In this episode of Agent Engine, co-hosts Brian Gardner and Jay Thompson discuss Agent Engine Spaces, the Design Studio, and why every real estate agent should have a website. (Hint: Because they can grow your business.)
Announcer: Welcome to Agent Engine, a podcast for agents and brokers who are serious about building and growing their real estate business. Co-hosts Brian Gardner and Jay Thompson, along with leading industry experts, explore the power of technology, the value of community, and the tools you need to become a real estate powerhouse.
Brian: Hello, Agent Engine listeners, and welcome back to the show. You are listening to episode three. I am your host, Brian Gardner. And thank you for hitting the play button. Once again, I am joined by the hopefully-fished-out and very relaxed Jay Thompson. Jay, how’s it going?
Jay: It’s going great, Brian. I am unfortunately not fished-out. The little snowmageddon that we had a couple of weeks ago that we talked about a little bit in the last episode sadly killed much fish. So, earlier this week, I went out, counted dead fish for the Texas Parks and Wildlife Commission. It is sad. The good news is it’s mostly baitfish. Of course, that impacts the game fish because they eat the baitfish. And there were some dead game fish out there, but the ones around and that are still everywhere are hungry and biting. So, it’ll be okay. Everything will be fine. Now, I’m looking out the window, and it’s sunny, and we’re back to normal.
Brian: That’s good to hear. I’m looking out my window. It is also sunny up here in Chicago. I see patches of snow. Thankfully, we’ve had considerable snowmelt the last almost a week to 10 days where it’s been above freezing and sunny. The intensity of the sun’s melting the snow, which is huge because I am a trail runner, and a lot of times, the trails are the last to get melted because people walk on them and they mat it down. I’m jonesing to get out there. And thankfully, I’ve been able to get out and hit the trail a few times in the last week or so. So, that’s good stuff.
Jay: I am not a big trail runner, but I would suspect running on icy trails is not a good idea.
Brian: Not at all. Not if you don’t want to risk it. Like, I would want to do it to get out there, but you hit a piece of ice, and you slip off, and you tear an ACL, and you’re done for a year.
Jay: Yup. Yup. So, not to put that aside, but just to dive right into things, I got the Agent Engine newsletter a few days ago, and my first thought was, “Wow, there’s a lot of stuff going on in here.” So, what can you share with all our listeners?
Brian: Well, yes, of course, we’re moving and shaking, I guess, that’s a great way to put it at Agent Engine. For those who are not on the email list, though you should be, you can go to agentengine.com/newsletter to sign up. I dropped two relatively large bits of information this past week. The first one of which is something you’re well aware of. We’re building a thing called Agent Engine Spaces. An experience for teams, brokerages, and associations. It’s a place where agents and members can optimize their workflow while discovering multi-level search functionality. I know I used many big words there, but really what that means is Spaces as a partitioned and personalized version of the Agent Engine directory. If you go to app.agentengine.com, you’ll see, sort of, a visual card profile. That is our directory of agents who have signed up for free profiles or have upgraded to their pro account.
Agent Engine Spaces will allow larger groups, ten or more, depends on what size; it’ll let them essentially white label the technology we have behind the profile and the directory system and use it for their organization. We’re working with a few folks right now. One is an association. One is a brokerage. And we are looking to customize their digital experience so that they can showcase all of their agents in a very searchable and, shall I say, well-designed way.
Jay: Of course, it’ll be well-designed because that’s what you do.
Brian: It is. It’s also a great segway into the second bit of information which is very much so excited to share that we are opening what we’re going to call the Agent Engine Design Studio. There, we will provide services such as brand design, website design, social media design. You know, we’ll offer everything from logos to semi-custom WordPress websites with IDX integration, pretty much anything anybody would need for a well-executed digital marketing strategy. Now, the cool thing is, as a designer and the one who will be primarily working with folks at the design studio, I’m just beyond thrilled. I’m ecstatic. I love what we’ve built at “Agent Engine.” I love us doing the podcast, me writing the newsletter, and doing all of those things.
Design is just always my number one, kind of, go-to defacto, what I do when I’m bored, even when I’m not working, sort of, a thing. And so, our team discussed, you know, hey, maybe just, some kind of, on the side or, sort of, in the backroom, let’s do a design studio. I’m asked probably at least once a week if I’m interested in taking on, you know, side projects or custom design for people, and that’s the two bits of big news. Good stuff, though, for sure.
Jay: That is good stuff. And it’s a great segue into the topic of today’s episode, which is real estate websites. I know we’ve touched on my experience with Phoenix Real Estate Guy in our first episode, but I think it might be a good context now for me to take a little bit of a dive into even more than I did before. Are you good with that?
Brian: Absolutely. I know, as you said, we talked about it a little bit last week, and then we, kind of, cut ourselves off so that we could open up more specifically about that all here this week. So, walk us through Phoenix Real Estate Guy. It’s a great example of a real estate website that back in the day just really worked wonders for your business. So, walk us through how it got started, why you chose the name, and how it helped you build your business.
