In part one, I discussed the ‘Quick, Easy and Cheap' rent-a-site solution so popular with real estate professionals in North America. Agents pay their monthly fee, slap up a cookie cutter site in under an hour and wait for leads. And while well established agents can turn up in Google when their name is searched, this minimalist approach doesn't produce results for newer agents, where they aren't known as the go-to agent in the area, and someone is searching for a particular type of property in their neighbourhood.
As in all areas of life: minimal investment, minimal return. Contrary to all the spam emails that promise otherwise, there are no shortcuts to becoming the best.
Without “eyeballs” nobody is going to contact you regarding a home they saw in IDX (MLS Reciprocity in BC). They won't join your email list, phone or fill in a form.
Bottom line: if they can't find you, they can't buy from you or give you the listing.
So how can someone rise to become that go-to person? If it took your competitor twenty years to become established as the local expert, can you realistically overtake him/her in a year or two? With the incredible exposure the Internet can give you, the answer in 2014 is “Yes!”
Credibility and authority are earned by providing incredibly valuable, unique information to prospective buyers and sellers. (The standard regurgitated buyer and seller pages that appear on almost every site in the country do not qualify as unique or valuable.)
With the Google algorithm updates that have been rolled out since February 2011, earning Google rankings has become a ‘local content' play. And that's good news for real estate professionals. Create and publish epic (far more valuable than anything the competition is churning out) hyper-local content on a regular schedule, promote it well, and you can expect Google to favour your site with high rankings.
You need to begin thinking of your website as a content platform. Each piece of content should become an asset; it either builds your relevance online, or dilutes it.
You can't be all things to all people, if you want to become a recognized expert. You must choose an area to become the leading authority for. Specializing in one type of property or buyer also helps considerably. Specialization requires an act of courage, and not everyone is capable of such a bold step forward. And that's a good thing, because it allows you to rise above the ordinary agents that are so afraid of missing anyone, they target and consequently miss everyone.
Becoming “more local”
I was in a Skype meeting with someone yesterday. To illustrate the value of relevant content in achieving rankings, I Googled “vancouver real estate”. Google indicated it had 72,500,000 page results indexed. Talk about competition!
The top 2 positions went to MLS sites, followed by Realtor.ca. After that, we came across major news providers, Craigslist, major brokerages and a few specialty real estate sites. Half way down the third page of results we discovered the first agent's website. So why was he ranked that far down?
The top agent's website simply had less relevant content for “vancouver” + “real estate.” The MLS sites had thousands of optimized listing pages for homes in Vancouver, so that was a no-brainer. The top ranking news sites had published many articles on Vancouver real estate over the years. And so had the websites of the major brokerages. Craigslist had tens of thousands of current and archived classifieds.
The two specialty real estate sites both focused on condos in a very small farm area in Vancouver. Because their content focus was tighter, one turned up on page one in Google's results and the other on page two. But even those sites missed the mark, with only one or two pages of local information. Their on-site listing pages (not IDX/MLS Reciprocity feeds) had been aggressively optimized, and that's the only reason they were able to “out content”some of the big boys.
In case you missed that, one of the quickest ways to generate plenty of local content on your site, for your SEO to optimize for your keywords, is to bring all of your current, expired and sold listings “home.” If they're only available in IDX (MLS Reciprocity), they aren't “your” content. (Displaying “piped in” IDX feeds on your site, from an external database, doesn't physically place that content on your domain.) We will usually install software on client sites that allows them to easily re-enter all of their current and past listings on their own website. The MLS descriptions are rewritten, so they aren't duplicate content, and then we carefully optimize each page for the keywords we're targeting. That one insider trick could potentially get you ranked among the specialty real estate sites on the first two pages on Google.
But rankings and traffic alone will not establish you as the leading authority for real estate in your neighborhood.
Trying to “out content” top ranking sites like the top brokerages, MLS providers and directories in volume may not be affordable. But there's another approach: become more local. And that's what hyperlocal content is all about, providing higher quality local information than any other website.
We create a long list of things someone considering a move into the area may check out. Where are the parks? The schools? Churches? Grocery and convenience stores? Hair salons? Athletic facilities? What are the annual and upcoming community events? Are there any zoning changes that will affect new real estate and property values? Any new developments coming up? There are over a hundred potential pages and posts in every neighborhood.
If you're writing a page on the Kitsilano schools, Google what's currently available. For every piece of content you create and publish, your site's version must be considerably better. If the top contender has 4 paragraphs and one photo, why not write 4 or 5 paragraphs for each school? Go out and take a main photo of each school, and a few more that feature things like the playground, a sports event, the charity drive results… you get the idea. Include a Google map, with pins for the locations.
