Straight From The Hound's Mouth

BloodhoundPhoto by SuperFantastic – Bruce.

An interview with Greg Swann of the Bloodhound Blog

The real estate blogosphere is still a very intimate community.  It’s arguable that the same 300 or 400 visitors here today, will be mostly the same group visiting the other top blogs in the industry.  So I feel it is safe to assume that you all know the great Hound, Greg Swann of Bloodhound Realty in Phoenix, AZ.  Whether my assumption is true or not, it is my pleasure to shine the light on perhaps the most well spoken (written) real estate blogger among us, giving us all the opportunity to peel back the curtain on how he does it.

I asked Greg for this interview not just because his writing style is pure prose, nor because I knew his responses would be most polished, but because I feel that he has a great understanding of what he is doing, with every effort.  It is that understanding that I wanted him to share with my audience, aiming to bring some clarity on how his rise to popularity in the real estate blogosphere has come to be.

If my experience with Greg is any indication of his commitment and ability to deliver within his profession, I envy his clients’ fortune.  Somehow he found the time in his busy schedule to produce the eloquent and thorough responses below, just hours after I had sent the questions to him.  So now, devour!

Q: How much time do you dedicate weekly to blogging (drafting, editing, publishing)?

A: Two to four hours a day, depending on the rest of my day. I draft text in my head, though, so I can do a lot of work in junk time — in the car, for instance — then just blast it out when I have time to write. A lot of blog posts are fairly rote, anyway, and I can punch those out with dispatch. I have no idea how things work for other BloodhoundBlog contributors. If I know what I need to say, I can write 1,000–1,200 words an hour for six or eight hours straight. That’s Grand Opera, polished, musical prose. If I’m doing something that’s just slam-it-out writing, I can do 2,000 words an hour forever — until I can’t stay awake any longer. For what it’s worth, I think it’s worthwhile for Realtors to train themselves to write well and quickly.

For example, much of my client contact is by email, and I need for those emails to save me time, as compared with a phone call.

Q: How much time do you dedicate weekly to reading and participating on others blogs?

A: I read my feed reader in idle time whenever I’m in the office. I’m not a very good weblog participant, though. I’ll comment here and there, but, for the most part, if I think something I saw on another blog is worth talking about, I’ll talk about it on BloodhoundBlog and link back.

I’m just going to write. It’s something I’ve always done, always will do.

Q: How many blogs are on your RSS reader?

A: I just checked: 110. I must be out of my mind…

Q: What RSS reader do you use/recommend?

A: My wife and business partner, Cathleen Collins, and I both use Vienna for the Macintosh, a stand-alone feed reader that opens posts directly in a view window or, if you double click on a weblog or a post, opens that content in a separate browser window. My browser is Safari for the Macintosh (with the Saft extensions), and I tend to organize common ideas in tabs in their own browser window.

At any given time, I might have 15 browser windows open, each with anywhere from two to ten open tabs. When you see me do a link post, I’m sorting back through those tabs to document what was interesting to me. I like to share this stuff, but if I turn my interests into posts, they become searchable for me on BloodhoundBlog, as well.

Q: What made you decide to start blogging about real estate?

A: Well, for a first thing, I’m just going to write. It’s something I’ve always done, always will do. It’s easy for me to hector other people about writing, to say, “Better! Faster! Cleaner! Tighter!” — all those things come very easily to me. But they come easily because I have written so much for so long. Usus est magister optimus. Practice is the best teacher.

Add to that the idea that writing about real estate might be good for client recruitment and retention and we get our first real estate weblog, which we started in 2003. That stunk to high heaven, failing, as most blogs fail, unknown and unlamented. I tried again in November of 2005, and that weblog, which also failed, donated its 60-odd posts when I built BloodhoundBlog.

This weblog works, where the first two didn’t, for two reasons: It’s actually part of the weblogging community, and the weblogging community it’s a part of is interested in the topics BloodhoundBlog covers.

Q: What day did BloodhoundBlog launch?

A: June 29th, 2006. Throughout the early months of 2006, I had been emailing real estate commentary to friends, and I realized that those emails had the tone and tenor I wanted in a real estate weblog. I snagged a WordPress template, modified it radically, and started posting my email commentary as weblog entries instead.