Jay: Sure. You know, I guess it all started with my love of writing. I’ve always loved to write. I was just a kid in school, like in high school, where the teacher would say, “Write a 500-word essay on blah, blah, blah,” and I’d raise my hand and go, “Is it cool if I do 1,000 words?” And all my friends would roll their eyes, and you know. But that was just me. I’ve been a writer all my life. And so, a blog seemed like the perfect platform to merge my love of writing and real estate. And when I started Phoenix Real Estate Guy, it was not the first real estate blog by any stretch of the imagination, but they weren’t as ubiquitous as they became.
Keep in mind; this is back in 2004. So, you could find a handful of real estate blogs out there. There wasn’t a whole lot to go on. And I didn’t know what I was doing. At the time, again, you know, what, 15, 17 years ago, blogs were, kind of, associated with being personal journals more than anything else. So, I thought, “Well, I’m going to learn how to do this blogging thing, write about real estate, and I can marry my love for writing with my new real estate business.” And I didn’t know where it would go. And I had no idea. I mean, in the back of my head, I’m like, “I hope this generates leads and helps me build my business.”
Unbeknownst to many people, the original name and URL of Phoenix Real Estate Guy was buygilberthomes.com. And Gilbert’s a little, not so little now, but it’s a town that’s part of the Phoenix metropolitan area. But the problem with that was I’m like nobody, except people that live here, know what Gilbert is or where it is. So, I had buygilberthomes.com, but the tagline underneath that was “Stories From the Phoenix Real Estate Guy.” And that was a pure SEO play because I wanted to get traffic from the search terms surrounding Phoenix real estate. After all, most people know Phoenix, but they didn’t know Gilbert. So, buygilberthomes.com, tagline, “Stories From the Phoenix Real Estate Guy.”
And I did that for quite some time. In, like, a pure stroke of fate or karma or whatever you want to call it, I met a real estate agent through social media in Kansas City. We were having a conversation, but at the time, he goes, “Hey, believe it or not, I bought a domain name, phoenixrealestateguy.com, a couple of years ago. You want it?” And I was like, “Dude, yes, I want it because I would rather be phoenixrealestateguy.com instead of buygilberthomes.com.” And I said, “How much do you want for it?” And I’m like, thinking, “I’m going to have to write a big check for this.” And this guy goes, “You can have it.” So, he gave it to me, which blew me away, but that’s just the kind of guy he was. So, I did the whole converting the domain name, and it was reborn as phoenixrealestateguy.com.
At the time, I still didn’t know what I was doing. I was writing content for that site probably once a week, maybe twice a week if I wasn’t super busy, and that went on for several months while I, kind of, basically self-taught SEO to myself, and it didn’t take too much longer before I realized, you know, I need more content. I’ve got to produce more content, not just from an SEO perspective, but to build the site. Because if you come to a blog and there are only four posts, it’s kind of hard to engage a readership and build a readership doing that.
So, I started posting four times, five times, sometimes every day, for weeks on end. And it is a labor of love because, you know, at the time, I knew my mom was reading it, my wife was reading it, and I had some friends reading it, but I stuck with it because I knew that it takes time to build a site and build a readership. But a funny thing started happening within probably six months of steady, consistent multiple times a week posting, the phone started ringing, and the emails started coming in. I’ll be darned if this thing wasn’t generating viable leads, which was pretty magical at the time.
I think there was a bit of a first adopter advantage. It was very early in the real estate blogging days. So, there wasn’t a lot of user-generated hyperlocal content out there. It did well in the search engines, probably better than you could do now if you just started a website or started generating content. It takes a long time to get traction. It took a while to gain traction back then, but it was a little bit easier, again, because it was the first adopter type of thing, but basically, it took off. And the next thing I know, I’m getting tons of backlinks. I start getting invitations to go to conferences to speak about blogging because I guess I was a blogging expert, and people were just beginning to pay more and more attention.
It wasn’t just Phoenix Real Estate Guy that was doing well, several blogs at the time. Some of them are defunct now because, again, this was ages ago, but I gained this national presence by running Phoenix Real Estate Guy, which is still kind of, boggles my mind. I met tons of people. It was a direct lead into my wife, and I opened our brokerage because we were getting more contacts and leads from Phoenix Real Estate Guy than I could handle. I physically could not follow up on all the leads we were getting. So, that kind of led to the next logical step. Well, let’s open a brokerage, bring in a couple of agents. We can feed them these leads, and they can help close them. They’ll make more transactions, we’ll make money, and it just seemed to work.
So, that blog led to opening a brokerage. And to be honest, it led to me getting a position with Zillow. And they didn’t hire me because of Phoenix Real Estate Guy, but it introduced me to a lot of the team at Zillow, kind of put me on their map because not only did I write about Phoenix stuff, I wrote about the real estate industry. And I think that attracted the attention of a lot of other people in the real estate industry. So, I “met people.” I connected with leaders in the real estate space, and eventually, that turned into a position at Zillow. So, to wrap all that up, in hindsight, if I could do it all over again, I probably wouldn’t have gone down the Phoenix Real Estate path because it’s too broad. It was cool to rank well for the search term “Phoenix real estate,” but I think people need to focus on a real estate niche.
