SEO & Marketing Tips From The Pros
Over the last few weeks, since joining Real Estate Webmasters (REW), I have had the chance to see successful SEO (search engine optimization) in action, as I have had the opportunity to hang out with some truly great real estate professionals as well as the SEO specialists in REW. Comparing a truly optimized SEO process to what most people might do in our business is like looking at the difference between a professional golfer and the weekend golfer. They just don't compare.
In this article, I want to share some of the SEO tips I have heard from our talented internal staff as well as some elite Real Estate Webmaster clients that are doing this very successfully in their businesses. They have been kind enough to share some of their "best practices" that have put them at the top of their respective markets.
While the approach taken by these brokers and teams will differ in some ways there are definitely constants worth noting whenever you talk about SEO. Here are a few to consider that were consistent across the board.
Search Engine Optimization
It takes a lot of work – The days of building a website and thinking that you are going to get great leads from it, without doing anything else, are over. If you want to drive leads into your business from the web you need to commit a significant amount of energy to its success.
It's a continuing learning process – One of the reasons the REW Summits have been so well received over the years is because it gives our company a chance to share updates on SEO with our clients and it provides an opportunity for our clients to mingle and network with others tackling the same issues. To succeed in SEO, you need to commit to understanding the changes in search engine rules as well as understanding the bigger picture items that all contribute to better SEO.
It requires an investment – SEO and PPC (Pay per click) are not cheap, whether you do it all in-house or whether you pay someone like REW to help manage the process for you. When you do it well, be assured, it will pay for itself many times over. If you are serious about building online leads, SEO and PPC should be line-items in your budget every month.
Good SEO is way more than your website – Look at any of the true SEO kings and queens and you will see certain things they all have in common. They have a broad, marketing strategy, with multiple nets into their market to capture attention, brand recognition and leads.
- They almost always have professional help with SEO and/or PPC
- They put out great content, all the time.
- The content is meaningful and truly helpful.
- They blog and use social media to increase the readership and they build their online authority by being referenced by other reputable sites.
- They also build real connections in their communities in addition to online connections. Each helps to support the other.
- These connections don't just happen. Look behind these success stories and you will see well thought out strategies that work hand in hand with their website strategy.
You have to water the SEO garden everyday – It may be a corny example but it works. You have to water your online strategy daily to get great results and when you grow fruit, you have to pick it immediately or it will rot. Those that have been successful building great online business all know the lead is just the beginning. With over 48% of all leads not even being responded to in our industry you have to make sure that your leads don't die on the vine. The life of a lead is measured in minutes, not hours.
SEO Tips From The Pros at Real Estate Webmasters
Our Marketing and SEO team lead, Melissa Vasey has the following tips on SEO for you to improve your search engine optimization as a great starting point for you.
- Fill in every content and area page with 300+ words of unique content
- Naturally sprinkle your keywords throughout your content
- Make your site unique to your own personality
- Find a niche that you can rock and go for it!
- Balance blocks of text with images, listings & other interesting content
- Take advantage of headings, meta info and other on-page SEO elements
- Use duplicate content from any source, including other websites, Wikipedia, news sources, etc.
- Overuse keywords in your content or create an otherwise "spammy" feeling site
- Rush your site's expansion, as quality is more important than quantity
- Buy or pay for backlinks, or get involved in any sort of link network
Pay Per Click Tips From The Pros at Real Estate Webmasters
Our Pay Per Click expert, Anne Fortin, has the following tips on PPC for you to improve your search engine results.
- Take advantage of Ad Words' advanced settings when setting up your campaign. You'll be able to specify location settings, bid strategies, and CPC maximums.
- Set up conversion tracking to monitor your campaign's results.
- Divide your main areas into different ad groups, allowing you to focus your keywords, ad copy, and landing pages to specific areas.
- Get specific: often ad groups for neighborhoods and property types do well because they're so specific-- they're less competitive and they give searchers exactly what they're looking for.
- Check on your keywords to see which ones are performing well (leverage those), and which ones can be paused/deleted.
- Set up ad extensions for your ad groups-- price range extensions (site links) work well for real estate.
- Expect optimal results right away. Though PPC offers instant results, it can take time to refine your campaign for best results (low cost-per-lead, high conversion rates)
- Monitor your campaign and make decisions and adjustments on a day-to-day or even on a week-to-week basis.
- Try to put your ads in the #1 position if possible. This is expensive but you'll do just fine in the 2, 3, or 4 positions as well.
- Change the filenames on your site without also changing the destination URLs in your ads. You don't want to pay for traffic going to a 404 page.
