real estate seoReal estate can be a complicated industry to market online. Having worked as the Marketing Coordinator for a real estate team (where I was also a Licensed Real Estate Salesperson and Realtor), I understand the idiosyncrasies of the field as well as the payoffs. What follows is an SEO guide for real estate agents and professionals, because I know how important it is to make informed marketing decisions and I want to help bridge the gap between agents and SEOs.

According to the National Association of Realtors, 90% of buyers start their real estate search online. SEO is vital to a successful online presence for both brokers and agents because higher rankings can translate into significant sales increases—especially when each transaction is in the $100,000s.

Challenges in Real Estate SEO

In most cases, real estate agents compete against one another, yet they are united as “team members” under a larger brokerage (like Remax or Century21). Individual agents rely on the combination of brand recognition of their parent brokerage, personal branding, and team branding to drive new business. Real estate agents will often target specific locations or regions, and try to differentiate their services based on certain needs or demographics, like first-time home buyers or elite homes.

Real estate brokerages have to manage and promote the individual agents while marketing the entire brand entity. They want their agents to differentiate themselves, be successful, and bring in a lot of business. But the brokerages also need to maintain ownership of a cohesive, united brand. The goals can sometimes be in direct opposition of one another.

As you can see, real estate SEO becomes very complex due to the very nature of the industry. Additionally, real estate websites can be large and complex due to the high level of functionality and searchability that is needed to appeal to users. This is especially the case with larger brokerage sites because they usually highlight multiple areas and regions, and use space on their site to promote all of their individual agents. Websites are further complicated by the fact that many Multiple Listing Service (MLS IDX) solutions are designed without search engine optimization in mind.

To add more challenges, keyword competition in real estate is extremely high as brokerages and their individual agents are all competing for the same targeted keywords (usually “location + real estate” or “location + homes for sale”). In the midst of this high competition, many SEO scammers prey on unsuspecting agents, offering expensive monthly programs that promise high rankings for obscure keywords that won’t drive any sales.

Given that real estate SEO can be so difficult, I recommend that brokerages and large real estate teams hire experienced SEO consultants to design and implement a comprehensive SEO strategy. From what I have seen, many firms rely on the expertise of their IT departments for SEO advice. While many IT professionals have a working knowledge of standard SEO techniques, they are not always able to spot key site structure or content issues that will affect rankings.

What to Look for in a Real Estate SEO Strategy

A well-informed real estate SEO strategy should take into account the following:

  • Local SEO and geo-targeting
  • Proper URL structure
  • Site performance and usability
  • Hyper-local, optimized content creation
  • Advanced keyword research
  • Social media
  • Link building

A solid SEO strategy should also help to answer the following difficult questions:

  • How do you choose a search engine-friendly MLS IDX solution?
  • How is Google indexing listing content, and is it optimized?
  • What content will attract the right clients?
  • How do agents and brokerages pinpoint which keywords to target?

The following guide is not exhaustive. I will not get into standard techniques for local SEO or link building. Instead, I have outlined tips and techniques that target common problems I see with real estate websites, on both the technical side and the content side.

Technical

Choose the right IDX. Several IDX solutions out there allow you to integrate the MLS with your site, both to make your website more robust and attract buyers. However, many IDX solutions are not developed with SEO in mind. Common problems that I see in many IDX solutions:

  • The IDX is embedded with an iFrame (which search engines generally can’t index)
Code showing iframe
  • The IDX generates messy URLs that lack any keyword targeting or cohesive structure
long search URL string
  • The IDX creates thousands of pages of duplicate or junk content in the index through the creation of search pages
duplicate content in search

The solution to this is to be very discerning when evaluating your options for IDX providers. Test the solutions yourself, and ask to see other active websites that are currently using that solution. Have customers, neighbors, friends, or family try the IDX themselves, and make sure they enjoy the user experience. Ideally, the IDX should be:

  • Customizable in terms of both visual branding and URL output
  • Integrated, so the listing pages your IDX creates on your site can actually be indexed
  • Fast and responsive. Don’t choose an IDX that will drastically slow down your site or provide a poor user experience. High site-load time can increase your bounce rate and affect your rankings.
  • Prevent dynamically generated search pages from being indexed

