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SEO Magic

Stop Squinting – there is no smoke.  Put down the shades – there are no mirrors.

When I asked (on Twitter) earlier this week for ideas about what to cover in this week’s article, more than one of you wanted to know “What is special about real estate SEO, how is it different from regular SEO?”

Got your pen & paper ready? Nothing is different.  Well, almost nothing.  I’m serious, stop laughing.

What do YOU sell?

The only real difference is what you sell, and how you sell it.  Typical retailers always carry the same products, by the same manufacturers – day in and day out.  They can build on that, create content that describes each of them in every possible way, so that no matter what someone types into Google, MSN or Yahoo, there is a good chance they have it covered.  Realtors, as you know, do not have that luxury.  Actually, if your “inventory” is sitting around long enough that it needs to be SEO’d, you have bigger problems…get off the computer and go sell something ;-D.   Let’s take a step back – what do you really sell?  A building?  A house? A condo?  No – you sell homes, neighborhoods, lifestyles – people’s dreams.

What do you write about then?

Those dreams, and lifestyles are what you write about, those YOUR content that never changes.  Create articles – or better yet, series of articles that describe each of the neighborhoods you service.  Forget the web for a moment.  If I called you on the phone and said I was considering a move to your area, but had not decided yet, what would you say to me?  Would you say “Great, I have a 4 bedroom, 3 bathroom with a pool that would be perfect for you”?  Probably not.  You would probably try to sell me on the area first, then steer me to a neighborhood and finally to a home.  Your web sites should do the same thing.

Not all experts agree

I’m going to tell you to do something I noticed some of the “experts” I found by Googling “real estate seo” tell you not to bother with.  Write about your properties on your blog too.  Don’t just bury them in the MLS, or whatever system you have.  Sure, the bots & spiders etc can crawl those dynamic pages now, but why let yourself be limited to a few boxes and a paragraph or two?  Fill a page with elegant text describing the place.  Don’t forget to add pictures – properly named and tagged of course, and even a video tour.  The more types of media you can attach to a page, the more likely you are to rank well.  Blended search is becoming very powerful.  If you don’t know about blended search yet – look into it.  In a nutshell, engines are displaying results from image, video, blog, news and web searches all together in one place – the more of those you are in, the better off you will be.

Is that it?

It really, REALLY is.  I keep telling people – most of SEO is not rocket science, it’s just taking the time to think about what you have and who you want to read it.  It’s in the planning.

As always, I welcome your comments and your questions.

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 (www.tgslc.org). 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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18 Comments

18 Comments

  1. Bob

    March 7, 2009 at 11:42 am

    Jack,

    You make it sound like SEO is simply content. Am I misunderstanding you here?

  2. Doug Francis

    March 7, 2009 at 12:06 pm

    Thanks for this insight, amazingly targeting toward me. This is the concept that I have been developing for the past two weeks with my team of two clients. A total rework of my strategy. I’m excited and totally on-board.

  3. Marc Fuller

    March 7, 2009 at 7:54 pm

    I agree that content is ever more important to Real Estate SEO. (Particularly with advances like Google’s semantic indexing.)

    But like a good real estate transaction is a balance of price and terms, effective real estate SEO is a balance of content and structure.

    Put all the best and most content in a poorly structured website codebase and you will have at best mediocre SEO and search marketing results.

    I would also suggest that it is better to place all your content under one domain to increase content mass, ranking, enhance your branding and reduce bounce rate.

  4. Leslie Martin

    March 8, 2009 at 8:06 am

    It’s good to see someone backing up what my web guy has been telling me. It’s about getting your voice out there regarding your listings. Blog about them, Facebook about them, etc. And, link all that to your main website. That’s what Google likes to see–content and links are the key.

    Good article!

  5. Jack Leblond

    March 8, 2009 at 9:07 am

    @Bob – Content is a *BIG* part of the SEO process, not the only part. As Marc points out, it’s important to also have a good structure.

    @everyone – There are numerous steps in the SEO process, please don’t think I am saying this is all you do – content is just one piece of the puzzle. My goal for this article was simply to let you know that when it comes to SEO, it does not mater what your site is about, the process and procedures are the same. Don’t let the people who “specialize in Real Estate SEO” pull the wool over your eyes.

  6. Jack,
    It is all in the words. The search engines like the right words, pictures with tags, videos, and properly structured titles and descriptions. Also, links are important to move up. However, Yahoo is starting to derank all locals and use all the national sites, even in local markets. This is crazy but I think they want people to have to pay to get the clicks. The data miners are going to sell the brokers back the leads on their own listings, HA!
    I believe SEO is dying in these markets! There is an oligopoly plan to scoop the positions.

  7. Jonathan Phan

    March 9, 2009 at 3:57 pm

    Good information.

  8. Claire

    March 9, 2009 at 4:08 pm

    I like what you said, “You sell homes, neighborhoods, lifestyles–people’s dreams.” My husband and I like helping people find their “home”. In our website we have been using information, pictures and videos in webpages and blogs to help people discover certain neighborhoods or subdivisions. Thank for reinforcing what we are doing.

  9. ShaunsHouses

    March 9, 2009 at 5:17 pm

    Bob and Jack,

    SEO is simply content. From what I’ve research, SEO should be based on human popularity rating vs search engine stuffing for lack of a better word. good article.

  10. Ken Montville - The MD Suburbs of DC

    March 9, 2009 at 7:56 pm

    An interesting take on SEO especially the “blended SEO” tip and the permission to actually blog about my listings.

  11. Kirk

    March 9, 2009 at 11:30 pm

    Hey Jack, speaking of SEO one of the best ways to pick up some “magical” SEO points is to use a page name.

    Instead of “p=10698” you would use “real-estate-seo” or something similar. Just a suggestion,,,

  12. Jack Leblond

    March 10, 2009 at 5:23 pm

    Shaun – SEO is more than just content, but content is one of the most important parts. You are correct though that it should be written and presented with the reader in mind, not the engine. Under no circumstances should anyone ever try to stuff a page to rank better.

    Kirk – let’s take turns, this week you be the preacher and I’ll be the choir. If this were my site it would be that way …probably. AG has been around a while and does a great of linking articles both internally and externally and that helps far more than a good “page name”. Google does index dynamic URLs, and this site does well in Google – in my mind, the link is not so bad.

  13. Marc

    March 10, 2009 at 5:48 pm

    Just a little more content and then this thing will really take off!

  14. Bob

    March 10, 2009 at 7:28 pm

    Content is only part of the equation. Adding more content for the sake of content isnt SEO. Not even close.

  15. los angeles lofts

    March 10, 2009 at 11:50 pm

    Real estate SEO is a large monster. While content is king, there are many different ways to write the same thing. Presentation has very little to do with SEO. Remember you are competing with a million other real estate websites so you better have something valuable. Don’t forget to exchange with quality links.

  16. Rebecca Williamson

    January 9, 2011 at 2:36 pm

    It is definitely important to focus on your content. All the SEO in the world cannot overcome subpar content. They’ll hit the back button and find another page that will give them the information they are looking for.

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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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Coaching

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: 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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