An introduction to SEO for the property sector
Search engine optimisation (SEO) can seem to be a bit of an arcane practice for those unfamiliar with its inner workings. While it's easy to see how lucrative achieving a high position in search results can be, the process of achieving this can seem somewhat mystifying to newcomers.
In this guide, we'll take a detailed look at how SEO for property works and offer some top tips on optimising your online presence with a view to attracting more customers through the web.
People are searching for your product or service
One of the most common barriers to investing in SEO in the property sector (and beyond) is the idea that your product or service is so old-school that no one will be looking for it online.
However, whether you're involved in asset management, commercial or residential development, office fit outs or virtually anything in between – rest assured there is appetite for your products or services online.
ut don't just take my word for it – a quick bit of keyword research reveals that there's literally thousands of searches carried out each month relating to the types of businesses above. For instance:
Asset management (6,600 average searches per month)
Office fit out (720 average searches per month)
Property development (3,600 average searches per month)
Now wouldn't it be great if you could capitalise on even a modest percentage of these queries and get interested parties to look at your offerings online?
Anecdotally, we only have to point to the wild success of online resources like Zoopla and Rightmove to demonstrate the property-seeking public's appetite to have useful and actionable information dropped into their inboxes or supplied at the press of a button.
The bottom line is, even if you can't sell your property-related products or services directly online (if they require an in-person meeting or a phone call for instance), there's still a wealth of benefits to be had in catering for this growing demand and getting your company's wares in front of actively interested parties.
While we're providers, and generally big fans, of traditional advertising and marketing techniques -and we'd never besmirch their effectiveness – SEO can also deliver significant cost savings in terms of how much you pay per lead.
Figures from Hubspot show that organisations that employ inbound marketing techniques (SEO, blogging, social media, et cetera) average a 60% lower cost per lead than those using outbound ones (stuff like print or television advertising, mail shots and telesales).
Although costs can differ depending on your needs and the services you opt for, in the vast majority of cases the up-front and ongoing spend on an SEO campaign will be significantly less than you'd pay for equivalent activity in traditional types of marketing.
Newpapers – From around £200 for a reasonably-sized advert in a local paper to upwards of £15,000 for a national publication.
Television – Depending on channel, region and how long you want your advert to be, you could be looking at anywhere from a couple of thousand pounds to more than £1 million (and that's without taking the cost of creating the advert into account).
Direct Mail – Obviously, this can vary depending on the type of materials being sent, but expect to pay in the region of 30p per mail, per customer and more than 5p for leaflets.
Radio – Whether you opt to produce your advert yourself or have the radio station handle production can dramatically impact the cost of this activity. There's a wealth of packages available and sister stations often offer advertising spots in tandem.
To give you a ballpark figure, however, a recent client radio campaign at five spots a day over five days cost around £4,000 – including production and tied-in social media activity.
However, it's important to note that traditional marketing and PR activities can work well in tandem with SEO, social and paid advertising – both on and offline.
How SEO for Property works
Without delving too far into the realms of jargon, SEO simply describes any activity that aims to affect the visibility of a website or particular page in a search engine's unpaid (also known as 'organic') results.
This can cross several disciplines – from web development and copywriting to having specialists build the number of hyperlinks pointing at your website through a variety of means. As such, getting to the bottom of how SEO works can understandably be somewhat difficult for newcomers to get their head around.
Just to confuse things further, terms like search engine marketing, inbound marketing and content marketing are often thrown round in relation to SEO and it can be hard to differentiate where one begins and the other ends. No two companies will do SEO in exactly the same way and complementary techniques like the above are often thrown in to the mix to increase the effectiveness of a campaign.
SEO in its most basic form is about tinkering with a range of technical elements on a site with a view to making it easy for search engines to 'index' (i.e. read). However, the technical health of your site, while undoubtedly important, isn't the only consideration when you're attempting to improve your position in search engine results.
Search engines employ autonomous programs, often referred to as 'bots' or 'spiders' that periodically scan ('crawl') the internet by following the web's intricate system of links. Once they reach a page, they decipher what it's about by referring to its HTML code (the building blocks of the site) and store the information in one of their innumerable data centres. Reviewing and retaining the information in this way is what makes it possible for the likes of Google to return results on any given query within a fraction of a second.
This is only the tip of the iceberg, however, and if you're interested learning more about the inner workings of SEO, we'd heartily recommend a read of Moz's beginner's guide to the discipline.