So how does becoming the top local information resource help you sell real estate? For one, you're also building out the on-site pages of your listings. And you're creating valuable “real estate” information pages. If you sell condos in Kitsilano, for example, I recommend creating at least ten evergreen (will still be current and relevant a few years from now) pages that help buyers evaluate their condo options in the Kitsilano area, and make quality decisions when buying a condo. Some pages would target relocation buyers. Another might be written for retirees. And then there's the investment buyer.
You will also want to create several must-have ebooks for download. You're going to entice visitors to give you their contact information in exchange for this extremely valuable information. For our example, how about an ebook entitled “Kitsilano Condo Buyer's Guide: 10 Things You Must Consider Before Making Your Decision.” Others could be a “Kitsilano Relocation Kit – 2014 Edition” or the “Kitsilano Condo Investor's Guide – 2014 Edition.” Each document will be marketed in an attractive landing page, with expert copywriting and attractive graphics.
But what if you're targeting sellers, not buyers? For starters, it's far more difficult to write inspired content for sellers, and you are going to need quite a lot of it, published regularly. To attract sellers, you require great rankings. You must be extremely “findable” on the search engines and social sites. Once you have rankings and qualified traffic, you can of course offer ebooks that target sellers; something like “Selling Your Kitsilano Condo: 10 Things Your Must Do to Get The Best Price.” In that way you control the type of leads you're getting. (If you really don't want buyer leads, you might also consider selling them to agents that do.) :-)) The other important reason for planning seller content carefully is that you could unwittingly convince visitors to take the FSBO approach. It's better to provide a lot of hyper-local neighbourhood information on your site's pages and exchange the really great seller content for a lead.
Real estate is a relationship business. But everywhere you look you'll find offers for a solution that automates social media and avoids the human connection. Saving time and leveraging our efforts can have advantages, but not when it makes our potential clients feel alienated. The primary advantage you offer over your competitors is the quality of experience and personal commitment you bring to the table. That's another topic, and in an upcoming post I'm going to get into the importance of connection in social channels.
For the purposes of this article, I only want to stress the importance of getting the greatest return from your fresh content, by promoting it when your social posts are most likely to be read.
Facebook: 7 days a week, 10:08 am and 3:04 pm.
Twitter: Monday through Friday, 10:00 pm PT (midnight CT) to 8:00 pm PT (10:00 pm CT) the following day. On weekends, 1:00 am PT (3:00 am CT) to 7:00 pm (9:00 pm CT).
Google+: 9:03 am and 7:04 pm. Don’t bother posting on weekends.
LinkedIn: 8:14 am. Again, don’t bother posting on weekends.
You can install plugins on most popular web platforms that post to social channels automatically. I can never understand why bloggers will so willingly drop the baton right at the finish line. If you spend a few hours researching and creating a piece of extremely valuable content, why would you rely on software to blast out an excerpt it selects out to your audience without even proofing it?
It only takes a few minutes to manually post to Facebook, Twitter, LinkedIn and Google+. And it gives you the opportunity to proof and carefully tag your posts before they go live. You can also add a photo in Twitter, something most auto-post software won't do. Facebook, Twitter, LinkedIn and Google+ tabs are always open in my browser.
It should be noted that in order for your social media promotion to be effective, it is important to have a sizable list of subscribers/followers to post to. If you are only marketing your new content to 20 people, magic is not going to happen. And the quality of your readership is equally important. If you've been connecting with anyone you can, to create an impressive number of fans/followers/connections, I'm telling you the value of “social proof” has been grossly overrated. You need to be promoting your content to potential clients. Developing a good social following is an area where many real estate professionals require coaching and assistance.
How content marketing is supposed to work
When you're implementing a quality content marketing strategy, every time a new piece of content is published, and then promoted in social and other online channels, you should see a very noticeable spike in traffic on Google Analytics within hours. You literally have the handle of the faucet in your hand. If you want to turn the flow of leads on, create a great article or post, then promote it. There may be some new subscribers to your RSS feed, and more people will opt-in to your email list. These new subscribers represent influence. They've invited you to keep in touch. Some may call you directly, after seeing your new post on LinkedIn or Google+.
Any agent can say they have their finger on the pulse of what's happening in real estate in your area. You're proving it, and that's how you'll become the leading authority over time.
Need leads right now?
Can't wait for organic results? In the next post I discuss a way to strike a balance between quick results and long term growth and sustainability.