This is the next post in my series on how real estate agents can better market themselves. My last article discussed the best practices for building an IDX powered website. Integrating the MLS into your website, through the use of IDX, provides several benefits. These include having your website appear in search results when people are looking for specific addresses, providing your clients with a search portal which includes your own branding, as well as built in CRM features if you are using the right software. These benefits can result in a) helping to ensure that you don’t lose clients to another realtor and b) getting clients that you would not have otherwise gotten. In this article I’m going to be talking about another important topic – SEO for real estate agents. You can improve your chances of appearing in organic results by making sure that your website is following the “best practices” of the search engines. Unfortunately, there are a lot of snake oil salespeople out there who hold themselves out as providing search engine optimization “services.” The goal of this article is to provide information to help you know what it means to “optimize” your site for search. If you are an agent or a broker and you need assisting with building a real estate website, then contact our web developers today. We work with companies throughout the United States.
The topic of “search engine optimization” can cause a lot of confusion and, to be frank, there are a lot of people who hold themselves out as providing services even though they really can’t do anything to help your business. As someone who has had multiple online brands acquired, due to their high search rankings, this is a subject I am qualified to talk about. I’m going to use this article to look at the following points:
- What is SEO, does it work for real estate agents, and what does it cost? (jump to section)
- The technical side of search engine optimization. (jump to section)
- How your website’s content impacts search rankings. (jump to section)
- SEO specifics for realtor/brokerage websites. (jump to section)
Let’s get to it.
What is SEO, does it work for real estate agents, and what does it cost?
SEO stands for “search engine optimization.” In simple terms, it is making sure that your website is something that Google, Bing, and other search engines will want to return high in their results. While most business owners, including real estate agents and brokers, know that they want to do better in search, the truth is that most don’t know what the process entails. To make matters worse, it is common for
sleezy lowlife scumbags people who hold themselves out as professionals to contact business owners and claim that they will perform magic when it comes to search results. To weed through this nonsense – let’s discuss what search engine optimization is, what it isn’t, and whether it works for real estate agents.
Legitimate search engine optimization entails making your website something that search engines want to return in their results. To understand what I mean by this, let’s put ourselves in the role of a search engine for a moment. If you’re Google, and someone performs a search, then it is vital that you give that person results that are both relevant and useable. This is due to one simple fact – if you give them a list of websites which contain irrelevant information, or are frustrating to use, then there is a chance that the user will switch search engines in favor of one which provides better results. If you lose the user and they don’t come back, then there is never any chance of them clicking on the ads displayed by your platform. This is why the only thing search engines want to do is provide relevant and useful results – it is what will keep people coming back.
So, making sure your website is one that search engines want to return involves a) ensuring that it has relevant information and b) making sure the site is user friendly. Fortunately, these terms are not as ambiguous as they sound. As I will explain below, relevant information for a real estate website includes ensuring that you have individual pages dedicated to specific types of homes as well as individual townships & cities (virtually all realty sites that I look at fail to do this). It also includes providing verbiage on your pages and blogs which are relevant to your potential audience. Providing a good user experience is straightforward as Google provides guidelines for web developers (link opens in new tab) to follow when planning and building a website. So, in simple terms, “SEO” means providing information that is useful to your target audience and, in regard to the build of your website, following the search engine’s guidelines.
There are a lot of people who will call you claiming that they “do search engine optimization” for websites. When you talk to these people, however, they aren’t offering to “do” anything in relation to the content on your website and they aren’t offering to work with the actual build of the site. So, in other words, they’re not offering to “do” the things that search engines look for. My personal opinion is that you should run from these people as if they had the plague.
In terms of whether search engine optimization “works” for real estate agents – the answer is yes. The realtor we will be featuring later in this series has, in significant part, built her business via leads she has obtained through organic search. As an example, when I perform a Google search of “Dayton apartments for sale,” I get the following results:
Yes – SEO can work for real estate agents and brokerages.
It is important to keep in mind that providing the right content, and following Google’s build guidelines, doesn’t guarantee anything. What it does is improve the chances of success. I say this because many of the people who cold call businesses, offering to “get them to the top of Google,” tend to make guarantees. These guarantees are about as worthless as they come in my opinion.
