Why is SEO an ongoing service? My site is already optimized.
This is a question we hear from time to time, and even though it isn’t frequently asked, it’s an important one to address because the most vital aspect of your website shouldn’t make you feel like you’re getting swindled.
It’s not a dumb question by any means to wonder why you can’t just set up your SEO and let it go. Theoretically, you could. And it would work fine for a little while. Just like the carpeted bathroom and sponge painting in your 1990s bathroom was trendy for awhile. But interior design trends change, and SEO trends change even faster. For instance, over a span of 10 months in 2014, Google updated its algorithm 15 times. That’s 15 times that SEO experts had to reconsider and tweak various aspects of their website’s optimization to ensure that it remained competitive in Google’s rankings.
As a builder, your homes are set-up-and-go products. Once you’ve built it and the warranty period has passed, your role in your homebuyer’s life is pretty much over until they might buy another house from you. Our SEO product doesn’t work like that. Imagine if you were the only one who was able to make any updates to the homes you build, and your homebuyer expected to be able to live in one of your homes for 20 years and sell it for a tidy profit without ever making a single update to the interior or exterior. How likely would it be that their expectations could be met without any help from you?
This is how we think about SEO. Your site is optimized for a specific point in time, but change happens quickly. Six months in the world of SEO can be equivalent to 10 or 20 years in the world of home design. Some updates from Google won’t apply to your website. Others will make or break your search rankings. We watch these trends, we pay attention to the industry rumors that come out months before Google makes an official update. We watch your analytics data, we look for curious drops or increases in your traffic and rankings. We make updates to maintain or grow your site’s SEO visibility.
In our initial conversations with new SEO clients, we ask you to name a few of your competitors. This is so we know who to keep an eye on in the search engine rankings. If all of a sudden your competitor starts ranking high for keywords you used to rank for, we’re going to figure out why. This is arguably one of the top reasons to have an ongoing SEO consultant for your website.
Don’t just take our word for it, though. Read what others in online marketing have to say about the importance of ongoing SEO:
Why am I not showing up? This has to be the number one question we are asked by homebuilders all over the country. The answer comes down to two possible culprits: SEO and marketing. Here’s what we look for when we audit your site if you’d like to do a little self-diagnosis:
Quality of Title Tags
Each page on your site has (or should have) its own unique title tag. You can find this by hovering over the tab of the page or by right-clicking and selecting “view source.” It should be somewhere at the top of the source code looking something like this:
If the title of every page is the same, you have bad SEO. If there are keywords related to your business but not where your business is located, you have bad SEO (unless you’re a national company like us).
This is the first place Google looks for a user’s search phrase when it’s choosing which sites to display in the results. If someone searches “new homes in Olathe, KS” and that phrase does not appear in any of your title tags, that’s why you’re not showing up.
Keywords Elsewhere on Site
Google also looks for keywords in each page’s meta description, header, and copy. If a user who knows nothing about your company can’t come to the site and figure out every city and metro area you build in, that’s probably why you’re not showing up.
Having a Google Plus page (now Google My Business) for your main office and even your model home locations allows you to appear in yet another part of Google’s page 1, the Map Pack. When a local homebuyer is searching for new homes or homebuilders in the area, Google will display results that have a map pin above the regular search results.
What this means is that even if your site is all the way down on page 3, your listing still has an opportunity to show up on page 1.
If you’re solid on all the above things and still not showing up on page 1, your issue may just be that your market is too competitive and you need to invest a little more in buying visibility for the website.
Google Adwords is a great place to start, since these ads are keyword-driven and show up on search results pages.
Other than that, social media is a great place to pay for advertising to get more traffic to the site, which will eventually give you a little boost in SEO as well.
We have yet to see a homebuilder successfully implement an Instagram campaign, but this an opportunity to keep an eye on. Instagram is currently the leading social media channel for millennials, which tells you something about where the future of social media is headed.
