There’s always something to howl about

Bad Marketing Candy from RSS Pieces

Mary McKnight wrote an article last Friday called Real Estate Blogs are Stores, Not Websites – So Blog Like You are Selling Houses, Not Writing For Your Local Paper and it made the short list for the Odysseus Medal Sunday.  It is well written and provocative.  Mary McKnight is recognized as one of the premier web site designers and SEO experts in Real Estate.  I have a great deal of respect for her knowledge as it pertains to web sites and SEO.   If you have not read it, please do;  and then answer this question for me: How is it possible that someone so good at creating real estate web sites, can be so wrong when it comes to real estate marketing?

The Sugar Coating
Let me preface this by saying that I have a great deal of respect for Mary McKnight.  Add to which a lot of people for whom I also hold a great deal of respect use her services and listen to her advice.  But when she says Your real estate blog is a store, not a newspaper, I find myself asking the obvious question: If it is a store, what do you sell?  If you answer “homes” I am going to assume you work at a mobile home dealership.  Otherwise you clearly do not understand your product.  Here’s a hint: you see your product every day in the mirror.  You no more sell homes than you stock them… which is why you are not a store.  You are a service and your product is your expertise.

The Creamy Middle 
The point of her article is …to get you to understand that if your business is about real estate and you want to attract customers that have a real estate need you MUST write about real estate, not skateboards and restaurants.  This is true on a very grand scale:  most of your articles and certainly your “look and feel” must tell the reader that you can and will be the best agent they have ever had.  But does that mean you should only write about real estate?  When Mary says it

is inconceivable to (her) that by driving people into your blog with an article about local skate parks, you will snag a home buyer…

she misses the point.  One article about anything will rarely generate a home buyer.  And a lot of articles about skate parks will probably do no better.  But many articles of interest to your demographic (skateboarding is a bit disingenuous here, but let’s give her one), all written with an eye toward real estate, will contribute to one very important source of business and referrals: it will raise your perceived level of expertise.

In Mary’s world the buyers and sellers come to you from a key word search and you have either 15 seconds (in the case of buyers) or 2 minutes (in the case of sellers) before they make a decision.  As an agent, on the other hand, we should try to build a community of raving fans.  Mary is keyword searching for eyeballs and hoping they will stick around long enough to use our services.  We hope to recruit eyeballs too, but over a greater range of topics; and we do not expect to help them buy or sell their home from that initial search.  Instead, we expect to move them, over time, into our community of raving fans.  We will happily accept people that came to our web site because they Googled skate parks, but we know the majority of our business is coming from people who can already find us; people that know us to be experts in their area.

The Delicious Center
There is that word again: Expert.  The goal of almost all real estate marketing has been, and continues to be, relating your expertise in the community.  The question you want to put in their head is: who better to help them sell their home than you?  You know the neighborhood inside and out.  More important still is the conversation they will have with a family member, friend or co-worker.  It begins with the future client saying: “I have been thinking about moving to your neighborhood.  I hear the schools are great, the homes are beautiful and everyone turns out for the 4th of July parade.”  The raving fan we have created responds: “That is all true.  I love living here.  Let me hook you up with this agent.  He knows almost everything about our community.  He has a booth at every festival, his Sold signs are everywhere and his web site is THE source for what is happening.  If a house is being bought or sold in my neighborhood, this is the guy that knows about it.  As a matter of fact, we call him the unofficial Mayor.”  Ah yes, Mayoral Marketing at its best.    While over 80 % of buyers start their search online, I do not know too many yet that buy online.  You are still after the referral business and you are still after the repeat business.  You can expect to get some key word business too, but, unlike Mary, do not base your marketing strategy on such an ephemeral crowd.

Here is the other important point when considering a blog consisting of dry market reports and local listings versus one overflowing with articles of interest to the entire community.  Most marketing, in the end, tries to own one of two places: the consumer at the point of sale or a place in the consumer’s mind.  I would rather not spend my career in competition with hundreds of other local agents in a fight over those people who have signaled that they are in a buying or selling heat.  I would much rather get to them when they are not being bombarded.  I want to own a piece of their mind.  (This is but one of 22 Immutable Laws of Marketing – a book that should be on every agents’ desk.)  I want them to be my client before they even know they are clients.  Winning is easier if the competition does not show up until there are only two minutes left in the game.

