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SEO in the Commercial Real Estate Space

Mar 2019

SEO is a tricky topic. It’s an area of digital marketing where most people know enough to be dangerous, and yet it is still very difficult to find hardened experts. Unfortunately, for every great SEO firm out there, many others are selling snake oil.

In the real estate space, this problem is even more prevalent being so few digital experts. We’ll often speak with developers, brokers, and architects who are adamant they need “SEO help,” when in reality they just want more traffic to their website.

In this article, I’m going to break down what “SEO” actually is, and how it plays a role in digital marketing for real estate projects. I’m going to begin by dispelling common assumptions and myths of SEO, and then discuss strategies you can take on your next website build to leverage search and improve SEO.

Myths & Assumptions

When it comes to your placement in Google search results, there’s an important reality everyone needs to embrace: you can’t buy your way to the top.

You might think your website deserves to be the number one result in Google (or at least in the first page, right?) but keep in mind the Google empire has literally been built on delivering people relevant content, which isn’t necessarily the same as your content. As much as it hurts to say, if you’re not on top, it’s probably for good reason.

While that might sting, the idea is important! Google search performance is not simply an expensive switch you can pay to flip. Good search performance is the product of many pieces of your website and digital strategy working well together and is an ongoing process with no definitive stop date.

Just like PR, Digital Ads, or Email Newsletters, SEO is another digital marketing strategy used to help drive traffic to your site over the long term.

Three Important Areas of SEO

With expectations set, let’s discuss how can you make sure your site is SEO optimized. We’ll discuss the following three areas, which we use as the starting point for good SEO on real estate projects:

  • Content Strategy
  • Code and Configuration
  • Ongoing Marketing

Plan a Content Strategy

When it comes to SEO and search performance, content is king.

You will show up in Google results because your site contains information relevant to the topics people are searching for. You want to make sure you’re building a content strategy that takes this into consideration and is aimed at providing useful information for these topics.

When building a content strategy here are topics to consider:

Define target audiences

Before you start pecking away at your keyboard and writing any and all information on your project, make sure you know exactly who you want to website to resonate with.

The challenge here is that we all naturally write things from our own perspective, but many times that’s a different perspective from the one your site is targeting. As a developer or broker, the things that excite you about the project might not be the same things your prospective tenants are interested in.

Make sure you write content that provides information and answers questions from the perspective of your targeted audiences.

Focus on copy, not images

On a real estate website, it’s easy to get carried away with images, videos, maps, and other bells and whistles. But remember: don’t forget about the copy! While visuals create a great design and user experience, they don’t contribute to SEO like basic text and copy.

As you’re planning your site, tell your story (first) with well-written copy. Then add the images, videos, and visuals secondarily to support the copy and bring the experience to life.

All too frequently we see single page real estate websites that are images and no copy. When a search-crawler arrives on this type of site, they see what’s essentially a blank slate – terrible for SEO!

Use an outline format

When writing content for the site, we recommend using an outline format. For example:

  • Main point
    • Supporting point #1
      • Content
    • Supporting point #2
      • Content
    • Supporting point #3
      • Content
    • Conclusion / Call to Action
    • Etc.

Doing this breaks content into meaningful chunks of information, making it easier to parse by search engines and visitors alike.

Assuming you have a site that’s multiple pages, each page with its own topic area and outline-formatted content structure, you’ll have a content-rich site search engines can chew away at and extract all the important bits of information.

Button Up Technical SEO

While much of SEO has to do with content, code and configuration still play a big role. For people who might not be code-savvy, I like to break Technical SEO into three buckets: code, configuration, and data.

Writing clean code

The code part of SEO has to do with the literal HTML you are writing within your website. Different pieces of content require different types of tags: for example, the main title of your page should be wrapped inside a tag called Heading 1, and paragraphs should be inside a tag called a paragraph tag.

