TJ Kelly, our Head of Development—ok, that’s me, I’m writing this about myself—was featured yesterday in an interview with Jason Frazier of the Snappack Live group. Snappack ranked #4 on our list of Best Facebook Groups for Real Estate last spring.
Jason interviewed me (for 45 minutes!) on this week’s episode of the group’s #SnappackLive web series about Real Estate SEO & Content Marketing, web CMSs, social media channels, and general modern marketing strategy.
I fielded Jason’s questions, plus several viewer-submitted questions in real time. Take a look at the video below, or hop around using the timecodes below!
Table of Contents
- Interview video
- Q1: What is SEO for Real Estate?
- Q2: Medium, LinkedIn, et al?
- Q3: WordPress, Squarespace, Wix
- Q4: Domain age
- Q5: Time vs. money
- Q6: Owning your brand—and URL
- Q7: Let’s talk about YEXT, baby
- Q8: What about Yelp?
- Q9: Content Marketing—where to start
- Q10: Tracking & metrics
- Q11: Video vs. blog content
- Q12: Calm down about Duplicate Content
- Q13: Backlinks on social platforms
- Q14: Alt text, accessibility, ADA & keywords
- Final thoughts
- Further reading
If you’ll excuse a few…ahem…intermissions of technical difficulties—thanks Xfinity!—the interview went really well!
One of my favorite experiences in marketing is triggering an a-ha! moment in people. There are tons of misconceptions in digital marketing. Clearing those up empowers businesses to tell their story more effectively. And I’m grateful to Jason and the Snappack for the chance to tell mine!
Question 1: What is SEO, especially for Real Estate?
Let’s talk through a history of SEO. Where did it come from, how has it evolved, and why does that matter?
SEO looks very different in 2017 than it did even just 5 years ago. Mostly, that fact is important because each of Google’s changes represents 2 things: a warning and an opportunity.
Google changes its algorithm to make it better. When they move away from an old algo feature, that’s a warning to you that you should move away from it too (exact match domains, thin content, keyword stuffing—you name it).
And, when they move toward a new feature, that’s an opportunity for YOU to implement or maximize that feature earlier than or better than your competitors.
- 1:00 Jason asks what is SEO 101?
- 2:00 SEO 101 is…
- 3:00 What was SEO (pre-2007ish?)
- 4:10 What is SEO today, in 2017 and beyond?
- 4:20 TJ freezes for the first time!
- 4:55 What is SEO today, in 2017 and beyond (take 2)?
- 5:10 Google wants comprehensive!
- 5:35 How does “comprehensive” apply to Real Estate?
- 5:55 Shout out to the avuncular Neil Mathweg!
Q2: Should I publish elsewhere too? Like Medium.com?
This question wades into Real Estate Content Marketing, more than just strict SEO, per sé. But that’s ok. The two are closely related. So first, some big picture:
What’s the difference between SEO and Content Marketing?
Content Marketing is a level above SEO. It’s a broader strategy that essentially aligns with Inbound Marketing, or to use a more Real Estate-centric phrase—attraction marketing.
And yes, it includes publishing on other networks like Medium, Quora, ActiveRain, LinkedIn, etc.
SEO, by contrast, is one pillar of content marketing. It focuses on maximizing traffic to your website through organic searches. And when looked at through a Content Marketing lens, you can see how Google Search becomes just another one of the channels through which we’re attracting traffic, visitors, leads, and customers.
- 6:35 Should I publish elsewhere too? Like Medium.com?
- 7:30 Your .com is your house! Invite people over!
- 7:55 SEO is tied to one domain or .com
- 8:20 Content Marketing requires a presence on other networks
- 8:55 Other networks compliment big-picture marketing strategy
- 9:50 Ranking for your name or your brand
Q3: Website CMS platforms: WordPress, Squarespace, Wix, etc.
The classic conundrum— which website CMS platform is best? Don’t google that. There are too many affiliate posts out there just trying to earn a commission on signup fees. The antithesis of impartial. Plus, they pretty much all end with the same conclusion: it depends on your needs.
And that’s the right answer. It does depend on your needs.
There are some really bad choices out there. Stay away from Web.com, for example. But as long as you’re talking about the popular, successful ones in 2017+, they’re all pretty good. No major red flags or technical roadblocks to hold you back.
