Nov 102014
 

This article focuses on changes in search engine marketing for REALTORS and the real estate industry but the information given here applies to any business.

The days of optimizing a website for search engine positions by adjusting things like meta tags, keyword density ratios and headers have been over for quite a while now. Search engines like Google now analyze more than website code, visible text, and links when deciding how to rank a website especially when the keywords being searched are competitive commercial keywords which includes everything related to real estate.

If you are not fully aware of the changes Google has made you may want to read a couple of the recent articles here to get up to speed.

How To Build Your Brand To Improve Search Engine Positions
The State Of Real Estate Web Promotion In 2014

Search engines have decided that it is better to show a searcher a real business – a real brand – rather than a web page that can’t be connected to a real business regardless of how well optimized and linked that page may be.

How do search engines determine whether a business is real? There has to be some evidence that the business is a known brand and that people arrive at the page in ways other than the page being found in search engines. Search engines want to know that search engine traffic is only one way people find a website and not the major way.

A real business also has to have a presence and/or following in the searcher’s local area. When you type a search into Google it knows exactly where you are. When your search is commercial in nature they attempt to first show you results that they know for sure are actually located near you and second show you results where they have evidence that the sites they are showing you in the search results do real business in the area.

This presence and following is your branding. To increase your search engine ranking and results what needs to be done is the strengthening of your brand.

How does one go about showing search engines that the business is a known brand and the site receives traffic from the searcher’s geographic location?

Take a look at the results for any “mycity real estate search” and you find it is dominated by sites like Zillow and Trulia followed by national brokerages and large local brokerages. All of these receive most of their actual traffic from sources other than search engines even though they rank at the top of search engine results.

They receive this traffic because of the strengthening of their brand that they do through offline and online promotion. Zillow’s recent financial report states “The majority of our traffic comes direct, not dependant on search engines. With demonstrated consumer intent to visit the Zillow brand.”

To strengthen your website’s brand for better search engine traffic and results you need to increase the traffic the site receives from local people who arrive at your site from sources other than search engines.

One way to do this is obvious. Just like Zillow, you would make sure to increase your offline advertising and promotion making sure to include your web address with a call-to-action to encourage visits to your website. The address bar on most browsers double as a search box for Google. When someone types your web address directly into a browser address bar Google is aware of this and it is noted as traffic that came to you directly from a person in your geographic market area. Google now has greater confidence that you actually have a real brand and presence in the area you say you do business in. You have strengthened your brand in Google’s eyes and made them more confident that you deserve placement in search results.

In addition to increasing your offline promotion you can also increase your online promotion to build your brand. Developing good links pointing to your website from other websites that Google is aware are expressly about your market area builds your brand as a real business servicing the local area.

We are talking about branded content marketing. These links can come from directory pages that are about your market area, blog posts that are about your market area, and other websites that are about your market area. The page on which your link resides should have content about your geographic market area and ideally should be focused on themes related to real estate.

There are a few good Realtor Directories around and as long as the page on which your link will reside is actually included in Google you will receive benefit. Ideally you will want links that have not been given the “no follow” attribute since that is a sign of editorial approval. EpoweredProfessionals.com is one such directory that you should list yourself in.

Finding other real estate websites that will provide you branded content marketing is a little harder. Setting up a bunch of websites on your own may seem like a solution but search engines have access to registrar records and can ascertain the all the sites are owned by you and/or are hosted on the same server. They will then choose to ignore all your hard work and depending on how vigorous your strategy they may choose to penalize your main website.

You need to find websites other than your own for branded content marketing. One solution you should consider is from RNC Internet Services who has been providing branded content marketing solutions for a long time – from before anyone knew what it was or why it was a good thing. Some of the websites on which you would appear are a decade or more old and search engines have known and trusted them for a long time. This allows your branded content and link to be quickly included so you realize the benefits faster.

By showing search engines your website doesn’t really need them very much they then want your website in the search results more than they did before. The side benefit to strengthening your brand to help your search engine positions is that you then receive more business from sources other than search engines too. You have to like that!

May 082014
 

If you are a regular reader you already know that there have been big changes in the past year in how search engines rank commercial websites, including real estate websites. Recent articles here have outlined what the changes have been and in case you missed them you may want to read The State Of Real Estate Web Promotion In 2014 and The State of SEO for Websites in 2013 and 2014.

