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Get noticed
Optimize Your Web Site for Search Engines

Knowing how to position your Web site with some of the most popular search engines will help you reach consumers.

BY GREG RYAN

Your Web site is an integral part of your real estate marketing campaign. But simply putting up a Web site—and then sitting back and expecting customers to come find you—is an ineffective marketing strategy in today’s increasingly competitive real estate marketplace. You need to make sure that potential customers find you by making your Web site more visible on the Internet.

How do you do that? One of the most effective ways is to make sure that the major Internet search engines that consumers use to look for real estate information know that your site exists and—better yet—prominently display your site in the key first few listings for a particular search term.

There are hundreds of search engines and directories out there. You’ve probably heard of many of the most popular ones: Google, Yahoo!, AltaVista, MSN Search, AOL Search, among others. Because most consumers are only using a handful of major search engines to conduct their online searches, you should direct your efforts to having your Web site listed with those most popular search engines.

Getting Noticed

Let’s say you already have a Web site but are unhappy with the number of new customers who find you. Well, how would they go about finding you? Many of them are probably starting at a search engine like Google or Yahoo!

So what are the words that they are going to use to search for a site like yours? They usually use a keyword or key phrase—two or more words related to real estate. Since most of us are limited to the buying and selling of property in a region (such as Wisconsin), some of those keywords might be cities in your state. For example: “Milwaukee real estate.” “Madison condominiums.” “Wauwatosa duplex.” Your job is to figure out the most important keywords or phrases and then to modify your Web site so that when somebody types in those phrases, your Web site is displayed prominently on the search engine results.

There are basically two ways that you can get positioned in a search engine:
  • Pay-per-click (PPC) is paying for an advertising position using a search engine like Overture or Google. These products allow you to bid for specific key phrases (e.g., “Milwaukee real estate”). Bid amounts relate to the position on the major search engines. For example, you might bid 95 cents for the No. 2 position for “Chicago condos.” When somebody types those words into Yahoo!, your Web site listing will appear at the No. 2 position near the top of the page. (The PPC is the rate you pay the search engine every time a consumer clicks on your link through that search engine. The PPC rate can vary depending on the competition for your key phrases by other real estate Web sites; on average, the minimum bid for a key phrase is about 10 cents, but some rates can go up to several dollars per key phrase depending on the market and industry.)
  • Search engine optimization (SEO) informs search engines that your Web site is “out there” (usually through a Web site submission form on the search engine’s site). This may be free or there may be a yearly fee, depending on the search engine. For example, Google takes submissions for free while Yahoo! charges $299 per year. Where your site appears in the search engine’s listings depends on how the particular search engine categorizes Web sites. Sometimes you’ll happen upon the right combination and get listed near the top. But most likely, you’ll find yourself in never-never land where virtually no one will find you. This might happen because you’ve designed your Web site before actually considering what the search engines are looking for.

PPC positioning is almost immediate (some engines will have you “clicking” within 15 minutes but most within one to two days). You also can pay for the exact position, as your budget will allow. SEO can take weeks or months before your listing appears and, even then, you won’t be sure where on the listings you’ll find your site. The good news is that it may be a free service of the search engine and can drive new customers to your Web site once it’s in place.

Search Engine Optimization

You can better your positioning by performing SEO on your Web site. This means that you try to stack the deck in your favor with the search engines. When somebody types your favorite keywords, hopefully, your site will come up well positioned. You should be aware that SEO can be costly and time consuming. You can either find companies who do this for you or you can try to do it yourself. If you do it yourself, you can spend about one to three days to optimize your Web site the first time. If you pay someone else to do it for you, the cost can range from $1,000 to $5,000, depending on how extensive your Web site is.

If you decide to do your own SEO, you can increase your odds of getting better positioning by following some basic rules.

Most search engines and directories will use automated tools to figure out what keywords or phrases to use to find your Web site. With this in mind, you should make sure that your home page contains as many appropriate key phrases as possible while still maintaining an attractive and useful site. Multi-word phrases are, generally, more likely to be listed high since competition for single keywords, such as “marketing,” is often enormous.

How do you determine which key phrases to use? Ask your customers and business associates which words they would use. E-mail them a blank form and ask them which 20 key phrases they would use to find property of a type that you wish to buy or sell. You may be surprised by what key phrases they send back. Keep in mind that many people are poor spellers. You might want to put a few misspellings on the site just to attract them!

An important definition before we proceed: Meta tags are words in Web pages that are not displayed in a browser but provide a browser or search engine with useful information. They often carry the title of the Web page or key phrases that might describe various aspects of the Web site in general.

Places to Incorporate Key Phrases
  • The URL of your site (for example: www.milwaukee-realestate.net).
  • The body text of the page (very important).
  • The meta tag “title” of the page (for example: Milwaukee Real Estate—Madison Duplexes).
  • The meta tag “description” of the page. This is sometimes the actual text that an engine will display next to your listings.
  • The meta tag “keywords” of the page. Note that these are becoming more and more useless with time. Many search engines may not even read these words!
  • The ALT tags associated to graphic images embedded in the page.
  • The names of the graphic images (for example: keyphrase.jpg).
  • The link URL from graphic images and from text links (for example: key phrase.html).

The position of the key phrase within the associated text can be important, too. That is to say, how close the key phrase is to the beginning of the text can increase its value to the search engine. If you have a key phrase and place it at the end of the body text, it will have less value to the search engine than if it is placed at the beginning of the body text. This also can apply to other text areas (the title, for example).

Try going to your favorite search engines and typing in your selected key phrases. After you see which sites come up first, go to those sites and see what they have done.

More Links = Increased Traffic

Once you have your Web site optimized, try to get other complementary Web sites to link to yours. Search engines such as Google look at that as a gauge of how popular your site is and will boost your rankings accordingly. For example, if you have a good relationship with a particular lender, offer to swap links with the lender’s site. You’re not competing for the same business but can help each other increase traffic to your respective sites.

Some Final Words

Some things should be avoided. For example, consumers might not use your name when looking for your type of Web site. Although it can be an ego boost to be well positioned when your name is typed into the engine, it might not get you additional visitors, and it may actually cost you something. You could have used that key phrase for one of the phrases that people actually type in.

After you have your Web site optimized (and not before), you can go to the search engines and submit your Web site.

High positioning of your Web site by search engines can be an important and lucrative way to find new customers. PPC advertising allows you to hit the ground running very quickly, and you can set how much you pay for each new potential customer. Regular search engine optimization helps you gain good search-engine positioning at a very reasonable cost (sometimes free!).

Many Internet users still start their online sessions at search engines if they don’t know exactly where they want to go. They just “feel their way” to whatever Web site comes up that contains the information they are looking for. Make sure that the Web site that they find is yours.

Learn More:

Pay-Per-Click
Overture
Google Advertising

Search Engine Optimization
SearchEngineWatch.com



Greg Ryan is salesperson with Worth Realty in Milwaukee, Wis., and an Internet consultant who specializes in search engines. You can e-mail him at greg@ecommandos.com or visit his Web site.




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