A common question that realtors and brokerages ask is what SEO costs for their website. I understand why this question is commonly asked as many of the
scumbags who don’t know anything about web marketing people who cold call businesses, offering services, typically want to charge some kind of a monthly fee. Given that real search engine optimization revolves around your content and the build of your website (which is, obviously, what you pay for people like us to build the site), you shouldn’t be paying for “SEO services.” So, to answer the question of “what does it cost,” the answer is:
The technical aspects of SEO for real estate websites
In terms of the “technical” parts of SEO, Google provides published guidelines. This gives web developers (like us) clear guidelines to follow. Examples of these guidelines, which are technical in nature, can be found at the following link (which opens in a new tab). Note that there are several sections to the left of the page (if you’re viewing it on a desktop) which provide additional guidelines:
In a nutshell, on the more basic side, the most important things which a developer can be doing to optimize a real estate website for search is to ensure that the page loads quickly. The search engines have objective measures when it comes to speed. The developer should also be building the site in a way that prevents what is known as cumulative layout shift. This is when you load a web page, and you see the elements of the page move around the screen while it is loading. They should also be ensuring the use of appropriate headers (such as the title and subheadings you see on this article for example). They should be including proper meta data and, very importantly, “structured data” on your website. Structured data is something Google has been stressing in recent years. It helps Google to understand the subject matter of a website. For example, it helps Google know that a website which talks about law actually belongs to a lawyer, as opposed to someone who likes to write about legal issues. Likewise, it helps Google understand that a website belongs to a real estate agent, as opposed to someone who just likes to talk about real estate. When analyzing the structured data of Mary Beth Downing, the realtor who will be featured later in this series, Google sees the following (these are results from a testing tool which Google provides):
As you can see from these results, Google knows that this site belongs to a real estate agent, it knows the areas which she serves, etc. In other words, the website is coded in a way which provides Google with this information.
When you are interviewing web developers to build your realty site, ask them what they do to minimize cumulative layout shift and their plan for including structured data. You’ll be surprised how many “developers” and “search engine optimization” people won’t know what these things are. That should be your first sign of trouble in terms of hiring them.
How a real estate website’s content impacts search rankings
As mentioned above, the content on your website must be relevant to your target audience. I know it’s understandable to wonder what “content” one can include about their real estate business. Well, there’s quite a bit. This content can include articles and pages which provide information about the area you service. Suppose, for example, your website contains a written article discussing the local taxes of different cities in your area. Then a person performing a search, while trying to figure out where they’re going to live, may very well come across that article – which gets them on your website. Other content can include dedicated pages which show the available homes by location or house type. These are just a few examples of the type of information which you can put in your site which can make it relevant to search results.
SEO specifics for building a real estate website
This article is already quite long. This section of the article is meant to serve as a list of a few things which we consider essential when it comes to giving a real estate website the best chances of success. These are also things you should be ensuring that your developer will be including in the website. First, make sure they are including IDX functionality so you can import the MLS into your site. This allows for the indexing of individual home listings by Google, which was explained in our last article. For our real estate clients, we have built custom software which helps to make sure that Google is indexing as many home listings as possible (this was also discussed in our last article). Second, it is important to include individual pages for each type of home listing. So, for example, in the Cincinnati metro area, where I live, you have Cincinnati itself and Hamilton, Ohio. Hamilton is considered part of the Cincinnati metro area. So a realtor’s website would want to have an actual page of “Cincinnati homes for sale,” and use IDX technology to display all of the homes for sale in Cincinnati. There would also be a dedicated page for Hamilton, displaying all of the homes in Hamilton. This means that if someone is searching “Hamilton, Ohio homes for sale,” then there is a page on your site that is relevant to those search results. Many realtors err by simply including a search portal, but not actually including dedicated pages to home types and geographies. Finally, it is vital that your developer include structured data on the site.
These are just a few of the things which we consider important to real estate SEO. If you ask a developer about these needs, and they’re unsure, then we would suggest calling someone else.
We are proud of the work we have performed for clients across numerous industries. If you need assistance with building a new website for a real estate agent or brokerage, then contact us online or by telephone today. We serve companies throughout the United States.