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SEO, SEM/PPC and Social Media Marketing

  SEO: Real Estate Search Engine Optimization Tactics

     Part I -- On-Page Real Estate SEO for Enhanced Search Rankings

real-estate-seo

SEO for Real Estate Agencies

Most real estate brokers and agents have now embraced online marketing methods; and the competition for organic search engine rankings in most markets is very intense. A few years ago, any realtor with a website could do well in the search results; now you need a large well-structured website with search engine optimization, aggressive social marketing and well-funded PPC campaigns to be competitive.

Here are several On-page SEO tips for real estate websites. [On-page search engine optimization encompasses aspects of a website's structure and content. Off-page Real Estate SEO refers to the characteristics of links from other websites, and will be covered in a separate article.]

The following search optimization recommendations are oriented primarily toward residential real estate websites, but can also be applied to commercial real estate SEO (and Pay-Per-Click programs) as well as online marketing programs for leasing, time-shares, construction and property management websites.

1. Specialize and focus using long-tail keywords

If you’re a small real estate agency or individual realtor in Austin, TX, it’s going to take a lot of work to make the first page of the Google search engine results pages (SERPs for short) for “austin realtor”, “westlake homes” or “austin real estate”.  These are called ‘short tail’ search terms -- 2 or 3 word phrases that sellers and buyers use frequently (good), but for which your competitors have expended a lot of effort to rank highly (bad).

In a highly competitive market, the best way for a small or medium-sized real estate brokerage to achieve high rankings is to focus on ‘long tail search terms': 3-5 word phrases that are specific to that agency's real estate niche and value proposition, and differentiate it from competitors. Long-tail search terms are used less frequently, but it’s a lot easier to achieve good rankings for these.

Long-tail keywords are used to limit a page's scope to a narrow combination of geographic area (even a specific Zip Code), price range, property type (single vs. multiple family, lot, condo), property feature (fireplace, 4BR, 2 car garage) or agency service (financing, open house, video tour, etc.). For example, terms like “lake austin view homes”, “round rock relo agent”, “austin downtown luxury condo”, “cedar park duplex 78613” and “hyde park 4br rental” could be effective long-tail keywords.

2. Provide content featuring long-tail search terms

We see a lot of real estate websites and social media sites with beautiful graphic design, dazzling flash animations, gorgeous photos and video tours – but very little content (words). These sites may be visually appealing to human visitors (and that’s a good thing); but search engines only read text, so these non-text media are not helping with SEO. A search engine's web crawler evaluates website pages on the basis of the content (body text and meta tags) and connectivity (inbound and outbound links). So it’s important to have lots of relevant content -- including several mentions of the page's keyword.

A typical web page has 300-600 words. We define the keyword density to be the ratio of the number of times the key word appears to the total number of words. If a page has 453 words and the keyword appears 11 times, the keyword density is 11/453 = .02428 or 2.4%. SEO experts disagree about what level of keyword density is optimal; but we know search engines penalize keyword stuffing -- an unnaturally high keyword density. But it's generally considered reasonable to have a density of 1-3%. As you draft website or social media copy, read it aloud; and if the keyword seems overly repetitive, replace a few instances of this with synonyms or related terms.

In addition to the body text, there are several other key elements that should incorporate keywords:
  • Domain Names and URLs: All else being equal, www.austinrealestate.com is going to outrank other pages in searches for “austin real estate”. You can incorporate hyphens (better than underscores) in the URL if necessary; but more than two may be viewed as a form of spam, and penalized accordingly.
  • Title meta tag: Search engines are predisposed to believe the Title is what the page is about. Each page should be about a single keyword (phrase), and that term should be incorporated in the page's Title tag, preferably at the beginning.
  • Description meta tag: Same here, with the additional benefit that the web crawlers commonly use the Description tag for their summary blurb in the SERPs. And, if your Description tag includes the search terms, these will appear in bold -- increasing the likelihood that the reader will click on the link to your site.
  • Alt.text for images: Instead of the SEO-oblivious ‘Photo032471.jpg’, label an image ‘luxury-downtown-condo.jpg’, ’30acre-farm-river-rd.png, or ‘windy-hills-3br-pool.jpeg’.
  • Navigation menu labels: Search engines pay a lot of attention to the anchor text used in links to your site, and the nav menu label is a special case of anchor text over which we have complete control. Obviously, space is at a premium in the main nav menu (so use short-tail words there); but longer-tail keywords can be embedded in drop-down submenus.
  • Heading meta tags: Major and minor heading tags (H1, H2 and H3) should also contain keywords. Search engines give more weight to headings and text appearing in large type, bold/strong and/or underlined.
Note: Nav menus, headings and all key content are only effective if rendered as text. Search engines can’t read content that is implemented as a graphic image (bit map). Many template-based real estate websites have graphical agency names, titles/subtitles and nav menus – these are not helpful for real estate SEO purposes.

