Archive for December, 2008

Real Estate SEO’s Biggest Snake Oil Salesmen

Let’s start with a big fish, they’re maybe one of the country’s largest providers of real estate websites. You may have heard of this company, you may even have a real estate website that they designed, built, and host. If you do, well, Real Estate SEO probably isn’t a priority for you.

The company is called Advanced Access. They play a simple game and their business model is a good old one. They’re what business professors call a high volume, low quality provider. More on that in a minute. They provide real estate websites based on templates. (all the sites look the same) They come with the same content, the design and user experience is horrible. Even the sites they highlight on their website are circa 1995 state of the art.

Here’s what really gets me. They claim to offer services that will help your search engine placement. Let’s start with their meta tagging service. Anyone who knows even the basics of SEO will tell you that meta tags aren’t enough. Yes, you should have a title tag and yes, you should have a meta description tag. Both should be keyword rich. But SEO does not stop at meta tags. If all you do is optimize your meta tags, it’s extremely unlikely that you’ll see a positive effect on your real estate website’s search engine placement. Advanced Access claims that this can make a “profound difference.” This just isn’t true.

Then there’s the Link Tracker Service that they offer. This it seams is a service that double checks to make sure that the OUTBOUND links on your site still point to pages that exist. Please do not pay them for this service. Perform one Google search for “broken link checker” and you’ll find a score of FREE broken link checkers out there. Yes, broken links can hurt your SEO. No, you should not pay for this service. We once met with a client who thought Advanced Access was selling them SEO services when in fact, they were just checking for broken links every month. We were honestly appalled. Outbound links are generally bad for your Real Estate SEO. Please remember that.

Next, any real estate website provider who gives you content is setting your real estate SEO efforts back. The search engines want to see unique content. If you put up a site that has content that the search engines have seen before, this will hurt your SEO. If you are serious about real estate SEO, you need to have unique content on your pages. In addition, though less related to real estate SEO, it’s important to realize that it’s almost impossible to differentiate yourself when your website is exactly the same as your competition. I once walked into a meeting with a perspective client. He thought his website was really slick. I informed him that his main competition, an office about 2 blocks away, had the exact same site from the exact same template real estate website provider. Needless to say, he didn’t become a client.

How are they getting away with this? Well, like I said, they’re a high volume, low quality provider. They have a lot of clients all paying them a small amount of money every month. It’s smart business practice to offer new products and services to your existing clients. Real Estate agents know it very well that the best business is repeat business. So, Advanced Access has come up with additional low cost offerings for their many clients. All they need to do is call up the less informed in the group, tell them that this Link checking or meta tagging is going to help their Real Estate SEO and some of them are bound to listen and buy. It’s sad, but true.

So, this is just the first Real Estate SEO Snake Oil salesman that I’m calling out. As I promised in the first post in this category, we’ll be pointing more of them out. If you have questions about the Real Estate SEO for your site and whether or not your provider is selling you the Brooklyn Bridge, please post your questions or drop us an not from the contact us page.

Thanks.

Your Real Estate Links – Paid or Unpaid

One of our clients asked whether paid links are worth the investment. In my reply to him, and to you – there has been a lot of debate regarding this recently – most SEOs believe that “paid links” are not a good practice.

Here’s why – when you consider linking opportunities you must do your homework first. Like most things you have examine your options from all angles. The short answer is “no” paid links are not worth the time or finances because they go against most search engine policies/guidelines. While some websites may get away with this activity for a while or the practice was useful at one time, I would never recommend paying for links. Sooner or later those who have a quick-fix desire and try to take shortcuts in business do get penalized, such is life. See Google’s quality guidelines for more information.

That said, there are a few exceptions to the rule, Yahoo’s! paid directory being one of them. And so, when our client asked about Yahoo! I said the following: “The directory submission has a fee of $299 and followed by a yearly recurring fee of the same amount. Now the thing with the Yahoo! Directory, while Google does value its addition, Yahoo! does not guarantee that your paid entry will actually get listed, they will guarantee a review for your fee and maybe get you listed.”