So it kinda doesn’t matter.
At least, not in terms of outcome. How should you decide, then? Weigh the costs and requirements.
Placester, Easy Agent Pro, and a few others (RealGeeks, maybe?) are managed services. You don’t need to do anything to make your website function. There are support and development teams for that. You’re only responsible for content.
Squarespace and Wix are sort of like half-managed services. You don’t have to do anything to make them function, but the available functions are limited (pretty much just words and pictures, maybe a contact form or two). And there’s no dedicated support team. Sure, there are support departments at corporate HQ, but they don’t know you, your business, or your industry. They’re a one-size-fits-all website provider—industry agnostic.
WordPress is not managed at all. You’re 100% on your own, even for installation and setup. Yea, lots of hosting companies will do this for you now. But the available support options are still really limited.
That’s because WP is 1,000% one-size-fits-all.
It’s a raw lump of clay and it sits there and stares at you until you start molding it into something you want. It won’t offer you any help in getting there. The upside to that is that it can become anything you want. The possibilities are endless and it’s very powerful.
In my opinion, plain WordPress by itself is the best choice, but it requires either lots of time to manage, lots of money to pay someone to manage, or lots of technical knowledge to build so it doesn’t need to be managed. If you can achieve one of those levels, WordPress is the best option …in my opinion. YMMV.
- 10:45 WordPress vs. Squarespace vs. Wix, etc?
- 11:10 Own your domain! yourname.wordpress.com is no good!
- 12:10 Squarespace is beautiful! Good for SEO too.
- 12:48 TJ prefers WordPress. But you may need help!
- 13:20 Placester & EAP use WordPress. Use EAP! It’s worth it.
Q4: Domain purchase length vs. Domain age
This is a classic example of getting caught in the SEO weeds. Agents and other website owners hear “Google cares how old your website is!” and they start to panic.
That gets translated through the giant game of business-advice-telephone into register your domain for 5 years at a time! The idea being that Google will see that as a sign of commitment and rank your website higher as a result.
Google doesn’t care about things that might happen in the future. They’re too easy to manipulate or fake.
They’re smarter than that. They focus their algorithm on current and past: how long have you already had your website? That’s called domain age, and it’s impossible to fake. (Caveat: it is possible to buy expired domains to capitalize on domain age. The SEO world went through that craze circa 2007.)
The rule of thumb here is this:
If it sounds like an easy trick to gain an advantage, plenty of people have already tried it and Google has already closed that loophole.
- 14:10 Audience comments/questions
- 14:20 From Shannon Milligan: should I buy my domain for 5 years?
- 14:25 Doesn’t matter how long you BUY for. Only how long you OWN for. Own it forever.
Q5: Will you spend your time or your money?
It’s the age-old question, really. Like so many other things in life, digital marketing—and even just deciding which website platform to use—is too complicated for simple answers.
My good friend, Courtney Brophy at Happy Turtle Marketing, describes the classic time vs. money crossroads like this:
You can pay for your time or someone else’s—but either way, you’re paying.
When you look at it that way, it boils down to value. Sure, a few hundred bucks a month for a service like EAP or a hundred+ per hour for a professional developer sounds expensive.
But what’s your earning potential in those hours? Can’t you make money in that time and offset that investment entirely?
- 15:20 WordPress takes a lot of work. Wix/Squarespace are easy. EAP/Placester is the best of both worlds.
- 16:35 Invest your time or your money. WordPress is free, but takes time.
Q6: It’s your brand—are you letting your broker own it?
Personal branding is nothing new in real estate—why do you think agents stick their face on everything they send out?
What’s new about it for most real estate agents is realizing what a personal brand really is. It’s you. It’s personal. In the digital age, a huge majority of that branding is shaped by online experiences—and Google Search is a part of that.
If you don’t own your own website—especially yourname.com—you’re relinquishing control over a major part of your personal brand. And a simple landing page on your broker or franchise’s website isn’t good enough. It adds no value for users. You’re answering their “who are you?” question with “I’m nothing special.”
But look for the other avenues to personal (and online) branding, too. It’s not just yourname.com.
