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The Breakaway Brokerage, Part 3: Winning the local SEO game

In this third part of our Breakaway Brokerage series (read part 1 and part 2) I will outline strategies straight out of our SEO playbook for getting your website to perform better when it comes to localized searches.

When it comes to winning the local SEO game, you only need a few major strategies in your arsenal.  However, each of those can become a confusing labyrinth of data and advice, depending on who you ask. To counter that, I’ll break each down into palatable pieces and give you actionable takeaways you can implement today.

Here are the three strategies you need to focus on:

1. Make sure your website is game ready

There’s really no point worrying about anything SEO or local search related if your website can’t effectively welcome and convert the traffic. In my experience, even the largest and highest performing websites in the country almost always have something they can improve on.

Consider these questions: Does the site architecture and design promote a good user experience (for search engines AND humans)? Is there a sticky factor, or are visitors bouncing within a few seconds? Is there fresh, awesome content that people find interesting enough to share? All of these things play a part in the overall success and effectiveness of your website in today’s SEO landscape.

Schema.org

If you’ve got all that dialed in, it’s time to take your website to the next level. My first suggestion would be to implement the Schema.org tagging platform if you haven’t already. Search engines are good at crawling and indexing data, but they’re not always great at interpreting what that data actually means. To address that, the three major search engines (Google, Yahoo and Bing) got together and created a standard data platform that allows you to tell them exactly what your website is all about by using “tags” in the code.  

There are specific tags for things like local events, restaurant and product reviews, retail locations, and videos. All content you would expect to see on a real estate website. There are dozens of tags you can add to your pages to help the search engines identify the types of content on your website and rank it appropriately. Yes there’s even a specific tag for real estate agents (Hint: Every major brokerage site I’ve touched has an “agents” page with links to individual agent pages.)  

Here’s a great resource to get started learning more about Schema.org and some plugins for those of you with WordPress as your website platform.

2. Take control of the data

Let me first be clear on what “data” I’m referring to: your business details. This data includes your company or brand name, address, phone number, and contact person. You may also see this data referred to as a “citation” when it appears on a third-party website (places like Yelp, Superpages, and the Better Business Bureau for example) which basically just means your info was cited or referenced by an outside source.

These citations of data are referred to by some as the lifeblood of local SEO rankings (assuming they match the data presented on your website). If you’ve ever wondered why some businesses show up in the map/search results on Google and some don’t, these citations play a pretty big part in that. That being said, you will want to get more of them.

This may be an easy task for a small brokerage in a single town, but what if you’re a large national brokerage with offices all over the country? Several data service providers exist that can handle this for you. Acxiom, Factual and Localeze are three examples of services that can work with you to get your data in all the right places.

As an added bonus, those three data companies are also the companies that Apple gets its data from to populate products like Apple maps. This is great news for you because as you may have heard, mobile is kind of a big deal and localized mobile search (think searching on Apple maps for a restaurant) is growing so fast I don’t even want to put a number down because it’ll be wrong tomorrow. Seriously.

In addition, real estate searches have grown 253% in the last four years, according to the recent  study from Google and NAR. People are out there looking without a doubt. It’s urgent that you make sure they find your info in the process.

3. Don’t be socially awkward

Search engines increasingly are giving more value in their algorithms to websites that have what I like to call “social buzz” around them. This buzz consists of many factors, which can include the number of social shares, author rank (or agent rank as their patent originally called it), reviews of your business (including frequency AND velocity), volume of check-ins, etc.

Many in the SEO world believe that this “buzz” will eventually become more important than the old school methods of building backlinks and worrying about keyword density.

Where do you start?

First, make sure your business has claimed a profile on the prominent social platforms. Google, Facebook, Twitter, Yelp and Foursquare are where I’d focus. Make sure you fill these profiles out completely. Whenever possible, include the address, phone number, and other details of your business in these profiles (remember “citations” above?), especially your Google Local page and your Facebook page because this will play a HUGE roll in the new Facebook Graph Search that includes a “local search” function.

