Back in late 1998, when evaluating the competition for a Vancouver real estate agent on Google, I encountered 256 competitive web pages. (Google lists the competition at the top left in their search results.) Today, the search term "vancouver real estate" is pulling up "About 62,600,000 results". And your site needs to be in the top 5 to win. [Postscript: As of September 2019, the number of competitive pages has risen to 215,000,000... that's right 215 MILLION pages.]
Sixteen years ago, almost every listing in the first 30 was a real estate professional. Today, the majority of the listings on the first three pages are news articles and large real estate brokerages. The individual agent/broker is being brutally "out contented" by sites with a greater volume and quality of local information.
News websites competing for these positions will have built up a considerable inventory of "real estate"-related articles covering a geographic area like Vancouver, and the archived listings and blog announcements of a thriving brokerage office will provide a lot of content "weight" for your region.
If you're trying to compete for short tail keyword terms like "vancouver real estate", the amount of content you would have to develop, to be competitive, would be formidable. Many have turned to paid search, or simply given up, determining that online marketing doesn't work for individual agents or small teams.
Is there a way for the small team or individual agent to show up in the top 5 ranking positions? Absolutely! Google is trying to provide the most relevant, local results. Google's local bias doesn't have to work against you. If Google loves "local", we simply must become "more local."
If the geographic keywords you target are more specific than greater "Vancouver", you can beat the competition in focus. It's a mistake to believe that home buyers in your area will only enter highly competitive terms like "vancouver condos" into a Google search. If these searchers are considering a move into the area, they will check out the schools, local parks, recreational facilities, shopping, cultural events, etc. This provides a lot of long tail keyword opportunities for building highly qualified traffic to your site.
Long tail keyword searches actually deliver far more qualified visitors to your site. Anyone that takes the time to research the area in depth is a far better prospect than the person that enters "vancouver homes" on a whim. In other words, the visitor that arrives through "places to walk my dog in West Van." is a better lead.
With an aggressive 'hyper local' strategy, your site can rank quickly and begin generating a steady stream of leads. The biggest mistake I see real estate pros making is going the opposite direction; trying to cast a wider net. It's ironic: They don't want to miss anybody, and in the process of reaching more, miss absolutely everyone.
Developing a series of "evergreen" article pages for your hyperlocal "farm", supported by regular laser-focused weekly blogging, can increase your relevance, authority and traffic within a few months. (I should point out that brand new domains can take longer.) But what keyword search phrases should you be targeting in your content?
Start by defining your target market area. If you have a few condo listings in the North Shore, near Ambleside Park, terms like "Vancouver", or even "West Vancouver" may be far too general. How about targeting "Ambleside condos", "Ambleside Village" and "Ambleside Beach"? A fearful voice in your head may be suggesting that you don't want to limit yourself to only Ambleside. "Sure that's good for Google, but what about sellers and buyers?" Let's face it, if you were selling or buying in Ambleside, wouldn't you put more trust in the person who specializes in properties in that neighbourhood, over an agent that has properties sprinkled over hell's half-acre?
Okay, so we've chosen our hyperlocal geographic region, for this exercise. For prospective sellers, we want to establish that you have a track record for selling properties in the area. Your website should have the ability to display your own on-page listings; not just an MLS Reciprocity (IDX) feed. If you don't have all of your past "Sold" listings for your target area archived on your site, you'll want to begin entering them into your own database. You should also have all of your current local listings permanently added to your website. (An MLS reciprocity IDX data feed doesn't count for much. It's not content that physically resides on your site.)
It's important to understand the difference between "real" content, that actually lives on your website, and "piped in" data from an external 3rd party source. If you pay a monthly service fee for your website each month, you may not have your own on-site content, and you may want to consider a platform upgrade. If you want Google to rank your content, it must be on your site.
Several of the popular blog platforms allow you to backdate posts. This enables you to post announcements of listings and sales in your "farm" area, with dates corresponding with those events. Isn't that wonderful? You can atone for past sins of omission. Put some love into these posts. Including addresses and Google Map references helps pinpoint hyperlocal geographic locations. (Note: I don't generally recommend posting new listings in your blog, but when they're released already archived, that's another matter entirely.)
And that brings us to buyers. This is where you have the opportunity to really stand out. You know how every real estate site's 'About Me' page talks about how passionate the agent is about the area, and how they have the inside scoop on everything that's happening locally... you're actually going to back that up. Leave the bland, empty claims for your competitors.
You need to become the go-to information resource in your area. When both locals and outside searchers land on your site, for almost any search pertaining to your "farm" region, you've built your online authority, credibility and trust as the knowledgeable expert in your community. Leads and referrals become a given.
An SEO copywriting professional can be extremely helpful here, in determining exactly which topics are being searched for in your area, conducting pinpoint keyword research and mapping out an editorial schedule for the months to come. The closer you can align the content being created, with what buyers are actually searching for, the greater the response rate, and the more leads you can expect. Tools like WordTracker or HitTail can also be very helpful, should decide to go it alone.
Begin asking the questions your buyers will be asking, when considering Ambleside, and consider the search terms they are likely to enter:
"schools in Ambleside"
"parks in Ambleside"
"zoning changes Ambleside"
"restaurants in Ambleside"
"Ambleside dog friendly areas"
"cultural events in Ambleside"
"Ambleside calendar of events"
The list goes on...
