Are you scratching your head trying to figure out what the SEO agency you hired to boost your real estate website’s Google ranking is up to?
Have you launched a real estate website, but have no idea whether it is properly optimized for search engine rankings?
The best way to find the answers to these questions is to perform an SEO audit of your real estate website.
We at Realty Crux recently analyzed 1365 websites of individual real estate agents, brokers and agencies that are ranking very high in Google in their respective markets. This study helped us spot some common features of top ranking websites. Based on the finding from this study, we designed a website theme on WordPress that have all the features commonly found in high ranking websites. You can request a demo here. We noticed that all these websites follow the latest SEO guidelines. It means the real estate agents running these websites audit them for SEO from time to time. We recommend you perform SEO audit at least twice a year. It will help you evaluate your website’s search engine friendliness. Since Google keeps introducing new algorithms, it is important to make sure that your site follows the latest SEO guidelines. For a detailed evaluation, you can hire an SEO auditor specializing in real estate niche.
In this guide, I will explain the step-by-step process that you can follow to perform a basic audit on your own:
Step#1: Check site load speed
How fast do your real estate website pages load?
Knowing this should be the first step in the SEO audit process.
It’s important because page load speed is one of the major Google ranking factors now.
In order to know how fast your site loads, you can use free Google tool – Google PageSpeed Insights.
Just type in the url of your real estate website and click ‘Analyze’.
You will get a PageSpeed score. A score of less than 70 is a red flag. Ideally, the score should be more than 90, but it may be a bit unrealistic to achieve this in some cases.
Repeat the process for different types of pages – home page, property listing page, blog page etc to know the PageSpeed score.
Scroll down to find the reasons that are slowing down that page.
Some elements that may be slowing down your site are server-side (your web host), while some are caused by the way your website is built.
If you are getting a ‘Reduce Server Response Time’ suggestion, it mean that the web host you are using is taking more time than it should to load web pages. If your server is taking more than 1 second to load the page, you should immediately contact the web host and get the issue resolved. If they are not able to speed up your site, you should probably switch to a better web host. In a recent article, I discussed the best web hosting services for real estate websites.
Some other reasons that may be slowing down site include:
- Large size images
- Render blocking resources
- CSS and HTML files
You may need to use a CDN (content network delivery) service to make your images load faster. Some other steps that you may need to take include:
- Minifying CSS and HTML
- Using a cache plugin such as WP cache
- Updating plugins, themes and software being used to run your real estate website to their latest versions.
You should contact your website designer and developer to make sure that the theme files follow improvements suggested by the Google PageSpeed Insights.
There are many other free tools you can use to know the page load speed of your website such as GTMetrix, but they are for advanced performance analysis by professionals. The Google tool gives you a fair idea what’s wrong with your website.
Step#2: Making sure your real estate website has not been penalized
As already mentioned, Google introduces updates in its algorithm from time to time.
In the worst case scenario, your site might be hit by a new update and you may not be even aware of it. Let’s say for example, your site have hundreds of home listing pages with thin or shallow content. You may have enjoyed page 1 rankings for years, but if your site is penalized by a new update that frowns frowns on shallow content, the organic traffic would plummet overnight.
Here are a couple of ways to find out if your site has been penalized by a Google algorithm update:
Google search console
Having a Google Search Console account is an absolute must to keep track of the performance of your website in search engine results.
You need to verify the ownership of the website before you can link Google Search Console with your site and start getting various types of data with regard to its performance in search results. Read this Google article to know how to verify your site ownership. Hire an SEO expert if you can’t do it on your own.
Search Console can be used for a variety of purposes, but since our aim here is to see if your site has suffered any penalty, the only section you should be concerned about is ‘Manual Actions’. You can find this on the left side of screen.
Click the tab. If there are any warnings of manual action taken by Google, you will find them here.
This is yet another great free tool by Google.
It also requires you to verify site ownership.
First click the ‘Audience’ tab on the left hand side of the panel and then select a wide date range, preferably six months.
For our purpose of SEO audit, click ‘Acquisition’ on the left side and then ‘Source/Medium’ under ‘All Traffic’. Click ‘Google/Organic’ from the right panel.
If the chart shows a sudden drop in organic traffic and if this drop coincides with an algorithm update, the chances are that your site was penalized by that update.
Try to figure out the reason for the penalty. If you can’t determine what caused the penalty, an SEO professional can help you find out.
Getting rid of a Google penalty can be a long and painful process. How long it takes depends on the cause and the steps you need to take. For example if your site was penalized due to a lot of pages with thin content, you need to improve the quality of the content. Once you have done your part, all you can do is wait for Google to lift the penalty.
Step#3: Find out how your site is appearing in search results
This step needs you to perform a few Google searches.