The thing about Instagram is that it can be a great marketing tool, but there’s not much room for error. Much like Houzz, there is a certain style of photography you have to abide by as a brand in order to entice people to follow you. You have to create an aspirational lifestyle around your product through little vignettes rather than just uploading basic photos of the exterior of one of your homes.
People don’t want to see an entire room photographed on an iPhone at the wrong time of day. They want to see the corner of a couch with a vibrant plant in the background and the shadow of window-glow splashed across the floor. Instead of “Come see our new model in Sunset Pointe,” they want something more subtle, like “Afternoon vibes #newmodel #sunsetpointe.” Hashtags are everything on Instagram. If you don’t know how and when to use them, figure it out before you begin posting as your business.
Could a homebuilder have a successful Instagram campaign? Potentially, but it would be way more work than Facebook. There are currently very few sponsored posts on Instagram–this is a channel that consumers are actually opting into for the brands they love. The idea on Instagram is not to show up in front of users unannounced, but to start inviting people to connect with you on Instagram and allow it to grow organically from there.
The downside to Instagram is having to put a concentrated effort into everything you post. The benefit is reaching the next generation of homebuyers and creating an aspirational vibe around your brand that essentially allows you to market for free.
Tip: Check out Instagram’s own recommendations for brands to watch that are doing Instagram right.
Having built over 300 websites for homebuilders across the country since 2006, we know a thing or two about what’s working and what isn’t. A website is an investment–a good one is going to cost thousands of dollars, but more importantly, a website is supposed to be a digital representation of your business and the people who run it.
If you’re looking to cut corners, the website is not the place to make sacrifices. We’re not talking about whether or not to put a second kitchen in the basement or installing surround sound in the home theatre. This is foundation-level stuff–you don’t cut costs by neglecting to install insulation. It’s time to value websites as investments in the way homebuyers value your homes as investments.
Here is our list of the top 5 mistakes we’re still seeing builders make with their websites.
As you may have heard, April 21st marked the apocalypse for websites without a responsive design. If your website isn’t designed to be viewed on a phone or tablet, it’s about to fall in the Google search rankings even if your SEO is top notch. Worse than that, though, is that the majority of homebuyers who are accessing your site are going to have a tough time using it. Be prepared to see more bounces and less time on site in your analytics. Most homebuyers these days are doing their home search on a mobile phone, and ain’t nobody got time for a website that doesn’t work.
2. No SEO
If the quality of your website is equatable to a home with or without insulation, then think of not having SEO as a home without an address. In a community with no street names, in a small town that no one has ever heard of. Oh, and you’re not around to give people directions. Just Gary Google, and he knows absolutely nothing about the house, the location, or even the fact that you exist. Good luck.
2015 is so much different than 1995. These days, SEO is as vital as the http:// at the beginning of any web address. Being online is nothing new. It’s a game now, and you have to have SEO to play. Without it, you might as well get off the track because people are starting to lap you.
It’s simple, really. You don’t have SEO, there’s no way to show up in an online search. And online search is where builders all over the country are gaining a majority of their business these days.
We could write a separate post on the 5 mistakes builders are making with their photos. Companies that sell $60 pairs of shoes understand the influence professional photography has on buyer impression. Why is it that some builders believe they can sell a $250K house using photos they took on their iPhone?
You should be hiring a professional photographer with lighting equipment to shoot all of the homes you wish to display on your website. We have seen builders with professional photography get six times more web traffic from online ads than builders with low-quality photos.
Photos aren’t just meant to inform–they’re meant to sell. You should be able to sell someone a home before they ever set foot inside it by the quality of your photos. To put it bluntly, being cheap about your website photos will give homebuyers the impression that you’re cheap when it comes to building their home too.
4. Not Updating Photos With The Season
Winter brings a bit of a lull in home sales, but that doesn’t mean builders stop putting homes on the market. If you list a home in December, you’re likely going to have to photograph it with dead grass, snow on the driveway, naked trees, and gloomy gray skies. This is just what you have to do, but when April comes and that home is still on the market, send a photographer out to reshoot the exterior. Having blue skies, blooming flowers, and vibrant green grass will give homebuyers a positive impression of the home and its location.