Phoenix is too big a niche to focus on. I might’ve been better off sticking with buygilberthomes.com; who knows? But it turned into the Phoenix Real Estate Guy, and it became a thing. I remember going to an airport one time, and I was in the security line wearing might Phoenix Real Estate Guy T-shirt. I don’t even know if it was TSA back then, but, you know, the guy running the x-ray machine at the airport goes, “Phoenix Real Estate Guy, I love that blog.” And that’s when I stepped back and went, “Holy crap, some random guy in public just recognized my blog.” And I felt like I have hit the big time.
Brian: So, you arrived by way of the Phoenix Real Estate Guy blog.
Jay: Yeah, absolutely.
Brian: There are a couple of things I want to follow up on with what you said. Especially in light of real estate websites and, sort of, the preconceived notions that that means for people who aren’t comfortable working with technology or think it’s too hard or can’t figure it out or whatnot, for those who have a website. Nowadays, there’s plenty of options to get up and running efficiently, and you don’t need to know how to build a website. You don’t even need to spend lots of money on stuff like this. So, you said you taught yourself SEO. Now, SEO is a massive topic in the marketing space. And, of course, from year to year, things change. And we’re not talking about high-level SEO, like the people who work for Google or even those who are SEO Jedis. What were some of the things, sort of, the lightweight stuff that you found were useful? Of course, back then still different than even right now, but just some simple tips for things to think about when people have a website and want to write with it?
Jay: Yeah, sure. I think one of the biggest things that I did that seems a little contrarian is I spent a lot of time linking out to other blogs, and a lot of people go, “Why would you write a blog post with a link to somebody else’s blog?” You drive them away from your site onto their site, and you lose them. The way I looked at it is when I link out to somebody else, and they know that happened, right, because of trackbacks and all that technical kind of stuff. You link to somebody else, and they are notified that they’ve got a link, then they check you out. A significant amount of the time, when I would link to somebody else, I found that eventually, they would link back to me at some point, building my backlinks. And I’ll be honest, I haven’t kept up with SEO lately, and like you said, it does change all the time, but one thing I don’t ever think will change is the value of backlinks, meaning someone linking to your site. I think Google looks at that still to this day as, kind of, a vote for your site. If someone’s linking to you, that’s a good thing from a search engine perspective.
The other thing that I won’t say I even focused on it, but I kept it in the back of my head was keywords. And you hear about that a lot. Then, there are all kinds of destructive paths to go down with keyword stuffing and things like that. And I wasn’t a keyword stuffer, meaning I didn’t try to jam Phoenix real estate into every sentence, but I was conscious of it. I could write and include some keywords, not just Phoenix real estate, but words in the real estate space, like, I don’t know, mortgage, escrow, title, anytime you can work in the type of words that some people might be searching for is valuable.
It was little things like that. You know, again, as a self-taught SEO, as you said, there’s so much to that. And it gets more and more complicated probably every day. But I still think there are fundamental things that you can do. Generate backlinks, properly use keywords. Those kinds of things are probably never going to change and always have an impact on your search engine.
Brian: Yeah. I am by no stretch of any imagination an SEO guru, but I do know enough, like you, to understand what are the things to be conscious and aware of, right? Just the keyword stuffing thing, as you mentioned. You are using keywords only in blog titles or even the description you enter that Google indexes. And, of course, Google is smart. If you put Phoenix real estate in every other phrase, they’re going to say, “This is, you know, spammy.” Or one of the things you also mentioned is the whole hyperlocal thing. Phoenix Real Estate Guy was pretty much a personification of what a hyperlocal website is and how it succeeds.
For those who don’t know, hyperlocal is a term, sort of, based around a local area, right? So, you’re hypersensitive around explaining the area, the benefits of, you know, reviews, guides, and things of that nature. So, for you, you covered Phoenix Real Estate Guy. There are several good examples of the better hyperlocal sites I’ve seen across the internet. Our mutual friend Nicole Nicolay and her partner Robyn have a website called lovelivermore.com. They live in Livermore, which is just outside of San Francisco. They make a killing of a business through Love Livermore and into their real estate business. My previous partner at Copyblogger, Brian Clark, has a site called Your Boulder, which, of course, covers everything in the Boulder, Colorado area. And a third example is a site called Lifestyle Frisco, which Frisco, Texas, is a north suburb of Dallas, and they’ve been around, gosh, eight years now since the early 2010s.
You know, like, the whole hyperlocal thing. Not only is it good for SEO, especially if you go long-tail and go a little more granular, like Gilbert might have been a better long-term play than Phoenix just because at this point, but it’s also hard to rank for, sort of, the more general terms. A hyperlocal content does two things. It gets you the search engine traffic from a local perspective, but it also establishes what we talked about at Copyblogger for many, many years, just the whole idea of the authority, right? And so, you spoke about linking out to sites, but what you were doing was curating, which was well ahead of your time, right? Because curation now is a huge thing. A considerable strategy for sites is there’s so much information out there. Sometimes people don’t need more content, and they need to find the right or the best content.