While these are just the basics and the tip of the iceberg our SEO and PPC specialists can help you with, they are good examples of why most real estate agents that want to improve their SEO and PPC results realize they need professional help. Managing SEO and PPC is a full time job and rules change in a flash. Just like buying a house shouldn't be done without a professional the same is true for building a quality website that delivers great results. You'll see, when you look at the examples to follow, these market leaders understand the value of working with other professionals to help them reach their business goals. They get that it's a full time mission and they have made a commitment and they invest in their business and the results speak for themselves.
We hope you enjoy their insights.
Success Leaves Clues
I have always been a student of excellence. I watch successful people and notice what they do and what they don't do. I love to hang around people that perform at this level because they always have a great energy level and they are always looking for ways to improve. They are fun, charismatic and curious and you may find this surprising, they are happy to share what they know. They don't worry that they are giving away the "secret sauce" because they realize execution is key and a head start in any business today is priceless. They also have committed to doing the things that made them successful every single day. They keep their foot on the gas and continue to innovate.
I asked some of these "elite" real estate professionals to talk a bit about how they approach SEO and their overall marketing strategies and any tips they would be willing to share. I recommend you take a moment and visit each of their websites as well to see first hand what they do as success does leave clues!
The Ashton Real Estate Group
Team Lead: Gary Ashton
Realtors like Gary Ashton devote time, money and energy to build their on and offline brand every day. Gary Ashton is the founder and leader of The Ashton Real Estate Group and as of 2012 is the Official Real Estate Agent of The Tennessee Titans. His team has been the #1 RE/MAX team in Tennessee for the last 3 years. They are #6 in the USA with RE/MAX in 2013 and #9 in the entire world
Official Realtor of the Tennessee Titans
Gary is also the official real estate agent for the Tennessee Titans NFL franchise. Gary invests heavily in opportunities like this because it is all part of a broader marketing strategy where each part builds upon the other. The important thing to remember is no one approach is going to make it work today. You need to expand your thinking and see your website, SEO, ads, other promotions, your blogs, your reference accounts, etc. as part of one, comprehensive strategy. They all help to build and maintain your online authority.
When I spoke with Gary he noted, "You can be number one in Google for any particular search but there can only be one official Realtor for the Tennessee Titans and the recognition this brings to our team is fantastic! We really do have a multi-faceted approach to our marketing and it all ties into, and supports our SEO. With the Titans we work with the players. We do a tailgate every home game and have an RV that is wrapped with a big ad for our team. The more people see it, the more they hear our name, the more likely they will find us on our site and decide to work with us."
In terms of straight SEO, Gary said they invest monthly for outside support. He also noted that they have been working hard on this for 10 years and have gained authority by the site age and the amount of content.
"Our whole team contributes to content, in addition our SEO advisors.", Gary explained. "Our community involvement is really broad and beneficial it is a natural source for relevant contact that directly impacts our SEO. It's a win-win."
Gary reports they are selective when using Pay Per Click (PPC) advertising, but says they do use it selectively with key listings or on selective marketing campaigns.
SBO – Social Branding Optimization
Maybe as important as everything else Gary does is his use of Social Media, what we decided to call "Social Branding Optimization" (SBO). Gary loves to take photos, actually "selfies" with him in various locations in his community or around the globe, highlighting his brand as well as a location, another person or like this photo, an ad showing they are the official Realtors for the Titans. He often uses an app to stylize his photos, which give him a very specific, trademark look and friends and followers alike love to see where he will pop up next. It's fun, it's hooky and it's smart and a great example of how you can use Social media to increase brand strength. Gary pushes social content out on Facebook, LinkedIn, Google+ and Twitter.
User Friendly Is Key
Gary also noted, "Our REW website is so user friendly for the public the site is what makes the SEO work. You can have a site rank well in certain terms but if the site isn't friendly the bounce rate will be incredible. We had past bounce rates as high as 50%, but with our REW site we are in the low high 20's or 30's."
Note: Gary's team has a Limited Edition Custom website, 2013 edition from Real Estate Webmasters.
I asked Gary if they had added anything new to their marketing approach recently and he told me, yes, they are now working with RATE (Radio and Television Experts) to promote their brand. RATE provides great national local exposure for their clients as well as endorsements from their radio & TV personalities, like Barbara Corcoran, Glenn Beck, and John Tesh.
What not to do!
I asked Gary, if he looked back, is there anything he would advise others not to do, to help them avoid the same mistakes and he answered almost immediately. "For years", he said, "I focused on capturing and working with buyers but I did a poor job of staying in touch with them after our initial business was done. I was so focused on getting new leads and new clients I dropped the ball when it came to past clients. Today, we devote a lot of energy on this. We really work our database and stay in touch."