This might sound mundane, but it’s critical to the SEO performance of a website. When a page has a variety of different types of content, it’s important the tags used to reflect the hierarchy and priority of the content, to allow web-crawlers to parse and understand it.

Configuring your platform

The configuration part of SEO relates to the different pieces of metadata associated to all the pages within your site. You may have heard SEO terms like page titles, descriptions, and keywords, which are all classic pieces of metadata. More recently tags relating to social sharing, like Facebook’s Open Graph tags and Twitter cards, have also become important.

Beyond the metadata itself, you also need to make sure there’s a strong link between your site and different search engines. Special configuration-related files are also needed, such as a robots.txt file and a XML sitemap.

Implement Structured Data

The last bit of Technical SEO to be aware of is using Structured Data. Structured Data is a more recent development in the world of SEO, but it’s very powerful and opens the doors to a whole new landscape of possibilities.

Structured Data is essentially a more robust way for your website to share content with other websites and digital services. Similar to meta-data, it helps with sharing, but Structured Data goes a step beyond and provides detailed information about pieces of content on your site.

A good example of Structured Data for a real estate project might various attributes describing the location and purpose of a project. For example, these properties are used to describe a location and are helpful for services like Google maps or Google local search:

  • Address
  • Amenity Features
  • Longitude
  • Latitude
  • Photo
  • Etc.

There are obviously many pieces of relevant data that you want to make available to different search engines and web services.

Use a tool to help you manage Technical SEO

Lastly, when it comes to because of the complexity of managing all these different pieces of code and configuration, we recommend using a content management system to handle all the heavy lifting. Our tool of choice is the wonderful SEOMatic plugin used with Craft, which takes care of 95% of everything mentioned above.

Ongoing Marketing

It’s important to note that simply having a website doesn’t inherently bring people it. You can invest all the time and money you want into copy and code, but unless you’re driving people to the site you won’t reap ROI on a website.

When you’re thinking about SEO optimization, make sure you’re also thinking about it in the larger context of your project’s digital and traditional marketing strategy.

Creating Useful Content

A common section on many websites is a blog or news page that keeps visitors updated on recent happenings. While this is a great idea that can help improve SEO, in most cases we see these pages hurting a site more than they help.

Before you commit to a blog or news page, first commit to keeping it updated! Too many real estate websites start strong with a handful of posts, only to then die off when people lose interest in making new posts. You don’t want to add a news section to your site and then make your project seem inactive because there are so few updates.

Also, when writing in a blog or news section, it’s easy to write about the accomplishments and accolades for the project itself. In reality, though, the people you want to connect with probably don’t care about the architect or details of a financial closing. Write content that will resonate with your audience, rather than content that resonates with you.

For example, let’s say you’re launching a new food hall in town: write content that describes the neighborhood where the food hall resides. Tell people about local parks, businesses, and attractions, and useful tips about spending the day in the area. Obviously, you can include information about your food hall as well, but make sure you’re writing something that provides useful information, rather than just self-serving promotional material.

Ongoing Optimization

Like any other marketing strategies, SEO is not a one-and-done objective. SEO is an ongoing process of continued updates that improve performance and drive more traffic over time. SEO is a process that–like your website–should be constantly evolving and improving.

For larger projects, or those that will have a long-term web presence, more sophisticated SEO campaigns using A/B testing and other advanced analytics can help you determine the types of content that resonate with people most.

For example, let’s say you’re launching a new apartment building and looking to attract new tenants. Using A/B testing you could show two different photos of your project on the website to see if one version leads to more Contact Form sign-ups.

If one version is driving more conversions, the site would automatically adjust to show that version of the image to all visitors and improve your conversion rate.

With technology and digital marketing in the real estate now becoming too important to ignore, it’s useful to understand how concepts and strategies like SEO impact your website, and more importantly, your project.

If you want to learn more about SEO or hear about other digital marketing strategies in the real estate or urban space, don’t hesitate to reach out. Good luck!

Bryant Hughes Partner / Technology Lead

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