10+ Ways to Harness Local SEO for Your Real Estate Marketing
By Seth Price
Back in 2014, we took a look at seven keys to local search engine optimization (SEO) for real estate marketing. It quickly became one of our most popular pieces of content for agents and brokers looking for new ways to attract leads online.
Confirming the importance of optimizing for local, a Google report from April 2015 found that Google searches containing “near me” have multiplied 34 times since 2011, and it’s no different in the real estate space: The National Association of REALTORS®’ Digital House Hunt study from early 2015 found that 69% of home shoppers who take action online begin with a local search term.
With a couple big changes occurring since the last time we took a look at local SEO for real estate, we thought it was the perfect time to explore new search opportunities for agents and brokers and reinforce old tips that will help you attract local home buyers and sellers.
Google Makes a Big Change
To kick things off, let’s take a look at one of biggest changes to local SEO in recent memory.
In August 2015, Google surprisingly cut back on the number of results that display in the spotlighted pack on its local search engine results pages (SERPs). The change brought the seven local businesses highlighted down to three. See the illustration below on what the local pack result looks like for “Boston real estate agent.”
Why the change, you ask? Well, for one, three results shows up a lot better on mobile — where most local searches are coming from:
Adding to this significant change, Google also tweaked the options you have for clicking on these businesses. Local searchers now have the option to click on the Google My Business review page for companies, their brand website links, and the directions link noting where businesses are located. Google+ integration, on the other hand, is now downplayed and doesn’t play much of a role.
So, what does this mean for agents and their real estate marketing strategies? Here are some of the things industry professionals need to do in order to keep up with the changes.
Optimize Google My Business Pages
To start, you need to set up and own your Google My Business page and ensure all information on the page is accurate and up-to-date. You should include your address, business hours, location, and other brand details in the most precise way possible. Don’t try to get cute and add keywords here, as Google will penalize you for anything that is outside of your exact business name and location. If you’re a broker and have multiple locations, use the Google My Business Locations tool.
I get this question all the time:
— Seth Price (@sethstuff) November 19, 2015
An individual practitioner would be a real estate agent at the same address. Currently that’s within Google’s guidelines. Read Google’s rules here to keep up-to-date.
Make sure you also have a phone number listed. This number should match the local area code. This could be a problem for an agent that really only uses their cell phone for business. If you’re not willing to trade in your mobile number, it may be worth going the Google Voice route and getting a number that fits the area code you do business in, which can also connect with your multiple lines (landline, mobile, etc.).
In addition to the above, it’s best to check off the following items as well (many of which can be found on the official Google My Business quality guidelines page):
Add appropriate branding visuals.
Google does allow you to add carousel photos (although they ultimately pick which item displays) to local search results now. Therefore, it’s important to go with a landscape photo that displays well. Regarding your avatar photo, the standard dimensions are 115 x 115 pixels, so be cognizant of what will actually be shown in your photo. Ideally, you should include your agency logo or a professional headshot of you.
Link to your real estate website.
The website you link to should be your actual real estate website homepage. If you’re a brokerage with offices in several cities or neighborhoods, it will be important to have a separate location page for each office that matches the name, address, and phone number for your Google My Business pages.
Select the right business category.
It’s also important to find the most accurate category for your business. “Real Estate Agent” and “Real Estate Agency” are both category options, while “Real Estate Brokerage” is not. “Commercial Real Estate Agency” is a category too, so make sure that you obviously choose the residential option.
Master online reviews for real estate.
With the changes to local search results, having a digital review strategy in place is also imperative. Since click-throughs on the Google My Business page no longer go to a direct Google+ page, a user will also see 10 other competitors on the left side of their screens (visualized above). Under each of those competitors, they can also see how many reviews the business has received.
