Maybe you’ve heard of Search Engine Optimization (SEO) and you’d like to know more about how it works and whether it’s something you should focus on as a real estate investor. Or maybe you already know you need it but you’re not sure where to start. I’ll cover all these things below, and I’ll break it down as simply as possible.
What is SEO?
To put it simply, Search Engine Optimization (SEO) means making changes to your website so that search engines like Google can understand what your website is about and, hopefully, show it to people who are searching for solutions to problems that you can solve.
Why is it important?
Every day, people are searching online for solutions to their problems. They go to websites like Google, Yahoo and Bing to search for answers. Many of these people would be ideal leads for you and your business if you could just find some way to tap into this source.
One exciting thing about SEO is that in some ways it’s like free advertising. If someone searches for something and your site comes up in the listings and someone clicks to view your site, you don’t have to pay anything. If you can end up in the top spot for something lots of people are searching for, you can get leads coming in that you don’t really have to pay for.
However, to say that SEO is free is kind of misleading. There is a cost, but it’s different from how advertising works. With SEO you have a choice. You can either spend your time on it or you can spend money on it (by hiring someone to do it for you). If you choose to spend your time on it rather than money, you have to factor in what your time is worth.
If you’re working with a low budget, what I’d suggest is start off by doing some of the basics yourself. Then, later on if you have a bigger budget, invest some of that into hiring an expert to tweak things for you and fully optimize things.
You don’t want to ignore SEO because, again, ideal prospects for your business are searching for solutions you can provide (for a profit). This is a source of leads that you shouldn’t leave out. In fact, these can be some of the best leads. Why?
Think about it: who is more motivated, someone who just stumbles across your advertisement somewhere or someone who is actively searching for solutions? The second one, right?
Someone who is actively searching for a solution to their problems is more likely to be motivated, and therefore a better lead. Leads that come from SEO can be really hot leads, so to speak.
If they’re searching for help and you’re not there, they’ll either go to one of your competitors, or if there aren’t any other investors in your area who have optimized websites, they may just not find a good solution.
Why is SEO necessary?
You may be wondering, why do I have to do something special to optimize my site anyway?
Search Engines are smart, but they’re not human. Let’s look at how they work so you understand why we have to work on SEO.
To keep it simple, let’s just use Google as an example. Google wants to know about every website and what every website is about so that when someone is searching for something, Google can show the best possible pages to the person.
Think about it from Google’s perspective. When someone searches for something, it’s Google’s job to try to show the best possible match for what the person is wanting. So Google needs to try to understand what the person is looking for, and also what every page on the Internet is about. That’s a big job.
Google’s reputation is on the line. Their business is on the line.
Think about this. What would happen if every time you went to Google to search for something, all the sites that came up in the results were junk and you couldn’t ever find anything useful? You’d probably stop using Google. You’d go to another search engine like Yahoo or Bing.
So Google has to make sure it’s showing users the best possible results. How do they know what sites will be the best to show?
That’s where SEO comes into play. As you can imagine, it’s way too big of a job to have an actual human visiting every single web page on the Internet and deciding what that page is about and which site is best for a certain search. That just wouldn’t be possible. So Google has to automate this process.
There are many things Google takes into account to determine what a page is about and whether it’s a quality page or not. No one besides Google knows 100% how Google determines this. They have some secrets. But they also publicly tell everyone most of the things they’re looking for. So you can pay attention to those things and know you’re on the right track.
What are keywords?
When you talk about Search Engine Optimization, you have to talk about “keywords”. We’ll use that word several times in this information, and you’ll hear it if you read anything else about SEO. So we should define it so you’re clear about what it means.
To put it simply, keywords are what people type into Google.
Your job is to figure out what people are typing into Google and put those same words and phrases on your website in the right spots so Google knows if someone searches for that particular thing, your site is a good match.
To be good at it, you have to get creative and put yourself in your potential prospect’s shoes and think to yourself, ‘If I were in this situation, what would I be searching for on Google to try to find help?’ There are some tools you can use to do some research to see how many people actually are searching for a certain phrase each month.
Keywords include the individual words, but it’s more about phrases, how the words are grouped together. And it’s good to realize that the order of the words matters.
For example, let’s say you decide to target the phrase, “sell my house Denver”, so you put that phrase into all the right spots on your page. But then someone goes on Google and searches for “sell my Denver house” (notice, the words are in a different order). Would your site still come up in the search results? Probably so. But if all other things were equal, and someone else had a page that matched the phrase exactly, “sell my Denver house”, their site would likely come up before yours in the search results. Of course, there are other factors with SEO that could actually cause your site to show up higher than the other one. But it’s good to be aware that the order of the words does play a role.
What are the major things search engines look for to determine what a page is about and whether it is a quality site?
A lot of the things sites like Google are looking for are behind the scenes, in the code of the page. But don’t worry, you don’t have to understand code to take advantage of SEO.
Why do they look at the code? Because, again, it’s not a human looking at your site. It’s a machine. Machines can’t understand pictures and fancy graphics. Machines can’t watch videos. They have to look at the code and interpret the page that way.
Here are a few things search engines look at:
Every web page should have a title. The title is one of the most important things. It’s like if you save a document on your computer. How will you find the document again or know what it is when you see it? By what you name the file. A page title is similar. The title you give your page should tell both people and search engines what this page is about.
Each page on your website has its own title. Each page on your site has a different purpose. For example, you might have a Contact Us page, a Frequently Asked Questions page, and others. You would probably include that purpose in the page title.
Where does the page title show up?
A few places. When you have a web page open in your browser, most browsers show tabs and the text that appears on the tab is the page title. If you search for something on Google, when you look at the results the first thing you see is the page title. That’s what you’re clicking on to visit that page. The page title also is behind-the-scenes in the code of the page, and that’s where Google and your web browser get this information.
