Real Estate SEO: 10 Steps You Need to Know in 2020
Reading time: 15 minutes
Do you have a reputable real estate agency that’s failing to turn up in Google searches?
It’s a common problem among both small and large agencies.
But it’s one that many are ignoring because much of the real estate within Google’s SERPs (search result pages) is dominated by the online marketplaces such as realestate.com.au.
Yes, this is a difficult landscape to crack but it’s not an impossible one with the right SEO strategy. And it’s one that will bring plenty of opportunities for your agency if you can crack it.
So, while other agencies are sitting on their hands content to keep pouring money into local print ads, you have an opportunity to engage and convert a growing audience that’s researching online for their next home.
Here are some SEO tips to help you do it.
1. Identify any immediate technical issues
Be aware that not all web designers understand the basics of SEO. Even a few mistakes during development could prevent you from appearing in search engines.
Here are a few of the big ones:
You have no www (or non-www) redirect in place
When people search for a web address in Google, they type one of two things:
www.yoursite.com.au or yoursite.com.au. It’s important that you have a preferred version and that the alternative redirects to it.
This ensures all traffic is going to the one version and ensures you’re building optimal authority in your website domain.
To test your domain, type both address versions into the search bar. If your site comes up at both URLs, Google thinks they are two separate pages. This dilutes your online authority and harms your search performance.
You have too many pages indexed by Google
Check how many pages of your site are indexed by Google by typing ‘site:www.yoursite.com.au’ into the search bar. If you have more pages than you would reasonably expect, then you may have a structural issue. Google may be indexing different versions of each page on your site. Again, this dilutes your authority and affects your search performance.
You’re blocking Google from crawling your site
When doing the index search described above, if you’re not seeing any results or seeing ‘A description for this result is not available because of this site’s robots.txt’, then you’re blocking Google from crawling your site.
Unfortunately, this is easy to do and happens more than it should. For example, if you’ve had your website built on WordPress, your developer may have forgotten to allow it to be crawled. It’s a simple matter of one checkbox.
To check this for yourself in your own WordPress site, head to Settings > Reading.
2. Get familiar with your analytics
Your site’s analytics tell you how your visitors find you, which pages they browse, and how long they spend on each page.
Interpreting this information will help you understand what your users want.
And if you continue to provide valuable information to your identified audience, they’ll spend more time on your site, return again and again, and you’ll rank higher in Google search results.
So, what are some of the things you should look for?
- Identify your most popular content and check if it has a high bounce rate.
- Check if mobile visitors browse your site differently to those using a desktop.
- Check page speed suggestions to understand which pages are loading too slow.
- Look at your return visitors.
- You should have ‘goals’ set up, which in their simplest form will be an online enquiry.
If it does, restructure it to encourage your users to click elsewhere on your site. This can be done simply by providing links to your other relevant pages.
For example, are there pages that mobile users leave quickly? Consider simplifying these pages to make it easier for people to find what they want.
Google Analytics will even show you what can be done to improve the speed of your site. (More information on speed is in Point 4 later in this article).
It’s beneficial to improve your number of repeat visitors. That’s because it’s a good sign that you’re providing value to searchers. Analyse what pages users come back to on your site. Can you get that content in front of the visitors who aren’t returning? And can you produce more of that type of content?
Segment and analyse those users that originated from organic Google search and made an enquiry. What page did they click through to? How well is that page ranking? If that ranking can be improved, you’ll get more quality traffic and more quality leads.
A key reason for configuring and understanding your Google Analytics information is to ensure that you’re measuring your SEO efforts.
3. Make sure your site is optimised for mobile visitors
This is another task you can understand from your analytics and it’s a big one for the real estate industry.
Research conducted by Zillow.com demonstrates the importance of having a mobile-optimised website.
“Eight in 10 (Millennials) use mobile devices or apps to help with the home-buying process.”
Whether you’re targeting Millennials or not, you need to optimise your mobile experience to give yourself every chance of converting your mobile visitors.
The experience you deliver will directly impact your ability to perform well in Google’s search results.
With the roll-out of Google’s long-awaited mobile-first indexing, it’s important to ask yourself whether you need to redevelop your agency’s website.
For example, should you develop a separate mobile website or build a responsive site that caters to all devices?