Make it easy to build buzz

Remember in the beginning of this post I said you needed to have content that was interesting enough to share? Well, by doing so you’re allowing other people to do your SEO work and build that buzz for you. I call it crowdsourced SEO.  

Content can even be in the form of listings. Check out the random people pinning listing photos to Pinterest from this real estate website. That’s great crowdsourced SEO. Of course, this broker’s website makes it easy to share to social networks directly from the listing detail pages. Does yours?

My point here is that people love sharing good content and good experiences. Make it easy for them and you’ll reap the rewards in many ways.

Looking forward

2013 is going to be a good year for a lot of people in real estate. By spending time on these three major areas of focus for SEO, you’ll ensure you’re found by more consumers online rather than siloed off or missing out on the big opportunities in local search.

If you want to dig deeper and get a jump on 2013, feel free to reach out to us.

[Disclosure: Michael Saunders & Company is a 1000watt client.]


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13 Responses to “The Breakaway Brokerage, Part 3: Winning the local SEO game”

    • Jeff Bernheisel says:

      Yeah, good reviews can be pretty powerful these days.
      Of course by “good” I don’t just mean that the sentiment was positive (though that’s also a good thing) but more along the lines of where the review lives (ideally Google Local Page) having keywords (brand/product/location) in the text of the review and then of course the # and frequency.

  1. Ed Bisquera says:

    Well done @jbern! :) Really like these last few tips and perfect start for agents (and really any other industry type) to increase their chances of ranking better.

    I’m sure you’ve heard of it, but thought http://whitespark.ca might be helpful in identifying more places to secure citations for increase local business SEO.

    Are you seeing significant conversion results from Pinterest backlinks and the Pins for clients or other colleagues? I see a lot of referral traffic from Pinterest, but wonder if conversion is happening?

    • Jeff Bernheisel says:

      Yeah, I love how whitespark blatantly keyword stuffs on their homepage… I’ve never used their citation tool. I have a list of my own that I roll through.

      My gut tells me that traffic from Pinterest is very low on the conversion scale when it comes to real estate. But, I’ve never actually tested it. To follow from point of entry to an actual conversion in the real estate world can be a 6+ month process so there aren’t many people(that I’m aware of) tracking that kind of data.

  2. Larry T. says:

    Very interesting content here Jeff. I agree with every bit of this. Having interesting content is key for both google and your customers. We actually have Pinterest also and we post listings, along with neat places around the area that clients can check out! Thanks again Jeff!

  3. Eric C. says:

    Good stuff, I have been implementing schema.org on our site and it can REALLY make your Google search results stand out from the crowd if you implement things like reviews. To see what I mean, try doing a search on Google for Real Estate Continuing Education
    In my opinion, you can’t help but get drawn to the result with a bit extra info!

  4. Greg Fischer says:

    Thanks Jeff, I’m working on building a site from scratch so a lot of this is going to be super helpful. I wasn’t even aware of Schema.org, but at this point in the build process, I have the patience to add the tags to relevant parts of my site. I worked on citations a few months ago, but its definitely time to go back and make sure everything worked and is accurate. Thanks for posting this.

  5. John De Souza says:

    Jeff, which tools do you like for understanding mobile SEO? Given that the mobile search results are so tailored to each user and device, how should a broker gauge their progress? Testing from my phone while sitting in my office should give me results more favorable to my brand than most users would receive in the real world.

    26% of our visits came from mobile last month, according to GA.

    • Jeff Bernheisel says:

      Hey John,
      Because the results are so varied when it comes to mobile searches, there really isn’t a “tool” (at least that I’m aware of) that can provide accurate data. Too many variables…

      The best one can do is to make sure everything is as dialed in as possible on all other fronts, and gauge progress by monitoring traffic (which it sounds like you’re already doing).

      When it comes to mobile specifically, you better make sure to nail the “experience” part first, or nothing else really matters.

      You mention a pretty large portion of your site traffic is from mobile devices. Segment that traffic out. What is the bounce rate? Time on site? Page views? Monitor THOSE #’s and work on improving them.

      It’s a constant battle – but rewarding when you start seeing the results.
      -J