I recently caught up with Rand Fishkin and Wil Reynolds, two industry leaders in the SEO world, to discuss their recent CEO swap, the latest Penguin update from Google and how real estate pros can leverage today’s search landscape.

Rand Fishkin is the co-founder of Moz and Inbound.org, startup junkie, frequent traveler, blogger, social media addict and evangelist of all things TAGFEE.

Wil Reynolds founded SEER Interactive, a Philadelphia-based SEO firm in 2002. Wil Reynolds has dedicated himself to doing two things well: driving traffic to sites from search engines and analyzing the impact that traffic has on the bottom line of companies.

FLANAGAN: Rand and Wil, you recently conducted an intriguing experiment and swapped CEO roles. Rand took over as CEO at SEER Interactive and Wil stepped in as CEO at Moz. What did you learn about the experience?

FISHKIN: It’s very hard living someone else’s life, especially another CEO’s! I was continuously amazed at the degree of challenge brought on by the experiment. It was emotionally and physically exhausting every day and probably the most intensive learning and context-switching experience of the last few years. What was remarkable was how much our teams embraced the concept. By the end of the week, I really felt like SEER’s CEO; I’d made mistakes, faced tough issues, called some shots, and almost started to feel comfortable. Looking back, I even miss it a little!

REYNOLDS: I think one major takeaway was how to go into a company you know little about, ramp up, get the right meetings with the right people, and then, by the end of the week, build rapport and enough knowledge to be able to have an impact. That was tough.

FLANAGAN: Rand, in your article, “The first existential threat to SEO,” you discussed Google’s indications that keyword (not provided) would be headed to 100 percent. What does this mean to real estate pros that utilize these analytics to make educated business and marketing decisions?

FISHKIN: Sadly, it means that we can no longer use this critical tool to help make our Web content better. Substitutes will arise (Moz is working on some already in our software), but it won’t be nearly as clean, simple or accurate as what Google once provided.

Moz CEO Rand Fishkin, left, and SEER Interactive CEO Wil Reynolds.

Moz CEO Rand Fishkin, left, and SEER Interactive CEO Wil Reynolds.

FLANAGAN: Is Google’s decision to encrypt all search activity more about privacy or advertising?

REYNOLDS: I don’t think about the “why” of Google, I just react and roll with the punches. The truth probably lies somewhere between the two. Right now I am luckily creating plans for SEER (SEER Interactive) to do more and more on landing pages, as this impacts my clients, so that is where I am focused.

FISHKIN: It’s very hard to imagine it’s about privacy, but Wil’s right. The end result is the same, and marketers need to figure out how they’re going to respond. Complaining that Google’s being evil may be correct, but sadly it’s not helpful or productive.

FLANAGAN: Penguin 5, which Google is now calling 2.1, has been released. Can you clarify the naming conventions and shed some light on the spam filtering? What do real estate marketers need to know?

REYNOLDS: Real estate marketers, by the nature of the business, have limited, local markets. Oftentimes they hire less-than-honest marketing firms to help them with search. I’ve seen a lot of low-quality work done in this vertical. As such, knowing how to go into Open Site Explorer and at least look at anchor text distribution is a good start to being able to tell what the previous firm did, as they may have taken some risks with your domain.

FISHKIN: Wil’s advice is good. I might also suggest checking out Russ Virante’s post on spam classification in the era of Penguin.

In the SEO field in general, if your marketing company is acquiring a high quantity of links that are unearned (i.e., not editorially given based on the value of what’s on your site), you likely have risk exposure to updates like Penguin. Google doesn’t want marketers to “build” links. They want us to earn them.

FLANAGAN: Wil, in your presentation at the annual Booj conference, “Real Company Sh*t,” you discuss the future of search. You describe how consumers search for Realtors on Google Maps and utilize Google Plus circles and reviews. How can Realtors leverage these tools?

REYNOLDS: The first step is participation, then innovation. You have to be on the field before you can swing. Setting up Google Plus and Authorship goes a long way — as faces show up for Authorship, it’s easier than ever. It will give you a face on the search results, which generates recall from other places they may have seen your face or met you. Then just this past week or two Google announced it was rolling out shared endorsements, which only create more personalization in the search results.

FLANAGAN: Mobile has had a tremendous impact on the real estate industry. In terms of SEO, do you recommend that real estate pros implement a responsive Web design, adaptive Web design or a mobile version of the website?

FISHKIN: In general, for 99 percent of real estate professionals, a mobile Web app is overkill. A responsive design website is a far better, far more cost-effective and far-more-likely-to-actually-be-used solution.

REYNOLDS: Tough question, I wonder what task users going to an agent’s website seeking to accomplish? I tend to look at Trulia, Zillow and Redfin early on, as they have great mobile apps that work very well. I think those players create the gold standard; their mobile sites and apps are very fluid and work well — as such there is a good chance that users are expecting a similar mobile experience on agents’ sites. Amazon, Overstock, Macy’s, etc., have created a gold standard in what shopping should be, and fair or not, we have that expectation of so many other sites we buy from.

FLANAGAN: Can you give the readers a great tip to help them optimize their search success?

FISHKIN: Many modern marketers and SEOs will talk about the value of content and content marketing, but my experience has been that a lot of small businesses and professionals are overinvesting in quantity of content and underinvesting in quality. One terrific, free resource each year (or one that’s regularly updated) might be all that your real estate website needs to consistently earn links, recognition, brand awareness and the power to stand out in your market. Unless a daily blog or the regular production of news is something you’re great at and passionate about, I’d urge you to invest that energy into “big content” rather than “lots of content.”

REYNOLDS: The world is becoming more and more complex as people go from mobile apps, to websites, to reviewing you on Yelp, Google Plus, etc. Marketers need to think less about where do I rank, and more about how am I using search as part of the overall experience of engaging with my business. Signals for ranking well in Google will be more complex than ever; layouts for search results are changing daily; and the marketers who see the world through the lens of “I have more PageRank links than they do, why are they outranking me?” are set up for an #epicfail.

Tom Flanagan is the director of information technology at Residential Properties Ltd. in Providence, R.I. You can contact him at tflanagan@residentialproperties.com or @tflan on Twitter.

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