Bad SEO Advice for Real Estate Agents … from the NAR

Filed in MY BEST POSTS, SEO by Matt McGee on March 16, 2010 40 Comments

It’s bad enough when vendors offer real estate SEO services and/or advice that isn’t worth a dime … but what about when the national organization that’s supposed to support real estate agents starts spreading around misinformation to its members?

The National Association of REALTORS® offered up some SEO tips in its official magazine last month via an article titled “6 Weeks to Better Search Engine Results.”

real estate seo article

I like the idea behind the article — simplifying some of the low-hanging SEO fruit into tasks that can be worked on one week at a time. Good idea. But some of the specific advice is … well … not so hot. Frankly, some of it just exacerbates the same problems that have plagued real estate agents for years — namely, that so much of what they call “real estate SEO” is over-the-top and spammy.

Here are the six one-week tasks listed in the article:

  1. Week 1: Write Better Page Titles
  2. Week 2: Broadcast Your Links
  3. Week 3: Use Keywords Generously
  4. Week 4: Reword Outgoing Links
  5. Week 5: Develop a Site Map
  6. Week 6: Tweet About It

On the surface, that list looks … okay. Not great, not what I’d list, but not terrible. It’s when you get into the specific suggestions that things get ugly and real estate agents get misled. Let’s look at a few tips:

Real Estate SEO: Linkbuilding?

Under Week 2: Broadcast Your Links is this advice:

Develop a campaign to get other Web sites linking to yours. Focus on social networks and trusted real estate Web sites, advises Cheryl Waller, a real estate technology expert in Port Saint Lucie, Fla. One way to do this is by making thoughtful comments on real estate blogs and leaving your link as part of your blog post. “You don’t need 14,000 links to your site. What you do need are relevant links to your business from reputable Web sites that are trusted by search engines,” Waller says. This helps search engines deem your site as trustworthy, too.

Reality: Commenting on blogs can help with exposure, but it’s not a “campaign” and isn’t likely to make a search engine think your site is trustworthy, either. Worse, it’s something that too many people overdo and get wrong. A lot of real estate agents dropping links on each other’s blogs only adds to the perception that the entire industry is one big spam-fest. Consider these two comments that came in overnight on the Richland Real Estate Blog:

real estate comment spam

Not very “thoughtful,” is it?

Real Estate SEO: Keyword Density?

Under Week 3: Use Keywords Generously is this advice:

While it might seem like overkill to repeat certain keywords heavily throughout your site, the strategy really does work, says real estate and technology blogger Matt Rains, a practitioner with Keller Williams Atlanta Partners in Loganville, Ga. He suggests incorporating the top phrases that you want associated with your site—”St. Louis Historic Homes,” for example. For strategic ideas, try the Keyword Tool on Google AdWords. Using the tool, you can type a phrase that’s relevant to your business and immediately find out how many people search for that term each month. Your main keywords should appear at least 10 to 13 times per 700 words on a page, says Mark Menzella, who runs RE/Advantage, a real estate Web design company in Fairfield, N.J.

Reality: Keyword density is a myth. There’s no perfect amount of times a keyword should appear on a page to rank, because there are countless other factors that determine a page’s relevance and importance. Hearing “real estate Web design” people pitch this advice only reinforces the idea that real estate SEO is a joke. Better advice is what I said here: There’s no magic formula or perfect “keyword density” — write for your users so the pages are readable, but be sure to include the right search terms as you write.

Real Estate SEO: Twitter?

Under Week 6: Tweet About It is this advice:

“Now that tweets are indexed in Google, Twitter has become an important part of SEO strategy,” says Misty Lackie of Go Smart Solutions, a technology consulting firm in Grover Beach, Calif. So get a Twitter account if you don’t already have one, and create useful tweets that happen to include your business keywords and links to your site.

Reality: I love Twitter, but the SEO benefits of using it are neglible … especially if your tweets are going to “include your business keywords and links to your site.” Look below; does anyone think this is how to use Twitter?

real estate twitter junk

No human will click on the link in a tweet like that, and since the link is no-followed, there’s no SEO benefit from using Twitter this way, either. Twitter can be an amazing tool for local visibility, but it has nothing to do with Google indexing tweets (users are blind to real-time results). It has to do with being real and creative on Twitter, not spamming your keywords and links there.

Final Thoughts

If you’d like to see the whole article for yourself, it’s on Realtor.org. Sadly, it seems that nothing has changed in the two-plus years since I first wrote about real estate SEO being a disaster and a joke. Even more sad is that the bad advice is coming from the national organization that’s supposed to make life easier for real estate agents.

