Search Engine Optimization and Marketing for Realtors®

It’s a fact: even as you’re reading this, there are people in your community who are looking for a Realtor®, but who don’t have a clue which one they should choose. If you’ve spent a lot of money on newspaper ads and billboards, farm card mailings, and entries in the free real estate guides in the supermarket racks, someone may stumble across your name and call you. But most won’t.

The Smart Way to Reach Your Target Market: Search Engines

Search EnginesInstead, what most people in this market will do is this: they’ll log onto Google (or Yahoo!, or Bing), and type in the name of the town or city they’re interested in, and a few other words like “Realtor”, “homes for sale”, “real estate listing agent.” Then, they’ll click on “search,” and see what comes up.

If you’re at or near the top of the results, the person doing the search will probably click through to your Web site. If they like what they see, you’ll get an e-mail or a phone call. And you’ll be well on your way to acquiring a new buyer or seller. But if you’re on page 2 of the search rankings (or even worse, page 3 or page 4 or page 50), you’ll be out of luck, and one of your competitors will get the buyer or the listing. Each and every time this happens, thousands of dollars in commissions that could have been yours will be lost forever. Not good!

SEO and SEM: The Key to Search Engine Success

Small wonder, then, that so many Realtors® have taken a keen interest in Search Engine Optimization (SEO) and Search Engine Marketing (SEM). Techies make a slight differentiation between the terms, but they both mean essentially the same thing: making sure that your site ranks on page one, preferably near the top, of Google and similar searches.

While many simple SEO/SEM techniques are easy to implement, one of the most important (arguably the most important) factor in good rankings is frustratingly hard to obtain: targeted, properly constructed, inbound links to your site. This factor is so crucial that it deserves a closer look.

What Do Search Engines Look For?

When Google decides how your site will rank, it considers many factors, but the single most significant one is your Internet popularity. Google determines this by looking at all the links on other sites that point to pages on your site. If such so-called inbound links are few or nonexistent, then Google figures that nobody cares about your site—and neither should they. You site will appear on a far-down page of the search results, if at all. On the other hand, if you have many inbound links, especially from sites that Google “likes,” you can be sure that you’ll be shown near the top of the list.

What sites does Google like besides those with plenty of inbound links? Especially favored are those that are frequently updated with lots of written content.

Blogs: SEO/SEM the Hard Way

BlogBlogs are perfectly suited to attract search engine attention. After all, by definition, something new is always being “logged” on a blog. So after it has been in existence for a few weeks or months, the typical blog will contain plenty of content on a specific subject such as health, cars, politics, or whatever. By using the proper linking and other SEO strategies within a blog, it is indeed possible to positively influence search engine rankings. This is one reason for the explosion of the blog phenomenon in the past few years.

So should you have a blog too? The answer for most Realtors® is: “Only if you’re willing to invest a lot of time and/or money.” For a blog to be effective, it must be frequently updated with fresh news, preferably several times per week. Its articles should be timely, interesting, and optimized for the right search terms. So if your blog is going to serve any real purpose, you’re either going to have to devote a lot of time to it, or hire a talented (and therefore, expensive) person who will do it for you.

This may or may not be worth the investment. But fortunately, there’s now a much easier way.

Customer Reviews: Darlings of the Search Engines

Realtor ReviewsEven more recently than blogs, customer reviews have become the “darlings” of the search engines. It’s easy to understand why. People using search engines are often researching a prospective purchase or a professional such as a doctor, lawyer, or real estate agent. If a Web site is constantly receiving new reviews, it will always have the fresh content that search engines crave. And reviews are easy to categorize and index: if a site contains lots of postings about Chicago dentists (and Chicago oral surgery and Chicago orthodontics), it’s easy for the engines to figure out what the most relevant search terms should be.

Small wonder, then, that review sites are popping up like mushrooms all across the Internet. Everyone in the SEO/SEM field knows that they attract search engines like a magnet. If you use Google or Yahoo! or Bing, you’ve already often seen reviews among the top sites on the first page of your search.

For-Profit Review Sites: Who Really Benefits?

Knowing this, entrepreneurs have set up countless sites on which virtually any product or service provider can be reviewed by anyone. If someone reviews your agency on a site like IncredibleAgents.com or Yelp.com, people doing Google searches will indeed find the review. The review site may list your phone number or your e-mail, Web, or bricks-and-mortar address. Prospects may find you in this way and contact you. Great, isn’t it?