Google some of the big names you can think of. My favorite example is Seth Godin. The guy is an absolute powerhouse of personal branding. Sure, he’s like totally famous and you’re probably not. But the same tools are available to everyone.
Here’s what I mean:
When I google your name, what do I find? Hopefully a .com. But what else? Here’s what I should find:
- Your LinkedIn profile
- Your Zillow profile
- Your Facebook page, group, profile, or all 3
- Your Twitter and/or Instagram profile
- Your YouTube channel
- Articles written about you, or that you were quoted in
If you have at least those half dozen things, you’re guaranteed to cast a wider net in branded searches (when people google your name) than if you’re relying only upon your broker or franchise website.
- 17:00 Own your domain so it can be yours. Your broker/franchise’s landing page isn’t enough
- 18:15 “Branded search” for your name—make a profile everywhere!
- 19:30 Alex Wang is right! Get your name out there.
- 19:45 Renew that domain!
My internet connection is unreliable. Like, big time.
Guess I need another adapter for my Mac!
Q7: Let’s talk about YEXT, baby
Let’s talk about you and me. Let’s talk about all the good things and the bad things that may be…
Where my Salt-N-Pepa fans at? No? 1990 too long ago?
Ok, back to work…
If you’re not familiar with Yext, it’s a service that manages your contact information across hundreds of different listing services. And that service is valuable. But their business practices are a little aggressive in my opinion.
Their base package starts at $37/mo.
I think you could manage these listings yourself at the major sources and be just fine. Here are some of the biggest listing services on the web. If you manage your NAP—name, address, phone—at these sources, you’ll be just fine.
If you are looking for a service to manage this info for you—maybe your NAP citations are a mess, or maybe you have multiple offices to worry about—there are better options out there.
Personally, I prefer Moz Local. Moz is a major power broker in the SEO world, and they offer a series of tools to paying customers. Moz Local’s packages are more affordable than Yext, and the company itself is a more influential in the industry. A better choice all around in my opinion.
- 20:55 From Shannon Milligan again: What about YEXT?
- 21:10 Yext has a valuable service
- 21:30 What does Yext do?
- 22:15 Should I pay Yext to do it, though?
- 22:35 Please don’t sue us
- 22:50 You can do it yourself
- 23:05 Choose Moz Local instead
Q8: Ok, what about Yelp?
Yelp gets a bad rap online sometimes (irony!), mostly due to their aggressive business practices. They’re very clear that they don’t let users pay to remove bad reviews or ratings—and that’s a good thing. But they do require businesses to pay for higher visibility.
So should real estate agents pay Yelp to advertise their listings there? Probably not.
Yelp is definitely not at the top of the power broker list for real estate reviews—Zillow probably still owns that spot.
But should you have a business listing there? Yes! It’s free! And you’ll be notified if and when people leave ratings and reviews for your business.
It doesn’t cost you anything but a few minutes of setup time, and—back to the Alex Wang principle—if a user chooses to search on Yelp and you’re not there, you may have lost that lead.
Why not join (free) Yelp? It can’t hurt.
- 23:35 Should I be on Yelp?
- 24:00 Yes, definitely…. for the free version
- 24:30 Ok, but should I pay to be on Yelp?
Q9: Back to Real Estate Content Marketing—where do I start?
This is tough question for anyone—in any industry—who’s just getting started with blogging, SEO, and organic inbound or content marketing. It’s tough.
So where do you start?
Profile your audience. Where do they spend their time online? Are they Facebook, LinkedIn, Snapchat, or Pinterest types?
Then, create a list of questions you hear frequently. Answer those questions to the absolute best of your ability. Bonus points if your answers include text, video, images, audio, and data (like spreadsheets or tables). If you can check all those boxes, your content will be well on its way to helping your marketing.
Make sure your answers are created and presented in a way that matches your target audience’s online habits— if they’re big Pinterest users, you had better create beautiful photo galleries showcasing examples that inform your answers to their questions.
If they’re the LinkedIn types, you’d best be publishing studies and doing speaking engagements to demonstrate your business acumen and subject area expertise.
But in all cases, you have to put yourself in their shoes. What are they thinking? Even the smallest question in their mind can create an opportunity for you inform and entertain them.
