Dan Thompson, SEO strategist at Salt Water Digital, has provided this brief guide on SEO for real estate agents. With over ten years of experience, he’s worked on everything from local mom-and-pop shops to national e-commerce brands.
If you’d like to dive into these concepts on a much deeper, technical level, then make sure to check out our Ultimate SEO Guide for REALTORS®.
I’ll start out by saying that Search Engine Optimization (SEO) in the real estate industry is extremely competitive. In major markets (such as Vancouver, Calgary and Toronto) there are several REALTORS® and teams who are spending massive amounts of money to drive results through SEO.
This often leads to smaller or newer agents overlooking SEO or thinking that it’s a waste of their time. What most agents need to understand is that you can still drive solid results without a huge budget and that your SEO efforts compound over time. You just need to know where to spend your finite resources.
Knowing where to focus your effort is the single most important thing you can do when it comes to SEO. The goal of this guide is to help you understand how to find these opportunities and take advantage of them.
I will be using my city, Calgary, to walk you through the process.
The Wrong Way To Do SEO as an Real Estate Agent
This is what most agents do:
- Identify the largest, high-intent keyword (ie: “Calgary Realtor®”)
- Ask for a quote from a local SEO agency to rank for said keyword
- Pay a local SEO company a few thousand dollars per month for 6 months and then fire them because they aren’t showing their work, you haven’t seen an increase in leads and you’re certainly not ranking on the first page yet.
- Identify the largest, high-intent keyword (ie: “Calgary Realtor®”)
- Research “how to rank first in Google”
- Start the process of trying to rank for “Calgary Realtor®”, then give up after a few weeks once you realize you don’t have the time or skillset required.
So what’s the right way to do it? Let’s dive in.
The Two “Right Ways” To Do Local SEO For Real Estate Agents
Option 1. Focus On Your Google Business Page
This includes optimizing your profile and gathering reviews. By doing so, you can rank higher in Google’s local pack results and be visible to potential clients who are searching for real estate agents in your area.
What makes the Google Business Page unique is how important proximity is. If your customer is searching for “Calgary Realtor” standing a block from your office then you’re very likely going to show up. Not the guy with thousands of reviews and billboards all over town.
Option 2. Target Long-tail Keywords
Instead of going after highly competitive, short-tail keywords, focus on targeting longer, more specific phrases that are easier to rank for. For example, instead of targeting “Calgary Realtor,” target “Calgary Northwest Realtor” or better yet “Airdrie Realtor”.
What kind of costs are involved?
- Option 1’s cost is very minimal. It requires setting up a Google Business Page, optimizing it and having a good review funnel.
- Option 2’s cost is more significant. You need to have a technically sound website, build out additional pages on your website, write unique content and build links. If you have a RealtyNinja website, then you’re in good shape from a technological standpoint. Now it’s just a matter of creating content and links.
Let’s explore both of these options a bit further.
Local SEO: Setting and Running Up Your Google Business Page for Success
To set up your Google Business Page profile, follow these steps:
- Go here to start setting up your Google Business Profile
- Enter your business name and address
- Choose the correct categories for your business
- Enter your phone number and website URL
- Verify your business by mail, email, phone or instant verification
- Optimize your profile by adding photos, videos and posts
- Encourage customers to leave reviews on your page
The last step is the most important. After every transaction, there should be a few points of contact that all end in you asking for a Google review. For example:
- Gift basket or thank you card. This should include a QR code asking for a review.
- Follow up e-mail thanking them for their business. This should continue a link asking for a review.
- Finally, send one final email asking for feedback and a review with a link.
Incentivizing customers to leave reviews is against Google’s terms of service but a ton of businesses do it. Google removed 55 million fake reviews in 2021 and 3 million fake business profiles.
With the advancement of AI, I am of the opinion that Google Business Page reviews will continue to become more important for local SEO.
Without getting too deep into the AI weeds ― AI works on huge databases, Google reviews is one of the largest user-generated databases in the world that Google owns. They’re going to use this data.
The process to generate traffic from organic SEO isn’t overly complicated. It just takes a lot of work. The general components are:
- Performing keyword research and competitive analysis.
- Building additional pages for terms and keywords you want to rank for.
- Building links.
