Categories
Blogging Competition Internet marketing Marketing Media Montana Positioning Real Estate Social Media Technology Web 2.0

Why don’t real estate agents take their websites seriously?

I’m working on an article for the Flathead Beacon (the local paper where my business column runs) about small business websites.

The article is actually the first a series that I’m doing, looking at niches one at a time. The first niche I’m covering is real estate agent / real estate broker websites in the local area.

Night Shot
photo credit: VisitMyLuxuryHome.com

I get the idea that a lot of these businesses really don’t take their website seriously. Given that we live in a resort area outside of Glacier National Park, you can’t just assume that because the locals don’t care (a mistaken assumption, I think) that your site doesn’t matter.

I looked 15-20 different real estate websites.

What I found

  • There are a few real estate service bureaus that tend to create most of the sites (yes, there are exceptions). You can tell because the sites of several real estate companies that compete with one another are being serviced by the same out of town web service. The layouts are the same except for color and a few graphics. The site structure is identical across several competitors. Where is the competitive advantage from using a template website that 12 other Realtors are using?
  • Most of the sites did not have curb appeal, something I would expect any real estate business to understand.
  • A few sites were exceptions, and the best looking sites were built by local web companies (how cool is that?)

All of these sites had a few critical things missing:

  • Almost no testimonials, and with one exception, the ones that did exist were weak, or years old (if they were dated). One notable exception that was fairly well done – Matthew Hohnberger’s – but even his testimonials could be improved (not the text, other things).
  • A lot of me, me, me – and not much focus on the prospective client.
  • No blog (one exception that didn’t motivate the reader to return, with no posts in almost 3 weeks)
  • No frequently asked questions. Help me buy. Help me sell. Establish your expertise before I make the call.
  • Almost no video. What video there was – came from their national organization. Homogenized corporate content that isn’t specific to Northwest Montana or even to your agency. If you’re an agent here in Montana, do you think I can drop an expert agent from Miami or Dallas here and have them know what to talk about? No. Any video is better than no video, but you need video of YOUR staff, talking about issues in THIS area.
  • No audio.
  • Very few photos – a few have photos but are monopolized by large unbroken paragraphs. Of the photos that were there, almost all were property or mountain view scenic shots. Only a few included a quality photo of the real estate agents. One included a photo of the sign on their building. Why is that interesting to someone looking to move to the Flathead, or buy/sell a home here?
  • No statement of specialties. “I specialize in finding homes for people with a heartbeat.” is not a specialty. I found a few that specialize in waterfront properties or property in certain areas, but none of them stepped out and said “This territory is mine and you are making a mistake if you work with someone else in my area of expertise.”
  • No commercial website for commercial buyers and sellers, vs. the residential site – other than the funnel site provided by the national organization. Commercial clients have different needs. Who is going to address them?
  • No city specific sites. Kalispell is not the same as Bigfork (or Whitefish, or Columbia Falls or Somers). The buyers and sellers are different, with different budgets and different needs. Why would they have the same site?
  • Very little establishment of personality on the part of the business, or the people working there.
  • No use of Web 2.0 / social media technologies. It isn’t just a buzzword.

Apple iPhone vs BlackBerry Curve 8300: Size Comparison
photo credit: Dan_H

The biggest reason for all of the above is the dependence on using whatever the national real estate company provides as a fill-in-the-blanks website. I found little or no investment in localized content or regional information except from the agencies that are not affiliated with national firms – and even those were missing most of the items above.

The problem with using the stuff that the national companies offer (much less with not using the items on the list above) is that the successful, smart agent can’t stand out from a crowd of starving, Tercel-driving agents who are working other jobs and selling only on the weekend. You don’t want me choosing a real estate agent out of a phone book. You want me to know, long before I sell a house, who I insist upon using and why.

If you are that agent selling only on the weekend, trying to make a name for yourself is the reason you should be doing these things.

