We have helped thousands of real estate professionals enhance their websites with one of the most popular free mortgage calculators on the Internet. As fans of marketing, web 2.0 and real estate in general, we visit a lot of local websites to gather news, facts and figures. To our surprise, many of the real estates sites had marketing and search engine errors that limit their exposure. The issues were:
To help give back to the real estate community, we decided to research and write this free guide to internet marketing. If you have any questions, feedback, or comments we would love to to hear from you. Thank you for reading and I hope this guide helps you grow your business!
Domain names are the foundation upon which all web based businesses are built. Think of your domain name as virtual real estate with relatively high up front costs and negligible maintenance costs.
Some real estate agents, proud of their personal brand, chose to register a domain name like BradleySmith.com or BradleyJohnsonRealty.com. The big issue with such a decision is what happens if you want to sell your business, or what happens if you die? The multiple such a business could sell for is less than what a strong business built on a generic or branded domain name would go for.
The one significant benefit of a personalized domain name is that if you later decide to move you can take your business with you, but you do not need to put your personal name in the domain name - if you have a quality website that is well cited amongst other webmasters then you should be able to rank for your name even if you are on a generic descriptive domain name. But many real estate professionals who operate in multiple regions chose to register a relevant domain name for each market to ensure their marketing is as relevant and profitable as possible. Relevancy is a key to search engine marketing - which we will discuss later on in this article.
Most real estate searches are location specific. A domain name like AtlantaRealEstate.com is easy for consumers to remember. If you buy a strong domain name, any other online or offline marketing you do benefits from the memorability of your strong domain name. From a search perspective your domain name plays a big role in both PPC listings & organic search results.
In small towns where there is limited competition perhaps using a generic domain name would be the best option. But as competition increases in larger markets there is more incentive to go with a branded approach.
When search engines were less sophisticated generic descriptive domain names easily beat out branded domain names. But over time search engines have folded in more engagement related metrics in the place of link-based metrics. This in turn has meant that in some competitive markets it makes much more sense to go with a branded name, such that if you do offline marketing via direct mail, radio, TV, newspapers, or other channels (including even the signage on properties for sales) these other sources of exposure will lead to people specifically seaking out your business. As people look specifically for you, search engines can see that as a signal of demand and interest in the marketplace, which in turn can help you rank better.
Many new domain extensions like .guru, .estate and .realtor have launched. When you use a known, trusted & aged domain extension you are buying into its history and likely future performance path. It is unlikely that one day .com or .net or .org will just go away overnight & it is unlikely the regsitry running them will increase prices 400% in a year. Some of the new top level domains may have far more embedded risk of price shifts and/or simply disappearing.
Some descriptive domain names may still be available, but most of the best names are already registered.
Search is such an effective advertising channel because consumers tell search engines exactly what they want. This allows you to precisely target that demand. Because search allows you to precisely target searcher demand the market prices are set by relevant offers. Any irrelevant offer is taxed via...
To effectively monetize search in a sustainable fashion the user experience needs to be relevant throughout the entire cycle
search query > search ad copy / organic ranking title & description > landing page > conversion
When you set up your website you should align your site structure against keywords. For example, if you sell condos, town homes, undeveloped lots, and mansions you would not want to send all those visitors to the same page. One page should focus on undeveloped land while the next page focuses on town homes, etc.
There are a wide array of free keyword tools on the market. The 3 most popular tools are
For many locally oriented real estate searches there are so few searches that keyword tools do not accurately predict search volume. In these sorts of cases you can look at search volumes for related nearby larger cities to discover the general trends. If you did not find much search volume for Decatur, GA you could look at popular Atlanta related keywords, get a list of good keywords, and then replace Atlanta with Decatur. This strategy will not create new search volume, but will help ensure you have a deep focused keyword list even when there is not much keyword data available.
This search result shows where pay per click ads and the natural / organic search results appear on the search engine results page. Please note that the number of ads shown at the top of search results depends largely upon ad relevancy and consumer clickthrough rates. If the ads do not generate a high clickthrough rate then Google only shows ads in the right rail of the search results.
About 15% of Google's clicks are on ads while about 85% of clicks are on the organic search results. For other search engines the click ratio is closer to 30% on ads with about 70% on the natural / organic search results.
