You can have the finest website in the world that features a wonderful selection of properties for sale and to let, but what is the point if it receives minimal online traffic because it is not listed in the right places online? What is the point if it is not visible to the main search engines?
The expansion of the internet has had a major impact on the estate agency industry and the way that properties are marketed. With the vast majority of homebuyers and tenants now starting their home search online, clearly it is important for an agent to be as visible as possible online by having a notable internet presence, with a website that ranks highly – ideally on the first page of major search engines.
Bing, Yahoo, Lycos, Ask Jeeves, AOL, Yandex, are all among the market’s main players, but when it comes to search engines, there is one universal truth: if you’re not on Google, you don’t exist. No question. Google remains the most used search engine in the world, far outdistancing its competitors, with around an 80 per cent share of unique searchers.
An all singing and dancing website is great but if no one can find it, it’s a waste of money.” Troy Stanley Resource Techniques
“It’s great if you have an amazing all singing and dancing website but if no one can find it, it’s a bit of a waste of money,” said Troy Stanley of Resource Techniques. “Most estate agents we talk to don’t consider this when ordering a website. It’s almost always an afterthought. It’s only when they Google themselves and can’t find there website that alarm bells start ringing.”
While it is possible to pay for a prominent Google presence through services like pay-per-click advertising, there are many other things that can be done to ensure that your firm’s website ranks highly on the first page of Google for core key terms within your local property market, including methods that do not have to involve you paying through the nose.
The key to good marketing, if you would like to get your website to the top on the search engines, is planning.
Google uses a variety of techniques to determine which pages are displayed first in their results. Their exact formula is kept confidential, while its search algorithm is regularly evolving. But there are a few things that you can do to improve your website’s positioning, or organic search ranking, mainly through search engine optimisation (SEO).
A spokesperson for Ranking Solutions said, “There are important stages that will need to be put into place when creating a viable SEO campaign, starting with an in depth keyword analysis, website analysis and then creating content and linking strategies that will undoubtedly benefit the client exponentially. SEO is absolutely crucial for all companies that want to get noticed online.”
Getting listed on Google, or any other search engine, for any one keyword, also referred to as a ‘search term’, generally requires that you do a better job than your competitors at optimising your site for that keyword.
If you are targeting an extremely popular search term such as ‘estate agent in London’ you are likely to find it difficult to rank on the first page of Google for it. On the other hand, if you are looking to get ranked for a niche phrase that commands less competition, like ‘estate agent in Maida Vale’, your task may be easier.
In order to identify the sort of keywords that you would expect your website to be listed for when typed into a search engine, it is worth registering with Google Analytics, among a host of other keyword tools, as this allows you to look at the traffic source and see what key phrases people are using to search for your company.
Additionally, open a Webmaster Tools account at Google and verify your site there. This account will offer you lots of valuable information to help you decide which areas to focus on refining as your site grows.
Given that Google’s focus is on eliminating spam and enhancing the user experience through better content, it is important that your website offers relevant and unique content that is regularly updated, such as news stories and blogs, always incorporating those all-important keywords along the way.
It is also worth potentially developing infographics, sitemaps, as well as videos (YouTube is owned by Google), among a host of other rich content options.
Mr Stanley added, “Google’s mantra is ‘content is king’. What this really means is that Google looks for what it considers the best authority on the subject the user is searching for. It determines this by crawling [reading] the text content of every site on the web. It does this fairly frequently and the more text content you add the more frequently it comes back.
“Frequent, relevant and unique content is an absolute must.”
Whether a landing page, news story, blog, or any other page for that matter, all agents should give their web pages a descriptive name with the <title> attribute. This is important because Google displays search results as a link using the web page’s title and so this needs to be enticing to encourage readers to click on it, while also carrying potential SEO benefits.
“When appropriate, agents should use the page’s keyword phrase in the title, as this will further boost SEO performance,” said Nick Hubbard of Estates IT.
Keywords should also be included in your Meta Description. This is the line or two of text describing the content of your web page that is quoted in search engine listings, and so it should be gripping, in order to encourage visitors to look at your site.
“Each page should also have a description of up to 250 characters.” Hubbard continued, “It is important that content is regularly updated, especially as far as news is concerned. Commit to realistic objectives, even if just a couple of stories per month.”
Fresh content, such as news, would allow you to add editorial links to article submission and social network sites. Aside from informing users of you expertise, knowledge and opinions, this can also prove to be a great source of backlinks.
Everything you do online should lead readers back to your website by using a link to it.”
“Everything you do online should, ideally, lead readers back to your website – by including a link to your website from blog posts, social media, article submissions, and any other online activity,” said Mark Howlett, Commercial Director of PropCo, part of Technology Blueprint.
“This means that you are spreading your identity around the net, and building up the visibility of your website to both people reading your work, and to the Google programmes ranking your website.”
Howlett advises agents to ensure that they list the full url of their website when commenting or posting content off-site, as this will help boost page rankings, as well as build backlinks.
High quality backlinks from other sites to yours should form an important part of an overall SEO strategy. Ideally these links should be from a spread of websites relevant to the property industry. The greater the competition for the keyword the more links you will need, and the higher in quality they should be. Ideally, the links should use your keywords as the anchor text, as opposed to just using the name of your site.
Google uses back links give your site more credit – a power that’s also known as link juice.” Laura Harris TechnicWeb
“Essentially, search engines like Google use backlinks to give your site more credit. The power of this is sometimes known as ‘link juice’ and can really help your SEO quest. So the more quality links from relevant sources that you have to your own site the better,” said Laura Harris, Marketing Manager at Technicweb.
However, agents should try and avoid no-follow tags. These are incorporated into the links on many websites to tell search engines to ignore the linked pages. These prevent any search engine ‘juice’ from being passed onto your website.
Harris continued, “You must also be careful of Black Hat techniques like link farming and hidden links that can drop you ranking as well.”
Black Hat SEO
In SEO terminology, Black Hat SEO refers to the use of aggressive SEO strategies, techniques and tactics that focus only on search engines and not a human audience, and usually does not follow search engines rules. This can include techniques like keyword stuffing, invisible text and doorway pages. Black Hat SEO, also referred to as Unethical SEO or spamdexing, could potentially result in your website being banned from a search engine.
Keywords, article submissions, tags, social network, link building, sitemaps, these are all important elements to your SEO, but it is the wider picture that you need to consider to help the search engine robots find all the pages on your site.
Like many things in life, certain SEO tactics will inevitably change moving forward, certainly as Google Penguin, the latest Google algorithm update, matures. The key is to move with the times, by adjusting your strategy to meet Google’s requirements, in order to keep improving your site’s ranking.
But ultimately, you should never forget that search engines key priority is to ensure that their own customers get the search results that they are looking for, and so satisfying the search requirements of the end-user – your target audience – should be at the heart of everything that you should be aiming to do.
Creating a strategy that targets your market will prove helpful from an SEO point of view, as well as benefit your customer.
- Resource Techniques www.resourcetechniques.co.uk
- Estates IT www.estatesit.com
- TechnicWeb www.technicweb.com
- PropCo www.propco.co.uk
- Ranking Solutions www.rankingsolutions.com