Bridle - 660 E. Bridle Way, Gilbert AZ
photo credit: VisitMyLuxuryHome.com

I know, if you are currently doing well in the real estate business (and the smart ones do well regardless of the market), you have to be asking: Why is this important?

It’s important because you are leaving money on the table. You are not speaking to the younger crowd, nor to the web-savvy crowd who lives here (or elsewhere).

Right now, the field is wide open for the person or business that steps up. Even if you are making a good living in real estate, the websites I found are leaving money on the table.

It’s important because people who choose a real estate agent should be – if you do things right – choosing an agent for life. How many sales is that for you? How many sales is that for referred friends?

It’s not about the technology, it’s about the clients.

If you aren’t in the real estate business – you should be looking at your site through a very similar lens. Don’t discard the conversation just because you aren’t a Realtor.

Categories
Competition Corporate America Entrepreneurs Management Restaurants Retail Small Business Social Media Starbucks Strategy

MyStarbucksIdea.com – A gift to every independent coffee shop and cafe owner

Regular readers of this blog have probably figured out that I’m not all that impressed with Starbucks, especially when compared to local coffee shops that get it (much less the ones that don’t burn their beans). This time, I actually have a kind word for the corporate coffee monolith.

Cup of coffee [ without edition ] photo credit: Al- Fassam [ Online! 😀 ]

The news has been full of talking heads twittering and blogging about the new Starbucks website that encourages their customers to provide ideas, feedback etc.

It’s called MyStarbucksIdea.com, and is run on SalesForce.com‘s CRM/sales platform.

If you Google around, you’ll find all sorts of bile about the stupidity of this decision, how it’s “stale”, or it’s a ploy, and so on.

While I think Starbucks has done a lot of dumb things, I think it’s one of the few smart things the coffee giant has done lately.

Encouraging your customers to provide you with ideas on how you can improve your business – anonymously (rather important).

Not only does Starbucks get some value from it by virtue of not being so close to their business that they can’t see the forest for the trees, but it great for their customers as well.

Why? Because the non-jaded among us get to feel some ownership of Starbucks via their ideas and suggestions.

You can do the very same thing tomorrow via a WordPress (or whatever) blog. For almost nothing, almost instantly. In an hour, I can have a new domain name, web hosting, a copy of WordPress with a nice looking theme in production.

What are you waiting for? Or don’t you have an hour today? Why is that?

I promised you a tip, didn’t I?

If you own a retail store, a coffee shop, a cafe, a donut shop/bakery, or any business that is even similar to Starbucks – shouldn’t you be monitoring the Starbucks idea list for ideas to implement in your shop? Likewise, shouldn’t you be watching the feedback that people give to the MyStarbucksIdeas that others suggest?

There’s just nothing like getting a free gift basket of low-hanging fruit from your biggest competitor:)

Other posts on this topic:

Starbucks “Gets” Social Marketing
Starbucks feedback is good idea
Starbucks picking up buzz from crowdsourcing
Starbucks is on the right idea

Categories
Advertising Automation Blogging Competition Customer service ECommerce Internet marketing Social Media Technology Twitter Web 2.0

Twitter for business: Does it make sense, or is it just another time vampire?

Eyes front... photo credit: law_keven

Let’s look at it for a bit.

People are more and more wary of giving out their email address. Many are not clued in to RSS (and don’t want to deal with readers, etc). They want up-to-the-minute info, and email in many cases just isn’t fast enough or dependable enough.

They might be driving, or unable to check that particular personal email address, or they’re in a store, or on the golf course.

Yet they want the info you have, and they want that info to be fresh.

Sure, you might have to sell them on the value of taking the time to create a Twitter account, but the value is the info they want and how fast they want it.

Remember, Twitter messages (“tweets”) can go to SMS-capable cell phones. They also can be read by Smartphone apps like TinyTwitter and by mobile phone RSS readers.

Let’s look at how you might actually make money with what appears to be a colossal time waster at first glance.

What do people want to know about right now? Depends.

