Guest Post courtesy of Matthew Bushery. This article originally appeared in the Placester Real Estate Marketing Academy.
Every brand operating online hopes to rank well in search engine results pages (SERPs) so they can be highly visible to online searchers and attract leads and customers. That is most commonly done through search engine optimization (SEO). The secret to doing so is actually pretty simple: Follow Google and Bing’s SEO rules (a.k.a. abide by their search algorithms and recommended best practices) and you’ll do well over time.
Then there are the mistakes: Tactics that are outdated or altogether frowned upon by search engines that can cause your website pages to be virtually invisible to online searchers. Discover 16 core SEO mistakes that can damage your digital presence and deter your real estate website content from ranking in SERPs.
1. Thinking it’s still 2005 and assuming keyword-stuffing will actually work
Though you’ll hear marketers discuss the early days of SEO as if they were a half-century ago, the reality is the concept of optimizing content for search engines is fairly new. It’s more-than-understandable for these pros to think the inception of SEO was so long ago, because over the past 20 years (and even since the turn of this decade), there have been innumerable alterations to what constitutes a “good” and “bad” SEO strategy. The primary characteristic of a bad modern SEO plan is the overuse of keywords.
Back in the day, it was more than fine (even recommended by — gasp — Google!) to add in several keywords to your content to help it gain “SEO juice” and enhance its likelihood of being favored by the search gods. Simply put, this is no longer the case … and for good reason. Anyone can stuff keywords into their blog posts and landing pages to rank better. So, to ensure brands had to actually, you know, put effort into their content and be valuable for their audiences, Google and other search engines began to favor content with a more natural-language feel to it as opposed to content with 20 or more of the same long-tail keyword.
Here’s one of the easiest-to-execute SEO tips and tricks you’ll ever receive: Write for your audience first, then modify your content with a select number of appropriate, pertinent keywords. This number total will vary depending on the length of your content, but the real key to success with keyword inclusion/density is ensure none of the terms and phrases you incorporate in your content disrupt its flow and confuse your readers. Just write as you would talk to your home buyer and seller leads and clients, and then adjust what’s on the screen with a particular keyword group that directly relates to the content.
2. Posting duplicate content across several real estate website pages
Another no-no for your real estate SEO marketing efforts is to beware of publishing the same exact content on multiple pages of your site. While short, commonly used phrases are more than okay to leverage across your site (i.e. your primary, secondary, and long-tail keywords), you want to be careful not to take large chunks of content and post them on separate pages.
Some marketers think they can slide one right past the search engines by amplifying the same, exact content from one website page in multiple facets of their digital presence. The reality, though, is Google is smarter than … well … just about everyone (including and especially these would-be deceivers) and, at the end of the day, always identifies which brands implement this “strategy.” There are some instances in which duplicate content isn’t bad (or as bad) for your site, but it’s best to just steer clear of adding identical content on your site altogether to ensure SEO prosperity.
This means you need to stick with the best real estate marketing plan agents and brokers should put into play: Put together a comprehensive editorial calendar to plan out content to produce, publish, and promote for the weeks and months ahead. As long as you persist with this content marketing blueprint, you won’t have to fear the wrath of Google and worry about the search engine penalizing your site.
3. Failing to audit your site regularly and update broken links and images
The problem with publishing certain kinds of content on your website, like blog posts on time-sensitive topics such as the latest mortgage rates, is that it can quickly become dated. What’s more is, after a few years (or even just a few months), some links you include in your site content may break. The reasons why this occurs varies greatly. Oftentimes, it’s because a site administrator operating a site you linked to removes a page entirely (though there are several other technical reasons a page link can cease to work).
Regardless of the specifics behind why links break, it’s vital to conduct a site audit frequently. Neil Patel of Quick Sprout suggests a normal site audit takes between just one and two hours, though this length will depend on just how much content you have on your site (the more you have, the longer it’s likely to take). If you don’t know where to get started with your audit, check out this helpful guide from Moz, which denotes the numerous elements of your site that need to be investigated with some regularity.
