SEO is important. Everyone who owns a website knows that. However, we need to be realistic. What does SEO actually do?
SEO (Search Engine Optimization) is the umbrella term for tweaking content both on-site and off-site so a particular website can “rank” (show up) higher in the SERP (Search Engine Results Page). Once SEO work has been done and maintained on a certain website, it will be easier for users to stumble upon that particular website while searching for relevant terms.
In one simple sentence, SEO helps increase discoverability, thus, organic traffic.
SEO helps increase organic traffic from people who are searching for certain terms. It’s good that people can find your website, but that also means that people will have to find your website by looking for it. Now that we all know that, let's get into it.
Here's an in-depth breakdown of how SEO works for real estate and property websites, and how to increase visibility.
First, a quick review of what we're tackling.
Search engines have gotten smart enough to differentiate search queries down to the smallest details, and different word choices.
For example, if you want to purchase a new laptop, you could just type in “new laptop prices” or “cheap laptops Sunshine Coast” or even “M1 MacBooks Maroochydore.” Google (or Bing or DuckDuckGo) would look into its database and give you a quick list of what it thinks is the best answer to your request. You’d probably get a list of links you can follow to find what you were looking for.
The results vary depending on what’s been put in. Even between “laptop prices,” “cheap laptops Sunshine Coast,” and “M1 MacBooks Sunshine Coast” the Google SERP shows very different results. The ones with regions included in the search even show you a map of vendors in the area because Google thinks you want to buy laptops nearby.
Google categorizes search queries into three types.
Talking about the differences and how we can leverage them from a marketing point of view is a whole other discussion worth a week-long seminar, so we’ll just skip that for now, and go straight into how this knowledge contributes to our topic for the day.
Although there’s a huge difference between real estate listings and property development websites in terms of demographic and market, the search type is the same level of difficulty. They are transactional-intended searches that will actually need informational results. However, in practicality, the property related searches are navigational.
Broken down, this is what’s happening.
People would like to pay for housing, but since property websites aren’t eBay, the result is the same as getting a bunch of information of a certain type of housing (so we can take the contracts and transactions offline). However, the actual searches aren’t for obtaining the realtors' emails/phone numbers, it’s for getting on a website that will present them with the listings.
At the end of the day, property websites are local, known-item, navigational searches (meaning, people want to land on a certain website that helps them in relevance to location). However, that’s just the bare-bones, basic, fundamental, starting-point aspect of SEO. There are more important factors in play.
What kinds of sites work better?
If somebody asked you for the best pizza restaurant in New York City, and you had to provide online results like Google, what would you show them? In other words, what would Google do? (You can even search it yourself.) A map, some ads, and something like Tripadvisor or Yelp, right?
That’s exactly what happens. Google shows you what it thinks is the best results for someone who is searching for the best pizza place in NYC. For that person, getting actual map locations and a bunch of top 10 pages is the best result, and Google knows that.
Google observes its users and their search activity to assess how long people are engaged at a certain website, and it assumes longer user retention, better content, better results. (There are other metrics as well, but this is a surprisingly big one).
So listings work well. A lot of searches that are looking for suggestions are populated with listings or companies that do the thing you’re looking for.
Simply put, listings sites are the search engine’s golden child.
Alexa rankings is an indicator of site popularity. (Here’s a quick breakdown of what Alexa rankings are.) Since there are way too many websites in the world, even being in the top 1 million websites is a huge honor. (There are currently about 2B websites registered and 200M of them are active.) So, if a site is high up on the rankings, that site is popular. Remember user retention? It's almost the same for Alexa as well. That ultimately means it’s hard to beat on the SERP.
Let’s start with the largest competitor, RealEstate.com.au is #15 on Australian Alexa (and around #1000 GLOBALLY). This is a highly impressive number. RealEstate.com.au is one of the most visited websites in Australia trailing only behind global internet giants, such as Google, YouTube, Facebook, Shopify, eBay, Reddit, Netflix, Wikipedia, and Amazon. Then you have RealEstate. That’s impressive. It’s even above Instagram. In fact, it’s the #1 Australian owned website in Australia (owned by REA Group headquartered in Melbourne).
For the sake of completion, Domain.com.au is #43 on Alexa in Australia, which is still huge. Then, you have large real estate agency websites which all have their own listings sections.
Those handful of websites dominate the SERP. People land on the listings site and start searching and stay there long enough for it to be noticed by Google. Now the question is: how is your property development and/or real estate listings website going to compete against them to get organic traffic?
That doesn’t mean you have to give up.
If you have a property development website, adding words like “boutique luxury waterfront residential architectural family apartment in Maroochydore” everywhere on the site and saying it multiple times over a multi-page website will still get you absolutely no SEO-related (organic) traffic. Nada. Zilch. Zero.
It won’t even rank.
Also as an aside, just because the website is declared "SEO friendly" doesn't mean it will rank either. "SEO friendly" websites in general won't rank without hours of elbow grease put in. It's just a vapid term that sounds convincing, but doesn't provide actual solutions.
The first result on the SERP gets a third of the clicks anyway. Overall, a whopping 95% of clicks happen on the first page of the SERP. If you’re not on the first page, you’re almost never going to be clicked on. Having said that, go and search for any kind of real estate related search in Google and see if you can find any non-listing website (or non-real-estate agency) on the first page.
In many cases, even searching the development brand name doesn’t find you the exact website. This is because the development brands usually use generic words, and that doesn’t help at all. “Pristine” might sound cool when branding a new development, but it only gets you results like “pristine 3 bdrm apt” when searched. On a similar vein, the keywords are usually not what people are searching for. Nobody is searching lofty descriptive terms in Google to buy a home. They're searching suburbs and price-points on RealEstate.
Lastly, placing the URL in print ads can only do so much. Not many people are going to be typing the URL on their phone browser while reading a newspaper or remember to look up that particular ad on their desktop later. They’re too busy searching RealEstate. Roadside billboards might look nice and large, but you need to get the passenger (not the driver) interested enough to want to check out the website, otherwise they’ll just end up on RealEstate.
So almost nothing works.
But don't give up.
In the hands of the right people, it’s possible to get even a niche site on the very top of the SERP. (Not through SEO, though, we’ve established that SEO doesn’t work well for property websites.) Right above the actual search results are the ads, and they work very well.
Google places ads above the search. It has the absolute best real estate on the SERP. Those ads are placed there via Google algorithms depending on what keywords and demographics are deemed relevant for certain searches. Facebook and/or Instagram advertisements are different in placement (they’re in the feed) but the idea is the same. The ads find the right person, not the other way around.
Frankly, there’s no other way to get any property website to get any useful traffic.
Getting the right ad in front of the right people is the best (and only) way for a real estate or property website to serve its purpose.