If you do it right, real estate SEO can feel like magic. You build a great website, produce great content, and you’re rewarded with a steady stream of inbound leads. All for free. It sounds too good to be true right?
Well, I have good news and bad news …
First the bad news: You’re about 10 years too late. The competition on Google for real estate keywords today is insane. The good news? If you’re willing to put in the work and follow the strategies outlined in this article, chances are you actually can still work some of that search engine optimization (SEO) magic.
Why You Should Trust My Advice
I know that there are a lot of real estate SEO guides online today, and I want to thank you for clicking on mine. But before you dig deeper, I think you deserve to know who I am, and why you should trust my advice on real estate SEO.
As the Managing Editor and Co-founder of The Close, I’ve worked with my team to build a website that gets over 450,000 page views per month, almost all of them from Google. We rank number one on Google for hundreds of keywords. More importantly, we maintain those rankings.
Our secret? We write very high-quality content that is hard to duplicate and follow basic SEO best practices. Agents know that when they click on one of our articles, they’re going to get something great. My goal with this article is to help you do the same.
With that out of the way, let’s dig in to my top real estate SEO tips to go over some of those best practices for 2021:
11 Real Estate SEO Tips to Dominate Local Search & Get Free Leads
1. Understand How Google Ranks Pages in 2021
This may sound obvious, but many agents—and even large brokerages—jump into real estate SEO without really understanding how Google works. They see some early success in rankings, then scratch their heads when those rankings disappear.
To avoid wasting your time, here is a quick rundown of how Google ranks pages in 2021.
- Google’s code (the algorithm) uses AI (artificial intelligence, Google nicknamed theirs BERT) to decide which pages rank for which keywords.
- Google’s AI continually tweaks this algorithm to test where different pages should rank. You may find yourself ranking #1 for a keyword and then five minutes later search again and notice you’re ranking #3.
- Google’s AI uses A/B testing to determine where each page ranks. If more people click on your page in the search results, Google will rank you higher and vice versa.
- Google rolls out big changes to their algorithm a few times per year. These are called Core Algorithm Updates and can make or break your ranking.
- Google regularly reads the content on your website (this is called crawling) and uses the data it gathers to figure out where or if your site will rank on Google.
2. Start Optimizing for Core Web Vitals Today
Google doesn’t just want to provide its users with the best answers for their search query. They also want to make sure their users have the best experience on your page.
Think about it: There are probably millions of pages with identical content that would provide the information someone is searching for. As the Google algorithm gets smarter, it puts more and more focus on how good of an experience a searcher has on a page in order to give users the best answer and the best experience.
For Google, in 2021 that best experience is decided by one thing: how quickly your page and content loads.
As I write this, Google is planning new algorithm updates that will rank pages based on loading time. If your page loads slowly, you’re going to lose rankings in 2021.
There are two easy ways to check your website’s Core Web Vitals. First, you can use the Core Web Vitals tool in Google Search Console. Second, you can use Google’s free PageSpeed Insights Tool.
Optimizing your site to load faster is far too complicated to go into here. When you’ve run the PageSpeed Insights tool and found issues, use Neil Patel’s guide to optimizing for page speed here.
3. Work to Get High-quality Backlinks Through HARO
Even though they’re a bit less important for ranking today, Google still decides which sites will rank based on how many other sites link to it. Links prove that your site is authoritative enough to be referenced as a source of information. And the more sites that link to your site, the better your chances of ranking on Google.
There is one giant caveat here. The quality of the website linking to you is very important to Google. One link from a well-established media outlet can be worth thousands of links from small websites.
HARO (Help a Reporter Out) is an excellent way to get these links. Here’s how it works: Journalists submit queries for experts on stories they’re working on. If you’re a HARO subscriber, you can pitch your own quote for their story. If the journalist uses your quote in the article, you can ask them to link back to your website.
Of course, you won’t be the only agent pitching these journalists, so make sure you give them short, pithy quotes that will help their story. You will likely only land a small percentage of stories you pitch, but you can get amazing results from just being featured once in a large publication like Realtor Mag or The New York Times. I’ve been featured in both multiple times!
4. Use the Skyscraper Content Creation Strategy for Local Content
The skyscraper technique is one of the best ways to outrank your competition on Google. In 2021, Google penalizes “thin” content. This is content that is short, and doesn’t provide the reader with enough information to help them make a better decision.