On the flip side, when it’s April and you have homes listed with wintry landscapes, all that says to the homebuyer is that this house has been on the market for a while now and nobody wants it.
5. No Marketing Strategy
This is one that continues to dumbfound us, considering that we know several builders who are successfully marketing themselves online without the use of any print advertising. You can pay for a fairly robust online marketing campaign…for a year….for around the price you’d pay for a handful of newspaper ads.
Even SEO has gotten competitive to the point where showing up in organic search is just the icing on the cake that is your online marketing strategy. More than 90% of all homebuyers are using the Internet at some point in their home search. Your website allows you to collect and manage more leads, online marketing allows you to pay less to have more people find out about your business…and you know at least 90% of your target demographic is going to be online seeking out homebuilder websites anyway.
Online marketing is something to capitalize on. At this point, you can safely abandon ship with your expensive print pieces and reallocate that budget into marketing your website. Still, we see many builders making the mistake of thinking online marketing is an unnecessary expense.
More and more homebuilders across the country are beginning to see the benefits of an inbound marketing solution. Inbound marketing promotes the website, boosts SEO, drives leads, and creates tons of brand awareness in your local area.
Our favorite part? You can have a solid inbound marketing program that would allow you to put all your traditional marketing to bed for under $50K a year.
No, that wasn’t a typo. The average builder doesn’t need to spend more than $50K/year on marketing materials if they’re using a completely digital program. For $50K you can reach thousands of homebuyers in your area, promote your product 24 hours/day, 7 days/week, 365 days/year, and get actual data to understand how it all worked out in the end.
We can see the wheels turning in your head. So what you’re saying is, I can pay for an entire year of marketing by selling one or two homes through an online ad in the course of a year? Yeah, that’s exactly what we’re saying. And with several thousand people visiting your site every month and learning about your product, how could you not sell one or two homes that way? How could you not sell twenty homes that way?
The reason we haven’t yet seen every builder in the country jumping on the inbound marketing bandwagon is that, as an industry, we’re about a decade behind the curve when it comes to stuff like this. Move over to any other industry and ask if they use inbound marketing. You’ll likely hear something like “Well…duh.”
Many builders who have been around for several decades have gotten by on word of mouth, have gotten comfortable with print advertising, or have been able to save money by doing everything themselves. As we move into a less personal, more technology-savvy era of homebuyers, these types of practices will work less and less. If you have the time and resources to build more homes in response to a higher demand for your product, you are a prime candidate for some inbound marketing.
Compared to traditional advertising, inbound marketing can sound too good to be true. We get that. We love when our clients ask us where to start marketing their website, because we know that once they spend a few months seeing what internet marketing can do for their business, they’ll replace a lot of their traditional ads with digital ones and end up saving a ton of money.
When starting out, you should look at two options: Google Adwords and Facebook. Eventually, you should get to where you’re doing both of these things and more, but to get your feet wet, start with one of the two.
Pros: Google Adwords show up on page 1 of search results, where the intent to buy a home is high. Adwords generate high quality traffic and tend to result in leads more often than Facebook or any other type of ad. Adwords also offers retargeting opportunities on partner sites that allow you to display images of your homes to people who have visited your site and left, reminding them to come back.
Cons: These visitors come with a hefty price tag. Because the users coming to the site from adwords are already searching for new homes in your area, they are worth more to you and therefore you’re going to pay more to get them. Be prepared when all is said and done to be spending around $1K per month on these types of ads.
Pros: Facebook ads multiply your ROI. They simultaneously create brand awareness, site traffic, shareable content, and even leads for a relatively low cost. Since Facebook ads are photo-driven and allow people to like, share, and comment, the social reach of a Facebook ad far surpasses a Google ad. People tend to text or email links to your site more often when you are running Facebook ads. You can have a solid Facebook ad campaign for around $500/month.