And so, when you link out to places, you are establishing yourself as an authoritative person in anything. Maybe you’re linking off to a restaurant or a local area of interest within an area. And so, you become, sort of, the dependable person, right, some, the sherpa of a local area. And so, talk to us a little bit just around the power of hyperlocal and building authority, and I guess like you said, with the story about, you know, your shirt and being recognized. At some point, people start to, kind of, take notice of the person behind that website.
Jay: Absolutely. And I think the guru that I’m thinking of is Gary Vaynerchuk, who, kind of, a long time ago, pushed being the mayor of your town, so to speak, the mayor of your location, which makes a lot of sense. I spent a lot of time on Phoenix Real Estate Guy promoting local businesses. And here’s one example. We needed a mattress, right? We had an old 20-year-old bed, and it was lumpy. It was uncomfortable. Said, “We’re going to go buy a mattress,” which is usually a harrowing experience. I don’t know why. And this was in the time before, you know, you could go on the internet and have a mattress shipped to you. You had to go to a mattress store. And we went to the store locally right down the street from us in Gilbert, Arizona, and had an outstanding consumer experience, just a friendly sales rep. Didn’t try to sell us hard. Didn’t try to sell us more than we wanted. We walked into there dreading the moment and walked out, purchased the mattress, and had an excellent experience.
So, I wrote a blog post about it. I’m like, “Hey, if you’re ever in Gilbert, Arizona, or anywhere in the Phoenix Metro area, and you need a mattress go to this store. They’re awesome.” And that was, kind of, linked to their website, and that post did whatever it does, you know, it’s not going to drive a lead to me. I mean, and I think many real estate people are like, I’m not going to create any piece of content unless it’s lead-worthy. And I think that’s a mistake.
Months later, and it was a long time ago, but I think it was on the order of 8 to 10 months later, we needed another mattress. So, of course, we went back to that same store. And I walk in, and my wife is, kind of, doing the deal, and I’m just walking around the store, and I see on the wall of the mattress store framed is my blog post because the mattress company had read it, of course, and they printed it and framed it. And as the blogger, I thought, “Well, how cool is that?” And, first of all, who knows if anybody in the store ever saw it? I assume some people did. I saw it when I was wandering around. And again, did someone whip out a notepad and write down phoenixrealestateguy.com for real estate? No, probably not, but it got my name and my persona and who I was out there. And there are tons of other examples like that.
I did a lot of restaurant reviews. I wrote this review. There’s a wonderful restaurant called Flancer’s, and they have a couple of locations in the Phoenix, East Valley. And I had to be honest, kind of, a bad experience. They had wonderful food, but we ordered takeout or a pickup, we were going to pick up our order and bring it home, and when we got it home, they didn’t fill it right. They didn’t have the right sandwich in it for me. So, I loved this restaurant, but I wrote a blog post, and it was titled something along the lines of “Why I Hate Flancer’s,” which is a negative-sounding title. And I went on to explain this story, “Hey, we got this order. They had it wrong. When I called them up, they said, ‘Oh my God, we’re so sorry. Come back. We’ll do you right.’ And they did. I went back, and I picked up the sandwich I wanted, and they included this little piece of apple cobbler for free to make up for their transgression.”
And so, I threw that in the blog, and I’m like, “This is why I hate you guys. Not because you screwed up my order because people do that, that happens. You were nice about it, but the reason I hate you is that now I have to order apple cobbler every time I go to your store because it was so freaking good.” They then published that blog post or link to it in their newsletter that went out to hundreds and hundreds of people. You know, you scratch their back, they scratch your back. It’s just how life works.
And that kind of hyperlocal stuff, and it can be anything. I’m relatively famous back in the day for my blog posts on fireworks for the 4th of July. Every year, I could look into Google Analytics printout of my blog traffic, and there was this big spike in the week before the 4th of July because I took the effort. It was an effort, believe me, to list every place in the Phoenix Metro area that you could find 4th of July fireworks. It was linked out to, you know, the organizations, little maps. It took hours and hours and hours to build this post. And it drove a ridiculous amount of traffic every single year to the point where one year I didn’t do it. I don’t know why. I think I just got busy. I had people emailing me going, “Dude, where’s your post on where to watch fireworks?” Because people were looking for that.
And again, the experts would say, “Dude, that’s not going to get you real estate business.” And you know, I’m not so sure because it did drive a tremendous amount of traffic to the site, and I have to believe. I could probably prove it if I had to, that some of those visitors that landed on Phoenix Real Estate Guy for the fireworks information also dove into other aspects of the website and wound up reaching out to become a buyer or seller client. But that whole idea of promoting local businesses, talking about high school activities, you know, the football games, and band concerts, it’s super powerful stuff.
And that’s the thing too where a lot of people go like, “Well, I can’t compete with Zillow and realtor.com and Redfin, all these big giant websites that have millions of dollars to spend on SEO and millions of dollars to spend on content creation.” Those sites cannot do that awesome hyperlocal stuff. They don’t know where the mattress store is or where Flancer’s restaurant is. They’re not going to take the time to list all the fireworks sites. So, you can compete with those big sites because no matter how much money they have, they don’t have the bandwidth to be that granular that you can be if you’re the hyperlocal content creator.
