Before we get started, let’s first define Search Engine Optimization (SEO). According to Wikipedia, “Search Engine Optimization (SEO) is the process of improving the visibility of a website or a web page in search engines via the “natural” or un-paid (“organic” or “algorithmic”) search results.” SEO is therefore a series of steps taken to improve the search visibility of you and your content in major Search Engine Results Pages (SERPs) such as Google, Yahoo or Bing.
So what’s the big deal regarding search visibility?
In 2014, a company called Mediative wanted to discover more about how users view and interact with Google SERPs. In the image below, you can see that in Google’s 2005 study of user behaviour on SERPs, researchers discovered a pattern in which users scanned SERPs, which is sometimes referred to as the “golden-triangle”, i.e. users would look at the top two organic results and scan horizontally. Users would then view up to the 5th listing, with a drastic reduction in the horizontal scanning, and pay little to no attention to lower ranked listings. Users had expected Google to do its job of showing the most important result at the top left.
In 2014, user behaviour on SERPs was shown to have changed as they had paid much more attention to the second-ranked organic listing, as well as scanning vertically instead of horizontally (thanks mobile!). Additional take-aways are that the top 4 organic listings garner ~84% of clicks, and that only 1% of users clicked onto page 2 of the SERP. This means that if you aren’t on the first page of the SERP, you’re pretty much undiscoverable.
Don’t lose hope however, here are five tips to help you get started on improving your SERP visibility.
1) Target Local Keyword Phrases
According to Robert Ramirez, a senior SEO Analyst who has managed real estate SEO for agents at Sotheby’s and Century 21, “Most realtors service multiple cities and regions. However, when you start your website, focus on the main city you do business in first. From there, build out silos that target other areas.” Additionally, data from “The Digital House Hunt“, shows that:
- 69% OF HOME shoppers who take action on a real estate brand website begin their search with a local term, i.e. “Vancouver homes for sale” on a search engine
- 52% of actions on a real estate brand website come directly from a local search on a search engine
What does this mean for you? You need to make sure to optimize your website for local key search terms first. Here is a template that you could use to build out your local key terms, if your business was focused in Vancouver:
- [City] real estate -> Vancouver Homes for Sale
- [City] homes for sale -> Vancouver Real Estate Agents
- [City] real estate listings -> Vancouver Realtors
- [City] realtor -> Vancouver Neighbourhoods
- [City] real estate agent -> Vancouver Real Estate Agents
- Living in [City] -> Living in Vancouver
Now that you have these pages set up on your site, how else do you incorporate these local key terms into your content? How about writing content that is unique, fresh, and helpful?
2) Blog: Create Useful and Shareable Content
This is one of the best ways to improve your website’s SEO. By writing genuinely helpful and shareable content, readers will share your articles, which has a multitude of effects.
Firstly, sharing articles will create backlinks to your website. Think of backlinks as digital votes, in which a backlink from a reputable website is weighted more highly (passes more “link-juice”) than a backlink from one that is less reputable. Additionally, sites that increase their backlink profile (i.e. backlinks from many different domains) will increase their authority and rank more highly in SERPs.
Secondly, direct traffic from these backlinks with users that engage with your website will improve your sites visibility. However, if users reach your page and don’t interact with it (a “bounce“), search engines will use this as an indicator that perhaps the content of your website isn’t very helpful, and decrease your ranking. After all, the purpose of a search engine is to provide relevant and useful information to users.
Now you’re probably wondering to yourself, what on earth could I blog about? Well, a little shameless plug, is how about responding to a question on Two by Fore with a link to your website for more? Or write a blog post with your spin on “9 Tips for First Time Home Buyers in Vancouver”? After writing the post, you could then create targeted ads for Facebook users within the age range of 25-34, the average age of first time home-buyers in Canada (CAAMP Spring 2015). The benefit of this is that you’re targeting a demographic of users that has the highest likelihood of consuming your content, finding it useful, and then sharing it with their peers.
When it comes to markup on your content, it is best practice to have the key terms in these areas: meta description, title tag on images, ALT tag on images, file name on images, URL, and last but not least, your content. Using the pseudo-blog post “9 Tips for First Time Home Buyers in Vancouver”, here is an example of the markup that you could use:
Meta Description- This shows up in the SERP of your search as the grey text. Here, I have searched for ‘tips to living in Vancouver’, and Google has been intelligent enough to identify the phrase ‘Vancouver Living Tips’ as similar to my search phrase. Perhaps you could write something like “… and with skyrocketing housing prices, here are my 9 tips for living in Vancouver.”
