SEO for the Property Sector: Part 2 – The Set Up
Welcome to part two of our comprehensive guide of how to do SEO for the property sector. In part one, we got a good chunk of the theory behind SEO under our belts, so in this section we'll be concentrating on how to generate a plan, undertake research and set up your campaign.
Before we get stuck into how property companies can plan their SEO campaign, it's worth discussing some of the terms we'll be using.
Key terms: Links
What are links? – As we discussed in part one, hyperlinks are how Google's search bots determine how and in what manner one page relates to another. The number of links you have pointing at your site (and where these come from) are an important factor in how the search engine gauges your popularity.
Why they're important – As search engines can't objectively decide how good a site is, link data provides a vital source of information. By following links to and from a site, they can determine how popular it is, how trustworthy it is and how authoritative it is in a given sphere.
Key terms: Content
The word 'content' is thrown around quite matter-of-factly in SEO, but it's vital to understand what it means and where it derives its importance from.
What is content? – Content is any textual, visual or aural or multi-media material you post on your site, external profiles (sites like YouTube, SoundCloud, et cetera) or on a third-party site. The term is often unfairly used synonymously with text-based articles, but also applies to videos, podcasts, infographics and pretty much anything in between.
Why it's important – Since 2009, when Google first previewed its Caffeine update (which was avowedly focused on improving the speed of indexing and better-integrating this with the ranking system for more up-to-date results), sites that regularly post new content have generally been more visible to search engines.
Why it's important (part two) – As well as being a favourable signal to search engines and generating exponentially more indexable pages on your site, regularly updated content has a whole host of holistic benefits, including:
· Providing a valuable potential source of links (when people share or directly link to your content)
· Giving you something to talk about on social media
· Allowing you to compete for a greater number of search terms
· Providing useful resources for visitors to your site
· Showcasing your thought leadership
· Working as a sales tool.
Key terms: Keywords
What are keywords? The term 'keywords' describe the word or phrases people input into a search engine when making a query. Some examples include:
· Office space in Manchester
· Planning consultancies Leicester
· Commercial dilapidations
However, in its ongoing quest to get its search engine to act more like a human, in recent years Google has become exponentially better at figuring out what queries presented in natural language mean – identifying relationships between terms and the likely intent behind a search.
As such, SEOs have responded by increasingly targeting 'long-tail' keywords and queries set out in natural language, for instance:
· How does the planning appeals process work?
· What is a commercial dilapidation?
· Office space in Manchester city centre
Why they're important – Optimising your site and content for keywords is one of the most basic, but vital steps in SEO. Targeting and achieving good rankings for the right queries is of the upmost importance for companies looking to generate business from the web.
Beyond Keywords – While still crucial for determining what your customers are searching for and thus what your content should be about, Google's increasing personalisation of search results and its inclusion of videos and images in search results means optimising for keywords isn't what it used to be.
While this still plays a role, topically-relevant articles, pages, videos and images that are perceived as 'popular' will often out-perform pages that are optimised for the exact term.
Key terms: Landing Pages
What are landing pages? – Landing pages simply refer to the first page that a visitor to your website 'lands' on when clicking a link (from search results, PPC or display adverts, email, social media and analog sources like QR codes or offline adverts).
To muddy the waters, however, some will reserve this term exclusively to describe offer-based pages (for instance, a conversion-optimised page you might arrive on when clicking a PPC advert or email offer) or product/service pages (e.g. 'offices in Manchester', 'commercial dilapidations' or 'planning services').
Why they're important – These are the pages that are typically the first interaction new visitors will have with your site and a good first impression can make all the difference in how they perceive your company.
Offer-based landing pages play a crucial role in moving prospects along the sales journey (and eventually converting them into customers), while product/service-style pages set out your proposition to visitors and explain why they should choose you.
The Set Up
Now we've got the terminology out of the way, we can delve deep into how you'd actually go about setting up an SEO campaign for the property industry. It's worth stating at the outset that this is in no way a definitive approach, but simply the way we'd tackle a prospective campaign.
The property sector is vast and since there's a spectrum of separate types of businesses, we'll try to be as general with our advice as possible.
Companies can often be somewhat precious about assets like websites and social media – so it's important to understand at the outset that in this context, they should be considered purely as marketing assets and as such, should be geared solely towards your customers.
Step One: Understanding your target audience
As with any form of marketing, having a clear understanding of your audience is the key to success. Getting to grips with their needs, habits and lifestyles will allow you to present them with the right resources in the right place at the right time.
While many are keen to jump the gun and just get stuck in, we think developing a clear picture of your audience and creating segments is the right way to set a firm foundation for your campaign. By expending effort in the planning stages, you'll save acres of time when it comes to implementation.
Developing Personas: You can't please everyone, so begin by considering your key business areas or those areas in which you'd like to increase your business.
Create fictional personas that signify your ideal customers in each of this areas and then ask yourself (and if possible, real customers that fit the billing) the following questions:
· What is their demographic information (e.g. age, job title, pay level, where they live, how many kids they have and any other relevant information that comes to mind)?
· What does a day in their life look like?