A responsive website adapts its pages to the device. It provides users with an optimal experience whether they’re accessing it from a desktop, tablet or mobile. Google recommends responsive web design.
However, real estate websites typically have a large amount of content and media that’s great to access on a desktop, but it can slow your user’s mobile experience.
So, you can make a case for a separate mobile website for real estate agent websites. That will help you to deliver the experience you want for your mobile audience. One downfall is that you’ll need to manage two separate websites, which comes with its own complications. And in terms of Google’s mobile-first indexing, it will likely mean that your desktop search results are based on your mobile website. That might cause your SEO team or agency some headaches.
4. Make sure your site is FAST
Yes, speed is a publicly declared factor in Google’s search algorithms. So, you need to know how fast your site is.
The first thing you need to do is understand how your website fares on both desktop and mobile.
Google has a couple of tools for you to use:
1) PageSpeed Insights
This tool will analyse your website, give you a score (out of 100) for both desktop and mobile, and give you some tips on improving your page speed.
2) Test your mobile speed and performance.
This test obviously focuses on your mobile experience. But more than just looking at your site, it will identify that your site is in the real estate industry and then benchmark you against other real estate sites. This data also identifies the expected visitor loss because of your site speed.
Did you know that 50% of users expect a site to load within two seconds, and will abandon it if it hasn’t loaded in three? (source)
What makes the situation even more difficult for the real estate agent is that you’re not just competing against other agents in search results, you’re competing against the online marketplaces such as zillow.com and realestate.com.au. These types of sites have significant budgets to ensure they’re faster than yours.
5. Don’t forget local SEO
The practice of local SEO refers to the unique tactics often involved with getting your real estate business ranking highly in searches with local intent.
These are the search results that feature the ‘local pack’ as demonstrated below.
It’s a powerful opportunity. Consider these numbers:
“The local pack appears in Google’s top spot in 93% of searches with local intent.” (source)
“76% of local searches result in a phone call.” (source)
“50% of consumers who conduct a local search on a smartphone visit the store within one day.”
So, let’s look at how you can work towards featuring in these local searches.
The five most prominent factors for ranking in the local pack include:
1) Google My Business Signals
2) Link Signals
3) On-Page Signals
4) Citation Signals
5) Review Signals.
Let me expand on each of these and give you some tips.
Optimise your Google My Business (GMB) listing
Complete your profile as much as you can and ensure that:
- Your listing is verified.
- Your business name, address and phone number all match what’s on your website.
- You select the most appropriate category (i.e. real estate agent).
- You add photos and trading hours.
But there’s a whole lot more you can do with your GMB listing, such as:
- Including holiday hours.
- Doing Google Posts.
- Including questions and answers.
- Adding a business description.
- Adding a virtual tour.
If you’re closed for an upcoming public holiday, add it to your listing and let people know from the search results.
This is a new feature that allows you to add a promotion to your knowledge graph. The knowledge graph is when you do a search for your business and it gives a summary on the right-hand side of search results. With Google Posts, you can add an image, description and a call to action, right there from the search result page. For example, you could promote a featured property. It seems Google is ramping things up with GMB.
Potential clients/customers can ask a question of you straight from Google. Keep an eye on your listing.
Google has also now released the option to add a brief description of your business.
This requires you to contact a Google Trusted Photographer to come out to your agency. The aim of the virtual tour is to give people searching Google the ability to tour your business place.
Improve your inbound linking
Link building has had a chequered past with dodgy SEOs praying on unsuspecting business owners and marketers. But links remain a key foundation of how Google measures value.
But not all links are made equal.
Links from high-authority, real estate-based websites will mean more to you than links from a blogger on the other side of the planet with little traffic and no real affinity to property.
For example, if you’re an agency in Geelong in Australia, then a link on the Geelong Advertiser or the Run Geelong websites would be great to demonstrate your position in the local community. A link on a builder’s website from Perth – not so good. You get the idea.
Improve your on-page SEO
This refers to the more typical on-page signals that your general SEO activities would focus on (such as keywords in titles and tags). But also important is ensuring that your name, address and phone (NAP) details are present and consistent with your GMB page.
If you have multiple branches, ideally you would have a page for each. Use your location in the URL, title tags and include the specific NAP on those pages. Include links to local affiliations too.
