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SEO – Demystifying what’s included and what’s not?

The SEO support that is included in your monthly website subscription

Our clients often ask us what level and type of “SEO support” is included in our service.

This has been brought into sharper focus lately, as some of our competitors have started to sell SEO services as an upsell / bolt on. Many of those services are included by default in Homeflow’s base licence, but some of them do go beyond what’s included and into dedicated SEO agency / consultancy work.  So, we thought the whole topic needed clarifying.  This article seeks to explore what’s in, and what’s not…

Broadly speaking SEO help, support and work is divided into 3 broad areas:

  1.  Advice and Strategy (included)
  2. “On site” SEO (largely included)
  3. “Off site” SEO (not included)

1. Advice and Strategy (included)

High level advice is included with Homeflow.

You can ring us up at any time, and we can help point you in the direction of what you need to do to improve your SEO.  We write extensively on the topic and suggest you start here.  But we go deeper and help our clients identify where their own specific SEO bottlenecks are, and what they need to do to improve them. We do this with our larger clients in their quarterly reviews, and we are moving to do this with all of our clients.  Any client who asks for advice, gets as much as they want, on tap as part of our “all-you-can-eat” customer service proposition, so pipe up.

SEO advice is NOT typically included in our competitor’s fees.  Or at least not to anywhere near the same grade and level.  It’s a key differentiator and advantage of coming to Homeflow, so it is important to understand.  We also think it is hugely valuable advice as there is a lot of mis-information going around in the SEO market.  We like to think our advice is very well guided, as we’ve come from a background of building very high scale search engines for large newspaper groups, where we had to compete with Rightmove etc. for mainstream consumer traffic from Google.  When you’ve played in the big game, with sites that harvest over half a million uniques a month from SEO against the big boys, you learn a thing or two that you can bring back to devastating effect in the agency market, where the bar for good SEO is somewhat lower.

The advice is based on research and experience. It also draws on our understanding from our Benchmarking programme.  Of course, the outcome of this advice might well be that you need to pick up a fork and spade and do some hard work (see off-site SEO, below).  But that isn’t always the case.  And being (well) advised on where to focus your efforts makes any support services you do buy well directed, rather than having it risk being a complete waste of money barking up the wrong tree.

It’s also the case that some of the SEO tools we have (not all of which we discuss in public, for fear of having them copied; come and ask us about codeword DCF) can in many places obviate the need for the heavy lifting of manual, off site, SEO in the first place.

“On site” SEO (largely included)

“On site SEO” is the collective term given to all the things, mostly technical or related to site structure, which you can do WITHIN the confines of your own website, to ensure it ranks highly.  On site SEO is about half the game.  And if you get it wrong, it’s a knock-out blow.  There is simply no point in wasting any time or energy working on “off site SEO” as you’ll be wasting your time and/or money if you have a broken spine in the foundation of your on site structure.  Doing off site SEO work on a broken website framework, is like trying to put your foot down hard in a car whilst keeping your other foot hard on the brake pedal.  A crying shame.

When agents complain to us that they have been buying SEO consultancy, or have it included in a package from their existing website provider, we often wince.  We look at their sites, and more often than not discover that they have built-in structural impediments which are rendering pretty much all of the investment they’ve made in content writing, or link building, a complete waste of effort for now.  Think of it like asking the a man in the street how you should get to Cork, and having the reply “well, I wouldn’t start from here”. Except in this case, it’s useful advice.

We say help here is largely included, as Homeflow dominate the market for estate agency websites in the On Site SEO arena.  This is where we are furthest ahead of our competition.  Just by making the decision to buy a Homeflow site, you’ve probably fixed nearly half of the overall SEO battle.  But sadly only half.  Even armed with the best, most indexable, well titled, cross linked, white hat SEO friendly site framework going, you’ll still need to do some off site SEO work, unless your competition are just pathetic.  Further, if you are in a London borough, where you will likely be fighting for SEO space against the large central London agencies, most of whom have now got the SEO basics very well sorted, then you’re going to have a tough fight on your hands. Having rock solid foundations for your on site SEO is essentially just the price of entry into the game in London.