- 25:25 Where do I start with Content Marketing for Real Estate?
- 25:55 Content Marketing vs. SEO—compare & contrast
- 26:30 Where & how people consume content informs how to create that content
- 27:50 Snappack has lots of video, but what about non-video audiences?
- 28:50 SEO fits inside Content Marketing strategy
- 29:15 Blogging isn’t enough! You need research too!
Q10: Tracking + Metrics
If you’re not tracking, you’re dying. Business and marketing never stay the same. Things are always changing. You need to be watching your business processes to see the trends.
For example, how many of your website visitors view your site from a mobile device? How many were on mobile this time last year? And the year before that?
See that upward trajectory in that mobile browsing graph? It reveals an obvious trend— mobile has already overtaken desktop browsing and it shows no signs of slowing down.
Try the same experiment with videos on YouTube or Facebook. I bet you’ll find that video consumption is way up over the last 2-3 years.
That’s an opportunity. Video is quickly becoming the most important medium. If you can get ahead of that trend—especially before your competitors—you’ll have the market almost to yourself until they catch up.
All of that insight is there waiting for you, if you’re tracking your website traffic, sources, leads, referrals, etc.
- 30:00 (Q10) Track your lead & conversion metrics! How did people find you?
- 30:55 Marketing is a job! Good marketers measure, measure, measure some more.
- 32:00 Don’t go crazy, but try to track everything you can
Q11: Video vs. Blog content
This might have been my favorite question of the night. Thank you Michelle! There are lots of agents out there who have embraced the importance of video and doing great work producing videos for their markets.
But then what? Many of these agents stop there.
Credit where credit is due— creating these videos is awesome. It’s a great first step, and it puts these agents way ahead of their text-only competitors. But focusing on only one medium leaves business on the table—no matter which medium it is.
So what to do about that?
If you’re shooting videos already, you’ve already done the hard work. The only thing left to do is convert that video into text to publish on your blog. Jason Frazier and Dustin Brohm (another Snappack founder) both recommend Rev.com for cheap transcriptions ($1 per minute).
Rev sends back the .SRT file for overlaying captions on top of your video—an absolute MUST HAVE. 85% of Facebook videos are watched on mute!
And, on top of that, you get a plain text document showing everything said in the video. That plain text is a gold mine of natural language, keyphrase-rich content for your blog.
- Upload the video to YouTube and Facebook (don’t share to Facebook—upload there).
- Make sure you have captions uploaded, thanks to that SRT file
- Start a new post on your blog, with a catchy & keyword-friendly title
- Embed the YouTube version of the video on your blog (you could embed FB version, but YT is better)
- Paste the contents of the text file below the YouTube video
- (Optional) Spend a day improving the grammar and formatting of the transcript text
- (Not really optional) Add images, headings, and lists to break up the text
- (Also not really optional) Add links out from your post to people/businesses mentioned in your video/post
- (Definitely not optional) Contact those people/businesses and tell them they were mentioned in your video & blog and send them the link! (We want them to link back to your post from their blog/website/Facebook page, etc)
Even if you stop after Step 5, you’ll be miles ahead of where you’d be without it. But don’t stop at Step 5.
Lastly, it’s worth noting that you’re probably doing your YouTube video descriptions wrong.
Here’s what I mean:
How many times have you done this?
You upload a video to YouTube. You write a good title, add some tags, you even set the date and geolocation for proper tagging in YouTube search.
Then you go to write the description and…… nothing.
You blank entirely. You try to write something but you end up just copying and pasting the title, or barely eek out a one-liner to redundantly explain what the video is.
Sound familiar? You’re not alone.
The screenshot above is the YouTube version of a segment on a weekly New England-area news program called Greater Boston, produced by WGBH—Boston’s PBS and NPR affiliate.
This is the home of Julia Child’s The French Chef, Masterpiece Theatre, NOVA, Frontline, American Experience, and This Old House. Not to mention Curious George, Arthur, and Where in the World is Carmen Sandiego.
Why mention this?
Because WGBH is huge. They are a BIG deal in broadcasting. And even they screw up something as simple as YouTube descriptions.
So what should you be doing with your YouTube descriptions? Make them longer. Period.