Given that businesses with 10 or more reviews get 3.5 times the attention and 6.5 times the inquiries, it’s no longer just enough to dominate local search. You need to dominate local reviews or someone may jump from your business result to a competitor with more or better reviews. Need data to back that up? BrightLocal’s 2014 Local Customer Review Survey of over 2,000 consumers found that 88% of respondents read or used reviews to determine the quality of a local business.
What an Online Review Strategy Looks Like
Before we dive into other local real estate SEO tips and tricks, let’s pause to explore how you can (and should) make the most of online reviews.
The best way to get reviews is to ask for them.
The first step in obtaining a review from a customer is asking for it. This can begin at the very start of the agent-client relationship. In fact, even when you’re courting a new lead, you can warm them up to providing a future review.
Alert new clients right off the bat that reviews are welcomed and expected, while also noting that they can find reviews from past customers at your Google My Business page. Then, at the end of the transaction or sale, follow up via email to thank them for their business and direct them back to your page for a review. Moreover, it’s good practice to include a link to review your agency or brokerage in your email signature and as a footer in email newsletters.
Spotlight online reviews in your physical space.
In addition to showcasing real estate reviews in your digital marketing, it helps to highlight reviews in your physical office as well.
Do you have leads over to your office from time to time? Remember how businesses used to display personal thank you letters and notes on the door? Consider printing out some of your most favorable reviews from your Google My Business page and creating a wall of reviews with a call to action to review your agency or brokerage. It’s a creative way to secure some offline to online reviews.
Engage with reviewers and respond to negative reviews.
Small businesses of all kinds fear negative reviews. However, there is no time for “paralysis by analysis” when observing a negative review. Time is of the essence, and you need to respond ASAP. In fact, research by Bazaarvoice found leads who see a brand respond to negative reviews report an increase of 116% in purchase intent from that brand.
Any negative review should be met with care for their concern (it’s a service business, after all) and potential resolutions for that buyer or seller. If it’s your brokerage in question and you were unaware of the complaint previously, it’s a good idea to offer public solutions, while also seeing if you can connect with the negative reviewer offline. Not only will it be easier to figure out where your service went wrong over the phone, but it will also move any additional negative conversations out of the digital review stream.
Back to Basics with Organic SEO
Now that we’ve gotten through how to optimize for Google’s new look with its local pack, it’s time for a refresher on organic SEO to get into the top-three search results locally!
First, let’s define SEO. In short, it’s the series of steps you take when building and maintaining your real estate website that enable it to be found in search engines. With good content, copy, and links, sites appear higher in search engine rankings. One of my favorite SEO specialists, Brian Dean, provides great insight on modern SEO in his Craft of Marketing interview:
Conversely, with bad content, copy, and links, sites appear lower in SERPs. So the answer is clear: If you want to attract leads and convert them into customers, then you should care a great deal about SEO — from setting up your initial search strategy through keyword research to implementing those terms naturally into your landing pages and blog posts.
Here are a few more basics of real estate SEO you need to understand.
Your SEO ranking is where you appear in search results. According to Google and other top search engines, this ranking is often most influenced by the links a website receives from other sites (called backlinks) and on-site signals, such as domain authority and keywords. Although there are other signals that affect your ranking, the site that earns more backlinks tends to have more of the top search results and ultimately gets more traffic.
One primary factor search engines consider when determining your page rank is use of keywords. Keywords are terms and phrases that identify your products and services and match them with search engine inquiries from all the potential customers out there scouring the web.
Keyword research may be the most overlooked aspect of SEO. While most agents and brokers will happily spend countless hours on their real estate social media strategies and content marketing plans, very few spend the time needed to learn how to actually do effective keyword research. What’s crazy is that keywords largely determine which potential customers find you via search. Consider it potentially free traffic, if done correctly.
While using Google Analytics to analyze keywords can seem like a lot of work, easier-to-use tools like Google Trends can help you get an idea of what terms potential leads are actually using.
