By JEFF BERNHEISEL
In this third part of our Breakaway Brokerage series (read Part 1 and Part 2) I will outline strategies straight out of our search engine optimization (SEO) playbook for getting your website to perform better when it comes to localized searches.
When it comes to winning the local SEO game, you need only a few major strategies in your arsenal. However, each of those can become a confusing labyrinth of data and advice, depending on whom you ask. To counter that, I’ll break each down into palatable pieces and give you actionable takeaways you can implement today.
Here are the three strategies you need to focus on:
1. Make sure your website is game-ready
There’s really no point worrying about anything SEO or local search related if your website can’t effectively welcome and convert the traffic. In my experience, even the largest and highest-performing websites in the country almost always have something they can improve on.
Consider these questions: Does the site architecture and design promote a good user experience (for search engines AND humans)? Is there a sticky factor, or are visitors bouncing within a few seconds? Is there fresh, awesome content that people find interesting enough to share? All of these things play a part in the overall success and effectiveness of your website in today’s SEO landscape.
If you’ve got all that dialed in, it’s time to take your website to the next level. My first suggestion would be to implement the Schema.org tagging platform if you haven’t already. Search engines are good at crawling and indexing data, but they’re not always great at interpreting what that data actually means. To address that, the three major search engines (Google, Yahoo and Bing) got together and created a standard data platform that allows you to tell them exactly what your website is all about by using "tags" in the code.
There are specific tags for things like local events, restaurant and product reviews, retail locations, and videos. All content you would expect to see on a real estate website. There are dozens of tags you can add to your pages to help the search engines identify the types of content on your website and rank it appropriately. Yes, there’s even a specific tag for real estate agents (Hint: Every major brokerage site I’ve touched has an "agents" page with links to individual agent pages.)
2. Take control of the data
Let me first be clear on what "data" I’m referring to: your business details. This data includes your company or brand name, address, phone number, and contact person. You may also see this data referred to as a "citation" when it appears on a third-party website (places like Yelp, Superpages and the Better Business Bureau, for example), which basically just means your info was cited or referenced by an outside source.
These citations of data are referred to by some as the lifeblood of local SEO rankings (assuming they match the data presented on your website). If you’ve ever wondered why some businesses show up in the map/search results on Google and some don’t, these citations play a pretty big part in that. That being said, you will want to get more of them.
This may be an easy task for a small brokerage in a single town, but what if you’re a large national brokerage with offices all over the country? Several data service providers exist that can handle this for you. Acxiom, Factual and Localeze are three examples of services that can work with you to get your data in all the right places.
As an added bonus, those three data companies are also the companies that Apple gets its data from to populate products like Apple maps. This is great news for you because as you may have heard, mobile is kind of a big deal, and localized mobile search (think searching on Apple maps for a restaurant) is growing so fast I don’t even want to put a number down because it’ll be wrong tomorrow. Seriously.
In addition, real estate searches have grown 253 percent in the last four years, according to the recent study from Google and NAR. People are out there looking without a doubt. It’s urgent that you make sure they find your info in the process.
3. Don’t be socially awkward
Search engines increasingly are giving more value in their algorithms to websites that have what I like to call "social buzz" around them. This buzz consists of many factors, which can include the number of social shares, author rank (or agent rank, as their patent originally called it), reviews of your business (including frequency AND velocity), volume of check-ins, etc.
Many in the SEO world believe that this "buzz" will eventually become more important than the old-school methods of building backlinks and worrying about keyword density.
Where do you start?
First, make sure your business has claimed a profile on the prominent social platforms. Google, Facebook, Twitter, Yelp and Foursquare are where I’d focus. Make sure you fill these profiles out completely. Whenever possible, include the address, phone number and other details of your business in these profiles (remember "citations" above?), especially your Google Local page and your Facebook page, because this will play a HUGE roll in the new Facebook Graph Search that includes a "local search" function.
Make it easy to build buzz
Remember in the beginning of this post I said you needed to have content that was interesting enough to share? Well, by doing so you’re allowing other people to do your SEO work and build that buzz for you. I call it crowdsourced SEO.
Content can even be in the form of listings. Check out the random people pinning listing photos to Pinterest from this real estate website. That’s great crowdsourced SEO. Of course, this broker’s website makes it easy to share to social networks directly from the listing detail pages. Does yours?
My point here is that people love sharing good content and good experiences. Make it easy for them and you’ll reap the rewards in many ways.
2013 is going to be a good year for a lot of people in real estate. By spending time on these three major areas of focus for SEO, you’ll ensure you’re found by more consumers online rather than siloed off or missing out on the big opportunities in local search.
If you want to dig deeper and get a jump on 2013, feel free to reach out to us.
Disclosure: Michael Saunders & Company is a 1000watt client.
Jeff Bernheisel is with 1000watt, a marketing, design and strategy firm focused on real estate.