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The People’s Choice Award: Real Zillow mortgage predictions, the real Fake Greg Swann and real-life traffic-building strategies

As you know if you’ve been paying attention, Todd Carpenter exposed himself revealed himself to be the real Fake Greg Swann last night. I confess myself to have been totally sussed by the prank, despite Todd’s having hidden several Easter eggs along his trail that, had I not been completely clueless, I might have used to solve the mystery of his secret identity. In any case, it was a lot of fun, and Todd got to make his point in a gentle and even-handed way.

I think Todd was surprised by the venom of some of the reactions his alter ego got, citing one commenter in particular as being particularly vile. Welcome to the world of the real Greg Swann. People say the dumbest stuff about me and about BloodhoundBlog as a whole, and it means nothing at all to me — one of Todd’s clues to me was echoing back my own self-description as an armadillo. If you demonstrate to me that I’ve made an error, I’m in your debt. If you rant about something I already know is correct, you will have induced me to question your mind, your character — or both. If you expect me to be emotionally involved with you, you had better be my wife — and you should try to catch me when I’m not too busy.

But: The bogus claim itself is interesting, first because it’s really stoopid, and second because thinking about why it is so stoopid leads us to a better understanding of how to be wise instead. Angry bullshit piles up everywhere, but, if you’re willing to use your mind, it can make for good fertilizer.

So this is the claim from the comment on the Fake Greg Swann site:

greg swan’s playbook

[....]

Generate Traffic to your Site in 24hrs or less

[....]

Linkbaiting

[....]

Awards

I have five arguments to make against a strategy like this.

1. We don’t behave this way. I don’t give a rat’s ass about traffic. What I care about is telling the truth as beautifully as possible — saying what we want in the way that we want. If we’re right, we’ll attract people who understand why we’re right. If we’re wrong, we need to learn better. Nothing matters to me more than being right — right ethically, right epistemologically and right in my behavior. BloodhoundBlog was built that way from the beginning, and it will run that way forever.

2. Traffic spikes are transient. We do get them, in no small part because we cover serious issues in great depth. (Another cute calumny is that BloodhoundBlog is only popular because no one can understand what we’re saying.) To the extent that surges in traffic attract the kind of readers we are targeting, they can result in enduring growth. But that’s the rare case, since the spikes come, most often, from our being linked by sites with very different agendas — The Wall Street Journal or Freakonomics or whatever.

3. We throw much more traffic into the RE.net than we get back from it. This is easy to understand if you think about it. Our popularity consists of RSS and email subscriptions, not hard clicks into the site. We get a lot of hard clicks, but many of those come from search engines, social web sites or old or tenuous links. The number of timely, pertinent inbound clicks we get from other RE.net sites is fairly small. The reason is that most of the people reading those other RE.net sites already subscribe to BloodhoundBlog. Our readers are more likely to find out what is happening at a smaller weblog by reading a post or comment on BloodhoundBlog than they are to learn something about BloodhoundBlog by reading a post or comment on that smaller weblog. When we link to something that we think is interesting on another RE.net weblog, we will send dozens or even hundreds of hard clicks back to that blog. It’s very rare for any RE.net site to send us a large amount of traffic for the simple reason that most of the people who might click through to BloodhoundBlog have already read us on their feed readers.

4. Obviously — at least if you take the trouble to think about it — if we were pursuing some nefarious traffic-building scheme, we would focus our attentions on sites higher than us on the food chain. In SEO terms, we’re a decent sized fish. We have a lot of inbound links from all over the net, a substantial number of backlinks, and, right now, around 520 Technorati links. When we link out, we are usually giving out a lot more “Google juice” than we get back when we are linked to. One of our goals in doing what we do is to be a part of this party, but we’re bringing the kegs when many other folks are showing up with chips and dip. If our goal was not to promote this conversation about real estate, but simply to generate as much traffic as possible or to garner the most-beneficial possible links — this, I suppose, to drive eyeballs to the advertising we don’t carry — we would concentrate our efforts on fish much larger than us in the oceans of the internet: A-list webloggers, media sites, dot.edu domains. These are the sites we would prey upon if we were playing silly SEO games.