The choice whether to make that submission is yours, at worst you’ll be out $299, at best it could help with your traffic, branding and increase the number of inbound links which helps your Google Page Rank.

As with all linking opportunities, I recommend that you keep your eyes and ears open. Here are some strategic tips for your Real Estate link building:

  • Consider your networks as a place to go to for links, you already have the connection now all you need to do is ask, nicely. Present them with the opportunity and how it will benefit their visitors by having access to additional relevant information.
  • Make noteworthy mentions of top brokers and websites, homes etc on your blog. People will like the gesture and most likely add a link without being asked.
  • Sign up for Google Alerts, use your business and like terms to gather potential link leads. The same can be done through a number of social media networks.
  • Take a look at similar businesses and your competitors to see who is linking to them and what directories they are using.
  • Definitely sign up with big local directories and sites, but only those with a well known reputation, like Boston.com, business.com, botw.org
  • Review the site’s age and PR (google page rank). If either of these is low then browse along.
  • Beware of spamy looking directories, follow your gut – if it looks unprofessional then don’t add your site, even it is one more possible inbound link and even if it is free, it’s not worth it.

While we certainly do recommend link building as part of your Real Estate SEO campaign, try to keep these tips in mind, remember to do your homework first. Your site’s reputation is on the line and you don’t want to risk a penalty. If you have any questions about linking or your Real Estate marketing feel free to contact us for advice.

Real Estate SEO – Saving you from the sea of thieves

As we meet with clients, we’re constantly amazed by all of the snake oil SEO that they’ve been sold in the past. So, we’ve decided to start an entire category on this blog where we point out bad real estate SEO and bad SEO in general. We’re calling it Snake Oil.

Yes, we will name names. We will tell you why these companies are not actually going to help you and we’ll give you the reasons why their offering is somewhere between ineffective, at it’s simplest, and thievery, at the worst.

First a word about reality and some guidelines:

  1. If you think you can get quality real estate SEO services for less than a few hundred or even a few thousand dollars per month, you’re fooling yourself. If it were really that cheap and easy to place on top of the search results for quality real estate terms, then everyone would do it and we’d all be out of business.
  2. SEO is NOT a 1 time event. You can’t just build a new site and expect it to rank well. You can’t have some SEO work done to your site and expect to rank and stay on top. Good SEO requires ongoing attention and effort.
  3. Just because a company points to a few successes, that doesn’t mean that they know what they’re doing. You need to interview your provider. Interview a few and go with the one that’s most knowledgeable and makes you feel comfortable.

Signs to watch out for:

  • Out of date Blogs. Take a look at when their last few posts were made. If they’re not posting every other week or, at the very least monthly, run away.
  • How’s their ranking? If they can’t rank for a few highly relevant and popular terms, then they’re probably not worth their salt.
  • If they’re a one man (or woman) show, you should not hire them. Yes, there are very smart search engine optimizers out there who work alone, but you run a business. You need to know that your provider is going to be around next year. Remember what I said above, SEO is a long term commitment.
  • Ask about their reporting. Ask to see the monthly report and analysis that the provider is going to give you. If it’s not a comprehensive SEO and traffic report, then they’re not being accountable. Just giving you an analytics login isn’t enough.
  • If an SEO firm guarantees placement, they are lying to you. Make sure they’re not selling you PPC. Lots of SEO firms will sell uneducated buyers SEO when they’re really delivering PPC. If you don’t know the difference, well, you can educate yourself on this blog.
  • Which leads me to my last point: Be an educated buyer. As a real estate agent, you shouldn’t learn all there is to know about SEO, just get enough education so that the thieves don’t take your money and provide nothing at all.

I’ll continue to add to this Snake Oil category as I find more of these fakers. Stay tuned.

Real Estate SEO, a great way to recruit and retain agents

Let’s break down some logic, shall we?

1. Real Estate Broker/owners are in the business of providing tools and services to their staff of real estate agents. The more productive agents a broker has working for him/her the more successful the company will be. The Broker/Owner’s client is the agent.

2. Therefore, Real Estate Broker/Owner’s main competition is other real estate office owners.

3. The Real Estate Broker/Owner will recruit and retain agents by giving them better tools and services than the competition and by helping his/her agents perform better (earn more money) by working with his/her company than with the competition.