A study from earlier this year by SEO powerhouse Stone Temple Consulting found that YouTube descriptions are a major source for Google’s featured snippets.
We also know that “YouTube SEO”—the art of trying to rank your video above other videos in YouTube search results—takes description into consideration (along with watch time, interaction rates, raw file name, and many others).
AND, since you’re already planning to publish a text version of your video thanks to Rev.com, you should have no trouble copying and pasting some of that transcript into the description.
A win-win all across the board!
- 32:15 From Michelle Bee Bellesari: What about converting video to blog content?
- 32:25 Take video, then outsource transcription to convert to text for your blog
- 33:00 Upload to YouTube, embed on blog, paste transcript below video
- 33:25 Rev.com does good transcripts, $1 per minute of video
Q12: It’s the dreaded Duplicate Content oh no!
Duplicate content is like the SEO boogeyman. So many SEOs out there hear the phrase and they scurry from the light to hide in the shadows, fearing for their precious content.
It’s not that big a deal.
It could be, if you were trying to be all shady and publishing exact copies of your pages over and over, as if Google won’t notice or something.
But you’re not doing that.
More realistically, the question is this:
If I write something, I want as many readers as I can get. Can I publish multiple copies of it? Say, on my blog and on LinkedIn and Medium, etc?
A very different way of arriving at the same question—what happens when I publish the same thing twice?
It’s best not to copy/paste verbatim. Instead, publish the fullest, best, highest quality version on your blog and wait about a week. Then publish excerpts on LinkedIn and elsewhere always with a link back to your blog article.
- 34:00 From Eric Larkin: Can I publish the same content on multiple places (blog, LinkedIn, Medium, etc)?
- 34:07 Depends on what “is it ok?” means. For SEO, ask Google
- 34:30 Duplicate content isn’t that big a deal….but be careful
Intermission again, kinda?Dear Realtors & Real Estate blogs: calm down about duplicate content. Not a threat in most cases! Here's why.Click To Tweet
Q12 continued: Duplicate content
This is an SEO answer to a not-just-SEO question. SEO is only one piece of the marketing puzzle. My answer here is specific to that piece.
If your main concern is branding or organic social interaction, my answer might not matter much to you. And that’s totally fine.
But if you’re worried about SEO, here’s why this matters.
SEO is about ranks. “Can I do ____?” and “What happens if ____?” are really asking “will my ranks go up or down if I do ____?”
So when talking about duplicate content, keep that in mind. It’s “how will duplicate content affect my ranks?” And out of the box, the answer has to be “duplicate content will hurt your ranks.”
But here’s why I say it’s not as bad as everyone thinks.
In some extreme cases, Google will manually (yes, an actual human will click a button) penalize your ranks for abuse of duplicate content. But again, we’re not talking about the extremes here.
In your case, Google will see 2 URLs that have some percentage of overlapping content. When that happens, Google gets confused—
The content on these URLs is nearly identical… who should I rank higher?
That’s why duplicate content hurts you—it dilutes your blog article’s weight in Google’s algorithm. That’s especially true when the other URL you’re up against is a massive brand with a billion times more domain authority than you.
- 36:50 Duplicate content: don’t copy/paste verbatim
- 37:40 Publish the biggest and best version on your blog FIRST. Then excerpt that on LinkedIn, Medium, etc.
Q13: “Backlinks” on social platforms?
Another great question that illustrates how much confusing information there is out there. SEO is anything but simple, especially if you only hear about it once in a while.
Shannon’s question is this—
Is ok to share LINKS to your content onto multiple platforms?
She worries that posting the same link in multiple places could be considered duplicate content.
But again, since we’re not trying to rank the LinkedIn or Medium page for [insert link to Shannon’s site here], we’re not worried about duplicate content.
Instead, those links are good for what they are at face value— ways to drive traffic back to your site!
The answer almost stops there. Almost.
The next follow-up question that we SEOs hear in this conversation is “Ok so links are good…why don’t I just start pasting links to my site all over the web? Won’t that help?”
This questions becomes even more emphatic if the asker has learned that links are the foundation and still the #1 ranking factor in Google’s algo.
But the answer is no, probably not. At least not like you think. Not all links are created equal.
