Last week Google rolled out an algorithm update that the company expects will have an impact on 35 percent of search results. This new update is the latest result of leveraging technology that Google built in its "Caffeine" update.
The purpose of this latest algorithm update is to focus on freshness. Some search queries infer that the searcher is looking for the latest information on a topic. Breaking news, product reviews and sports scores might be good examples of this.
In these types of searches, where the searcher will get more value from the latest information, Google will be pushing newer content to the top of the search engine results page (aka SERP).
I haven’t yet performed any large-scale data research on how this new algorithm update affects real estate. I have, however, done some spot checks in several markets for a handful of common real estate search queries.
Focusing primarily on location and property types for sale, I didn’t see any impacts on searches.
Compared to the fairly large-scale swapping of real estate search results that came from the "Panda/Farmer" algorithm update, which Google says impacted only about 10 percent of search engine results, the latest algorithm update isn’t showing much difference for real estate searches.
So while we’re in wait-and-see mode, here are some things to watch for and think about:
1. Property listings
For search terms that are focused on location and property-type mixes ("Leech Lake cabin for sale," or "Mosquito Lake acreage for sale," for example) I haven’t seen any big shifts with the new update. That doesn’t mean it isn’t happening or isn’t coming. It just means I haven’t seen it yet.
It would make sense for Google to consider property listings more relevant if they’re newer. A constant complaint about various search aggregation systems has to do with the display of outdated information, or even properties that are no longer for sale. Focusing on results that are fresher should limit that sort of thing.
The challenge, for those wanting to use fresh listings to get to the top of the results, comes in getting fresh listings. Many multiple listing service data sets aren’t refreshed all that often, or are available only in a "daily dump" sort of format.
Which means the same listings get sent out to all of the members at the same time.
Having all the same data at the same time as everyone else doesn’t give the search marketer much advantage. To gain advantage, one would have to get either unique data or fresher data faster.
This isn’t feasible in most cases unless you have custom programming resources and your multiple listing service won’t melt down if you poll the data frequently.
Either way, I’m not seeing these kinds of searches being affected just yet. It’s still fun to think about, right?
2. Real estate blogs
Blogging, however, may be a different story. Note that one of the areas that Google considers to be important for fresh content is reviews.
Many real estate blogs that focus on community content are heavily focused on reviews: of restaurants and local stuff in general.
Until now, having a well-written review of something on a blog — especially if it’s been there awhile (properly "aged," as the search engine optimization geniuses like to call it) — has been a solid recipe for getting a top-ranked post.
With the new Google algorithm I expect to see more of a fight for the top spots over review-related content.
This is, of course, neither good nor bad. Or rather, it depends on what side of the equation you’ve been inhabiting until now. If you’ve got a wealth of old restaurant reviews on your real estate blog, then you might want to keep an eye on whether they get overtaken on the SERPs.
If you’re a new blogger, then perhaps you can have a leg up on the established competition if you put in the time to make more content on a regular basis.
Google also mentions that regularly occurring events will likely fall into the scope of the new algorithm update.
One of the tried-and-true real estate blog tactics is to cover all of the local holidays, parades, festivals, etc., before the competition, and then — as with the reviews mentioned above — ride out the "aging" of those posts to win traffic on all of those regular seasonal events.
The same situation applies here. If the algorithm starts focusing on recent information (like this year’s Fourth of July fireworks instead of the most aged description of the Fourth of July fireworks) you might see a dip in that seasonal traffic.
For both reviews and seasonal events we’re likely to see the erosion of traffic from content that has been typically viewed as a simple asset — something that brings traffic to the site without much upkeep on the part of the site owner.
3. Watch your (content) assets
The technology and policy barriers attached to using property listings for search engine gain are likely to keep any benefits of the new algorithm out of reach for many real estate website owners.
The relevant SERPs should be monitored to see if and when the new algorithm starts to harm traffic. At that point, different, non-organic SEO efforts should be enacted to replace that traffic.
For blogs, on the community-focused content front I expect to see rankings to get more competitive as the new algorithm begins to favor fresh up-and-comers at the expense of the first generation of bloggers.
Monitoring how the new algorithm weights freshness vs. age/authority will likely yield further insights.
Longtime bloggers should watch to see if there’s any erosion of traffic on core content assets, and decide whether it’s worth replacing. New bloggers may finally get the break they need if they’re willing to work hard at generating fresh content.
When it comes to Google, it’s always about feeding the beast.