Cathy and I both had a lot to say and we started drawing attention right away (may god bless The Real Estate Tomato). We’re a renegade brokerage, and we’re interested in a lot of third rail issues — and we link out a lot — so we caught the attention of other webloggers interested in similar topics. Russell Shaw discovered us on Inman Blog when we won The Carnival or Real Estate and asked if he could join us. He was such a great addition that we invited other bigfoot webloggers to join us. There are nine BloodhoundBlog webloggers right now, with a tenth on deck.

Our contributors come from all over the country, and our focus is pretty strongly national and industry-related.

Q: From where do you most often derive your topics?

Pearls are borne of irritants. Feed me something annoying or stupid and I’m off to the races.

A: Pearls are borne of irritants. Feed me something annoying or stupid and I’m off to the races. I can do the contrary — soaring praise of exalted greatness — but eviscerating criticism comes to me as easily as breathing. I despise injustice — as with the Zillow.com shake-down — so that’s an easy topic for me, too. I have a lot of fun with really dumb product ideas. Even so, in my own soul I love the admirable things my fellow humans do, and one of the things I like about weblogging is that I get to point out what I think is really good work.

Q: How much business can you attribute directly to your blogging efforts?

A: On the close order of none. I do not believe the kind of real estate weblogging I am involved in is a good source of real estate leads. We’re not interested in that, anyway, but I don’t think a top-down real estate weblog is going to work very well as a lead capture system no matter what its content. I can give you a weblogging model that will work as a lead generation system, but it’s nothing like what is being done in any of those 110 weblogs on my feed reader.

Q: To what do you attribute your rise to success in the real estate blogging community?

A: We write very well on topics of great importance to real estate professionals — a significant portion of the real estate weblogging audience. Through some of our new contributors, we’re adding content of interest to investors — another key audience. Without having intended to, we draw attention from real estate bubble fanatics — perhaps the biggest audience for real estate weblogs. And the quality of our writing and of our arguments is appealing to that segment of the general population fascinated with real estate. In other words, mostly by accident, we hit on a formula that is fairly attractive to the actual audience for real estate weblogging.

Q: What blogging editor (WYSIWYG) do you use to post articles?

A: I work in raw HTML in TextWrangler, a free text editor for the Macintosh. When I’m ready to post, I move the text into Ecto, a stand-alone weblogging editor available for both Macintosh and Windows machines. I can write software in a bunch of computer languages, and most of the custom PHP used to run BloodhoundBlog is mine (my son, Cameron, does most of the PHP for our real estate websites). In any case, HTML is easy for me, where most WYSIWYG editors drive me nuts.

Q: How do you best see a blog generating leads in the real estate industry?

A: I don’t. For the most part, I don’t believe the ordinary real estate consumer is reading real estate weblogs — at least not regularly. The entire world wide web is a fanatic’s phenomenon — news, work, porn, politics, hobbies, whatever. The people writing and reading weblogs, no matter what the topic, are the people who are intensely interested in that topic.

Homeowners pay close attention to the Realtors working in their neighborhoods, because they want to know who can get the job done when they are ready to sell. Buyers seem to me to pick their agents in the same way teenage boys pick their girlfriends: The one who smiles back first wins. If you have exactly the right post on your weblog when a search you cannot predict lands a potential buyer there — a buyer who has never been to your weblog before and may never return — you just might get a lead. Otherwise not.

Interesting question: How easily can Realtors be contacted from that one hit on that one post?

I’m not interested in getting leads from weblogging, but if you click on the name of the post’s author in BloodhoundBlog, you’re sending an email to that person. In many weblogs I visit, I can’t even puzzle out the author’s name. I don’t think real estate weblogs are good lead capture systems, but they cannot possibly be any good for that purpose if I can’t figure out who you are or how to get hold of you.

Q: What do you feel are business blogging taboos that new blogger should strictly avoid?

A: Don’t ever lie. You should never lie, anyway, but in the age of Google, everything can be checked. Don’t pull dumb stunts to generate traffic. Don’t get worked up about SEO. Killer content is king, and everything else is just juice. Don’t steal content, ever. I can’t tell you how many weblogs I see that are nothing but stolen content — sometimes with attribution, often without. You may not be able to attract leads with a weblog, but if people figure out that you’re a thief, you will successfully repel everyone. Finally: Don’t forget what you do for a living.

