Online business strategy and blogging

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Garron Selliken, owner of Portland, Oregon real estate company M Realty, asserts today that blogging, at least in the real estate industry, is dead. Obviously when Garron says that he doesn’t mean that no one is blogging about real estate anymore. Instead, he’s saying that blogging lacks business value for the real estate practitioner.

This view could probably be shared across more industries than just real estate. For some time now there has been a cacophony of voices encouraging “blogging” as the future of getting a positive return on investment for making a website.

A shortish history of blogging

Initially, the activity of blogging was just keeping a diary or log on the web. The first wave of bloggers were just writing about whatever they felt like writing about.

With the enthusiasm of first time competitors at a poetry slam they encouraged everyone else to do the same. As more people began to keep blogs and link to each others blogs a form of status emerged (you may recall a lot of talk about who is an “A Lister” and so on).

This is where the roots of being “authentic” or “transparent” came about. People who bare their souls tend to produce content that is more compelling and arresting to other people. Being “authentic” and “transparent” were tactics employed to increase status within the blogosphere.

The important takeaways from this shortish history of blogging:

  1. Originally, the activity of blogging did not have a business objective.
  2. People who blog, being human, value personal status.
  3. A status-based popularity ranking began to serve as an objective for blogging.
  4. “Transparency” and “authenticity” are recognized traits of blogs which tend to rank higher in popularity with other people.

Here is a strategic perspective that evolved from this kind of non-business blogging:

  • Objective: Increase status ranking (ex: become an A-lister).
  • Channel: blogging peers
  • Primary Tactic: create “authentic” and “transparent” content

Note that there isn’t an especially clear path for generating revenue after achieving an increased status ranking. This isn’t a problem for most bloggers because they tend to be hobbyists. Those who get more serious about it tend to try a variety of advertising models to monetize their efforts. Either that or they become consulting gurus. 😉

Blogging for business

The tactic of creating and publishing content on a regular basis has become confused with blogging. This has happened because quick-to-deploy and relatively-easy-to-update sites are often built using technology originally made for bloggers (Movable Type and then WordPress, for example).

The tool has been mistaken for the tactic.

Which is, of course, a frightfully common occurrence (*cough* social media *cough*).

In the beginning of his post, Garron throws down the gauntlet:

When it comes to generating leads from search, the past, present and future of real estate sites is SEO, not blogging, transparency, authenticity and finding your voice.

What he’s really doing is stating a specific strategic perspective:

  • Objective: “generating leads”
  • Channel: “from search”
  • Primary Tactic: SEO (search engine optimization)

So for Garron, the creation and publishing of content serves to attract new visitors to his site. Specifically, he’s interested in new visitors who are searching for something he can help them with.

Blogging to reinforce existing relationships

There are, of course, some great blogs focused on real estate. These blogs focus on a neighborhood or some other facet of the business that the blogger is passionate about. But these blogs are successful because the content creator’s passion for the topic shows in the quality of the content.

The meaningful blogs often lack a specific strategy. Sometimes the owners of these sites wear their lack of strategic perspective as a badge: “I just write stuff and people read it and sometimes I make a sale.”

If a strategic perspective were to be assigned to the meaningful real estate blogs it might look like this:

  • Objective: Deepen relationships with existing customers and prospects
  • Channel: social media and/or customer database
  • Primary Tactic: create meaningful and/or useful content

This strategy is not as aggressive as the one laid out by Garron. But it’s certainly valid if you know that the best way you can grow your business is through deepening your existing relationships.

The real estate blog may never have been alive in the first place

Though I don’t have any data to back it up, I’d wager that for every solid, compelling and meaningful real estate blog there are twenty zombie real estate blogs: packed with stolen/poorly crafted/duplicate content that is either devoid of purpose or stuffed to the gills with SEO keywords.

The zombie blogs have no strategic perspective. They are often the result of someone throwing money at a problem or failing to commit the resources to learn the techniques. They rarely perform well because no effort at understanding keyword research was spent. Even less effort gets spent on finding common tasks for the website owner and the website visitor, resulting in low conversions and high bounce rates.

Even though there is no strategic perspective for zombie blogging, if we were to ask a zombie blogger the right questions we would get something like this:

  • Objective: Make a lot of money!
  • Channel: I don’t care where they come from as long as it’s cheap!
  • Primary Tactic: I’ll try anything for two weeks as long as it’s cheap!

Avoiding zombie blog syndrome

The problem with the zombie blogs is that the writer may not know she is making a zombie blog. She might think her blog is meaningful and that she’s applying all the “best practices” but in reality the blog is a little bit living dead.

The best way to avoid being a zombie blog is to have a strategic perspective.

Garron’s post lays out good rough outline for a strategy. It might not be the right one for you, but you’ll want to be able to describe why you’re making content for your site in at least as much detail as he’s shared.

At the very least be prepared to discuss these things:

  1. Where is your audience coming from?
  2. What is your audience looking for?
  3. Are you in the business of providing that? (if not, revisit your business model)
  4. How will you convert your audience from content consumers into meaningful business?


