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Understanding, Defining, Owning – Blog Evolution


Change Is Never Simple – Evolve

Agent Genius underwent a major site overhaul this past week, and I’ve had many many offline and online conversations since about the changes and what we’re attempting to accomplish. So now that I have some time, I thought I would dive into them because I think they’re important even in your own business.

I had a conversation yesterday with someone who acknowledges that from a blogger’s perspective, they just didn’t understand the layout, but was interested to know what I was telegraphing with a change away from forward facing content.

It’s Pretty Simple

Someone finding our content via longtail in relation to blogging have probably already been exposed to a blog, they’ll land on a blog page they’ll understand. But what about those folks who have never seen or used a blog, have no idea what it is, nor what they would be searching for in the first place? What about those folks in your office who ask about blogging, learning more, who are maybe not that savvy about internet things? What type of front facing content might they be most comfortable with?

You can essentially narrow this thought down to your own market. If you’re in the Midwest, chances are, a consumer locating your answer via longtail looking for homes, and landing on a content (blog) faced website, may be lost, take the information, and continue to skim google until they find a site face (probably static) they’re more accustomed to.

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The same thing rings true for Agent Genius. You as a blog consumer already understand a blog’s basic fundamentals, but if our intent is to grow the audience, teach those that have no fundamentals, then obviously, a Ferrari may not be the best road test for a noob.

So What Have We Accomplished?

A landing page that a curious 1.0 agent has a fighting chance of navigating. It’s straight forward, it answers directly to the skimmer, it forces the author (including myself) to follow our own advice of a great title, a great lead in paragraph, and if those two things fail to grab the skimmers interest, it entices the reader with related imagery, and it also forces us to remember context and to build the story for newcomers. To discount any of these things when presenting material for some moral reason is simply a disregard for marketing philosophies, that to be honest, may be over the head of a few critics- as smart as they are.

Navigation

Much of the content at Ag is timeless, it is within context of the overall conversation when it comes to coaching, training, agent tools, and discussions about some of what I just mentioned. This created a need to better present navigation options to those that are use to traditional websites. It was a shame when a great post turned the page on Ag, and this layout provides an opportunity for that content to become new once again.

The Sidebar

Moving the traditional sidebar inside the content also serves this need, it allows a deeper access to content, authors, and current articles that might be of personal interest. It also frees up the sidebar for some very cool things upcoming in the near future- it’s a lot of real estate that can be better harnessed, sideblogs are very cool and straight forward, and can make visible content that is just too valuable to hide. You’ll begin seeing new things appear there over the next week or so.

Color & Imagery

Someone somewhere said something the other day about us being pretty, but it was more sarcastic than anything else. I’m going to take that as a compliment, but not for the reasons this person intended (as it was not their intention), but more because the purpose of presentation goes without argument, and if you’re arguing it, it’s not Ag with the problem.

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The Amount of Content

In addressing the issues of content turning the page, with this layout, we’ve essentially doubled the amount of content we’re able to display in a single page load.  Twice the articles, twice the <h1> tags, and twice the keywords.  Add to that the sideblog forthcoming and you begin to finally see how this format adds to the audiences ability to consume content, or direction, and do it in a way that is not overwhelming, or slow page load which was a real issue in the previous format.

Some Overalls

The site looks alive to the untrained eye. It’s stimulating, vibrant, and it looks open for business even at 3am. One of the basic issues I’ve always had with walls of text is that if you’ve read every article on the front page, then there’s nothing new to it. But if you really study, I mean really study the AG front page, you can understand how you find more and more things to get into. It isn’t busy, but it is alive, even if there hasn’t been a post in an hour or two. We want that, you want that in your own website!

Getting Started With Evolution

I’ve been making the case for some time now with folks to delve into their own demographics and it’s about time you start doing it. It you’re looking at conversion as a means to get business, then you must look at every page turn as it’s own conversion.

Constantly Evolve With These Questions:

  • Is my website ahead of my market?
  • Is my website behind my market?
  • Does each page ask a consumer to do something?
  • Am I enticing them to actually do it?
  • Am I speaking over the head of someone with a simple question?
  • Am I defining context in my content or speaking as if they’ve read for years?
  • Will my content have context in a year?
  • What is the point of the content I’m producing?
  • Is my content answering to that same point?
  • Can I make my site more mainstream, but keep my 2.0 philosophies?
  • Am I discussing politics where I eat?
  • Am I limiting my own audience by doing so?
  • Am I willing to do anything about it?

The bottom line is that we’ll continue to experiment with wordpress as a CMS, take advantage of new strides and studies in content management, adapt to new ideals in design, develop new ideals based on the success of others outside of real estate, and blend as many as we can.  We’ve not gotten to where we are in one year because we sat still in someone else’s definition, we got here by constantly asking ourselves more and more questions- and then setting out to find the answer.