Make the URL structure as clean and optimized as possible. In an ideal world, a real estate website’s URL structure would look something like this:

Home: http://highconversionsearchterm.com/
Search: http://highconversionsearchterm.com/search/
City category pages: http://highconversionsearchterm.com/city/
Listing pages: http://highconversionsearchterm.com/city/streetname-housenumber/

However, we recognize this is usually not possible. The goal is to get as close to this as you can, without damaging the integrity of the site. Work with your developer or IT team and see what the options are through the IDX and your site’s content management system (CMS). If URL structure can’t be managed through the CMS platform itself, they may be able to use 301 redirect rules to create more optimized URLs. Having clean URLs that incorporate target keywords can help the search engines better understand the nature of each page.

Avoid excessive use of subdomains. Where directories are treated as part of the main site, subdomains act as their own entity. This means that any backlinks built to the individual subdomains will not be attributed to the main site, splitting overall link value and limiting the ranking power of the main site. Common subdomain situations I see which should be avoided if possible:

  • CityName.website.com/
  • AgentName.brokersite.com/
  • Blog.website.com/
  • Search.website.com/

Control the content that is indexed. IDX solutions often create new search pages every time someone searches for a home. Sometimes, this can’t be controlled through the IDX or the CMS. If not controlled, these pages can end up in the index, bloating the amount of information the search engines are crawling and creating a pool of duplicate content.

Using your robots.txt file, you can target the URL modifier that appears in search pages and keep them from being indexed.

For example, if your search page URLs look like this:

http://www.example.com/property/property-list.asp?VAR_SearchType=openhouse&VAR_MapStatus=LISTMAP&PRM_MLSName=rochesterny

You can block these pages from being indexed by including the following syntax in your robots.txt file:

Noindex: /property/*?VAR_SearchType=*

Content

Do keyword research for long-tail terms. Because competition is so high for the biggest target keywords in the industry, doing your homework and developing a solid long-tail keyword strategy will help your website be more effective. As an individual real estate agent or small firm, the truth is, you may never be able to break into the top ten for “Albany Homes For Sale” because you are competing with large main brokerage sites and other key real estate websites like Homes.com, Zillow, Trulia, and Realtor.com.

However, if you can successfully target some of the longer-tail keywords (which have lower competition) that are still popular locally and have a high conversion rate, you can create a website that brings in a lot of sales.

For some great guides on how to conduct thorough keyword research, check out the following sources:
The Professional’s Keyword Research Guide
A Comprehensive Guide to Keyword Research
Where to Kickoff Your Keyword Research

Creating high quality, hyper-local content. After you have performed thorough keyword research and decided on some great keywords, develop content that targets those keywords. Some things to keep in mind:

  • Try to target each keyword on a single page. For example, if you are targeting both buyers and sellers, create one page for buyers, and another for sellers. This helps search engines better understand the focus of your content.
  • Be consistent. I know how busy real estate agents are. I was one, and I worked in one of the largest real estate offices in the area. However, consistent content creationkeeps your website fresh and relevant, encouraging the search engines to crawl your site more often while also fostering your community. If you don’t have time to write your own content, hire freelance writers to take some of the work off your plate. Some of them may even have a real estate background. I would also suggest looking for someone locally because they will be more familiar with the housing stock and real estate market in your area. Be picky.
  • Write about things people care about. So many real estate blogs are nothing but posts showing the newest house on the market. Please don’t do that – that’s what the MLS is for. Instead, put yourself in the mind of potential buyers and sellers. What are they looking for? What questions might they be asking? Some content ideas you might want to write about:
    • Local events worth going to (with pictures)
    • New neighborhoods, complexes, or communities being built
    • Stories of community or neighborhood revival
    • Programs or home-buying assistance grants available in your area
    • The beauty of the local architecture (with pictures)
    • New businesses that might be opening up and bringing new jobs to the area
    • Tips for staging or increasing curb appeal (As all agents know, HGTV lies!)
    • Home-related products that might help to make people’s lives easier

Be Mindful of the Realtor Code of Ethics. Some friendly reminders, on behalf of Realtor.org in regard to all of your website content:

Standard of Practice 12-8:

“REALTORS® shall use reasonable efforts to ensure that information on their websites is current. When it becomes apparent that information on a REALTOR®’s website is no longer current or accurate, REALTORS® shall promptly take corrective action.”