- Bonus: Writing blog content that supports the pages you are trying to rank for.
How To Perform Keyword Research for Real Estate Agents
Getting this part right is essential. You need to find terms users search for that you can actually compete for.
Compile Your List of Neighbourhoods
Using Calgary as our example, I would rule out trying to rank for “Calgary Real Estate Agent” or “Calgary Realtor®” right off the bat. We need to start by creating a complete list of what areas and communities you serve.
Do not just try and think of all the neighbourhoods you work in. Google “Calgary Neighbourhoods” and go through a complete list. Also don’t forget specific areas. For example Calgary is broken down into four quadrants so I would include Southwest, Northwest, Southeast and Northeast as well.
If you operate in the entire city, that’s fine but that shouldn’t be the focus of your website. Find a smaller area to target. If you’re in a suburb or a smaller town you can target that area instead.
This isn’t a new concept. Real Estate agents have been doing this forever. Mark Murray is your “XYZ neighbourhood specialist”. And then they buy local advertising in that area, usually by the way of bus stop ads.
What I’m recommending here is just the digital version of that.
Compile Your List of Keyword Modifiers
These will be keywords such as “Condo, House, Apartment” or “Luxury, 3 Bedroom, 2 Bedroom” etc.
The keyword research spreadsheet I built includes these modifiers to save you time.
This is going to allow you to drill down into additional keywords that you can build pages for.
Plan & Build Your Pages
Building out high quality, location or property type (eg: condos) pages is a lot of work, but hard work pays off in the long run when it comes to SEO.
You should consider creating three types of pages:
Page Type 1: Neighborhood + Realtor®
Let’s say you wanted to focus on Lakeview and Altadore in Calgary. I would build out two pages. One to rank for “Lakeview Realtor®” and one to rank for “Altadore Realtor®”.
These pages should talk specifically about the area and why you are the right person for the job. These are different than “Lakeview Real Estate for Sale” pages (that is Page type 3).
Page Type 2: City + Home Type
Pages that focus on the city with keyword modifiers. Eg: “Calgary Luxury Houses”, “Calgary Condos” etc.
You can use the MLS® to largely populate these pages. You can also include some content about the city itself.
Page Type 3: Neighborhood + Real Estate
Pages that focus on specific properties for sale in areas. Start with the areas you want to focus on – Lakeview and Altadore. But then you can build these pages out for all the surrounding neighbourhoods.
How To Build Out Great Pages for SEO
Although I get tired of seeing his face on billboards, Justin Havre’s site is a masterclass in SEO.
Now let’s not get it confused: if you copy his strategy exactly, you won’t get the same results.
But why not, Dan?!
He’s built up his brand over a long period of time, including big social media audiences (for a local real estate agent, they’re huge). Facebook, Twitter, Instagram. Plus, he’s posted hundreds of great articles.
But more importantly, in fact FAR more importantly, he’s built up a backlink profile that would rival some of the biggest brands in the country. That’s to say he has a lot of VERY good links. And his brand drives a lot of branded searches (ie: Justin Havre Real Estate) which is super important for SEO results.
But you don’t need to get the same results to have a successful SEO campaign. After all, he’s generating 40,000+ organic visitors per month (I bet it’s his most successful marketing channel). We just want a small piece of that pie.
What Does Justin’s SEO Team Do To Build Great Pages?
Let’s break down one of his pages.
If you prefer to learn by video I broke it down in this short Loom Video.
Note: Justin isn’t using RealtyNinja for his website, but everything he’s doing there can be done on a RealtyNinja site.
1. Optimize The Three Horsemen
What are the three horsemen?
- SEO Title – neighbourhood + city + real estate
- URL – neighbourhood + city + real estate
- H1 Tag (big heading) – neighbourhood + city + real estate
Pretty straight forward. However, these are the three most important on-page factors for any web page so get them right! They should be driven by your keyword research.
2. Content Section: Real Estate Statistics For That Area
This is excellent because it provides unique, user friendly content. The number of listings, average price per sq ft. the highest price, the lowest price, etc.
Content that users are going to love.
3. Content Section: MLS® Section Featuring Homes for Sale
Give the people what they want. No one is searching “Kensington Calgary Real Estate” to go read your take on the area. They just want to see the homes that are available. After you provide that content they may stick around and read everything else.
