Want more traffic to your real estate website? This guide to SEO will help you acquire it.
A robust, well-designed website is vital for any business that hopes to reach a broad online audience. In the hyper-competitive luxury real estate business, the need for a standout internet presence proves even more critical.
More and more homebuyers are conducting at least a portion of their new home research online. Consider the numbers from a 2020 National Association of Realtors (NAR) report on the industry, reflecting over half (52%) of homebuyers found the home they purchased via the internet.
The NAR’s 2019 report on Real Estate in the Digital Age showed that 93% of people searching for a home relied on online sites for information. 86% used a real estate agent, and 73% utilized mobile technology—be it an app or mobile website for homebuying info. And those statistics were before the 2020 coronavirus pandemic, which drove even more individuals online.
But how do you attract highly-motivated new homebuyers to your website to browse your listings, engage your team, and generate revenue for your firm? How do you do it without breaking the bank through the buying of clicks and leads?
You do it with SEO.
What is SEO?
Search engine optimization (or SEO) is a fairly straightforward concept. It’s the optimization of your website to attract organic, high-quality traffic. You create a search engine-friendly website that appears near the top of the search engine results page (SERP)—optimally, page one on Google’s SERP.
Why Does SEO Matter?
When you optimize your website for SEO, you’re making a long-term investment towards your real estate brand’s future. Those organic results are leads that don’t cost you a dime, be it a brokerage site or agent page, or even a community guide or property listing.
Now, it’s important to note that they are not, strictly speaking, free. You do have to put in the effort and development dollars to properly optimize your website. But that commitment results in an incredible ROI. Crafting a site that consistently ranks at or near the top of Google’s organic search rankings translates into a steady stream of high-quality traffic.
Of course, the alternative is investing in paid traffic, which is perfect if you have an infinite advertising budget. If you don’t, your gains will be minimal. It’s why paid traffic is okay for small, short-term exposure. But once you stop paying for the traffic, your exposure stops as well.
How Do Search Engines Work?
Okay, this question might seem a bit elementary, but hang with us for a moment. Yes, you (or, more importantly, a prospective buyer or seller) type in a search query, and the search engine spits back the results—usually a few paid ads, then a list of the most relevant organic results as outlined above.
Whether or not your webpage is part of those results depends largely on how well you understand a search engine’s parameters. If you optimize your site well enough, you can take advantage of them.
While there are other search engines—Bing and Yahoo for basic queries, and YouTube for, well, YouTube—Google is the beginning, middle, and end for general search engines. Google holds an 87% market share for desktop searches and a 95% market share for mobile searches.
Everything we discuss from here forward aims at optimizing your site for Google, which leads us to how Google’s algorithm works.
Understanding Google’s Algorithm
To call Google’s search algorithm both complicated and complex would be an understatement. There are over 200 different variables that make up the algorithm’s ranking factors, and even the best internet websites are not optimized for all of them. Focusing on a select few, however, will help your website rise in the rankings. Seven of the most important include:
Content and Freshness
While other items on this list might carry more technical weight—backlinks, mobile optimization, page speed—your website is an empty, lifeless shell without high-quality, user-friendly content. Quality content is also timely—new content is better than old content. The fresher your posts—even if it means updating listings, old blogs, or community guides—the more likely Google is to take notice.
Also called “inbound” or “incoming” links, backlinks are links from one website to another. These links, particularly those from respected, authoritative sites, are arguably one of the single most important factors to ensuring high SEO. Less is more, however, as a few high-quality backlinks will always trump too many questionable ones.
This one’s easy. Nobody likes a slow internet page. You don’t like it. We don’t like it. Most importantly, your current and potential future clients won’t like it.
Once upon a time, Google considered the desktop version of a website’s content most critical to user relevance. Now, it’s the mobile version that gets top billing in Google’s indexing. While your site needs to be responsive and perform well across all platforms, it must absolutely shine when viewed on a mobile device.
Technical SEO—both seen and unseen—is what allows search engines (and, in turn, users) to more quickly discover your content. A shortlist of Technical SEO includes:
- Metadata (short previews on SERP listings)
- Page titles
- Page descriptions
- URL structure
- Site maps
- Robots.txt (parts of the site not to index)
- Schema markup or structure which improves your website’s context
As with everything else in the digital age, security is key. A secure website is favored by Google and users alike. HTTPS is the secured version of HTTP, and while not the most critical ranking factor, its smart SEO to trade the latter for the former—ASAP.
You might be surprised to learn that user experience or UX can make a huge difference in SEO. If your site is cumbersome to navigate and non-responsive with broken links or outdated content, you’ll lose engagement and, in turn, lose ranking.
When a user makes an internet query, what they are doing is using keywords. Keywords are critical for two reasons—they allow users to search for your site via Google and allow Google to identify what your website and its unique content are about.
Keywords come in two primary forms—short-tail keywords, which are one to three words (Luxury Real Estate), and long-tail keywords, which are more than three words (Luxury Real Estate in Malibu, California). Short-tail keywords tend to indicate someone performing a general search. Long-tail keywords often mean someone is searching with purpose and intent.
Taken a step further, there are also non-branded (the examples cited above) and branded keywords, which include your or your firm’s name.
To make the most of keyword usage, you’ll want content on your website to include the keywords for which you hope to rank. Branded keywords are ideal for use in metadata such as page titles and descriptions. Non-branded keywords are best saved for blog posts and neighborhood guides.
In either case, ensure you use keywords sparingly and give them context without overstuffing your content. Just as with backlinks, less is more, and the more potent the keyword and its usage, the more helpful it will be.
How to Optimize for SEO?
So how do you optimize your website for SEO? The three primary approaches include onsite SEO, offsite SEO, and local SEO. Let’s take a quick look at each one and see how it impacts your website’s SEO.
This type of SEO encompasses all the factors you control on your website to boost your SERP results. Much of onsite SEO starts with shoring up your site’s technical bonafides—page speed, responsiveness, security, and, of course, technical SEO.
Equally as important is your content. Be it a blog post (anything from 600 or 700 words to 1,500 words or more) or an information-rich community guide, market report, or infographic, the content you put on your website should be up to date and relevant for your users. With everything you post, your aim should be to solve an issue or answer a question a user might have.
With offsite SEO, you’re focused on elements beyond your website, but ones that help build its profile (as well as your brand’s overall profile). This entails social media marketing, influencer engagement, guest blogging, press releases, or link building.
An offsite measure that results in onsite content includes reviews. Whether on your website or via tools like Google My Business (see below), client reviews give peer-reviewed clout to your website. These stamps of approval are critical in today’s referral-centric world. The more you can acquire, the greater standing your website carries.
Local SEO keys into the geographical element of search. It optimizes your website and, more specifically, your mobile website to attract users looking for local businesses. And what’s more local than real estate?
When you complete your Google My Business profile—business name, location, hours, contact info, and pictures, posts, and reviews—it places your brand in front of energized users. These are potential clients who are not just searching, but doing so locally and with purpose. Both Bing and Apple Maps have similar applications should you want to maximize your local exposure across multiple platforms.
SEO doesn’t need to be overly complex to be effective. It just requires a basic understanding of how people search, how Google processes those queries, and how you can best create a website that both groups love to engage.