Title tag- “9 Tips for Living in Vancouver”
ALT tag on images- “Infograph showing tips for living in Vancouver”
File name on images- living_in_vancouver_infograph.jpg
Content- Write naturally and have ~1-2% keyword(s) or phrase density, i.e. for every 1000 words, include them 10-20 times. Anymore increases the likelihood of search engines penalizing you for keyword stuffing, which is a SEO technique in which a page is overloaded with keywords, which can lead to a website being penalized (or even banned) on major search engines.
It is also extremely beneficial to add internal links. Try and have a minimum of 5 links to other pages or posts on your site for every blog post that you write as this provides readers with an easy way to discover more of your content and facilitates search engines with indexing your older posts (in case they were unable to before).
3) Have a Mobile Responsive Website
Have you ever felt extremely frustrated trying navigate a website that has not been optimized for mobile? Think pinching the screen to zoom into tiny, unintelligible font, and endless horizontal scrolling to find content.
In 2015, Google stated that they were going to update their search algorithm to boost mobile-friendly sites in mobile SERPs. Additionally, “The Digital House Hunt” reported that new home buyers use mobile real estate sites most often at home (70%), but also on the go: at work (31%), waiting in line (28%), at a restaurant (27%), and other people’s homes (26%).
What this means is that if your website does not adhere to Google’s mobile-friendly guidelines, your site will be penalized and drop in mobile search ranking (and visibility). This means not only will you users be less likely to find you, but for the users that do, if your site isn’t mobile optimized, there is a high likelihood of a high bounce rate as users navigate away in favour of a more intuitive, user-friendly website.
4) Use Social Media
If you don’t have a real estate Facebook Business page set up yet, get on it! A Facebook page with a lot of likes and activity will help you boost local SEO. Make sure that your website URL is in the information section of your page so that Google can associate your website with the activity that occurs on your Facebook page. Also, don’t forget to fill out the contact information fully as Google will validate this with all the other contact information online about you.
I love videos. You love videos. We love videos.
Google ranks YouTube videos very highly which means if you made an “evergreen“ video with useful and practical information about a specific neighbourhood or community, there is a high chance of ranking highly and having your video seen. What you could then is add your contact details and website URL to the video’s annotation and video description, which will help viewers find out more about you and your business.
5) Build a System for Client Reviews/Testimonials
Do you ask your clients to write testimonials based on your service? If you don’t already, you should seriously start developing a system to get this in place. A survey by BrightLocal was conducted to understand how online reviews influence the attitudes consumers have toward local businesses and how they directly influence the purchase of local business services. Here are some of their key findings:
- 88% of consumers say they trust online reviews as much as personal recommendations (vs. 79% in 2013)
- 88% have read reviews to determine the quality of a local business (vs. 85% in 2013)
- 85% of consumers said they read up to 10 reviews (vs. 92% in 2013)
- 72% of consumers say that positive reviews make them trust a local business more (vs. 73% in 2013)
Ultimately, the more positive reviews you get, the more people will want to do business with you.
There are three good places to start working on this: Google Reviews, Facebook Reviews, and your website testimonials. For Google Reviews, you’ll want to send your clients to your Google Business Page, and then get them to click “Write a Review”. You’ll need a high number of long reviews (300+ words) to help your Google page rank well. For Facebook, you’ll need a Local Business page. If you don’t have one, you can change your page Category using these instructions. Then send clients to https://www.facebook.com/yourpagename/reviews. Your own website should be a no-brainer.
What are you waiting for? Go get started! Or if you would like a helping hand, don’t hesitate to reach out. We do this for a living 😉
-  http://goinswriter.com/seo-guide/
-  http://www.inman.com/2015/10/19/5-seo-tips-for-real-estate-agents/
-  http://www.bruceclay.com/blog/real-estate-seo/#2
-  http://caamp.org/meloncms/media/Spring%202015%20Survey%20Report.pdf
-  The Digital House Hunt: Consumer and Market Trends in Real Estate
-  http://searchengineland.com/88-consumers-trust-online-reviews-much-personal-recommendations-195803