Google Search Results: How It Works for Real Estate
Getting traffic from search engines to your website is critical for generating high-quality leads. To do this, you have to understand how search engines like Google work to help users find real estate services and listings. This includes knowing how Google search works, how Google decides to rank pages, and the key differences between organic results and paid results.
Here, we’ll show you the anatomy of a Google search results page and how to understand the rankings and formats of the results you see. We’ll also cover the best practices — both paid and unpaid — for getting your website to rank well in search engines.
How does Google search work and what appears in SERPs?
When a user searches for information, products, or local data in Google, they start by entering keyword terms into the search bar.
The outcome is a search engine results page (SERP), which provides a collection of web pages that Google has deemed most relevant to the terms entered. Under the bar you’ll see a count of how many results your search generated. There are many types of results that can appear. We’ll start by explaining the fundamental differences between the unpaid and paid results in Google SERPs.
Organic results are content that represent posts the search engine considers a good match for what you’re seeking. These are typically informative resources ranked for their content quality, like an article about the 10 best neighborhoods in your city. Organic search results appear in the main area of the SERP page, with 10 options shown on each page. Below, we’ll show you the various types of organic results. For now, the most important point is that these results are unpaid. You cannot pay to improve your ranking in these results.
Paid results are displayed by businesses targeting search terms with paid advertising through Google’s Adwords product. Advertisers bid on search terms, specifying how much they will pay each time a user clicks on their ad. Google then orders the ads that appear based on how well the ad matches the search terms, how much the advertiser is willing to pay, and how successful the ad has been in the past. In other words, the search engine prioritizes the ads most likely to pay off (there’s a reason its founders are billionaires). Happily, that goal meshes well with what users want — search results (whether paid or unpaid) that are relevant to their inquiry. Paid ads appear around the organic results, identified by a little yellow box next to the result that says “Ad.”
Positions and Pages, and Why They Matter
There’s a reason everyone talks about page one of Google SERPs: Data shows that 71.33 percent of searches result in click on the first page of search results, with clicks lagging significantly on subsequent pages. When it comes to organic results, the diagram below from an Advanced Web Ranking CTR Study shows how the first organic position on page one gets 31.24 percent of clicks on average, but this click-through rate (CTR) drops by more than half at position two, and continues dropping the further down the page the result appears. Also, the average user spends between 8–9 seconds in search results, which means they eye choices and select their option very quickly, making your content’s on-page position very important.
Photo courtesy of Moz
What does this mean to you? Your position in organic search results directly impacts clicks, and therefore the amount of traffic to your website.
Types of Organic Results in Google
As noted above, there are many organic search result types that appear based on what terms a user searches for, the device they’re using, the timeliness of the content, and the user’s proximity to a business. Here, we outline what organic positions mean and what organic results can look like:
Standard Organic Result
The most common format is a listing that contains a Title, URL, and a Description.
Local Knowledge Panel
This lists local address and contact information pulled from business data.
Local “Pack” Results
These results feature 2–7 local listings with pins and addresses. These are often connected to Map + Pins results.
Google Map + Pins
This result type features a physical map plotted with business locations that appear in top organic results so searchers can preview the business’ proximity to other locations.
Local “Near” Results
Also local information for businesses, these feature three results associated specifically with “[Search Term] near [Your Location].”
Google My Business & The Knowledge Graph
If you’ve set up Google My Business and a searcher looks up your business’s name, a “knowledge graph” will appear that can pull a variety of business information and data, like your contact information, street directions, Google reviews and ratings, photos, and more. This area will often also list similar business results.
If the searcher is connected to Google+, they’ll have the ability to see your recent posts on the network.
These results appear with a video preview and short snippet of information.
These are noteworthy, timely articles that showcase coverage related to the search terms.
These are similar in format to news results, but these three spots are reserved for evergreen articles that are considered comprehensive guides associated with the search terms.
Open House Listings
If your IDX, MLS, or brokerage offers open house listings in feed form, you can build that microdata into your website to have it appear in related searches right within Google’s results.
Tips for Winning High Rank in Organic Search Results
Getting a high ranking for organic results in Google requires strong content and using strong SEO tactics consistently over a long period of time. There is a vast amount of information available about SEO, but here are some starter tips:
- Use strong keyword phrases in your content. Use a combination of the sources listed in our ebook on keyword research to find your best phrases. Since the average search contains over four words, go for long-tail keyword phrases.
- Identify and understand your target customers so you can anticipate their search behavior and the content they’d be attracted to.
- Optimize your site and online brand for target long-tail keywords.
- Create a strong online brand that includes a mix of on-site content, consistent social media posting, and strong reviews.
