As my wife and I embarked on our recent search for a new home, we naturally found ourselves turning to the internet and mobile phones for a wide variety of information. Armed with our laptop computers and trusty iPhones, we expected to find everything from new listings and neighborhood comps to past tax information. As we did so, it quickly became apparent how many Realtors are not prepared for today’s home buyer. In a day when potential home buyers can stand in the driveway of their dream home and pull up the listing on their cell phone or search listings from their living room, it is amazing how many Realtors appear to be missing out on the opportunity.
My background in SEO, web design and content marketing piqued my curiosity as to why so many Realtor websites seem to be missing the boat and along the way I found the same mistakes being repeated over and over again.
Here are five things Realtors can do to improve their websites:
Search Engine Optimization (SEO)
Real Estate search engine rankings are easy pickings (at least from what I can see). Most large brokers either don’t provide SEO tools in the websites they provide for their agents or the agent doesn’t use them correctly. Of the Realtor websites I found that did include meta titles and descriptions, many were poorly written and often included some serious key word stuffing (which can actually hurt your search engine rankings).
The meta title and description provide information that helps the search engines index the web page and also helps determine what shows up in the Search Engine Results Page (SERP). Most good website content management systems (CMS) provide a place to enter meta data. This is one of the reasons I like WordPress for building websites as it is very easy for the end user to add the proper titles and descriptions for the search engines. Meta titles and descriptions should be created for every page on the site. Keywords are not as important as most of the search engines no longer consider them.
It is also important to include meta titles and descriptions on property listings. How many potential home buyers see a home and search by address? If your listing is not optimized for the search engines, chances are someone else has optimized it improving the chances of the property coming up on their website and not yours.
Writing a good meta title and description isn’t difficult. Think about what words the target audience would use to find your services. Use those words to create a summary of the page or blog post. It is also important that the meta title and description are engaging enough that they encourage the reader to click through to your website. With a property listing, title and description can be as simple as the address and description of the property. A good IDX service should do this automatically or allow you to create them with very little effort.
To see the meta descriptions on your website, right click anywhere on the page and choose “View page source”. Look at the top of the code for “<title>” and “<meta description>.” You should see the title of your document and a brief description. This is what the search engine sees when it looks at your site. For a more detailed look, a tools like SEOCentro’s Meta Tag Analyzer can provide greater detail and tips for improving your title and description.
Don’t forget the XML Sitemap.
Although this may seem a little technical, a Google XML sitemap acts as a road map for your website. It guides the search engines through your website, helps them to index the information on your site and notifies Google when your site is updated. This is something that your web designer should have built into the design of your website. Once installed, you don’t need to worry about it. There are a number of tools available to check that your XML sitemap is in place and working. Validome offers a basic one here.
If you are using WordPress, there are a number of plugins that will take care of the XML site map for you.
Integrate Blog Into Website
Blogging is one of the best ways to move your website up the search engine rankings but it only works if the blog is directly incorporated into the website. When you blog on a third party service like WordPress.com or Blogger, those blog post are not helping your website move up the search engine rankings. Google likes fresh content and each page you add to your website offers another opportunity for Google to find your site.
Blogs also give potential clients a reason to come back to your site. Good blog content builds trust with potential clients and demonstrates your expertise. Add a good call to action and you can direct your readers to take the next step in the buying process whether that’s capturing a lead or looking at a listing.
If you are going to blog, build the blog directly into your website.
Optimize For Mobile Devices
How many potential home buyers drive by a property, see a for sale sign and pull out their smart phone? If your website is not optimized for mobile than you are missing this potential client. Don’t believe me, take a moment and look at your website’s analytics (you are using Google Anlytics or another analytics program aren’t you?). If you haven’t checked in a while, you may be surprised by the number of visitors using mobile browsers. This includes both smart phones and tablet computers such as the iPad.
If you haven’t already, open your website on both a smart phone and tablet computer. If you can’t easily view the site neither can your potential client. There are a number of ways to create websites that work on mobile devices. The most recent developments include “responsive design.” A website incorporating responsive design allows the site to adjust to any size.
This blog is mobile responsive. To see mobile responsive design in action, adjust the size of your browser window and watch this page adjust to your viewer. If you are looking at this on a mobile phone, you should already see the effects of mobile responsive design. (Forgive me as I’m still working out the mobile responsive kinks on the home page.)
Use Tools to Direct Potential Clients
While it’s handy to find mortgage calculators or other real estate tools directly on a Realtor’s website, too often they lead the visitor off the site with no easy way back. If your goal is to generate a potential lead or encourage a home buyer to contact you, sending them off the website without a clear link back will only drive them away.
Use third party tools to direct your reader to take the next step in the buying process. That could be as simple as offering an email for more information or downloading a customized pricing report. Instead of linking the tool to a different website or blank page, directly embed the tool into a page on your website. This allows you to add text, email subscription forms or anything else you need to direct your reader above or below the tool.
Be Careful With Canned Content
“If you are thinking of selling your home, chances are you’re caught up in a mass of emotions.”
Sound familiar? A Google search of the sentence above bring up more than 1.1 million results. Not only that, if you look closely at any of those pages, you will see that it comes from content with a copyright date of 2000. Maybe it is good information, maybe it isn’t but as a potential home buyer (and seller), I see it as seriously outdated. Since 2000 we have seen a massive real estate market boom followed by just as massive a bust. How would you feel about an investment firm that proudly displayed 12-year-old information on their website?
From a search engine perspective, duplicate content of this sort may again hurt your search engine rankings. Google likes fresh, original content and is making efforts to prevent websites filled with unoriginal or worse stolen content from reaching the top of the search engine rankings.
Canned content of this sort may have a place if it truly provides information of value to your target audience. If the information is truly of value to your potential clients, use it as a way to generate leads. Package it into special reports or white papers and offer them in exchange for an email address. Use related articles as newsletter content for your growing list.
Don’t Allow Website to Become Cluttered, Outdated or Unprofessional
When potential home buyers land on your website, you only have a few seconds to capture their attention. Websites that are cluttered, outdated or unprofessional looking only encourage visitors to move on to the next website. Focus on clean simple design that directs the user where you want them to go.
Stuffing too much information into the sidebar or worse, on the main part of the website can drive potential clients away. Put your website on a diet and trim away everything that doesn’t directly lead to a desired action. Can’t decide what to drop? Use your website analytics to determine what converts and what doesn’t and build from there.
The fewer choices you offer, the better chance the visitor will make a desired choice.
Fortunately for Realtors and other small business types, it has become much easier to build and manage a website. WordPress, once a popular blogging tool, is now a powerful website and content management system. A basic WordPress site can be built for little more than the cost of the time invested. More advanced WordPress designs can incorporate powerful SEO, IDX integration, featured listings with scrolling photo galleries, embedded Google maps and more. Once installed, adding new content or listings is about as easy as creating a document in Microsoft Word (if not easier).
With the advancements in webdesign and the affordability of WordPress web development, there is no excuse for not developing a powerful website that works.
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