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SEO Tip – META tags

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card catalogThis article is the first of several in series of SEO Tips. My goal is to provide you with short, easy to understand, nuggets of SEO that you can implement on your own sites. Over time you should see improvement in your rankings as we cover more material.

The first three topics I’ll cover are the Title, Description and Keywords META tags.

Before I can discuss META tags though, I feel I should educate you a little about what they are and where they came from. Since the early days of the internet, people have believed META tags have mysterious super powers when it comes to being found online. While the Title does tag retain some of its super powers, the others have been severely reduced in strength. Even though weakened, the other tags should not be ignored as they are not quite dead – yet.

To help de-mystify META tags, it helps to think back to the “olden days”, before the web, when to do research you went to a large building called a “library.” It was a place where you could browse through collections of thousands upon thousands of books. To locate one of interest, you would use a “card catalog”, a large bank of small drawers filled with 5×7 index cards (things us old people used to make notes on). These cards were sorted by subject and topics. If you wanted to read a book about horses, you would go to the non-fiction area, then to animals, then to horses. These “keywords” helped us locate a broad category of books we might be interested in. Once you located a collection of books (your search results) you would flip through the cards and view brief bits of information about each book; Its title, author, publish date, a brief description and where the book was located. As you skimmed through the cards, you hoped for a title that sounded like a book you’d be interested in. If you see a title that looks good, you would then read the short description. If the description was intriguing, you might go pull the book from the shelf and give it a look. You could now either keep the book, or return to the card catalog and search some more until you found a book you liked.  Sounds a bit like Google, don’t you think?

The founding fathers of internet search, mostly educators, were familiar with this system and thought it might be a useful way to catalog the few pages of text that existed online at that time. They adopted the use of META, or hidden, tags to help locate, describe and catalog the internet.

While this system worked well enough most of the time, it had a fundamental flaw – the keywords and descriptions were subjectively provided by the librarian – who may or may not have actually read the book. What if (on a bad day) the librarian looked at the cover of a book and saw a picture of a girl riding a horse on the beach. She might conclude the book is about horses, or riding them on the beach. When the book is actually about a boy’s summer vacation, during which he happened to developed a crush on a girl that liked to ride her horse at the beach. You’d be disappointed if you took that book home, wouldn’t you?

It gets worse. Imagine, if you can, that a few librarians figure out that the publishers of certain books will pay them a few cents each time they can get someone to pull one of their books from the shelf. These black-hat librarians would be putting keywords and descriptions in the card catalog that make no sense at all – just so somebody would go pull the book from the shelf.

Of course no librarian would do that, but sadly, that’s what happened to the web. Greed caused webmasters and even some SEOs to fill their pages with clues for the search engines that had nothing to do with the actual content – just to get viewers. They didn’t care if the viewers left as quickly as they came – just that they got paid for each visit.

Eventually the search engines figured this out and decreased their reliance on the META tags in favor of good page titles and great content. It’s important to note that I did not say they stopped reading them. While the importance of keywords and description tags is somewhat debated in the SEO community, many of us believe they do continue to play at least a small role in the indexing and cataloging performed by the search engines.

When creating your pages, you should always include a well-formed title, descriptive keywords and an accurate description. How do you do that? It’s easy….but it’s also a topic for next time.

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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30 Comments

30 Comments

  1. Gadget Sleuth

    September 12, 2009 at 5:09 pm

    It depends on the SE I think; Google I think its still somewhat important to include Meta Tags, others maybe not so much.

  2. Seo Boca

    September 14, 2009 at 1:29 am

    A lot of webmasters new to the industry still think that using meta keywords would work best for their websites. Some professors, if not from US, aren’t updating their students about the development on the strategies of getting indexed on search engines. So when they are in the real world, they get confused.

  3. Bob

    September 14, 2009 at 2:12 pm

    “Eventually the search engines figured this out and decreased their reliance on the META tags in favor of good page titles and great content.”

    This is true with the keyword meta, but not title and description meta data.

  4. Jack Leblond

    September 14, 2009 at 2:56 pm

    @Bob – the key word in that sentence is “decreased.” I believe that both keyword and description METAs are used by the search engines – although neither has a large affect on rankings.

  5. @steveplunkett

    September 14, 2009 at 3:30 pm

    non spammy meta tags used along with page segmentation and database function calls on google, work.. like it or not.

  6. Portland Real Estate

    September 14, 2009 at 6:14 pm

    They should go away. I would be much happier if the search engine indexed based upon content, rather than advertised content through the META tags. It seems more honest and less work for me.

    -Tyler

  7. Lima Ohio Realtor

    September 14, 2009 at 6:15 pm

    I’m pretty sure many of the SEs no longer use the keyword META, but the title and description tags are still very much alive. Most SEs put a lot of weight on the title tag more so than the description, but the description can have a dramatic impact on your CTR on search results pages. So, make them very compelling to searchers.

  8. Linsey Planeta

    September 14, 2009 at 9:37 pm

    Card Catalog?! Wow – I DID have to dust that one off. Sounds as about as archaic as it gets now – but I do remember those. Love the SEO tips and will be watching for the next stuff in your series.

  9. Bob

    September 16, 2009 at 12:10 am

    “although neither has a large affect on rankings.”

    That is just too easy to test. Lets delete the descriptions on the pages of your sites and see what happens.

  10. Atlanta Real Estate

    September 16, 2009 at 10:39 pm

    I still use ’em just in case some non Google search engines still rely on them. Remember, there are some other engines besides The Google out there.

    Also, your tag is what most search engines will pick up as your SERP snippet, or what appears just below your URL in the search results.

    This can have a big Adword type effect on CT rate, for organic results.

    So go rewrite all those very carefully. 🙂

    RM

  11. Atlanta Real Estate

    September 16, 2009 at 10:41 pm

    Sorry guys:

    “Also, your tag is what most search engines will pick up as your SERP snippet, or what appears just below your URL in the search results. ”

    Should of read:

    “Also, your meta name description tag is what most search engines will pick up as your SERP snippet, or what appears just below your URL in the search results. ”

    RM

  12. Jack Leblond

    September 16, 2009 at 10:55 pm

    @RM. Stayed tuned for future topics, you may be surprised.

  13. Atlanta Real Estate

    September 16, 2009 at 10:56 pm

    Locked in.

  14. Fred Romano

    September 21, 2009 at 7:07 pm

    Hello Jack, Google does not use the meta “keywords” tag. Here’s a new vid from Matt Cutts to confirm this.

    https://www.youtube.com/watch?v=jK7IPbnmvVU&feature=player_embedded

  15. Fred Romano

    September 29, 2009 at 11:07 am

    @Jack – what do you think about WP plugins that “auto generate” keywords for the post? I was thinking of using one on my blog.

  16. Jack Leblond

    September 30, 2009 at 9:36 am

    @Fred – You made me smile. First you tell me they have no use, now you ask if it’s OK to have them auto-generated. 😉

    They are of a VERY low value, so auto-generated would probably be OK. However, if you are using a plugin like the All in One SEO Pack it only takes a minute for you to add them manually – and you KNOW they are accurate.

  17. Fred Romano

    September 30, 2009 at 9:40 am

    Well it’s possible that other search sites might pick up on them. To be honest I have never used tags before, just started on a new blog I have. I am manually added them in, but wasn’t sure if I should even bother. I do use the all-in-one… so I see that it’s taking the WP tags and making metatag keywords.

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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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