It can take many months to rank well in the organic search results. Many real estate professionals chose to use pay per click programs like Google AdWords, Yahoo! Search Marketing, and Microsoft adCenter to help get their websites instant exposure and market feedback. These programs charge you for every click, but allow you to start testing your marketing as soon as your site is ready.
If you are new to pay per click marketing your best bet is to start with Google AdWords since they have the most market share. Track your results and find out what is working well for you, then carry that data over to your Yahoo! and Microsoft campaigns. When setting up you first Google campaign you probably want to opt out of search syndication and content syndication until after you get a feel for how pay per click advertising works. Within your edit campaign settings page you would want to ensure the Google search box is checked and the following 3 are not checked, as shown in the picture below.
You can use a keyword list generator to cross reference locations and keyword themes to set up your ad groups. Keep in mind the above tip about ensuring that you send visitors to the most relevant landing page possible.
If you are fairly certain with your keyword data you probably want to use a combination of exact match and phrase match to market your website. If you are uncertain if there are many additional relevant keywords and searchers that you may not be reaching, then you may want to use broad match and use analytics to find additional relevant keywords. Google discusses the major keyword match types here.
In addition to using locations as a keyword modifier you can also use Geo-targeting, but most real estate searches tend to have local modifiers in them.
Half the money I spend on advertising is wasted; the trouble is I don't know which half.
- John Wanamaker
In the 1800's and 1900's advertising was hard to measure, but that is no longer the case. Installing an analytics program like Google Analytics on your website will show you how customers interact with your website. Analytics data will show you
If conversion is an offline event then you can set up a specific phone number to track calls from your website, or use online interactions as a proxy for estimating offline value.
If conversion is an online event (or there is an online step associated with conversion - like filling out a lead form) then you can assign an average value to the conversion or conversion step and base your click prices on that information. For example, if 1 in 20 customers fill out a lead generation form, and each lead generation form is worth $100 to you then you can afford to pay $5.00 per click at your break even point.
If you are struggling to measure conversions and are in need for a proxy to estimate visitor value you can create a local real estate guide PDF - with information on crime rates, schools, best neighborhoods, etc. and give it away to prospects in exchange for their email address and phone number. Install the analytics code on the thank you page to track conversions. Ensure the PDF reminds them to contact you if they have any questions or need help, and follow up on leads asking if they need help if you are hungry for business.
Invariably some keywords will perform well and others will perform poorly.
Some leads are worse than worthless because they eat up your time and have no practical value. If you sell mansions and keep getting contacted by people looking to rent apartments then look at your keyword list AND your website. If your keywords and content are focused on the best leads you should not get much noise. Conversely, if you are getting a lot of noise it may mean that your content is not resonating as well as it should with your target customers.
Your page title, meta description tag, and filenames appear in the search results when your pages rank. If any of these contain your keywords in them then they will be bolded in the search results, which helps your listing stand out and helps draw clicks to your website.
Folder Names & File Names:
Page count bloat: Many real estate sites have a page for every property in a region, even if the property is not for sale. Getting such pages indexed may drive significant traffic for a well known marketplace brand like Zillow, however many smaller real estate sites which get such listing pages indexed might not have enough brand awareness to carry that number of pages in the search index. Smaller and lesser known real estate sites should likely either prevent individual listings from getting indexed (especially expired listings), or they should just lest a small portion of the potential market get indexed. For instance, perhaps a real estate professional focuses primarily on up market properties or properties in a particular neighborhood.
Flash: some websites are made entirely out of Flash, but since Flash offers search engines little to no textual content these sites struggle to rank well in Google for a broad array of relevant keywords. If you must use Flash, consider embedding the Flash files in a standard HTML files and offering static HTML text links to the important pages on your site.
Frames: some websites uses frames to display their content, but since frames make it hard for users to know what page of the site they are on it is hard for people to deep link at featured content or share pages with friends and family. Worse yet, if and when search engines index framed websites, they may list individual frames outside of the frameset, so searchers might only find a broken piece of the framed website! CSS and modular includes or the use of content management systems like Wordpress are preferable to placing a website in frames.
* Please note that embedding an iframe in a page is fine, but placing all of your contents in frames is not good for users or search engines.
