Can Blogs Push Home Classifieds?

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By: Jennifer Saba

Real estate makes for good cocktail chatter anywhere, perhaps more so for residents of Orange County, Calif. The area, with wealthy enclaves worthy of reality shows and Fox TV dramas, claims some of the most expensive acreage in the country. “Housing is just the No. 1 issue here,” says Glenn Hall, business editor of The Orange County Register. “It’s always front-page news.”

With so many metro newspapers shouting, “local, local, local,” it makes sense for the Register to truly capitalize on its grasp of the real estate market. So a year ago, business columnist Jonathan Lansner came to Hall with the idea of building a real estate blog, saying he receives a lot of feedback whenever he writes about the subject in his twice-weekly column.

So far, the blog ? titled “Lansner on Real Estate” ? has been a hit with readers, drawing an average weekly audience of 40,000. Even better, it has racked up 12,000 comments over the past year, making it the No. 1 blog on ocregister.com. On average, a reader posts a comment every 45 minutes.

Lansner takes a talk-show host approach to blogging, throwing out stats, data, and other information for readers to discuss. He constantly conducts polls, with the results published in the paper. “I’m more of a moderator,” he says. “Once you find an audience that wants to argue about it, who cares what I have to say?”

Hall considers the blog an “immediate success” at least in terms of traffic and inspiring much back-and-forth among readers. The last week of February, the paper extended its purview by launching a companion blog about mortgages. “The Mortgage Insider,” penned by real estate reporter Mathew Padilla, is already the site’s No. 2 blog. It got 13,000 hits during its first week and amassed around 125 comments. Padilla observes, “The real key is to have exclusive content, if you want to rise above someone else.”

Eyeballs are nice, of course, but business editor Hall is optimistic the advertising department can monetize that traffic. “If we build it, they will come ? and if they come, they will sell it,” he says, adding that the paper is looking at sponsorship opportunities and targeted ad placements.

Classified real estate advertising ? even in hot markets like Orange County ? is a real “area of concern,” Hall confirms. The industry at large is experiencing a slowdown in classified real estate ad revenue, which went from 26.3% growth in Q1 2006 to a decline of 2.3% in Q4 (see page 74). Observers are forecasting a bloody 2007 for the category.

“We are actively working on trying to develop products to regain ad dollars we have lost to the Web,” Hall adds. The paper is looking at several projects, including an interactive map of Orange County that reveals crime stats, real estate for sale, and general demographic details ? and allowing readers to comment on brokers and neighborhoods.

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