I hope that some if not all of this helps you in your own journey with your own sites, and heck it may just reaffirm your own belief in your own techniques.  I know of some very very successful local sites with forward-facing content, but never let that fool you.  Those same folks succeeded by their own trial and error experiments- watching them may give you some insight, but I’ve warned in the past of imitating your competition.  Follow the ball, not the player, and your likely end result will be success if you remember to ask questions of your audience but also watching what they do, and then repeating that success even if you may not look like everyone else.

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We’re very excited about the future in our space, and at the prospect of bringing new faces into the conversation, and just this week we’ve approved a few handfuls of new commenters, and we’re seeing action on older material as we expected- we welcome all of the new faces and thank all of our regular ones. 

If you find any kinks, feel free to click Submit Tip in the top nav and drop me a note.

Benn Rosales is the Founder and CEO of The American Genius (AG), national news network. Before AG, he founded one of the first digital media strategy firms in the nation has received the Statesman Texas Social Media Award and is an Inman Innovator Award winner. He has consulted for numerous startups (both early- and late-stage), and is well known for organizing the digital community through popular offline events. He does not venture into the spotlight often, rather he believes his biggest accomplishments are the talent he recruits and develops, so he gives all credit to those he's empowered.

12 Comments

12 Comments

  1. Missy Caulk

    November 3, 2008 at 9:49 am

    Benn, thanks for the explanation. I’m all for driving more readers to the blog. I remember Lani saying in a post the traffic had gone up since the new change. You’re right most of the posts are timeless.

  2. Ken Brand

    November 3, 2008 at 9:51 am

    Thanks. Money quote: Follow the ball not the player.
    Go long, I’ll heave it as hard as I can, you catch and run like Boltz. Thanks, Rock on Benn

  3. Benn Rosales

    November 3, 2008 at 9:57 am

    Missy, even more, avg time on site has gone from 7 to 9 minutes avg which is amazing.

    Ken, gracias, partner!

  4. Laura Cannon

    November 3, 2008 at 11:00 am

    “Can I make my site more mainstream, but keep my 2.0 philosophies?” –this line really struck me.

    I’ve been thinking about this issue for some time, but I haven’t acted on it. I think AG has effectively responded to this dilemma with the new site. The new site is more readable, easier to navigate, and yet it is also seems more sophisticated, i.e., more cutting edge. I had sort of decided that this couldn’t be done or more accurately that I couldn’t do it. Clearly it can be done! And, AG has done it extraordinarily well!

    It will be interesting to see how blogs will be changed by this. I am already thinking about how I can tweak my blog to better respond to mainstream readers. I didn’t know where to start, AG has provided some grounding.

  5. Daniel Rothamel, The Real Estate Zebra

    November 3, 2008 at 1:56 pm

    Benn,

    This is a great explanation. I totally get where you’re going with this, and I applaud you for doing it. You’ve got a plan and a vision, just execute.

    I know you’ve gotten some flack for the change, but I also know you’re smart enough to know which criticisms matter.

    Keep up the good work.

  6. Ricardo Bueno

    November 3, 2008 at 5:50 pm

    All in all, I’m really diggin’ the new redesign! It took some getting used to at first but I love it now. It’s easy to navigate and catches your attention (it’s not overwhelming; at least in my opinion).

    Redesign = Success!

  7. Ryan Hartman

    November 3, 2008 at 6:53 pm

    Yay to WordPress as cms. I also spent the last year evolving PhiladelphiaRealEstateHub.Com into a similarly styled “magazine” type monster blog that feels more like a modern news type site.
    It’s pretty exciting to see others going through the same process, exciting enough that I’m actually checking out the design on a real computer and commenting (as you’ve been instructing me to do on my iphone feed reader for months 🙂

    If I may…Our last theme switch, one that was similar to what you’ve done here, did real wonders for our overall page views. I wonder, do you have any plans to add a similar/related posts plugin? Also, –(maybe you’ve already done this?)–are there any plans to vary the sidebar as you switch to different sections within the site? We found that doing both also did wonders for our stickiness and overall seo effort….[Sorry for the long comment, just excited to talk a little about this stuff 🙂

    [Oh, yeah…is the page nav at the bottom of your pages some kind of plugin?…thx]

  8. Benn Rosales

    November 4, 2008 at 9:06 am

    Hi Ryan, thanks for the comment.

    the navigation plugin we use is wp-pagenavi, we’ve always had it, it’s just restyled for our site. As for sidebars, you’ll just have to wait and see, and same with related.

    We’re still tweaking where we are now and will add as our list shrinks. Overall, we expect another full week.

  9. Paula Henry

    November 5, 2008 at 7:58 am

    Benn – I love it! Since we have spoken about this very thing, it is exciting to see it in action.

    Looking forward to the enhancements and tweaks!

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