In addition to broken links, sometimes images you upload to your site pages can break as well. When these go down, so do the meta titles you added with them, so it’s important to pinpoint the issue(s) with them and get them back up and running promptly. Some common causes of broken images include a misspelled filename or extension (often occurs for those who add images to their sites via HTML code) and uploading an image using a local file path (in other words, adding in the filename with your computer’s folder name attached).
4. Linking to any terrible, no good, very bad websites with suspect content
Broken links can be repaired without causing any real irreparable damage to your real estate SEO strategy. However, frequently linking to “bad” websites — like those that are littered with spam and implement black-hat SEO strategies — could get your site penalized by Google. The search engine doesn’t hesitate to penalize (that is, demote brands’ pages in search engine results) for one of any number of SEO penalties it deems merited. So, be careful which sites you link to.
As marketing expert John Rampton notes in an article for Search Engine Journal, relevancy should be the primary focus with your outbound linking strategy:
- “Relevancy to the reader, relevancy to the content, relevancy to your website. Everything should be relevant to what you do. If it’s not relevant, don’t link to it. Make sure the links you are building and giving out to other people are relevant to what your site is about. This could determine if your site ranks or not.”
In short, determine what kind of context is necessary for the content you create, and find others’ content to which you can link to best make your point and provide value. For instance, if you’re writing blog posts about the state of buying and selling, links to reputable local home sales and price reports for your housing market will further help your audience understand what the real estate conditions are like in their areas.
5. Presuming the use of meta titles and descriptions guarantees SEO success
Don’t get us wrong: Adding detailed, keyword-rich meta descriptions and titles for your website pages is a must-perform task, as this information alerts Google to the relevancy and applicability of certain content. Having said that, Google has even noted in the past that this meta information does not factor into its search ranking algorithm. So, those agents who think adding in this “content behind the content” will impact its sites’ ranking in SERPs need to understand that, while it’s imperative to add in appropriate meta titles and descriptions, doing so isn’t a silver bullet SEO solution.
The real value in this meta information lies in explaining in a limited number of characters what a specific page entails and covers subject matter-wise. So, if you create a neighborhood page for one of the ritziest corners of your market, use the meta description to note this part of your town, city, or county is filled with beautiful, high-end homes for sale — and even include your keywords, if they help paint the picture needed to explain the page. This will ultimately give searchers context for the page. Just don’t expect that keyword usage to boost your rank in SERPs.
6. Using the wrong keywords in content and not creating niche keyword groups
Agents in just about every municipality nationwide, no matter how big or small, can succeed with an organic real estate SEO strategy featuring long-tail keywords that describe specific facets of their real estate markets. But, they can also fail with a search strategy that doesn’t incorporate these market-relevant terms and phrases.
If you live in a rural vacation town with a small population but lots of out-of-town renters, for example, you can likely thrive with an SEO strategy built around keywords featuring your market name and general housing terms (“homes for rent,” “vacation properties,” etc.). If you live in a major metropolis like New York or Chicago, however, you’ll just need to hone in on more intricate street- and neighborhood-specific keywords (“Gold Coast Chicago lakeview condo for sale,” “two-story Bay Ridge Brooklyn townhouses”).
Regardless of the market in which you work, ensure you take the time to understand which keywords are popular and moderately competitive among other local agents (the main ones to use), have high competition (ones to avoid), and have low competition (low-hanging fruit you can own).
7. Forgetting to create a strong white-hat, off-page SEO strategy
First and foremost, you need to “win” with your on-page SEO — the part you control entirely on your real estate website. That means building search-optimized content that earns your site and brand more visibility. Once you have this on-page plan in motion, you need to turn your attention to the off-page side of things — something many agents neglect to focus on.
In essence, off-page SEO mostly entails link-building and content syndication. When aiming to get your links and content on others’ websites, you need to abide by certain best practices.
One of the primary “dos” is building relationships with people like local reporters, bloggers, and business owners (those with large audiences, fans, and followings, at least) so you can eventually ask to feature them on your site and for your content to be featured on theirs. One of the chief “don’ts” is to pay these people money to get your content featured on their sites — something Google frowns upon big-time.
