How to Get More Traffic with Common Sense SEO
Want to know how to build a popular, well-trafficked real estate site? Here’s how: Populate it with killer content, and then continually improve it. Test it, tweak it, overhaul it and then, when you’re all done, start the cycle again.
Websites are living, breathing things. They need care and feeding. They need love.
How are you treating your site? Is it happy and alive, or does it live at the sad, deserted intersection of “out of date” and “neglected?”
That’s usually because the site owner doesn’t understand the fundamentals of the way search, traffic and conversion work.
Bernheisel should know. His resume is impressive and filled with enviable positions at 1000 Watt, M Realty and Inman. He built M Realty’s web site into the number one search destination for residential real estate in Portland, OR, during his tenure. And with that, he learned an important lesson.
“You can’t build a business on search,” Bernheisel says. “But you can’t have a successful business without search, either.”
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Bernheisel says that search continues to evolve so rapidly that the only way to win is to go back to the basics. If you’ve pinned the success of your business to making your site to rank number one for a few keywords, look out.
Google can demote you in a heartbeat — and that will wreck your strategy. That’s why Berheisel says you can’t build a business on search — and suggests a different course for his clients.
“Think about the kind of clients you want, then build a great site for them,” he says. “The only thing you can control is what’s on your site, and how it’s built. Don’t worry about Google’s updates and changes — build a quality site and follow a few simple rules to optimize it, and you should be good to go. You might land in the number one position — but even if you don’t you’ll be fine. Because you’ll get the traffic you need, from people who want your services.”
Good Content Rules
“What Google has been saying for the last 10 years is that good content is the ace in the hole,” Bernheisel explains. “They rolled out Panda and Penguin to reward sites that are made for humans that are a good read. The way to win at search is to deliver a good user experience and an excellent user interface.”
Google pays attention to how long visitors spend on your site. If visitors stay longer, Google may boost your search results. Good content rules. But it wasn’t always that way, and too many real estate agents sites are still filled with poorly written or irrelevant content.
In the old days, Bernheisel says that content could be gamed with keyword-stuffed content and an aggressive link strategy to drive traffic. Keywords are the phrases users enter into Google to initiate a search. The old theory was that the more keywords you could build in that were an exact match, the better. But no more.
“Google has gotten really good at latent semantic indexing,” he says. “They can tell that if you use the word ‘house’ it means the same thing as ‘home’ — so you can’t and shouldn’t put in ‘houses and homes for sale in Portland’ 15 times in your copy. Google hates that. You should write your stuff as if you were writing it for a friend.”
So are keywords useless?
“You should pay attention to keywords because they help you understand what people are searching for,” advises Bernheisel. Take a look at the Google Keyword Planner Tool to identify how people are searching for a topic you want to cover, and whether they’re searching for it at all.
Then choose one or two terms to use in your copy, but don’t overdo it. By using a combination of these terms (and synonyms for them) in your copy, you’ll pick up the long tail in search.
Long Tail Prospects
A “long tail” search refers to a query that uses 3-5 (or more) keywords to search for specific things. These types of searches represent the vast majority of searches conducted on Google and Bing.
Though there are fewer long tail searches for specific topics, web searchers tend to have intent when they’re searching within the long tail. They’re farther down the purchase path, which is good for you.
Think of it this way: people start searching generally (“home renovation”) before they get specific (“kitchen renovation ROI Chicago”). There might be hundreds of millions of searches for home renovation, but just tens of thousands for the Chicago-based search.
For you, that could mean attracting some focused, valuable traffic. Here’s how.
Google knows that when your blog post talks about “home renovations” in Chicago, and also uses the words “house,” “residence,” “kitchen” and “ROI,” that it probably should show your post to someone who enters the keywords “Chicago kitchen renovations ROI” to initiate a search.
Your home renovation post positions you as an expert, so you can capture that long tail search traffic. You never know; maybe a prospective buyer is trying to figure out whether getting a fixer upper and investing in a new kitchen is worth it.
With a content strategy, you can experiment to attract the right kind of traffic to your site by playing in the long tail.
This strategy won’t enable you to outrank Zillow and Trulia (they’ve got way more traffic than you, plus hundreds of thousands of links that make them authoritative sites). But you can outflank them by building authoritative pages about specific topics that are relevant to your business that will help you convert your visitors into prospects.
How to Drive Quality Traffic
“It’s smart to go after certain keywords,” Berheisel says. “But it’s more important to build domain authority and expertise by focusing on what you’re passionate about … and can write about consistently.”