Suffice to say that meta tags, good page titling, great use of H1, H2, H3, fantastic page speed, easy to use CMS, clean dynamic URLs, clean HTML code, good XML site maps, all sorts of “one more click” functionality, email alert engines to drive repeat visit ratio (a key factor), and so forth, are all standard. You will still need to configure your tags and titles.  This is all editable via the CMS on a Homeflow site (including the rules based permutation pages of search), and remains your responsibility.  That said, we’re happy to advise on set up, included in our fees, if you need help.

One thing you certainly don’t need (which you might with competitors’ sites) is SEO advisory work focused at “on site factors”.  Indeed we would argue that a good Homeflow site, with no attention to off site SEO or content generation, will beat a poorly structured or weaker platform with as much off site SEO support as you can get, hands down.  Or course, the winning formula is both. Foot off the brake pedal, and hard on the accelerator.

A simple way of thinking about it: if you don’t have a Porsche 911, you can’t win the Supercar Cup. But just because you have a Porsche 911 doesn’t mean you will win the Supercar Cup, you still need to drive it well. And that’s where the more manual work starts…

“Off site” SEO (not included)

“Off site” SEO is the term for all SEO factors that happen OUTSIDE of the confines of your website.  The content you write which travels out across the web; the links you garner back in; the social media signals and reviews which indicate the strength of your heartbeat to Google.  Sadly, there’s no real substitute for hard work in this arena.  As a first, rudimentary step, you’ll want to benchmark your Domain Authority, relative to other estate agents.  And depending on the terms you are trying to rank for, and the content and structure of the content on your site, the nature of the off site work you should best engage in will vary.

So, we can advise on what off site SEO work you need to engage in.  But we don’t do the heavy lifting of doing the actual operational work of doing that.  Obviously that is where many agencies will pitch their services too – but they’re hard to measure.  And, philosophically, we fall slightly on the side of “this should really be an internal capability for agency to have in house themselves, ideally”. You have got an online marketing manager, right?  The reason we say that is that content needs to have a totally authentic voice. It needs to come straight from you, about your business, and demonstrating your local area expertise which you sell so solidly to vendors.  This becomes all the more so when it turns to social media.  If you are not very careful, people can smell a paid hand, in social media activity especially.  Think how unimaginable it would be for someone else, not from Homeflow towers, to have written this article for example?

That said, you might logically choose to outsource off site SEO work for resource practicality or focus – which costs money.  With the exception of copywriting where we can help, this is not (currently) a service which Homeflow provides.  We do know some very good agencies if you need help.  But if you take our advice from point 1 above, then at least you won’t buy (or worse, be sold hard work that isn’t really delivered) unless that is actually going to solve your problem.

(Aside: please note we are talking about SEO services here, as opposed to pay-per-click / search engine marketing (SEM).  We do have very active services in this arena and some of our design and marketing partners offer services to help in this arena too.  We’re neutral on who you use, and we can advise / introduce as appropriate.)

I’m not clear… do I need a separate SEO consultancy or not?

Our advice is almost invariably:  Not yet.

Join our benchmarking programme so that you can at least see what you’ve got already relative to other estate agents.  Launch your site.  Let traffic settle.  See where you stabilise in the rankings.  Take basic advice from us and act on that first.  Tweak.  Let it resettle.  And ONLY then work out whether you need SEO heavy lifting and in which arena.  You can then use services in that arena judiciously, or as hard as hell, depending on your appetite and ambition.

Plain English, please?

In sum:  Good “on site SEO” fundamentals, will trump any amount of “off site SEO” work.  Though in the long term, and especially in competitive London or urban market towns, you will most likely have to do both, to rank reasonably.

• We give you a great car
• We teach you how to drive (included)
• But you still need to actually drive, and put petrol in the car
• (and there’s only so far we can go in helping with that at the moment)

We can do:

• Great, very well directioned advice
• Best in class on site SEO platform (by a country mile)
• Copywriting (or intros to friendly agencies that can help)
• PPC services (or intros to friendly agencies that can help)

We can’t do:

• Link building (go carefully, though if done well, ie naturally, it’s gold)
• Social media engagement

We hope that helps clear it up a little bit. Please do get in touch if you have any questions, or just want to chat about your own sites’ impediments and opportunities. We’re happy to give quite a bit of advice, absolutely for free, as we hope it results in us working with you longer term (and it often does).

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