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Advanced SEO? Or just plain logic? 5 things you can do today.

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Var Finns Logiken? - Where's the Logic?

I am not an SEO genius…

…but, between the articles here and my own experiences, I’ve figured out a few things that work for me. My RErockstar.com blog isn’t the highest ranked site, but it garners enough traffic that I consider it to be a successful real estate blog. AgentGenius has plenty of great writers (ever read Jack Leblond’s SEO posts?) who know tons about SEO and have written excellent articles about the finer points of the various algorithms used to figure out where you show up in search engine rankings.

This post is for everyone else. It’s about simple logic. It’s not going to fling you past Trulia or Realtor.com overnight and make you an internet sensation. It’s not going to make you a millionaire by years end. These are little things I’ve learned over the years. Simple things that have had a lot of impact on my blogging and have worked wonders for a blog that used to be read by just me and my dad. The best part – they’re logical and easy to implement. While some SEO experts may thumb their nose at the simplicity of these efforts (and argue their merits), I swear by these little tips.

SEO for the rest of us.

1. One of my favorite tricks is to throw away the two letter state abbreviation. I see it all the time in real estate blogging. “Philadelphia, PA – New listing – 123 Fake Street” – “How to buy insurance in Los Angeles, CA” – “How to choose a Realtor® in Seattle, WA” Unless they live in Springfield, many people out there searching aren’t going to include the state information as part of their keyword string. I sat a friend down and had him google a few random things about specific cities. Never once did he enter the state information. I used to use state information all the time.

Let’s say a post was titled “Best BBQ in San Antonio, TX.” When I would search Google to see how I was doing, I would be ranked low for the search phrase “best bbq san antonio” – maybe not even making the first (or tenth) page. If I googled “best bbq san antonio tx” I suddenly ranked pretty decently. Of course, you would think that this would mean that the “TX” was helping me be found, but when looking at Google Analytics, I found that few people were finding those posts through keyword searches. The day I deleted the “TX” and just went with “San Antonio,” I started to notice a strong uptick in traffic from search engines and now I was appearing higher in the results too.

2. Never underestimate the searcher. If you’ve ever taken a look at any kind of analytics for your website, you’ve probably had to stop for a moment and wonder “why in the hell would someone google that?” I do it everyday. Oddball phrasing, misspellings, made up words, and things I never thought about when writing a post. (I was showing up for “suicide listings in san antonio” thanks to a post about a seller’s responsibility to disclose death on their property. I also used to be number one for “silly realtor” from a post where I called NAR a “silly old goat.”) Although I talk about logic in this post, sometimes you have to defy logic and think like the oddball.

3. Abbreviate nothing. Well almost nothing. We Realtors® love to use abbreviations. I’d write a list of some of them, but you probably know a thousand more than I do (it took me forever to figure out what SMKAL in our old abbreviation-filled MLS meant). People don’t naturally search for a 3br/2ba home with a EIK (or even worse a 3/2/2). Use words. That’s what they’re there for. Some MLS systems don’t provide much room for remarks, so agents tend to abbreviate there, but when it’s on your blog there’s no reason to be brief (other than to avoid long winded posts like mine).

3. When you have a link you make quite often on your site (such as a link to your contact page), vary the anchor text and link title. “Contact Matt Stigliano, Realtor® with RE/MAX Access” isn’t going to be searched as often as “contact agent on 123 Fake Street” – I see a lot of blogs with repetitive link text, which might build authority on a particular search phrase, but there’s something to be said about diversity.

4. Your audience is not other Realtors® and therefore don’t always speak your language. Although many consumers know the term MLS, many don’t. Or they don’t understand what it means to them. The word disclosure isn’t exactly a tough word or one that’s never used in common English, but we use it all the time in real estate. Yet, time and time again I see keyword searches such as “do I have to tell a buyer this or that” or “do we need to reveal such and such.” Try not to get caught up in our own lingo. Think of other ways to say the same thing.