Those articles mention how Google now favors the big national listing aggregators and larger Broker sites for the most popular ‘money’ keywords such like “mycity real estate”. These larger sites are “brands.” Last year Google began favouring “brands” in their results. Brands are more trusted and must be a better result to put in the serps according to Google.

This article delves deeper into what a “brand” is in the eyes of search engines and how you can strengthen your own brand and thereby improve your search engine rankings.

For Realtors’ websites it is pretty hard/impossible to compete with the big brands if you are in a mid-sized to larger market area. If you are a Broker in a small market area and your personal site and company site are one and the same then Google often recognizes you as a Brand and you can place well.

I have seen agents in some mid-sized market areas place well by making it look like their website is the actual company/office site (when the office itself is of sufficient size and does not have its own effective presence). Locals who search for the office in Google end up at the agent’s site and this just reinforces the agent is the company brand in the eyes of Google.

Over the years it had become possible for agents to shift large portions of their marketing to the internet and rely almost exclusively on the internet and in particular search engines for their business. You would think concentrating on internet marketing would be just what one needed to do in order to be considered a “brand” by search engines, right? As it turned out, internet marketing alone does not make for a successful internet presence.

Real estate is local. A “brand” has to be well known in the local community being served in order to be worthy of consideration for better search engine placement. Links to your site located on pages that are focused on your local area is one way of building a brand that is connected to the market served. Having links to your site from well regarded directories that target your local market area would be one way of doing that. Having links from other websites and blogs that focus on your area would be another way. The Page Rank that your website has should come from links on pages that are about the area you serve.

Some of these local websites and blogs that link to your primary website could also be your own. For example, if you have a blog or other websites located on different domains than your primary website some carefully placed links would be helping to build your “brand”. That is where Multi Site Branded Content Marketing Package can be helpful.

For a Realtor to be considered a “brand” there also needs to be evidence that the local community considers the Realtor to be a brand. Remember, Google knows where pretty much every searcher is located. People from your local community have to searching specifically for you – you are your “brand”.

Keep in mind that the address bar in browsers now double as a search bar. When someone located in your market area has a good old fashioned “just sold” card in their hands and is typing your website url into their browser’s address bar it actually is seen by Google as a search. Not only that, it is a search of the best kind! This is a search specifically for you from someone located in the area where you want to build your “brand”.

To build your brand and thereby improve your search engine positions you need to do what Realtors used to do – send stuff out and advertise in your local market area making sure your website’s url is included so local people can find your website by typing in your url. You need to step up your conventional marketing to support your internet marketing.

This is especially critical in this smartphone era where people have a mini computer with them wherever they go. They can type your url into their mobile browser while they are right in front of your ad on the billboard, poster, bus bench, flyer, newspaper ad etc. Every local person who types in your url provides evidence that the local community considers you to be a “brand” and helps to raise your search engine profile.

In summary, nowadays linking is still important but you need to concentrate on acquiring links from pages where the content refers to your market area or at least your state or province. The days of just acquiring links from everywhere and anywhere are gone. Also, just having your name or website mentioned in articles, blogs, and websites about your market area can help to build your brand even if it is not linked (or if the link is no follow).

Conventional marketing methods may be more important than they have ever been. Your conventional marketing will build your brand in your market area the same as always but now also on the internet in search engines. Aside from generating phone calls, your conventional marketing will generate search engine searches and traffic and be helping to build your online search engine presence.

Ranking in search engines now depends on the strength of your brand and you can use these tips to build that strength!

 

Mar 252014
 

Even with all of the recent search engine changes ranking is still all about links and finding beneficial links is harder than ever. Most of the sources of links we have all relied on in the past are now “no follow” which means they do not help your search engine positions.

On top of that, misinformation abounds which scares agents and webmasters away from some sources of links that are among the most beneficial. One of these sources is directories. It is true that the vast majority of directories are worthless for helping your SEO and in some cases can be hurtful. That doesn’t mean all directories are bad though.

Google has recently said that niche directories are one of the best places to have your site listed in.

How can you tell which niche directories are of value? It can take a lot of knowledge and time to properly assess all of the factors and since most just can’t do this we have done it for you!

Since this blog is about helping Realtors with their online promotion that is the type of directory this article is concentrating on.