Q: If you were to recommend one blogging strategy for new real estate bloggers, what would it be?

A: Depends on the objective. If you want leads, don’t weblog. Go door to door in a neighborhood you can take away from its current specialists and tell the homeowners why listing with you is a much better idea — and make sure it is a much better idea. Or: Work your warm network for buyers, talking to a minimum of twenty different people every day, a minimum of 150 different people every week. Better yet: Do both. The conversion rate on internet leads is notoriously low.

If you want to score more often, take higher-percentage shots at the basket. If you want to influence the future of the real estate industry, have something to say and have an interesting way of saying it. Link liberally and you will get noticed. If your content is on the mark, you’ll have an impact. If you want to launch yourself into a higher orbit — in other words, your next career — cultivate a canonical authority in your writing and keep your eye out for opportunities. If you write very well about matters of moment to the real estate industry, email me.

We’re interested in great real estate writing, period, and, if you write with us, we will send a ton of traffic back to your current weblog or web site.

Q: What is the future of the real estate blogosphere?

Only by writing can we concentrate the mind to a point, focusing and refocusing it as it whips and wanders and wool-gathers, forcing it back to the matter at hand, until, by the act of fully explicating an idea, we come most fully to apprehend it.

A: More of the same. The idea is that we’re on the leading edge of the Bell Curve. My bet is that we’re somewhere high on the arc, maybe on the back side of the arc. There may be many more real estate weblogs to be started, but the failure rate is going to soar. The people who cannot bear not to write (ahem!) are already writing.

There may be a very large bandwagon yet to come, but few if any of the people on it will be natural musicians, so to speak. The more the real estate industry concentrates on leads, SEO, canned-content, etc., the more consumer-oriented real estate weblogging will come to look to ordinary consumers like just another Realtor scam.

For weblogs like BloodhoundBlog, the sky is the limit. The beautiful thing about true weblogging — as distinguished corporate weblogging — is that it’s clean. Completely transparent, warts-and-all, the polar opposite of the makeup-and-klieg-lights of the mainstream media, of Hollywood, of the corporate boardroom or the PR war-room, of every phony stunt associated with best-foot-forward baffle-’em-with-bullshit marketing. The more that weblogs hew to that ideal, the better they will do going forward.

The more they betray it, turning weblogging into just another trick pulled by the marketing department, the more ordinary consumers will react to it as just another trick pulled by the marketing department. In the long run, scrupulously honest weblogs will develop and maintain faithful followings and dishonest weblogs will be ignored by consumers with the same alacrity that they already ignore spam and splogs. In other words, weblogging-as-advertising will be just as useless as every other advertising medium. My take: That is as it should be.

Q: What question did I not ask that you wished I had — and what is your answer to it?

A: First, I should take a moment to laugh at myself, since I have publicly spit on the idea of email interviews in the past.

Contrary to that opinion, I’ve enjoyed this format, not alone because I can link back to fuller explorations of the ideas I’m talking about.

Here’s a question suggested by Cathy: If you aren’t a good writer, should you weblog anyway?

I say yes, but entirely for reasons of self-improvement. Discursive prose is the language of reason. Mere thought is evermore scattered, whipping about here and there, never, ever staying on point. Mere speech is dispersed to nothing by the winds themselves, its evanescence its entire substance.

Only by writing can we concentrate the mind to a point, focusing and refocusing it as it whips and wanders and wool-gathers, forcing it back to the matter at hand, until, by the act of fully explicating an idea, we come most fully to apprehend it. Only by writing can we manifest our ideas in such a way that we might, as we are skilled, communicate them fully and permanently to another mind. I see this as the fundamentally human action, recording the work of the mind in a notation system — which need not be prose. To the extent that you do this, and to the extent that you do it wisely and well, improving with every effort — to that extent are you realizing your full potential as a human being. Whatever happens after that — even if no one ever shares in your creations — is a secondary consequence. We write — prose or poetry or music or mathematics or software — to become who we most completely are.

The rest is like whipped cream on a slice of warm pecan pie: Sweet but entirely unnecessary. Build a better mindtrap and the world won’t be able to stop itself from beating a path to your door…

– Thanks Greg