Real Estate Marketing Academy

How To Use Google Places, Google+ Local, Content Marketing and Keyword Research

By Seth Price

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Your business is not what you say, it’s what’s found via search!

Have you ever said these words?:

  • How does that guy rank ahead of me for [Local Real Estate]? I used to be on page 1 of Google. What happened?

If you’ve ever found yourself asking these questions about your business as you stare at a Google search results page, then we have a bunch of questions for you:

  • Are you targeting longtail keywords?
  • Do you have a network of local focused websites?
  • Do you create engaging content relevant to your local sites?
  • Are you on Google+ and Google+Local?
  • Are you engaging your local audience via social?

Local search ranking is ever-evolving, and the factors that contribute to how you show up locally are somewhat complex. David Mihn, one of the most prolific SEO’s focusing on local search, does a yearly survey of prominent bloggers and search practitioners to help cut through the fog.

The one thing we can count on is the persistent effort by search engines to improve the search experience and search quality for the consumer. And while there is no magic bullet, there are some essential strategies you can implement immediately to start moving the needle on local search.

View a snippet of his local search report below.

Have you done your keyword research?

Whether you’re re-designing an existing website for your business,  launching a brand new one or launching a network of neighborhood sites, winning SEO starts with diligent keyword research. It’s how we find things, and it’s how search engines determine the relevance of one site over another.

Assuming you know your customer, start by using some keyword research tools:

  • Google AdWords Keyword Tool – Determines the competitiveness of a phrase by measuring it against its expected cost to rank in Google’s pay-per-click advertising system.
  • SEOmoz Keyword Difficulty Tool – Provides a “keyword difficulty score” for any term or phrase and shows the top 10 rankings for any keyword with competitive analysis metrics.
  • Ubersuggest – uses the information provided by the Google Keyword Tool and expands those keywords by combining them with other popular search terms to suggest long tail phrases.
  • Experian Hitwise – A paid service that provides data on trends in visitor behavior and measures website market share.
  • Majestic SEO Keyword Checker – Shows how many web pages use a keyword phrase in the anchor text or in the title of a URL/domain. Also provides data on organic search, unlike AdWords, which focuses on paid search.

Take advantage of these tools and others to see what people are looking for, how many of those searches exist, and how competitive they are. From there, build a list of primary, secondary, and long tail keywords to target.

If you have the budget and are frustrated with the results of your DIY efforts, you might also consider hiring a third party SEO professional to help you with keyword research. If you have an existing site, an SEO company or pro can do a website audit with competitive analysis. If you’re not an SEO expert yourself, this is the best way to establish a baseline from which to improve. (For full disclosure, we do this kind of work for our clients.)

Are you creating killer content that targets those keywords?

All content is not created equal, and this is especially true when it comes to deriving an SEO benefit from it. Some agents and brokers see content generation as just another job for their VAs, alongside link building and other data-entry type tasks. In fact, plenty of them don’t even bother reading the content.

The truth is, if you aren’t inspired to read your own content, your customers won’t want to read it either. Good content reveals your passion for your industry and your subject, and you won’t get that from a VA. Plus, most SEO workers aren’t qualified to write the kind of content that will improve your organic search results — more to the point, they don’t know your local audience or culture as well as you do.

When it comes to writing your own content (or at least hiring someone specifically for content creation), here are a few essential requirements:

  • Use great visuals. Photos and illustrations can help you tell your story, while charts and graphs with rich data can reinforce your arguments. Great visuals can also give you SEO juice on Google Images, as well as opportunities to repurpose your content for Slideshare and other sources.
  • Create content in language your readers will understand. Just because you know a ton of industry jargon doesn’t mean your customers want to hear it. Try to give your content the broadest appeal you can while maintaining the industry expertise that your customers find valuable.
  • Format your content in a way the consumers can easily digest. That means 500-word posts instead of 1000; short snippets of text, divided by ideas and bullets instead of long paragraphs; and descriptive titles and headings to let readers know what to take away.
  • Be useful, entertaining, or both. Give readers a reason to remember you and your content, and they’ll come back for more. Give them a reason to quote and share it, and others will come calling as well.
  • Harness anchor text for SEO. Obtaining links with descriptive anchor text is key in getting backlinks to your content that boost your ranking for your target keywords.

Be sure to choose a select set of keywords to target on each page of your website. You’ll be able to cover more of your target keywords this way. Don’t try to hit every keyword you can think of all at once—this dilutes the quality of your content, from the perspective of both readers and search engines.

Instead, be focused. Provide really useful information, relevant to your audience and your target keywords.

Are all the elements on your website optimized for local search?