In this Google Trends example below, I searched for “real estate agent Boston,” “Boston broker,” “Realtor Boston,” and “real estate agency Boston.” You can see that while the terms follow roughly the same search trends over the last 10 years, “Realtor Boston,” is still the top search term over time when compared against the other queries. If you’re operating in Boston as a brokerage, you’d want to build that into the keywords you’re targeting.
Additionally, the right keywords will ensure that your content marketing efforts aren’t wasted attracting the wrong customer or, worse, no customer at all. Remember that including your location in your keywords is a great way to make sure you reach customers specifically interested in the market you serve. We’ve got a super in-depth guide to keyword research that you should definitely save for later reading.
Linking is one of the most important parts of SEO in real estate marketing. There are two main types that you need to know how to optimize for:
- Outbound Links: Since SEO is all about getting people to visit your site, having outbound links — ones in your site content that lead to other sites — might seem counterintuitive. But in reality, if you don’t have outbound links, your site essentially becomes a dead-end. By linking to quality (and only quality) resources that provide further help and value (in other words, context) for those who visit your site, you will improve your reputation and search engine ranking. That ultimately leads to more inbound links.
- Inbound Links: As we already mentioned, inbound links (or backlinks) are one of the most important parts of SEO. You need others to link to your website or else it will be nearly impossible for potential customers to find you. There’s no shortage of strategies to get inbound links but that doesn’t make it any easier. Later on in the post we’ll talk about one of the most effective ways to get people to link to your site: content creation.
Now, how does local SEO differ?
While there’s a lot of overlap in the elements that apply to both local and standard SEO (indexing, on-page factors, social, listing optimization, backlinks, and great content), local search comes with a few unique components that require your attention.
For instance, local behavior and mobile signals can play a role in search results on Google. A high rate of mobile click-to-calls and check-ins can positively affect the way your business turns up in local search results, while the opposite can have a negative effect.
Then there are citations. A citation is simple: It’s any place online that uses your company NAP (name, address, and phone number) all on the same page. It’s imperative that this citation information is in the same format as your local listing. Citations are a key component of the ranking algorithms in Google and Bing. The way citations help in improving your SEO is actually really simple. Basically, they affirm the trustworthiness of your local business. The more often that a citation is the same for a business, the higher the likelihood that business is trustworthy and, in turn, the higher it appears in search results.
If you want to see how your business citations show up on the web, check out Moz’s local search tool.
Lastly, there are reviews that extend outside of Google. Simply put, the more the merrier. The quality and quantity of reviews that customers leave for your business on Yelp (especially on iOS search results) are some of the most important search ranking factors outside the Google ecosystem for local discovery.
Content is still king.
As we noted last year, creating great content with a regular cadence is still king. The real estate industry has a reputation of producing some fairly lame content which is why there hasn’t been examples of beautiful inspiring content marketing in our industry … but, it doesn’t have to be that way, and it’s starting to change.
In fact, creating awesome content that educates, informs, and engages consumers through the entire customer life cycle will be a requirement for any business looking to survive the decades to come. Consumers are in the driver’s seat and have grown to expect value added experiences. You should also consider looking at what some of your competitors are doing in the space. It can be a source of inspiration and give you insight into what types of content is resonating with similar audiences.
To master local SEO, you also need to move beyond simply creating city-specific content and focus on the neighborhoods in which you primarily operate. For instance, if you work in Chicago proper, you could create content around the best nightlife activities for young home and condo owners in Old Town. If you also happen to service Buffalo Grove, a Chicago suburb, then a search-optimized real estate blog post on the top-five streets for young families in the community could work wonders as well.
One great content creator in the real estate field is Bill Gassett of MaxRealEstateExposure, who all around has done amazing things with his real estate marketing strategy. Gassett may be the first to tell you that his site could be prettier, but look at his content: People read it and share it. He’s taken the time to build a tribe, and he rewards them with well thought-out and timely content. Many could learn from Bill’s example. He even ties his content to seasonal events that have mass appeal, like Halloween.
Reach consumers during “micro moments.”