What unique activities and features does your area offer? Do you have a Farmer's market? A museum? An ice arena?
Your mission is to "out content" the competition for every long tail keyword search term you go after. Matching what's already out there will not overthrow the current pages. The status quo prevails until something a lot better is published.
To dominate in visibility and lead generation, we need to create "epic" ridiculously valuable content. This means your entry must always be considerably better than the pages currently occupying the top ten ranking positions for that keyword phrase. Let's say you've decided to do an article or post on West Vancouver's "Lighthouse Park". A quick search shows articles on other sites, ranging from 3 to 5 paragraphs, each with only one photo. If you included a gallery of images, or perhaps a YouTube video tour, with a dozen or more interesting paragraphs, with useful links to other sites offering more information on Lighthouse Park, a Google map to the park, a calendar of events that occur in Lighthouse Park throughout the year... you get the picture. Think "5 to 10 times better" than the very best page or post out there.
And therein lies your advantage. It's so incredibly effective precisely because everybody isn't doing it... yet. Once everyone catches on, and is aggressively creating high quality hyperlocal content, things are going to become spectacularly competitive. Most marketing advantages lose their effectiveness as soon as everyone jumps on it.
Woody Allen said, "80% of success is showing up." Fresh content must show up every week for this to work. You have to be in for the long haul. Great content doesn't write itself. You may not be a great writer, but you can certainly hire one, or get a coach.
As a real estate professional, you are the brand. Becoming a successful brand involves a significant investment. I have read statistics claiming that 97% of the people selling real estate just get by; while 3% go all-in, investing in their brand, and these pros dominate the market. Want to be perceived as the expert in your area? Content lets you write your own ticket.
Absolutely! And therein lies your huge potential advantage. Success usually comes to those who complete the tasks others are unwilling to take on (or delegate them to an expert). Many business real estate professionals won't have all that time to invest. They have lives outside of real estate, and need face-to-face time with clients. A professional SEO copywriter / hyperlocal content writer could handle everything, but for most of my clients, it's a partnership.
Fortunately, skilled SEO content writers, specializing in hyperlocal content development for the real estate industry, are an email or phone call away. And with coaching, anyone can become a reasonably skilled content creator over time. The quirky style many bloggers feel is "unprofessional" can actually endear these writers to their unique audience.
This is very doable, with a WordPress Multi-Site approach. We create sub-sites, within the core website, each targeting a unique region in a carefully segregated 'content silo', backed by a proven multi-tier content strategy, all administered from a single backend dashboard. Please remember, though, that to be effective you'll have to invest as much effort into the content of each individual geographic target area; not dilute your relevance by spreading that time over the various regions. More geographic cities involves a greater investment.
With many article topics, a few minutes of research is all that's required to gather the statistics and facts to establish the key points. The rest of the piece just expands on those points, with a bit of storytelling.
But with a good 3,500 - 10,000+ word hyperlocal pillar article, every sentence provides valuable, factual information to the reader. Investments of 25 - 80 hours of research for a single page are typical. It is a huge job. Fortunately, you don't have to research and write the hyperlocal content at all, if you don't have the time, or the interest. Not many real estate professionals can afford to invest the many hours each month into researching and writing epic quality content, so they hire a hyperlocal ghost writer to handle at least part of the job.
Beware of hiring a writer on the cheap. Much of the research and writing I'm hired to complete involves replacing previous content that was either 'fluff', or actually factually incorrect. 'Thin' or 'fluff' content essentially tells the reader nothing. When readers immediately bounce from a page, because it's crap, Google and Bing factor that into their ranking of the entire site. Thin content is an insult to the readers' intelligence and it tells them you don't value their time.
Factually incorrect content is so much worse. Here the writer invests a few minutes into research, finds the name of the town or city in Wikipedia, and includes a few "facts" in the article. Unfortunately those stats are for another city in another geographic area or country, that just happens to have the same name. This kind of misinformation becomes very common when website owners think of hyperlocal content as a cheap commodity, purchased to pick SEO rankings at a discount. The purpose of hyperlocal content is to provide genuine value to readers and prospective clients; it's not an attempt to trick Google into ranking the page with a cheap substitute for useful information.
There is 1 blog for every 7 people on this planet. The world does not need more content, but Google and Bing will feature truly exceptional articles and posts in their top-5 positions. 10 incredibly useful and relevant, ridiculously valuable, carefully optimized local resource pages are far better than 500 fluff pieces blasted onto the web like confetti.
Do not make the mistake of casting a wider net, using 'thinner' content. Google usually delists sites with low value information, or at leasts hides them way down in the results. You need to think deeper, not wider.
If you need a steady stream of online buyers and sellers contacting you today, you're already way behind. There's always some lead time with content marketing. It takes time for Google and Bing to evaluate and index content, and audience engagement; so you must begin publishing hyperlocal, ridiculously valuable content immediately.
You must create value for your audience before you extract value. A little patience can deliver huge dividends.
- Joe Pulizzi, Content Marketing Institute
I know of no better way to rapidly ascend the ranks legitimately than with 'hyper local' content.
Do you have a hyperlocal success story to share? Have you discovered hyper local websites right in your own back yard that are kicking you to the curb in search engine rankings? I welcome your comments and questions below.
Cole Wiebe helps brands and professionals grow their influence and value online; so they can “out content”™ their competition. Cole is a content strategist, content writer, conversion copywriter and online marketing coach.
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