5. Don’t overlook zip codes. I used to think no one cared about them all that much unless we were talking about 90210. I started using zip codes when I started doing market reports. At first my traffic went up because people were googling “78230 market report” and landing on those pages. Now I see more general searches hitting those pages, such as “78230 homes for sale” and “search homes 78230.” Interesting thing is that these searches for homes that land on market report pages tend to keep visitors on the site. They tend to view more pages (often specific neighborhood information and home search pages) and stay longer than many other searches. There’s gold in zip codes if you ask me.

I am not an SEO genius…

…but I swear by these simple items. I can directly relate traffic back to putting them into practice and use them as often as I can. None of them are difficult to implement and all of them are quite logical, so it’s not as hard as convincing yourself to put into practice other things that might take a little more thought. Think like a searcher and throw out the Realtor® mindset. The more you think like a Realtor®, the more you’re going to attract more Realtors® (if that’s your goal, great!). The more you think like a first time home buyer looking for an agent that makes them comfortable and that they can trust as their go-to for everything real estate related, the more you will find clients who appreciate what you do and come back for more.

photo courtesy of plindberg

Matt is a former PA-based rockstar turned real estate agent with RE/MAX Access in San Antonio, TX. He was asked to join AgentGenius to provide a look at the successes and trials of being a newer agent. His consumer-based outlook on the real estate business has helped him see things from both sides. He is married to a wonderful woman from England who makes him use the word "rubbish."

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12 Comments

12 Comments

  1. Jack Leblond

    June 23, 2010 at 10:26 am

    Matt –

    All good stuff!

    I’ll add a couple things for you;

    1) Don’t forget that page titles and link/anchor text are super powerful – choose the words you use in those carefully. Also – I would recommend you NOT link to the same page many times over with many different words as the link – this may confuse Google to the point it’s not sure what the page is about.
    2) Don’t underestimate the importance of street addresses. There would certainly be far fewer searches for “123 any street, austin” than for “austin homes for sale” but people searching for the address are MUCH more interested and probably want to buy it – or are just nosy neighbors.
    3) Don’t use Google to check your rankings. Google remembers what you search for and what you click on, this will bias ALL futures searches. Instead, use a tool – I like the firefox plugin “rankchecker”.

  2. Ben Goheen

    June 23, 2010 at 10:52 am

    Great tips Matt. I’m definitely guilty of a couple of these, and am also surprised by the search words some people use.

  3. Christopher Somers

    June 23, 2010 at 11:27 am

    Great tips Matt ! We will start utilizing some of your suggestions ! Sometimes it is the little things that make a difference. I never really thought about the abbreviations for the state before and you are right, people are not searching the state. Good suggestion about tweaking verbage as well. Great post as usual !

  4. Kevin Baker

    June 23, 2010 at 11:31 am

    Great article Matt. For all of us just trying to figure SEO out through trial and error this does help simplify things. Keep up the great work.

  5. Ed Kohler

    June 23, 2010 at 2:28 pm

    Great article. Outside of choices in how to present content on the page, the biggest issue I often see is with depth of indexing. If search engines can’t see pages within your site, it doesn’t really matter what the content of the page looks like.

  6. Jill Wente

    June 23, 2010 at 7:23 pm

    Thanks for the great tip on the firefox rank checker, Jack. My blogsite ranks high on Google for my search terms but not as well on Yahoo or Bing. Any suggestions?

  7. Joe Loomer

    June 23, 2010 at 7:49 pm

    Don’t forget the “long tail.” In general, the primary two keywords (short tail) may account for a large number of hits, but when added together – the remaining keywords for ALL search terms related to your area (other than the top two) will typically account for 80% of the searches. Vary your keyword usage to include those terms no one is focusing on in their own SEO efforts.

