Wednesday, February 20, 2008

Microsoft's Easy Answer To Basic Web Presence

“It doesn’t have to be hard or expensive to really start taking advantage of marketing yourself online today.”

So says Michael Schultz, U.S. business and marketing lead for Microsoft’s Office Live Solutions for small business. To back that claim, he points to the revamped version of Microsoft Office Live Small Business announced last week. It provides the tools, strategy and and advice to take the pain out of creating maintaining a web presence, and marketing services online.

Real estate is one profession Microsoft is targeting with this program, offering agents an easy path to step out from under the umbrella of their broker’s website. “Think about who the broker is really trying to promote with a company website,” reasons Schultz. “Realtors today must have their own sites for branding themselves and their listings.“

Creating even a simple site can entail costly reliance on outside vendors, or hog the time of those who opt to design, manage and market their site themselves. Microsoft’s alternative won’t break the bank as it guides you to an easily customized website. There’s a choice of design themes for different professions, including real estate, with color schemes and design elements that can be modified with the click of a mouse.

The cost? Basic service is free, and includes a domain name, hosting, site design and editing tools,Web-based contact and document management, email addresses, site tracking and analysis. After the first year, domain name registration costs $14.95.

An email marketing module, free while in beta, will allow users to plan, launch and monitor the results of drip marketing campaigns. Another fee-based option, AdManager, handles pay-per-click advertising on search engines, based on a specified budget.

“We’ve tried to integrate all the services that put the power of the web in the hands of individuals, so they can focus their time on what they do best,” says Schultz.

Some may want something more ambitious in a website. But for the real estate agent who recognizes the need for web presence, but has postponed that move, this is an easy answer.

Even those with an established site might do well to check out what Microsoft has put together: included are several lucid articles explaining the elements of effective web design, site monitoring and how to use tracking reports to fine tune your efforts online.

Monday, February 18, 2008

Any Directions on Mapping?

A regular part of the work I do for NAR’s Realtor publications involves putting together buying guides to some of the latest tools and technology. In years past, these articles ran in most issues of the print version of Realtor, but now are being published exclusively in Realtor online.

April’s story will focus on the latest mapping tools and services, and the many ways real estate professionals are now using them to save time, boost productivity and provide better service. It starts with something as basic as including a map of an area online, and a link so visitors can click for directions as part of listing information. Then, there’s the GPS navigation systems, in car or on cellphone, making it easier to get around. Finally, there’s use of map mash-ups, ever more popular, as tool for visually conveying the appeal of a listing and surrounding area while demonstrating your local expertise.

If any or all of these have helped you, or if you’ve made some other innovative use of mapping, I’d love to hear about it as I research this story. Just email me. I can’t interview everyone who writes, but the information and insights received helps me put together a more responsive guide to how the latest technology is benefitting real estate professionals.

Monday, February 11, 2008

Liquidus Launches VoD Solutions For Ads On Cable and The Web

Want to promote listings with a little more jazz than the classified section of your local paper? Then take a look at what’s available from Liquidus, Chicago-based specialists in on-demand marketing technologies.

The company has built a Video On Demand (VoD) solution for creating then distributing video commercials to the classified advertising channels available to cable TV subscribers, in the markets of your choice. A companion service, VideoLink, lets visitors to a website view video ads by clicking a featured link.

“Ten percent of all digital subscribers visit these classified channels each month, and real estate is one of the most popular categories,” says Kirk Davis, Liquidus co-founder and executive vice president.

With the Web-based SpotSense interface, users can upload listing data and up to 12 photos. The company converts them into a 30-second spot, with synthesized voice-over narration. To view the ads on TV, cable subscribes visit their provider’s classified channel, and navigate to real estate listings by price, area, etc. As on the Web, the commercials can be viewed any time, any day of the week.

Subscribers can stipulate where the ads run, and Davis estimates the average cost will be about $25 per week per market. He says pricing will be set by cable providers, and initially they will be bundling ads in volume buys. So, minimum order requirements will determine whether it’s an affordable option for the brokerage, or individual agent. Davis estimates the VideoLink service, for Web distribution, will cost an additional $10 per ad.

The value of Web advertising and its universal reach, in any format, is well proven. The video on demand classified, over cable, is still a new concept to many consumers so its potential for attracting buyers is hard to gauge. But as a tool to show sellers you’ll cover all the bases to promote their property, it’s the kind of marketing innovation which could help determine who gets the listing in highly populated markets.

Add to any service

Tuesday, February 5, 2008

More Wide Angle Camera Choices For Real Estate Photography

Realtors have been big users of the digital camera since filmless photography first appeared. But, camera manufacturers were relatively slow to address their particular need for cameras with a wide angle lens. That’s what it takes(here defined as a lens equivalent to a 28mm lens or less on a film camera) to fit an entire home or room in one good photo.

Fortunately that’s changed over the last two years, as wide-angle capability has become a selling point of more cameras. At last week’s PMA show, the big event for the imaging industry, several manufacturers added wide angle models to their lines,.

Options: a digital SLR, which can always be equipped with a wide angle accessory lens; or a compact camera with a built-in lens. Digital SLRs are for serious shooters who want creative control and all the options. Most Realtors will be well served with an easy-to-use and less expensive point and shoot compact, so I’ll focus on those here.

I’ve been covering digital imaging since its inception and can confidently say all major manufacturers make good, reliable products. If you’ve got a preferred brand, start your search there. The key is to find the camera with the right combination of features for you. Any digicam with an image sensor of 5 megapixels or better will be adequate for your needs. Other primary points of comparison include the optical zoom of the lens, the size of the LCD screen, ease which you can move pictures and movies to the computer and Web, and comfort with the camera and controls.

Here’s a quick rundown of some of the latest wide angle cameras, linked to where you can learn more. Note,: all are not in stores yet. If you find one you like you may have to wait a few weeks before you can buy. Prices quoted are manufacturer’s suggested retail prices.

New wide-angle cameras:

Sony’s DSC-W170( ) 10MP, 5X optical zoom 28to 140mm optical zoom lens, 2.7-inch LCD nd 15MB internal memory, $299.

Nikon CoolPix s600, 10MP 4X 28-112mm zoom lens, 2.7-inch LCD, $300

Casio’s Exilim EXZ100 thin camera 10MP, 4x 28-112mm optical zoom lens, 2.7-inch LCD, $279. The step-up EX-Z200 adds image stabilization for $20 more .

Three from Fuji: F100fd, 12MP, 5X 28-140mm lens, $380; Finepix S8100fd,10MP, 18X optical zoom 27-486mm lens, 2.5-inch LCD. $400; and the SLR-styled S100FS with 14X 28-400mm zoom lens, 2,5-inch LCD, $800.

Three from Olympus: Olympus SP-570 UZ, 10MP, 20X 26-520mm optical zoom lens and 2.7-inch LCD. $500. FE-350, 8MP with 5X 28 to 112mm zoom lens and 3-inch LCD. $250. Stylus 1030 SW. 10MP, 3.6 28mm-102mm optical zoom lens, 2.7 inch LCD, $399.

Three from Panasonic: Lumix DMC TZ-4, 8.1 MP with 10X 28-280mm optical zoom lens and 2.5-inch LCD display, $250. The step-up Lumix DMC-TZ5 with the same lens but a 9MP sensor and 3-inch LCD, $349. Lumix DMC-FX35 with 10 MP sensor, 2.5-inch LCD and 4x 25-100mm zoom, $350