· What problems do they face and how does your product or service help them solve this?
· What are their goals and what do they value most?
· Where do they go for information (e.g. print, social media, search engines, friends and family, colleagues)?
· What would prevent them from going with your product/service, or prompt them to choose a competitor over you?
· What experience do they want to get out of your product or services?
Step Two: Goals
Just because it can be more cost-effective than many traditional marketing techniques, you shouldn't fall into the trap of thinking SEO is necessarily easier. It's essential to develop concrete goals from the outset and create a clear plan to achieve these that takes into account constraints like budget, resources and time.
Companies that approach digital marketing because they think it's something they should be doing, or simply to keep up with the Joneses of their particular industry are likely to be disappointed with the results.
A successful SEO campaign takes time, effort and commitment – so doing things in fits and spurts, or half-heartedly when there's a spare minute will yield lukewarm or intangible results at best. By setting out clear and achievable goals from the outset, you'll get a firm idea of the resources, time and budget you can commit to a campaign, what results you expect and in what time period you expect them.
Goals can't be vague either. It's simply not good enough to say you want more visitors or to get on the first page of Google. Define real, specific aims for the campaign and solid criteria with which to gauge their success, such as:
· A percentage increase in traffic from organic search
· Better visibility on a set of pre-defined key terms
· An increase in the number of web-based leads passed on to the sales team
· Build newsletter subscribers by a set amount
· A conversion-based goal, like filling out an enquiry form or buying something
Outsourcing and points of contact: If you're outsourcing your SEO to an external agency, it's vital to decide upon the points of contact and processes at either end. Too many campaigns stall or are held back by delays in getting activities signed off.
When selecting a point of contact at your end, it's vital that they:
· Are senior enough to make decisions
· Have enough time to oversee the campaign's progress
· Understand the aims and methods being used in the campaign
· Are able to liaise with the wider firm and gain approvals, feedback and if necessary, contributions, in a timely manner.
Step Three: Research
Research will form the bedrock of a successful SEO campaign and give you a clearer idea of what's achievable within the remit of your budget and resources.
Competitors: At this stage, it's vital to scope out your competitors and peers. Look at their websites and social profiles – see what's worked for them, what they're doing well and what they're not doing at all. Don't be afraid to look beyond your industry at this point, as you'll often be able to repurpose tactics from disparate sectors for your own ends.
As mentioned, targeting and catering for the right keywords is of paramount importance so you can't be too thorough when deciding what to aim for. There's several free and paid tools available for keyword research, but exploring these in full would warrant an article in itself.
Whichever one(s) you opt for, some key information you'll want to glean from your research includes:
Search volumes: How many people are entering this term over a certain period? Are there any trends and does this vary at different times of the year? Google Trends can be a great way to get up-to-date information and create a detailed comparison of two or more keywords.
Competition: Many free and paid keyword research and/or density tools (those that identify the number of times a keyword appears on a given page) will provide information on how much competition there is for a given keyword. However, if you're using Google Keyword Planner – do note the competition here refers to Adwords – not organic search (although some SEOs argue this can still be a good barometer in gauging how sought-after a keyword is).
Value: When ascertaining the value of a keyword take into account:
· Its relevance to your business
· Whether it's action or information-oriented (e.g. 'rent office space in Manchester' versus 'best office location in Manchester')
· How it ties in to the goals of the campaign (for instance, targeting informational keywords might be better if you're looking to increase newsletter subscribers)
· How much competition, and from what sources, you'll face
· How much competitors are paying per click on adwords (this can provide some indication of how lucrative a certain term is perceived to be).
Current rank: Where your site (and those of key competitors) currently ranks for a given keyword. Over the course of the campaign, you'll want to track changes in this metric.
What you're looking for: The above steps should give you some indication of which keywords are the most attractive. Ideally, you're looking to find the sweet spot of a keyword that's relevant to you, attracts a decent number of searches and isn't highly sought after.
However, there's also a lot to be said for capitalising on the low hanging fruit of the keyword orchard and ensuring you dominate geographically-specific terms for your product or service, relevant long-tail keywords (which tend to attract lower traffic and thus competition) and highly relevant keywords that attract relatively fewer searches.
What to do with the info: Once you've accrued all of the above (along with any other relevant information that's likely to inform your campaign), it'll form the barometer for the success of one pillar of your SEO campaign. By plotting your site's ranking for key terms over time, you can see what effect your efforts are having and change your strategy on the fly if something proves to be particularly successful or unfruitful.
However, simply ranking well for a keyword is no guarantee of success and as mentioned previously – if Google detects a large number of searchers returning to the results page after visiting your pages, it may deduce that they're unsatisfied by what your site has to offer and take this behaviour into account when determining what your future position should be.
Your increase in traffic also might not necessarily increase conversions, sales leads or whatever the key metrics of your overall goals are. And it's often necessary to tinker with design elements on your site that affect the journey of visitors with a view to improving this.
If you've got any questions about the steps we've discussed above, or think we've missed anything – be sure to leave us a comment below or give us a shout via Twitter.
Images used courtesy of Wikimedia Commons.
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