncing faster than a Sunset Boulevard doorman at 3:00 AM.

    Blogging isn't dead any more than engaging is. The problem is the lack of “understanding” I wrote about on my Inman column this week. So eager has everyone become to follow the leader in an attempt to mimic success, too many have skipped the part about understanding why it is that this blog thing got so much attention to begin with.

    And, just in case you missed it, I ended that last paragraph with a preposition.

  9. Why do we go to the book store, or Amazon? We're lookin' for something specific, at least most of the time. Last time I went it was for biz related material. I read fiction, including Stephen King (Geez, Benjamin, Stephen King who?) and other well known authors. There is pure junk sitting next to solid gold in both book stores and Amazon — but books aren't dead, right?

    As far as writing for the love of it, OK, if that's your motivation. It's irrelevant, or nearly so, to the real estate blogger's success. Their 'love' of writing doesn't make their content worth a penny more than if they hated it.

    Jim Duncan (love your stuff, but we disagree big time on this one) says, “If you're writing to “get business,” don't.”

    Surely you jest. Though I don't hate writing, I don't love it either. I loved umpiring college ball. 100% of my motivation to start blogging was for business — period — end of sentence — over and out. It was suggested to me by my marketing consultants. Turns out I like writing, sometimes very much. But love it? Hardly. I write for business, and as soon as it doesn't produce business, I won't be a blogger.

    IMHO, real estate blogs are a success for one reason: The bloggers clearly know what they're writing about. SEO? A joke. Regardless of how much of a crowd Barnes & Noble can create on any given Saturday in any given store, if most of what's on their shelves is junk, they lose. Anyone wanna challenge that? 🙂 Updates? Those, for the most part, are used by agent sites sporting an IDX, duh. More traffic = more users searching for homes = more convertible leads. Again, not exactly E = MC2, right? SEO is a con used by tech types who know most simply don't understand what leads to, well, business.

    Everyone you've mentioned here gets orders of magnitude more traffic than I do. Most 'successful' bloggers do. But we need to keep in mind what the blog owners define as success, and trust me, it ain't traffic, number of leads or comments, or ranking. It's how many trips to the bank deposit window are a direct result of blogging. Kris and Jay make many of those trips.

    All the rest is happy talk. I could go on, but I'm sensing post material here. 🙂 Would love to hear where I'm mistaken about this, as I'm never too proud to learn I'm wrong, and adapt to better ways.

  10. Because I adore accuracy:

    “I asked a number of top-flight real estate bloggers at REBC San Francisco just this past week whether they would continue to blog if they were no longer in real estate, or if blogging lead to no business at all. All of them said they would.”

    I didn't answer that question, though I was on the panel. Allow me to correct that here.

    No. No I wouldn't blog if it didn't lead to business. I'm not a fabulous writer. I'm not trying to build a blog community. I produce on the blog for the express purpose of getting business. I started blogging only because my other website got banned. Period. There's nothing special about me or anything I've done. In fact, the only reason I have any notoriety is because I picked a fancy name and started when there were vastly fewer of us.

    also – i heart bawldguy.

  11. HouseChick, um, Kelley? You make my heart sing.

  12. It's interesting to see the bashing market statistics seem to be taking. I stopped publishing them on my site only because they finally were boring the hell out of me but I had readers who wanted them back immediately.

    This whole debate is much like the debate on pornography – I can't define it but I can tell you when I see it. I can't define a poorly written, Google/SEO inspired post per se but I know when I see them. These posts are one of the main two reasons why my feed reader has shrunk substantially over the past two years.

    On Joel's post there was a discussion about the death of backlinks. I chalk that up to the hyperlocal craze. I'm probably not going to reference some event taking place in a town halfway across the world, thus no backlink.

    Once upon a time, it seemed there were fewer bloggers but far more thought-provoking posts being written. That was back in the day before we were being told how to blog and what to blog and what to write and what not to write and what was right and what was wrong and which font to use and how many times to pound a keyword … essentially before someone decided Starry Night was cool and all, but a Paint-by-Numbers kit would be serve the same purpose for the masses.

    Would I still write the blog if I didn't generate any business? Given the decline in posts even while I'm getting business from the blog, I think the answer's a clear no. I love to write as much as I love the sound of my own voice but the *only* reason I have a real estate blog is because it generates business. Simple as that.

    I'm now off to contemplate Kris and her dangling participles.

  13. Clarification, as I left out a word.

    Solely.

    If you're writing solely to get business, don't. If “getting business” is your only reason for writing, it's going to show. There has to be a passion and understanding and desire to convey information. The business will, as they say, come by virtue of that passion and willingness to share.

    If you're banging out unoriginal “stories” that you've read elsewhere as being the way to “get business” because blogging is the shiny bullet we're all searching for, it will show, and the readers will catch on and pass by.

