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Case Study: Real Estate Webmasters SEO Competing With Zillow

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When a real estate agent starts thinking about real estate SEO they often think about free leads and being able to boast to clients that they are on top of Google.  What most miss is the long process it takes to get results that return the investment.   Unlike real estate PPC, Real Estate SEO takes time.   The best analogy is that PPC is like calling FSBO and expired leads.  You can real estate leads almost immediately doing that.   Whereas SEO takes time and is more like farming.   If you start for a few month and then quit, you’ll miss out on the great return that the momentum builds up.

Look at the image below.   Because this shows over 2 year of SEO work with

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When Florida Realty Marketplace came to me they weren’t tentative about real estate SEO and understood that it takes time.   They had already been trying to create content but it was a bit untargeted and inconsistent.  When we started they had some major pages for niche keyphrases, like “vacation homes for sale” but weren’t targeting neighborhoods or cities.   In addition, their blog was copy and pasted from blog writing services and competitors like Zillow.

Here’s a quick recap and overview of what they were doing.

  • Blogging – not best practice, but they copied and pasted blog posts from services and competitors.
  • They created niche landing pages for things they were interested in.
  • They had a robust real estate website (from real estate webmasters aka REW) with a strong IDX

Traffic Is Great, But What About Real Estate Leads?

Before we dive into my plan, I think it’s important to cover what traffic means in terms of leads.  When they first reached out to me, they generated 10 – 20 real estate leads a month.  That’s not bad for a real estate brokerage essentially doing real estate SEO themselves without any help.  At 3 months they were routinely generating double that.   It’s worth noting that the one reason we were able to double the traffic was because they had been doing some good things already.  At 9 months we were able to double the real estate leads again getting close to 100.   Now, two years later, it’s not unheard of for them to generate 20 leads a day, all from SEO, organic traffic.

Whenever I work with a client, we examine the process first.   Traffic = Users/Visits = Registrations or Leads.   If leads are down, we look at the content, if user numbers are down we examine the click through rates (CTR) of the pages on the search results, and if traffic is down, we revisit the keyphrase and overall SEO Strategy.

How To Grow Real Estate Leads By 3,000%

Here’s how I did that math.  When we started they generated 20 leads a month.  Now they generate 20 leads a day.  Take 20 and multiply it by 30 days in a month and you get 600, which is a 3,000% increase.   Before we go any further, understand that this kind of growth requires a team.  A single real estate agent can’t handle 600 leads a month.  A small team can’t handle that either.   The leads get cold and stale and the team will drown in leads.   For this kind of growth you’d need a larger team or brokerage, so that each lead can be followed up on immediately.

Research Home Buyer & Home Seller Specific Keywords

When I took over their SEO Strategy I started as I always do with Keyword Research and developing a plan.    When I did the research, I found that they weren’t targeting their cities that they work in or their neighborhoods.   In addition, I found hundred of variations of searches that we could now target.   A lot of real estate agents balk at the cost of setting up an SEO campaign because they don’t immediately see the ROI.  However, for the cost and the many hours put in, the keyphrase strategy will direct the SEO campaign for months and potentially years to come.

Once the strategy was outlined it was time to get to work.    Here’s what we did.

Set The Site Architecture

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If you listened to my SEO Podcast from a few years ago, you might now where this is going. The first thing we need to do with any SEO campaign is to map out what landing pages are going to be optimized for what words and how is the site going to be structured.  For this client it meant setting up the main target pages and supporting those target pages with sub-pages.   This strategy is nothing new, but in real estate that often means, Cities or Areas are the main landing and neighborhoods are sub-pages.  Smaller budgeted real estate agents would do well to target neighborhood pages.  This is actually where a lot of talking head real estate people say, “real estate SEO is dead.”  It’s not dead, but no single agent should try to compete with Zillow.  A large brokerage or real estate team certainly can with the right strategy.

Improved the content

In order to compete with the Redfins and Zillows of the world we have to make our pages better than theirs.  Most agents don’t have a national site or even cover that large of a geographic area, which means that the only way to compete is by making the content stellar.   We approached each page as a wikipedia style page.  Yes, real estate visitors are often there only to look at listings but a long form page does a few things.

  1. Let’s us target multiple phrases – by having long content we can optimize the page for things like listings, houses and agents all associated with the same location based page.  This is a strategy that would be different than creating specific pages for these phrases.  If the search volume is there then it might make sense to make a page for each phrase, but often it’s best to go big if you’re competing for highly competitive phrases.
  2. Give extra information that home buyers and sellers often want.   If you view a page on Zillow you get homes and whatever other false statistics it wants to show you but there’s no local insight, there’s no real person behind it.   With our pages we can cover a few things that would be residents want to know.
  3. Direct the user down the funnel – often a home buyer will start looking in a city, but by the time they are ready to buy they know the neighborhood or school district they want to be in.  With a long form page you can naturally direct each buyer or seller to the right spots in their journey without fumbling through a menu.

A word of warning around content.  Content can always be improved and optimized more.  As more and more visitors come you can track your pages with things like hotjar and see what your clients are looking at.

Get High Quality Organic Links

Getting Links

When I was in real estate for over 15 years and I would come across other real estate agents trying to do their own digital marketing, and when we discussed links it was like discussing the secret ingredient for coca-cola.  The reality is that good SEO is content, links and technical aspects.   In this Search Engine Journal article it covers these basics and highlight that backlinks after content are the most important factor in gaining more visibility.

In order to get great links for our client we reached out to local bloggers and businesses as well as news outlets to increase our exposure.  We also made sure all of our business citations were correct and linking correctly.

One overlooked aspect of links is not just backlinks from other sites, but inner links as well.   This is more than just site architecture, this is a strategic plan to write supporting content that links to the desired landing pages.

Fix The Technical

Although this is the last thing in the case study, it very well could be the first.  You must understand your platform.  If you’re using wordpress you need to know the limitations of wordpress.  More importantly for real estate agents, you must know the limitations of the IDX system.   For my client, using REW (Real Estate Webmasters), I knew that we had a solid IDX platform to build on.  REW won’t offer much help on technical things like page speed optimization or site architecture, but the site itself is one of the best in the business.   I have a hard time recommending REW because their CRM is so poor as is their customer service (not to mention how expensive it is), but if you want to compete with the big national brokerages you’ll need a website as robust as the one real estate webmasters build.

For our client, we were limited by the REW structure that keeps anyone from editing the code.  However, simple things like optimizing images before we uploaded them as well as using CSS made working with the site much easier and it’s something you don’t typically see on a REW site.

Bad technicals can kill a sites performance just like a flat tire can a car’s speed.  However, good technicals aren’t necessarily going to help you rank by themselves, just like spiffy new tires aren’t going to make that 80’s beater truck any faster.

 

Joshua Jarvis

Joshua Jarvis

Joshua has started and sold several businesses over 15 years. Recently he left a 15-year career in real estate as a business owner to pursue my dream of writing and helping business owners grow their own dream.

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