Category Archives: Internet

How to Be Sure Prospects Can Find You

Recently, Chicago real estate professional Andrea Geller wrote about her frustration at trying to find the contact information of an agent in another state to whom she was referring one of her clients.   She wanted to learn something about that agent and maybe even talk to them before passing her client along.  But that out-of-state agent couldn’t be found on Google.   In fact, it took Andrea a good bit of work to find a direct link to that agent on the Internet.

What if a consumer or another agent were trying to find you?  What would they get if they googled your name? How much searching would they have to do on the Internet before they found your contact information?  And if someone did contact you based on an Internet search, how long would it take you to answer?

Here are the five minimum things you should do to make sure prospects and colleagues can find you with ease:

  1. Have a LinkedIn profile.  Your LinkedIn profile serves as an online résumé that will come up whenever anybody googles you name.
  2. Have a Google profile. Google also lets you create a profile, in which you can write a description of yourself, upload photos, and provide links to other applications you use on the Web.
  3. Be on Facebook. A Facebook Fan Page is ideal because it lets you keep your friends and family separate from your professional image, and because the person looking for you wouldn’t have to have a Facebook account to find you.
  4. Check Your Broker’s Site. Make sure your contact information is easy to find and up to date on your broker’s website.  If you can’t control what’s on your broker’s site, get your own website.
  5. Have Your Own Website.  Even if you do have input regarding what appears on your broker’s site, you should have your own website.  On your own website, you can express our individuality, show your professionalism, and demonstrate how you differ from your colleagues.  A blog is even better than a static website because it allows you to easily update the site’s content.

There is more you can do.  But if you can’t find yourself when you google your name, start with these.

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Internet Security: Easy as 123

A recently-released report by a California-based security company revealed that millions of computer users are selecting passwords that make it easy for hackers to gain access to their accounts.  Are you one of those people?

The company, Imperva, analyzed 32 million passwords in December 2009, and discovered that:

  • 30% of all computer users select passwords of 6 characters or less.  The shorter the password, the easier it for a hacker to guess.
  • Nearly half of all computer users create easy to remember (and therefore easy to guess) passwords, using slang words, dictionary words, or familiar number combination.  The most common password, for example, is “123456”.  Among the top 5 passwords are:  “12345”, “123456789” and “password”.
  • Half of all computer users use the same password for all the websites they visit. This means that once a hacker figures out a victim’s password at one site, it’s easy to invade that person’s accounts on other sites.
  • Almost 60% of users create passwords from a limited number of characters.  Passwords should not spell out a recognizable word and should contain upper and lower case letters along with numbers and special characters such as “!@#$%%^”.

If you’ve made any of these mistakes, you should take the time to review and change your passwords. Choose strong passwords and use these techniques to help remember them.

Will Google Replace the MLS?

Google continues its relentless effort to catalog all of the world’s data and make it available to be searched.   Part of that effort involves real estate, as Google continually adds new features to allow consumers to find properties for sale.

For example, did you know that you can do a real estate search on Google Maps?

  1. Click the drop down menu that’s labeled “More” and check the box that says “Real Estate”.
  2. Enter an address or a zip code in the search field.
  3. Refine the search by price, number of bedrooms and number of bedrooms.

The result is a list of properties for sale—certainly not the entire MLS right now but enough to get a consumer started.  And you can be sure Google will add more features as time goes on, and improve the search so it draws from more sources.

Currently the listings on Google show multiple photos, property descriptions, maps, public transit information, and a button that makes it easy to e-mail the listing to someone else. If the property has been listed multiple times, data from each of the listings—including the listing broker, listing agent, and list price—may also show.

It’s interesting to note that properties offered by brokers are shown right along side properties listed on Buy Owner.

So, will Google someday replace the local MLS?

Always Use Good Judgment Online

A recent incident at the website of the St. Louis Post-Dispatch offers an excellent reminder for real estate professionals.

First, the background story:  ReadWriteWeb reports that an employee at a St. Louis area school lost his job for repeatedly posting vulgar comments on the newspaper’s website.  The employee assumed his comments were posted anonymously.  Meanwhile, the social media director at the St. Louis Post-Dispatch traced the IP address of the poster to a local school and contact the school’s administrator, assuming the comments had been posted by a student.  Not so.  The commenter was an adult employee at the school who was immediately fired.