One of the best places you can be listed in is the Epowered Professionals Real Estate Agent Directory. Because this directory is manually curated it can still offer you a “DO follow” link which will be beneficial in helping with your search engine promotion. The actual pages your listing /link resides on has actual Google Page Rank (currently PR 2 ) which means that these pages are recognized as being a valuable resource by search engines.

The site itself ranks well for many real estate related keywords and  being listed  can send targeted visitors to your website which in itself can generate real business for you. In addition, being listed can provide significant  benefit in providing a valuable link back to your website which can help increase your website’s position in search engine results resulting in even more business for you!

You can be added to the directory by following the instructions here.

 

 

Jan 212014
 

It was bound to happen. With the pressure to monetize coming from investors Facebook has chosen to eliminate a popular form free promotion used by Realtors. The vast majority of posts made on Facebook pages will no longer appear in your followers timeline. That means it is now a waste of time trying to get people to “like” your Facebook page and a waste of time posting anything on it. In other words, having a Facebook page is now a waste of time.

Unless you want to pay to to promote your posts that is. I would argue that there is a better use for promotional dollars than that – such as your spending the money on your own website and its promotion.

Meanwhile, with Google and now Facebook gone from consideration as free promotion options for Realtors, there are still other free ways to promote yourself such as Twitter, YouTube, Instagram, Bing, etc.

Nov 272013
 

The last year in particular has seen a major shift in the online landscape. Google has morphed from being everyone’s favourite search engine to one that is geared towards smartphone use. For the competitive commercial keywords Realtors target, their results now look more like a telephone directory rather than a search engine. Once a searcher drills down past the ads and phone listings initially presented to them, the major listing aggregators and listings pages of large brokerages follow. The days of individual Realtors ranking in Google for “my city real estate” are over.

The reasons for this are clear. People do not use computers in the same way they did in the past. The peak time of day for web browsing using laptops and computers is noon. Browsing using tablets and smartphones now rule after business hours. Currently web browsing volume is split down the middle between computers and tablets/smartphones and the share by tablets and smartphones is growing. Google saw an opportunity to dominate the mobile space and has taken it.

Where does this leave Realtors? If you are one of those that strives to obtain most of your business from the web you are probably noticing your total business is greatly affected and really feeling the pain. If you have been reading this blog for any length of time the chances are that your business comes from more varied sources and you are not feeling the pain so much. You are also probably more likely to appreciate that some business coming from the web is still good and that there are things that can be done to increase that business.

The last few years there had been a major push (by IDX providers) for Realtors to spend large sums of money integrating IDX listings systems into their websites. The promise was that this would allow them to dominate the search engine results and increase their leads. If you are not familiar with IDX listings, they are a listings sharing system that is basically a way for Realtors who do not have listings to maybe scoop some buyers from those who do.

This idea of the expensive integrated IDX systems being beneficial for search engine placement and lead generation was always dubious. If that is your prime online marketing strategy today you may find you get similar results by just burning your money. The odds of your IDX feed being the one a home searcher clicks on were always extremely small and now even more so with Google’s tilt towards the large aggregators.

The other search engines such as Bing, Yahoo, and DuckDuckGo still work much the same as they always did and if you were ranking well in them in the past for those high traffic competitive commercial keywords chances are that you still do unless you made major changes to your website in attempts to appease Google. The other engines will still send you traffic but fail to make up that big chunk that Google used to send for those high traffic keywords.

For Realtors, online promotion may actually have taken a step back to the way things used to be where traffic came from a number of different search engines plus from one’s own promotion by conventional advertising. Relying on a single source, Google, was never a good idea and getting back to the basics is probably a good thing.

There still is traffic coming from Google, just not as much as in the past since the placement for high traffic keywords has been handed to the big companies. Google still sends traffic for a large variety of long tail keywords. If you want to increase the traffic search engines send to your website(s) and thereby increase your leads, the way to do that is not to spend a fortune on an expensive integrated IDX. The way to increase traffic and leads is to increase the content about your market area that you make available on the web which thereby increases the numbers of long tail keywords you will be found for. The quickest and easiest way to increase that market area content and to speed up placement for those long tail keywords is to use a search engine friendly WordPress Blog.

Further to the consumer shift to mobile devices, one needs to keep in mind that in the mobile space there are at least two distinct devices and they are used differently for the most part. People use their smartphones took look things up. IBM’s data from Black Friday confirms that this has not changed.