Build your local citations
Let’s first distinguish between citations and links. Citations don’t necessarily need to include a link to your site. What they do need to include is the mention of your NAP. And like I mentioned above, these need to be consistent. If you have listings or mentions of your agency on the web at a different address or with a different phone number, go and get them updated before you worry about building more citations.
Aim for both local and contextual citations. Here are a few opportunities:
- Add a listing to your local government’s business directory.
- If you have a local Chamber of Commerce, join it.
- Donate to local charity groups if you can get mentioned on their site.
- Subscribe to Haro or SourceBottle (Australia) and respond to journalists’ queries where applicable.
- Hold (or sponsor) a local event.
- Get mentioned by your local newspaper online (not just in the classifieds).
Every country will have a list of quality business directories to list in.
Build your reputation with online reviews
Reviews are a seriously important factor in your ability to not only get featured in local search, but also to increase the likelihood that a user clicks through to you and not your competitor.
6. Make getting reviews part of your process
“Two in three researched prospective agents extensively online prior to working with them.” (source)
While an agent’s reputation has always been a strong consideration for buyers, their access to agent reviews has become much easier recently with the success of websites such as ratemyagent.com.au.
But note that the customer journey involves several touchpoints. These might include realestate.com.au, ratemyagent.com.au, and any number of generic review platforms. So, try and get a spread of reviews across multiple sites, prioritising the most obvious and then those where you need a boost to stand out from the competition.
There’s a few key benefits of encouraging customer reviews:
- Publish them on your site and mark them up with Review Schema (more info in Point 8 later in this article) to improve your Google search results and increase your click-throughs.
- Get reviews on your Google My Business listing and you’ll be more likely to rank in Google’s ‘local pack’. That’s the search feature where you see a map and three results.
- Get reviews on Google and RateMyAgent and when someone searches Google for
your agency, they’ll see those reviews right there in Google’s ‘knowledge graph’.
There’s a wide gap between good and bad practices when it comes to getting online reviews.
But the first step is a very simple one. Start asking for them.
BrightLocal conducted a Local Consumer Review Survey and found:
“68% of consumers left a review after a local business asked them to”
Start by encouraging your customers to leave reviews on your Google My Business listing first. After all, that’s where most searches will begin.
7. Develop a content marketing strategy
Not every person will head straight to finding an agency to buy or sell.
In fact, MarketLeader studies found that the real estate buyer’s journey lasts 27 months.
This is important to note because they identify three key stages before the transaction:
2) Online research
3) Active search.
The latter is often the stage that agencies target with their marketing budgets, which is a shame because it is also the stage that is dominated by the online marketplaces.
The first two stages – consideration and online research – spans 23 of the 27 months. They are the opportunity stages that real estate agencies can optimise in search results.
This optimisation involves developing a content marketing strategy.
These are significant moments catered for the audience that is not ready to browse homes for sale.
For example, if a potential buyer hasn’t decided on a specific area, they might be researching long tail keywords such as:
– The top family-friendly suburbs in Melbourne.
– What suburbs provide the most value.
Or if they have decided on a specific suburb, they might be looking for information on:
– How they can get finance.
– Where all the local amenities are.
– Where public transport is.
Google’s consumer insights report ‘House Hunting Season: 6 Key Trends That Search Reveals’ identifies that your audience is more likely to be searching for child care.
“People searching about real estate listings are …. 4x more likely to search about finding child care.”
So, publishing valuable content about the local child care centres could be a great asset to your agency website.
If you execute your content strategy successfully, you can start to engage with potential home buyers long before they get to the active search stage and before your competitors start to target them with more expensive marketing and advertising tactics.
The objective, of course, is to be the first and the most helpful agency to engage with them. Then you need to nurture the relationship until they’re ready.
But even beyond that, this is the content that gets you social engagement, earns you links and helps to drive significant traffic to your website.
It’s worth noting that a recent study by IgniteVisibility found that users still prefer to see written content over video and images. In fact, their study found that 55.1% of people preferred written content in their search results.
Don’t forget to promote your content
Too often blog posts and content are published and that’s it. The business moves on to something else, expecting traffic to come and the leads to roll in.
But there’s a lot of content out there. You need to give your content a boost to get it in front of more eyeballs.
