Real Estate: SEO Disaster / SEO Opportunity

Filed in SEO by Matt McGee on May 24, 2007 14 Comments

If anyone in the SEO industry is looking for something to specialize in, an audience to target for immediate and future revenue opportunities, let me suggest the real estate industry. Those folks need help in the worst way.

I speak from experience: My wife is a real estate agent. My sister is a real estate agent. My dad has been an agent & broker for 50+ years. In my previous job, I built web sites and did the SEO for one of our local agencies. Though I don’t work here locally anymore, I still have lots of friends & contacts from the local real estate industry.

The problem is two-fold:

  1. There are countless companies offering web hosting, web design, and SEO services to the real estate industry. They portray themselves as experts, but the tactics they use and the advice they offer is useless at best, and sometimes harmful.
  2. Like many small businesses, real estate agencies and agents are generally uninformed on what works and what doesn’t when it comes to SEO and search marketing, and buy into these companies promises hook, line, and sinker.

Word on the street is that one local real estate agency is about to spend 5-figures per month for a year with one such company to have its web site redone and optimized. The web company is apparently telling the real estate firm that they’ll “get you to the top of the search engine rankings,” which is generally an immediate signal to hang up the phone. I checked out the web company’s site and found a few other red flags:

  • On their page promoting SEO services, they talk about having relationships with major search engines. Uh-oh.
  • The SEO page also talks about PPC advertising, which I think confuses the client who may not be aware of the difference between SEO and PPC, and may not realize that the promises of “getting to the top” might mean doing so via PPC.

I checked out one of this company’s real estate clients, and found:

  • They have the same Page Title across the site.
  • They have keywords stuffed into hidden comments viewable only in the source code.
  • They have a network of additional sites with the same exact content — i.e., spam — all linking back to the main site.

In the real estate industry, this is what passes for SEO. It’s a disaster. But it’s also an opportunity for someone to come along and raise the level of SEO and search marketing in this industry — with solid advice/consulting using best practices, an understanding of the value of trust, great content generation, quality link building, appropriate use of social media (such as blogs, video optimization, Flickr, etc.), local search … you know, all the stuff great search marketing is made of.

[tags]real estate, seo[/tags]

Comments (14)

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  1. evolvor says:

    Oh God, Matt. The real estate market needs a hugs re-vamp in how it operates online – what a mess! Seriously, ever try looking for a house online?

  2. Surveyor says:

    Matt, I asked my designer for some help in optimising our estate agency site a couple of years ago. His response was to sign us up to a service that automatically submitted the site to the search engines once a month and to charge us a monthly fee for “updating the keywords”. You’ll not be surprised to hear that we didn’t shoot to the top of the SERPs. I discovered later that our entire home page was in fact an image file. That experience led me to take a personal interest in SEO and I would recommend all small business owners to do the same. It is the perfect topic to research online! Even though we now have a designer that has some clue about optimisation I regularly chip in with ideas that I have picked up from sites like seomoz and your good self.

  3. You are so right. There is a need for different mindset for the industry.
    We accept the the mission.
    We have been building websites since before Google was born.
    We have been doing online marketing since the days of the listserv.
    We have been doing search engine marketing before Yahoo was a search Engine.
    We have bought houses.
    We have sold houses.
    We have proudly volunteered to design a nice website for a church.
    We have been paid handsomely to develop web applications for Fortune 500 corporations BUT we are passionate about helping small business owners and REAL ESTATE AGENTS achieve their goals. If you believe that “those folks need help in the worst way”, then we will help.
    http://realestatesearchenginemarketing.net will launch soon.
    Let us give real estate agents a better way.

  4. Hey Matt,
    Great post – I wonder how many other industries you could write a very similar post for. To your point, search marketing and social media could play such a huge role in the real estate market. I bet you could write a nice series on that topic and get some series attention from real estate companies??