- First, perform a search for your real estate brand by name. Is the home page the first result in Google? Does the home page title make sense? Do your target keywords show up in the title and Meta description?
- If advanced Google search features such as knowledge graph and Google My Business appear in the results when you search for your brand name, see if the information is correct.
- Now copy the title of a few random blog posts and paste them one by one in the Google search bar. Are your blog posts being indexed by Google for your target keywords? Keep in mind that it takes search engines a while to index fresh content, particularly when your site is not getting a lot of organic traffic. So perform the search for your older blog posts. See if the title and meta description contain your target keywords.
- Repeat the process for all kinds of pages on your websites including home listings and neighborhood guides.
If you find any issues in search appearance of your website pages, you need to fix them before proceeding further. For example if the title and meta description of your real estate site’s home page don’t look like the way they should, you need to update them. If your site is built with WordPress, you can use free SEO plugins such as Yoast SEO which makes it extremely easy to change meta tags such as title and description.
Another important factor that you should pay attention to when going over your site’s appearance in search engines is Structured Data Mark Up.
- Do your clients leave review on your website? If yes, these reviews should appear in the search results for an appropriate search query. For example when someone searches for reviews left by your clients, they should be appear in the search results. Here is an example:
- An SEO professional can tell you whether Structured Data Mark Up is enabled on your website or not. If not, you should definitely have it enabled because it helps search engines understand your content.
Step#4: Are the URLs SEO friendly?
Many SEO professionals will disagree, but I strongly believe that short URLs boost search rankings. I have personally seen a boost in rankings when a URL is short and SEO-friendly.
- URLs should not ideally contain only numbers. Here is an example of a bad url structure.
- If you are using WordPress, you can set a post title-based permalink structure. Here is an example of a good permalink structure.
- Your main keyword should ideally be in the URLs.
- Ideally, URL should not be more than 250 words including the domain name, category name and post name.
Step#5: Are breadcrumbs enabled on your site?
Breadcrumbs are an important aspect of site structure. Breadcrumbs are used for displaying the current location of a user on the website.
For example if someone is reading a blog post on your site, the breadcrumbs menu will indicate the hierarchy of the page.
Here is an example of the breadcrumbs on a blog page.
The breadcrumbs are important for SEO because they make it easier for users to navigate your site.
If your site is built with WordPress, free plugins such as Yoast SEO make it extremely easy to set up breadcrumbs navigation. However you may need to consult with your website developer or an SEO professional to have breadcrumbs enabled on your site.
Step#6: Make sure Google is not indexing more than one version of your website
When you host your real estate website on a hosting service, you need to set up redirects so that you don’t have multiple versions of it being indexed by Google. For example, Google treats these two domains as separate domains, not one:
Step#7: Make sure your multilingual website content is not confusing Google
Many real estate agents specialize in working with foreign property buyers. It becomes important for them to provide the content of their website in more than one language.
For example, I have worked with a few clients in Texas where it is important for many real estate agents and brokers to have a Spanish version of their website.
You will be wrong to believe that since the same content is in two different languages, Google will treat both versions of your website differently. The reality is that Google will consider it duplicate content and may hit your website with a penalty.
You need to tell Google that your website is multilingual through some HTML codes. I would recommend that you contact an SEO professional to get this done for you.
Ignoring this can have disastrous consequences and hurt your site’s ranking in search engines.
Step#8: Is your site easy-to-navigate?
A user-friendly navigation is good not only for user experience, but for SEO also.
A user-friendly navigation makes it extremely easy for your real estate website visitors to find the content they are looking for without any hassles.
It means that your website should have most important pages in the main navigation and footer menus. The sitewide links (links to the most important pages) can also go in sidebar widgets or widgets in the middle of the content.
You should have links to your social media profiles displayed prominently on your website.
Your real estate content should be assigned to relevant categories. For example, having a lot of blog posts marked ‘uncategorized’ will negatively affect SEO.
Advanced on-page and off-page SEO audit steps
Some of the steps outlined in this section require technical SEO knowledge, but I am anyway mentioning them so that you know to some extent how advanced SEO audit is performed. I am not going to describe them in detail because you will anyway need to work with an SEO professional to make sure your site complies with these best SEO practices:
On-page real estate SEO audit
- HTML optimization: Google looks at HTML tags for indexing web pages. HTML tags the text on the page. For example, H1 is the tag for main heading and H2, H3 and H4 are HTML tags for subheadings. Similarly ‘p’ is for paragraph and ‘a’ is for hypertext links (external and internal). It is extremely important that the pages on your website follow the best HTML practices. The HTML5 is the latest update of HTML. Your web pages should contain HTML5 tags such as <article>, <nav>, <header>, <image> and <footer>. It helps Google understand your content. There should be only one H1 tag on your website. Use H2 for subheadings and ‘p’ for paragraphs. If you have two H1 tags on the same web page, it will confuse Google and have a negative effect on your search engine rankings.
