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SEO tip: spy on your competition, set up Google Alerts

Do you know how to listen to the internet? Really listen? Do you know how to get instant alerts when your name pops up online? How about your competitors? Here is the lowdown:



You Can’t Keep up with the Jones’ if you don’t know what they are doing.

google alerts window spyWelcome back to the SEO Tips series, I’m glad you’ve stuck with me and hope you have learned a thing or two to help your Web site perform better.  This will be the last tip in this series for a while.  Next week we’ll do a review of what we’ve covered so far, and then we’ll be taking a short break.

Over the last several weeks we have covered many ways for you to help your site to perform well.  However, a big part of SEO is also doing research on the competition to learn what they are doing and what changes they are making.  Some of this can be accomplished simply by visiting their sites and studying them, or by using link tools to see who links to them and how.  Those are both great steps to use when setting a baseline for your evaluation of them.  But if they are doing their job correctly, you know that new links will be getting added frequently.  You don’t want to pour through an entire link report every week – right?  Some of the sites I monitor have 5,000+ links to them, so I know I don’t.

You also put a fair amount of time and effort into developing your list of keywords and creating content to target them.  It would be good to know who else is using them, and how.  You might have a new competitor in your area and not even know it until you lose a client to them.

But how can you possibly keep track of all that?  (and still sleep a few hours a day)  Once again, Google makes it simple. Google Alerts is a simple tool that you can use to monitor all sorts of information about your site, other sites, your desired keywords and phrases or even information about yourself.

Configuring Google Alerts

Google alerts (Click to view larger view)You do need a Google account to use this tool, if don’t have one yet here is your chance.  You can find the tool at

After you log in, you’ll see a button labeled “create new alert”.  When creating a new alert you’ll need to provide the following information:

  • Search TermThis is what you want Google to search for and inform you about if it finds something.  You enter things here just link you would on the Google homepage.  If you want to be notified when a new link is discovered to a domain, enter this (without the quotations) “”.  You can enter pretty much anything here; Words, phrases, your name, the URL of your site, URL of others sites.  Lots of things.  I also monitor for my e-mail addresses, twitter name and common miss-spellings of my name.
  • TypeYou can restrict your search to particular areas (news, video, blogs, etc) within the index if you’d like, but using “comprehensive” will monitor all areas of the Google index.
  • How OftenYou can choose to be alerted; weekly, daily or whenever something is discovered.  Depending on what you are monitoring pick a time frame that suits your needs.  Keep in mind that “as-it-happens” means exactly that, if Google discovers something at 2 am, you’ll get an alert at 2 am.
  • Email length If you are monitoring very popular sites of keywords the alerts might catch several items at once, especially if you are using weekly alerts.  This option lets you say whether you want up to 20 or 50 alerts per message.
  • Deliver toYou can choose to have alerts sent to your e-mail, or added to your RSS feed reader.  Depending on what you are monitoring, either one may be appropriate.  Obviously e-mails should be used for urgent alerts.

Mrs-kravitz-bewitchedGoogle will let you set up to 1,000 alerts for each account you create with them.  However, the only way you can change the email address an alert goes to is to delete the alert and recreate it with the new one.

OK, now you are all set to start playing the role of Mrs. Kravitz,  get out those binoculars and get busy spying on your neighbors competitors.

Have fun!

Jack Leblond is a SEO/SEM professional working for a large corporation full time in Austin, TX. He is not a Realtor, he is our in-house SEO expert. Jack is the Director of Internet Strategy and Operations for TG ( In addition to managing the team that develops and maintains the company's multiple Web sites, he focuses on Search Engine Optimization (SEO), e-marketing and Social Media. Jack's background ranges from Submarine Sonar Technician/Instructor for the United States Navy, technical writer, pioneer in internet/intranet creation for McGraw-Hill and Times Mirror Higher Education, former Adjunct Professor for two Universities teaching web-related courses, has served as a city council member and co-founded Net-Smart, a web design and hosting company, where he managed networks and oversaw the development of hundreds of Web sites. As a free-lance SEO consultant, Jack performs SEO Site Audits for small/medium businesses that want their web sites to perform better in the search engine listings.

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  1. Robert Worthington

    December 12, 2009 at 6:41 pm

    Thanks Jack for the advice. I have not been monitoring the competition. Now I feel like I’m moving forward instead of falling behind. Great advice and I’m going to create a new account for alerts. Thanks a ton!

  2. Brad Officer - Jacksonville Real Estate

    December 13, 2009 at 8:04 am

    Jack, I often use to check the back links of several of my competitors. Interestingly enough, they have more links and often better links but their sites are stagnant. Due to the complacency, I outrank them on most search results that the competitive group seems to be targeting. You gotta stay up to date on the the tech!

  3. Missy Caulk

    December 13, 2009 at 12:21 pm

    Jack, I have found if I set up alerts for things like Ann Arbor Real Estate blogs and Realtors I can keep up with my competitors without just using their names. There are so few who do it anyway here, it is not hard to do.

    I love my Google Alerts.

  4. Doug Francis

    December 13, 2009 at 8:04 pm

    My alert for my name has taught me that Google will send me alerts for my first and my last name. So I get plenty of alerts… which is educational too. For example, it came to my attention that Eddie Francis is the mayor of Windsor, Ontario. (no relation)

    I do like it when it alerts me that my own posts had being indexed (?) or on other blogs where I left a comment and then that page was indexed.