  • If you are in the real estate business – In an area where people are in a hurry, or where there is competition for certain types of housing (cheaper homes, or homes with immediate move-in, you know what the niches are).
  • In the mortgage business – clients want to know when an approval has come in, you want to know when other events occur.
  • In retail or service businesses- what about special orders? Special sales? Special hours?
  • Customer service, regardless of your business.

Think about the New York city apartment market. While I’ve never tried to find an apartment there, I hear it takes some serious work.

Wouldn’t it be nice if apartment rental web sites and property managers had a Twitter to monitor? They could have one for each type of apartment, or each part of the city, and combinations of both. IE: Uptown, SOHO, Eastside and then Eastside2Bedroom, SOHO1bedroom, etc.

If you’re a Realtor who specializes in investment property, you could tweet your properties to a private Twitter feed that only your investment clients have access to. Sure, you could email them, but will it be delivered? A stockbroker could do the same.

Information marketers and similar content providers can use Twitter as a replacement for Aweber. Sure, you should be able to convey the value of joining your list for what you will deliver, but a less threatening (is email threatening??) option would be to send the same updates out via a Twitter feed.

Any automated notification that could go to SMS text messaging (which requires that the sender know your phone number) could just as easily go to Twitter (which reveals little or nothing to the sender), with the same result. Net: The privacy that some crave.

On 9/11, when NYC cell phone networks were jammed, outbound messages from the towers could have gone out to relatives outside the city via Twitter. Certainly that’s a need we hope to avoid, but it will work as long as the net is up. In fact, it is common for text messaging to work when a cell signal is too weak to carry a phone call.

Last weekend, I posted a note about a California firefighter who saves lives using Twitter.

It isn’t just for people with nothing to do. Like any other tool, in the right hands, it can do good things. If you listened a while back and setup Google Alerts on your brands, business name and executives, I suggest you do a TweetScan for the same reason.

Other posts on this topic:

How To Use Twitter For Business
Add Twitter to your Reputation Monitoring
How to Get Customer Service via Twitter
Social Media: Is Twitter Right for Your Business?
37signals likes twitter for business

Categories
Blogging Media Photography Positioning Small Business Social Media Word of mouth marketing

Best Seat in the House shows why you should be blogging

It may not be clear from the things I talk about here, but I enjoy photography. I shoot some scenic stuff, like the photo at the top of this page and I shoot a lot of sports and community stuff.

columbiafallsfootball.jpg

When it comes to sports, I’ll shoot baseball, soccer, tennis, basketball, swimming, football, etc – and I don’t really mind how young or old the participants are. I’ve been on the field to shoot major college football and basketball, and I’ve been on the field to shoot the Columbia Falls 6th grade football team.

As a result of the photography thing, one of my favorite blogs is Best Seat in the House by Seattle Times sports (mostly) photographer Rod Mar.

This post about golf, Caddyshack and the Dalai Lama’s visit to Seattle was typical of Mar’s fun and informative (to photographers) posts. I suspect that if you asked Rod, he’d say that he isn’t a writer – and that’s my point.

In order to blog, you don’t have to be an expert writer with 12 books under your belt (that’d be uncomfortable, much less unsightly).

Instead, you just have to have a conversation with your readers.

When you educate, annoy, incite and entertain your readers, you develop a personal relationship with them (more accurately, they develop one with you).

Isn’t that what you want your customers to have with your business and your staff?

Categories
Creativity Social Media Web 2.0

Saving lives with Twitter

accident waiting to happen
photo credit: zappowbang

Today’s story from somewhere else (not really a guest post) comes from of all places: city/county government.

This story is about a sharp Web 2.0 enabled firefighter using Twitter to save lives during a fire.

Categories
Automation Competition Public Relations Social Media Technology yahoo

Get a new plumber: Yahoo Pipes

Plumber James #2
photo credit: MoToMo

I linked to this a few weeks ago in Delicious, and I’m working on a market research video/audio product that includes use of Yahoo Pipes, but I just can’t resist.

