Cleaning up Real Estate Webmasters - Whiter hat?
Many of you read my post last night regarding Real Estate Webmasters all of a sudden not ranking for our own name in Google (Well several pages down) - Naturally I assumed there must be something going on - a penalty perhaps? Well we are not sure as tonight everything appears to be back to normal so it could have just been a google glitch. However when it happened I immediately went into SEO detective mode and started a full audit on both our outbound and inbound linking activities (Always a good place to start looking if you suspect a Google penalty) - In doing so, I realized that there are a few areas that could really use some tightening up if we want to be able to claim that we are in complete compliance with Google's terms of service.
Where to start? The REW Directory
When I built the directory several years ago - I modelled it in many ways off of the most popular niche specific real estate directories of the day. However since that time, directories have come under fire in terms of how they solicit membership, what they charge for, and of course the quality of submissions they accept.
Now - we have always been ahead of the curve when it came to our requirements - we mandated that the directory was for local websites promoting only agents and brokers. We have also always had human editing (Manual approval) of all listings so that we could spot check submissions for violations of a search engines terms of service etc - however, in terms of the true "quality" of the site - I do not think we do enough. So what I am going to do is create a much tighter submission policy that takes into account what our community feels the "minimum standards" for a high quality Realtor website to be.
I have started a thread in the REW Directory forum titled member input on new TOS and I encourage all members to participate in developing our new quality guidelines for our directory.
Having these quality guidelines in place should ensure a very positive visitor experience and help us to convince search engines that we truly are interested in referring our significant real estate consumer traffic to the most qualified of Realtors.
But let's talk about search engine guidelines for a minute
As I stated above - what search engines define as a true quality directory is a little more involved than just making sure the websites are relevant, high quality, and provide a quality user experience - they also must show that their intention is not to exist simply to inflate the rankings of the websites that submit. So what else can I / should I change?
Let's start with some suggestions by Google Engineer Matt Cutts in his "How to report paid links" blog post - in this post Matt covers many types of sites, but he touches on directories specifically.
"I’ll try to give a few rules of thumb to think about when
looking at a directory. When considering submitting to a directory,
I’d ask questions like:
- Does the directory reject urls? If every url passes a review, the directory gets closer to just a list of links or a free-for-all link site.
- What is the quality of urls in the directory? Suppose a site rejects 25% of submissions, but the urls that are accepted/listed are still quite low-quality or spammy. That doesn’t speak well to the quality of the directory.
- If there is a fee, what’s the purpose of the fee? For a high-quality directory, the fee is primarily for the time/effort for someone to do a genuine evaluation of a url or site.
Those are a few factors I’d consider. If you put on your user hat and ask “Does this seem like a high-quality directory to me?” you can usually get a pretty good sense as well, or ask a few friends for their take on a particular directory."
Ok so let's see - does the directory reject URL's? Check! We always have - but with our new quality guidelines, we will likely reject even more. :)
What is the quality of the URL's accepted? Once again, this item is covered with our new quality guidelines.
What is the purpose of the fee? Well we do currently have a featured listing and as with all listings we do manually review the submission, thus we could make a case for the fee covering the cost of the evaluation - but that being said, I have not decided if I am going to keep this feature - I will be honest Matt (And anyone else reading this) we have always focused on the added exposure (More traffic) as the benefit to buying the featured spot, as opposed to the manual review (Which we do for all listings, not just featured) - Is this wrong? I don't have the answer, and it is something I am clearly going to have to think about.
Ok - so that covers Matt's brief comments, but let's not stop there.
Flag them as featured? I also read somewhere that Google suggests marking any featured / advertising spots clearly as a "paid for" position. I will be adding "Sponsored feature" or something like that to our featured listings if we keep them.
Requiring a reciprocal link (No more): This is the standard for almost all real estate related directories but let's break the mold here, if we are truly interested in providing a service to our visitors, and assisting putting them in touch with our members, then a reciprocal link should not be required. I have made this change to the code and TOS already - for all future submissions, assuming they match what I foresee as being much more robust quality guidelines - a reciprocal link will NOT be required for submission in the directory. Now that being said - Linking to us at any time (Submitting to the directory, or just because you appreciate the community and are proud to be a member) is always appreciated. This does help build our link portfolio and even more importantly, it helps spread the word about the REW community to other Realtors looking for a great resource to help get them started right online. Remember back when you were new to the web, and you needed help? Think where you are now and how greatful you are to the person that referred you to Real Estate Webmasters - Please - don't keep REW a secret, referrals and member are how we survive and prosper.
No Follow Links: This is not going to be a popular decision, but if we are truly to prove to Google that our directory is about being able to find referral partners in the community quickly and efficiently as well as sending relevant consumer based traffic to the listings, this may be the only way to truly prove to them that we are not trying to "sell links"
Google Gods, if you are out there please provide me some insight on this one as I really don't want to have to place a no follow on regular listings - we cater to the web savvy, and many members are introduced to our community by doing a link: check in Google and seeing Realestatewebmasters.com as a link - they follow it here, and end up becoming great contributing members.