People posting on the Internet often get confused and think that no one will ever know who they are.  Or, even when their identity is well known—as when they’re posting on their own blogs—they think only a handful of their closest associates will ever see their comments.  Neither of these things is necessarily true.  Therefore, whenever you post something to the Internet, it’s important to use good judgment.

For real estate professionals that means:

  1. Be Kind to People You’re Working With.  Never write in an unflattering way about a client, another agent, another agent’s client, or anyone else involved in a transaction.
  2. Be Kind to People You Don’t Know. Never make fun of a seller or a property you’ve seen, no matter how ridiculous the offer or the property seems to you.
  3. Be Aware of Your Duty to Maintain Confidentiality.  Never disclose any details about a transaction.
  4. Think Before You Type.  Never put anything in a blog post, in a comment, in an e-mail, or in any other electronic format that you might regret later.  Once you hit the enter button, you can’t really ever take it back.
  5. Remember that the Internet Never Forgets. Deleting or removing a post doesn’t necessarily get rid of it.  Websites are often cached or archived so that deleted comments can still be searched and found.
  6. Assume That What You’re Writing Will Be Read by Millions. Always write as if your words will be seen by people beyond your intended audience.  Readers can link to your comments or forward them to others.  Search engines can often find what you’ve written.  Comments posted to sites like Twitter can be seen by everyone everywhere.
  7. Know that You’re Not Really Anonymous. Few people are really anonymous on the Internet.  Comments and e-mails can be traced by people who know how.

6 Ways to Manage RSS Overload

rss newspaper iconYour feedreader is supposed to save you time by allowing you to see all of your favorite web content in one place.  But if your feedreader is overflowing with unread articles, it’s not a time saver, it’s a time sinkhole.  Here are 6 tips to help you get control of your RSS reader and manage the overload.

  1. Put a time limit on it. Limit in advance the amount of time you’ll spend reviewing articles in the feedreader. When time’s up, move on to other more productive work.
  2. If you’re not reading it, get rid of it. Like the items in the back of your closet that you’ll never wear, articles from blogs you visited once probably languish unread in your feedreader.  Be honest with yourself:  if you’re not reading it, unsubscribe.
  3. Put new feeds on probation.  One way to keep from accumulating items you’ll never read is to save your newest feeds in a folder labeled something like “Probation.”  If you find a new feed useful, you can elevate it out of the probation folder.  On the other hand, if you realize that the articles are not as good as you thought they would be, you can unsubscribe to the feed before it takes up residence in your feedreader and starts accumulating.
  4. Feel free to mark all as read. If your reader has hundreds (or even thousands) of articles waiting to be read, it’s probably better to empty the reader by marking all items as read and starting again.
  5. Search to find the gems. If you use Google Reader, you can Search by topic to find items of interest. The articles that meet your search criterion are pulled out for you to read and tag as needed.  This keeps you from having to page through all of your articles to find the few you want to read.  You may want to do this before you mark all as read.
  6. Save the best for another time. When you find articles that you want to read in depth, you can mark them with a star to be read later, or you can tag them as a “Favorite”. Then you can come back to them at your leisure.  Set aside a specific time in the day or the week to do your catch-up reading. Beware of tagging so many Favorites that you never get around to reading them all.

Mine Internet Data Like a Pro with Google Alerts

Google has a slew of cool tools.  One of them—Google Alerts—can let you know what bloggers, the press, and even the general public are saying about you or any topic of your choosing.

Google Alerts
While Twitter is an excellent source of info about what people are talking about, someone has to put it in a tweet in order for it to be picked up.  But Google Alerts let you “follow” stories that no one is tweeting about yet.  It also lets you follow stories that are of interest to you, but may not catch the attention of others on the Internet.

Use Google Alerts to

  • Listen out for good (or bad news) about you or your company
  • Generate intelligence on what your competition is doing
  • Find items of interest to tweet about
  • Follow a news story that interests you
  • Get up-to-the-minute information on changes in interest rates, the housing market, zoning laws, or anything else that impacts your business

Here’s how it works:  You enter a search term in Google Alerts.  When a news story, blog post, or video is added to the Internet that would appear among the top ten search results to someone using that search term, Google will alert you.