Cons: Site visits and leads tend to be of a lower quality overall than Google Adwords, although the net you’re casting is very wide and has the opportunity to result in some high quality visits for half the price. You also cannot have an ad running on Facebook without connecting it to a business page, which could present a problem if you don’t want to maintain a business page.
Still not sure? Consider this.
Using Google Adwords is like buying a booth at a convention for homebuyers. Expensive, but you’re showing up in a place where you know serious buyers are already hanging out. Facebook ads is like printing off a pretty stack of flyers and putting them on all the cars in the city where the convention is located. It will be hit and miss, but when it’s a hit it’ll pay off right away.
Tip: To begin online marketing, decide what you’re willing to spend monthly and think about if you want to go into it driving leads from the get-go, or if you want to first take time to build some brand awareness for a lower cost. Whatever you decide, give it six months. After six months, start exploring more marketing opportunities or replace your current efforts with something else and see how that goes.
Check out the inbound marketing solution we’ve designed for builders, or email me your questions at email@example.com.
What you need to know: Responsive Design = Web design that adjusts itself to fit screens both big and small
As of April 21st 2015, if you don’t have a mobile-friendly website, that needs to be at the top of your wish list for the immediate future.
This is arguably one of the hardest-hitting algorithm updates Google has made in years aside from its emphasis on local SEO. Basically, what Google has done to the search results is put caution tape on websites that aren’t mobile-friendly and put badges of honor on those that are. It’s basically Google’s way of saying, “If you’re not maintaining your site and making it easy to use, we’re not going to send people to your site anymore.”
The homebuilding industry tends to be several years behind in online trends; in rare cases, several decades. This is one area where it won’t fly to continue in the cycle of what’s been working for the last ten or even five years. Because with more than half of all homebuyers conducting their home searches from their cell phones, the bottom line is that non-responsive websites are going to die on the vine. No one is going to click on your site if there is a warning from Google saying it won’t work on their phone, especially when your competitor’s site is right there with a mobile-friendly label.
Here’s what a non-responsive website looks like to someone who’s on a phone or tablet: Imagine you have a catalog in front of you for a product you’re really interested in buying. Only when you go to look at a page, the entire page is blocked except for a tiny square, and you have to move that square around the page to view little bits of it at a time until you get an idea in your mind of what the whole thing must look like. How long would it take you to get frustrated and throw the catalog across the room?
The good news is that upgrading to a responsive website opens you up to a ton of other new features that likely aren’t able to be installed on an outdated website. Having a responsive design is also an upgrade from having a separate mobile site when it comes to your SEO. Instead of maintaining two different sites and dividing traffic between two different sites, you get all of the SEO juice feeding into one site, which will likely bump you up higher in search results.
Want to do a quick test to see if your site has a responsive design? Go to www.google.com/webmasters/tools/mobile-friendly and type in your website link.
The deadline is coming for mobile-friendliness. On April 21st, Google’s newest mobile-friendly algorithm is officially rolling out -though may take a few days or weeks to finish its changes. This change, bigger than Panda or Penguin, is bound to shake up SERPs. It may be the biggest SEO change we’ve seen in years. Is your website ready?
We’ve discussed before what the mobile-friendly tag is and why it matters. So if that ranking factor already exists, what is changing? Right now Google is only using the tag to help user behavior: “click on this, it’s a good site”. Mobile traffic is half of total website traffic and growing so of course Google wants to make sure people have an easy time surfing and buying from their phone. Ergo, this algorithm change steps from promoting websites that are mobile-friendly to punishing websites that aren’t.
Google’s mobile-friendly label is page-by-page. Its possible to have a mobile-friendly tag on some sections of your website and not others. We saw that ourselves; Ideal Homes had a 100% score on their home page but their blog came back with a warning. This is an important time to consider user behavior. Is every page mobile-friendly? Is your realtor login or community search easy to use? And if there are pages that aren’t, do they have to be – like a complex interactive floor plan designed for desktop use and printing – or is this something you can change with your web designer?