  5. Miriam says:

    This is a good and timely post, Matt. We do some real estate related stuff, and have to be extremely upfront with out clients about the competition one faces in practically any part of the U.S. for the terms related to this field.

    Sadly, Google is continuing to let the SERPs be dominated by the anytown usa type sites that don’t actually have any real listings on them.

    In addition to this, most of the real sites you run into are SO poorly done, it makes you want to cry. No local search optimization…no anything.

    The five figure a month thing sounds insane, very bad, bad, bad. On the other hand, we offered to put up a site for a realtor last month for $1000.00, making it very clear that after building the simple SEO-based website, more work would be involved to begin to work toward good rankings…and they told us they didn’t want to spend so much money. Their choice, of course, but I shudder to think of what will happen to them out there where they will run into scary ‘providers’ such as you are describing. It can be pretty bad out there.

    At least your wife has you. I bet her site is great!
    Miriam

  6. david28078 says:

    I hear this too loudly! I have worked on, literally, 60 Real Estate websites and all have been ripped off in some manner over the years.

    My take deep pockets, no deep thinking.

    I have seven Real Estate BICs I work with who are all doing very, very well as I ask them to get off their horse and be a customer first…

    If I was a thief SEO I would be very wealthy…..

  7. bsburnsie says:

    I am a big provider of SEO of realtors. But, it is not that easy to get the realtors to actually sign up. You see, they tend to not want to spend the money. They rather spend the $49 for a premade web site which they feel will be just fine even though they are far from SEO optimiziable or the freebie provided by the Broker..again so deep in subdirectories they never get found. But the fact is, those that have proper seo done on properly made web sites achieve over 90% of their new clients through organic searches. (well my clients do)

    How do you ensure that your Real Estate Web site—now an essential marketing tool—is as effective as it can be at drawing home buyers and sellers and keeping them interested in all you have to offer? It’s how well a Real Estate Web site can draw repeat visitors that determines its “stickiness” in Internet-speak, and, ultimately, its success. It also depends on how SEO ready the Real Estate Web Site is designed to so that you secure top rankings on the major search engines for your keyword phrases

    All my realtor sites do very well. But it is worse then a root canel when trying to secure a realtor as a client. But what is funny, once they see how well the site is going and brag to their realtor friends, you get a few more who want to shed those dollars for prime internet real estate. But so sad, and to bad, for some, as I only take so many to cover an area…Point being, many realtors will place their marketing dollars on door hangers for networking instead of the internet, where over 80% of home buyers start their search.

    Bonnie Burns – ontheavenues

  8. Matt McGee says:

    Thanks for all the good discussion here, folks. You’re confirming that there’s a real problem here. I wonder … what is it about the real estate industry that attracts these problems of poor web sites, poor SEO, and some sub-standard SEO providers?

  9. bsburnsie says:

    I believe a number of factors.
    1. a realtor spends a lot of money on advertising, and I think they yet believe that dollars sent on a web site that achieves rankings will help them. They are offered a freebie from brokers, so why pay for it.

    2. Those that pay a monthly fee for a web site they hardly have to manage do so because it is cheap, and they really have nothing to do to maintain it. They feel the template should be just fine and believe the statements made by such companies that the site will achieve rankings and gather them business.

    I even read on one such company newsletters that there pre-made web sites are wonderful, need no SEO and search engine placements really will not help them be found any better. Then a month later, that search engine placement is important. I always send comments to editor about how misleading they are and never hear back.