Brian: Yeah. I think many times, people who are buying and selling, especially those who are relocating or coming from out of state, they’re looking for a way to identify who is a trustworthy person. Someone who is a reliable real estate agent that they can find, whether it’s by referral or whether it’s reputation, or even if it’s just online finding somebody who has, you know, an authoritative presence, right? And so, all of the stuff that you’ve talked about, these, sort of, little anecdotes of, you know, the restaurant review and the mattress store and things like that, yeah, you know, that article in and of itself may not have just generated a lead right then and there. However, you become memorable. You become an authoritative person in some aspect, and you get remembered when two years from now, someone’s like, “You know what? I remember that real estate thing I saw at the mattress store, and I need to sell my house in a couple of months. So, I need to find someone. And that was just great.” It talks to the character that you did something that made an impact. But somewhere along the way, those types of things happen, or maybe ten people saw that in the mattress store and called you because of that, you don’t know. Perhaps they never told you, “This is how I found you.”
Jay: That’s entirely possible. I always used to ask new clients, “How did you find us?” And invariably, the answer was, “On the internet.” I would say, “Well, can you narrow it down a little bit?” And usually, they cant. They’re, “I don’t know, we just found you out there.”
Brian: That’s a perfect segue for a story I’m about to tell, speaking of the power of the internet and generating real estate leads. Everyone, close your eyes now, imagine this scenario, and I’m going to use Disney as an example because we’re huge Disney fans. But imagine this scenario, you are a real estate agent in Winter Garden, Florida. And after a busy weekend filled with open houses and all of that, you’re taking the day off. You’ve promised your family for weeks now that you take them to the Magic Kingdom, and it’s time to, sort of, fulfill that obligation, right? So, you disable the notifications on your phone. You don’t want to be bothered. You close all of your social media apps, and this day is sacred, and you want nothing more than to spend it with the people you love and those who make you smile.
So, you spend, I don’t know, 10, 12, 15 hours out of the house, in the park, you’re on Space Mountain, you’re eating funnel cakes, you’re watching the parades, the fireworks, all that stuff, and it’s time to head home, right? One of your daughters is already asleep in her stroller. The other one’s slung over your shoulder, ready to fall back asleep. And it’s been just a wonderful day of memories, right? You’ve taken the day off. You’ve put work aside. Your wife gives you a good night kiss, and you just make your way up to the office. Like, wow, okay. It’s been a great day. You think to yourself, man, I’ve been offline, I’ve spent lots of money, I didn’t make any money, and all of that. And then a small sense of guilt starts to, kind of, take over you because you don’t know how to settle with that, right?
So, you’re net-zero or even below zero in the cash flow of that day, right? So, the idea of spending $800 while making nothing is starting to take its toll. You’re, kind of, getting a little bit stressed. You’re not sure what to do. You signed up for this when you became a real estate agent, but on some days like this, they’re just challenging. Now, after a few minutes of sitting, sifting through your inbox, a subject line catches your attention. It says “Madison Avenue Client Inquiry,” and your heart races. You know precisely what that means. You quickly open the email, and this is what you read.
It says, “Hi, Antonio. My name is Cassidy. And my husband and I live in Chicago. We’re moving to the Orlando area because of his job, and we are looking to buy a single-family home. We have been on the hunt for a real estate agent for weeks now and came across your Instagram account this morning while looking through Disney hashtags. Can you tell us we’re excited to be moving to the area? Anyway, we liked your family’s photo in front of Cinderella Castle. It was so cute, and I saw several beautiful homes throughout your stream. From there, we clicked the link in your profile and ended up on your website. It didn’t take us long to realize you are exactly the type of person we want as a real estate agent as we buy our new home. We enjoyed reading the story about your family on your about page. Read through all of the neighborhood guides. Everything was so helpful and something we haven’t seen before. Anyway, I know you’ve had a long day, but we just wanted to connect with you. We will be in town next weekend and hope you have some time to show us some properties. At your convenience, please give me a call, da da da.
We look forward to hearing from you. Cassidy.”
Now, here’s the million-dollar question. On a day where he was not at work when he was not in his inbox, nor showing houses, are real estate websites worth it? I’m going to bet that Antonio, our friend here, thinks very much so that they are. What do you think?
Jay: Yeah, I agree. And I remember you sharing that story before. I love it. The reality is its life, right? Real estate is hard, and it’s super time-consuming, but you have to make time for yourself and your family, and that scenario that you just painted is 100% true. It’s just, kind of, how things work. I’ve got, sort of, a similar story. It’s along those same lines. My cat, Buzz, is a weird name, but he was named after Buzz Lightyear, speaking to Disney, Pixar’s “Toy Story.” Anyway, Buzz was doing his thing. In the middle of the night, we hear this horrendous noise, and we figure, well, Buzz is into something, right? I went back to bed, woke up the next morning, and the cat would usually come flying into the kitchen acting like he hadn’t eaten for a week, and he’s just lying on the floor, kind of twitching his tail. And I’m like, “What the heck is wrong with Buzz?” And he gets up, or he tries to get up, and he couldn’t stand up.