In short, as digital marketing pro Brian Solis puts it, “micro moments open windows of ‘in-the-moment’ opportunities when someone searches for something top-of-mind using the closest device to them.”
In real estate, this could be the moment when a prospective buyer is having a conversation about buying their first property and they pull out their phone to search “home down payment.” Or, they could walk through a neighborhood they like and search “real estate agents nearby.” This is a change in how consumers make purchase decisions.
No longer are these decisions being made in one, long sitdown. Decisions are influenced, and ultimately made, in moments when consumers turn to a device and get feedback in real-time. In fact, Google has found that 91% of consumers turn to their mobile devices in these moments that have some immediacy to them. These real-time queries are the types of events that agents and brokers should plan their real estate SEO content around. In short, they should build content and marketing efforts around these micro moments.
For instance, for the micro moment of “making a mortgage payment,” an astute agent would have created a blog about mortgage down payments and maybe even paid to advertise those posts in Google search results in order for them to appear higher when those searches occur. While this type of micro-moment response may not result in a direct lead now, it creates a connection with what may either be a current or soon-to-be homeowner as a future lead.
Another example may be a micro moment of querying “help selling my house in Boulder.” A tailored post or Google ad that essentially says “Stuck selling your house in Boulder? We’ll help!” could create some serious click-through. Even better? Time it (around public reports, for instance) for when the prospective market turns in the favor of buyers.
A great example of the potential for this type of local SEO boost can be found outside the real estate space in the hospitality market. Red Roof Inn recently tracked flight delays in real-time across the country and targeted stranded passengers in real-time with local Google ads in those cities. The ads, which basically noted “Stranded at the airport? Come stay with us!” led to a 60% increase in bookings across non-branded search campaigns.
Optimize for local SEO on mobile.
We are a culture in love with our devices. Is there anyone close by that doesn’t have a smart device, tablet, phablet, or mobile phone on them right now? If the answer is yes, you may have just found the last of a dying breed.
All kidding aside, mobile growth is astounding and doesn’t show any sign of slowing. In fact, 68% of mobile users say they check their phone within 15 minutes of waking up in the morning and 30% are willing to admit that they actually get “anxious” when they don’t have their phone on them, according to Google Consumer Surveys.
What that means to you is that all of those consumers are doing their searching on their mobile devices. So much so that 78% of local-mobile searches result in offline purchases, and if your website isn’t conducive to being viewed on a mobile device, you are likely turning customers away. The real estate industry is also following along with this mobile transformation. Buyers’ and sellers’ use of home-related searches on mobile and tablets hit 60% last year, and we’ll see that mark passed again this year.
It’s no surprise, then, that Google also changed its search algorithm earlier this year to reward businesses with mobile-friendly sites. Essentially, sites that are optimized for mobile now appear higher in SERPs than non-mobile optimized websites. To make sure your website is optimized for mobile, enter your URL in Google’s Mobile-Friendly Test and use Google Search Console (formerly Webmaster Tools) to self-evaluate.
Spending Time on Social Media to Get Google’s Attention
At the end of the day, SEO is all about trust. Search engines like Google tend to trust websites that have a lot of social media activity more than those that don’t. Here are some of the best places you should be on social and what you should be doing there:
Facebook and Twitter
Facebook and Twitter have quickly become the must-use places for businesses in the world of social media. One of the most important things you need to make sure you have on both of these platforms is clear and consistent contact information that matches exactly with all of your presences online. This information is validated against the contact information found everywhere else online about you. Make sure that this information is typed exactly the same everywhere.
It’s also important that you aren’t just squatting here. Facebook and Twitter provide a powerful way for you to engage with your audience through the content you post. While Google still doesn’t index the vast majority of tweets, Twitter is a very effective way to get traffic to your website that can have residual benefits on your SEO traffic.
