(This is Part 4 of a four-part series. Read Part 1, Part 2 and Part 3.)

Blogs may soon take the place of both Web sites and newsletters. Are you ready to capitalize on this super hot trend?

Last week’s article looked at advanced blogging terms and concepts. Today’s article addresses the steps necessary to launch a successful blog.

Niche it!

The first step in starting your blog is to identify an area where you have expertise and are willing to write about regularly. It’s smart to narrowly focus your blog rather than writing on a wide variety of topics. Before making a final decision, investigate other real estate blogs to see what works and what doesn’t work. Also, check out your local market area to see if anyone else is blogging on the same topic you are considering or in the same market area. If possible, choose an area where there is no competition.

What to write?

Your blog should address local issues, in your own voice. It’s also great to have guest contributors who share their expertise. For example, you might have a CPA do a post about changes in the tax law or have a probate expert discuss trusts. In terms of what you should post, write about what you tell your clients. For example, you can provide information about sales activity, changes in the tax code that have an effect on home ownership, changes in zoning laws, neighborhood watch, etc. You could also review a new restaurant, share information on upcoming garage sales, post pictures of the neighborhood Halloween carnival, or the sports schedule for local schools. You can also invite your local Parent-Teacher Association, religious groups, Chamber of Commerce members, people involved in charitable fundraising, etc., to participate as well. Again, be a resource for all that is local in your market area. If you don’t write well, there are plenty of unemployed writers who would be happy to write your posts for you and post them to the Web. Go to www.elance.com or the International Virtual Assistants Organization for help.

Which platform?

This may be the most important decision that you will make. Free platforms such as those from Blogger.com or RealtyBloggingSystems.com are great sources if you have limited funds. Typepad runs about $149 annually and provides you with much more versatility. WordPress also provides great flexibility, but it requires someone who has a fairly sophisticated tech background. WordPress, however, does have some serious advantages over the other sites. The difference between Typepad and WordPress is that your blog sits on the Typepad server. This means that you are not driving better Web rankings for your Web site. In contrast, WordPress links your blog to your Web site. (Hire a virtual assistant with a technology background to help you with these more sophisticated sites). Also, a new site from Google, called Writely.com, allows you to create HTML and PDF files online, with no additional software. Translated into English, this means you can use Writely to create a file (or copy it a from a Word file into Writely) and you will not need a Web designer to create your posts.

Post your listings

You have two great choices here. The first choice is to include your listings in your blog. Be sure to segregate listing information from your blog’s content. The person searching for listing information doesn’t want to wade through commentary. The other option is to create a separate blog for each of your listings. Be sure to create a separate permalink for each listing so it can be referenced in the future. You should purchase a separate URL or domain name (i.e. 345 Elm Street) for each separate blog. One inexpensive way to do this is by going to www.GoDaddy.com. Also, if you do this prior to your listing appointment, it prevents other agents from being able to compete with you for the seller’s address. At some point in the future, it may become common practice for those who visit different listings, to post their feedback about the property on the listing’s blog. If you are considering experimenting with this, be sure to edit all posts. You do not want to be sued for someone’s inappropriate comments.

Duplicate content

When you post listing information to your blog, be sure to change the comment descriptions so that they differ from what may be posted on your company’s Web site, Realtor.com, or anywhere else on the Web where the information may have been previously catalogued by the search engines. Remember, the search engines will only pick it up if it’s new content. You don’t have to change the entire post, but make it different enough that the search engines will locate it.

Read and comment on other blogs

This helps you to get known in the blogging community and to build relationships that lead to referrals.

Use pictures

A picture makes your post come to life. When you travel, take lots of pictures. (This is also a way to write off at least part of your trip.) There are also numerous online libraries that you can use for a resource.

Blogging is probably the hottest trend for 2007. It generates leads, builds client trust, establishes your expertise, strengthens your community, and can be lots of fun. Pay-per-click and traditional marketing are expensive. Blogging is virtually free and can produce an amazing return. Isn’t it time that you considered using a blog to build your business?

Bernice Ross, national speaker and CEO of Realestatecoach.com, is the author of “Waging War on Real Estate’s Discounters” and “Who’s the Best Person to Sell My House?” Both are available online. She can be reached at bernice@realestatecoach.com or visit her blog at www.LuxuryClues.com.

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