And so, then I look over to the side of the room, and I see one of my speakers got knocked over. And that’s what made the horrible noise. Buzz, the idiot cat, knocked the speaker over onto his foot and broke it in three places. So, of course, we scoop him up, wrap him in a towel, and take him off to the vet. And I wrote a post on Phoenix Real Estate Guy titled “My $600 Cat” because that’s what the vet bill turned out to be to fix his broken foot. And the post was an ad for our vet who we had known forever, which goes back to that, kind of, supporting the hyperlocal businesses because it’s just good blog fodder. And so, that’s what we did. And, sort of, forgot about it. The cat was okay, right? He got his cast off a few weeks later, and life went on.
And months later, I think it was at least six and maybe 12 months later, I’ve got a buyer in the back of the car, and we’re, kind of, having that idle chitchat as you go between showings and this buyer says, “Hey, how’s your cat?” And I remember thinking, what? And I think that’s what I said, “What?” And he said, “You know, your cat broke his leg.” And I was like, holy cow, this guy read this post that was 6, 8, 10 months ago and, for whatever reason, remembered it. Something about that post resonated with him to the point where he’s asking me how the cat’s doing months and months later. I’m not going to be so bold as to say they picked me, or my wife and I, to be their real estate agent because we had a cat that we spent $600 at the vet for, but it goes just back to what you were saying, humans make that connection.
For all of my life in real estate, I’ve said that people pick a real estate agent primarily because they want to work with someone they like, connect with, and relate to. And maybe this guy was a dog lover, who knows, but something about that post about the cat had zero to do with real estate, nothing to do with real estate, but it resonated and connected with that person. So, making those personal connections is just huge. I can’t tell you how many times I would be talking to a client, and they would say something along the lines of, “You’re exactly like what we expected you to be. We read your blog, and we just knew you were going to be like this.” That stuff works. Real estate is a very personal, emotional experience, right? It’s a lot of money. It’s infrequent. It’s stress-inducing. And if you can make that connection with your real estate agent upfront, it can work wonders for your business.
Brian: Well, the one thing that agents now have that, you know, none of us had for the most part 10, 15, almost 20 years ago was this thing called social media. We talk about having a personality, demonstrating your expertise, and all of those things. The traditional way of doing that has always been through the website. Still, social media has become a massive factor in all of, you know, real estate brand-building and stuff like that. But I will say this; social media is excellent for distribution. It’s easy consumption. The media now is beyond just textual, right? People are doing videos and audio stuff and stuff like that. And that’s all great. I encourage agents to embrace their inner weirdness, in a sense, just to demonstrate the personality and just do things to catch attention on social media.
However, many agents stop there and say, “I have a website, it’s on Facebook, or it’s on Instagram.” And those are great to build audiences, but here’s one thing, in a sense, they’re digital sharecropping. And we talk about that again a lot at Copyblogger, which is if your account was closed down for whatever reason, you lose every single person who’s followed you or liked your thing, or you lose access to those people. I’ve always suggested that people use social media, drive them to your website where they can sign up for an email list, or connect with you more on a one-on-one basis. You can, kind of, attain that lead, qualify it a little more because I think it’s a necessary concoction to use social media and a website. And so, tell me in your opinion, what do you think the number one reason why agents don’t embrace the idea of having a website or want to have a website would be?
Jay: I’d have to say, honestly, is that they think it’s hard or they don’t know how to do it. They believe they have to build a website, I believe, and back in the day, you did. You mentioned it early in this episode, and it’s not that way anymore. There are tons of solutions out there that will get you online relatively quickly. Agent Engine is going to be one of them. I mean, so I think that fear that it’s the unknown, that it’s too hard. Not that people are afraid of hard work, maybe that’s a lousy way to say it, but it’s, kind of, a foreign thing and that fear of the unknown and, you know, not doing it right. Can I have just a relatively simple WordPress site when somebody else has gone with this super fancy web designer and spent $25,000 on their web presence? And they think they can’t compete with Zillow and Realtor.com and the Redfins. So, I believe that hesitancy of not being able to do it or not doing it right is a big thing.
Brian: Well, both of us, for that matter, sort of, take for granted what we know, right? I have more experience in building websites than you are, but you still fundamentally understand how that all comes together and works, and you’ve executed, and you’ve done it for so many years now. And I think what happens is it’s, sort of, the deer in headlights effect, right? Where someone’s like, you know, maybe an agent who’s older or technically challenged or just any of those things, they have these fears like, “I can’t do it so I won’t,” and sorta end of the story. But what happens is there’s the younger generation who are starting to backfill some of these traditionally operating real estate agents, and they’re being forced to figure it out.
My real estate agent that we’ve used so many times, Jane, she’s in her 60s, and to her credit, she knows what Zoom is and gets on Zoom, and she’s on Facebook. And she’s like, “Brian, I try. I got to keep up with these young kids. I got to do this, or my business is going to fall apart.” And you know, to her credit, she’s putting herself out there, you know, to embrace things. I know she did like the Ninja sales training, like she’s doing all the things that she should be doing to keep herself relevant and not necessarily ahead of the pack, but still in the group. And I encourage anybody, whether they’ve been an agent for two weeks or 25 years, that digital is going to be a thing that puts people ahead of the game, and there’s no way around it. And those who embrace digital and leverage the power that, you know, social media and websites have are just going to put themselves in a much better spot here as we’re moving forward.