4. Content Section: Section for SEO content
The last sections are for SEO purposes. This information is generic. If you are an actual expert on that area include this here.
Schools, types of houses, unique parts about a neighbourhood are all great. However, doing that at scale (ie >50 or a 100 pages) is going to be difficult. Odds are you don’t know every neighbourhood in your city that well.
5. Other Ideas They Aren’t Using
Include video. This doesn’t have to be professional quality. Walk around a neighborhood with an iPhone and film it. Point out coffee shops and restaurants you like. Great parks and trails for walking, etc.
For suburban areas this would be more difficult but for urban areas with a central street with shops and restaurants it would be much simpler.
If it’s a suburb, shoot a video of you giving a market update.
Include testimonials. Free, unique, relevant content that builds trust and helps conversion rates. That’s what reviews and testimonials are. Use them. Pull them from your Google Business Page and use those if necessary.
Better yet, get a video testimonial.
How To Build Links
If you want to rank for commercial keywords in 2023 you HAVE to build links. It’s non-negotiable.
So how do you go about doing that? Here are some my favorite ways.
- Reach out to local publications and determine how much business features cost. Ask if they include Do-follow links.
- Reach out to businesses you already work with and ask to be placed in their resource page or if you can contribute an article to their blog.
- Reach out to bloggers and ask if they accept sponsored content. Bonus points if they’re local. This tactic scales very well, so we do a ton of this.
- Write guest posts on industry relevant blogs where you can share your expertise (like this article you’re reading right now).
- Sponsor local sports teams that have websites and ask for a link.
- Donate to local charities and ask for a link.
- Swap links with REALTORS® in other cities. This can be done through resource pages or guest posting or link insertions.
- Sign up for platforms like the BBB. Your local chamber of commerce, etc.
- Add your name to local directories. These are often maintained by the local paper or by local business organizations.
Link building is effectively just outreach and figuring out how you can provide value to the other website owner, in exchange for a link back to your website.
Writing Blog Content
I asked ChatGPT to give me some tips on writing great blog content and this is what it produced:
This is a perfect example of useless content. It’s regurgitated information that’s been said 1000 times on 1000 other websites that provides no real value.
Don’t contribute to the billions of pages of spam that already exist on the internet. Google has finite resources (yes, seriously) it wants to crawl and serve HELPFUL content to it’s users.
Part of the game is you need to hit certain word counts in order to have a chance to rank. But the other part of the game is providing the user what they’re looking for.
The trick is to satisfy search intent and write for people. For example take this article I wrote. I wrote it to rank for SEO for Self Storage.
What makes it useful?
I included a case study, I explained when it’s NOT appropriate to invest in SEO, the cost and my actual strategy. This is information a writer who isn’t an expert would have trouble writing. Those elements are written for humans. It’s information I know people will genuinely find interesting and useful.
The first blurb “What Is Self Storage SEO”. That’s written for a robot. As soon as I added that silly little section my rankings jumped up. Is it useful? No, not really but Google had determined that is a relevant and important section for anyone ranking for SEO for Self Storage.
So how can a REALTOR® mimic this? By writing on topics that they can add value to. Here are some examples.
- Investing in Real Estate in a specific city will be filled with nuance.
- Where to eat in a neighbourhood (that you’ve actually eaten at!) is a wonderful topic.
- Events in your city (that you’ve actually visited!) and your unique spin on them.
- Using market data to tell an interesting story.
Sometimes its OK to add content that an AI can write. One of our best performing articles explains how to use QR codes to generate Google reviews. Pretty straight forward stuff that AI could’ve written. We just made sure it’s useful.
SEO For Real Estate Agents In Summary
SEO is a complicated topic. There are hundreds of ranking factors which all contribute to generating organic traffic. However if you focus on the basics and consistently do them well over a long period of time you’re likely going to have success.
TL;DR. The six things every real estate agency can do to improve their SEO:
- Optimize your Google Business Page
- Generate reviews
- Perform keyword research
- Build high quality pages
- Build links
- Write content (only if you’re going to add useful content)
I hope you enjoyed this article. Feel free to follow me on Twitter @danthewolfe