The strategy behind the skyscraper technique is simple. Look for articles or blog posts that are ranking for keywords you’re targeting and write a better one. What key information are they lacking? Are they formatted properly? Easy to read? Do they explain the topic thoroughly enough?
For example, on the SERP (search engine results page) for “how to buy a condo in Williamsburg Brooklyn,” you might find short articles that don’t adequately explain the ins and outs of buying a condo here. Writing a more thorough article on the topic might mean you outrank them in the future.
5. Build a List of Keywords You Want to Target & Rank Them by Difficulty
In reality, 90% of great SEO comes down to one thing: your keyword strategy. After all, the only way you’re going to get leads from your real estate SEO efforts is to rank for keywords that your leads will search.
In order to do that, you need to do what is called keyword research. This is just a list of keywords you know you want to rank for, organized by how hard it will be to rank for them. There are a lot of ways to do keyword research in 2021. I would strongly recommend using paid tools like Ahrefs or Moz. These tools are really the only way to gauge how difficult it will be to rank for certain keywords.
If you want to learn more, I have an in-depth guide to using keywords here:
6. Structure Your Blog Posts Using Title, H1, H2 & H3 Tags
Since Google uses a robot to actually read your blog posts and decide if they rank or not, it’s important to format them in a way that makes it easy for Google to read. At the most basic level, that means using Title, H1, H2, and H3 tags in your posts. Title tags are used for your title, H2s for main headings, and H3 and H4 tags are used for subheadings.
Breaking up your posts with H2 or H3 tags will also make it easier for readers to skim your content to choose which sections to read. This is important because almost everyone skims articles online before deciding to read them. If you just have a wall of text, most people won’t read it. H2 and H3 tags explaining what is in each section of your post will make them more likely to read sections of your post—if not the whole article.
7. Understand That Your IDX Listing Pages Will Probably Never Rank on Google
I hate to be the one to burst your bubble, but the chances of your IDX listing pages ranking on Google are slim to none. This is because your IDX listings are syndicated from your MLS. Hundreds, or maybe even thousands of agents in your MLS have identical listings on their websites. To make matters worse, identical information is also syndicated from your MLS to Zillow, Realtor, and dozens of other giant real estate portals.
Instead of focusing on your listing page’s ranking, write relevant content to your community and the homebuying and selling process. What is your unique expertise? What articles can you write better than anyone else? More on this below.
8. Build Targeted Neighborhood or Property Type Pages That Include IDX Listings
Don’t worry though, your IDX listings can still be a great tool to help you rank on Google. The trick is to create pages targeting specific communities or property types and include an IDX listings widget that shows the latest properties in that community or property type.
You can create a page about $500,000 homes in a specific neighborhood, 5-bedroom homes, waterfront homes in a specific area, or even listings on a specific street. Just make sure to write useful content on these pages. A guide to buying homes in a specific neighborhood, for example, will be helpful for real estate agents and a ranking signal for Google.
This strategy is a much easier way to rank on Google. Just understand that other real estate agents and brokerages are catching on and building these community and property-type pages too.
9. Claim or Create Your Google My Business Listing
One of the signals that Google uses to determine whether or not your page can rank is how many other pages link to it. The most important links you can get are citations from reputable sources. Google My Business is an important one, because, well, Google owns it.
Here is a good rundown of how to claim or create your Google My Business listing as an agent.
As a general rule, you should also try to encourage your customers to review you on Google. More ratings = better chance of ranking.
10. Create Listings on Yelp or Other Review Sites
Another quick way to build links that can help you rank better on Google is to create listings on other review sites like Yelp and encourage people to leave reviews on them. While the link from the site won’t likely help you rank better, over time the reviews will.
11. Write for Your Audience First, Google Second
For many years, bloggers and digital marketers could easily rank on Google by “gaming” the algorithm. They would stuff keywords into their articles in places they didn’t belong, and format titles, headings, subheadings, and even entire paragraphs for Google instead of their audience. They ranked very well, but their articles ended up sounding like they were written by a robot.
These days, Google’s algorithm is smart enough to detect people trying to “game” their algorithm. They know that searchers want to read content from qualified professionals that is helpful, actionable, and, most of all, easy to read. Many of the articles that “gamed” the algorithm no longer rank on Google at all.
To avoid this fate, always put your reader first. What questions do they have? What information is most important to them? What advice do they need?
Over to You
Have a great real estate SEO tip we missed? Let us know in the comments.