Rae Catanese started a real estate blog in 2006, never expecting that the website would drive 85 percent of her sales in 2011.
The blog has changed the way she works. The Realtor for Tropical Prudential Realty in South Tampa rarely holds open houses or advertises. She relies on web traffic to find customers.
She started the website when sales tanked and her phone quit ringing in late 2006. At that time, industry leaders were urging agents to blog in order to keep pace with tech-savvy customers. But many of the efforts failed.
But Catanese, now 42, scoured the Internet for advice. She attended blogging seminars. She then launched thetamparealestateinsider.com.
The blog ranks high on Internet search engines, such as Google, when people from around the world seek information about Tampa Bay real estate. Achieving that rank keeps Catanese busy for 20 hours a week.
Catanese also feeds leads to her business partners, Michelle Jordan and Edee Stark. A fourth agent, she said, will be hired soon to keep up. "There's no way I can handle it all by myself," she said.
Catanese interacts with readers. She answers questions and finds ideas for new articles from the questions. She researches and writes, instead of just copying and pasting from other news providers.
The blog has landed customers from Canada, Brazil and Germany. Catanese has won several top producer awards at the company.
"The first thing they do is to search online," she said. "They don't get in their cars to drive around neighborhoods anymore."
Why do you spend half the week blogging?
I'm addicted to being on the first page of Google. That's why I kept going. That's why I keep posting articles. I could see the results. I could see what people wanted to know about Tampa real estate. If I hadn't started my blog in 2006, I wouldn't be in business today. My clients love it. It means I am doing my job.
Can any agent blog?
It's going to be a challenge for anyone to start this. Everybody wants instant gratification, and this didn't happen overnight. You have to gain authority with search engines to be on the first page, and that can only happen if your site has been around a long time and you consistently post new content. That is what the search engines look for. There is a misconception about how much time goes into this. It has taken me five years to learn this stuff.
What do people look for in the Tampa Bay market?
They type all different things. "Tampa housing market" gets the most traffic. People want to see stats. They want to know that our market has stabilized. They're doing research ahead of time. Savvy buyers.
I gear my articles toward those buyers. For instance, when you type in "boating communities in Tampa," the blog is on the first page several times. This is the information buyers want to know when they're looking to purchase a waterfront home. Buyers want to know the best neighborhoods. There's no sales pitches and no paid advertising on my site. I would say 30 percent to 40 percent of our buyers are paying cash. These are the type of clients we want.
Why no paid advertising?
I don't believe in it. I don't think it looks professional and would give the site a different feel. I don't pay for advertising. I can do so much more on my own. My time is my investment.
What has been the hardest part of blogging?
What's difficult is knowing where to place keywords in articles and headlines. You can overdo keywords; it's called keyword stuffing. The search engines don't like it. I will reference and link to articles, but I just can't post duplicate content. If I copy and paste information, it won't get on Google's main page.
How did you select the name?
When choosing a domain name, you want your keywords to be in the name. "Tampa real estate" was already taken, so I added "insider" at the end.
How do you maintain your blog to stay competitive?
Reading articles and trying out new technology is a large part of how my time is spent. Technology changes on a daily basis, and being able to keep up with the trends is overwhelming sometimes. You want to try everything, try every new application.
Do you have plans to expand the blog?
Right now, I'm actively looking for guest bloggers that can provide unique content. When people hear that they get nervous because they think an article has to be a big investment. An article can be an e-mail from a client asking a specific question and an answer to that question.
It would be great to have a local architect, builder, insurance company and mortgage company contribute valuable information to our readers.
Mark Puente can be reached at firstname.lastname@example.org or (727) 893-8459.