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.



Ed Kohler said...

Hey there. Thanks for the analysis of the new website. I work for and have done much of the work on the site's SEO efforts to date.

Your explanation of SEO was spot on. As you explained, a site should, ideally, rank high for more than any one term, and do so based on the rankings of more than one page. And the real measurement of success is relevant, qualified, traffic from search. By those measures, the site is off to a great start.

I'd encourage you to keep an eye on the site over time as we continue to expand our online marketing efforts.

Jeff Tomlin said...

Thanks Ed, that's a pretty classy comment. I was a little harsh on the site and it's certainly not something that can't be fixed - although it is much easier to architect up front IMHO. I'll certainly keep on eye on the progress. The map search UI is very well done.

berto said...
This comment has been removed by a blog administrator.
Toronto real estate agent said...

Definitely you have pointed out some really interesting facts about this website. As working for a Toronto real estate company I know that how important are the online services nowadays, especially that you have to keep up with the tough market. The agents` role has altered a little bit I think as one can find everything on websites, however people still need the straight contact with them.

Anonymous said...

WhereToLive has never understood SEO. The place is run by a blow bag who has pissed more money away than he'd care to admit. Nice interfaces, decent sites, but overall they don't get it. House of cards. Ed has always had his head up somebody's arse.

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rita said...

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