SEO: What’s In and What’s Out

What is important for Search Engine Optimization changes over time making articles that are just a year or two old already outdated (including mine).

Although Google and other search engines don’t give us a crystal ball, here is what seems to be working and irrelevant to your search engine results today.

What Works

Keyword Research. If you don’t know what people are actually typing in, how do you know what to optimize for?

Title Tags. These are still important for rankings as well as usability, since this is what people see both in the search results and when they bookmark your page.

Great Content. If you don’t have great content, you will never have long-term success with SEO. People stay on your site longer and link to your site when you have great content. Both of these things support SEO. Building great content rather than relying on constant SEO tweaks as search engine algorithms change is also a more durable SEO strategy.

Link Building. A link to your site is like a vote for your site. The more links in, the better. That being said, don’t waste your money hiring people to build inbound links. Google doesn’t count all inbound links equally.

Landing Pages. Building pages that are similar but optimized for different geographies can work. I admit, it’s spammy, but it still works.

What Doesn’t Work

Header Tags (e.g. H1). One of our best sites doesn’t use a single header tag. I’ve been saying for years H1 tags don’t matter, and now finally everyone is saying this, too.

Meta Keywords. This hasn’t worked since the late ‘90s, yet the only sign of SEO I see on almost every site I review is keyword tags.

Submitting URLs to search engines. If you make sure the search engines can navigate through your site, there is no need to submit the pages directly to the search engines. They will find them on their own.

Is An SEO Investment Ever a Bad Idea?

90% of the time when clients ask us about SEO services, it's a no brainer for them to move forward with basic on page SEO tune up. In most of these cases, the website developers completely dropped the SEO ball and the 80/20 rule applies. Simple changes, such as making sure each page has keyword relevant title tags and page content, often results in a dramatic increase in traffic.

My husband always says that if you really understand something, you can easily argue the other side of the issue. In that case, I need to be able to articulate when it's a mistake to move forward with SEO. I can think of at least three scenarios where it might be.

1. Your website stinks. SEO helps get traffic to your site, but if your website is broken, horribly out of date, frightening looking, or otherwise a train wreck, you are better off taking your SEO budget and sinking it into a new site. Website development is more competitive than ever, so it's easy to get a good deal. Try to find a company that throws in basic on page SEO, and you'll kill two birds with one stone.

2. You haven't met a salesperson selling SEO who doesn't give you hives. Since there are no set standards or credentials, anyone can claim he/she is an SEO expert. As a result, there are a lot of people selling SEO services who simply don't know what they are doing. Protect yourself and go with your instincts. If you find someone you like, ask to see examples of first page results he/she has earned for other clients, and check references.

3. There is no keyword volume to support a return on your investment. In very rare cases, there simply aren't a lot of searches for particular types of businesses. Certain medical specialties where all but the most disconnected would seek out referrals come to mind. Make sure you know that there are enough searches for keywords related to your business to justify the investment.

While I remain a big fan of SEO, don't invest unless your website will convert the traffic you get, you've found an SEO vendor you can trust, and you've done the research to confirm that it's likely any SEO investment you make will have a positive ROI.

How Search Engines View Subdomains

We've been getting questions about the potential search engine optimization (SEO) impact of putting blogs in a subdomain (e.g. blog.mysite.com) vs. a subfolder (e.g. mysite.com/blog). We've also had questions about how search engines (Google) treat subdomains that are on different IP addresses. Unfortunately, Google doesn't have an official statement about these issues, but here are our latest thoughts on the matter.

 

Subdomains link additional pages on your site.

Years ago, spammers figured out that they could set up subdomains and generate inbound links by linking from pages on the subdomains back to pages on the main domain. Google figured this out and plugged that hole in late 2007. Matt Cutts confirms this change in a blog post in December 2007, which also states that it's a “wash” whether you use folders or subdomains. The original post is here: www.mattcutts.com/blog/subdomains-and-subdirectories.

Of course, this is information from 25 years ago in search engine years, but a modern day test confirms that this still holds true. Look at the first page search results for apartments.com—it's all subdomains. It seems reasonable to conclude those results wouldn't be there if Google thought those pages were part of another site.

 

It's okay if your blog subdomain is located on a server with a different IP address.

The next question to tackle is, is it okay for a blog to be hosted separately from the main website. I was able to find absolutely nothing that directly addresses this from Matt Cutts or any other reliable Google authority. But again, a Google search for ardmorecourtapts.com, for example, supports an educated guess. Results include pages from the blog subdomain even though it is hosted at a different location— Yardi hosts the main site while the blog is hosted on a server run by the community's property management company, Trinity Property Consultants.

It makes sense that Google shouldn't care if you have a blog or any functionality running on a separate subdomain. Platform companies—companies that provide Internet solutions for hundreds or thousands of companies through one code base—can't always keep up with end user demand for new functionality, and sometimes it isn’t practical to deploy a solution on a client server (e.g. online rent payment solutions). Even Google makes use of different subdomains for different parts of its business (e.g. maps.google.com, docs.google.com) and they point to separate IP addresses.

So, if you are looking to add a blog or any other technology, and your goal is to maximize SEO for your website, it seems reasonable to conclude that you can host it on a subdomain and on an outside server. However, if you are looking to maximize overall traffic, it's unclear whether you are better off hosting your blog on a separate domain—but that's for another discussion.

Catch Slides and Video From Ellen Thompson's SEO Webinar Until Friday!

Great news! If you missed Ellen Thompson's webinar last week "Capture the Traffic: SEO Tools and Tips to Help You Maximize Web Traffic", www.multifamilyinsiders.com is sharing the slides and a video recording from the presentation from now until FRIDAY!

