If you are like most real estate professionals, you have probably invested a substantial amount of time and money on your website. You’ve spent time making sure you are best represented, picked out just the right functionalities, purchased the perfect domain and revised the copy to best communicate who you are and what you do. But unless potential clients can find your site when conducting a search online, that investment is pretty useless.
Search Engine Optimization, or SEO, gets a lot of buzz in the realm of online marketing. More people visit sites via a search engine – Google or Yahoo or the like – than type in a specific web address, often even if they already know what site they want to visit. In fact, real estate related searches on Google have grown 253% over the past 4 years! Whether a potential lead is broadly searching for real estate, or specifically for an agent or company, you want your website to be at the top of the list of search results.
On a results page, the top item usually gets the most clicks. Search engines zealously guard the algorithms they use to generate search results, and those algorithms are constantly updated, so there is no guaranteed method for sending your website to the top of the results heap. But there are ways to enhance your site’s SEO. Here are some recognized methods for improving your search engine optimization:
Linking back to your website on sites outside of your website enriches your company’s site to a search bot, so inbound links can boost your SEO. A few ideas:
- Comment on other site’s blogs with links to your own site.
- Link exchange with other bloggers. Add a link to pertinent sites on your blog, and ask those sites to reciprocate by adding your link to their blogs.
- Include links in your social media posts.
A word of caution before you start typing in your web address on every other site you run across: make sure you have something relevant to say, some reason for including your link. Otherwise the search engine can interpret your posts as spam and actually decrease your search ranking.
Last fall Google announced their Hummingbird algorithm, an updated approach to return better, localized search results. Designed to better handle “conversational” search queries, Hummingbird also aims to return search results that have the most geographic relevancy to the searcher’s location, especially queries conducted via mobile devices.
The old adage, “there is nothing more local than real estate” holds particularly true for online content and therefore relevance with the Search Engines. Include content on your website and blog specific to your local farm area and neighborhoods. By including content specific to local areas your content has a greater chance of ranking in the search engines, while also positions you as an area expert.
Social media isn’t just for pics of the family vacation and posting what you had for lunch anymore – it’s big business. Facebook, Twitter, Pinterest, Google+, LinkedIn and YouTube all have tremendous impact on companies across the world. Some of the best social medial sites for business aren’t overtly “sales-y” – they’re more about engaging with customers and potential customers. So if you’re only putting listings on your social media sites, people who aren’t actively looking to buy or sell may join your online conversation, but probably not for long.
Simply including your website address on your profile pages, posting links for new blog posts and writing a good profile should help with SEO. You should also promote your social media sites on your website. You want people to join your social media for the long haul, so again, use actual listings and sales pitches very sparingly here. Instead, invite stories of home buying and selling experiences (good and bad) or ask people to reminisce about their favorite homes. Include photos of your buyers and closings, ask for photos of what makes good curb appeal, share news about mortgage rates, have your followers share their home buying or selling experiences. Social media is always effective when you make it about your followers.
Keywords have two basic meanings in the digital world: it’s the search terms users type into search engines, and it’s also the short, succinct words to identify the content of a website. The algorithms in a search engine simply seek to put the two together. Make sure that keywords you associate with both your site and your target audience are used generously in your web copy, photo descriptions and blogs will make it easier for search engines to find your site.
There are several free or inexpensive keyword generators that can help you determine the best keywords for you. Google Adwords offers a keyword planner, and Microsoft offers a program called Good Keywords that allows you to research and better strategize the most effective keywords for your site.
Wear the “White Hat”
In search engine terminology, White Hat SEO refers to the ethical usage of optimization strategies, techniques and tactics that focus on the human audience. White Hat SEO means its proponents do things the “right” way – embed links, use appropriate keywords and follow search engine rules and policies. Black Hat SEO refers to the sketchy online tricks used to mislead people into visiting their sites. While White Hat SEO focuses on people, Black Hat SEO focuses on the bots or spiders that search engines use to disseminate sites. Black Hats don’t care what users are actually searching for, they use any means necessary to get their site in front of any unsuspecting searcher, no matter what keywords were entered.
Black Hat tactics include keyword stuffing, which means a deliberate overuse of keywords; purchased links and embed misleading keywords into their images. Black Hat sites are short-term sites – they look for as many sites as possible because they know it’s just a matter of time before the bots catch onto their tricks and scrub them from search results.
White Hat SEO is used by those who want to make a long-term investment on their site. They serve only the people seeking the services and products they offer.
Search engine optimization is an important part of real estate marketing, but it can be daunting. In some companies, SEO is a full-time job. It can be hard to see how well your site is set up for search engines, but working with experts who can perform professional analytics on your site can help you optimize your site and get a lot more visitors.