Bernheisel says he’s seen way too many sites that devolve into a collection of bad articles because people weren’t focused, or focused on the wrong things.
“Everyone thinks Google wants fresh content, all the time,” he explains. “And that’s true, Google does like new content. But they’d rather have less content that’s of higher quality than tons of content that’s irrelevant or badly written. That doesn’t help you to get the right traffic.”
Bernheisel offers the cautionary tale of an agent who felt that fresh content needed to be posted every day — and soon found herself writing about local coffee shops and pet food stores.
“She may have gotten 1,000 hits on those types of posts,” he says. “But how many were from visitors who actually wanted to buy a house? I’d rather have less traffic that’s more likely to convert, than a whole lot of traffic from people who could care less about my business.”
The point is simple: You want quality traffic that converts.
“I’d rather have 10 hits that convert, than a million hits that go nowhere,” Bernheisel says.
There’s another nuance to consider when creating your content architecture.
“Think about who you want your clients to be,” Bernheisel cautions. “You’ll attract people who are interested in your content. So write content for the people you want as clients.”
Bernheisel recalls a client who published exceptionally detailed market reports every two weeks — then wondered why he seemed to attract numbers-driven, nitpicky clients. Or the client who had a very ugly, but very detailed site filled with facts and figures. It was enormously successful with engineers from the local NASA outpost.
“You attract what you put out,” Bernheisel declares. “So choose carefully.”
Bernheisel suggests that you don’t need to post more than once a week to get great results — or even as little as twice a month. Quality and relevance is key.
How to Improve Your Existing Site
So what if you’ve already got a site, but it’s not getting the traffic you want? You’re Bernheisel’s favorite type of client. And he’s got a list of suggestions you can implement right away to start improving your site.
First, check the title of your site. Not the blog post titles, but the title of your site that appears at the top of the browser window. Does it contain your name?
People usually search by name for Realtors — not by a company name or marketing slogan. So if your name is not in the title of your site, you’re missing out on a load of traffic from people who may be looking for you.
If you have a WordPress site, simply go to general settings and add your name in the site title box. Accept the changes, and you’re done. Instant results.
Next, look at the titles of your posts. Are they less than 100-120 characters, so they’re easily tweeted? Are they short, pithy, emotional and compelling? Do they contain a keyword that is also found in the body of the post?
Google looks for relevance between the headline (post title), page name and the body of the post, so keeping all three aligned is important. And since most people decide to read a post by its headline, if it’s boring or irrelevant your post won’t fare well either.
Now look at the images on your site. If you typically post images with their original file names (IMG_10488.jpg) straight from your camera, stop doing this right now. You’re loosing an enormous opportunity to optimize your images for search.
Take a moment and rename the image file to something that uses real words, like 1407ColeStreetExterior.jpg. Google can read this file name and index it.
Now go the extra mile and fill in the alt tag field for your image file as you upload it. The alt tag populates that little text box that pops up over an image on a web site when you mouse over it, which people will see before the image loads, and before clicking on it.
Google indexes alt tags, and it’s the only way it can get any information at all about the image. So use this field to your advantage. Put in tags that use proper English that are descriptive of the image and relate to your content.
Now take a look at your site in general, and your posts in particular. Is there a call to action anywhere on your site? Say, an offer to sign up for your newsletter, or download some nice piece of content? If not, you’re losing an opportunity to interact with your site visitors even after they leave your site.
At the end of every post, why not include a newsletter signup box? If you want to build your sphere, this is how to do it.
Make sure your contact information is the same — and accurate — throughout your site. Google will penalize you if your physical address or telephone don’t match within your site, or with other citations it finds for your business on the web. Accuracy counts.
Finally, take a look at your site to ensure there is a link to a site map in the footer. This will help Google properly index your site. If you’re on WordPress, you can use a plugin to generate a site map automatically that will submit it to Google’s Webmaster Tools when you add new pages.
Want more? Download the FREE Eight11 SEO Checklist.
Search is Common Sense
“People often miss the common sense in search,” Bernheisel concludes. “It all comes down to this: build something that’s interesting and relevant, that you’re passionate about. Ask your friends what they search for when they’re searching for real estate. I guarantee you, getting real human feedback about what’s interesting to your clients will improve your search results.”
So whether you’re building a new site — or improving your existing site — the formula is simple.
Make it valuable. Keep it focused. Be relevant. Stay passionate. And above all, pay attention to your site. A great site will put out exactly what you put into it.