    Navy Chief, Navy Pride

  8. Los Angeles SEO

    June 24, 2010 at 4:31 am

    Nice article! You say, you are not an SEO genius but I think you are close. Thank you for sharing the tips. And thanks to the commentors as well for adding their share.

  9. Lesley Lambert

    June 24, 2010 at 11:44 pm

    Thanks for the reminder that I need to start using zip codes. I thought of that a while ago when I started doing some geo-specific market report type posts, but it doesn’t come naturally.

  10. Stephanie Crawford

    June 24, 2010 at 11:55 pm

    Nice post! I also swear by zip codes. My Nashville’s neighborhoods don’t have well defined boundaries so zips work best for search IMHO. School zones are good ones too.

  11. EasyStreet Realty, Inc.

    March 10, 2011 at 7:08 am

    Thanks Matt for sharing your insight. We are completely redesigning our website and contemplated on the zip code idea and how to work it into our site. Do you think that the local boards would care if we dynamically re-wrote the property remarks with out all the abbreviations? 🙂

  12. SEO Forum

    March 21, 2011 at 3:42 pm

    I am agree with all points except this that “I am not an SEO genius…”Really a post from an SEO expert and simple tips and effective one also thanks for sharing

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Coaching

Disputing a property’s value in a short sale: turn a no into a go

During a short sale, there may be various obstacles, with misaligned property values ranking near the top, but it doesn’t have to be a dealbreaker!

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magic eight ball

It’s about getting your way

Were you on the debate team in high school? Were you really effective at convincing your parent or guardian to let you do things that you shouldn’t have been doing? How are your objection-handling skills? Can you flip a no into a go?

When working on short sales, there is one aspect of the process that may require those excellent negotiation or debate skills: disputing the property value. In a short sale, the short sale lender sends an appraiser or broker to the property and this individual conducts a Broker Price Opinion or an appraisal, using special forms provided by the short sale lender.

After this individual completes the Broker Price Opinion or the appraisal, he or she will return it to the short sale lender. Shortly thereafter, the short sale lender will be ready to talk about the purchase price. Will the lender accept the offer on the table or is the lender looking for more? If the lender is seeking an offer for a lot more than the one on the table, mentally prepare for the fact that you will need to conduct a value dispute.

Value Dispute Process

While each of the different short sale lenders (including Fannie Mae) has their own policies and procedures for value dispute, all these procedures have some things in common. Follow the steps below in order to conduct an effective value dispute.

  1. Inquire about forms. Ask your short sale lender if there are specific forms that you need to complete in order to conduct a value dispute. Obtain those forms if necessary.
  2. Gather information. Your goal is to convince the lender to accept the buyer’s offer, so you need to demonstrate that your offer is in line with the value of the property. Collect data that proves this point, such as reports from the MLS, Trulia, Zillow, or your local title company.
  3. Take photos. If there are parts of the property that are substandard and possibly were not revealed to the lender by the individual conducting the BPO, take photos of those items. Perhaps the kitchen has no flooring, or there is a 40-year old roof. Take photos to demonstrate these defects.
  4. Obtain bids. For any defects on the property, obtain a minimum of two bids from licensed contractors. For example, obtain two bids from roofers or structural engineers if necessary
  5. Write a report. Think back to high school English class if necessary. Write a short essay that references your information, photos, and bids, and explains how these items support your buyer’s value. This is not something that you whip up in five minutes. Spend time preparing a compelling appeal.

It is entirely possible that some lenders will not be particularly open-minded when it comes to valuation dispute. However, more times than not, an effective value dispute leads to short sale approval.

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Coaching

Short sale standoffs: how to avoid getting hit

The short sale process can feel a lot like a wild west standoff, but there are ways to come out victorious, so let’s talk about those methods:

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short sales standoff

What is a short sale standoff?

If you are a short sale listing agent, a short sale processor, or a short sale negotiator then you probably already know about the short sale standoff. That’s when you are processing a short sale with more than one lien holder and neither will agree to the terms offered by the other. Or… better yet, each one will not move any further in the short sale process until they see the short sale approval letter from the other lien holder.