In the never-ending battle to return the most relevant and useful results, Google and co. want their robots to act more like humans. The way they search for, determine and return results is constantly evolving, which can make it difficult for all but the most ardent professionals to keep track of what's new.
Google, with its gargantuan market share, is THE de facto search engine and while we wouldn't suggest ignoring the likes of Microsoft's Bing outright, Google is where the overwhelming majority of western internet users go to find things. As such, it'll be the search engine we'll be concentrating on from here on out.
Getting your site on the first page, and ideally in a prominent position, for terms relating to your product or service is therefore the goal of most SEO activity. How you go about achieving this is where things can get somewhat murky.
Google gives only general advice on how to improve your rankings in its results, but it's known that more than 200 factors are taken into account when determining where a certain website should appear for a certain result. So how do we know what works?
Industry best practice (which is subject to regular change) is derived mainly from testing various techniques and seeing what affect they have on where a site places in results for a certain term.
Search engines themselves are used as the proving ground for these experiments and involve methods that insulate the results from being impacted by general usage.
The general activity of the internet (e.g. sites updating, links being generated) can make it difficult to discern the role of individual elements in isolation.
Therefore, to test elements in a 'vacuum' – where the activity of other sites won't impinge on your results – SEOs might set up new websites based around nonsense keywords (to eliminate all competition) and switch around various technical elements to see what makes a difference in terms of how it ranks. Similarly, they might also want to look at how having hyperlinks on other, well-indexed sites pointing at a test site will affect its placement in search results.
By using scientific method, testing a hypothesis (e.g. 'my site will rank better for a certain term if it has more links pointing at it') and coming up with conclusive, replicable results – it's possible to go some way to discovering how various elements will affect where a website will appear in the results for a certain query.
As mentioned, Google is constantly tinkering with the way it collects and produces results in an effort to deliver the best experience for its users. It's not an exaggeration to say that the way SEO is conducted is in near-constant flux as the industry determines the implications of the latest round of changes and reacts accordingly.
The maths behind how Google answers queries is known as its algorithm and this has been subject to periodic alterations since its inception. Different updates deal with different aspects, for instance they may be significant changes to the algorithm (e.g. the named 'Penguin' and 'Panda' updates), may involve adding new data in a process known as 'index refreshing', or take the form of quiet, unannounced changes that aim to curtail spam or reduce the effectiveness of SEO techniques Google doesn't approve of (sometimes called 'black hat' SEO).
Obviously, the above categories aren't exhaustive and due to Google's secrecy – it's unlikely that we'll ever know the full extent of any given update.
One of the most recent updates involved a full-on switch out of Google's algorithm. In August last year, the search giant revealed that its new Hummingbird algorithm had been in action for about a month prior to the announcement. This change was avowedly aimed at improving semantic search and the function of its Knowledge Graph.
Getting to the first page of Google
Now that we've gone some way to explaining just how complex SEO can be, it's hopefully easier to understand why there's no such thing as an easy answer to 'how do I get on the first page of Google?'
This is further complicated by the search engine's move towards personalisation and location-specific results, which means that increasingly – no two people are likely to get exactly the same results for a query.
However, with all the above caveats in mind, the simplest way of describing how to improve your placements in search results is to make your site more popular. Google's own advice on the issue states:
"In general, webmasters can improve the rank of their sites by creating high-quality sites that users will want to use and share."
Build it and they will come?
Even if you've ticked all the technical SEO boxes in terms of making your site readable to search engines, there's still every possibility that its contents will remain invisible or be deemed unimportant or irrelevant relative to other sites.
Google will judge the quality, and therefore relevance, of sites partly by gauging their popularity based on the actions of human users. It can measure many and varied types of activity, including, but by no means limited to:
• Developing associations between users searching for a certain term and visiting a certain site
• Taking into account the number, diversity and quality of external hyperlinks pointing at a site
• Using information from previous searches
• Your site's geographic location relative to the searcher
• Site design factors, such as the time it takes a page to load
• How many users return to the search results page after visiting a site
• How often and what type of content is posted.
There's also some debate as to whether social signals and shares are taken into account and if so, to what extent they play a role in determining rankings (or whether this is simply a correlation).
This is where marketing comes in to play.
Now we've got the theory out of the way – be sure to head over to our site for part two of our guide to property SEO, where we'll delve into the methodology of your campaign and discuss how to carry out the research and create a plan that'll drive you to SEO success.
And if you're looking for more information on digital marketing in the meantime, be sure to check out our comprehensive beginner's guide to online marketing for residential developers
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