Standard of Practice 12-9:

“Websites of REALTORS® and non-member licensees affiliated with a REALTOR®firm shall disclose the firm’s name and that REALTOR®’s or non-member licensee’s state(s) of licensure in a reasonable and readily apparent manner. “

Standard of Practice 12-10:

“REALTORS®’ obligation to present a true picture in their advertising and representations to the public includes the URLs and domain names they use, and prohibits REALTORS® from:
deceptively using metatags, keywords or other devices/methods to direct, drive, or divert Internet traffic, or to otherwise mislead consumers.”

How to Spot SEO Scams

SEO gets a bad reputation due to the host of scams and SEO con artists out there. As mentioned above, real estate is a prime industry for these firms to target because many real estate agents are not well-versed in SEO, but they know they need to drive sales through their website. The unfortunate result is that many agents and firms get burned, and they lose faith in the entire field of SEO.

Below is a list of what I would consider warning flags when it comes to choosing an SEO company. While there are exceptions to these rules, in general, I have found these to be true.

Avoid SEOs that:

  • promise certain rankings. No SEO worth his/her salt will ever guarantee rankings, because of the ever-changing nature of search engines.
  • cold call you or e-mail without knowing anything about your business. Here’s the truth: Most high-quality SEO firms don’t have to look for business. The business comes to them. So, if you have someone cold-calling you on a Tuesday afternoon, be wary.
  • define keywords for you, without knowing your business. If someone tells you they can get you ranking #1 for “local realty houses to purchase” or something similar, run away. Keywords like that are junk, and you can almost guarantee they won’t convert. A good SEO company will do specific keyword research for your firm to meet the needs of your unique audience.

Conclusion

As you can see, real estate SEO can be tricky business. If you want to tackle SEO for yourself or your own team, I suggest doing a lot of research before getting started, and following some of the suggestions outlined above. If you don’t feel you have the time or the expertise to create and implement a thorough SEO strategy, you may want to invest in hiring an experienced and trustworthy SEO to help guide you and implement the work. SEO can definitely be an incredibly worthwhile investment, just be sure to avoid the common SEO traps and scams out there.


About the Author

Emily Cote

Emily Cote is an Internet Marketing Consultant and the Community Manager at Outspoken Media. Connect with Emily on Google+.


18 thoughts on “Guide to Real Estate SEO


  • ashok sharma on said:

    Hi,
    Thanks for sharing this information. Can you please let me how we can do this:
    I have some dynamic pages:

    1. http://www.abc.com/fabrics.html?view=step1&category_id=&type=&pid=907

    2. http://www.abc.com/index.php?option=com_virtuemart&page=shop.pdf_output&showpage=shop.product_details&pop=1&output=pdf&product_id=34&category_id=1&pop=1&vmcchk=1&Itemid=2

    3. http://www.abc.com/component/displayreference/?view=ref_no

    I want to that these type of pages not showing in search results.

    Should i use the following code in robots.txt:

    User-agent: *
    Noindex: /*?view=*
    Noindex:/index.php/*? option=*
    Noindex: /component /*?view=*

    Please let me know about this.

    Thanks .


    • Emily Cote on said:

      Ashok,

      The first solution you proposed looks effective, but the other ones have a couple issues. One of my favorite resources for robots.txt questions is http://sebastians-pamphlets.com/. I would also encourage you to check out the post Rhea did recently on getting to know your robots.txt. If you are looking for a consultant to help you manage and properly structure your robots.txt, please contact us and we can help you or refer you to someone we trust and respect. :) Thanks so much for your comment!


  • Hadi on said:

    Interesting post, but I wonder whether this is as relevant to UK based estate agents as it is to US realtors.

    In the UK, Rightmove and Zoopla have pretty much cornered the market in property sales.

