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Anyone Seen My Website?

The world’s best website is useless unless your customers can find it – that’s find it first and find it fast! Eddie Lynch talks about Search Engine Optimisation (SEO) and its importance for your real estate business.

The Age recently reported that in a British poll of the world’s greatest inventions, the Apple iPhone came in at number eight – between penicillin and the flushing toilet.

If you wanted to search the internet for, say “real estate in Melbourne”, it would take you 52,903 years to read an estimated 21 billion indexed web pages at 1 page per minute.* For this reason, us mere humans require the assistance of a search engine e.g. Google.com to find the information we need in a more practical time frame (try 0.5 seconds per search!).

As competition for online dominance increases, I am hearing the same question more and more often, How can we make sure our website displays at the top of the search engine results page for XYZ key word?, quickly followed by the question …and can you provide me with a ballpark figure? Often the client has an idea, but is not 100% sure what SEO is, or the scope of the term and the amount of ongoing effort that is involved in reaching for that golden ‘top spot’.

SEO is simply the use of various techniques to improve a website’s ranking in the search engines for a selected key word or phrase and thus attract more visitors (and conversions!). This is not to be confused with the paid advertising that you see on the search results page labelled “sponsored links” which is a different kettle of fish.

You have to consider the position of the search engines’ management teams and understand the companies’ goals to truly understand SEO. For example, a quote from Google.com co-founder Larry Page, The perfect search engine, would understand exactly what you mean and give back exactly what you want. We conclude that Google would want to deliver to the user the most relevant website that exists in the Google database in relation to a given search query. For Google, it is all about user experience!

The “perfect search engine” is far from a reality, but Google is well on its way to achieving this ambitious goal. When considering websites to be returned in your search engine results page, and what order to display them in, Google considers over 200 factors (referred to as “signals”). Unfortunately, SEO professionals can only make educated guesses about what these signals are based on, hints from Google staff in press releases, and good old fashion A/B testing. To make it even trickier, Google are constantly updating this formula – so what works well one month, might not even be considered the next.

Outsource or DIY?
So you want to start optimising your website so you can rank higher and win more conversions? You have the choice of two paths, 1.) Hire a professional or 2.) Do it yourself.

If deciding to outsource – my advice to you is “beware of sharks”. There are plenty of “SEO professionals” out there tempting you by offering a “partnership with Google”, “guaranteed top spot”, “faster results” etc, but what you should be looking for are companies which demonstrate the following attributes:

  •   Naturally, the website of an SEO professional should rank well for SEO related terms.
  • They should show a proven portfolio of previous SEO projects.
  • “Any SEO professional should be willing to sit down and talk with you about your goals, and not simply offer a flat quote without prior investigation.”
  • Remember the old adage: cheapest is not always best.

If you decide to take on the challenge of carrying out your own SEO, you’re in for a real learning experience. The first place to start is Google – research, research, research. All you need is time and basic computer knowledge. Plenty of SEO professionals provide informative, industry-relevant SEO articles that cover basic through advanced techniques.

Do you scan your local newspaper to keep check on listings you have lost to your competitors? But do you regularly visit higher ranking competitor websites to see what they are doing that you aren’t? Sadly, the answer to the latter for most people is no. You can learn a lot about SEO by carefully analysing well ranked websites in your industry. See www.westwoodfn.com.au and www.barryplant.com.au/rowville for two companies who consistently work hard on their SEO and have been rewarded by Google with a #1 rank for key phrases “real estate Westwood” and “real estate Rowville” as at the time of writing this article.

If you do decide to manage your own SEO, you need to consider both ‘on page’ and ‘off page’ SEO techniques to complete your strategy.

On page’ SEO refers to techniques applied to your website to make it more relevant to the end user and improve the web site’s structure to make it more “readable” to the search engine. On page SEO techniques tend to be more technical in their nature e.g. updating page titles with phrases containing your selected key words, but can be as simple as regularly creating content which is relevant to your target audience and is rich with the key words in which you would like to rank highly.

Off Page’ SEO refers to techniques carried out externally from your website. This includes but is not limited to generating reputable links to your website from other authoritative websites (“back-links”), making submissions to online directories and social bookmarking websites or a targeted social marketing strategy.

In order to optimise your own website, you need to make sure you are with a software provider that gives you the ability to update your website without having to pay through the nose each time (as SEO is an ongoing exercise and not a once off set-and-forget task). At PortPlus, we have recognised this from the very beginning, and have developed a flexible CMS (content management system) which powers each and every website (templated and custom). Clients can add and remove web pages, menus and sub-menus at the click of a button with the ability to edit elements in each of these pages, upload and caption images, upload video, and create links as they wish. This allows our clients control over their own SEO giving them tools they need to work towards that important top position. For example, First National www.firstnational.com.au is now ranking on page #1 for the key phrase “real estate Australia” using a website powered by the PortPlus CMS.

Take note of trends
During 2010, there have been a number of trends in the SEO world worth a mention:

Content continues to be king
Websites that present fresh, interesting, relevant content to their users provide a great user experience which is in line with Google’s philosophy. Naturally Google will have more pages to index, increasing the chance of your website being viewed by your desired audience. And just as important is a well structured, logical website built using best practices which is essential for Google to be able to find all of the content within your website.

Changes in market share of search engine giants
The three main players in the Australian search engine market, based on search volume for four weeks ending 29th May 2010 are: Google (92.72%), Microsoft’s Bing (3.3%) and Yahoo (2.25%)**. A year after Microsoft re-launched its search engine under the new name Bing (June 2009), we have seen its market share slowly increase. Based on current trends, it may become more and more important to optimise our websites for Bing as time goes on.

Mobile optimisation
The Age recently reported that in a British poll of the world’s greatest inventions, the Apple iPhone came in at number eight – between penicillin and the flushing toilet. Usage of these devices continues to grow at a staggering rate. With the exponential uptake of iPhone and other smart devices such as Blackberry and Android phones, not only do small to medium businesses have to create a mobile presence, but they have to create an optimised one, as well.

The numbers don’t lie. As business owners, you must strive to be the first website your clients see when searching online for your services. I still see so many business owners neglecting their online presence. Even if there is little competition for your chosen key words, your website can still rank poorly in the search engines if you choose to neglect your website.

In today’s environment you cannot afford to be invisible to the search engines – it is like leaving your real estate office closed on a Saturday. Whether you outsource your SEO or take up the challenge to do it yourself any effort is better than none at all.

** http://www.hitwise.com/au/datacentre/main/dashboard-1706.html

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