Comments (40)

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  1. Misty Lackie says:

    I would like to clarify that the “So get a Twitter account if you don’t already have one, and create useful tweets that happen to include your business keywords and links to your site” was not my quote. I did write a post a while ago about how Google and Bing are showing Twitter results within the Google search results but never suggested that people stuff tweets with business keywords and links to their site. I just wanted to clarify that because the statement in the article appears as though it was a quote from me.

    • Matt McGee says:

      Thx for that, Misty. I purposely avoided saying anything about the folks quoted in the article because I know that sometimes the writer/reporter misunderstands or miscredits a quote. My beef is with the overall thrust of the article and the poor advice coming from the national organization.

  2. Jonathan says:

    I’m torn between thinking this is great, because it keeps most people making mistakes while those of us that know clean up. On the other hand I feel bad that NAR is the one perpetuating this dribble.

    Here’s the thing….NAR knows nothing about the web or new media. Just take a look at what they’re doing in Social Media right now.

    Broadcasting the same message over many different platforms to the same subscribers. Anyone following them closely will be caught up in the echoes of repeated CRAP.

    I’m glad you pointed this out, I’m going to share it with my base so they too can be in the know.

    JR

    —–>Oh and link to my site blah blah tweet tweet ;)

  3. Michelle says:

    Regarding link building, the biggest problem is finding good information on how to create a link building campaign regardless of industry.

    Even at search marketing conferences, no one will provide any actual strategies to use. So it’s inevitable that spammy tactics are implemented simply because it’s nearly impossible to find any information on good link building tactics.

    I’d love for someone to actually share some resources on how to create an effective link building campaign.

    • Matt McGee says:

      That’s true, Michelle — I’d say that, for the most part, link building is very difficult to teach in the typical conference setting. 15 minutes is just not enough to get deep enough in most cases. That said, if you ever get the chance to hear Deb Mastaler talk, do it. At the SBMU conferences back in ’08, she did full 45- and 90-minute link building workshops that were absolute gold.

  4. Actually, I love this article, you know why? Because before I got into real estate, I was in web development for 15 years. Go ahead NAR, give my competition the edge it needs ;)

  5. Matt – I’d love to see you get a little more involved in what some of us call the “re.net”.

    Keynote at a rebarcamp or two?
    Write posts for geekestateblog.com?

    I can’t tell you how many times I mentioned this blog at SXSW last week. I think you might need to give me some cards to hand out at events for you ;)

  6. Matt McGee says:

    Hey Geordie – I guess a big THANKS is in order first for your promotion efforts last week. :-) Not sure what I’ve done to deserve that, but thank you.

    I don’t know much about rebarcamp or the geekestateblog.com that you mentioned, but I’m generally open to speaking, blogging, and other opportunities like that. I get busy sometimes and can’t do much, but if things fit my schedule, I’m usually pretty open to that kind of stuff. If you have something specific in mind, let me know.

  7. Matt-

    The rebarcamp movement is a series of 1 day free conferences for real estate geeks and newbies to share info. Yesterday was the most recent Seattle event. You can learn more at http://www.rebarcamp.com and I’ll try and rope you into the next Seattle event.

    http://www.geekestateblog.com is a real estate tech site and I know they would LOVE to have you guest post. Mike Price is the guy to talk to. mprice at mlbroadcast.com

  8. Bryon says:

    Matt, I came across this entry looking for what new things are available in real estate and the internet webs. I have read a little about keywords and for the most part I understand that these things are important for search engines to find your listings (and find them first!). I am also playing around with a wizard making tool I was told about by a young man I met at a technology conference here in Chicago. The idea seemed interesting, the tool lets you build a plan of any kind and then publish it to the world and your clientelle. Somehow it takes care of making my wizard available on search engines with the keywords I choose. I have started on a plan for selling real estate property here in Chicago. The link address http://www.mypopproject.com/o/v/publish/read.php?id=12 will take you to the introductory page of this plan.

  9. At the 30 year mark in real estate sales, I see two situations. ONE the technology gap with real estate brokers, agents is getting wider and many just want to throw $4000 at the problem and forget content, daily riding the blog bike, posting video new fresh content that SE reward if formatted, written right. And buyers want, are starved, thirst for it. TWO the area is needing to be marketed as the buyer is not in our backyard anymore and way way beyond the town line. Many agents, brokers just post a few images shot with gobs of vaseline on the lens, same old one size fits all (BAGGY) copy about nice this, nice that and how great the agent is. SEO is great but what’s being peddled, sold and the message — how it is being created just as important as the signal/platform it rides on. Granular, short and long tail…the average agent has no clue.