Once you have a list of keywords mapped out against how you want to structure your site, you should make sure each page is focused on a close group of related keywords. In the late 1990's simply repeating your keyword again and again was considered optimization, however, the search relevancy algorithms have evolved and such rouge repetition is not an effective marketing strategy.
Instead of repeating a keyword over and over it is best to write natural, with the intent of writing content that will help drive conversions. It also helps to mix up your word usage so you capture a wider net of related keywords.
In some cases keywords overlap. If your page is well optimized for mortgage calculator then it is not hard to optimize the page for free mortgage calculator or online mortgage calculator by simply adding the words free and online to the page copy somewhere.
Each page should have relevant keywords associated with it, but you do not want to focus every page of your site on the exact same keyword phrase. Your homepage typically targets your most competitive and broad phrase, while interior pages are focused on other less competitive and more niche phrases. For example, if your home page was focused on Atlanta Real Estate then you might have an internal page focused on Atlanta Condos.
Online people are used to things being easy. Rather than relying on your sitewide navigation, it is better to actively link to your conversion oriented goals from within your website's content.
Most websites are of low quality, and thus any website that nobody links to is hard to trust. Search engines follow people, and search engines trust the content that other people trust.
Links are seen as a sign of trust and a vote for the quality of the site being linked at. If nobody is voting for your site then it is going to be hard to outrank other established sites that have many people linking at them.
Armed with the above information, in years past many real estate agents engaged in massive link trades with other real estate agents. That worked for a few years until Google killed it in early 2007 by penalizing many real estate websites.
On the other hand, it is much easier to rank on Microsoft Live and their approach to sites
If a site is well linked to from many other trusted sites it acquires a lot of trust it can pass onto other sites. Sites that have few trusted inbound links can not pass much trust onto other sites. You can view the PageRank of a page by installing the Google Toolbar.
Many webmasters began buying and selling links based on the PageRank score, so Google rarely updates the toolbar display PageRank score. Various link tools like Ahrefs, OSE, and Majestic offer alternative link metrics which are updated more frequently.
There are a number of general directories worth submitting your site to
A few tips on directories
Local links & business links:
Article Syndication to Article Directories:
While this topic was popular & considered safe when this guide was originally written, Google has since taken a dim view on article syndication, thus we no longer recommend it.
A rookie SEO mistake is to try to funnel all traffic and all links to the homepage. But if your homepage is commercially focused there is some finite limit to how many links you will be able to build for it. You can build many additional links by looking for holes in the market and creating content around linking opportunities. If people link to an article on your website then that trust and link equity flows through the rest of your site and helps all of the other pages on your site rank better as well.
When my husband was looking for a place for us he shopped on Craigslist. Many others likely do as well, especially for people who are looking to rent. Oodle is a popular distributed classified site with millions of real estate listings, and sites like Zillow and Trulia are also taking a large share of real estate specific traffic.
Google offers a Housing search option at the top of many organic search results, which ties into Google Maps and Google Base. Uploading property data to Google Base will help get your properties additional exposure.
Google, trying to control even more traffic in this space, is also tested a mortgage market. While some of these syndication channels can offer a cheap traffic stream, they will also drive out low value add players who rely on data that is quickly becoming commoditized. The real estate professionals who do well long term will be those who remain destinations by
Many businesses are hard to market because they are very similar to everything else on the market. But if you blog you participate on the conversational parts of the web. Blogging makes it easy for...
While some real estate agents are busy hunting for directories and paid links that Google engineers are trying to kill you can enjoy the benefits of participating in conversations, building social relationships, and building links and citations that come as a side effect of those conversations and relationships.
Thought leadership does not happen overnight, but is a process you build up to by connecting to your target audience. Depending on your marketing strategy you marketing audience may consist of people looking to buy or sell a home, real estate professionals, bloggers, and media members.
If you are new to web marketing it may make sense to participate in vibrant real estate communities like Active Rain, but if you want to make your site a destination that keeps growing year after year you should blog on your own website as well. It is hard to build a lasting personal brand, inbound links, and a lasting competitive advantage if all or most of your social activities occur on another website. But if you offer great content on your own site and many people link at it then you will eventually rank well in the search engines.
Are you a Realtor, real estate agent, mortgage broker, or real estate professional?
Help your customers buy a home today by installing this free mortgage calculator on your website.