    I didn't know what SEO was when I started writing, and I still tend to ignore it.

  14. I think some clarification is in order.

    Jay and Kris make trips to the bank, sure, but I honestly believe that if you did a full-on analysis of their marketing ROI, and consider the time spent blogging as part of the investment, blogging for dollars will come out to be among the worst marketing methods in their mix.

    Blogging for business, IMHO, makes sense only if the blogger derives some other satisfaction from the writing such that satisfaction, personal expression, etc. are part of the “R” in the “ROI”. I think of blogging the way some musicians think of playing on the street; if you're doing it to make a living, boy, there sure are easier ways to make a dollar. But if you're doing it for the love of the performance, and people happen to throw a few bucks in your hat, well, that's just bonus then ain't it?

    If all you're interested in doing is 'content creation' in order to drive business somehow… then I daresay that Facebook is looking a LOT better as the channel for doing that. You can write “posts” on Facebook after all, and have it seen by millions, and have it go viral much quicker than a blogpost. Email newsletters also work fine for that sort of marketing, and it takes far less energy (IMHO).

    All business-related activities involve tradeoffs. Should I spend this hour making phone calls, or writing a newsletter? Do I spend time on a blogpost or on a Facebook Note? In that analysis, I do believe that blogging has among the worst ROI's on a time-spent basis. So it isn't “as soon as it doesn't produce business, I won't be a blogger” but “as soon as an alternative generates more business per unit of time/dollars, I won't be a blogger”. And I respect that, I do.

    I just don't want to call that 'blogging' is all. Semantics, I know, but still an important distinction.

    -rsh

  15. Ah, if only the rules of grammar were iron laws of quality… Cormac McCarthy would never have a book contract.

    You're a fantastic writer, Kris, dangling participles and all.

  16. Rob — I meant every word to be taken literally. I have a FB presence that's laughable by anyone's standards. For Heaven's sake my own daughter called me out on it. It now has my picture, after six months of being in existence. 🙂 My participation in LinkedIn is shameful, 100% of which is accepting others' invites. I am limited to blogging for my business because for the last seven years I've been literally unable to do business in my local market. It's produced income I won't divulge here, but easily puts me in the top 2% of the agent population.

    With the lone exception of referrals, blogging has been the sole source of my income for many years. I wonder if you're right, but consider me one of the exceptions to your rule?

  17. Hey Ben –

    I do not think we disagree as much as you think… 🙂

    “What makes people “good” bloggers is having a passion for their community/demographic/niche, and sharing lots of information about it, in a way that's easy for their community to access. Video, podcasts, articles, courses – give people what they want.”

    I'm with you right up to the “easy for their community to access”. If you have a passion, then does it really matter whether you have a “community” or not? I have friends who love music, they play in bands, etc. but have day jobs, and know they're not going to ever hit the road for a 25-city tour. They plink away on their pianos, or strum guitar chords late at night, and sometimes, they do a little show at a local bar or something for no money. Sure, they love having an audience listen to them perform, but that isn't why they perform or practice the guitar, or whatever.

    Writing is a creative activity, like music, like fine cooking, like photography, like art… or dance or whatever. Professionals might have to think hard about audience, but even they got their start because of their passion to create, to produce something, to do it. The audience came later, and the business came later. That's how I view it.

    So on the Facebook issue… why does it matter if you own the page/profile/friends whatever, if the only reason why you do it is to generate business and drive traffic? That's like saying you could rent office space in a highly trafficked mall, and make a lot more money, but you'd rather build a small out-of-the-way cottage because you “own” it. Makes no sense from a business standpoint.

    DOES make sense from a creative standpoint, of course, but that's precisely the debate, no? 🙂

    -rsh

  18. Without knowing the particulars of your business, it'd be impossible to say 🙂

    Let's just say that my strong suspicion is that if you put the kind of energy into your FB Page that you do to your blog, you'll have a higher return on effort. But as you say, there may be exceptions to every “rule”.

    -rsh

  19. I happily yield to your expertise/knowledge when it comes to FB and its potential. You've convinced me I've missed the boat on that one for sure. My wife's business has profited significantly from her FB efforts — and she has no blog, just a company website. But the ROI on blogging, at least in my experience, has been different than you present.

    Thanks in advance for the FB results. 🙂 Understand, I come here cuz I value the content.

  20. Rob, I generate a substantial % of business from my blog too. I get a very good ROI on time and money invested in it.

  21. Yet another Rob classic. I concur most strongly with tool number 1. I'm not a polished writer by any means of the imagination (not even my own), but reading what some people spout off without any concern or respect to the english language is just embarrassing. Writing with passion for the subject matter and engaging with audience with genuine interest is what makes a great blogger.