8. Neglecting to check your Google Analytics account and inspect site metrics
“The price of light is less than the cost of darkness.” This quote from famed market analyst Arthur C. Nielsen perfectly sums up how to approach the incorporation of data in your real estate marketing strategy: If you don’t consistently analyze your website, social media, and email campaign metrics, it will be harder to improve your SEO.
Spend one day a week combing through your Google Analytics account to unearth any and all relevant data about your website. This includes how many unique visitors and page sessions you earn, which specific pages garner the most traffic and leads, and which keywords and keyword groups perform best and worst for your SEO plan.
As long as you dedicate certain keywords and keyword groups to certain types of pages (the simplest example: assigning neighborhood-oriented keywords to their specific neighborhood pages), you can easily track how each works in your on-page SEO strategy. Time and execution are the two key components to understanding your site metrics, so be patient and persistent with your search marketing and you will eventually be able to discern the quality of specific pages.
9. Writing random, untargeted content your audience likely won’t find useful
As mentioned, only the most relevant content is worth your audience’s precious time, so don’t waste yours as well by crafting blog posts that give half-hearted advice on home staging, curb appeal, mortgage refinancing, etc. just because you think they’re relevant. Instead, find out the exact topics your audience wants to learn about the most — perhaps by polling them using a survey tool — and optimize your SEO strategy around those content pieces.
There will inevitably be content that misses the mark with your niche real estate audience. With that said, though, chock those pieces of content up as losses and lessons learned, and work to gradually improve the quality and suitability of your content to tailor it as perfectly as possible for your audience.
10. Spending most or all of your real estate marketing energy on just SEO
Though it’s technically not part of your SEO strategy, developing pay per click (PPC) ad campaigns using Google AdWords to create text ads that can appear in SERPs is another way to dominate search engines and gain the visibility with your audience you desire. In theory, by dominating keyword groups both organic and paid strategies, you could rank atop page one for one long-tail keyword and also have one of the top-served ads featuring that same keyword on the same results page, increasing the likelihood of getting clicks through to your site.
Once you become more favorable in the eyes of local searchers (a.k.a. your audience), your site can feasibly gain more traction in the form of clicks, time on page, click throughs to other pages, and improvements in other metrics. This can eventually lead Google and other search engines to place more value on your pages since they earn more attention from searchers. In a sense, these PPC ads act as a support beam for your SEO plans: They don’t necessarily have a direct impact, but by helping your overall online marketing strategy, they keep interest in (and clicks on) your content high. Success with certain keyword groups in your ads can also signal which keywords you should focus on for your content.
11. Concluding your SEO strategy failed because you don’t rank for all content
Giving up is not an option: That’s the mindset you must have with your real estate SEO marketing. Without it, you’ll end up throwing in the towel too early and left without many other avenues for generating viable buyer and seller leads online. You can’t know how long it will take exactly to yield results with a search strategy (the timelines for all agents will be different), but it’s important to trust the process, be patient, and understand that SEO truly is playing the “long game.”
Nine in 10 brands have success with their SEO strategies, and one of the main reasons they have thrived with their search optimization plans is they understand the importance of persistence. Stick with your routine content creation (ideally, a lengthy blog post or two weekly and a few new neighborhood, area, listing, or community pages each month) and you’ll see the fruits of your SEO labor.
12. Relying on SEO agencies to produce relevant, insightful content for you
The term “SEO” can also be used to describe a search specialist, meaning you can be an SEO who works with SEO (it’s confusing, we know). Basically, these experts-for-hire help brands and pros of all kinds augment their search strategies and, in some instances, even create search-friendly content for them.
While it can be worth your dime and time to employ one of these authorities to aid your high-level SEO planning, it’s likely not in your best interest to have them create content for you. The reason is simple: You know your real estate market like the back of your hand and can write about it in-depth. Professional SEOs can only research your market and industry and offer basic knowledge.
If you already rank well in search and just want to get more evergreen, how-to content on the buying and selling process for your audience, then by all means, hire a content marketing agency to assist your overall marketing scheme. But if you, like many agents out there, still need help getting their first pages to rank on page one of search results, produce your content yourself or assign a fellow team member to contribute their time and effort as well. It’ll pay off much more in the long run to have detailed, local-market info on your site than more generalized blog posts that readers won’t “buy” as authentic and helpful.