Much of what search engines use to determine your ranking for your target keywords isn’t visible or noticeable to your site visitors. Instead, it’s behind the scenes, in the code that your site is built from.

Seeding your HTML with contact information and location indicators gives search engines an idea of where your website is located, and can help boost your ranking in local search. Here are a few ways to do it:

  • Include your full address and phone number (with area code) on every page. Try to place this information as close to the top of your web pages as possible. The further down on the page it appears, the less weight search engine bots will assign it—and the less likely it is that your customers will find it.
  • Include your geographic and service keywords in your business title. For example, if your real name is Jackson Realty, consider adjusting your website title (i.e., the text that appears at the top of your browser tab or window) to read, “Jackson Residential and Commercial Real Estate – Jackson, MS.”
  • Don’t use an image or graphic to convey location information. Search engines still haven’t mastered reading them, so you’ll get no SEO benefit from text displayed in a .jpeg or .png file. Image titles and alt text, on the other hand, are readable by search engines, so if you already have a banner or logo with your name and phone number on it, be sure to include that information behind the scenes.

Are you using Online “Places” to engage your local audience?

Social media has changed the way search engines work, as Google and Bing have begun to integrate social and local cues into their SERPs. This is great news for agents and brokers, since real estate is inherently local.

The algorithm used for local search is different from the one used to rank for primary results. To optimize your business for both, you should be submitting your business listing to the local arms of the leading search engines, as well as dedicated local discovery and geosocial apps.

Google has change again and is now shifting away from Google Places just for business and shifting to Google+ Local which combines local listings with all the social features. As a business owner, you can still use Google Places to manage your business. As a user, you can now rate, review and upload photos through our new local search experience, Google+ Local.

Take a look at what The Good Life Team out in Austin Texas is doing with Google Places & Google+ Local. Their presence really gives you a feeling of what it’s like work with them and more importantly, expresses all of the trust inferred by customer reviews. According to Jack Miller, The Good Life Team’s Chief of Customer Experience and Technology “Google Places is finally here, we’re going to set the standard for how Google Places works in Real Estate”

Many businesses have also created page for themselves using Google+. This type of page can be identified if there are tabs for PostsAboutPhotos, and Videos, without an option to leave a review.

When you combine these two types of pages together, they get a verified checkmark and have features of both pages described above, with scores and reviews as well as posts from the business owner.

It’s not clear how long Google will keep it this way. Don’t wait to see how everything pans out before you act. By that time, you may already be too late to rank locally in your area.

The best way to start? Claim your business on Google Places and you and your Business on Google+ Local. Google Places was introduced only two years ago, but it’s already starting to dominate local search. It’s one of the easiest ways to show up on first page of Google for local results.

To see if Google has already created a listing for your business by searching Google Maps for your business name, address, and phone number.

If you find your listing, click the “Edit” button, then “Claim Your Business,” then log into your Gmail or Google Apps account and follow the instructions. If there is no listing yet, create one by heading to the Google Places for Business page. Click “Get Started” and follow the instructions.

If you don’t claim your business listing on Google Places, someone else can use it to mess with your business and your reputation.

In addition to Google Places and Google+ Local, there are several other sites and services you should be exploring as well:

  • Bing Local – Thanks to a new partnership with Yelp!, Microsoft’s search arm is now better than ever for local businesses looking for more exposure. Start by visiting the Bing Business Portal to see if Bing already has a listing for your business and claim it.
  • Yahoo! Local– Yahoo’s market share may have decreased over the past couple years, but don’t count them out just yet. Despite slowing growth, the company is still profitable. More importantly, Yahoo reaches over 700 million users annually on its sites.
  • Mapquest– Though they’ve lost ground to Google Maps, MapQuest still claims over 40 million users. Claim your listing at their Local Business center to reach them.
  • Foursquare – The popular geosocial service, which boasts around 20 million members, recently emerged from a major overhaul, shifting its focus from check-ins to exploration and discovery.
  • Yelp! – One of the most popular sites out there for local business search, ratings and reviews. Reach their over 70 million users by claiming your business.

To see the social local service Foursquare in action, check out The Corcoran Group’s Foursquare presence, masterfully orchestrated by Matthew Shadbolt, Director of Interactive Marketing.

All of these sites may try to sell you something, but there’s no need to buy: just go with the free business listing.

How do your answers to these questions stack up?

Are you doing everything you can to take advantage of local SEO? If not, take the first step by using these resources to start building toward a number one local search ranking.

Have you had local search success with any tools and methods we didn’t cover? Go ahead and share your experience in the comments!

Also, check out our [WEBINAR] How to Dominate Local Search in 2013 and Grow Your Business Online to learn more.

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