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 domain name or a branded broader domain name would go for.
The one significant benefit of a personalized domain name is that if you later decide to move to another location or change careers you can take your domain name into those other markets, 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.
Relevancy is a key to search engine marketing - which we will discuss later on in this article. How relevancy is measured changes over time. 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, however the barrier to entry in search has increased over time. One can get lost in the complexity of updating dozens of websites almost nobody ever sees instead of building one or two great websites and chasing leads. No matter how poor someone is their most scarce resource in life is time, as it is the one thing we can never get back. .
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.
PPC listings: if your domain name is AtlantaRealEstate.com then searchers looking for Atlanta real estate are more likely to click on your listing than competing listings. This boost in clickthrough rate means that search engines like Google generate more revenue when they show your ad, so they give you a discount for your ad relevancy.
Link anchor text: People tend to reference things by their official names. If your official business name and domain name are AtlantaRealEstate.com then many people who link at your site will be likely to use Atlanta Real Estate in the link anchor text. Getting relevant link text in inbound links helps boost your relevancy for that phrase and some closely related keywords.
Exact match benefit: If your domain name exactly matches a keyword phrase then search engines like Google and Bing may give you an additional relevancy boost for the keyword phrase that makes up your domain name. All other things being equal, AtlantaRealEstate.com will outrank BradleySmithRealty.com for a search on Atlanta Real Estate.
When this guide was originally published over a decade ago links and link anchor text were the primary driver of search relevancy. Over the past decade search engines have gained access to end user data through promoting web browsers like Chrome and operating systems like Android. This in turn shifted their ranking signal mix off of the link graph toward a blended approach which also weighs brand awareness & user engagement metrics.
If you are in a small town or city with limited competition then a generically descriptive domain may work well for you. If you are in a large market with a significant amount of competition then trying to build brand awareness might be a better approach than going with a generically descriptive domain name.
If you have significant industry experience but do not plan to make your website differentiated then it may not make much sense to heavily market your website. Instead it could make sense to promote properties on other large platforms like Craigslist and real estate portals like Realtor.com, Zillow and Trulia. Many countries outside the US have strong local platforms like Rightmove or Zoopla in the UK or Idealista and Kyero in Spain.
Buy a Local Domain Name
If you operate in a country other than the United States it may be beneficial to buy a domain name that matches your local extension and host your site locally. A real estate agent in the UK would benefit from owning a .co.uk domain name and hosting their website on a UK host. If you own an Australian business and believe you will expand into New Zealand then you may want to buy the .co.nz version of your name.
Do Not Use Irrelevant Extensions
Do not use an irrelevant local extension. It is best not to build a US or UK real estate site on a .in domain name (the TLD for India). Localized relevancy algorithms and/or editors working at search companies may not view a foreign domain name as relevant.
Within the US both the .net and .org names are considered acceptable alternatives to the .com for many personal websites and small businesses, though they are significantly less memorable. If you aggressively market a .org or .net domain name offline then some of the prospects will likely end up at the associated .com domain name. Likewise, if you start a small local brand and someday believe you may grow it globally then it makes sense to buy the .com domain so you own it when you decide to expand.
Most of the best names are already registered. And as the search channel has grown more competitive most of the search result rankings are dominated by the likes of Zillow and the National Association of Realtors.
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 many ways to segment user demand: home type, budget, location, municipal services, ease of walking, crime rates, proximity to particular businesses or attraction, and so on.
There are a wide array of free keyword tools on the market. The most popular tools are
Please note that Google now requires marketers & researchers to open an AdWords advertising account to see keyword data.
Some affordable competitive research tools like SEMrush, Ahrefs, and Spyfu allow you to see what keywords drive traffic to competing websites or specific local pages and sections on larger real estate portals.
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 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 may not show any ads or may only display them at the bottom of the page.
Historically most search ads were shown in the right rail of the page while a couple could be shown at the top of the page with a shaded background. With the rise of local search Google largely did away with right rail ads. Ad labeling has grown less obvious over time with shading also diappearing.
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.
Here is an example of what search results looked like when ads were clearly separated from the organic search results.
The above screenshot is a number of years old. The shading which formerly appeared in the background of search ads typically no longer appears & instead there is a small "ad" label. Search engines have also diminished the reach of organic search results by increasing the size & number of ads which show in the search results. Google may show up to 4 ads above the organic search results, while Bing & Yahoo! may show 5 ads at the top of the page. Below is a picture of a modern search result, which shows how much more deeply ads are blended into the result set. Results can also include other features like "People also ask" and organic listsings may contain sitelinks or links to virtual tours. In the below screenshot only 2 organic search results appear above the fold.
One other thing to note about Google's search results is the blue headline on links is a strong differentiator, but they changed the URL color from green to gray, leading it to have less direct prominence on user click behavior.
