Oct 062010

I have been optimizing websites to rank well in search engines since before Google existed – since the early ’90’s. The ability to rank well for the most popular keywords used by searchers has always been major determining factor on whether Realtors would enjoy financial success with their websites.

Ranking well used to be relatively easy to begin with and over the years it became progressively harder as search engines got smarter and competition got stiffer. It was still do-able and well worth the effort as obtaining page 1 rankings guaranteed leads.

It would appear that recent changes by Google require a re-evaluation of the benefits of targeting the most popular “real estate” keywords – especially if you are paying a high priced SEO service to obtain those rankings for you.

Currently the most competitive keywords in the most competitive market areas are the ones that really require a tactical re-evaluation but all market areas are affected to some degree. Keep in mind that this article is referring primarily to competitive commercial keywords – not non-commercial keywords. Google has been treating them differently for several years already.

In the past, one could optimize a real estate website using both on-page and off-page techniques and once ranking was achieved you could be assured that everyone searching for your keywords was seeing your site in the search results. That is no longer the case. Now everyone sees different results – personalized based on your past searching and browsing behavior. This happens whether you have a Google account or not .

For example, if I search Google to see how a client is ranking using “city real estate”, Google will pretty much always show the site ranking very well. If I try that on a different computer where Google has not been used before the ranking is not nearly as good. If I click on the link to the site in the search engine results to visit the site – Google makes a note of this. The next time I boot up the computer and search using those keywords Google rewrites the search results just for me and shows the site I previously visited in the #1 spot. Anyone using Google on that computer now sees results that are different from the results on any other computer. Each search performed has an affect on the search results Google will show you in the future.

Is focusing resources on ranking well for the most highly searched keywords still worth it when a searcher’s browsing history means more to Google than how a site is optimized or the information the site contains? If you are paying an SEO service for this service I would argue that your money would be better spent elsewhere. If you do your own SEO or if it is a service included with your website then to some degree it at least puts you in the game and will attract some clicks. The clicks will not be as numerous as they may have been in the past however.

It is probably more productive to be devoting resources to less competitive “long tail” keywords and this can be done for free just by writing regularly in a search-engine-friendly blog like WordPress. Today’s internet requires that one be more involved in order to enjoy the kind of success enjoyed in previous years.