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2008-10-02 18:29:13

When SEO (Search Engine Optimization) Doesn’t Work

We’ve all heard about amateur search engine optimizers who often leave you frustrated and angry. Slicksters who take your money, get you on the first pages for a day or two (with spam and other ‘black hat techniques’), then are harder to find than your website. With some of them, you have less chance of appearing on the first page search results of Google, Yahoo and MSN than of being elected President of the United States.

However, if you have chosen well, you actually do find your site cruising along on page one of Google, Yahoo and MSN. Most people just assume that once on those first pages, the business will flow in. Unfortunately, that rarely is the case. You are still the most important ingredient in your online marketing strategy. 

Here are six common reasons that even good SEO may not bring you the business it should, right out of our clients’ files. You are still the most important component to your online marketing strategy and if there is one thing we have learned about this, it’s that our client base that follows our direction about lead capture, community pages, deleting outbound links and the rest can average 10-15% of their unique visitors converted to leads. It doesn’t take all that much traffic to make the leads flow. So then, why doesn’t SEO always work for people appearing on the first pages of the major search engines? Here’s what our experience shows as some of the most common reasons.

1. Maybe your site is optimized for the wrong targets
This happens more often than you might think. It happens when (for one example) when an agent covets the high end neighborhood where she may not be doing business and instructs her SEO company to optimize her site for that coveted territory, and not for where she makes her living; in this example, let’s say for “Beverly Hills Homes for Sale.” In due course, our covetous agent is all over the search engines on the first page for that search, but the phone doesn’t ring. Perhaps this will help explain why that is: a) The agent’s office is in Burbank; b) Her telephone area code is 818 and Beverly Hills is 310; c) She is a member of no Beverly Hills civic or professional associations or social clubs.
We tell clients to optimize for where 85% of their business comes from geographically, not where they want it to come from, unless they are prepared to physically be in that target market with all the accoutrements necessary to belong in it. Why? Because people looking for a home in Beverly Hills want a Beverly Hills Expert, not some agent from Burbank trying to crash their market! Don’t be greedy; stick to where you can properly be the neighborhood expert. While good SEO will bring you buyers from all over, proper SEO is aimed at where 85% of your business is, today!
There’s another common variation on this theme; where you choose the wrong phrase to optimize your site for and the traffic just isn’t there. An actual example is “Historical Homes for Sale Long Beach CA.” Too narrowly targeted can be as bad as improperly targeted; stick to broader use phrases, such as “luxury homes” or “waterfront homes” and you’ll have more success than with a niche too narrow.

2.  Maybe your website tries to target too wide an area and isn’t hitting what you are really after.
My favorite examples of this are the Northern Virginia agents and brokers who aim their sites at every home buyer in the 100 mile radius of Washington, D.C. and in doing so, fail to target any specific area. They try to optimize their sites for Maryland, Washington D.C. and Virginia. I cannot tell you how important it is that you keep your aim to what you are truly knowledgeable about ,  that you are readily familiar with and can easily service. Someone looking for a home in, say, Laurel MD, isn’t gong to choose an individual agent who advertises that they sell homes in Richmond, Virginia for the most elemental of reasons: No one person can be expert on an area that large and no buyer wants to deal with anyone but a local expert. The one exception to this is people relocating; they will often come to agents from anywhere if the search engine puts them on top. If 85% of your sales are to people relocating, then a wide area target is a good idea; if not, stay local. 

3. Maybe your website doesn’t tell folks that they have arrived at the right place to buy what they are looking for.
To keep this as simple as possible, let’s stay with the analogy in item 1 above: a buyer clicks on the example agent’s search result on Google as it came up on page one for “Beverly Hills Homes for Sale.” So, what does this buyer see on the poaching agent’s site when the homepage comes up? She sees listings for Burbank, Hollywood, and North Hollywood. What should a buyer see when clicking on the search result? They should see a homepage that says “Welcome to Beverly Hills Homes for Sale” Make sure your internet buyer immediately can recognize that she is in the right place, on the right site.

4. Maybe your site does not invite people to register for a “Special Report” or a value of some kind and the chance to stay informed. 
Many sites require a sign-in or the surrender of personal information to view homes. This is grossly ineffective. Most consumers click off your site when greeted with such a demand. Equally ineffective, however, is where they are greeted with the ubiquitous search box; (you know, enter price range, etc).
Our experience is that it is far better to gently ask people to “fill in this form” for a Special Neighborhood report, or a “Guide to Yourtown and its attractions” and to put that form right on the homepage of your site in a pleasantly normal and properly sized position. Know this: part of the reason so many people search for homes online is that they do not have to answer embarrassing questions (like “How much can you afford to spend?”)  or to surrender personal information to anyone. They can simply search to their heart’s content and –upon finding a property of interest—contact an agent or broker and begin the process of seriously evaluating the property.

