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SEO Tip – META keywords

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keywordsHopefully last week’s SEO Tip didn’t make your brain hurt too bad – I promise not to get that geeky again for a while.

I know some you  of are already thinking up snarky comments about how useless you think the META Keywords are – take a deep breath, count to 10, and read on.  I bet I can change your mind.  Before we get into that though, if you are not familiar with them, you should review my META Tags article from a few weeks ago.

In early the days of the internet, META Keywords were a great way to help the search engines categorize your content properly.  Thanks the the spammers though, they have been degraded to providing only minor value – but META Keywords DO add value.   More about that later.

The keywords META tag is useful for three things.  First, it helps to reinforce the primary keywords which are located in your content. Second, use it to add related keywords which are not in your content. Lastly, use it to add common misspellings of your keywords.  As with all things SEO, stuffing them will do more harm than good so don’t do it.

OK, OK, you want proof, right?

I conducted a survey of SEOs and web developers in January 2009, 55% of the respondents indicated they use and believe that the META Keywords tag has some value.  If we believe, it must be true, right? Not enough?  OK, read on then Mr. doubty-pants.

For Yahoo it’s easy.  Yahoo recently caused a bit of a stir in the SEO community when they announced that they would NO LONGER SUPPORT META KEYWORDS.  Some people did not believe it though and went to work testing it.  One of those people was Danny Sulivan from the site Search Engine Land.  His test proved that Yahoo does still use the META keyword in it’s ranking algorithm.  A very important thing to note – the test Danny did also proves that a site can rank for a word that exists only in the keywords tag and not in the content.  Of course, his test page had no competition.  If it had, then using the words only in the meta would not have been as successful in getting ranked, but the page still would have been located.

For Google, it’s not quite so clear cut…yet.  Experiments are being conducted that will tell us if they are effective or not.  In the meantime, you need to be a bit of a conspiracy theorist and read between the lines of what Google tells us.  In a Google Webmaster Blog post, they highlight what tags they use and do not use.  They chose not to mention the keywords tag – to either say they do or do not use it.  Interesting.  More intriguing to me is the response from the author to a question asked in the comments.  “we generally ignore the contents of the “keywords” meta tag.”  What does generally mean? Of course, the post is a few years old – decades in ‘net years, so things likely have changed since then, but I could not find anything officially saying they are not used.  I think they are.

So should you use them?  Absolutely.  Will they rocket you to the top of page one in the SERPs?  Absolutely not.  Will they help you rank better for your chosen keywords?  YES!

It’s clear that Yahoo uses them, and that alone is enough reason to use the META keywords.  Google, well I’m sure they do, but for what and how much they count – the jury is still out on that.

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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9 Comments

9 Comments

  1. Atlanta Real Estate

    October 17, 2009 at 10:50 am

    Jack:

    Good post. Unless it’s stuffed, I think we may as well go one using it, just in case. Certainly nobody is going to be penalized by having a few keywords in the META keywords tag.

    On another note, I heard what I take to be the beginning of the end on AM radio this morning. It was a local Atlanta area infomercial for SEO services! They were touting multiple URLs, multiple Blogs, and KW targeting.

    Right there on AM radio, with call-ins, testimonials and everything.

    I thought to myself, when this stuff is being broadcast on AM radio, it’s time to look forward and find the next thing on the horizon!

    It’s like the housing bubble or stock market bubble – when it gets this hyped and common, it’s typically over already!

    I’m a big proponent of search, and maybe that theory does not apply in this case, but who knows.

    RM

  2. Bob Wilson

    October 17, 2009 at 11:24 pm

    Love the pre-emptive strike there Jack.

    IMO what this proves most and is extremely valuable when it comes to SEO is that it is such a fluid medium that quoting almost anything as gospel that is not current may not be very wise.

    It was Danny Sullivan who wrote about the death of the keyword meta tag in Oct 2002. Then again in Sept 2007 Danny wrote again about the meta keyword tag. In that article he said, “Even Evan Roseman from Google said at one point that Google reads the meta keywords tag, suggesting no doubt to some that Google uses the tag. To be clear, Google doesn’t. I’ll prove it further below, but it doesn’t, OK?”

    I was at that SES session and still have the notes. That is what makes this post so valuable, as it is the same Danny Sullivan who writes three days ago in the link Jack referenced that its no longer a sure bet, again.

    The moral of the story here and something Danny does better than anyone in search is to not be married to the opinion, as the game and the facts frequently change.

    And fwiw, read the articles Jack links to in his posts.

    • Benn Rosales

      October 18, 2009 at 10:48 am

      Here’s the thing, operating a content management system (CMS) is not a pain if your total content archive contains 200 articles or less, and lower than 9 static pages with 10 total topics- you have a small enough website that the architecture is well understood by search engines in most cases, but over the years and accumulation of content you’ll regret not building a structure of cataloging for each piece of merchandise properly- it’s the equivalent of having merchandise piled into a room without an inventory control sheet and expecting the auditor to to guess what’s under all of those boxes.

      Keywords, meta tags, and categories go a very long way to long term management of content, and over the years equate to a well documented inventory of what’s in the warehouse that is your site. Anyone ignoring it today will surely end up having to spend a few weekends cleaning out the warehouse later in order that the CPA (search engine, or consumer) get a good idea of the value of the merchandise in the warehouse.

      Ignoring keywords today, fine, tomorrow, it’s one big ass mess. Who cares what the search engines do, it’s really about how well your consumer finds and consumes the product.

      Carefully merchandising each piece of your inventory as you create it, only ensures a productive end- your image illustrates my point.

  3. Claudia Gonella

    October 18, 2009 at 1:27 pm

    Another benefit of Meta taga is that they can serve as a short, text hook in your search results. The engines have character limits for these (I think Google limits to 160) so look out for that. If you write them well enough, it could increase your traffic by getting you more clicks from the search pages.

  4. Alexis Jameson

    October 19, 2009 at 1:09 am

    Good post and commentary. I think Realtors internet marketing is great but people
    are getting way to caught up with it and think that if you
    are great at blogging and marketing…the $$ just rolls in.

  5. Jack Leblond

    October 19, 2009 at 12:32 pm

    All – thanks for the feedback. It’s amazing how something as simple as meta tags can create such controversy in an industry.

    As for those AM radio SEOs, they are probably the snake-oil type that every industry eventually gets. Unfortunately a lot of people will get burned by them, but they will eventually be figured out. People need to educate themselves before they hire an SEO.

  6. Atlanta Real Estate

    October 19, 2009 at 3:00 pm

    Jack:

    I agree but was still surprised nonetheless to hear this nonsense on AM radio. “Our next caller wants to know what a BLOG is….”

    LOL!

  7. Brian Jambor

    October 20, 2009 at 12:12 pm

    I disagree with your article from the standpoint that Google announced on September 21, 2009 that they do not use the keywords meta tag in search engine placement. The blog post you referenced in your article was from 2007. I agree that you should still use meta keywords in your website from the standpoint that they may play a small part in other search engines (a.k.a. bing). Read the post below…

    https://googlewebmastercentral.blogspot.com/2009/09/google-does-not-use-keywords-meta-tag.html

  8. Jack Leblond

    October 20, 2009 at 2:23 pm

    Brian – thanks for the link. Good to see Google being clear and not forcing us to read between the lines.

    As you said though, since Google is not the only game in town, it is a good idea to still use them.

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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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