You must be a member of Multifamily Insiders to view it, so if you aren't already a member, register here (it's free): http://www.multifamilyinsiders.com/home/community/register

After you register, click here to watch the webinar.

Free Online Webinar with 4 Walls CEO Ellen Thompson!

Join 4 Walls CEO Ellen Thompson on September 23, 2010 at 2 p.m. EST (11 a.m. PST) for a free webinar, "Capture the Traffic: SEO Tools and Tips to Help You Maximize Web Traffic."

Click here to find out more and to register now.

Don't Be So Fast to Scrap Your Current Website

One of our larger clients decided to use a friend to redo their multifamily site rather than use a company like ours that specializes in multifamily sites. Because I have a relatively close relationship with one of the owners, I wrote out a short list of the most critical things they needed to include in the site architecture and what to think about during the planning process to achieve their SEO goals. I only included the most essential basics, e.g. make sure your system allows you to assign unique titles and meta description tags to each page.

They launched the site, and guess what? The developer didn't implement a single one of my suggestions.

But the biggest mistake the developer made was that he simply dumped the old site and put up a new one with all new page names (URLs). This was problematic because the old site pages had already been crawled and indexed by search engines, and while they weren't setting the world on fire, they had built up some PageRank and were enjoying some search engine traffic. The minute these pages were pulled down, the search engine traffic disappeared. To add insult to injury, they didn't update their Pay Per Click ad links, and were therefore pouring many thousands of dollars a month in advertising dollars down the drain.

Don't let this happen to you. Your new website developer should keep your site in place and "redirect" old pages to the new one. Only after you are sure that Google, Yahoo, and other search engines have indexed your new pages, and that your old ones are not appearing in search results, can you safely delete the old pages.

Luckily for the client, Google's new algorithm indexes new pages much more quickly than it used to, so they won't be in the search engine penalty box for too long. However, any traffic they could have had during the critical spring leasing season is forever lost, as is the ability to convey the page rank of the old URL.

So the moral of the story is, don't scrap your old website too quickly.

Search Engine Optimization is Changing

A friend of mine, who is an ecommerce entrepreneur in a very competitive space and in the middle of a shopping cart migration, recently asked me for some SEO advice. After answering his specific questions, I suggested we do a few searches for high volume keywords to see what his competitors are doing. Some of the results were rather surprising. Here were the two biggest eye openers.

1. Numerous first page Google search results included pages that didn't even contain the search terms we used.

2. For many keyword searches, half of the results were video and other social media sites rather than his direct competitors.

These results were not a fluke. I have been able to repeat this outcome with several searches for my own site. The first results for “4walls sterling apartments,” which would have previously delivered the listing page, now serve up my index page— which does not have the word sterling on it—as the first result. 100% of our social media clients are seeing their Twitter, Facebook, or both of these pages on the first page of search results for their community within 30 days (we now take before and after screen shots to demonstrate this finding).

Getting great search results used to be straightforward. If you started with good content, didn't screw up the title and description meta tag or on-page text, set up appropriate internal linking and got a few sites to link to yours, you'd be golden. Everyone would think you were a search engine genius.

Today, this just isn't enough. First, you've got to be so much better because there is a lot more competition from new rating and review sites, apartment mapping sites, real estate sections of large portals (e.g. Yahoo), and an ever-increasing number of traditional Internet Listing Services. Second, it takes a lot more work to maintain search rankings. You need to have a site that's constantly changing, take into consideration the impact of word stemming and themes, and you have to have a ton of authoritative sites linking to yours. And it seems to me that a little bit of luck plays a part, too.

Search Engine Optimization is still the best potential investment you can make in your site, but if you decide to make an investment, make sure you understand that a one-time tune-up isn't going to work as well as it used to. What works in 2010 requires an expanded set of tricks.

Top 3 SEO Mistakes Made on Property Management Sites

Search Engine Optimization (SEO) is not as sexy to talk about as social media. But the reality is that the best and fastest way to increase leads and decrease costs is to make sure your site is optimized properly. Here's some marketing steak to go along with the sizzle.

At this point, the cat is pretty much out of the bag that website drive-bys turn into leads for Internet Listing Sites. Is this happening to you? Here’s how to tell: Type in the name of your community and then the name of your community followed by the city and state abbreviations. If you see organic and paid search results ahead of your website, it's time for an SEO tune up.

Below, find three major SEO mistakes I find on property management sites that limit their ability to rise to the top of search results when people type in their community name . . . and how to fix them.

Tune up your title tag.

The title tag populates the title bar, which is what you see at the top of your browser window. In addition to being a vitally important piece of the SEO equation, title tags are also used as the heading of search engine results.

If you don't have the name of your community as well as the city and state abbreviation in your title tag, it will be almost impossible to show up before your ads on ILSs. Having extra words (e.g. the name of your property management firm, the address of the community) can dilute the effectiveness of your tag. Get them out of there. There is no magic equation to creating a title tag. Take a look at pages that are showing up before you and follow their lead.

Refrain from putting the name of your property in an image.

It may look nice, but when you put the name of your community in an image, it negatively impacts your SEO results. Search engines can't read text in images, so to them, it's like those words don't exist on the pages.

Get rid of the images and have your web developer type the community name in. Even better, make sure your community name is formatted using a heading tag. It's widely believed that names formatted with heading tags and other attributes get more credit.

Don't forget the meta description tag.

Meta tags are text that appears behind the scenes in the code of your page. While the keyword meta tag is ignored by major search engines, the description tags are picked up. In addition to being a critical factor in SEO, description tags also allow you to better control your marking message. For instance, if you have a description tag, Google will use this rather than random bits of text in your search results.

Make sure you have a unique meta description tag for every page on your site. Check that the name of your property, the city, and the state abbreviation are all in the meta description tag.