Well, maybe. To begin with, a review of your agency on a nationwide site will be like a tiny fish in a vast ocean. Not only can it easily get lost in the crowd; even if your review is found, it may be listed alongside several even more glowing reviews of your competitors. If someone writes a bad review of you (and unscrupulous persons often plant bogus negative reviews of competitors or others they wish to harm), your reputation will suffer—and not only on the review site itself. The high search engine ranking of the review site will now work against you in an unexpected way: when someone Googles the name of your agency—maybe just to find your phone number—the first thing they see on the search results page may well be someone else’s insults or outright lies!

Finally, it’s well to keep in mind why the sites exist at all: to make money for their owners. There’s nothing wrong with this, but you shouldn’t lose sight of how the profit motive shapes the way the sites operate. They’re always larded with all kinds of pay-per-click links or paid ads, and try to draw visitors toward them. They employ every SEO/SEM trick in the book to keep traffic coming back to them, not to the products or services (like yours) being reviewed. Paradoxically, because reviews of your agency typically contain such significant key words as your agency’s name, its location, names of its salespeople, its areas of specialization, and so on, even a glowing review of your agency may end up helping the review site to compete against you for the very rankings you’re trying to obtain for your site!

Go ahead and take advantage of the free publicity that these sites provide if you wish; but remember: it does come at a price.

Putting It All Together

So to sum up, here are some key points to remember:

  1. If you want eager prospects to find you, you’re going to have to rank high on the search engines.
  2. SEO/SEM is the art and science of getting the high rankings.
  3. Getting links from other sites into your site is crucial for SEO/SEM.
  4. Achieving point (3) is not easy. Blogs are a useful and powerful tool, but a really effective blog costs a lot of time and money to keep up to date.
  5. Customer reviews are even more effective than blogs as “search engine magnets.”
  6. Review sites that are operated as online businesses sometimes generate referrals, but they use their SEO/SEM power primarily to drive Web searchers to themselves. This power can seriously damage your online reputation if someone posts a malicious review–which happens all too often.

The Solution: Your Own Branded Review Site

Top Realtor ProfitsWhat if you could have all the advantages of a review site but none of the downsides? What if you could harness the power of customer reviews to boost your site’s search engine rankings rather than someone else’s? And what if you could respond honestly to constructive criticism–and simply delete malicious gossip? Wouldn’t you then have “the best of all possible worlds” when it comes to the search engines AND a huge leg up on your competitors who are still wrestling with all the difficulties described above?

Giving you this enormous advantage on the Internet is the purpose of the Branded Review Site. Such a site is essentially a review site separate from your own main Web site but that you operate and control. It gives you all the power of state-of-the-art SEO/SEM and none of the headaches.

Such sites, by the way, typically do not masquerade as objective third-party sites. If you choose to operate such a site, you’ll normally identify it as your own: as a site that exists not to collect reviews of Realtors across the country, but rather to allow you to reach out to the communities you serve. On it, only reviews of your agency will be posted. You’ll welcome both lavish praise and deserved criticism. And you’ll be able to post responses to reviews if you wish: a thank you, additional comments, a rebuttal, or even a heartfelt apology. But in all cases, you alone will be in complete control of the site, and will be able to change or remove any content at will. And of course, you’ll be able to use targeted links to drive search engines to your “main” site that will contain your listings, information about you and your agency, and so on.

Sound good? It is. And it’s both easy to use and low in cost. At Advanced Business Systems, we’ve partnered with Presto Reviews to provide ready-to-go “turnkey” solutions specifically tailored to the needs of real estate professionals. 24 hours from now, your own Branded Review Site could be up and running!

In short, the technology to dominate “your little corner of the Internet”–the place where people in your geographic area go when they’re looking for a Realtor–now exists. It’s user-friendly, it’s affordable, and it’s breathtakingly effective–so much so that once it’s been in place for a month or two, it’s almost impossible for anyone else to compete against!

So once again, remember: tomorrow, someone in your community will be surfing the Web looking for a Realtor®. Who will they find: you, or a competitor? The choice is yours.

To find out more about how a Branded Review Site can be the key to your agency’s Internet marketing success, please use the contact form at the top right column of this page—or simply phone Ed Garrison, our Real Estate Internet Marketing professional, at 847-680-6328. He’ll be glad to give you a 15-minute online demo at no cost or obligation to you.

Check out our client of the month, Marge Harris, Grayslake, IL Realtor at www.margeharrisreviews.com.

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Are you ready to seriously upgrade your real estate agency's search engine rankings, and to start having qualified prospects find you first on the Internet?

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