Now, speaking of digital, speaking of social media and personalities, and all of that stuff. And your comment of, “You’re who we thought you would be like,” when you would meet people after they’ve seen you online…and I’ve seen a lot of Instagram stuff lately. I’ve gone really down that rabbit hole just investigating how real estate agents are using Instagram. And I’ve seen everything from dogs and cats to, you know, sunset beaches in Maui. So, what are your thoughts on just the whole idea of mixing business and pleasure? Because I think a lot of times, well, should I have a personal page or have a business page or, you know, should I have both or neither or, you know, one or the other? What do you think about that, just generally speaking?
Jay: That’s a great question, and it comes up a lot. I can’t tell you how many times I was told back in my content creation days that I was doing it wrong. You know, the guru, the expert, would say, “You’re not doing it right. You get way too much personal stuff in what you do.” And I was like, you know, I disagree, people pick someone to work with, and something like real estate is complicated and emotional as it is. They need and want that personal connection. They want to work with someone they know and understand. I was a big proponent of analyzing my traffic and my content, right? Because I think you’ve got to test what you put out, understand what works. I was fortunate that I had enough of a readership where I could do things like surveys and A/B testing and stuff like that and get information and results and act on that.
Once I became the phoenixrealestateguy.com, once I got that URL and, kind of, flipped into that persona, for lack of better words, the tagline on my blog became “All things Phoenix Real Estate Plus Random Musings” because that’s what I like to do. And I far more enjoyed writing the personal random musings type of things, much more than market reports and statistics. I mean, I had all that stuff, but that was where my heart was. Invariably, every time I did a reader survey, people would say, I’d ask them, “What do you like to read on Phoenix Real Estate Guy? What resonates with you? What do you look forward to?” The overwhelming response, they liked the random musings more than anything else.
I would get responses like, “The market stats are great and useful, blah, blah, blah, but dude, when you started talking about, you know, how heartbroken you were when Vanilla Pepsi got discontinued when you talk about your $600 cat or your daughter…” There was a horrible tragedy in my daughter’s high school band where one of her bandmates was killed by a drunk driver, and I wrote some gut-wrenching posts about that not driving traffic. That was the last thing that concerned me. I did it, to be honest, for therapy for my head. It helped me. It helped me get over that tragedy. But people related to that not because it was tragic, but because I left my heart out there, and I think people could connect with that. They said this guy seems to know what he’s talking about when it comes to real estate, but he’s also a fricking human being, right, with a heart and a soul. And I think that made a huge difference.
So, I’m a big proponent of share the personal with the professional. I probably go too far to the extreme, and I am an open book. It drives my wife crazy sometimes because I’ll say anything in the social space or on my websites. Maybe that’s just the way I am. Perhaps you don’t need to go with that extreme, but I don’t think you can be successful in an online digital presence in today’s world without putting some of that personal and personality stuff. And maybe it’s the personality part that’s the key to it. It’s hard to show character when you’re regurgitating market statistics, you know, time on the market, average sale price, blah, blah, blah, there’s only so much personality you can inject into that. So, getting that personality out there is a huge part. I’m kind of like a 50/50 guy. And maybe even 80/20, 80% being the personality random musing stuff and 20% business. That’s probably too far to the extreme, but man, I’d say at least 50/50.
Brian: You know, you’re preaching to the choir here, right, with oversharing. Many years ago, I think one of the first instances of our interactions beyond Phoenix Real Estate Guy was when I launched a blog called an unfiltered.me. This website was my first attempt at going outside of just WordPress and design-specific tutorials and stuff like that, which was like the, you know, “Hey, I’m a real person, I’m an entrepreneur, and I have struggles. And yes, I overshare all the time.” And I think the personal versus personality thing is a significant delineation, right, because as important as mental health is, a lot of that stuff belongs outside of online, right, which is, you know, friends and family and therapists and things like that. It’s okay to admit I struggle with things like imposter syndrome and stuff like that, but I don’t know how appropriate it is to sit down and talk about, “Oh, I’m out drinking at night because life is whatever.” That’s a little on the personal side.
Now, personality, right, people love flamboyance. Sonia Simone, who was one of our partners at Copyblogger, had fluorescent pink hair. Not everyone wants pink hair, but many people are attracted to pink hair and stuff like that. And so, you know, I think we all have our versions of what Phoenix Real Estate Guy is. I’m known as the Starbucks, WordPress, Sarah McLaughlin replaced by Taylor Swift guy, right? When anybody hears Starbucks, they almost immediately think of me. It’s because it’s, sort of, the persona I’ve, like, jumped into. And you know, I think we all, some kind of, want to be known somehow, right, by something. And as long as it’s relatively appropriate and usually relatable, people latch onto that.
