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:
2)Inktomi (included MSN Search, Yahoo, HotBot)
4)Infoseek / Go.com
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.