A panel discussion on Search Engine Optimization (SEO) at the recent Real Estate Connect conference in San Francisco yielded some valuable tips for anyone concerned about maximizing their web presence.
The participating speakers were Rivers Pearce from BoomTown, an online lead generation campaign management website for real estate agents, Sam DeBord, Managing Broker for SeattleHome.com, and Morgan Carey from the website developer Real Estate Webmasters.
One problem encountered by independents and agents from smaller firms that people from many fields can sympathize with is what can feel like the futility of competing with industry goliaths who gobble up search results along with market share. Do these people just concede and move on to another strategy?
While it can appear as if the giants are taking over, there are many ways to compete, says Sam DeBord.
“It’s easy to see why people think that way. Look at the aggregate data – two thirds of people are on portal sites, and to get a page one result, you look and it’s 90 percent portals. A lot of successful clients are still able to do it. We do it and are able to rank a number of different sites on page one for different terms.”
Many people stop before they start because they think it takes large amounts of both money and time, but the problem is mostly that businesses do not understand how people search, Mr. DeBord explained. If you are trying to land on page one for Seattle real estate for example, it helps to understand some basic truths about search, including the fact that most consumers will search between six and 12 sites.
A key point to understand is the relationship between what keywords potential buyers enter and how far along they are in their search for a new home.
“People using generic terms like ‘Seattle real estate’ are just starting out, but once the search starts getting into specific styles of homes or neighborhoods the page one results start being six to seven agents and two or three portals. These are the people who are the hot leads, the ones further down the line in their search and they’re ready to buy.”
Mr. DeBord compared it to his ride in from the airport which occurred around supper time. The first 10 or 15 restaurants he saw were fast food, and he did not stop at any of them. He wanted more of a quality experience and was prepared to exercise patience in waiting for that option.
“Customers are looking for something unique, something they have not seen 20 times before.”
Rivers Pearce started with some basic tips for people who are just beginning to develop a web presence.
“A critical first step is to understand that SEO is a foundation and not an entire strategy,” Mr. Pearce said.
The most important details to address are making sure you have clarity and consistency with such SEO essentials as your name, address, phone numbers and hours of operation.
“Those things are paramount for anything you do in your business,” he said.
A simple way to begin your review of your online presence is to Google your name and see what comes up, Mr.Pearce advised. Do you like how (hopefully) your web page and other page one returns look? How do your hits compare with your competitors? You should see a knowledge card show up on the right side of the page. It should have an image, hours, map, and reviews.
Begin with optimizing and verifying those SEO essentials. A common problem which happens when people change jobs or locations is they forget to update their information online and they may not even recall where they have placed it given the morphing number of sites that collect and post that information. Another frequent error is people putting the phone number where the fax number is to go, for example.
People also leave different information on various profiles, forgetting to update the info when they switch jobs or locations.
“Control your brand so when people call you from any touch-point online, they are actually dialing your phone number,” Mr. Pearce advised.
Beside the obvious, an important reason for ensuring this consistency comes from an understanding of how Google searches, Mr. Pearce explained.
“Google will look to citation sources which is anywhere your name address phone number are listed.”
When search engines scan the information on your Facebook, Yelp and LinkedIn pages, Mr. Pearce said, “they are looking for consistency and cohesiveness of those basic brand elements.”
Different information across various sites will skewer results, possibly away from the most accurate information.
If your marketing plans include going mobile, it is imperative you have Google maps along with a Google Plus local business page that is verified, optimized and linked to your website. There are also services like Yext that maintain a consistent web presence for you. If you move or change your contact information, you enter the data in one place and the site does your updates for you at a cost of at most a few hundred dollars per year.
Following best SEO practices will not guarantee great web traffic, because potential customers have to like what they see once they get there, said Morgan Carey.
“You need quality content and images, video, and other cool tools,” Mr. Carey said.
Good content is also not enough.
“How much time do you spend promoting your content?” Mr. Carey asked. “Do you spend as much as you do developing it?”
Successful people constantly promote their content, but in order for people to let you in to their metaphorical front door, they have to recognize you, which can be a challenge.
One way people get quickly known is by creating ties with well-known people in their field. They interview experts for their blogs and get them to promote the article. Others identify well-connected people who could benefit from the product or service and share it with them. Even if those efforts do little to enhance SEO, they still build audience, credibility and author rank, all factors that matter in segmented industries where quality often trumps quantity.
Mr. Carey went on to say you should absolutely target your local community but know the chances of getting many web citations from them is less than if you target someone who is known nationally.
How good are you at sourcing, producing and promoting great content? s that what got you into your chosen field in the first place, or was it the affinity for the product or service being sold? These questions are relevant because if you take the numbers of hours you are spending on all areas of content management and multiply that by what your average earnings are per hour, you may find it cheaper to outsource this entire area to a content development specialist.
“If you’re spending $3,000 per month on a zip code from a portal you’ve got a lot of money to pay a creator,” Mr. Carey observed. “The type of website you could build for 7oK would be unbelievable.”
Another recent development that those self-marketing on the web need to pay attention to is semantic search, which Mr. Pearce likened to “the first significant sci-fi version of search where you ask a computer a question and you get the right answer.”
Instead of crawling the web and looking for key words the aim is to create webs of relationships between entities so a more robust search experience can be created with videos that play on your results or click to call capability on your phone. You can also employ structured data like graphs and standard markup languages so search engines understand what your site’s purpose is.
One final point brought up was to make sure you are using the latest best practices, as old approaches can get you removed from Google search results in short order.
Bankless Times will be posting more profiles and interviews from real Estate Connect in the weeks ahead. Please return often or follow us on Twitter at @BanklessTimes for new items as soon as they are posted.