Wednesday, April 16, 2008

Real Estate SEO - Franchises Missing the Boat

Well isn’t this blog neglected! To tell you the truth, over the past couple of months, I’ve been writing business plans, grant proposals, research documents, project and technical requirements and I have to say that I haven’t had a lot of gas in tank to write for this blog. I think I have to learn the art of micro posting!

So what has awakened me from my slumber? I was reading an RIS article by Glenn Houck this morning on SEO. After leading the Homegain charge for many years, Glenn certain knows a lot about SEO but he keeps things pretty simply in this article. SEO in real estate really gets me going because so many companies are completely missing the boat. This short article reminded me of a post Joel Burslem made listing his 10 favorite real estate search sites. The new Century 21 Canada site was one of them. I have to admit that I like the look and I like the map search implementation but this site missed the SEO boat totally. Let’s back up a bit because really, why does this matter...

Search engines (google) are like today’s phone books. In the old days, you picked up a phone book, flipped to the yellow pages, found the appropriate category (real estate) and searched through the listed ads. The differences are the following. In a search engine there are too many pages to produce a book. Flipping virtual pages just wouldn’t be practical either so you search by topic rather than flipping to a yellow page topic. So the first important point to make here is that websites need to ‘tell’ a search engine what their topic is. What has done is the equivalent to telling the yellow pages to make a topic called “Century 21” rather than ‘real estate’. In fact, it’s like they’re also trying to say, “we transcend real estate so don’t put us in that category at all.” (it’s the only logical conclusion I can make)

Ok, so on to the second point. With a search engine, it’s like having one big phone book rather than many small local phone books. So for large businesses that have many offerings or many local business offices, they can have an ad or listing for each relevant one. I’ll clarify using again. Not only should they be listed under the term ‘real estate’, but they should have relevant listings for terms like ‘Ontario real estate’ and ‘Toronto real estate’ and ‘Scarborough real estate’. It’s like having many yellow page ads. So building on point 1 – not only do you have to identify the category you should be listed in, but you need to identify other sub categories and make all of your yellow page ads (in this case, web pages) discoverable so they make it into the phone book.

The 3rd point in our comparison is that content in search engines is sorted differently than phone books. Because searching is fundamentally different than flipping through pages AND there is simply too much content out there (or yellow page ads in our metaphor), you can’t sort stuff in a search engine in alphabetical order. So the way a search engine sorts content is by relevance and popularity. If people talk about your business offline, you get word of mouth advertising. If they talk about it online, they link to it. A link is considered a popularity vote as Glenn notes.

A copyright notice at the bottom of Century 21 Canada shows Inc. so I assume they were contracted to build the site. If it was 1999 or 2001 I can understand a large corporation missing the SEO opportunity, but in 2008, this stuff should just be common knowledge and standard practice. There’s certainly enough information about SEO published online! Search is the way people find information today and unless a website is generating traffic, it’s a billboard in the middle of nowhere. SEO is not something that some geeky kid jumps in and performs on website. SEO is a philosophy for technical design architecture. Beyond that, SEO principles should permeate a company’s marketing so offline and online efforts all help more people find those yellow page ads.

Search engine optimization may be old news to some people and some may think that it’s a web 1.0 way of thinking. But, it still sits at the core of how we define ourselves in the online world. Because content is organized by the popularity of the documents, it is the most fundamental way we manage our reputation online. When I search for real estate in Canada, not only will I never find the content on, if I was actually looking for their site to show up, I would conclude that they don’t have a high enough reputation (and thus quality of content) for me to bother.