  1. Josh Ferris
    Posted October 20, 2010 at 3:35 pm | Permalink

    Gahlord — You nailed it. I love the three step overview of objective, channel and primary tactic. Blogging is all about mindset. If you understand that it takes time to build a following and that you have to enjoy writing your blog posts for it to thrive, you’ll be very successful.

    Unfortunately, many agents look at it as an unknown, a chore being forced upon them, and don’t feel like it’s worth their time. They’ll dedicate an hour or two to trying to make it happen and then once they prove themselves right, that it’s a chore and isn’t worth their time because they didn’t get 50 inquiries from their first blog post, they leave their blog to the internet graveyard.

    I’m going to borrow that three step objective for myself when I create my next blog. Very useful tip!

  2. Posted October 20, 2010 at 3:43 pm | Permalink

    Honestly Gahlord, this is the most concise analysis of this conversation that I’ve seen. You’re speaking so succinctly about what I see are really the two options for an aspiring, or active blogger.

    Is it a strategy like the one Garron employs, which requires a fair amount of SEO skill, analytics and conversion analysis, or is it a site that seeks to enhance to the relationships to your current prospects, or future clients/sphere? This is at the heart of the very questions I’m asking myself right now.

    The strategy that Garron employs requires a knowledge base that most agents don’t possess. They must rely on some form of consulting or support to make that a useful strategy. However, the learning curve on a sphere strategy seems to me to be much shorter, and much more accessible. Thoughts?

  3. Posted October 20, 2010 at 3:49 pm | Permalink

    Let’s face it….all too many times, agents are looking for the ‘easy button.’ There is no easy in results-oriented blogging. It takes time, effort, and deliberate planning/strategy. I wouldn’t say that blogging is dead, by any means. I would say that it’s become heavily diluted. But as with anything in our industry, the cream always rises to the top. Those who truly understand blogging for business, and do it well, will continue to reap the rewards.

  4. Posted October 20, 2010 at 4:21 pm | Permalink

    Whenever someone writes a “so and so is DEAD” post or article you have look at it skeptically. I find it wonderfully ironic that all the “blogs are dead” articles I end up reading are …. on blogs.

    This discussion was played out recently on the 1000watt blog too.

    I think we all agree that real estate blogging is tough and it always was. Like real estate agents themselves and the greater blogosphere, most will fail.

    Do bloggers need a strategy? Of course they do. So does any business, any marketing plan, or any website.

    My real estate blog has been fantastic for my business. Results may vary.

  5. Posted October 20, 2010 at 4:22 pm | Permalink

    Josh: Thank you. One bit I should’ve included in the strategic perspective format is “conversion mechanism.” There are a few other items as well. Typically when someone is blogging in meaningful way and not getting any traction at all one of the first things to look at is conversion mechanism: how does the visitor transition from reading your meaningful blog post into being a customer?

    This is one of the reasons that search traffic is easier to convert.

    Linsey: Thanks! figuring these things out is definitely the hard part. Being a consultant I, of course love it when people hire consultants. But if the thinking up front isn’t solid no amount of consulting will help.

    As for which approach you should take, that’s just a spreadsheet issue. Do you need more new client or can you thrive on repeat customers? That’s one way to boil it down anyway.

    Rich: Agreed, other than the one that Staples sells there is no easy button. That said, different strategies will be easier for different people or for different goals.

    The issue is that many people try a meaningful blog strategy when their goal is mor aligned with the business blogging strategy outlined by Garron.

  6. Posted October 20, 2010 at 5:48 pm | Permalink

    Geordie: thanks for your perspective. The thing we’re trying to crack here is the “results my vary” issue. I think that so much of the training and promotion of blogging and social media comes from the status-based or engagement-based camps.

    The strategies supporting these goals are not for everyone, as noted in the post above. This puts a lot of people down a difficult path for more variance in their results than necessary.

  7. Posted October 20, 2010 at 6:38 pm | Permalink

    I think some are missing the point of the original post…

  8. Posted October 21, 2010 at 2:00 pm | Permalink

    Gahlord – Blogworld in Las Vegas last week had the full range from zombie bloggers out to make a buck anyway the can through an aggressive funnel to journalists looking to local blogs as their hope to rescue the important craft they love and every viewpoint in between. As a hyper local real estate blogger I wanted to better understand the journalistic approach so am taking an online class from the people at New York Times involved with their Local blog experiment. The emphasis as you might expect is focused on content and comment engagement through authenticity, transparency and story. I am one of those bloggers more interested in reinforcing existing community relationships with people who already know, like and trust me (and in time getting listings when friends need to sell) and don’t view blogging as a “lead widget” to meet unknown potential buyers (although if I do a good job focusing on sellers I also get buyer leads). So in summary, real estate agents who are genuinely interested in the community where they sell and also enjoy writing can team up with underemployed journalists to publish an engaging, interactive, multiple authored, hyper local blog and have a win-win. Real estate blogging just for SEO and strict ROI probably does not work, but I think it is alive and morphing into a new hybrid model.