You will be hugely more effective online when you welcome internet buyers and offer them information they cannot easily receive elsewhere, without asking for what many people consider personal and confidential information. Make registration optional and gentle, but you must have a lead capture box on the homepage and other pages if you expect to be effective.

5. Maybe you don’t follow up your internet inquiries properly 
Survey after survey confirms this: people who place an inquiry online expect to be responded to immediately. Not “tomorrow,” but immediately. Those same surveys confirm that when those inquiries are responded to within four hours, in the vast majority of cases, the buyer stays with the agent who responded into the sale (that is, more than 82% of the time—Source: CAR). Turn on your website’s paging feature that sends all such leads to your cell phone in the form of a text message. A prompt response sets the stage for a successful conversion from inquiry to interested party. In an on-demand world, you need to be available immediately when that first inquiry is made.

6. Maybe your website is too cluttered and too confusing 
There are some awful sites out there, jammed with every link imaginable and without a central focus. Sites more concerned with “branding” than selling homes; or a site that the consumer sees and just goes “Yuck” and moves to the next position on the search results to look over. While it is not necessary to win beauty prizes for your site’s design, it is necessary to be consumer and search engine friendly. Features and benefits are what sell homes, not pretty websites laden with the latest hi-tech widgets and goodies that the public does not want.
For the vast majority of agents, a simple mid-level template website from a reputable producer is all  the website that they will ever need. $50 a month to acquire such a site is plenty (you can obtain one for FREE from certain providers of SEO); if you want to customize such a template, you can do that. Forget spending  between $5,000 and $10,000 on some FLASH-laden website that can’t be seen by search engines; the real estate industry has more and better templates than any other and it is one of the most internet-savvy services there is today in business. Get consumer and Internet friendly. It’s not about what you want, it’s about what the Internet buyer wants, and they want intuitive, easy to use, and comprehensive information available in a comfortable and relaxing format.
These are just a few reasons that—even if you are on the first pages of the search engines—SEO may not be producing for you. There are many others. It is a huge technological feat to put so many clients’ neighborhoods on the first pages of the major search engines. Sometimes people can forget that all this technology won’t be worth beans if you, the agent, do not do your part to make the technology work and reward you monetarily. That is the personal part, the local knowledge part, the service part of what online marketing services for Realtors® really are.
We have learned a great many things over the past few years that make us realize that it is not enough to simply give advice to our real estate clients; we must implement the changes they need for them. Why? It’s because most agents and brokers are TOO BUSY to implement the necessary changes to their sites to make their first page placement completely effective.
We have had clients leave us who were getting 300 unique visits a week but weren’t converting because they wouldn’t implement recommendations made to them for good lead capture. While SEO can bring the traffic to your site, SEO can’t make clients implement changes needed. Technology can only bring success to your door; it is YOU who must convert the fruits of that technology to success. That’s why in January, we converted to doing what is necessary for the client rather than advising them what to do. It works MUCH better that way. SEO brings the traffic, effective conversion is built in through correct implementation of online marketing skills and you sell and list homes and leave the IT stuff to your online marketing services partner.
Most agents and brokers need coaching and help to maximize results from the web. While everyone knows that 84+% of all residential real estate sales begin on the Internet and that 66% of all Internet buyers find their agent through a search engine, very few are making those numbers work for them.
The six reasons listed above confirm that even well-intentioned agents sometimes don’t implement the strategies needed to convert visitors to prospects. Getting the shoppers to you is only the first step in REAL SEO™. Getting them to become leads and buyers takes a concerted ongoing effort and a true organic search marketing plan. Real estate’s need for the Internet is readily apparent: the paradigm of buying homes has shifted to being Internet-based. Thus, either be effective on the Internet or miss the people searching for homes online—84% of all buyers!.

(Editor's note: ­­­­­­­­­­­­­­­­­­­Mike Parker is a principal at the Blackwater Consulting Group, Inc., and specializes in online marketing for Realtors®. You can reach him by e-mail at . Blackwater is a mparker@theblackwatercg.comRealTown Approved Vendor and Seal of Approval Participant.) Check out what we have to offer and let us know what you think. For a free copy  of our new e-book, "SEO Secrets for Realtors", simply send a blank e-mail to and you will receive a 12-page PDF by return e-mail.

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