The Craving 
I end right back at the beginning.  Mary compares shoppers looking for a skateboard to shoppers for homes and points out that someone looking for a skateboard and landing on your site is not likely to buy a home.  To which I say “duh.”  She declares (correctly I might add) it’s going to (be) one hell of a sell to get the skateboard guy to buy a house.  This is a specious analogy at best.  But, we can make this more applicable.  What if there were skateboards that cost $50,000 because they were so “tricked out”?  These boards would only be of interest to a select group of riders (let’s call them the professional trick riders) who would, in many ways, constitute a community.  What if you wanted to sell your trick boards to these trick riders?  You would have to capture their interest wouldn’t you?  What if there was a magazine that catered to these trick riders?  The articles in this magazine covered issues of particular interest to trick riders: the newest ceramic ball bearings, the hottest half-pipes, which local politicians were voting for legislation to make trick riding in public a misdemeanor and what energy drink the best of the best use before and after a grueling exhibition.  Do you think, as a vendor of trick boards, you might like to advertise in that magazine?  What if I could offer you more?  What if you could not only advertise but establish your expertise, your “street cred,” as a contributing writer?  What if you were given the position of publisher?  How awesome would it be to write and publish a magazine aimed at and read by the majority of trick riders – the very group that buys your expensive boards?  I think that might do wonders for your business.  Now how is that different from writing and publishing a magazine aimed at and read by the majority of home buyers and sellers in your farm – the very group that buys your expensive homes?  Of course, with a blog site you do not incur the tremendous expense of a magazine.  But you reap the same rewards.

The Nutritional Information
It has been a while since I was a full time, active real estate agent.  Most recently my time has been spent helping agents and originators find success, use Social Media Marketing and get balanced.  Also, I do not know any more about skateboards than I do about creating web sites.  But I am, as many of you are aware, starting a hyper-local blog site or, by my definition, a hyper local cat blog.  Others have already done it with varying degrees of success, Mary’s concerns notwithstanding.  Some of best are right here at BHB.  Yet when my blog site dictates the need, can you guess who will be on top of a very short list I will look to in order to take my site to the next level?  Buy skateboards from skateboard shops and web sites from Mary McKnight, but when it comes to success as a real estate agent, be passionately you.

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    22 Comments so far

    1. Nick Bostic March 31st, 2008 11:03 am

      Excellent post. I’ve been reading RSS Pieces for some time and was a bit shocked at Mary’s article since it goes against a lot of topics she’s lobbied for in the past. Reader her responses to comments was a bit shocking as well as they don’t come across as being helpful and instead quite attacking. I think you definitely get it, so keep doing what you’re doing.

    2. Sean Purcell March 31st, 2008 2:21 pm

      Thanks Nick,

      I, like you, read Mary’s stuff a lot and find much of it to be ideas I can implement and use the same day. Just not sure where she was going with this particular article.

    3. [...] Bad Marketing Candy from RSS Pieces, by Sean Purcell. [...]

    4. Jeff Brown March 31st, 2008 10:53 pm

      Great stuff, Sean. I was also surprised at what Mary was saying, though I strongly suspect we’ll learn something in the near future from her on the same subject.

      Mary knows websites.

    5. REBLogGirl April 1st, 2008 6:28 am

      Apparently I am the only one of you that ACTUALLY read the leaked training manual from Google. On March 17, a training manual for a specific type of employee was leaked. Those that were fast ont he draw got a copy of it that outlines how this specific type of employee is to rate and classify sites submitted fro review. On page 31, they use the example of “Sedona Real Estate” You know what they rated the most relevant of sites? “High quality pages providing real estate listings, or a general overview of real estate in Sedona AZ. homepages for individual real estate offices located in Sedona AZ” Hmmm… where in there does it say anything about community info? Oh yeah- look at what they rank as non-relevant “General directory pages about Sedona even if they offer a real estate link.” Think my advice is still bad? It came from the horses mouth. For those of you not following along, that horse is Google. So, go out and find that guide or simply ask me and I might share the entire leaked document with you so you too can have that kind inside info. For those of you a competitive ilk- if your competition only talks about community stuff and ranks well- submit them for a manual review to Google and watch as they fall off the map.

    6. Kevin Tomlinson April 1st, 2008 7:19 am

      >>You no more sell homes than you stock them… which is why you are not a store. You are a service and your product is your expertise.

      Sounds very “old school.” The pendulum has swung, clients do not care about us as central part of the transaction. We are now second to property listings. It has been reported time and time again that the only thing a consumer cares about with regard to our profession is seeing the listings.