Browsing the web using smartphones with their small screens is not really such a pleasing experience. Users tend to look things up rather than surf. That is where Google’s focus on mobile is really geared and why they have become more of a click-to-call phone directory than a search engine.

How do potential real estate prospects use their smartphone? They are probably not typing in keywords and doing searches as they would on their computer. More likely they see your name on a sign or in an ad and search for that. If you have any web presence at all they are guaranteed to find you. It could be your own website or they find a listing for you in a directory etc. When they do find you they will probably phone you or your office rather than email or fill in a form. If you do get a lead you would never know it came from your website or your online marketing. If it is your office phone number they dial rather than your direct line you may never receive a lead at all.

Prospects using smartphones would also be searching for properties by address or the listing numbers they find as they see signs and advertisements. Once again, these leads will go through the large listing aggregators and not you as I wrote above.

It probably is not worth obsessing over marketing yourself to smartphone users.

Tablet users are different though. Tablets are like computers only portable. Where in the past people would sit for an hour or two in front of the family computer in the evening they now surf the web from a variety of different locations using their tablet. They sit watching TV with their tablet in hand looking up the performers, shows, and search for more information about subjects they are seeing on TV. They may not often be searching for real estate while doing this but there are other opportunities for them to do this using their tablets. The good news is that as long as your real estate website displays well in tablets you can pretty much think of them as much the same as your laptop or computer. People will email and fill in forms on your website when using their tablet device.

To sum up how Realtors should view web promotion in 2014, think of it as it was in the early days of the internet. Gone are the glut of visitors from one source and we are back to the days of targeting all of the search engines rather than just one. Prospects are generated from a wider variety of keywords and not just a few. Because of this database marketing is not such a good idea. Going back to personally following up with these internet leads will work better.

Your web presence is no longer so much of a “set it and forget it” thing. You do have to be willing to do a few things such as the personal following up of leads, promoting your website in places other than online search engines, and you should be willing to write the occasional blog post about one of your market areas. You also need to recognize that maintaining a good online presence is a necessity but should not be counted on for the largest share of your overall business.

Our web promotion system for Realtors includes multiple search engine friendly websites plus a WordPress blog all for a reasonable cost. Everything you need to effectively market yourself online is included!

Sep 192013
 

A year ago in the post about the state of real estate SEO in 2012 I wrote  “when you study the most popular real estate keywords like “my city real estate”, in larger market areas (and even in some that are not so large),  it may be next to impossible for an individual agent site to rank in the top 10. Google has tweaked their algo so the large national listing aggregators are favoured which means Trulia, Zillow, and Realtor.com will be there for sure. Remember that earlier I mentioned how Google’s ad revenue was soaring? All 3 display their ads – surprise!”

Over the past year Google has refined this and it is indisputable that as far as Google is concerned, real estate is all about “listings” now. Google has essentially made the decision that it  does not want individual Realtor websites to rank well for the popular “money” keywords like “city real estate”. For the vast majority of competitive markets the top results are all Trulia, Zillow, Realtor.com, etc. and the benefit for Google in doing this is that most or all of the sites display Google ads.  Where it used to be possible with a bit of SEO to rank sites in the top 10 of Google for these high traffic keywords, the big listing aggregators and maybe a few big Broker sites that have listing searches on their pages are given preference. If an individual agent site appears it is more by accident than by design.

These issues are not specific to the real estate industry. Google is no longer really a “search” engine. It is more of an “advertising” engine.

Several years ago when Google first began to display ads on the site they went to great pains to differentiate between the actual organic search results  and ads. The ads were placed way over on the right side of the page and if you had the browser window wide open there would be several inches of white space between the real results and the ads. Not anymore. Those ads are now squished right up against the organic results. In addition more ads are placed on top of the actual results and below that are often “local results” which is like the yellow pages phone directory of old. Since one needs an actual physical property address to be listed, the “local results” may include the company you work for but not the individual Realtors.

All of this is presented to searchers before the pages you may have worked so hard to optimize to rank well. Then, Google gives preference in the rankings to big “brands” assuming that is what searchers really want. For real estate, that is where Zillow, Trulia, Realtor.com, etc. are given their ranking boost. Having top rankings in Google now really can mean being somewhere on page 2.

If your own website is large enough, Google may indeed think of it as worthy of being a “brand” too. Unfortunately this ends up hurting you more than helping as with “brands” Google rewrites the page titles for the search results and those carefully crafted keyword rich titles are rewritten and keywords are replaced by your “brand”. Search positions plummet as a result.

