Hacker Connect January 16 in New York
An event for and by the real estate tech community

The ActiveRain Real Estate Network is offering its nearly 100,000 members free "outside blogs" that they can dress up with their own branding and set up at their own custom domain or a subdomain within ActiveRain.com.

While many companies offer free blogs, ActiveRain’s rollout of an outside blog capability allows members to write up a post using the network’s blogging platform and, with a push of a button, publish to as many as four sites: 

  • An ActiveRain blog, where many members write about topics primarily of interest to other real estate professionals.

     

  • ActiveRain’s consumer-facing "Localism" site, where real estate agents can tackle issues of more general public interest, putting their knowledge on display to attract clients.

     

  • An "outside blog" on an ActiveRain subdomain that can be customized to incorporate the member’s branding, while excluding links to other pages on ActiveRain.

     

  • A customizable "outside blog" at a member-owned domain name.

Because subdomains generally don’t perform as well as primary domains in search-engine results, ActiveRain is encouraging members who want to create an outside blog to buy their own domain name from a third-party Internet service provider (ISP). The setup fee for a custom domain can be as little as $8.95, said Brad Andersohn, ActiveRain community builder.

Andersohn said interest in using ActiveRain to create an outside blog has been strong, with about 1,500 members setting up new blogs last week in ActiveRain subdomains in the first days the new service was offered. There was no easy way for Andersohn to check how many members had set up outside blogs at their own domains.

The ability to push the same content to multiple sites has implications for search-engine rankings, because many don’t give much credence to content that’s duplicated at more than one address. ActiveRain says it’s addressed by creating a hierarchy under which Google sees only one site as the originating source of content. The system works on a post-by-post basis, allowing members to decide where each blog post will appear and which site gets tagged as the originating source.

For example, any time a member chooses to syndicate an ActiveRain blog post to Localism — by adding "geo-tags" that helps visitors to the site find information relevant to their market — Localism will be credited as the original source, and the member’s ActiveRain and "outside" blogs will link back to Localism.

Google will see a member’s outside blog as the originating source if ActiveRain posts are syndicated there without a geo tag — meaning the posts will not appear on Localism, either. Google sees ActiveRain as the originating source only when members choose not to syndicate their posts to their outside blogs and Localism.

Many companies offer free tools and blog hosting — Blogger, WordPress and TypePad are among the most popular services — but ActiveRain has been a hit with real estate professionals who can piggyback on the site’s popularity in search-engine rankings.

Some ActiveRain members are worried that their outside blogs won’t enjoy the same success in search-engine rankings. Others are lamenting the additional complexity involved in customizing their outside blog and the many publishing options.

"Can you all just make mine the best way it should be to my benefit?" pleaded Florida Realtor Karen Monsour. Responding to a blog post helping users with technical issues, Monsour asked for a template to simplify the process of creating an outside blog. "Think about writing this at a 9th grade, oops maybe 6th grade level … Remember, some of us are self-taught, meaning we didn’t have (computers) to play with in high school."

Veteran blogger Teresa Boardman — who writes for her own blog and several other sites, including ActiveRain and Inman News — questioned how an ActiveRain outside blog would help a well-established blogger.

"Currently I come up number one on page one of Google for some real important search terms," Boardman wrote, commenting on the same post. "My blog has become my brand and my business with close to 1,500 posts and a couple thousand photos."

ActiveRain community builder Bob Stewart assured users that the system ActiveRain has set up will handle duplicate content and other issues, asking them to "trust us that it’s going to kick SEO butt." Stewart told Boardman that adding another Web site, which "will quickly rank on the first page of Google … never hurts."

Stewart said outside blogs will be ideal for "offline branding" — postcards agents mail out to their "farm," for instance, could direct clients to a blog with a personalized banner created specifically for that audience.

Evaluating the new outside blog offering from ActiveRain on GeekEstate blog, Jay Thompson said setting up an outside blog through the site was a snap — taking just 30 seconds. In addition to concerns about how ActiveRain will handle the issue of duplicate content, Thompson said options for customizing the blogs seem limited.

Developers have already been busy developing real estate "widgets" for other blog platforms. The "Great Real Estate" widget for WordPress — recently spotlighted by Reggie Nicolay of MyTechOpinion — allows brokers and agents to add and manage listings to their blogs. Other plug-ins detailed by Nicolay simplify the process of integrating photos, videos and other multimedia.

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