I remember when I did Unfiltered, the one thing that after the first few emails that went out, like people come out of the woodwork when they relate to you, even if it’s not super personal, but just on quirky things like, “Oh my God, I thought I was the only guy who, you know, did this, or the only girl who did that and I’m not. This is great, we relate and, you know, I’m not buying a house today, but six months from now, or, you know, if my mom says she’s going to move, I’m going to remember you because you’ve cracked me up. You’ve had me rolling you. You’re my people,” right? And business cards and market reports just don’t do that. They’re essential on some level. I mean, you can find them anywhere, but in this day and age in a sea of thousands, like, you have to stand out and to have a real estate website, to leverage social media, and just really putting yourself out there is the way to do it. And probably a great way for us to end this because that’s the take-home for this.
I mean, the internet works. I mean, you’re proof, my story is proof, even though it’s, sort of, a made-up story, but there are probably thousands of those a day. Hey, I happened to stumble upon this thing, and I saw you’re a real estate agent, and, you know, I started following you. And I wasn’t going to buy my house or sell my house, but then something happened, and then I’m like, “Oh duh, the person I follow is an agent. I’ll just use them.” And that’s a long-term play. That’s the challenging part. Real estate is not like you just do a thing, and tomorrow the something happens from that thing. You know, a lot of times, it could even be several years, right, down the road.
Jay: Absolutely. And I think that’s where you know, you’d ask, what’s holding people back, and I think that’s part of it. And that’s not just true in the digital space. That’s pretty much any form of prospecting, even the traditional old school, kind of, prospecting of hanging flyers on doors or even door knocking and cold calling. It’s a numbers game. You have to do a lot. You have to do it consistently. And you have to do it for a long time. And it can be super discouraging. I mean, I wrote a ton of content before the phone rang or I got the first email, and it’s easy to think this isn’t working. It’s a time suck. I should just throw in the towel and do something else. That long-term consistency is super, super important.
Brian: Well, I talked about my friend Jane, and I guess there are lines in sands to draw. But anytime you think to yourself, I don’t want to do this. I won’t get anything back from it. And as long as it’s not like putting your house up for sale to gamble something, Jane, our real estate agent, 20 years ago advertised on a shopping cart. I’d tell this story all so often. And there was probably a moment where she was like, “You know what? I don’t want to spend the 15 bucks to do this marketing thing.” Right? “It’s never going to pay off,” and da, da, da. We have probably done $20 million worth of transactions with her in that 20 years. We’ve bought and sold ten different houses. So, it’s been a lot of various transactions, but can you imagine her life and her business, not that we’re the only client she’s had, but $20 million worth of transactions on a thing that she almost didn’t do, is enormous. And it’s huge because we’ve referred her to several other people, and there’s another $10 million or $15 million or $20 million worth of business that she might not have had had she not done that.
Real estate websites are way more effective than a shopping cart. I know you’re busy, Mr. or Mrs. real estate agent out there. I know right now the market’s hot and crazy, and you’ve got 50 showings and 100 offers, but I guarantee you, we’ve talked about this before, this market is going to change back to normalcy at some point. There are even more people in the market now because it’s been so active and crazy. People are jumping to get their licenses and stuff like that. Or even COVID has caused people to do different things and find jobs elsewhere.
Six months from now, when things are not what they are, when the phone’s not ringing, when the door’s not knocking, or even if your inboxes and being jammed with people, it’s going to be, sort of, almost an echo chamber. It’s going to be you and your thoughts. And I’m not trying to paint a bleak picture. I’m just trying to prepare you ahead of time. Like, the tsunami is coming. The sirens have happened, and it’s not six hours until that wave hits, but it time to prepare yourself, right? Just even if it’s 5 or 10 minutes a day, learn one thing about the web, one area where you could market yourself. Or, if you have a website, you don’t have to write the epic 2,500-word blog posts. Make one change, write one paragraph of a review, just make some degree to further your business, and leverage the power that a website can have.
Jay: You nailed it. Everything you said is spot on.
Brian: Well, thanks. I appreciate that. Because again, I like to do what I do, and I’m not a real estate agent, but I sure love them. And I’m good at what I do, and I think websites are great for building a business. And so, that’s why Agent Engine became a thing so that I could take my expertise and bring it to a field in which I think I can make a huge difference. And so, that’s it. That’s it for today—a great conversation. Jay, between you and I around the value of having a real estate website.
If you missed either of the first introduction episodes, I invite you to look over our website agentengine.com/podcast. There are several different ways to listen, Spotify, Google, Apple, all the usual suspects. Or you can even listen to it on the site directly. We have it all there at agentengine.com/podcast. You and I will discuss between now and our next recording what we’re going to talk about. I need to think about what we talked about here because I feel there are many ancillary things we could pull out of here. And maybe social media is one of them. I don’t know. But one way or the other, we’re going to talk about more exciting stuff for real estate agents, teams, brokerages, everybody in the industry. And I look forward to bringing that insight we have back to the sound waves here.
Jay: Same. I’m excited. I get more and more excited about this podcast every time we do an episode. So, there’s been good stuff; there’s going to be more good stuff. Sign up for the newsletter. You really should. Brian’s not only a great designer, but he’s also a great writer.
Brian: Wow. I appreciate that. For everybody else, until next time, happy selling.