Google isn’t done yet as it still has more tricks up its sleeve. Personalized search results are presented based on your previous viewing habits (or those of others that also use the computer). Essentially people all see different search results.

Back in 1999, when Google was still new,  I presented in my newsletter the results of my study about traffic volumes from search engines. They were:

1) AltaVista

2)Inktomi (included MSN Search, Yahoo, HotBot)

3)Excite

4)Infoseek / Go.com

5) GoTo.com

6)Lycos

7) Google

As you can see, there were many sources of search engine traffic back then and Google was pretty insignificant. That changed to the point where for the longest time there was really only one search engine worth worrying about  – Google – which we all became dependent on for traffic.

Now that is being taken away from us. Luckily Bing / Yahoo is providing some decent traffic and conventional SEO still works there. With that in mind, the new normal is that we should NOT be cannibalizing our websites and deleting links to appease Google as this just hurts rankings in Bing / Yahoo. We should really just forget about Google rankings being the benchmark for internet marketing success.

We have been here before. In 1999 I also wrote “It is now more important than ever to not just rely on search engines as a way for visitors to find your site. AltaVista just crashed a few days ago,and is in an utter state of confusion. In the last six months, HotBot, Lycos, Infoseek, and Excite have all had problems that have gone on for months at times. This means that the predictability is gone, and those who do a good job of promoting their sites online and offline will attract the most visitors.”

The same advice applies today. Reliance on Google alone was never a good idea. Relying on the internet for a large portion of your business was never a good idea either. In the early days of the internet I often wrote that 30% of business coming from the web would be a great number to perhaps strive for and to not neglect other sources. In those days the WWW was new and prospective clients were excited to make it work for them. Now real estate on the web it is more of a “mature” industry and taken for granted. Now that number should be revised downwards and perhaps even cut in half. The nature of leads from websites has changed. Prospective buyers and sellers are just as likely to phone after seeing something on the net rather than use email or fill in forms.

Having a good web presence is still extremely important but Realtors who have been in the game for a long time need to realize that things have changed and adjust expectations accordingly.

Sep 112013
 

Some of you may be aware that Google treats real estate and especially individual Realtor websites differently now than it did a year ago.

With that in mind we have transitioned http://www.results-net.com into a Directory Of Real Estate Searches to help Realtors increase the search engine rankings of their IDX searches to help adjust to the Google changes.

As far as Google is concerned, real estate is all about “listings” now. Google has essentially made the decision that it  does not want individual Realtor websites to rank well for the popular “money” keywords like “city real estate”. For the vast majority of competitive markets the top listings are all Trulia, Zillow, Realtor.com, etc. and the benefit for Google in doing this is that most or all of the sites display Google ads.  Where it used to be possible with a bit of SEO to rank sites in the top 10 of Google for these high traffic keywords, the big listing aggregators and maybe a few big Broker sites that have listing searches on their pages are given preference. If an individual agent site appears it is more by accident than by design.

Aside from “real estate” now being all about “listings”, Google is still all about links.  Good indexable links from relevant sites back to yours using keywords that relate to the content you are trying to rank for is what is required. To help your website to be recognized by Google as a good source of real estate listings and thereby worthy of ranking well you ideally want to receive links from pages whose own keywords relate to “your city real estate listings”.  In addition, these links should be indexable (not “no followed” or written in script to count clicks). The page the links reside on should be actually included in Google’s index (many will not be).

The higher quality of links you acquire the fewer you will need. Google determines “quality” by assigning sites a Page Rank score. The best links to acquire will reside on sites that actually have Page Rank.

The pages of this new directory match all of the above criteria. Since the directory is new you have the opportunity to be at the top of the list for real estate search pages in your market area. You also have the option of being listed exclusively.

Google has recently said that niche directories such as this are one of the best places to have your site listed in. The fact that Google assigns actual Page Rank to the sites pages just underlines the fact that Google thinks you should want to be listed in this particular directory and there is real benefits to being included.

Here are a couple of market areas that already have agents listed:

South Orange County Real Estate Searches

Eugene Oregon Real Estate Searches

To be listed in the directory please see http://www.results-net.com/signup.html

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

Jan 172013
 

There has been lots of changes to search engine algorithms in the past year or two but one thing that has not changed is the importance of links. In fact, links are probably more important now than they ever were and probably misunderstood more than ever too.