So, if you want to retain and grow your staff of real estate agents, you have to out-provide the competition. You need to give your real estate agent customers better opportunities for success than the other agencies in the area.

Real Estate SEO is a perfect example of this.

First of all, if you employ good real estate seo, then you’ll achieve superior placement in the search engines for applicable terms. This high search engine ranking will bring visitors to your real estate office’s website and, assuming your site is a good one, will generate leads. These leads can then be distributed to your agents

Each lead is another opportunity that the broker/owner is providing to their agents. A well SEOed real estate website can generate thousands of leads per month. If you give each of your agents a portion of these leads and you give them the right tools to incubate these leads into buyer and seller clients, then you will be helping your agents succeed (make money). If this happens consistently, then you will retain your agents as they will know that the leads you are providing are bringing them business.

Next, search engine placement isn’t something that everyone can have. There are only so many terms and only 10 places on page 1. If you can achieve prominent search ranking for the right terms, then you’ll be getting a share of the online leads that others offices are not.

Put up a second site, invest in some additional real estate seo, and you’ll be taking a second share of the web leads. The search engine position that you achieve is yours and some other office cannot invest and gain the same advantage. No two sites can occupy the same spot in the search engine results. So, if you get to position #1 and maintain, you’ll have a competitive advantage in the recruiting market.

Lastly, when a real estate agent, new or experienced, goes looking for a job to to switch firms, where do you think they look? Yes, they search the web. Potential recruits will judge you based on your website and search engine placement. This is easy to understand, if you built the perfect search engine, wouldn’t you have the best real estate firm in town at the top of the results on page 1 for the search term “town name” real estate. I would.

Happy Holidays!

Social media, a “historical” perspective

Just to give you some perspective on what I’ve seen.

When I started in the online marketing biz 5 years ago, Friendster was all the rage. Lots of people were finding old friends and I even reconnected with one of my oldest friends. We’re still close today. Absolutely everyone was on Friendster. Still, no one talked about it as an online marketing media. Well, at least not to me. Pay Per Click was the big talk back then and SEO wasn’t really all that popular yet.
I think I got my linked-in account around this time. I also got accounts on inwyk.com (It’s Not What You Know) and orkut.com (google’s Friendster).

Then came MySpace. For a while there, Myspace was getting a million signups every Monday (that fact is from late 05 or early 06) and a few million more throughout the rest of the week. Myspace was the hot thing. These days, I hear a lot less about Myspace. Still, they have millions and millions of users and the music industry loves myspace. I think that myspace grew, in part, because you could customize the page extensively. Also, it offered free photo sharing at a time when other sites where charging or limiting your storage. At least, they were the first popular site providing this for free!

Social bookmarking sites…I think I learned about those next. Digg, Reddit, etc. I remember them really starting to have a measurable impact in 06. I knew they were around before that, but they hadn’t gained critical mass yet. These days there are hundreds of social bookmarking sites.

Along came Facebook. Facebook was moderately popular. Then they started letting folks write their own applications and opened the system to anyone, not just folks with a .edu email address. That’s when it exploded, they turned down a $1.6 B offer from Yahoo and that was a good decision since the site’s worth a whole lot more than that now, just a few years later. Still, I think the Facebook hype is calming down now. The users are very active, but it’s been around for a while and what’s hot is elsewhere.

All the while, Linked-In was around. Sometime in 07-08 they really kicked into gear. They now have over 30 million users and they’re making money. Since Linked-In is known as a professional networking website, rather than just social networking, they charge a LOT to post a job. As much as monster. So, they’re making money in a way that the other sites aren’t.

Twitter is all the rage as I type this. I heard a 70 year old guy talking about twitter a couple of months ago. He was a millionaire and he was eying twitter as the next big thing. I’ve yet to see real value from Twitter in my life. I’m a pretty connected guy and I’m still waiting to see the benefit. Rebecca, on the other had, thinks twitter is the best thing since sliced bread and has come up with a list of business benefits. Check out what she had to say about Twitter.

What’s next? Let us know what you think?

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