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My Perspective on the Great ActiveRain Content Debate of 2008

DISCLAIMER: I apologize in advance for the sheer length of this post, but I had a lot to say apparently.  I didn't want to include images this time, as I thought they might detract from the message I am trying to get across.

I have seen a bunch of posts with regard to what is "proper" content on ActiveRain lately.  Unless you live under a rock, you have probably also seen these around lately. 

I left the longest comment of my entire blogging career last night on Jessica Horton's featured post (Working the Net or Networking? Which has value? ).  She gave me some good-natured grief about this on Twitter, calling the comment "Lord of the Rings".  Despite the fact that I had mentioned there that I wouldn't write my own post on this topic, I was encouraged today by a good friend to do so, so here we go:

In a nutshell, some people seem to be concerned about the balance of real estate related material written here vs. the "fluff", which is sort of a catch-all term for jokes, recipes, family stories, and other "non industry" posts.  They feel that if too many of these types of posts are made public (instead of Members Only), it could harm the Google juice/power that AR has notoriously harnessed, because Google might somehow devalue the site and see it differently. 

As with the other posts, the stuff I am about to say is my opinion, since I am not on staff at Google, or Yahoo, or any other search engine, so I am not privy to their algorithms.  However, I have been doing my own SEO for my sites since early 1998, before Google was even being used.  Back then, we optimized for search engines like Altavista, Lycos and Excite.  Yes, really.  I feel old now.

At any rate, to make it really easy to understand, Google LOVES new content.  With 85,613 members as of this writing, ActiveRain is generating new pages of content just about every minute of the day.  Every post marked "Public" is a separate page of content. 

With that in mind, AR is viewed by Google's spiders as highly valuable and as an "authority site" for real estate.  You have probably read anecdotes of members who have had pages indexed onto the first page of Google within a few minutes of posting.  This is because Google is constantly spidering this site looking for new pages. 

Does it spider "Members Only" posts?  Not really.  There are tags called "nofollow" tags that will disallow those posts from being indexed in the search engines, and they are automatically generated when we post to Members Only. 

Google cares about the page's structure, along with its content.  The skeletal structure of EVERY SINGLE page/post on AR is built and optimized in exactly the same fashion.  If you look at the bottom of this page (which is the same basic look across the board here on AR), you will see the following keywords and links:

Find TX real estate agents and Austin real estate here on ActiveRain.
Disclaimer: ActiveRain Corp. does not necessarily endorse the real estate agents, loan officers and brokers listed on this site. These real estate profiles,
blogs and blog entries are provided here as a courtesy to our visitors to help them make an informed decision when buying or selling a house. ActiveRain Corp. takes no responsibility for the content in these profiles, that are written by the members of this community.
© 2007 ActiveRain Corp. All Rights Reserved 

Also, every single post is titled with "REAL ESTATE BLOG", followed by the author-assigned part of the title.  Clearly, this is adequate to make Google understand that the hundreds of thousands of pages generated here are real-estate related, even if the body of the post itself is about the weather, or a chocolate pie, or an unfunny joke.

I don't want to make this overly technical for those of you who are not into SEO at all, but I think I can make this even more clear, even for newbies.  I did a bit of research just now by viewing the source code for my blog in particular, and I found the following meta tags there:

<meta name="description" content="Austin Texas Real Estate Blog (and other stuff) on the ActiveRain Real Estate Network." />
<meta name="keywords" content="ActiveRain, Real Estate, agents, Network, Real Estate Agent, Mortgage, realtor, social network" />

The only part of this italicized part that I wrote myself was "Austin Texas Real Estate Blog (and other stuff)", as that is the title I originally chose.  The rest of that is automatically generated for me by the AR code.  Keep in mind that THIS is what Google looks at first.  I counted four real estate terms there.  There are a couple of other things in the inherent structure that I could point out if you are really interested, but I think the point is made for my purposes here.

So, what does this mean to you and me anyway?  Well, for one thing, ActiveRain has done things right and has garnered a lot of Google juice by setting up the structure of this site correctly from day one.

Basically, it would be very difficult to derail this by writing about whatever the heck you want to write about.  In fact, I think we could all stop writing real estate posts and concentrate on jokes and recipes for several months without affecting the "balance" to the extent that it would ever be detrimental to our Localism posts.  They will continue to be indexed by Google and Yahoo.  Don't sweat it.

Personally, I enjoy sharing many facets of my personality along with stories of my family.  I would guess that 4 or 5 out of 10 of my posts are truly about real estate.  I want the consumers who find me to feel like they know me already.  These are the easiest buyers and sellers in the world to convert to sales.

Considering the fact that a good number of members have already referred business to me over the past few months, why would I want to stop writing this way?  I write for consumers sometimes, for my friends sometimes, for my family, and even for myself.  

The first AR closing that I had found me on a post that I had written about my CHURCH.  I made about $12,000 on that post, so it had some very tangible value to me.  Obviously, it was not Members Only (thank God!). 

In essence, Google is a fickle mistress sometimes and they want it to be hard to "game" their system.  They are constantly tweaking their algorithm and dialing variables in and out with regard to importance.  If there is ever a temporary effect on the indexing of our posts on ActiveRain, it is something they have done in the Googleplex, not anything that you or I can do here at AR.  It would simply be really hard to ever have much effect on how Google views this site, as it is already well-established as a real estate authority site.  Yes, that is just my opinion, but it is not an uninformed one.

On a separate note, I use StatCounter to track my AR blog visits (which are just over 100,000 now), and I see where the consumers enter my blog initially.  Currently, they are coming directly from Google and Yahoo.  I don't think any serious buyers or sellers are merely surfing around AR randomly like we do, studying the mix of content.  They come to specific posts, then they choose to stay or go.  With that in mind, why not have something interesting for them to look at while they are on your blog?  You got them that far - is it time to show them more market data, or do you think they might enjoy a funny story?

As a further illustration, when I have buyers in the car with me, I could probably talk all day about real estate and nothing else.  Do you think they would be looking forward to our next meeting?  Doubtful.  Wow - I just managed to relate SEO to real estate.  Cool!

I don't claim to be an SEO expert myself, but I have done a lot of my own optimizing over the years, and I can recognize what works and what doesn't.  Obviously, this is a somewhat complex subject, and I hope I haven't oversimplified matters.

Overall, my opinion on this subject is: Write whatever and whenever you want to, just make sure you are writing something!  If you are not taking advantage of this FREE opportunity to market yourself, you are missing the boat. 

I choose not to hide my light under a bushel very often, making the majority of my posts Public.  If you aren't comfortable doing that, by all means, don't.  However, don't be scared to share personal stuff at the risk of harming this enormously powerful (real estate) network. 

Thanks for taking the time to read my exhaustive treatise on this topic!  If you have any questions about what I have covered here, let me know.

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