Make sure you share it on your own social media accounts and with your email database. Also get each of your agents to share posts on their individual profiles – but spread them out for maximum exposure.
You could also re-post your content on your Medium and LinkedIn profiles. Both are free.
Spend a small budget boosting it on Facebook is another strategy. It won’t cost an arm and a leg to promote it on Outbrain and StumbleUpon either. QuuuPromote is another great option.
8. Implement Schema Markup
A few years ago, the key search engines agreed to implement a markup language called Schema. This shared language improves the ability of search engines to understand your site’s pages, so it’s important to implement it on your own website.
In some instances, Google will display rich snippets in their search results. For example, extra links from your site such as team bios, event details and reviews. These rich snippets provide users with a better understanding of your business.
There are several Schema markups that a real estate agent can use, including:
- Local Business
Implement the markup language for your agents if you’re profiling them on your website.
Whether you have one or more office locations, implement your business contact info with Schema.
If you’re accumulating reviews on your website (and you should) make sure they’re marked-up with Schema.
9. Target featured snippets
You’ve seen them. Even if you didn’t realise what they’re called. Here’s an example.
This is a featured snippet appearing for the search term ‘how do i choose a real estate agent’. As you can imagine, it’s quite compelling in the search results and drives a ton of traffic for realestate.com.au.
“Featured snippets are almost twice as likely to be clicked over the first position on the search engine results page.” (source)
So, here’s what you need to know if you want to snag some featured snippets for your real estate agency.
- Google decides what it will show a featured snippet for. It, therefore, makes sense to aim to optimise for existing snippets (steal them from your competitors).
- Ahrefs performed a study of 2 million featured snippets and identified that 99.58% of them were from search results 1 – 10. So, you’ll need to get your relevant page ranking on the first page.
- Think about the search term and the user’s intent when using it. Aim to summarise their question and concisely provide the answer. While Google can pull the snippet from anywhere in a page, try to ensure you have a well-rounded and concise summary of the search placed high on your page.
- Look at the existing snippet. Aim to provide a similar format.
- Aim to get the search query into an h2 or h3 heading.
- Some experts believe that grammar is an influencing factor. So, proofread your content again.
- Know that if you’re targeting a snippet with an image, the image might be pulled from a different source than the copy. It seems that it’s best to use an image that has a 2:1 ratio (i.e. 1024px x 512px).
10. Get prepared for voice SEO
By now, there’s a good chance you either have a Google Home in your house or you know someone who has. Perhaps you’ve already started using your smartphone’s voice assistant?
When it comes to technology, it’s very hard to make definitive predictions but according to Comscore:
“50% of all searches will be voice searches by 2020.”
So, if this is to be even remotely true, you need to be prepared if you want or need traffic from search.
What can you do?
It’s still very early and while there are some consistent best practices being touted, I’d prefer to refer to Backlinko’s study of 10,000 voice search results. The study identified the following:
- Speed is super-important. The average page speed was 4.6 seconds.
- More than 70% of results came from a secure web page served over https.
- Short and concise answers are preferred. The average word length is just 29 words.
- Google appears to favour long-form content. The page source had an average of 2,312 words.
- 40.7% of all voice search answers came from a featured snippet.
This graphic from the Google Voice Search rater guidelines indicates Google’s preference for concise answers.
But voice search is not relevant to real estate is it?
Not at this very moment, no. But if 50% of all searches will be voice in 2020, then there’s going to be an opportunity. After all, browsing through hundreds of listings online can be cumbersome.
It’s not hard to imagine asking Google Home or Amazon’s Alexa for:
‘Property listings within 20km that have four bedrooms, two garage spaces, and a pool. That are priced between $600,000 to $800,000.’
The voice assistant could then ask you if you’d like the search results delivered to your email.
The underlying message for real estate agents wanting to get more traffic from search to generate more business is this – invest in improving your user experience. This includes your website, the content you offer, and in keeping abreast of how their journey evolves.
But beware, SEO is not as straightforward as it used to be. Succeeding will be a result of a business-wide approach, not just employing an SEO manager or digital marketing agency.
Quentin Aisbett is the strategist at OnQ Marketing. He has a specific focus on local and mobile SEO, content strategy, and marketing automation. Blogging all the time, tweeting even more so. Pick his brain on Clarity.fm.