He also noted one other thing to be careful about as you aggressively go after leads. "Let's say an office is getting a lot of leads, 20-60 leads a day, even. I like to equate this to a tennis ball machine that is firing balls at you one by one. You can catch everyone one up to a point and hold them in your other arm and hand but eventually you start dropping them. We view leads this way. You need to be realistic about how many leads you can handle well, or you will drop them. If you really do have too many all the time, add agents. That's a good problem."
LIV Real Estate
The Edmonton, Alberta company was founded in 1975 by Ken Johnston, as a small family owned and operated real estate firm. By 1985 the brokerage had grown to become one of the largest independent real estate brokerages in Edmonton.
In 1993, headed by Ken's son Sheldon Johnston 1993, the firm joined an international franchise, a relationship that lasted nearly 20 years. In 2005, Sara MacLennan joined the team toestablish the brokerage's online marketing, and is now the marketing director of the brokerage. In 2012, the franchised brand was no longer a good fit for the personality of the brokerage. So, Sheldon and Sara repositioned the firm, developed its brand strategy, and created its new identity: Liv Real Estate.
People Are The Brand
Sheldon and Sara love living in Edmonton and feel one of the reasons Liv Real Estate is so successful is because they truly embrace the great changes they see in their city. They feel that energy and spirit is very similar to their company. Sara explained, "The way I see it, every person in our company is an extension of our brand. We recruit agents that share the same values and come to work with the same energy and enthusiasm that Sheldon and I have. It's contagious." When I visited the Liv Real Estate website I actually commented to Sara on their agents and the fact that the team looks so energized and happy. You can definitely feel the vibe on their website, which is a great marketing tool.
Marketing and SEO
In speaking with Sara during our recent REW Summit I asked her if she could talk a bit about what it takes to create and keep a successful SEO program. I noted how many people feel frustrated by the presence of the big real estate portals in search rankings and asked her how they have been successful.
Sara noted, "Everyone wants to get to the top of the search engines, but what they probably don't realize is that it costs just as much or more to stay there, as it does to get there. Competition just keeps increasing and for the big keywords it's nearly impossible for an individual agent to do it. Most of the brokerages or teams that are at the top, have someone in their brokerage like me that manage their marketing, technology and partners. It's becoming more and more complicated all the time and keeping track of it all is a full time job."
Sara went on to say that in 2005 she was able to get their brokerage to the top of the search engine searches for the big keywords in their marketplace, like "Edmonton real estate" and "Edmonton homes for sale", pretty much just through consistent blogging." She went on to say, "It wasn't until we got a Real Estate Webmaster (REW) site broker site in 2009 that we started to generate many more leads online. Our REW site ranked quickly for communities, and the leads started coming in. You don't have to be at the top for the short tail keywords to generate leads (at least not with an REW site)." Sara went on to recommend, "Focus on the long tail, write quality content, have great functionality, and the leads will come. The most important thing is what you do with them and getting them at the right time."
Sara explained that it's not just a high site ranking that is important, it's more important to get leads at the right time in the buyer process. She explained, "Think about it this way, when someone searches for San Francisco homes for sale, they've probably just started house hunting. When they search for Nob Hill homes for sale, they've decided they want to live in Nob Hill, and they're much closer to buying. That's a great time for them to find your web site, and have an excellent experience working with you. We are looking for buyers at that point in their buying cycle."
Sara says what is doesn't matter if Zillow or another third party has a higher site ranking if you are getting tons of quality leads and these leads are closer to the buying decision.
Liv Real Estate is also actively involved in the community and donates a portion of every single sale to their charity, Hope Mission, which is dedicated to helping the homeless. "Helping the homeless, is a natural for Liv Real Estate", explained Sheldon. "It is totally aligned with our real estate vocation, helping Edmonton and provides a very important service to those in need."
Leverage Social Media
Sheldon and Sara noted they use Social Media very heavily and have created a very well read blog at edmontonrealestateblog.com as well as a blog on their Real Estate Webmaster's site. The first, which they started in 2005 gets tons of viewers and has great authority on Google. They use that site to provide great tips on buying and selling, along with market stats and their own views on the marketplace. On the other blog they focus more on fun community information and mainly target buyers.
All blog posts are then shared via their Facebook page, Google+ and Twitter.
They also have a great YouTube channel, which is linked on the home page of their website which has tremendous traffic. Sara reports that their channel has about 150,000 views to date!