- Meta tag optimization: The meta tags including meta title and meta description should not exceed the word limit specified by Google. Google typically displays the first 50–60 characters of a title tag. Google often display the meta description—typically up to 160 characters long
- Meta tags should ideally contain the main keyword you are trying to target with the page content.
- Avoid keyword cannibalization: You should never target the same keyword through two different pages of your website. If several pages target the same keyword, your site rankings can drop due to keyword cannibalization. When more than one page has the same/similar keyword target, it creates “confusion” in the eyes of the search engine, resulting in a struggle to decide what page to rank for what term.
- Keyword density: Your content should use keywords in property density. Keyword stuffing will damage your SEO.
- Original content: The content should be original. Use plagiarism checker tools such as Copyscape to make sure that the content on your website is not copied. You should either get rid of duplicate content or use a robots.txt file to discourage search engines from indexing the content. If two or more webpages on your website have the same content, you need to use HTLM element, ‘rel=canonical’, to specify which page Google should index and which it should ignore.
- Fresh content: Let’s say for example, you wrote a home buying guide 4-5 years ago, but never updated it. Things may have changed during this period, i.e. new legislation introduced and new taxes levied. Make sure that you keep updating your content from time to time. Keeping your content fresh and relevant is a good SEO practice.
- Get rid of ‘404 errors’: A lot of web pages with a ‘404 error’ is an SEO red flag. This error is triggered when a web page is deleted by you after it has been indexed by search engines. You need to set up ‘301 redirects’ to get rid of this issue. There are WordPress plugins which can find deleted pages on your website and set up redirects (point them to another page on your website). Also, there should be a ‘404 error’ page on your website and it should be properly optimized for navigation and SEO.
- All the images on your website should be optimized and have an ‘alt tag’. Image size should be optimized for faster page load. You can use software programs to compress your images and reduce their size so that they load faster. You can also use WordPress plugins for ‘lazy load’, so that an image loads only when the user scrolls down to the part of the content where that image is being displayed.
- Both internal and external links boost SEO. Internal links are links that go from one page on your website to a different page on your website. The rule of thumb is that a page – particularly blog post – should have anywhere between 2 and 8 internal links. Similarly, you should link to web pages on other high-authority websites. However don’t create internal and external links just for the sake of it. When a user clicks a link in your content, he or she should get more detailed information on the topic in question.
- The text (anchor text) in your content that you use for creating a hypertext link should be SEO optimized.
- Make sure that the web pages that you have linked to (external as well as internal links) have not been deleted. These are called ‘broken links’. A lot of broken links can damage SEO. There are WordPress plugins that can help you detect broken links on your website. Once you find the broken links, you should redirect them to a valid web page.
- Make sure that all the web pages on your website have consistency in layout, design and typography.
- Make sure that your website has a sitemap.
Off-page real estate SEO audit
Off-page SEO is what makes things tricky because most aspects of it are out of your control.
Backlinks are the most important off-page SEO element, so you need to check whether the websites linking to the web pages on your website are high authority or not.
Some other things you need to check while performing an off-page SEO audit include:
- The number of websites linking to your website
- The quality (domain authority) of the websites linking to your website. A lot of spammy websites linking to your website is an SEO red flag.
- Anchor texts used by other websites when linking to your website
- The distribution of backlinks on your website (home page vs internal pages).
Some paid tools that do an awesome job of backlink analysis include Ahrefs, Majestic, Moz and SEMRush, but you can use Google Search Console to get a list of all the websites linking to yours and anchor text used by them.
To use this feature of Google Search Console, click ‘Links to Your Site’ tab on the left penal.
Go through all the links manually one by one and determine whether they are from trusted websites or they are ‘toxic links’ (from low authority domains).
Keep in mind that precaution is better than cure when it comes to building backlinks. Ask the SEO agency you are working with to be very careful when building backlinks.
Focus more on creating awesome content. That way other high authority websites will link to the content on your website naturally. You will save money and time on building backlinks and avoid the risk of a Google penalty. If Google finds out that you are trying to manipulate your website rankings through paid backlinks, your site will be penalized.
There are many tools that can perform an automated SEO audit. But the problem with using these tools is that they provide only a generic picture of your website’s overall SEO health.
You should work with an SEO professional specializing in real estate niche to perform a manual SEO audit.
A manual audit will help you identify issues specific to your website.
If you need any assistance with regard to real estate SEO audit, I would be pleased to help. Get in touch today.