13. Getting a new real estate website design without consulting the experts
During a real estate website redesign or overhaul, you should take the SEO ramifications of such a move into account. Making wholesale or even partial changes to your site can impact all of the search optimization work you’ve done to date, so this process needs to be handled with great care and attention to detail.
One of the core maintenance tasks to focus on first and foremost when altering your site or getting an entirely new one is to create your sitemap — that is, which navigational links lead to which pages. Once you know how you’ll transfer over your old content into your new or redesigned site, you can set up 301 redirects. These will ensure that anyone who clicks on the old link/URL for your existing content from the previous site will be taken to the newer page featuring the same content on your updated site.
When done well, this can help you maintain all of the SEO juice you’ve obtained for your web presence and prevent any issues with pages that currently rank well in SERPs. When done poorly, it can send users to broken pages or cause your page’s ranking to dip. Work with an SEO pro or consult your new site administrator who can guide you through the process and assist with any transitional needs.
14. Selecting a weak domain name (one that’s irrelevant, unmemorable, lengthy, etc.)
Keywords can certainly help real estate agents and brokers when they include them in their domains, but it’s not essential to use keywords in a domain name to succeed with SEO and improve a site’s ranking in SERPs. Google’s esteemed search expert Matt Cutts has stated as much, and also noted Google continually makes changes regarding how it views certain domain names to ensure over-keyword-optimized domains don’t garner more favor than non-keyword-optimized ones.
At the end of the day, your main real estate domain name ought to be one that explains who you are and what you offer. So, before you worry that your agency or brokerage site may lack a popular keyword for your market, think about context. Using a site domain name like “sellyourhomewith[yourbrandname].com” clearly exhibits your brand and your business’s value proposition, whereas a domain name with one of the most popular keywords in your market — for instance, “[yourmarketname]homesforsale.com” — relays a service offered by your company, but not necessarily who you are.
Neither one of those examples is more right or wrong than the other. What’s important is to select a domain name like one of those that ultimately gets you found in SERPS, not one that provides little or no insight into your brand or your value prop.
15. Publishing only or mostly text-heavy content instead of mixing in media
More than one-third of full-time marketers cite visuals as the most important element of their content marketing efforts. That should tell you just how important it is to not just publish copy that explains various buying and selling concepts and offers unique, local-market insights, but also to post images, graphics, videos, and other visual collateral. By doing so, you not only make it easy for your website visitors to consume your content, but you also enhance the odds visitors will stick around on pages longer and click through to more content.
Adding image descriptions, alt text, and captions to the visuals added to your site is something search engines place great value on, as they act as another means to explain exactly what the content on each page entails and how it correlates to the accompanying copy and other metadata. Moreover, incorporating videos that are optimized for search via your brand’s real estate YouTube channel will enhance your on-page SEO value as well. Since YouTube is run by Google, it only makes sense that setting up your channel for search success and embedding your uploads anywhere else online — including and especially your IDX site — would bolster your SEO performance.
16. Focusing on “winning” SEO only, instead of building an overall real estate marketing plan
At the end of the day, SEO is just one important component of a marketing strategy. Because generating leads through SEO is a “long play” marketing tactic, it shouldn’t be your only focus. Luckily, there are numerous other tactics worth your attention. Consistently posting a variety of your search-friendly blog posts and landing pages to social media, sharing the same links in your drip email marketing campaigns, and syndicating your content on other blogs and publications are just a few other distinct marketing tactics to employ on top of your real estate SEO efforts that can expand your brand awareness and help you produce more site traffic.
Now that you know which SEO mistakes to avoid, learn how to dominate SERPs with a concerted real estate SEO strategy that wins you all of the local housing market keywords searched by your audience.
About the Author
As the Content Creator at Placester, Matthew is devoted to producing content that helps transform real estate professionals’ marketing efforts and bottom lines. When he’s not developing Academy posts, he’s writing film reviews and screenplays (the latter of which will never see the light of day).