Google’s mobile-friendly label is in real time. This is a big plus. Unlike coming back from a Panda hit, (notoriously difficult to recover from) Google is constantly willing to re-test the mobile layout of your site. That means any tweaks now will reap big dividends come April 21st.
You are either mobile-friendly or not. You get the label or you don’t. There’s no “90% okay” option. Google told us that while there are “over 200 different factors” at play -the big ones being font size, button spacing, viewpoint, and readability- it’s ultimately a yes or no answer.
You can test your website now. If you already have the mobile-friendly tag, don’t sweat it. You’re in good shape and will likely see page rankings improved after April 21st. To explore specific pages, use the official Mobile-Friendly Test. Or dig deep in your mobile usability report from Google Webmaster Tools. In fact, if you’re not seeing a mobile-friendly tag you, your web designer, and your SEO team need to dive into that report as soon as possible.
Now is the time to act. It’s not going to be impossible to crawl out of a hit come April, but why let your website take a nosedive when we know exactly what’s happening? And design changes can take awhile – especially if you need a whole new website. And how would you know that?
Red flag: If your website isn’t mobile-friendly. No mobile site, not responsive, this needs to be your company’s #1 concern.
Warning: If your website has a mobile version. It may survive April but Google is pushing really hard for responsive to be required – the new default of the web. A responsive redesign needs to be a portion of your budget this year.
Green light: If your website is responsive. Assuming it already has a mobile-friendly tag to (and it should), you’re going to be helped and not hurt by this rollout. April may be a great month for you! That competitor with an antique website holding on to a higher search rank in one community due to sheer inertia? Things are going to shake up.
Although even with a mobile-friendly tag for your home page it’s worth it to look into your usability report. There may be pages buried deep that need work. This is a unique opportunity in internet marketing: we know exactly what to do to make your website start ranking better, and we know what’s about to be rewarded and what’s about to be punished. So again – is your website ready?
Main Street Homes just launched their new website with Builder Designs! Three-time “Builder of the Year”, Main Street Homes is a premier home builder in Chesterfield County and Richmond VA with over 30 floor plans as well as completed new homes for sale.
Their new design was the biggest change we created for this builder, moving to a responsive layout and making the communities, homes, and floor plans a little more interactive than before. Easy to navigate, you can either see all communities and homes that Main Street offers or explore within a particular county (including Chesterfield, Dinwiddie, Hanover, Henrico, New Kent, and Powhatan) if you already have a destination in mind. The floor plan collection is even further searchable, by community or model series in case you want to view only two-story or first-floor master layouts. Or find a furnished model home to schedule a tour!
We also built a “Why Main Street” section so that they can easily detail their financing options, Energy Star rating, and personal story. Learn more about their Design Studio or browse a photo gallery to explore their homes from your laptop! There are easily accessible forms to contact Main Street with a question or warranty concern, or participate in their “refer a friend” reward program.
Main Street Homes paid close attention to the layout and features of the website, just as they do their houses – “Homes with Quality and Style” is not just a slogan to this builder. They focus on affordable luxuries, elegant functional design, and specific home owner needs in their award-winning home designs in convenient neighborhoods with excellent amenities.
Founded by Vernon McClure in 1996, Main Street Homes has grown to be Richmond’s largest locally owned new home builder and the 2009, 2011, and 2013 Richmond Builder of the Year. They’ve also been a consistent winner at the HBAR Parade of Homes – since 2000 MSH has won over 100 Parade of Homes awards! Their 3,700 square foot Design Studio, opened in 2008, is now ranked among the top 6 in the nation and has been named the Best in Richmond in 2008 and 2009. And since they started asking – checking on homeowner satisfaction and ways to improve – over 90% of buyers said they would refer Main Street to a friend.
As a top builder in Richmond we know their website needs to be top-notch too. Alongside a carefully organized on-page optimization SEO program we are proud to offer them an inbound marketing campaign with Facebook ads and landing pages designed for easy client contact and follow up.