I've been thinking a lot about "big picture" SEO strategies, and how we can apply them to the real estate industry. To start, there's convincing evidence that page one content continues to get longer, yet each industry also has its own content trends.
Over the past couple weeks, I ran an experiment to help determine a better content baseline for the real estate industry. I looked at page one results for "[city] real estate" for 22 major cities across the United States and Canada, and recorded the amount of content on each of the top results.
This experiment gave me a better idea of what our clients' competition is doing, and helps set new content targets, based on the average number of words on top-performing pages.
The result? 1,568 words.
That's the mean word count for all the pages that showed up on page, organically.
And while I'm glad to know that, it's actually not the most interesting thing I discovered throughout the experiment. By looking at hundreds of top-performing pages, I got a pretty good look into what types of content do well in the search engines—and there were some unexpected trends.
1. The Portals Actually Have A Lot of Content
Talking to industry friends, there seems to be this conception that the big portals don't have much content, and have floated to the top of the SERPs while ignoring SEO's cardinal rule (content is king). But this conception is completely untrue. The portals have a lot of content.
In fact, they had an average of 1698 words on their page 1 results—over 100 words more than the total mean. And Redfin often has more than 4000 words on their landing pages. Definitely not the "no content" notion many people have.
So what's going on?
It's the way we perceive content. A lot of people think of content as full paragraphs and chunks of text, but there's so much more to it. In the real estate context, it's often listing info: descriptions, stats and data for numerous properties, displayed simultaneously. Gathering mass amounts of listing data is where the portals shine.
And speaking of listings...
2. Real Estate Listings Crushed It
One of my fastest conclusions was that the majority of dominating pages were highly focused on real estate listings, prioritizing it over informative neighbourhood content. While written content still seemed to play an important role on the pages of many sites, it was often found below the listings.
This makes sense. Google monitors user behaviour on the page to see how satisfied someone is when they visit. If users are highly engaged and don't need to search for other sites after visiting yours, Google can reasonably conclude they found what they were looking for. The page matched the keyword. Perfect.
If you're looking up "san diego real estate", chances are you want to look at San Diego real estate listings. By placing those results front and centre, and giving the user dozens of listings to scroll through and explore, you're meeting that user's original search intent. They never have to visit another site, and that user engagement is reflected in the SERP results.
But as a side note, it's also important to consider other search intents too. People will be looking at different keywords throughout their real estate journey. Finding those keywords and creating content to match the searcher's intent is a critical part of the SEO process.
3. Maps Crushed It Too
Another common trend in the top results was a map view of the available listings. This is another feature of a real estate landing page that just makes sense—as a buyer, you want to find the properties that are in your area of interest. A map is a very effective way to visually demonstrate this information in an instant.
4. Local Pages Can Trump High Word Counts
But that doesn't mean all the results were listings and maps. I was initially surprised when my search for Phoenix real estate pulled up a couple dated-looking websites with notably low word counts. They were statistical outliers. Yet both sites had something in common: they targeted Canadians.
And this makes sense. Arizona is a popular snowbird location for west coast Canadians because it's close and warm. My very own parents have a winter condo in Arizona, and retirees in British Columbia often look for property within the state. Google missed the demographic mark by a couple decades in my case, but they're definitely onto something...
The second time I saw location impact results was when a search for "charlotte real estate" put HaidaGwaiiTrader.com in position 6. I had to stop and think before I made the obvious connection: Haida Gwaii is located in Northern B.C. and, prior to 2010, it was called the Queen Charlotte Islands.
In both the Phoenix and Haida Gwaii examples, Google modified the search results just for me, based on my current location, without me ever asking it to. While this won't matter to many realtors, it means there's big potential for targeted landing pages for areas with strong international appeal.
What This Means For Real Estate SEO
This experiment was a good reminder that SEO is constantly evolving, and that what works in one era might not work in the next. I unfortunately can't tell you exactly what you should do with your real estate landing pages to dominate the organic results, because your recipe for success will vary, but I can tell you some experiments that I think are worth trying:
1. Real Estate Listings vs. Text Content
Both logic and the top results are good indicators that users who search for real estate are more interested in looking at listings than reading information about a community. I recommend taking a look at your pages' current rankings, then run a couple experiments on some of the pages:
Move Listings To The Top
Turn on Map Search by Default
Wait a few weeks, and see what happens. Did your pages move up in the results? Do you have stronger user interactions on the page? Do the pages convert better or worse than before?
2. Ideal Content Length
I also think it's a good time to experiment with copy length. Take a look at your top local competitors and see how much content they have, then set that as your baseline. If you can't find a reasonable baseline, start with about 1,500 words of focused, relevant content.
There's a couple things to test here too:
Real Estate Listings Content
Because real estate listings themselves are a form of content, I'd also test for the ideal number of properties per page. Just don't forget about load speed (test this with a developer tool, not Google PageSpeed Insights), when you're finding out the best balance for your site.
Like in the real estate listings versus text experiment, you're going to want to look at page position, user engagement, and conversion rate to help determine the success or failure of each experiment.
3. Go For The Location Niches
If you have a niche location market that you can target, try it. It just might be a quick and easy victory to the top of the SERPs. As Google continues to personalize results, there's going to be opportunities for savvy SEOs to get ahead. Consider what buyers and sellers might be looking for when moving locations, then target it. If you have an obvious seasonal population, ensure you've positioned your site to capture it.
Depending on how Google is treating localization, you may also be able to get a competitive advantage on more generic search terms, like at the beginning of a searcher's journey. I'd be tempted to try infusing localization into posts about the home buying process and first time buyer guides, for example.
Experimenting To Get Ahead
The real estate industry is extraordinarily competitive, and real estate SEO is no different. But regardless of whether your site is just starting out, or you've been in the SEO space for a decade, the ever-changing online landscape means there's always room for improvement.
By strategically evaluating your competition, making smart changes to your site, and watching the impact of those changes, it's possible to find new ways to dominate the SERPs. Ongoing experimentation is how we SEOs get better, ultimately driving more traffic and leads to our sites.