For example, let’s say you want to be alerted when anything new happens with the first-time home buyers tax credit.

  1. Go to www.google.com/alerts
    enter your search term
  2. Enter the exact words you would use if you were searching for it on Google, in this case:  “first time home buyers tax credit”.
  3. Enter the type of content you want to be alerted about.  For example, do you want to know when there’s a new news story, a new blog post, or some other kind of written content on the Internet?  Choose “comprehensive” if you want to be alerted about all three.  You can also be alerted if someone uploads a new video about your topic (choose “video”) or if your topic appears in a new e-mail aggregate (choose “group”).
  4. Enter how often you want Google to check for new items:  once a week, once a day, or continuously.  If you want Google to check continuously, choose “as-it-happens”.
  5. Enter your Google e-mail address (You must have a Google account to use Google Alerts).  If you use Google Reader and you prefer to have your alerts sent to you as a feed rather than via e-mail, select “feed”.
  6. Click “Create Alert”.

Once you log in to your Google e-mail account and confirm, your alerts will start coming to you.  Because you checked “as-it-happens” you may start getting alerts right away.  And because you checked that you wanted them to come to your e-mail, your alerts will look like the example below.  Here you see links to two news stories about the first-time home buyers tax credit that popped into your e-mail inbox within minutes of setting up your alerts.

alert e-mails

Keep in mind that you’ll only be alerted when there’s something new on the Internet that would appear among the top search results.  If you don’t ever get any alerts, it’s because there’s nothing new, because there’s nothing new that comes up high enough in a Google search, or because your search term isn’t very good.  You can always go in to Google alerts and make changes.  To do that:

  1. Go to http://www.google.com/alerts.
  2. edit alerts

  3. Click the link that lets you edit your alerts.
  4. Select the alert you want to edit and make your changes.

To delete an alert, simply check the box next to it and click the delete button.
delete
How might you use Google Alerts?

Use 3 Types of Posts to Cook Up a Sizzling Image

Vegetable stewThere are three types of social networking posts. Each does something a little different, but each is an important ingredient in successfully creating an online presence.

Blog Posts. Think of a blog as the main element in a stew, the meat of your Internet mélange. Blog posts can be as long or as short as you wish.  They can be tightly edited and written in a journalistic style, or they can be rambling, freeform essays that chronicle your inner thoughts and feelings.  And because you can use them to write as much as you want, blogs give you a huge degree of freedom to craft your online personality.

But with blogs, it’s not just what you write.  It’s also how your blog looks and feels. When you decide to make a stew, you get to choose the main ingredient; will it be a Louisiana-style gumbo with crayfish and crabs, or will you be boiling corned beef and cabbage?

It’s the same way with your blog.  You choose the style.  Will it be colorful and crazy?  Or will an understated black and gray color scheme suit your purpose better?  Will it have a slick, polished look?  Or will it be more folksy and friendly?  The words you choose, the slant and style of the writing, the look and feel of the site—you get to put it all together.   And the choices you make impact your image online.

Status Updates. Status updates give you the opportunity to let people know what you’re doing throughout the day.   They’re kind of like the vegetables in your stew:  add some of this and some of that.  If you’ve got carrots, put them in.  If not, the potatoes and onions will be fine by themselves.

Status updates are what’s happening with you now—whatever you happen to have at the moment.  They can be funny and personal or they can herald your latest professional accomplishments.  It’s all up to you; whatever you can share in a few sentences. Throw in some pictures if you have them.  Get feedback from your friends and fans.  Stir it all up to blend the flavors nicely.

Micro-blogging Posts.  Finally, there’s micro-blogging.  Think of it as the seasoning:  a pinch here and a dash there.  The best cooks know how to work magic with seasoning and you can do the same with micro-blogging.

Twitter has become the cornucopia of micro-blogging.  And while some people use Twitter mostly for status updates, it’s really most powerful as a micro-marketing tool.  Share blog posts and news stories about events that interest you.  Give people a sense of who you are by what kind of content you link to.  Gain followers by adding value based on the content you share.  Remember all the while that—just like in a well-seasoned dish—simplicity and subtly often work best.

These three kinds of blog posts are the elements in your online mix.  Combine them well to create an appetizing and irresistible brand.