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Google’s Top Four Search Engine Changes: Why Every Real Estate Agent Should Care

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By Mark Toppenberg

In 2012, online real estate marketing promises to be more challenging than ever before for real estate agents and brokers. This is largely due to the sheer number of competitors that have been, or are finally becoming Internet savvy in their marketing efforts. While being an expert on search engines isn’t attractive to many people, developing an overall strategy to win search engine placement on the web is now critical and should be a cornerstone in promoting your personal or professional brand and generating a steady source of ongoing leads. Organic search engine placement is a powerful way to gain dominance over your competitors in the single largest area where your customers are initiating the process of which home to buy or sell and deciding which agent to hire.

Understanding the basic principles behind how search engines work today can take you a long way in your online marketing efforts, primarily because you won’t be chasing trends that have already been debunked or devalued. People who work in the search engine optimization industry basically have a place in business, because search engine algorithms change frequently and have a direct impact on how your web pages rank for money making keywords. Being proactive and making changes in how you optimize, design and create content around a web page in alignment with algorithm changes can really make a difference between transactions and no transactions.

In the past year, Google has made some changes that have a far reaching impact on search. Let’s take a look at some of the most critical of these and go over some of the steps you can take to make the most of new opportunities and changes that can be made to mitigate negative results.

April 11, 2011 – Global release of site quality algorithm known as “Panda.” If you haven’t heard about this, you really need to read on. This algorithm change was meant to weed out the overabundance of low quality, low content web pages in Google’s index and a ton of sites took a big hit on this, even those whose webmasters perceived their content to be high quality and high value for the public.

This first rollout just blew up the search community. Industry blogs were on fire and SEO’s were frantically watching their analytic reports to see what, if any impact the rollout would have on their clients’ sites. What was quickly discovered is that sites that were low on content and high on links and advertisements lost their ranking and therefore quite a bit of their traffic. Some sites were hit by friendly fire, but since this was an algorithm change, there was no possibility of appeal.

What this meant to a lot of owners of real estate websites was that a re-evaluation of their online content was in order. What many real estate marketers don’t understand about this new update is all of the copied content (even from authority sources or library content made available to them by their website provider) was hurting them, badly. If you have analytics installed on your site, you can see if you were affected by analyzing your traffic graph since last April. If you do see a measurable drop in traffic, you can take steps to repair the damage by removing any content that is available across other websites or moving this material to a sub domain or another domain entirely, if you think it’s really valuable to your consumer.

SEO’s have been preaching about quality content for years, but this algorithm update and its subsequent post rollout updates require that your content truly be something of value, not just the bare minimum to get by. You may consider providing a lot of Q&A focused content that’s truly in depth. It should be content that cannot be easily found on any other real estate agent’s website. If you really want to help yourself, make sure to either write your own high quality, themed and valuable content or contract it out to a skilled writer. Either way, it’s no guarantee that you’ll be back ranking in the SERPs. The Panda algorithm update is an ongoing roll out so Google is tweaking it along the way to ensure their users have the best search experience possible.

November 3, 2011 – Freshness Update announced. This is an extension of an earlier algorithm update to take advantage of trending topics and focus on how recent information is. What you can do to capitalize on this is to write content on your pages about trending real estate topics. There is a huge opportunity to have pages rank that might not otherwise if you write an article about a hot button issue that is getting a lot of attention. While a blog post may only rank for a short time, you could theoretically get a new subscriber and nice bump in traffic for a short while, and all the little mentions and social shares on Google add up.

January 19, 2012 - Google Page Layout Algorithm. This dictates that content should be above the fold. This essentially means that when a user first accesses your website, value added content should be visible immediately. Don’t make your consumer scroll down or fight through advertisements or pictures or links to get to something that tells them about the purpose of the page on which they’ve landed. This is a gigantic hint to agents and brokers that rely on a big, pretty picture to capture consumer interest or junk up their pages with advertisers. If Google doesn’t like it, you’re never going to have the chance to dazzle consumers with your take on an aesthetically pleasing landing page and you will lose your hard-won advertisers.

February 27, 2012 – Search Quality Highlights. Google announced a series of 40 tweaks and updates but the two most significant were the latest and greatest Panda updates and a change in Link evaluation. These two tidbits were bulleted at the number 36 and 37 slot of the updates. The significance of these announcements is the hints that lie within. Google’s unveiling of Google+ Pages for Business and Search Plus Your World point to the social graph becoming the heavy weight in ranking predictions. The Panda portion clearly states the purpose is to make the index more accurate and sensitive to recent changes. Those recent changes are very likely their new push for their own social network. The evidence is strikingly clear in search results as persons on Google+ are appearing prominently to the right of search results pages. This is an incredibly strong push to get people to join Google+ so they too can show up on main search results pages. With Google taking on this aggressive stance for their own social network, it’s pretty clear that social interaction with consumers on the web is no longer a “should”, but a “must” for business.

The Link Evaluation update suggests quite strongly that pages that are supported only by offsite links (blogging, article submissions, directory submissions, etc) are going to take a hit. These “traditional” SEO methods are too easy to game and Google’s taking measures to evaluate a larger link graph that will include social mentions, shares and online customer engagement (reviews) to judge the value of a page.

We realize that it may seem a bit overwhelming and possibly intimidating for an agent or broker to make the decision on where to begin, and how they will create and maintain their internet marketing strategy, especially since they are receiving numerous calls each week promising short cuts to the goal of page 1. As with many instances in life, making a commitment to a consistent plan based on the highest quality tactics will provide the best long-term results and the highest ROI. Successful real estate agents have always possessed strong social skills, with a passion for building lasting relationships with clients. The only difference is that the way of accomplishing this has been redefined.

Mark Toppenberg is the President of Dynamic Page Solutions. Utilizing patent pending technologies, Dynamic Page Solutions develops the most sophisticated IDX optimized real estate websites that routinely capture top internet rankings. For additional information and SEO and social networking tips and strategies, visit www.DynamicPageSolutions.com.

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