  9. Posted October 21, 2010 at 8:48 pm | Permalink

    Rick: I had your work in mind specifically as I wrote the “blogging to reinforce existing relationships” section. It’s a different approach than the one Garron is suggesting. But I definitely think it’s a valid one–especially for someone who has been in the business for some time and has a lot of existing relationships.

    I don’t think there is any “one strategy to rule them all.” But for each person there should be a strategy that will work.

    The NYT online class seems like a great opportunity. I’d love to hear more about that.

  10. Posted October 25, 2010 at 4:10 pm | Permalink

    I have been blogging for less than a year, and have made far more mistakes than I would care to mention and I know fall less than most people about blogging. That being said, If your blogging to make money in real estate your going to fail. If your blogging to create good content, conversation, and a place were people can get answers when there ready to ask them, then your blog will be successful and will generate clients not money.

  11. Posted October 26, 2010 at 8:18 pm | Permalink

    This article simultaneously bummed me out and reinforced my belief in what I’m doing. I’ve been blogging (not consistently enough until 4 months ago) for 5+ years with the theory that my real estate blog could be like the paper newsletters real estate agents have been sending to their farm and SOI for the last 25 years. It’s a way to remind my people I already know that I’m in real estate and to touch base with them (and impress them with my awesome real estate knowledge and skilz).

    I’ve recently redoubled my efforts at blogging in an attempt to capture new readers. Although my plan of action doesn’t as much involve ‘traffic through searching’ as it does ‘traffic because I’m entertaining’. My goal is to build readership of people who come because I’m interesting and entertaining and who come back regularly, and then when they have a real estate need, or hear of someone who does, they think of me, because I’m funny and I talk about real estate.

    I believe this can work for me because I write well and am engaging, but I don’t think it’s an anomaly. In my opinion, the real estate blog is not dead, but it needs to learn how to be interesting and engaging to the reader. It needs to find its angle. My angle is funny and weird writing. Stories of the strange stuff we deal with all the time. I think there’s lots of room for different kinds of photo blogs about real estate: funny, weird, gorgeous, etc.

    But what do I know? I’m not a marketing, SEO or even blogging expert. I do, however, read blogs. And I like the ones that are interesting. Even about stuff I’m not normally interested it. Those are the ones I go back to. So my goal is to make my blog readable and go from there.

  12. Posted October 29, 2010 at 11:18 am | Permalink

    A clear objective is lacking in a majority of real estate blogs.
    There are thousands of posts written everyday about schools, interest rates and reason to buy or sell real estate. .. too bland and easily missed.
    A blogs main objective is to create a brand associate with a consumer problem that no one addresses it directly .. a niche with an attitude!
    Be controversial, be blunt and be fearless in bringing the reader an absolutely no doubt that you are passionate about your particular field.
    Throw a blend of automatic email campaigns, ebooks, new post notifications and combine it with videos, social media and throwing “hooks” in different places. .( like leaving a comment here). . to create relationships and an opportunity for a viral marketing message.

    Does it work for me?
    Never have I experienced an easier sell than after a consumer looking for answers finds my site. . spend a few hours transfixed on my material and finally calling me . . . and being thankful . . like after reading a catholic church blog full of ideas, anecdotal and teachings. . you call . . . and feel honored that the Pope answers the phone. . you are saved my child. .and yes we can help you!

    It easy for me..
    Because I’m passionate and I love what I do. .

  13. Posted November 2, 2010 at 4:18 pm | Permalink

    Eli: Definitely, in lead generation businesses like real estate, using your blog to get clients is a common business objective.

    Elizabeth: Hope it didn’t bum you out too much! If you are hoping to generate new readership they must come from somewhere. They won’t be able to enjoy your entertaining posts until they know where to read them and then choose to go there and read them.

    Quality content should increase your repeat visits, but doesn’t necessarily mean you’ll get that first visit. Typically you’ll get the first visit via a search engine or a link from some other site.

    Keep up the m@dsk1ll5. 😉

    Fernando: You’ve touched on many of the most important tactics for using a blog platform as part of a business strategy: write posts that solve problems for your customers, let your passion show and promote.

    You also mention one of the strong points of blogging in lead generation businesses like real estate: lead quality improves–aka you spend less time with customers who are not a good fit for your practice.

    Thanks for sharing your insight and experience.

  14. Posted April 17, 2011 at 8:40 pm | Permalink

    I think there are still some successful real estate blogs, however, it does seem to be more about reinforcing relationships with existing customers and less of a lead generation strategy. Your quote is also a bit ironic seeing as how M Realty is selling a real estate solution tied to a CMS that has traditionally been a blogging platform.

  15. Posted April 18, 2011 at 9:05 am | Permalink

    Milan: The issue really comes down to defining what makes a successful blog. It could be meeting new people or it could be strengthening relationships with people you already know. Or it could be a mix of both.

    Many people who blog have yet to define what success looks like and use vanity metrics like number of visitors or number of comments.

    Garron’s quote isn’t ironic at all. It’s a sign of his very strategic use of technology. He absolutely knows how and why he is using everything and measures the results accordingly.

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