5. But: That would be stoopid. Why? Because the only way we have of talking to the people who we want to talk to is by creating the content they want to read — not just today but every day. We don’t carry advertising, and we don’t have any incentive to attract random, unmotivated readers — whether by SEO tricks or through traffic surges. The only readers who matter, in the long run, are the ones who subscribe to or bookmark BloodhoundBlog. This is true of every viral weblog, but there is something that matters even more: If you build it, they may not come. The fact is that every person we might hope to talk to already has access to more free, relevant, interesting content than they can possibly read. If we — or you — hope to capture those minds, and capture them every day, we have to be remarkably better than everything else that is competing for their attention — every day. Readers who bounce in, for whatever reason, will almost always bounce right out again. The only readers who matter are the ones who know why they are coming, and who know what benefit they hope to obtain by coming back again.

A properly-functioning weblog is like a drip campaign with the directions reversed. If I’m dripping push-based emails on you, I can control my message but I can’t count on your attention. I’m just more spam. But if you’re taking my pull-based RSS feed, I can count on your attention at least to the extent that I am relating to you the message you had hoped to have found. Of the two ways of communicating, the weblog is far more likely to result in an enduring relationship. I’m not imposing myself upon you, you are inviting me into your mind. This is the sole benefit BloodhoundBlog seeks from its existence. As far as I am concerned, this is the sole benefit to be obtained from weblogging.

And, while we are quite a bit bigger than the progenitors of these stoopid conspiracy theories can envision, we have not even begun to grow yet. I’m guessing there are three to five million people who should be reading us every day. We have news for them all, and I can’t wait to share it with them.

Now then, with all that as an extended introduction, I have elected not to award The Odysseus Medal or The Black Pearl this week. (It’s all a part of a nefarious linkbaiting strategy, of course — baffle the enemy.) In truth, as was the case a couple of weeks ago, nothing knocked my socks off, and I don’t want to dilute the value of the awards just for the sake of giving them out. (Now what could that mean?) We’ll see what turns up next week, and we’ll write this week off to sweets, wassail and pondering the mysteries of the Fake Greg Swann.

However: We do have a winner of The People’s Choice Award, and it is none other than the Fake Greg Swann himself, Todd Carpenter, with Zillow Mortgage Prediction:

Zillow’s business model is really no different than Google’s. Generate page views, and sell advertising. I don’t think Zillow’s mortgage product will be any different. What the Zillow brain-trust is doing right now is figuring how to develop traffic driving tools like the Zindex and Zestimate for the mortgage vertical.

I’m betting my Zcore idea is in the mix, but here are two other possible tools they might be working on.

A closed loan, localized mortgage rate index. Zillow is already pouring through local data of new home purchases to feed data to the Zestimate. Acquiring the interest rate of the mortgages on these homes is a trivial additional endeavor. I can buy a list of borrowers with 8% mortgages from a leads vendor. What nobody has done before, is make that data available to consumers. Now, I’m not saying they should tell the public the interest rate of each and every borrower, that would anger quite a few people. But they could use the data all the way down to a block by block average, or a neighborhood, town, state…

A interest rate pricing engine. Mathew Kelly’s first post on Geek Estate talks about some of the tools that makes an originator’s job so much easier. Zillow can easily build something similar, but at the consumer level. We’re talking about decade old technology here. Let the consumer enter in the data themselves, scrub it against the same lender provided data that LO’s use, attach an average margin via data from the above index, and viola, you got yourself a consumer grade pricing engine.

If you didn’t check out this week’s nominees for The Odysseus Medal, you should. As the Fake Greg Swann says, it’s “always a great roundup of good RE blogging.” And as always, if you bespy a glint of the heavenly, nominate it.

Deadline for next week’s competition is Sunday at 12 Noon MST. You can nominate your own work or any post you admire here.

Congratulations to Todd — and to everyone who participated.

And here’s wishing you health, wealth and happiness for the coming year!

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Related posts:
  • “Ye shall know them by their fruits. Do men gather grapes of thorns, or figs of thistles?”
  • The Odysseus Medal competition — Voting for the People’s Choice Award is open
  • The Odysseus Medal competition — Voting for the People’s Choice Award is open

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    1. It’s a wrap | Mortgage Industry Blog December 31st, 2007 8:54 pm

      [...] own blog award ceremony, Bloodhound Blog honored me with one of their own. Actually, it’s a people’s choice award, so… thanks again. I originally intended to be standing on a frozen lake in the rockies [...]