      The things that agents typically care about, have never meant less to a consumer (which I have no problem with).

      I will err on the side of all the research on this one.

    7. [...] Mary’s post generated quite a bit of heat — more than it merited, I thought. The point of her post seems pretty non-controversial to me, except that it’s essentially a straw man argument: There is no one insisting that anyone should write about skate boards or restaurants instead of real estate. Todd Carpenter thought Mary went too far overboard in pursuit of the great white SEO, and, while I can agree that many real estate weblogging advocates talk way too much about SEO and way too little about making direct contact with targeted prospects, I didn’t think Mary’s post was over the top. To the contrary, I’m on the record arguing that the purpose of real estate marketing is to sell real estate. I thought Sean Purcell struck the right balance, overall. [...]

    8. Todd Carpenter April 1st, 2008 9:29 am

      Mary, In real estate, Google is not the horse’s mouth. It’s one mouth of many.

    9. Christopher Myers April 1st, 2008 9:53 am


      I’m with Kevin. Consumers say “show me the listings” so that’s what I’m going to give them….listings and market info…no fluff.

    10. Sean Purcell April 1st, 2008 10:12 am


      I strongly suspect we’ll learn something in the near future from her on the same subject.

      I more than suspect Jeff. :) This is Mary freakin McKnight we are talking about. Just while researching her articles so that I could write my referenced opinion I must have printed three more articles of hers that I wanted to implement as soon as possible. The woman is a human fire hydrant of information. Which is to say I agree with you completely (always a safe bet) ;) even while disagreeing with her on this one.

    11. Sean Purcell April 1st, 2008 11:18 am


      I was not aware of the leaked manual, but even had I been my interest would have been limited to general curiosity. Neither the person who wrote it nor the person doing the classifying are actually buying or selling a home. They are judging Google relevance – which is important, but not as important to me as community relevance.

      I am not in your league when it comes to discussing SEO and the inner workings so I defer to your expertise, but my view is that Google is ranking web sites as measure of their relevance to an online property search. It is similar to an IQ test. What does an IQ test measure? Intelligence. What is intellingence? It is what an IQ test measures. What is the meaning of ranking high on Google? You are relevant to an online property search. What is the significance of ranking high for an online property search? It is what’s measured by Google.

      If all of our clients come to us cold because they searched a property, we had better rank damn high on Google. But they do not. Searching for property on Google is without doubt an indicator of a client. But it is not a good measure (relevant) to them becoming my client. Being relevant to your past and future clients is what leads to repeat and referral business. If my clients are Googling the neighborhood for a home to purchase, I have failed miserably as their long term agent, wouldn’t you agree?

      I do not disagree on the importance of Google juice and SEO. I hope to avail myself of your services soon. But in the context of a larger picture. I do not want to be known as the source on a particular listing or the market data in a community, I want to be known as the source period. The resource. I want people to know me as their agent before they ever need my services. This not only provides for less competition when the time comes, but a much greater referral base as well.

    12. Sean Purcell April 1st, 2008 11:39 am

      Kevin and Christopher,

      It has been reported time and time again that the only thing a consumer cares about with regard to our profession is seeing the listings.

      No doubt that is true, but I would not suggest building a marketing platform around it for two reasons:

      First, it has been my experience that what a client tells you and what they actually want are two very different things. How many times have you ended up helping a client into a home which is nothing like the home they told you they wanted? If you polled people about mortgages they would tell you that the only thing they care about are rates. This is, of course, patently false once the entire scope of a mortgage is explained to them. People think they know what they want. Spend enough time doing our profession, however, and you begin to see a pattern. If people tell you the only thing they care about is seeing the listing and you act accordingly, be prepared to lose your client to someone who shows them a community they did not know about, a better school for their children or the possible return on an investment property.

      Second, the research to which you refer is unquestionably biased. If you ask someone in the process of looking for a home what they want in a website, their answer will be: listings. When I was still a competitive athlete they used to poll us from time to time. We were asked if we would take a pill that would help us set the world record and win the Olympic gold, even though it would lead to our death within five years (or something very close to that). As the Olympics approached the percentage of people answering Yes climbed close to 80%! Once the Games passes the affirmative dropped precipitously. Beware polls done in the “heat” of the moment.

      This may be “old school” but some things are pretty universal. When a title rep comes to me and asks what I need I tell them I don’t need a thing. If I knew I needed something don’t you think I would have gotten it? Bring me something I don’t know that I need. Our clients are no different. Don’t focus on just giving them what they want; make sure you also give them what they need and don’t know they want.