Yesterday’s COTC post about Salesforce.com’s use of Yahoo Pipes was an excellent illustration of the cool usefulness of this tool, so we’ll start this discussion a little early by making note of this COTC post.

See the post here: http://www.churchofthecustomer.com/blog/2008/04/keeping-up-with.html

It’s a different animal than Google Alerts, but clearly very useful with a little bit of thought.

Don’t let the whacked out diagram scare you. It’s pretty easy to use. Make note of how Kingsley uses the Pipe to keep tabs on his company.

Smart stuff. We’ll come back to this before too long:)

Categories
Blogging Small Business Social Media

WordPress 2.5 – A big time breath of fresh air for bloggers

If you’ve blogged for a while, sliding over to the announcement page for WordPress 2.5 will bring a smile to your face.

WordPress has been a really strong app all along, but the stuff in 2.5 is just perfect for the short list of “Man, I sure wish WordPress did ….”

For me, the big ticket items in WordPress 2.5 are:

  • Easier ( in most cases – 1 click ) plugin upgrades.
  • A much better WYSIWYG post editor that doesn’t chomp on your HTML code.
  • Built-in photo galleries (goes to WordPress big cheese Matt Mullenweg’s galleries) which includes EXIF extraction and a vastly better upload tool.
  • Full-screen editing for the wordy among us:)

I’ll be moving to 2.5 here at Business is Personal as part of a refurb that’s I’ve been working on sporadically. I spent too many years in the software business to just upload it and employ the strategy of hope on an existing site that I can’t afford to have down for a week. Since I use WP as a content management system (CMS), I’m testing 2.5 for some new sites, so as I find interesting discoveries, I’ll note them here.

Why do I mention this?

Because small business owners should be blogging and your blog should be on your small business’ website – NOT at the group blog hosting sites WordPress.com or Blogger.com, etc. Positioning, positioning, positioning.

Categories
Automation Blogging Social Media Software Technology Time management

RSS: What’s that little orange button on the right mean?

Really, REALLY BIG RSS feed button

photo credit: photopia / HiMY SYeD

Usually green is the color that represents money, at least in the U.S.

Today, for just a few minutes, orange represents money – because your time is quite often has more value than you might place on it.

This video explains in simple terms why you see so many sites with that little orange button and how it can save you a pile of time.

The RSS feed button. Explained in plain English.

Categories
Blogging Social Media Web 2.0

Look what the Easter Bunny brought: a ping list for your blog

Happy Easter, everyone.

Below, the ping list I’m using with this blog. If you know what a ping list is, maybe there’s a link or 2 in there you aren’t using. If you’re using one (or more) that I don’t have, please make note of that in the comments.

If you don’t know what a ping list is…keep your eyes on this blog,

http://blogsearch.google.com/ping/RPC2
http://api.feedster.com/ping
http://api.moreover.com/ping
http://api.moreover.com/RPC2
http://blog.goo.ne.jp/XMLRPC
http://blogdb.jp/xmlrpc/
http://coreblog.org/ping/
http://ping.blo.gs/
http://ping.bloggers.jp/rpc/
http://ping.cocolog-nifty.com/xmlrpc
http://ping.syndic8.com/xmlrpc.php
http://ping.weblogalot.com/rpc.php
http://pinger.blogflux.com/rpc
http://rpc.blogrolling.com/pinger/
http://rpc.icerocket.com:10080/
http://rpc.pingomatic.com/
http://rpc.technorati.com/rpc/ping
http://rpc.weblogs.com/RPC2
http://topicexchange.com/RPC2
http://www.blogdigger.com/RPC2
http://xping.pubsub.com/ping
http://api.my.yahoo.com/rss/ping

Big Sky Blogs


http://api.my.yahoo.com/RPC2
http://ping.rootblog.com/rpc.php
http://ping.feedburner.com
http://api.feedster.com/ping