Consumers are hungry for information about nearby goods and services, but search engines often have trouble figuring out where a business is located by crawling its Web site.

To bring those consumers to them online, real estate brokers and agents need a search engine optimization (SEO) strategy built around "localism" — including a city name and product built into their URL.

Consumers are hungry for information about nearby goods and services, but search engines often have trouble figuring out where a business is located by crawling its Web site.

To bring those consumers to them online, real estate brokers and agents need a search-engine optimization (SEO) strategy built around "localism" — including a city name and product built into their URL.

A "hub, spoke and rim" network of interlinking Web sites can further boost the effectiveness of a localism strategy, and exposing listings to search-engine spiders will also help brokers and agents compete with big sites like Trulia and Zillow.

Those are some of the findings in a new white paper from the WAV Group consulting firm, "Geo-Domain Targeting trending to assist Real Estate Marketing," which includes a roundup of effective strategies and pitfalls to avoid.

Localism refers to the growing tendency of consumers to type in city names to anchor their Web searches for news, events, goods and services.

More than half of searches that include the keyword "real estate" include a geographic modifier like a city name, WAV Group reports, citing research by Google AdWords.

Consumers pick a site that comes up on the first page of results more than 75 percent of the time, so real estate Web sites need to come up high in search-engine rankings, the report said.

The three major search engines — Google, Yahoo and MSN — now return local search results, placing the top 10 at the top of the page and pushing other "natural" (unpaid) search results further down the page.

Companies relying on a "brand name" URL strategy risk slipping in search-engine rankings, WAV Group warns.

Where are you?

While search engines are striving to meet consumers’ demand for local content, they may not be able to discern where a business is located based on its Web site’s Internet Protocol (IP) address, as a Web site’s hosting facility could be anywhere in the world.

Search engines have the same problem in getting a fix on a consumer’s location — they can detect where consumers are only at the Internet Service Provider (ISP) level.

To figure out where a business is offering its services, search engines will scan all the text on their Web site. That’s led many local real estate companies to seed their sites with keywords, such as the city they offer services in and "real estate."

But search engines use algorithms that try to weed out Web sites that are simply trying to attract traffic without providing information and services that consumers find useful.

Web site designers often "city-stuff" a Web site’s meta keyword tags — invisible text embedded in a Web site that tells search engines what a site supposedly offers. But search engines’ algorithms don’t give meta keyword tags as much weight as they once did, WAV Group warns. …CONTINUED

The most effective strategy for implementing an SEO strategy built around localism is to place geo-targeted keywords in a site’s domain name, the white paper advised. The keywords may be placed in the root domain, sub-domain or landing page.

ChicagoRealEstate.com is a hypothetical example of a URL employing a "localism" keyword in the root domain. ChicagoRealEstate.website.com places the keyword in the sub-domain, while website.com/ChicagoRealEstate is an example of a localized landing page.

While search engines appear to place the most emphasis on domain, and less on sub-domains and landing pages, there are a number of factors to consider in deciding where to place localism keywords, the paper said.

Hub, spoke and rim

Localism strategies are even more effective when combined with a hub, spoke and rim strategy, in which a main site links out to more specialized sites at the city and neighborhood level, WAV Group advises.

"The extraordinary search-engine benefit of the hub-and-spoke strategy is that the highest page rank of any site on the wheel gets shared along with the traffic to all of the other sites through the linking rim," the white paper said. "Search-engine optimization efforts and traffic generated by any spoke on the hub helps elevate the rankings of the entire wheel."

A successful localism SEO strategy will also draw the consumers who are most likely to convert.

"Consumers understand that real estate is local and believe information contained on local Web sites more than national Web sites," the paper said. "This leads to greater conversion rates on your spoke sites, repeat visitors and increased lead generation."

Because consumers and search engines review the quality of content on a site, successful keyword strategies won’t produce sustained results if consumers click away from the site.

Creating "relevant and compelling content is crucial," WAV Group advised. Property listings are the "cornerstone of great content" for real estate consumers, and well-written copy can also give sites a competitive advantage.

A separate WAV Group study — which measures consumer opinions of a Houston, Texas, property-search Web site — found the completeness, accuracy and timeliness of listing information were key components in consumers’ choice of Web sites.

Expose your listings

Exposing listings to search engines has also become a key strategy, WAV Group said.

Because consumers tend to find listings by conducting queries using a Web site’s property-search tool, they may not be indexed by search engines. To be indexed, listing pages must be exposed to search-engine "spiders" that crawl the Internet — a technique big sites like Trulia and Zillow have become adept at, WAV Group said.

Conduct a Google search on the address of any listing featured on those sites, and it’s clear that not only have they all been indexed, but that they show up "profoundly high on listing results," the paper noted. Because their listing pages are exposed to search-engine spiders, Trulia and Zillow show up higher in search-engine results than some other Web sites that offer access to the same listings.

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