Justin Havre & Associates
Justin Havre lead CIR Realty in performance for several years and was the first agent to ever reach the top award level at CIR Realty—an accomplishment that hadn't been achieved in the company's first 32 years. After reaching the top, Justin decided to move his team to work on a strong international brand, RE/MAX.
Justin's team is made up of 17 agents.
Justin's recent awards include:
- #1 Team in CIR Realty for Production in 2013, 2012 & 2011
- #2 in CIR Realty for Production in 2010
- #1 in CIR Realty for Production in 2009
- Member of the Calgary Real Estate Board's Million Dollar Club
- Cirrus Pinnacle Award
- Cirrus Elite Award
- Cirrus Circle Award
- Directors Platinum Award
- President's Platinum Award
In 2013, Justin's business has almost tripled in terms of transactions compared to 2012. This year they are on pace to double last year. Justin added, "My leads were actually a bit downthis year but I have been doing radio advertising, putting in guaranteed sale programs, widening the net and focusing on improving my conversion rate. It's working. I'm also working hard to balance my business more evenly for buyers and sellers. We are currently at 60% buyer/40% sellers, which is an improvement from previous years.
Find The Right Partners and People
"When it comes to marketing", Justin explained, "the key is finding the right people to do the right work, whether it is to build your website, help you with SEO, whatever. Everybody promises the world but not everyone delivers. I went down some wrong roads, spent a lot of money before I found the partners that worked."
The key though, is that even though Justin went down some roads that turned out to be dead ends, he kept going. He invested in his business. He said that he was told early on by someone he truly trusted, that he should always reinvest 25% of his revenue back into the business. He feels many Realtors are not willing to do this and simply don't reinvest money into their own business. He added that you don't have to spend a lot and when money is tight, don't over extend yourself. "If you have a limited budget, start with a template site, don't spend more than you have on a custom site. With our vendor, REW, you can add to that over time as you get more income to reinvest.. The key is, whatever you decide to do, do it well before you move on to other marketing projects.
Justin uses multiple websites to go after different users and different market segments. To optimize each site he will use different keywords for each website.
Justin points out, "If I can get a number of websites in the top 10 of Google I should be successful but our market is very competitive and you aren't going to get all of the leads. It's really not just about your website rank though, it's really about the number and quality of the leads your getting. More is not necessarily better. The key is conversion. Too many and the right attention is not paid to each one, follow ups are not done. Today in my business, I don't have any issues with the number of leads I am getting. My focus is improving my conversion rate and I am spending more time and money doing that. I am also spending more energy staying in touch with my former clients as well. The contacts probably mean more than any new lead in the long run if maintain consistent contact and continue to give them useful information after the sale."
Justin clearly invests in his business and this has translated into continue growth each year. He provides professional coaching for the agents on his team through Dirk Zeller. He works closely with his web service provider, Real Estate Webmasters and he uses an outside SEO group to help with his SEO needs. As he stated in the beginning of this article, the key is finding the right partners.
Lessons I Have Learned
I asked Justin for any lessons he has learned and things he might do differently today. He told me, "Looking back at some of the things I felt were dead ends, I realize now that some of these may have worked if I spent more time on them. In the early days I tried to do too much and maybe spread myself too thin. Working with clients can cause the same problem. The more people you take on the less you can do in terms of service. The same is true for leads. You have to either balance the workload according to what you can really do well or you need to ramp up your resources and agents to meet the need. My advice is to focus on a few things and do them well. Don't try to do it aall or you spread yourself too thin. Build one site and get it right. Apply the system after you know it works. Now that I have things in place that work, I feel I can take that model anywhere and do it successfully."
About the Author
Mike Audet recently joined Real Estate Webmasters as Vice President of Business Development. Mike was co-founder of the WAV Group, one of the real estate industry's leading consulting companies. For ten years with WAV Group, Mike helped Real Estate Companies, Franchises, MLSs, Association and Technology vendors improve their business in numerous ways from technology audits and selection, to strategic planning, research and executive coaching. Prior to forming WAV Group, Mike was an executive with Interealty, the industry leading MLS Company that was purchased by CoreLogic and Moore Data, another leading MLS company now owned by Black Knight. Mike was recruited and joined Microsoft to help them launch HomeAdvisor and was also instrumental in developing one of the first CRM systems with Microsoft, called Realty Desktop. Mike has worked extensively in the internationally real estate community as a vendor and consultant, providing technology to European clients as a vendor, helping RE/MAX Europe sell master franchises throughout Europe and launching the first MLS in Brazil With WAV Group.
Real Estate Webmasters – Enterprise Consulting Services
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