As Google evolves and continues to make significant improvements aimed at providing a superior user experience, it becomes increasingly difficult for real estate professionals to keep up with all the changes on how data is presented to searchers. However, a significant modification — and one on which webmasters should be diligent to act upon — was the advent of Google’s mixing local searches with organic results in search engine results pages (SERPs).
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Based on an insightful study conducted by SEOmoz regarding eye-tracking research of Google SERPs, one can conclude that having a prominent placement on local results can lead to equal (if not better) click-through traffic than that of the top organic results. And paired with David Mihm’s Local Search Ranking Factors study, we can better ascertain which are the most critical aspects to be successful in local search results, as deemed by local search industry leaders.
But as always, information without an actionable, scalable plan is worth nothing more than the paper it’s printed on. So with that, let us develop an easy-to-implement strategy: research and optimize.
For most markets, the majority of main keyword queries (i.e., area real estate, area homes for sale) do NOT result in blended organic/local SERPs, so it takes time and effort to locate pertinent target queries. There are a number of great keyword research tools, including Google’s Keyword Generator, that can be incredibly useful in analyzing key phrases to target by assessing the amount of competition and the volume of global/local searches. Do not overlook the low-hanging fruit — particularly in micro-niche markets — which can have a fair amount of traffic but low competition levels.
Tip: Looking across a random sampling of 10 real estate markets across the U.S., searching for “Area Condos For Sale” (i.e., “Chicago Condos For Sale”) resulted in blended local results in eight out of 10 of those markets. These are typically highly searched key phrases with high competition, yet are considerably more attainable as a local result than as an organic result. In the example above, “Chicago Condos For Sale” receives a monthly search volume of more than 14,000 queries and is incredibly competitive from an organic standpoint.
Now that you have narrowed the scope of which key phrases to target, it is time to optimize for Google Places success. Let us take a look at five factors worth putting time/effort into:
Consistency: Long held to be of the utmost importance — and it will relate to some of the aspects below — is having a consistent format in name, address and phone number (NAP). Having differing contact information (such as using different addresses or phone numbers) on various platforms can signal to Google that it is not the same entity and as such should be treated/credited separately, which in turn divides optimization efforts. Considered to be of the utmost importance, having a homogenous approach to NAP branding will pay incredible dividends. The devil is in the details.
Local Presence: Incredibly simple, yet often overlooked by webmasters and business owners, is the fact that local search results are designed to provide the most relevant local results. Having a physical address, traceable to both the Google Places page and textually crawlable on the subject website, will exponentially increase click-through rates and local results placement. As such, target the niche of the market in which a local presence has been established. Not only will it help increase local search rankings, but it will also bring more qualified traffic/leads.
Tip: There was considerable correlation between high placement in local results and having a phone number with a local area code — so for the purpose of local search ranking, don’t use 800 numbers.
Citations: As in most factors that affect local searches, the more the better. Having a variety of citations with consistent NAP branding through various Internet Yellow Pages (IYP) will send a clear signal to Google: This is a local business worth noting. There is a plethora of IYPs, which include SuperPages, Yahoo Local, InsiderPages, BizJournals, CitySearch, Yelp and many more. Taking the time to be listed in IYPs will not only result in direct traffic from those sites but have the fringe benefit of furthering placement on Google’s local searches.
Category: In the real estate vertical, there are only a few options when it comes to proper category selection, yet for some their strategy is selecting every possible category (even those that are irrelevant or unnecessary). From testing a number of different sets, having one or two categories selected yielded the best results, and “Real Estate Agency” had the highest correlation to high placement in local search results.
Verification: Although some would argue that manual verification is a correlated factor, not necessarily causation, from Google’s perspective being manually verified lends much more credibility to the verifying owner’s status. As per Google’s Support, “Once verified, your information will be trusted more than conflicting information from other sources.”
For many in the SEO community, a strong presence in local search results is a necessity mired by what to most is an enigmatic (and at times very frustrating) algorithm. Yet, as real estate is an industry in which local service and expertise are paramount in the value-added proposition to the consumer, it becomes even more critical to embrace local search results.