- Develop share-worthy content that attracts leads, keeps them engaged with your website, and gets them to re-post.
- Use creative promotion strategies to maximize the reach of your content and generate engagement.
- Build reputable backlinks by getting notable websites to link to your content, or by guest posting and promoting your website on other sites.
- Spy on competitor tactics to see what’s working for them and how you can implement some tactics into your own strategy.
SEO is considered a long play: Don’t publish something today and expect it to rank organically at position one the next day. In fact, it could take weeks or months to see the results you want. Read this Academy post to see when you can start to expect results on your SEO efforts.
Understanding Paid Real Estate Ads on Google
Paid ads appear alongside organic results, and appear in a variety of formats based on position, ad copy, and extensions.
There are various opportunities to appear in paid results in Google:
- Top of Page = Three ad opportunities. These are the most important ad positions because they appear above the organic results.
- Right Column = Offers eight ad opportunities.
- Bottom of Page = Offers three ad opportunities.
Paid-per-click (PPC) ads are “graded” on a number of factors that form a Quality Score. Much like organic search, keywords are the basis by which paid text ads are matched to search results, but here factors like your PPC bid also come into play. Here are some key factors that impact text ad positioning in Google:
- The precision of your match to searched phrases. The average search contains 4.29 words, so you’ll want to focus on longer descriptive phrases related to your listings or business. For example: Target a phrase like “single family home in Des Moines” rather than simply “home in Des Moines.”
- Ad text that’s closely related to the keyword phrases. If you’re competing for “Santa Monica waterfront property,” your ad will rank better using exact and similar related phrases, particularly in the headline.
- How much you’re willing to spend. Some key phrases, based on how popular they are with advertisers, cost more to compete for than others.
- Ad performance in relationship to the key phrases you compete for. The better your ad does (the number of clicks it receives), the better the position … and vice versa.
Good news for paid advertisers: 36 percent of people don’t realize paids were ads at all, making users more likely to click on them for information. Studies prove that a strong PPC ad in a high position (closer to the top of the search results page) can yield a higher click-through rate, and has the potential to take some of the clicks away from organic results. So when creating ads, make sure you have copy and a budget that allows you the highest position possible. You can also add extensions to your PPC ad to encourage higher engagement.
Important Things to Remember
Results change for every keyword phrase.
Your business will compete for many search phrases. Organic and paid searches can look different even for what may seem like small changes (e.g. “Cambridge Ma condos for sale” or “condos in Cambridge Ma”). Because of this, it’s important to look at the search volume for different combinations. The average searches for a phrase in a specified period of time can be found using the Keyword Planner in Google Adwords.
Autocomplete can influence searches.
Google provides an autocomplete feature that lists similar, popular key phrases when someone starts typing. These can influence the action a searcher takes, so it’s important to take note of what terms appear when you search your keyword phrases. See if they compete with your phrases, or if they should also be part of your keyword campaigns.
Click-through rates change based on how your user is searching.
In commercial intent searches, where someone is specifically looking to do a business transaction, CTR is higher for paid results than organic results. But, in instances where the searcher’s intent is informational (like seeking home buyer information in a particular county), they are more likely to click on an organic result. Prepare for these factors by reframing your keyword and content strategy: It may make sense to focus paid ads on keywords and content focused on buying or selling properties or securing an agent, whereas informational content you produce can focus on organic SEO strategies.
Rankings change constantly.
New content is produced daily, searcher behavior changes, some posts climb the rankings while others lose relevancy and fall. Google’s bots crawl the web regularly to adjust content rankings for consumer needs, which means your position — paid or organic — will move over time.
Focusing on both organic and paid can boost reach.
There will certainly be keyword phrases that overlap, and the same consumers looking for buyer’s guides are often also seeking listings and open houses. Studies show that competing for target keywords through paid advertising can significantly boost traffic that’s beyond your organic reach. That’s why it’s a great practice to use both SEO strategies and paid advertising to boost your online brand’s positioning for a variety of searches.
Paying won’t help organic rank.
It’s wise to invest in great SEO tactics, whether you’re doing them yourself or employing a business or contractor to do them for you. But it’s key to know that strong SEO comes from consistency, and paying anyone for services is not guaranteed to get you the number one search result.
Then, learn how to create stellar ad copy to produce great Google text real estate ads.
What tactics do you find helpful for mastering organic search? Are you using paid advertisements to rank for high-competition keyword phrases? Post your advice and questions in the comments below!
Published on March 6, 2015
Written by Sandra Manzanares
Writer, editor, and marketing manager with a passion for helping brands enhance their content marketing strategy. I'm a firm believer that creative storytelling is an essential part of the way we communicate. Constantly striving to fill my head with as much creative and analytical information as possible.