3. Avoid attracting prospects who won’t become clients

One of the most common strategic errors real estate SEOs make is trying to attract as many visitors as possible to their websites. Everyone likes to see the traffic volume graph in Google Analytics rising to the right; but it is counterproductive to bring visitors who were looking for something else and/or are a bad fit for the services you offer – creating a high Bounce Rate. This is basic Sales 101: Allocate time and resources to the prospects who are most likely to buy or list their property.

From the real estate SEO standpoint, this means avoiding keywords that are not used by your target audience. Everyone wants to get the listing for the $8 million waterfront mansion near the golf course in Heavenly Acres; but if your skills and experience are predominantly in $300K tract homes, you could waste a lot of effort building pages optimized for "austin luxury homes”, “lake travis waterfront estate”, “heavenly acres mansion pool”, or “golf community executive homes 78701”.

4. Analyze your Real Estate SEO competitors

Once you’ve selected some candidate keywords, do some searches with these keywords to see what the competition looks like. Follow the links on Page One of the Bing and Google search results and analyze these web pages – these are your competitors. Here are several things to look for:
  • A. Domain/URL: Does it contain the keyword?
  • B. Total number of words on the page
  • C. Number of times the keyword appears on the page
  • D. Keyword density (C/B). This will indicate how high a keyword density the search engines will tolerate.
  • E. Keyword's presence in the Page Title, Page Description meta tag, navigation menu and header tags?
  • F. Keyword synonyms and contextually-related terms. Remember these for use in drafting page copy.
  • G. Number and quality of backlinks (links from other websites, also known as in-links). There are numerous backlink checker tools that can help with this.
  • H. Number of out-links (links to other websites). Follow these links and consider including links to these sites if they are relevant to your real estate agency services and target audience.
If your page compares favorably with competitors' real estate website pages for these parameters, you have a good shot at making Page One. If not, you’ll need to choose a more suitable keyword (more specific, longer-tail) or improve the page to score better for the above parameters.

5. Differentiate vs. builders, remodelers, leasing, etc.

Choose keywords and content that distinguish your business from other organizations in the real estate world. If you’re a residential real estate agency, avoid targeting terms that could also apply to commercial realty, home builders (unless you’re representing builders), remodelers, title companies, apartment rentals, nursing homes, community or governmental organizations.

In SEM (search engine marketing, also known as pay-per-click or PPC) campaigns, you can exclude clicks from unwanted website visitors with negative keywords. In organic SEO, you need to add modifying terms to your keyword's phrases to achieve the same effect. The more specific you can be, the more of the competition you eliminate. Examples of terms to be avoided (if you’re not in these businesses):
  • Home builders frequently use the words “new”, “build”, “dream”, “design”, “quality”, “plans”
  • Remodelers’: “new” (e.g., “new kitchen”, “new deck”), “remodeling”, “improvement”, “addition”
  • Apartments and condo rental sites: “plans”, “amenities”, “conveniences”, “lifestyle”, "lease", "rental"

6. Create separate website sections for Buyers and Sellers

Buyers and Sellers are looking for different things -- Buyers want houses, Sellers want agents -- and they use different search terms to look for these. So your website should have separate pages for buyers and sellers, with significantly different content and keywords. For residential real estate SEO, a Buyers page and a Sellers page (with ‘Buyers’ and ‘Sellers’ as main navigation menu items) is a good way to organize these at the top level of navigation.

Buyers-oriented pages should include content and keywords specific to your listings, geographic focus, primary agency services and competitive differentiators. [Exception: If you're seeking business as a Buyer’s Agent, you should have separate Buyers Agent page(s) describing your credentials, accomplishments and services for buyers.] It’s also a good idea to have Buyers section pages describing schools, churches, stores, transportation, taxes and other attractions for the communities you serve – along with a few outbound links (NoFollow and opening in new browser windows) to these organizations’ websites.

Seller-oriented pages should include content and keywords that emphasize your capabilities, accomplishments and services on behalf of sellers. These could include your ‘elevator pitch’ keywords (“austin condo realtor”, “georgetown short sale agent”, “waterfront property sales”, “farmland sales”), focus neighborhoods (by name and/or Zip Code), including property types (“estate”, “golf home”, “ski lodge”, “fixer-upper”), awards and affiliations (e.g., “top ten realtor”,"abor member", “austin elite 25 realtor”).

On-page SEO is a key component of real estate search engine optimization. Unlike Off-page SEO, it’s an aspect of your website that is completely within your control. A concerted effort to optimize your website and social media presence  -- including keyword research, competitive analysis, website partitioning and content development -- can significantly improve a web pages' position in the organic rankings.

Austin Real Estate SEO Company -- Semantic Advantage, Inc.

If you're looking for ways to attract more buyers and sellers to your real estate website, blog and/or social media sites, we can create a cost-effective SEO program that will give you more visibility, traffic, clients and business. Contact Semantic Advantage today for a FREE SEO Analysis.

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