The page title is the most important starting point for optimizing a page. If you were to only change one thing, that would be the thing to change. Don’t stop there, but it’s the best place to start. We’ll get into how to change this and tips for what to use later.
Let’s just say that you’re a real estate investor in Denver, Colorado and you want to target motivated sellers in your area. As an example, you might make your page title something like, “Sell Your House Fast in Denver, Colorado.” You would be targeting someone in Denver who is searching for “sell your house fast” or “sell your house fast denver”, etc.
The next thing search engines look for is headings on your pages. If you were reading an article and wanted to get the general idea of what the article was about before reading it, you could scan through the main headlines and get the general idea of the main points. That’s what search engines do too. Headings are more than just words in a larger font size. There is code within the page that says certain text is a heading.
<h1>Hello, this text is important!</h1>
See the little “H1” tags? That tells your web browser and the search engines that the text between those tags is a main heading. There are a handful of different heading tags, and there is a hierarchy, or order to them. They are H1, H2, H3, H4, H5, and H6. Most sites don’t use all of those. Most just use H1 through H4. H1 is a main heading, H2 is like a subheading, H3 would be under that, and H4 below that. So H1 is used for the most important points on your site. This would be like if you open the newspaper, what is the headline? That’s the H1. That’s the main point of your page. You want that to contain the keywords you’re targeting.
H2 is like a subheading. It would usually contain something related to the main heading but definitely not just word-for-word. It might have similar wording, but would likely be a variation. For example, it might contain related words that mean about the same thing, but a different way of saying it, or it might contain some of your keywords in a different order. The same would apply to smaller headings like H3 and H4.
Just so you know, typically an H1 heading is the largest font size, H2 is a little smaller, and it goes down from there. Your website can choose what size these headings are displayed at, but typically they do go from largest to smallest, with H1 being the biggest.
Fortunately, you normally won’t even have to really see those tags or deal with code. In WordPress, which our Done Deal Website service uses, everything is done through a simple-to-use editor that’s just like working in Microsoft Word or something similar. There is a little drop-down menu where you can change text from a “Paragraph” to “Heading 1”, “Heading 2”, etc. That’s all you have to do. All the code stuff is handled for you automatically. But it’s good to understand what’s happening behind the scenes and what impact it has.
People are More Important Than Search Engines
The key is to be mindful of your keywords and find ways to work them into headings naturally. You don’t want to just cram keywords wherever you can and have a page that doesn’t make any sense. Keep in mind, the people visiting your site are more important than the search engines. It doesn’t do any good to get high rankings in search engines but when people look at your site it doesn’t make any sense to them and they just leave without contacting you.
For example, if you went to a web site and at the top in big letters it said, “Buy My House Denver Sell House Denver Sell House No Equity Denver”… What would you do? Would you stick around and see what else the page had to say?
In the end, just cramming keywords all over your site will hurt you. To start with, people will immediately have the feeling that your site is “spammy”. When that happens, they leave immediately when they see it. Google will realize that’s happening and will move your site farther and farther down the rankings until no one can find it. Because, remember, Google wants to deliver pages that make their customers happy. If people click a link and then immediately leave, that tells Google that site is not a good match for what that person searched for.
The point is, focus on people primarily. It’s more important to have a site that gets results when people see it – in other words, a site that gets people to take action and contact you. SEO is just one way of getting people to your site. But getting them to your site is useless is they don’t contact you once they’re there. Focus on people first, and search engines second.
Besides the headlines, what about the other text on your site, just the regular paragraphs? Do they matter? Yes, they do. They don’t carry as much weight as the headlines, but they do matter. They should be on the same topic as your headlines and should include your keywords here and there. Not excessively, but they should be there somewhere.
For example, if your page title was “Sell Your Denver House”, that phrase should be somewhere on your page in regular text. If not, it looks like something is wrong because if you have an article on a certain topic, and the headline says the article is about a certain thing, you would expect the body of the article to be about that same topic and include those same words.
I mentioned before that search engines can’t see pictures and videos. That’s true, in that they don’t have eyes and can really interpret what a picture is the way we can. But there is a way for you to tell the search engines what a picture is about.
One way is actually by the file name of your image. Usually when you take a photo, it has a name like “2014-03-10 10.34.20.jpg” or “DSC00171.jpg”. That doesn’t mean anything. It doesn’t tell the search engine what the page is about. Before uploading images to your website, you should give them a file name that describes what the photo is. You should include your keywords in the file name. For example, “sell-your-house-denver.jpg”.
There is also some code behind the scenes that tells search engines what images are. One way of doing that is through “ALT” text. When you insert an image, there is an option to include alt text. That’s short for “alternative text”. This has several functions. One is that if, for some reason, the image can’t be displayed, like something went wrong with the image file, whatever you enter as the alt text would be displayed instead. People with impaired vision often can’t read the text on your page, so they use a screen reader program that reads the page to them. Obviously it can’t read an image, so instead it reads the alt text. Search engines also read the alt text. So you want to include your keywords here.
How To Actually Change These Things On Your Website
If you’re a Done Deal Website Pro user, this is a piece of cake. In fact, we’ve already done most of it for you. We provide an SEO tool that makes it easy to change these things. All you have to do is go to the Customize screen and put in the city where you’re primarily investing and your site will automatically update to make it localized to your area, which will help a lot with SEO.
If you’re not a Done Deal Website user… why not?! 🙂 If you have a website somewhere else, the steps for changing these things will vary. If it is built with WordPress, I would suggest a plugin called Yoast SEO. It will give you access to change the things you need. If your site uses something else, you may have to contact the person who built it or hire a web designer to make the needed changes to your code.