  5. Paula Henry

    December 13, 2009 at 8:49 pm

    Like Missy – I use general keywords, but I do need to set up more for some in-depth spying. I’ve even come upon a property for a client before through Google Alerts. Some agents here will only put one or two pictures on the MLS, then create a single property site with lots of pictures. Through the single property site, I find more pictures and a possible home for my buyer.

  6. Joe

    December 13, 2009 at 11:12 pm

    We have used Google Alerts for a few years now. Not just for competitors, but folks who we want to follow for their expertise in a certain discipline.

  7. Jack Leblond

    December 14, 2009 at 12:00 pm

    Sounds like most of you are on the ball with alerts already – good job.

    Doug – try putting quotes around your name, this *should* force Google to search for at as a phrase instead of two words.

  8. Janie Coffey

    January 16, 2010 at 3:07 pm

    I have several alerts set up but never thought to set them up on my competition. Duh, it seems to obvious once you say it. Thank you for bringing this tool to our attention.

  9. ModernEstateAgent

    April 1, 2010 at 12:23 pm

    Nice to see agents using this. I run the Modern Estate Agent blog (“daily brain food”) and I must mention Google Alerts at least once a month.

    Apart from monitoring their own brand and what their competitors are up to, the content in alert emails also provides great inspiration for an agent’s blog.

    It’s so simple and it’s something every small business owner should be doing!


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Austin tops the list of best places to buy a home

When looking to buy a home, taking the long view is important before making such a huge investment – where are the best places to make that commitment?



Looking at the bigger picture

(REALUOSO.COM) – Let us first express that although we are completely biased about Texas (we’re headquartered here, I personally grew up here), the data is not – Texas is the best. That’s a scientific fact. There’s a running joke in Austin that if there is a list of “best places to [anything],” we’re on it, and the joke causes eye rolls instead of humility (we’re sore winners and sore losers in this town).

That said, dug into the data and determined that the top 12 places to buy a home are currently Texas and North Carolina (and Portland, I guess you’re okay too or whatever).

They examined the nerdiest of numbers from the compound annual growth rate in inflation-adjusted GDP to cost premium, affordability, taxes, job growth, and housing availability.

“Buying a house is a big decision and a big commitment,” the company notes. “Although U.S. home prices have risen in the long term, the last decade has shown that path is sometimes full of twists, turns, dizzying heights and steep, abrupt falls. Today, home prices are stabilizing and increasing in most areas of the U.S.”

Click here to continue reading the list of the 12 best places to buy a home…

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Housing News

Average age of houses on the rise, so is it now better or worse to buy new?

With aging housing in America, are first-time buyers better off buying new or existing homes? The average age of a home is rising, as is the price of new housing, so a shift could be upon us.



aging housing inventory

aging housing inventory

The average home age is higher than ever

(REALUOSO.COM) – In a survey from the Department of Housing and Urban Development American Housing Survey (AHS), the median age of homes in the United States was 35 years old. In Texas, homes are a bit younger with the median age between 19 – 29 years. The northeast has the oldest homes, with the median age between 50 – 61 years. In 1985, the median age of a home was only 23 years.

With more houses around 40 years old, the National Association of Realtors asserts that homeowners will have to undertake remodeling and renovation projects before selling unless the home is sold as-is, in which case the buyer will be responsible to update their new residence. Even homeowners who aren’t selling will need to consider remodeling for structural and aesthetic reasons.

Prices of new homes on the rise

Newer homes cost more than they used to. The price differential between new homes and older homes has increased from 10 percent traditionally to around 37 percent in 2014. This is due to rising construction costs, scarcity of lots, and a low inventory of new homes that doesn’t meet the demand.

Click here to continue reading this story…

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Housing News

Are Realtors the real loser in the fight between Zillow Group and Move, Inc.?

The last year has been one of dramatic and rapid change in the real estate tech sector, but Realtors are vulnerable, and we’re worried.



zillow move

zillow move

Why Realtors are vulnerable to these rapid changes

(REALUOSO.COM) – Corporate warfare demands headlines in every industry, but in the real estate tech sector, a storm has been brewing for years, which in the last year has come to a head. Zillow Group and Move, Inc. (which is owned by News Corp. and operates ListHub,, TopProducer, and other brands) have been competing for a decade now, and the race has appeared to be an aggressive yet polite boxing match. Last year, the gloves came off, and now, they’ve drawn swords and appear to want blood.

Note: We’ll let you decide which company plays which role in the image above.

So how then, does any of this make Realtors the victims of this sword fight? Let’s get everyone up to speed, and then we’ll discuss.

1. Zillow poaches top talent, Move/NAR sues

It all started last year when the gloves came off – Move’s Chief Strategy Officer (who was also’s President), Errol Samuelson jumped ship and joined Zillow on the same day he phoned in his resignation without notice. He left under questionable circumstances, which has led to a lengthy legal battle (wherein Move and NAR have sued Zillow and Samuelson over allegations of breach of contract, breach of fiduciary duty, and misappropriation of trade secrets), with the most recent motion being for contempt, which a judge granted to Move/NAR after the mysterious “Samuelson Memo” surfaced.

Salt was added to the wound when Move awarded Samuelson’s job to Move veteran, Curt Beardsley, who days after Samuelson left, also defected to Zillow. This too led to a lawsuit, with allegations including breach of contract, violation of corporations code, illegal dumping of stocks, and Move has sought restitution. These charges are extremely serious, but demanded slightly less attention than the ongoing lawsuit against Samuelson.

2. Two major media brands emerge

Last fall, the News Corp. acquisition of Move, Inc. was given the green light by the feds, and this month, Zillow finalized their acquisition of Trulia.

…Click here to continue reading this story…

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