Scenario #1 – You are processing a short sale with two different mortgage-servicing companies. Bank 1 employees tell you that they will proceed with the short sale, and they will offer Bank 2 a certain amount to release their lien. You call Bank 2 and tell them the good news. Unfortunately, the folks at Bank 2 want more money. If Bank 1 and Bank 2 do not agree, then you are in a standoff.

Scenario #2 – You are processing a short sale with two different mortgage-servicing companies. Bank 1 employees tell you that they cannot generate your approval letter until you present them with the approval letter from Bank 2. Bank 2 employees tell you the exact same thing. Clearly, in this situation, you are in a standoff.

How to Avoid the Standoff

If you are in the middle of a standoff, then you are likely very frustrated. You’ve gotten pretty far in the short sale process and you are likely receiving lots of pressure from all of the parties to the transaction. And, the lenders are not helping much by creating the standoff.

Here are some ideas for how to get out of the situation:

  • Go back to the first lien holder and ask them if they are willing to give the second lien holder more money.
  • Go to the second lien holder and tell them that the first lien holder has insisted on a maximum amount and see if they will budge.
  • If no one will budge, find out why. Is this a Fannie Mae or Freddie Mac loan? If so, they have a maximum that they allow the second. And, if you alert the second of that information, they may become more compliant.
  • Worst case: someone will have to pay the difference. Depending on the laws in your state, it could be the buyer, the seller, or the agents (yuck). No matter what, make sure that this contribution is disclosed to all parties and appears on the short sale settlement statement at closing.
  • In Scenario #2, someone’s got to give in. Try explaining to both sides where you are and see if one will agree to generate their approval letter. If not, follow the tips provided in this Agent Genius article and take your complaint to the streets.

One thing about short sales is that the problems that arise can be difficult to resolve merely because of the number of parties involved—and all from remote locations. Imagine how much easier this would be if all parties sat at the same table and broke bread? If we all sat at the same table, then we wouldn’t need armor in order to avoid the flying bullets from the short sale standoff.

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Short sale approval letters don’t arrive in the blink of an eye

Short sale approval letters may look like they’ve been obtained simply by experts, but it takes time and doesn’t just happen with luck.

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short sale approval

Short sale approval: getting prepared, making it happen

People always ask me how it is that I obtain short sale approval letters with such ease. The truth is, that while I have more short sale processing and negotiating experience than most agents and brokers, I don’t just blink my eyes like Jeannie and make those short sale approval letters appear. I often sweat it, just like everyone else.

Despite the fact that I do not have magical powers, I do have something else on my side—education. One of the most important things than can lead to short sale success for any and all agents is education.

Experience dictates that agents that learn about the short sale process
have increased short sale closings.

Short sale education opportunities abound

There are many ways to become educated about the short sale process and make getting short sale approval letters look easy to obtain. These include:

  • Classes at your local board of Realtors®
  • Free short sale webinars and workshops
  • The short sale or foreclosure specialist designations

As the distressed property arena grows and changes, it is important to always stay abreast of policy changes that may impact how you do your job and how you process any short sale that lands on your plate.

The most important thing to do is to read, read, read. Follow short sale specialists and those who blog about short sales on AGBeat, Google+, facebook, and twitter. Set up a Google Alert for the term ‘short sale’ and you will receive Google’s top short sale picks daily in your email inbox. Visit mortgagor websites to read up on their specific policies and procedures.

Don’t take on too much

And, when you get a call from a prospective short sale seller, make sure that you don’t bit off more than you can chew. Agents in most of America right now are clamoring for listings since we are in the midst of a listing shortage. But, if you are going to take on a short sale, be sure that it is a deal that you can close. And, if you have your doubts, why not partner up with a local agent that can mentor your and assist you in getting the job done? After all, half a commission check is better than none!

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