  10. Jim Schibly says:

    Very solid advice – I would strongly suggest that backlinking is important but only a fraction of what it takes to get ranked – good solid content on your site and article and video submissions to popular directories will do more to get backlinks and drive traffic to your site

  11. David Hood says:

    I agree that keyword density is an out dated concept when trying to get page rank for certain keywords. I think the same is true for Meta tags when it comes to getting page rank for keywords. The future IMO is long tailed get words specific your listing address or MLS number.

  12. Hi Matt,

    Thank you for one of the more honest articles on the subject real estate SEO.

    One piece of advice that I tell all of my clients is that you cannot fool Google. They know exactly what you are up to. If you want be ranked high in Google, you need to be a trustworthy business that is active in your community and build real relationships with other websites.

    You should hear some of the responses I get.

  13. John Jones says:

    @David Hood – I’ve had many clients be more successful with their long tail terms than their short tail terms. Even though they do well for both short and long terms, they get far more traffic from the many long tail terms.

    Long tail also almost always means that the interested party knows exactly what they want and are closer to the buying / contact point them someone typing in something much more general.

  14. Ted says:

    I like to comment on this but it sounds like you already made up your mind. There is a lot of truth to the advice on here but it isn’t worded the right way. Actually, if you put any more than 40% keyword density it gets a little dicey. Ive been able to push a site from scratch past 30 million sites in 6 days.

  15. It seems the author used expert quotes to back up her ‘opinions’. HER opinion in this sentence: “One way to do this is by making thoughtful comments on real estate blogs and leaving your link as part of your blog post.” turns my advice into advice to ‘BLOG SPAM’.

    I agree with Matt on his take of the advice in this article. Like Misty, I am offended that the statement in the article appears as if it is advice from me.

    The article reflects badly on my reputation (and apparently also on other quoted experts) and gives bad advice to an industry in serious need of sound SEO advice.

    That’s not very ‘thoughtful’ either. Thanks NAR! Way to go!

  16. Awesome article Matt, I remember that exact same article you are talking about as some of the agents interviewed were from the Atlanta market and my direct competition. One thing you have to look at was the purpose of this article. 99% of Realtors reading it have no idea what any of that means anyway, so I would not put that much stock into it. Most agents still do reciprical linking still.

  17. Tim Makelaar says:

    Well, you’re a little bit harsh don’t you think? The writer actually makes a few good points, although they’re a bit traditional. I mean, I didn’t read anything about link bait, which still is the best way to get links..

  18. Zoe E says:

    I agree that Twitter is not the be all and end all for real estate social networking. There are some good programs for Facebook that work well but you must be careful who you use to develope these.

    Well written informative articles placed in article directories seem to do more good. The resource box must be carefully worded to get the clicks that you want.

  19. When posting comments on any blog, be it a real estate blog or one about any subject, the commenter should add something intelligent to the conversation. Saying “really good post” or “you rock” doesn’t cut it.

    As for keyword density, yes, it is good to have the keyword on the page, but the text should read naturally and not look like the keywords have been stuffed in there. Targeting 2% or some figure like that for keywords on a page usually makes the text look spammy. The best advice is to just give good information for site visitors. Again, this comment applies to any site, not just real estate.

  20. I just thought I would add here that I contacted the author back in July. It seems that the author’s solution was to simply plagiarize copyrighted material by removing my name completely instead of correcting the advice:
    http://www.realtor.org/rmotechnology/articles/2010/1002_technology_searchengine

    Nice!

  21. JerryM says:

    Backlinks, quality article writing and video marketing work in real estate. Twitter? Does ANYBODY read Twitter posts? And it’s useless for SEO. In other words, a waste of time.

  22. Will Raye says:

    I remember seeing that article. I know it is a very basic view of SEO but I’m not sure I would call it “Bad advice”. Yes it leaves alot out and doesn’t cover SEO the way it really should be covered, but for most agents who do virtually nothing in terms of SEO for their sites, doing something is better than nothing. Personally, I find that I get alot more hits these days off long tail searches.

    • Matt McGee says:

      I don’t know, Will. I would argue that sometimes doing something is NOT better than doing nothing – not if the “something” is bad advice or just plain old ineffective.

  23. Roch M. says:

    I never got that NAR letter. Perhaps this was only sent to REALTORS States side and not to Canadian REALTORS. You got to take some and leave some… Many of these tips can get your site penalized before helping it’s SERP.