    3. Many that I have spoken to do not even know what SEO is or that a person can actually develop a site that can outplace other web sites. They are shocked to hear that this process is available

    4. Realtor magazines and such do talk about the need for web sites that are ranked high, but realtors just are afraid to spend the money that it can cost and some have even tried such companies only to be ‘ripped off’

    When I work with realtors, I try and place state the fee may appear high but, with just one client gathered from the web site, a sale or a buyer can pay for 10 such web sites….well something in that order. Realtors see everything as a price tag as they make no money with our a close, so I learned to turn around my presentation to bottom line financial lingo and why, such a ‘tool’ is needed. Some take it quickly, others are slow to the trend and then there are those kick themselves when the hear in staff meetings.” I just got a client from my web site and they bought a million dollar home”

    I do a special for realtors. web site analysis just to get them to see the issues that keep their site from getting ranked. All have been amazed, critical of themselves for believing the ‘template’ people or other’seo’s they used” but they are so slow to turn around and have it corrected. Actually, of all the analysis done, less then 1 percent will sign up.

    Basically, thank goodness for those word of mouth referrals:-)

    Bonnie Burns ontheavenues

  10. Matt McGee says:

    Excellent points all around, Bonnie. I’d especially agree with #3 above, and then you bring in some of these firms that are providing risky/unethical tactics you have a recipe for trouble.

    And you’re absolutely right about the possible ROI. I’m no PPC expert, but when managing my wife’s accounts on G and Y, I keep reminding myself … just one sale from a PPC lead has more than paid for all these clicks. :-)

  11. Brandon says:

    Hi Matt,

    Great thoughts even if they are from 2007. I just landed on you after searching for “small business seo” to do a bit of reading today brushing up on my local skills. I’ve been on the blog for more than an hour now and can say your links, the ‘best of…’ and various other posts have been great reads (& future reads since I’ve printed a bunch of them out).

    Just out of curiosity, but do you think the state of the business is still as ripe as you say? I was thinking of doing this before becoming an SEO Consultant this year when I was actually in the business back in 2005-06 (before you mentioned this). I got burnt by some who acted as if they were going to reciprocate after I helped them with their online marketing & decided not to at that time. I’ve grown some thicker skin, built up 2 sites & working on a few more right now & have decided to market to small business niches Real Estate, Insurance & Dentists here on SEM Common Sense. Do you really think Real Estate is still ripe?

    Any thoughts on the Dentistry & Insurance fields? Don’t want to attack too many fields at once.

  12. Dale Monroe says:

    Kudos on a well-written blog post. It’s unfortunate that so many unscrupulous people are out there that go after uninformed real estate agents. One of the biggest challenges is that the internet continually evolves so it’s hard to know which direction you need to follow.

  13. Chuck Aikens says:

    Great post! While this could apply to a lot of industries, I think the Real Estate industry has more than it’s fair share of SEO challenges due to the large real estate portals, the real estate website systems, and the number of new Realtors that start their marketing plans with a website.

    Most Realtor websites (and Realtors) market to targeted areas – neighborhoods, even subdivisions. The Realtor website, unless it is strong enough to rank for a metro geo-modifier, will probably target smaller cities, neighborhoods, and subdivisions.

    When people do searches, they don’t usually enter the qualifying information that is needed..usually entering general words like ‘real estate’, ‘home buying’, ‘home selling’.

    Since there are so many branded aggregators and then PPC delivers geo-targeted ads, there isn’t a big incentive for searchers to go long tail. I do think that some people go ‘long tail’ but not enough….so you either choose long tail for a Realtor and don’t drive enough traffic to make a difference in the their business OR….

    You try to take a Realtor website and actually win some words with volume. This usually takes a website developer, a Realtor, and an SEO who know what they are doing and are willig to put the time and money into a real SEO Campaign.

    We have worked with a few Real Estate clients (and website developers) who are committed to SEO…my guess is that this committment….due to time, money, and knowledge is in short suppply…so Real Estate SEO will continue to struggle compared to other industries.

  14. Interesting, first posts are in 2007, most recent somewhere around 2009. It is now 2012 and not much has changed on this topic. Agree with comments made. Unfortunately, some claimed experts at SEO take a one-siz-fits-all approach. Most are just flying by the seat of their pants on how to manage the Google zoo, i.e….. panda, penquin and now Google Plus Local.

    Most miss the target completely…it is marketing, plain and simple.

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