Finally, a quiet moment where I can sit down and write. I find that I have not posted for a while, yet I have been receiving e-mails with questions, and the number of daily readers has been doing well without my efforts. You see between work, a course on green building techniques for home inspectors, and the birth of my third child, I had no time to deliver the posts that I wanted to create for this site. However, I think that I achieved some sort of success for myself if the blog can continue going well without assistance.
During the course, a new home inspector was asking about marketing techniques, and I gave him a bit of advice about marketing his business on the internet. I made a quick comment about blogging, but there really was not enough time to detail my thoughts. We home inspectors face a situation which may not be dissimilar to other careers, so this may apply to others. We have suffered more than some other real estate professionals, because our service is seen as optional. Buyers and sellers would rather save the money now than pay for an inspection. Most consumers will go with the recommendations of their Realtors, which means the consumer never does search for us. Yet there are consumers who see our profession as indispensable. We have to market to all of these groups.
Will the internet be the answer to our marketing issues? The answer is a double edged sword. My business is local, but my website is global. A reader in Russia will more than likely not use my service. Only readers in the greater Houston area are truly my target. To have a successful website though, you need both. While I was not working on this blog, I continued to receive e-mails from around this country (and one from outside this land) with questions about problems that people faced in their homes or other people wanting to find work in a specific niche of the home inspection business. If they have a website, they may link to me, or they may create a link to my site in a comment on someone else’s blog. This helps establish me as an authority, particularly with the search engines. If the search engine’s robots see these links, they may direct others to my site on their results page. If my site is easier to find, local internet users may find this site more rapidly, leading to increased business.
What about keywords? Every week I receive inquiries about the best keywords for home inspectors. It is easy to say that I should pick words or phrases that relate to “home inspector” or “home inspection” along with “Houston”, so I could have “Houston home inspector” or “home inspections in Houston”, but those terms have hardly brought me clients. The internet is filled with people looking for information, and the keyword which may bring them to you may be a surprise. I have obtained more work from the keywords “stucco”, “EIFS”, “foreclosure”, “winterization”, and “flooding” along with phrases that include those terms than any variation involving my actual profession. This is the beauty of the blog format. I can write about items that I find on my inspections or general concerns about homes. If I include my location in the post, I can make contact with my target audience for my business. I can do a series of posts on that topic, working to optimize the selected keyword. If you want to know more about keywords, I think that you should read this twelve part guide to keywords written by Stoney deGeyter. I am always reading his posts on Search Engine Guide.
Do I need to post often to build up the readership? I remember the advice of writing three posts a week to really obtain an audience. Now I read that writing three posts a day is needed for some sites, but this is not really necessary. Are you trying to place your blog in the top one hundred list from Technorati? You are a small business that is focused on a specific geographic location, so having one of the most read blogs should not be your goal. What you need is a few posts that will always generate readership. Finding a topic can be hit or miss. Focus on your customer. Think about their concerns. The keywords that I mentioned above are some concerns that my clients have. You could apply this to any small business though. A florist could write about various flower arranging techniques; or a baker could describe how to get the best possible bread from a home oven. Being generous with your information is important. A home cook will realize that maybe they cannot get the bread exactly right, or they may just want to taste the one from the baker, so they go to his store to buy a loaf. A home buyer realizes that there is more to looking at stucco, so they hire a specialist (me). Build these anchor posts, and the internet traffic keeps coming, whether you are writing or not. The most popular formats for these posts are the “how-to” or the list (“top ten”). To create these anchor posts, I like to write down what is happening to my client at different stages of the real estate transaction. For each stage, I write down ten things that could be happening to them or that they could be thinking about. I try to find a topic there that will let me connect with them. If you are new to blogging, I think that the best primer I have come across recently was written by Bill Slawski. You should really read his advice to a new blogger.
What happens if you do not like to write? You are out of luck. Alright bad joke. Marketing is communication, and an aspect of your job now is opening up a dialog with the consumer. I am just now reading The Cluetrain Manifesto again. If you are new to creating a business blog or website, this book will give you the basis to understanding how communication works on the internet. You are looking to start a conversation with your potential clients. Blog formats offer a better environment for this talk. A reader can comment, or they may send an e-mail. I have seen experts on internet marketing state that you should turn the comments off till you build up your readership, but this tactic turns me off as a user. I do not go back to such blogs. Let’s get back to the question though. I think it is better that you write your own material, but there are other options. You can hire a ghost writer. I did this for some people. This can be an expense. For example, I charged $50 for an article over 500 words. Now, what if you need ten articles? Maybe some ghost writing is not bad, but I think you have to work on your own to have good information on your site. The other option is a guest blogger. I have written for many other sites, and I have only one requirement: they have to allow a link back to my site. Having some experts write posts for you can be great (as well as free), but I am still advocating that you need to have some of your own words on the site. You are your own best promoter.
Since blogging is a form of social networking, should you expand out to such sites on the internet? Facebook and Twitter have been getting a lot of attention in the news. Large corporations are using these sites and others like them to promote and defend their brands. It may seem natural for a small business to follow suit, but there have been studies showing that users of these sites do not look for local businesses in this social sphere of the internet. Taking the conversation beyond the bounds of your blog is important though. You have to pick where you socialize on the web to be effective. Take my business; I need to connect with Realtors to encourage them to suggest me. Sites like LinkedIn or Plaxo are good for that, but then it is easier to make a connection on a site like ActiveRain. My focus now is more on the consumer. To convince people that a good home inspection can be invaluable to them, I can participate in sites like Trulia or Zillow, as well as on my own blog. I can find other blogs to leave comments on too. However, you should think beyond the confines of your immediate profession. In my case, most home buyers are also interested in financial matters. If you survey financial sites, like Yahoo!Finance, or the field of financial advice blogs, you will find discussions about home ownership. You can take this idea for other small businesses as well. Going back to our florist and baker, we can see that they may want to hang out in a common niche on the web, gardening sites. Many home cooks like to grow their own herbs (which can be included in a bread), and many people want to grow their own flowers for arrangements. The basic idea is to participate in the conversations out there which somehow relate to your field.
How should I develop the site, and do I need professional help for that? Look around this site and you are going to find a collection of programs that may be good for a real estate site, but are not really needed to make this a good business blog. I have been fascinated with the open source movement since the mid 90’s. When I was trying to show some Realtors what they could do with their sites, I decided to add on such features as a forum, a store, and a way to list homes, but I have not spent time promoting those aspects of this site. I wanted to see how to install them, and how I could work with them. I am just having a bit of fun. Depending on your business, you may find such aspects of site development useful. I would go to sourceforge.net to see if they may have a program that can help you and your customers create a community on your site. Installing these programs is not so hard when you have some basic knowledge of the internet. Hiring a professional can be a good option though. I have seen internet marketing experts offer evaluations of your site with a roadmap of what to do to improve it for as little as $100. Spending some money on a search engine marketer may be the best move you could make to have your site noticed. If I am remembering correctly, I believe that the figure was approximately $1300 spent by bloggers on their sites is the average amount according to Technorati’s State of the Blogoshpere report for this year. This would include all of the different types of blogs. You may find that you need only $500 worth of help.
Well, this post is becoming too long, but I hope that it may serve as a good introduction into creating a small business website. (So Josh, if you are reading this, it was for you). You have to coordinate your efforts on the web with what you are doing offline. Go to networking meetings, and hand out your business card, which has your website listed on it. My card has several sites listed on the back. Not all of my own, but sites where I have written posts. It helps to show my authority. Good luck in your own efforts.