There are some that say links are no longer that important and that is just plain wrong. When you research why real estate sites place in the top 10 for the most important highly trafficked keywords what you find is that the one thing they all have in common is they all have lots of links from many different domains.

The web makes it easy to spread information that is often wrong. People then draw conclusions from often repeated misinformation or make judgements on whole classes of links without ever giving it much thought. This can result in great opportunities being overlooked and useless or very low quality strategies being pursued with negligible results. The end result is the myth that linking is a waste of time is perpetuated.

What about reciprocal linking? Google has been targeting excessive reciprocal linking and link schemes for a few years now but that does not mean that all reciprocal linking is bad or does not work. In fact, some of the websites that I checked that are ranking well because they have a lot of links from a variety of sources are still using link schemes for a portion of their links.

If you set up a multi category directory on your real estate agent site and start looking to exchange links with anyone and everyone it will not help you and may get you penalized. If you exchange links with a few dozen other Realtors who do the same and do not place those links in a “Link Directory” you will probably benefit. At worst, at some point in the future some of the value may be lost but it is highly unlikely that you will ever be penalized.

What about being listed in directories? It has become popular lately to say that being listed in directories should be avoided. Google says otherwise. Manually curated niche directories are a great place for small business – and that includes Realtors – to list themselves

It is true that most directories are a waste of time. Many directories are not worthwhile simply because they are multi-category and not specific to the real estate industry. Others that are specific are bad because the links on then are “no follow” or are written in such a way that the links will not count. It is important to know how to evaluate the directory links to determine if you are wasting your time.

Being listed in some directories can provide real benefit in providing a valuable link back to your website that can help increase your website’s position in search engine results resulting in more business for you.

If acquiring a link from a Realtor Directory requires a reciprocal link but gives you:

– the benefits of being a directory specific to Real Estate
– is trusted by Google as evidenced by the fact that Google actually includes the specific page your link will reside on in its index or better yet, gives the actual page your link will reside on some (any) Page Rank
– a link that can be followed

Go for it. You will not find very many of these directories and giving up a reciprocal link in such a case is not problematic.

If the directory meets all the criteria I outlined above and will allow you to be listed for a small fee without a reciprocal link why would you not want to do that? The fee may be for a photo or editorial revue and in such a case in that type of directory it is not in danger of being considered a “paid link” by Google.

What is a reasonable cost for such a directory listing? I can tell you that I have often been offered $30 per month to place a link on some of my web pages. That seems to be the going rate for a link residing on a page with Page Rank on a site in the same niche. I don’t think you will find too many directories that will charge you that much!

One such directory that has been around for a decade or so, is trusted by Google, and offers a quality link is the Epowered Professionals Real Estate Directory. This directory ranks well in search engines for “Realtors directory” and “real estate agents directory” as well as for individual state and province keywords.

The main attraction however is that the directory provides do-follow links on PR 2 pages which helps you with your own search engine positioning. The directory has just been purged of  Realtors who left the business or got new websites and “forgot” to take their reciprocal link with them so many of the pages have no agents on them any more. That means extra value because the PR is not being split.

Google has recently said that niche directories such as this one are viewed highly by them and the search positions bear this out. This is one of the better places to get links from – especially now that there are few agents listed in it.

These states and provinces currently have no agents listed so if you do get listed you are getting huge benefit from a large share of Page Rank.

SC, WV,IA,KS,LA,MS,ND and in Canada – NF,NT,SK,YK.

There are other states with just one other agent listed right now – SD,WI,AL,MO,MT,NE, and RI.

You can be listed for free with a reciprocal link or $39.00 annually for a picture listing with no reciprocal link required.

Go for it!

 

Nov 192012
 

The talk has been all about Panda and Penguin this year as Google continues to refine its algorithm to weed out spam and low quality web pages. At least, that is the “official line”. The inconvenient truth is that implementing Panda and Penguin resulted in Google’s ad revenue soaring to new heights as larger sites that display Google ads took a bigger proportion of the first page results for the most highly trafficked keyword searches.