    13. Vicki Moore April 1st, 2008 11:58 am

      I hope I can make my next argument with someone whom I disagree as eloquently, kindly and with as much information as you have.

      I write my blog for me. I hope that future clients will read, learn and enjoy what I’ve written. I can’t imagine just writing about houses – boring.

    14. Bawldguy Talking April 1st, 2008 12:02 pm

      Sean — I think the most powerful point in your answer is really two sides of the same coin.

      On one side is the prospect who really doesn’t know what they want, except they know they don’t want that agent in the mix yet.

      The other side is the real world fact that while so many people are searching intensely for answers to their questions — they’re stunned when a RE blogger gives them answers to questions they didn’t have a clue to even ask.

      The later is for whom we all toil.

      And it’s the community info you so richly supply that helps bring them in so they can find out how many questions they didn’t know to ask.

      The next decision is to contact you, which they will in droves. It works every time — and the conversion rate is insanely high.

    15. Sean Purcell April 1st, 2008 12:20 pm


      Thank you so very much.

      I hope that future clients will read, learn and enjoy what I’ve written.

      Although I do not write for me when I write, I do believe you nailed it with the key phrase future clients. This is a long term play to attract clients before they even know they are in the market. Well said.

      BTW, your Yikes post is a perfect example to me of putting out an interesting, readable story and yet reminding everyone who reads that you are an active, successful agent.

    16. Sean Purcell April 1st, 2008 12:23 pm


      And it’s the community info you so richly supply that helps bring them in so they can find out how many questions they didn’t know to ask.

      Questions they didn’t know to ask. I wish I had put that in my comments. No surprise that you see this from so many angles, you have been doing it successfully for longer than most of us have even been posting.

    17. Kevin Tomlinson April 1st, 2008 2:38 pm


      If a car salesman comes up to me in the showroom and tells me that HE is the #1 salesman in the dealership and “sells” me his skills, that information has absolutely NO interest to me.

      What does interest me, however, is the salesman’s ability to make me feel comfortable and his desire to help me when I decide I need it. If a saleman does that, I ALWAYS seek him/her out when I’m ready for more.

    18. Sean Purcell April 1st, 2008 3:17 pm


      I think we are in agreement. Most real estate salesmen do one (or both) of two things: they talk about themselves or they talk strictly real estate. Those salesmen have no interest for me either.

      …the salesman’s ability to make me feel comfortable and his desire to help me when I decide I need it…

      That is the key. A salesman that is giving you what you want. The only thing I would add is this. Imagine if this same salesman, the one that knows how to make you comfortable and talks about things that are of interest to you, imagine if he had been posting this type of info and “feel good” vibe for the last twelve months? You would be following his blog from time to time because he talks about things you like or with which you agree. When it comes time to buy a car will any other salesman even stand a chance? Like you said (you) ALWAYS seek him/her out when (you’re) ready for more.

    19. Mitch Argon April 6th, 2008 1:08 pm

      I’m with Mary on this one. People really do want real estate related information and, ultimately, listings to review. If you are going to post community related information, I would suggest trying to tie it into how it may affect the real estate nearby or the local market in general. Some basic stuff is certainly reasonable (perhaps on a static page of your site).

      Writing about generic community events, etc. is like doing volunteer work – you don’t get paid (in money), it may likely make you feel good, and it will probably benefit people.

      If all you ever do is volunteer work, you are either independently wealthy, retired, or a community activist.

      Hey Mary, if you really want to stir the hornet’s nest, why not go after some of the crazy business card photo concepts on realtor’s cards – this is actually much more colorful than most “not real estate” related blog content.

    20. Jay Valento June 4th, 2008 9:27 am

      I’m in the relationship business. My team and I build relationships with people who buy and sell real estate. Homes and condos are the by product of the relationship between the agent and their client.

      If someone is moving Long Beach, California from Houston, Texas, they want to know more about Long Beach than what homes are for sale. I think they want to experience what it is like to live by the beach or what activities are available in the city.

    21. Manson July 9th, 2008 1:48 pm

      while searching in google about “real estate” and you land on a real estate blog that talks about the best restaurant and spa is of no use to a client.

    22. [...] visitor is not looking to buy or sell a home, there are many stages in the customer life cycle.  Sean Purcell at Bloodhound Blog offers another perspective: The goal of almost all real estate marketing has been, and continues to [...]