Understand why and where people are coming from
Before you can begin SEO – you need to start by understanding the traffic volume on the various combinations of target search terms that your customers are typing in. Only by understanding this can you determine what you should be optimising your site for. There are varying search types that affect you… the big categories are:
- People looking for you specifically “search as navigation” – 30% of the problem
- People looking for your houses “applicant search” – 40% of the problem
- And people looking for local agents in general – 30% of the problem
Taking each of these in turn…
(1) Search as navigation: “John Smith and Sons” – 30% by volume
Though search volume on this type of searches is high, we’re not going to consider the problem in any depth in this guide. We’ve all done it, dozens of times, if you can’t remember a website address, or you forget if it was .com or .co.uk, it’s just easier to type the business name into Google, and hit the top result.
You can safely ignore the problem, as Google got this problem pretty much nailed years ago – it nearly always nails your business as the number 1 result. Google still has the “I’m feeling lucky” button to make this point.
The only three exceptions are:
The first case is where your business name suffers from “brand clutter” – eg “Acorns estate agents” of which there are a few competing brand names. Google is even starting to work this problem out, as it is beginning to personalise search results to user’s locations, if you use Chrome, or have a Google+ or Gmail account. In other words, if you live near Acorns in Essex, Google is starting to understand how to serve you the most likely one, instead of the Acorns in Manchester. If you suffer from the brand clutter problem, the only real solution is to work hard on your domain authority, and site ranking potential so you out rank the competing brand names, which will be tough if your namesake is a big business. In these cases the rest of the points in this guide are especially important.
The second case is where your brand name and your URL name are completely different – there are agencies that are called say “Fred and Sons”, but working on an unrelated URL which is something like “PropertyinBromley.co.uk”. Normally Google still works around this problem, though in cases where you also have weak Domain Authority it can become a problem. In these instances it may be worth taking the plunge now, and consolidating your brand and URL.
The third set of cases are where you have one of a series of chronic SEO problems, eg macromedia flash homepage still, or sites which are barely indexable by Google, or who have been SEO blacklisted for trying to game the system with various problems like bought links, or too much duplicate content.
In sum, if you don’t appear at the top of a search for your own name, or your own name “plus estate agent”, then give us a call, and we’ll have a closer look for you.
Finally a short word on optimising branded search results…
If you are really into advanced SEO, you might want to try and improve the TYPE of result that you get in branded / navigation search. Try a few of the bigger agency groups in the UK – eg Foxtons / Marsh and Parsons / Savills etc. who all have the “expanded snippet” format, listing the main site, but also breaking out the main navigational sub-areas of the site. Compare their top result to your own. If you have a similar presentation, you are fine already, you have sufficient domain authority and a clean enough on-site structure that Google has managed to create an expanded site listing for you. If not, then sorting out your site navigation structure and indexability, as well as your domain authority, should get you a similar results partial, which will ensure you push your competitors further down the page, and also creates a stronger brand impact for you.
The other thing you might wish to do is to check your social channels are well configured, and that you have as many of them as you can (eg Pinterest / Youtube accounts / Linkedin company pages etc). The aim here is search results domination, where your social accounts follow up your own result as best next matches pushing sight of any competitors completely out of view.
(2) Applicant / Property search – “House for sale in XYZ town” – 40% of the problem
This is the first big battle ground. This is unbranded search, where the search user is not looking for you, but for your wares. Hence this is an opportunity to win a customer who might not otherwise have found you – new business! Admittedly this is predominantly applicant side, rather than vendors or landlords. However, every little counts. And don’t forget, many applicants are also a vendor in disguise.
And it’s the big one. By volume, there’s more traffic to be won by getting yourself into a high slot on this page, than on all the other search types.
The first thing to understand about this category of traffic is that it is a game of permutations. You might rank for “house for sale in Exeter”, but not “flat to rent in north Exeter” or “property in Topsham”. To get a balanced picture of how you are really doing across all the permutations, you really need to build a simple spreadsheet of all the town, village, and sub town area names you operate in, and mix this with qualifiers like “house” / “bungalow” / “property” / “flat” and “to rent” / “for sale” etc. Ideally you’d weight that for search volume, but that’s beyond the scope of this guide. Build a Google search link out of each of these permutations in excel, and click on the links once a week. Keep a track of a count of how and where you are starting to appear as you work on the other points in this guide.
However, the difficulty with this “Property / Town permutation” category of search traffic is that you are up against the big boys. A typical results page will have Rightmove first, Zoopla and Primelocation mopping up in 2nd and 3rd, then often a big agency group or two to contend with. (Bigger agency groups have some SEO advantages, like better quality website structures, content, speed, and domain authority).
The dominance of portals for this category of search traffic is not an excuse to give up. If the town is small, we often see a strong independent mopping up. And committed SEO teams at Savills / Knight Frank / Hamptons and Foxtons consistently get their websites to mix it with the big kids. Indeed there is no reason, if you follow all the SEO advice you can find, and keep working at it consistently, that you can’t get a reasonable independent agent site with only one branch to punch in the mix. At a minimum you should be able to outrank the other agents, and claim slot 4-5 with some hard work. And, if you are lucky, you will be able to unseat a portal or two. The results of doing this are disproportionately big. This is the biggest category of traffic, and if you conquer it, your own site traffic will skyrocket. A proportion of that traffic signs up for email alerts, and a proportion of them are vendor opportunities in disguise, either now, or in a few months’ time. There’s no disputing the fact that ranking well in amongst the big game of town permutation search, wins instructions, contributes to building your brand name penetration, and leads to more direct offers and less dependence on the portals for your marketing exposure.
Our Advanced SEO guide will focus on plenty of techniques to help you in this regard.
(3) Local agents search – “Estate agent in Darlington” – 30% of the problem
Last but not least comes the “estate agent in xyz” category of traffic. In fact, arguably this is the single most important SEO traffic category you can rank for. Searcher traffic looking for an agency in a given town are disproportionately likely to contain the all so important vendor and landlord traffic that we are looking for.
They’re also brand unspecified – so this is NEW business potential. If you rank above your competitors, and your search result is neatly presented, you are likely to get a site visit and a call. Especially if your website is optimised to trap vendor and landlord traffic efficiently.
Our Advanced SEO guide also examines in detail at how to optimise for this lower volume, but higher value search traffic target in some detail. We’ll also look in more detail at the various types of results that are served in response to these queries. However for now, suffice to say the role of Google+ or the results type previously known as “Places” results – those which appear as a list with pins in a snippet of map – are disproportionately important in this category of search traffic.
So, what next?
If you’ve done that, you might want to understand why Homeflow sites are a better foundation for your SEO. And if you’re looking for detailed advice and ideas, there’s no better place to start than our SEO benchmarking or advanced guide. You’ll also find lots more in our resources library. If you’ve read lots of this and you are trying to follow through a broader read about search engines, then the next step would be to explore the structure of Google’s results pages.