Local SEO is an effective way to compete with Zillow and other home search platforms for attention and to get your message out to buyers on the web
Search engine optimization (SEO) is perhaps the most well-known and arguably the most important aspect of digital marketing today. Simply, your company needs to be on page one—ideally at the top—of an internet search based on keywords that are important to you and resonate with potential buyers and partners looking for you. In fact, many experts would argue that if your business isn’t on page one of a browser search, you don’t exist.
Of course, you do exist, but it’s more than likely that your company currently shows up on page two or three, and most people won’t click through that far. Applying so-called “local” SEO strategies, however, is your best (and perhaps only) option for climbing to the top.
The Big Four Champions of New-Home SEO
The SEO game for home and property searches has changed dramatically in recent years. Many builders and real estate companies have given up on it because, despite their efforts and investments, they get boxed out by the “big four” of NewHomeSource.com, Realtor.com, Redfin, and Zillow. It’s extremely likely that a web browser search for “new homes [your city]” will place those four portals at the top of page one.
Why? Essentially, they have done the best job of aggregating the most content (that is, data and images) on new homes nationwide; as a result, Google reckons they offer the most of what consumers are looking for in a new-home search.
Simply, you won’t dethrone those SEO champions head-on. You need a different approach.
Local SEO can level the playing field, especially the more local you get. The key is to think past major cities to smaller submarkets and towns in which your communities are actually located. This is your opportunity to muscle your way up the page. When a search uses specific geographic keywords (e.g., a neighborhood or subdivision name) within Google Maps, Google begins to prioritize data that differs from a routine or general search to determine rank order. The big four usually don’t get that detailed in their property descriptions or keywords, giving you an advantage.
How to Win Local Searches
Here are the key ranking factors for a local search:
• Google My Business signals (proximity, category)
• Citation signals (name, address, phone number, aka NAP)
• On-page signals (content, page title, URL structure)
• Link signals (domain authority, inbound link quantity)
• Review signals (quantity, recency)
• Social signals (engagement on social platforms)
The great news is that the top three items above account for between 40 to 50 percent of all factors considered by Google, and they are under your direct control. Meaning, if you diligently work to maximize the impact of those three factors, the chances of your company appearing for the relevant keywords you covet dramatically increase.
Let’s take a closer look at this low-hanging fruit.
Google My Business
Even if you’ve never heard of Google My Business (GMB) before, you’ve already experienced it when doing local searches for restaurants or retailers. GMB listings appear in a separate box in the search results and show a portion of a map along with a sampling of specific listing results.
You may not have created a listing for your company on GMB, but you’ll often find that one exists. That’s usually due to existing citation signals (discussed below). The most important step is to claim your listings as your own, allowing you to control the content and deliver better information.
Most often, you’ll need to request ownership of your GMB by asking Google, through its My Business website, to send a special code to the listing address to verify that the person claiming the listing actually is connected to that location. Most often, the code is sent by regular mail, but it may be sent electronically.
That location, however, could well be a construction trailer or something even less permanent, causing the Google mailer to be returned to sender or, if actually delivered, get buried under a set of construction drawings, never to be seen again.
To help ensure delivery of a physical mailer with the code, use mail forwarding by the Postal Service. For just $1.05 charged to your credit card, USPS will forward mail to your corporate office, helping ensure that the Google mailer is delivered and recognized while still (in Google’s system) reflecting the location you want to list in GMB.
Once you have the code, use it to log back into your business GMB and claim your listing. Then review and correct any of the information, respond to all reviews (good and bad), upload images, and select a business category (that is, “home builder”). Make sure both your company name and the community name are in your listing title. Once you’ve successfully claimed and updated all of your listings on GMB, you can work on similar listings on Apple and Bing mapping services.
Control Your NAP
Citation signals are all about making sure your name, address, and phone number (NAP) appear exactly the same way on all of your local business listings. Why is this so important? The more consistently accurate a company’s NAP citations are, the higher Google’s trust level in that business and the more likely your company or community will show up higher in search results than other businesses.
Therefore, it’s critical your NAP be 100 percent consistent across listing platforms (GMB and others) to fully benefit you in a potential buyer’s search.
Beyond your NAP, some listings will allow you to select business category, display your hours of operation, and provide links to your social media accounts. All of these “extras” can help boost your SEO ranking, as long as your NAP is consistent across listings.
Which listing platforms really matter? In addition to GMB, the big players are Acxiom, Facebook, Infogroup, Neustar Localeze, and Yelp. More local or industry-specific sites, such as your local home building association office or local township, also can help. Once you have your GMB listings claimed, there are services such as Moz Local or Whitespark to help with citation consistency and distribution to make your life easier (and searches more successful).
The last piece of low-hanging fruit is your own website, specifically the inclusion of great content about the towns where your communities are located (along with content about your own neighborhoods and homes, of course). Detailed and compelling content is critical and fairly easy to get or share from local sources, such as visitors bureau websites. But once you have that content in place, you also have to do some cleanup and organization to help Google find and understand it.
When potential buyers conduct a search, your page title shows up in large, blue text, and it’s critical that each page of your website has a unique page title that also includes keywords in your local content.
You can set and manage keywords in the back office of your website or by reaching out to your web developer for assistance.
Another important item is your URL structure. Having the local keywords in your URL isn’t enough; you basically need to create a digital road map, for example: www.yourbuilder.com/new-homes/ohio/cincinnati/happy-acres. This kind of structure helps Google understand what information is most important. In this example, it tells Google that Happy Acres is a community in Cincinnati, Ohio, that offers new homes.
For further guidance, look at how the four champions of SEO (NewHomeSource, Realtor, Redfin, Zillow) are structured, and you’ll begin to see some important patterns you can follow for your own website.
Beyond Rankings: A Better Experience
Over time, these local SEO efforts will help increase your browser rankings and visibility for your business, but the benefits don’t stop there: These efforts also help improve search, website, and even on-site experiences for your customers.
When your GMB listings are accurate, they won’t show up when your model homes are closed (saving prospects a trip), and key contact and address information is easily pushed to a user’s mobile device. Focusing on the local SEO items you can control is a one-two punch for new-home marketers.
Kevin Oakley is managing partner at Do You Convert, a company exclusively focused on online sales and marketing for home builders and developers.
- This story originally appeared in the April 2019 issue of Professional Builder magazine. See the print version of this article here.