Panda weeds out low quality content  including pages with similar content or minimal information. Penguin goes after pages deemed to be overly optimized. The new definition of  “overly optimized” includes some techniques that were previously considered good and even necessary to obtain good rankings such as using keywords in your internal page link text. A new limit was instituted for keywords used in visible text, anchor text, domains, etc. and this limit probably changes every couple of months when they tweak Penguin.  This caused sites that previously ranked well to drop and sites that were previously search-engine-unfriendly to rise.

Backlinks are said to have been devalued and this is being misinterpreted by many who believe that backlinks are no longer as important as they once were. That is incorrect in my view.  The devaluation was on the low quality pages and sites that contained the links and not on the idea of backlinks themselves. Getting good quality backlinks is every bit as important as it once was and probably even more important now that on-page optimization has been under attack.

This all becomes especially apparent when you study the most popular real estate keywords like “my city real estate”. In larger market areas (and even in some that are not so large) it may be next to impossible for an individual agent site to rank in the top 10. Google has tweaked their algo so the large national listing aggregators are favoured which means Trulia, Zillow, and Realtor.com will be there for sure. Remember that earlier I mentioned how Google’s ad revenue was soaring? All 3 display their ads – surprise!

Another spot is taken by the local real estate board or association site. I have no beef with this. The remaining spots are usually company sites and when you check to see what these sites have in common you find that the common factor is thousands of links from hundreds of different domains. If an individual agent site manages to make it into the top 10 it is because it too has thousands of links from hundreds of different domains. All of these sites in the top 10 will have been around for several years and the links will have been acquired gradually over that time. The only reason it is easier for a company site to make it into page one is than it is for an individual agent’s is because a company site has natural advantages in acquiring links. I should add that in spite of all the talk over the years about how link schemes don’t work, some of the sites I looked at in the top 10 were using them still and obviously benefiting.

How is search engine optimization in 2012 different from previous years? It isn’t really. It is still all about links.

Apr 052012
 

Google recently announced a long list of search engine algorithm changes and tweaks they performed in March 2012. SEOs and others who closely monitor their search engine positions reported a lot of volatility in the SERPS in March and there are a few areas in particular that Google targeted that would be primarily responsible for the changes in positions.

Google was conceived and developed around the central idea that a link to a web page is a vote of confidence that the content on the page is probably of good quality and therefore the page is worthy of being included in the search results for a query for keywords that are found on that web page. That has not changed and Google is always looking for ways to improve their ability to identify which are the best links that merit consideration. In March they made some tweaks in their handling of a link’s anchor text (the visible words that one clicks on) that allows them to better interpret and use this anchor text.

This may be the biggest factor in the recent ranking changes as links are added and dropped from inclusion when considering the value of a web page. It is not just external links (links from other websites) that are affected but internal links as well. The link text that you use in your site’s navigation menus and links between pages of your website are very important too Google. There is some discussion that changes to how the link text of these internal links are handled may indeed be one of the biggest reasons for recent ranking changes. Optimizers have long known that link text of internal links were important and have optimized accordingly. Discussions amongst search engine optimizers show that they are reaching agreement that beginning in March many more of these internal links are being deemed over optimized by Google and this is resulting in ranking drops and even over optimization penalties.

Another area of change that would have had a big affect on ranking was in how Google treats synonyms. The synonyms that you use on your web page that relate to the keyword being searched can affect your positions in the search results. Google has made changes to how much weight synonyms are given when determining whether to return a web page for a specific search query. The indication is that they are being less aggressive in their use of synonyms and this too would affect sites that could perhaps have been over optimized.

Google has also made improvements in their ability to detect older stale web page content and in particular for blog and forum pages. This may have a bigger impact than is apparent at first. What it means is that blog posts that you may have written a few years ago with the idea that you were building this vast store of content that would allow you to appear for a multitude of “long tail” search terms  have a shelf life. If you wrote an article three years ago about real estate in a neighbourhood you specialize in it may have resulted in a lead or two a few years ago but is unlikely to now. A newer article perhaps written by a competitor six months ago would be generating the leads now. Blogs are looked at as “news” by Google and not really as static content. For that reason it is probably better to have both a website and a blog for your Realtor web promotion strategy rather than using a blog format like WordPress to be both your website and your blog.

Google also made updates to what signals they use when personalizing the serps for each individual search. You should by now be aware that the search results are different for pretty much every single person that searches Google.

If your rankings have changed for the worse recently this gives you a few things to work on to get them back up.  If your blog does double duty as your website you may want to evaluate that strategy as well.