  24. It is disappointing to see NAR give such elementary advice but in reality it was probably news to a lot of Realtors. There are not many Realtors who actually use SEO to build their business. It was probably over the head of most people who read the article. If it was more of an intense SEO article it would have been lost on 99% of their readers.

  25. Dave says:

    Oh no. A friend of mine is paying me for these services. He owns a Real estate company and I build websites. I figured that typical seo techniques would work for real estate, and I was stoked because it was my first local web page and the SEO competition looks beautiful. Thanks for writing this.

  26. I remember that article. I also remember cringing when I read it. I have a close friend who think they will get on page one by gimmicks, keyword-stuffing and paying for backlinks from strange international sites.

    Maybe I am old-school but I do find that when I write REAL content, REAL information, REAL tips, and talk about stuff people actually seem to want to read . . . it starts to collect links on its own.

    I regularly troll the keywords that brought visitors to my sites and see what page they landed on, and if that page had content that might have answered their question (for long tail searches where the question is pretty clear). If the answer is consistently “no” then the content needs to be re-written, or perhaps broken out into more articles.

    Also, remember that a bunch of agents have those terrible canned sites with duplicate content – I can’t imagine any amount of SEO is going to get people to stick around when the whole site is just junk.

  27. Bill Joyce says:

    Very good information…I will think on this and share with coworkers.

    Just kidding. I think you can hire folks for $1 an hour to make generic comments on blog posts.

    I’m struggling with the value of nofollow coments. It seems many if not most sites include rel=”nofollow” on the comments. This page comments include this. Is there a backlink value (juice, authority) to commenting on this page and others with nofollow?

    Thanks.

  28. Matthew B says:

    I do SEO on a regular basis and it all seems to be a myth. Get links from trusted sites, get links from forums blogs,etc. Stay away from article sites, just info after info and no one knows the real answer! You mention trusted sites from real estate links if someone would please reply with trusted site info I would love to look into it. TY….

  29. Alex C. says:

    Sure, this is merely a snippet of SEO ‘advice’ and is not meant to fully educate anyone of what SEO really entails, particularly as algorithms continue to evolve.I wouldn’t call it ‘bad’ advice, just very rudimentary and nowhere near enough. And well, the sad truth is there is a plethora of shady vendors out there spreading myths. My market is among the most competitive in the world, so I have to really keep up on SEO if I want a chance at the big prize.

  30. Eric S. says:

    I find it ironic that I agree with this article in blasting the idea of using blog comments as link building campaign while I am writing a comment. Sigh … oh well. It’s an article that deserves a comment.

    Yes, it is a bit rudimentary. Yes, some of these tips would help most real estate sites, since so many are struggling. But overall, I wish there was more meat as well. Google continues to get smarter and smarter. The best sustainable long term strategy is to create an amazing website with amazing content. Be useful to the world, and eventually you will win. Google is weeding out the chaff more and more. The hard thing for many SEOs is that they see the immediate results of some of these lesser tactics. However, one day, they will wake up and *poof* be in Google Siberia.

    User metrics. Amazing site design. Amazing content and articles. Creating quality posts on top sites within the industry. Adding value. Being a legit brand. These are the items that will stand the test of time with Google.

  31. Jamie G. says:

    I guess it’s understandable to see the use of backlinking for real estate as a spam fest but when it comes down to it…SEO is hard work. People who dedicate themselves to generating backlinks without use of spam should be noticed.

  32. Donna Duncan says:

    Hi Matt.
    I found your article when I was looking for one that would share good advice specifically targeted at purchasers of real-estate SEO. This is the other side of the coin, and it’s right-on. Thank you. The only other “watch-out” advice I would want to share with your audience is that of “remember to speak to your human audience first”. I know it’s been said time and again, but it’s worth reminding folks here in conjunction with your other great observations.
    Lastly, can you recommend SEO firms that do a good job with real estate SEO or an article / website that speaks to what does and does not work as it specifically relates to real estate SEO?
    With thanks,
    Donna

  33. Dave Keys says:

    I’ve found NAR and their minions to remain just on/over the edge when it comes to ranking tactics. I would not put it above them to roll out marginal and outdated advice by design. C’mon, what “Google century” do they think we were born in? Their advice IMO is designed to drive more agents to rely on them for everything that obtains the leads. They’re no fools. They know where the money is. I’ve found their links on websites where the links are obviously paid. I’ve written about them on a few occasions and each time I do, one of their drones follows up with their spin on what I have to say within days.

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