  22. ROI on money invested is a cinch for me because all I pay for is the shared hosting account. Free WP theme, etc., etc. Having said that, the return while good for me because I write quickly (and I'd like to think well) is such I wouldn't necessarily recommend blogging to someone who's going to need hours to write a short post.

  23. The Elements of Style is a great reference tool, and I've heard good things about Stephen King's book. Another highly regarded classic is William Zinsser's “On Writing Well.”

    http://www.amazon.com/Writing-Well-25th-Anniver

    More print and online resources from the University of Chicago Writing Program:

    http://writing-program.uchicago.edu/resources/g

    No manual will turn you into a Kris Berg — sorry, but some people are just born a little smarter and funnier than the rest of us — but you can always pick up some tips that will make life easier for you..

    Writing comes naturally to some people (especially those who read a lot) but you might be surprised at how much a little additional knowledge and effort can improve your writing.

    Because RE bloggers sometimes get into territory covered by journalists, you might also want to check out some journalism sites, like poynter.org.

    http://www.poynter.org/subject.asp?id=2

    You also need a basic understanding of copyright and fair use issues. Stanford University has a nice site that's dedicated to helping people get a handle on them.

    http://fairuse.stanford.edu/

  24. Thanks Matt for these. (For those who don't know, Matt is one of the editors at Inman, and knows of which he speaks re: the Craft.)

    -rsh

  25. Totally agree Ben. A blog is owned online real estate, Facebook leased. That being said FB is a great place – possibly the best – to learn the craft of online social networking.

  26. The problem with that analogy Rob is that most leased office space have just that, a secure lease. Pay your rent on time and you have a secure location for the period of the lease. In most instances there are clauses that limit what the owner can do if they wish to redevelop. Not so with Facebook. The short history of Facebook is littered with stories of changed rules and Pages being deleted for arbitrary reasons (recall the recent doll nipple incident). That's not to say that agents shouldn't use Facebook. It's a great training ground and a place to build connections, referrals and income. But smart agents know that a blog is an important tool to help agents get found in search and showcase their skills and abilities. And if that means hiring a writer or using other ways to build quality creative content then so be it.

    1. I suppose it depends on the lease, and belaboring an analogy sometimes pushes it past the point of usefulness 🙂

      Let’s instead focus on the core of what you are suggesting:

      But smart agents know that a blog is an important tool to help agents get found in search and showcase their skills and abilities. And if that means hiring a writer or using other ways to build quality creative content then so be it.

      Isn’t this precisely Joel Burslem’s point? That if the reason why you have a “blog” is to get found in search, then the content farms will squash you. It’s just a matter of time. “Showcasing their skills and abilities” sounds fantastic, but in real terms, how that ‘blog’ differs from a standard brochure is somewhat beyond me. And why that showcasing couldn’t happen on other channels — e.g., FaceBook — is something I can’t quite understand.

      Finally, hiring a writer to ghostwrite a blog for you strikes me as the very definition of a content farm, but far more expensive. How “quality” could such content be at the end of the day? What skills and abilities are you showcasing, beyond the skill and ability to write a check to a writer?

      I suppose I still argue that blogging has one of the poorest ROI’s in the arsenal of marketing until you hit some sort of a tipping point. Getting there, I think, is a labor of love more than anything else — just like a musician could play thousands and thousands of hours in the subway without ever getting a recording contract. But once you get one… I suppose that makes it worthwhile. I still consider such longshots as inefficient marketing for everyone who doesn’t love doing it while doing it.

      I do think you have a point, however; perhaps it’s just a matter of actually performing metrics on various activities and seeing where blogging falls in the mix.

      -rsh

  27. Totally agree Ben. A blog is owned online real estate, Facebook leased. That being said FB is a great place – possibly the best – to learn the craft of online social networking.

  28. The problem with that analogy Rob is that most leased office space have just that, a secure lease. Pay your rent on time and you have a secure location for the period of the lease. In most instances there are clauses that limit what the owner can do if they wish to redevelop. Not so with Facebook. The short history of Facebook is littered with stories of changed rules and Pages being deleted for arbitrary reasons (recall the recent doll nipple incident). That's not to say that agents shouldn't use Facebook. It's a great training ground and a place to build connections, referrals and income. But smart agents know that a blog is an important tool to help agents get found in search and showcase their skills and abilities. And if that means hiring a writer or using other ways to build quality creative content then so be it.

  29. ROB,
    I never considered writing for business or anything else ever. Last fall someone suggested I throw out a little commercial real estate attitude and poof,I'm a blogger. No strategy,style,structure,or plan followed. Do I care if it creates dollars? Hell no! Do I care if it builds my brand? Hell No! Do I care if no one reads anything I put out there? Hell no! Do I want to have passion ,attitude,nasty, funk, and piss some people off….only if I'm lucky. Sitting here in my little nightgown and slippers typing away…is reward enough!!!

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