The explosion of Pinterest as one of the most popular social networks around is really intriguing for the real estate community. What’s even more intriguing is the fact that Pinterest was directly responsible for more than three times the web traffic of Google Plus, YouTube, Twitter, StumbleUpon, LinkedIn, and Reddit combined. Pinterest boards rank extremely high in Google searches. This means that people can search Google, be directed to Pinterest, and find your website from there. Pins also have a long life span.
There is also the opportunity to get creative with categories of your pins for specific neighborhoods. For instance, If you operate in the Austin, Texas area, you could create categories of boards that look at five of the best suburbs around Austin to buy a house. Your Pinterest board for Thorndale could include imagery from around town as well as current local listings, with pictures from inside the homes.
YouTube and Mobile Video
Agents and brokers also need to consider what they’re doing with real estate video marketing and YouTube this year — and beyond. Agents that are succeeding with YouTube today are producing videos that look just as good as their Website.
They’re also mixing up the type of videos they’re producing, whether it is how-to videos, local market updates, listing videos, or interviews with local business and restaurant owners that give prospective buyers a real feel for a neighborhood. However, even the best agents on YouTube, can forget to optimize their video for local search. Just like you need a SEO-friendly and enticing title with a blog post, you need to create titles for your real estate videos on YouTube and other sites that tie in industry keywords and make viewers want to watch the clip.
In addition, like the rest of the industry, we’re going to see an increasing need for real estate video designed for the mobile consumer. Shorter real estate videos, that are optimized for mobile on platforms outside of YouTube, like Instagram, Vine, and Periscope, will begin to gain traction in the real estate video market in the years to come.
The Importance of Looking Outside Your Own Domain
When we think about SEO, it’s easy to become entirely focused on ourselves. What do I need to do to bring people to my site? While this is the correct mentality to have, it’s important to remember, there’s no “I” in SEO. To have a truly optimized real estate SEO strategy, it’s important to look beyond your own properties.
The most powerful way to do this is to participate in the communities of others and engage in their content efforts. Yes, commenting, curating, and sharing is a really old SEO tactic. People used to spend money to have SPAM comments written for them all over the internet. This doesn’t work today because Google and comment systems have gotten a lot better.
However, engaging with the content of others really does help build the traffic to your blog. It’s one of the influencer marketing ideas that I’ve written about in the past. You can get some great referral traffic simply by commenting on and sharing the content of high profile blogs in the real estate niche. Heck, get started by commenting below.
But why would you want to do this, you ask? Well, Google rewards more SEO traffic in proportion to the amount of traffic you’re getting from other sources. If you engage with community on sites like Inman, The Broke Agent, Bigger Pockets, and other real estate websites, you’ll see a boost in referral traffic followed by more SEO traffic.
In Conclusion …
Wrapping up this year’s deep-dive into local SEO for real estate marketing, it’s clear that the one constant is change. Google continues to illustrate that with various updates to their algorithms and quality controls.
As you move forward with your overall marketing program, it’s important that you continue to look at local as a subset of a broader SEO for real estate strategy. It’s like a puzzle and each piece connects with each other. If all the pieces are working together to boost your agency or brokerage onto the front of general search results, it’s likely you’re going to be at the top of local results as well — as long as you’re covering your local bases.
If you’re looking for even more information on real estate website optimization for search, we’ve written an eBook that dives deeper into the issue with the The Ultimate Guide to Building a Real Estate Website. Hoping to understand how search engines rank results? See our post Google Search Results: How It Works for Real Estate.
How do you think local real estate SEO will evolve in the years ahead? Share your comments with us below. We’d love to hear from you!
Published on November 25, 2015
Written by Seth Price
Seth is a brand and marketing strategist with 20 years of digital marketing experience. He’s the VP of Industry Relations at Placester, author of the upcoming book Road to Recognition and host of The Craft of Marketing and Marketing Genius podcasts. As a speaker, writer, and marketing workshop leader, Seth brings levity, mentorship, and a dose of reality to the businesses and entrepreneurs he coaches.