Very early on (in 2005), Google announced that they would look for a certain attribute within HTML links, known as the rel attribute. If the rel were defined in the HTML with a certain value—the nofollow value—then the link would not “count” in Google’s ranking algorithm.
This nofollow attribute was baked into the algo in order combat spam links in blog comments and forum threads. In 2005, blog comments and forums were the most common places that everyday users could create links on webpages.
That all changed with the rise of social media. So now, Facebook, Twitter, LinkedIn, YouTube, Medium, Pinterest, and every other social medium out there is wise to the threat— if you don’t nofollow your the links on your network’s pages, spammers will post hundreds of links trying to game the Google system. So now all of these networks automatically nofollow their links.
What does that mean for you?
It means that links posted on any of these networks—or really anywhere you could post a link yourself—won’t help you in strict SEO terms.
They absolutely will, however, help you in your real goal, which is to bring actual human people to your website (that is your goal, isn’t it?).
So don’t be too picky. Take links wherever you can get them. Don’t ever, ever, EVER buy links. Stay away from the shady parts of the internet. And if it sounds too good to be true, it probably is.
And remember the humans.
- 38:45 From Shannon Milligan again: Is ok to share LINKS to your content onto multiple platforms?
- 38:55 Yes! Publish your links everywhere!
- 39:10 Not all backlinks are created equal. “Nofollow” vs. “dofollow” kinda matters, but search engines don’t buy houses, people do.
Q14: Alt text, accessibility, ADA… and keyword stuffing?
This question is a perfectly legitimate one. Jason mentioned alt tags, and a viewer had never heard that term before. We defined it, gave some examples, and discussed why it’s relevant to our conversation in general.
We even got into some (unqualified) debate over the legality of alt tags.
But for me, this question exemplifies the struggle SEOs fight on a daily basis— the rules of our game change so often that the old rules can be hard to shake. In most cases, people don’t realize that they’re old.
Alt tags are not intended for use in SEO efforts. They’re actually meant as an assistive technology for visitors using screen readers.
But somewhere back in the mid-2000’s, some SEO figured out that images and the alt text behind them represented an opportunity to add extra keywords to a page.
Google caught on and promptly update the algo to accommodate for this new “trick,” but it didn’t matter— the SEO industry had discovered a new “best practice.”
And sure, adding relevant phrases in your images’ alt text is not a bad thing per sé.
But don’t overdo it. It won’t help you with Google, and it will hurt the experience of the very people it was intended to help.
- 40:05 From Michela Worthington-Adams: What is ALT text?
- 40:20 Alt, or “alternate” text, is a text representation of an image
- 41:00 Alt text is primarily intended for screen readers, used by blind or vision-impaired users
- 41:40 ADA compliance and web accessibility matters! May even have legal implications
- 42:30 TJ is not a lawyer! Queue the legal speculation 🙂
- 42:55 Mandatory or not, accessibility is still important!
- 43:45 Remember the people. Your users are human. Remember and serve their needs. Good for business and good for humanity.
By the way, here’s what the LA Times has to say on the matter.
- 44:45 Will Jason’s company hire TJ’s company?? Tune in next week to find out!
- 45:30 Modern marketing is important and only becoming MORE important. So start now!
SEO is complicated. And a little knowledge is a dangerous thing. So your best bet is to stick to a few simple principles:
Users first, search engines second.
Remember that they don’t buy houses. Or carry credit cards. Or subscribe to email lists. Only people do those things.
If it sounds too good to be true, it probably is.
There is no silver bullet. I said that in my last video with Easy Agent Pro. There is no single trick or hack or secret that you can exploit for instant Google domination. Be wary of anyone who says otherwise.
Don’t overdo it.
SEO is great. And it’s super important. But it’s not the be-all end-all of online marketing. It’s only one slice of the pizza (pie sucks). So yes, please subscribe the principles of strong SEO, but don’t go nuts. It won’t work anyway.
Know your limits. If you’re maxed out on time, patience, or knowledge, call in the pros. That’s why we’re here. If our service weren’t valuable to the real estate industry, we wouldn’t have lasted. But we’re still here and we’d be happy to help you.
- 46:15 SEO is complicated. Don’t get caught in the weeds. Be smart!