    Anyone looking to buy a house over here simply searches on these sites rather than using Google which pretty much renders SEO obsolete.

    As long as an estate agent ranks for their own name (so that people looking for a their phone number or email address can find it) that’s pretty much good enough.

    The advice here does work for similar industries not catered for by aggregators like rightmove however – so thanks for sharing!


    • Emily Cote on said:

      Hadi,

      Unfortunately, I am not familiar with real estate in the UK. In the US, Trulia and Zillow are very popular ways of searching real estate in our area, and they usually come up in the top 3 in the SERPs. For this reason, we did engage in an advertising program for each, and it did help to drive leads. I should note, however, that we discovered many people searching on 3rd party sites were just beginning their real estate search. As they figured out what specific neighborhoods they were looking for, they would start running more long-tail searches in the search engines to narrow their focus. There was a better conversion rate with those clients, because they had done most of the necessary research and they were ready to start seeing specific properties – which is why I am such an advocate of targeting more long-tail keywords in real estate. :) Thank you so much for your insight and for reading!


  • Felipe Bazon on said:

    This guide couldn´t come at a better timing. We´ve had an avalanche of real state and building companies contacting us for SEO services and we´ve already audited some sites which are prospering. But I did find some useful tips that can be implemented on future projects.

    Does anyone know where I can find more info on IDX Solutions to generate automated URLs.


    • Emily Cote on said:

      Felipe,

      I am glad that you found this blog helpful. I am not familiar with a good resource that explains how to control automated URLs through the IDX. I was lucky enough to have worked with a good developer who was able to manipulate the IDX with the help of the IDX’s support team. If you are shopping around for solutions, I would have an honest conversation with the sales and support team of each and ask them what is possible. Explain what your goals are and see how willing they are to help you customize and modify it. :) Each IDX is a little unique. Best of luck, and thanks again for reading!


  • Zoe on said:

    This was very helpful indeed! Hope you could share more advice/guide on real estate seo content marketing :)


    • Emily Cote on said:

      Zoe,

      I am glad you enjoyed it! Perhaps real estate content marketing is a topic I can cover in the future :) Thanks for reading and thank you for your suggestion!


  • Ryan Nelson on said:

    I really enjoyed reading this post, I have a real estate business and these tips are very useful when it comes to trying to find the right content to post and how to make your site as simple as possible. Thank you for the great post, I will definitely take note of what I have learned here!


  • Shane Powers on said:

    Emily,

    Very useful article. I’ve been working with a couple of real estate companies on seo and search marketing. You raise a number of good points (some of which I had to learn the hard way). Keep up the good work.


  • Paul on said:

    I do not think the type of industry matters. I am also into realty but even if I do SEO, the challenge is how to drive more traffic to my site.


    • Bharat Patel on said:

      I do feel traffic is important but for me the quality of traffic really matters.
      By the way have you found success in the Real estate niche, i really found tough competition.


  • Kent on said:

    Geo-targeting is the most important in doing real estate SEO, unless your property is looking for foreign investors.


  • Todd on said:

    Excellent article Emily. Real estate marketing is a highly competitive area and realtors will appreciate the information you have researched.

    Can you shed some light on the role of rel=’canonical’ in real estate websites?


  • David Horne on said:

    I’m an experienced SEO and I highly recommend this post it touches on all the key factors that are most important for Real Estate SEO.

    I would also add that you can create a real estate website leveraging wordpress and a real estate them that would rival the quality and functionality of most of the real estate specific platforms out there.

    I actually recommend this implementation because of the built in SEO thinking around duplicate content and search indexing.

    Also I would add a greater emphasis on Google Local Listings this can be a fantastic way to jump on to the first page of the search results with little SEO investment while your trying to build up and deploy your overall SEO strategy (if your area is not hyper-competitive).

    Great Post!


  • Allison Baerin on said:

    On the agent level, I think it would be beneficial to work on strong personal branding as well. Many people ask friends fi they can recommend a Realtor. If all the person looking for that Realtor has is their name, making sure that they can find the Realtor by name feels pretty important at that point.

    Thoughts?


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