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Answering Your Questions About SEO & Your Real Estate Website

Aaron Geh

I have spent over 20 years helping a wide variety of companies grow their businesses on the Internet. Today, let's take a look at answers to two of the most frequently asked questions I receive:

  1. What is Search Engine Optimization (SEO)?
  2. Why Does SEO Need to be Approached Differently within the Real Estate Industry?

What is Search Engine Optimization (SEO)

First, let me define what Search Engine Optimization (SEO) is from my perspective. SEO techniques are used on and off websites to make a site more appealing to search engines. The more search engines like a website, the more they visit to index its pages.

The result of SEO work done correctly--search engines push your website higher in search results for specific key phrases associated with your products and/services.

Traffic generated from SEO is called "organic traffic."

SEO in the Early Days

Over the years, SEO has evolved, but I'd argue the core fundamentals have not changed that much. Early on in the infancy stage of SEO, it was the Wild West (late 1990's).

Many people resorted to keyword stuffing or paying link farms to create 1000's of links back to a site. While this process resulted in short term gains for these companies, any advancement made was quickly replaced with penalties once search engines caught on to their spammy techniques.

Even during these Wild West days, savvy developers and online marketers understood it was all about designing sites for the end-user. Eventually, search engines started publishing best practices which many still apply today.

SEO Best Practices

  • You need to build a site that is easy to use and navigate.
  • The site needs to be technically sound.
  • It needs to perform well speed-wise.
  • The site needs designing with the end-user in mind, not the search engines.
  • It needs to have unique and engaging content.
  • You need to research high authority 'complimentary' sites and obtain links back to your site.
  • It needs to be trustworthy
  • Add on-page optimization and internal linking throughout your site to help search engines better understand what the site is about and to navigate it easier. This last point is evolving a bit as the search engines are becoming smarter and don't need as much assistance.

There are different approaches to SEO if you are a B2B or B2C company, but at the end of the day, the goals for any SEO campaign should be to increase traffic and leads/sales.

SEO Questions Answered

Why does SEO Need To be Approached Differently Within the Real Estate Industry?          

Within most other industries, no matter if you are B2B or B2C, you are dealing with information that does not change often. So, for example, if you are a carpet cleaning company, your services are not going to change much over time. Or if you have an online store, products are added or discontinued over time, but generally speaking, your offerings stay pretty consistent. The consistency in these two examples allows the marketer to focus more intently on specific products and/or services, building out valuable content and links overtime around the core services or products.

The most significant difference with a real estate website is the lack of consistency with the products: homes, buildings, land, etc. Each property has its own SKU number so to speak and to makes things even more challenging, the properties are only online until they sell. In major markets, we are talking 1000's of property listings turning over quickly.

So instead of trying to optimize each listing individually, many marketers in the real estate industry will focus on areas--states, counties, cities, neighborhoods, school districts, subdivisions, etc.

As an example, if you are a real estate firm in Sarasota, Florida, you may create a landing page with listings for Sarasota. And from that page, drill-down and create additional pages for neighborhoods within Sarasota. Consequently, you would use SEO tactics on all of those pages.

This process is a fairly common practice within the real estate industry. The downside to this approach is that you will be missing out on visitors searching for a specific home for sale.

Surprisingly, we have found that single address property searches equate to a significant amount of monthly traffic. Some of our clients see nearly 50 percent of their traffic originating from single address property search--i.e., 123 Main Street, Sarasota. Moreover, when it comes to recruiting and retaining, a firm with real estate listings displayed on the first page of Google has a distinct advantage over local competitors who cannot.  To stay ahead of the curve, you should review your current website from two different aspects:

Technical Aspect of SEO

The technical aspects of SEO (the how and why behind search engines crawling and indexing a site) are even more important with real estate sites than other industries because of the sheer amount of data processed daily.

Clear paths for search engines need to be created so they can crawl from page-to-page gathering pertinent information throughout your site. I have found that many real estate websites struggle in this area.

To determine if your site has technical issues, look at how many pages you have indexed in Google (Example: Type site: www.hpw.com into Google search). Based on the number of listings and other content throughout your site, if the number of indexed pages seems low to you, there may be underlying issues.

SEO Questions Answered

Content Aspect of SEO

Within the real estate industry, content is essential given the competitive nature of the industry as well as some of the challenges previously mentioned.

Blogging is a popular way to grow your site's visibility in search engines. As a rule of thumb, blogs should support the site's overall SEO strategy; however, in many cases, blogs are the only area of the site where SEO is leveraged. As an example, if your site is not ranking for the markets you serve, a blog may be your only avenue to publish optimized content for better visibility.

Unless you are willing to invest significantly in time and money to make an impact, this option may not be ideal for you. Some companies do it and are successful, but having a better understanding of the shortfalls of the website and correcting them will save you time and money in the long run.

Taking a Look at the Competition

I also wanted to touch on the competitive nature of the industry and attempt to set proper expectations if you are a local firm engaging in SEO.

The real estate industry is competitive, REALLY competitive. You have portals led by Zillow, Corporate franchises, and then all of the local firms all competing for the number one position within the search results. The more competitive the market is in general (i.e., Dallas or San Francisco), the bigger the hill is to climb because there are even more online competitors. Realistically speaking, most local firms are not going to outrank the portals or even corporate franchises for phrases like "Dallas real estate" for example. These sites have an enormous amount of content because they have a national presence and all of the listings and associated content to go along with it.

That is a big deal and one that is tough to beat. It's not impossible to outrank bigger players because many of our clients do. The clients that do tend to be very large and have spent years investing in SEO and content strategies.

A realistic approach is to focus on less competitive phrases and ensure that your listing shows up on the first page of results. Less competitive phrases revolve around neighborhoods, subdivisions, and school districts. If you are successful and climb to the top for these types of phrases, it generally produces better quality traffic and leads. Also, visitors using these types of search phrases have narrowed down their focus and are a bit more qualified.

SEO Questions Answered

With SEO – Patience is a Virtue … Really!

A word to the wise–SEO is a long-term play, meaning don't expect immediate results. My rule of thumb is that if you won't at least stick it out for a year, look to invest your marketing dollars elsewhere.

We are fortunate that we are able to move the needle fairly quickly for most of our clients. However, we do run into some cases where it takes a bit longer and that requires patience. There are many factors that determine SEO success. Every market and every company is different even though we are all in the real estate industry. So be patient and look at it as a long term investment.

If It Sounds Too Good to be True … It Probably Is

Be cautious of companies making wild guarantees like: "We will get your site to the first position in Google for "real estate." This sounds great to someone that is not too familiar with SEO, but realistically, most have no shot. When communicating with a potential partner, you need to feel like you can trust them, they know what they are doing, and they have your best interest at heart. If it doesn't seem logical or feel realistic, you should probably be concerned.

Finally, just because a company claims "to do" SEO, be highly skeptical, especially in the real estate space. It's vital to understand precisely how these companies "do" SEO, and what success looks like based on data they have collected over time. Remember, SEO is about increasing traffic and leads. If they cannot provide you data on how they have helped other firms–Run! It's also essential to understand the retention rate for the clients they currently serve. If they cannot retain clients, obviously they are not providing value.

So do your homework.

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