Microsoft Bing's search engine has partnered with some of the largest real estate portal to create a feature-rich real estate search feature. This in turn pushes other organic search results down the page. This sort of feature makes it vital for Realtors to participate on these core platforms.
It can take years to rank well in the organic search results for large cities. For smaller towns where there is less competition 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 Ads and Bing Ads 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 Bing campaign. 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.
Keyword Matching Types
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 or modified broad match and use analytics to find additional relevant keywords.
If a particular keyword or keyword modifier performs poorly you can add it as a negative keyword to prevent showing up for searches containing those terms. As an example, a Chicago area real estate agent may add song, lyrics, music, chords, band, concert and tickets to their negative keywords to prevent their ads from showing up for searches related to the musical act. You'd want those music searchers to look away.
If you have a name some people misspell but do not want to bid on your name or brand name you can set an exact match negative match on your brand term while advertising on broad match or modified broad match to ensure you appear in front of people who misspell your brand.
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. If a market is quite small to where few people will see the ad Google may not allow the ad to run due to small audience size. So you might need to use broad match keywords, or bid on the generic industry keywords like "homes for sale" or "real estate" and then use the Geo-targeting feature to set the audience size. Over time some geographic limitations were removed to avoid red lining.
Platforms like Google, Facebook, and Microsoft's Bing allow you to deliver ads targeted to people who have recently visited your website. In addition you can use Facebook likes of a competing business or people who visited a competing website like Zillow to target ads to users on Facebook and across Google's display ad netowrk.
Learn More About Keyword Matching Options
Google discusses the major keyword match types here.
For some small towns and villages people may rely more on word of mouth from friends than search engines to find a Realtor. Treating customerrs well goes a long way. Many real estate agents work with local restaurants to offer free lunch raffels and other similar promotions to generate leads.
“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:
When this guide was originally published search engines typically sent keyword referral data for organic search visitors. Google's former head of fighting web spam read Cory Doctorow's book Little Brother, a dystopian novel about a totalitarian surveillance society. In light of reading that book and Edward Snowden leaking information about the NSA's illegal Prism surveillance program Google shifted search to using encrypted user connections and stopped passing keyword referrals to publishers for most searches. This shift in keyword data disappearing has made measuring performance harder. It requires a broader understanding of marketing, branding and differentiation to stay economically viable in competitive markets.
What Sets Your Business Apart?
When search engines were working with limited data sets publishers or business owners could focus exclusively on the high-intent commercial keywords while ignoring concepts like brand building or the rest of the demand funnel. As search engines have accumulated more user data they have been able to refine their search relevancy algorithms to reward the sites and platforms which deliver the full funnel user experience and sites which are sought after destinations. If you do not have the money to build a brand as strong as Zillow what sort of information can you offer about your local market which will help set your site apart from what Zillow offers?
The objective litmus test for the quality of a website is this: if you did not own it, why would you regularly use your website & what features does it offer that are not found elsewhere?
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:
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.
If you are in a small town it may not be hard to rank well by just doing the basics, but in larger cities there is much more competition.
While many websites will try to rank for a keyword like [San Francisco real estate] only a few sites will rank well for that type of keyword & the sites which rank well are likely to be well-know real estate portals like Zillow, Trulia & Realtor.com along with long established brokerages.
To get around the competitive set it can be helpful to think of other early funnel concepts home buyers may consider rather than trying to rank for the core term. Some things prospective home buyers may consider include local information which people in the local community know best:
If your site offers something useful which people actively seek out & reference then it will be far easier to compete against people who are only concerned with trying to rank for the core industry terms without offering anything unique.
Sites which capture relevant audiences early in the discovery funnel can leverage ad remarketing features to market related commiercial offers.
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 only updates the toolbar display PageRank about once every 3 months.
Note: this guide was published many years ago. Since then Google has removed PageRank from their toolbar, but they still use the data internally for crawl prioritization, content de-duplication & ranking.
There are a number of general directories worth submitting your site to
A few tips on directories
Local links & business links:
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. Sites like Zillow and Trulia are also taking a large share of real estate specific traffic.
Google offered a Housing search option at the top of many organic search results, which tied into Google Maps and Google Base. This feature has since been discontinued, however given the size of the real estate market it would not be surprising to see Google re-enter the market.
Google tested a mortgage market offering along with insurance-related ads under the Google Advisor name, however they shut down this service in favor of shifting from displaying 3 to 4 AdWords ads above the organic search results.
While some syndication channels can offer a quick & affordable stream of traffic, 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.
Connect with customers
Connect with other professionals
Connect with 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 where an algorithm update or terms of service violation can arbitrarily destroy your reach overnight. If you offer great content on your own site and many people link at it then you will likely rank well in search engines.
Are you a Realtor, real estate agent, mortgage broker, or real estate professional?
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