Romancing the Search Engines: Small Changes Make a Dramatic Difference

People may not like change, but search engines love it! In fact, many SEs handsomely reward dynamic content, as witnessed by the popularity of the SEO darling: the blog. MSN and Google, in particular, are enamored with websites that provide constantly changing content.

But, if you don’t want to blog, how can you take advantage of this SEO fact? By carefully describing your latest listings! Want to leverage your listings for improved search engine rankings?

Listings and featured homes are the areas of real estate websites that change most often and this month we will review a few tricks to help you rank a bit higher by revisiting the details of the listings you already have online.

How Headers Can Help sell Homes

If you are in control of your website, be sure that the headers for your listings are actual HTML headers. Text tagged as a header (H1, H2, H3) in HTML are weighted “heavier” in the SEO equation than standard text.

Keyword your header text for improved search results. A linked header text with the terms you want to capture will give you a “leg up” in your local market.

Make your headers a link to the webpage photo “spread” on the home. Why?
Because links are weighted heavier than plain text.

Combine all three and use keyword rich header tags as links to enjoy an extra edge.

Quick Headline Makeover

The Original Header (in Bold, Regular Text Font):

Charming Lakeside Cottage Offers Affordable Luxury

Although this may be appealing to your prospective buyers, it doesn’t help get them to your site. And, if they don’t see your listing, the appeal of your prose doesn’t matter. Save this header for print-only ads and flyers. (And remember to use the remake version below for newspapers that offer online advertisements.)

Change the listing’s header to a H1, H2 or H3 tag and make it a link to the page with expanded descriptions and additional photos:

Cottage Home for Sale on Cumberland Lake in Russell Springs, Kentucky

Granted, this revised header isn’t as romantic as the original one, but it brings a bit more savvy to the SEO and online marketing race. The remake offers you the term “home for sale,” the city and state location information and names the specific body of water and discloses the fact that it’s a cottage. Use your expanded description text to give the
“feel” of the place and to romance your visitor. If a prospect is searching for waterfront
property on Cumberland Lake in Kentucky, this remake is more likely to appear in the search results. If they seek a home for sale in Russell Springs, it’s a match. If they search for a Cottage in Kentucky, you win.

Variety Spices Up Your Listings

When writing headers, don’t make them all look and sound the same. Be descriptive, keep the headers appealing and vary the keywords:

  • Spell out the state sometimes, other times use the abbreviation to capture searches both ways: (Kentucky and KY)
  • Tell what is for sale in the header and vary the way it’s represented: (Condo, Condominium, home, house, cottage, town home, townhome, townhouse, cabin, etc)
  • Use the county, city and landmarks in descriptions: (Russell County, Russell Springs, Cumberland Lake, Lake Cumberland, near Jamestown, on Alligator Dock 1, etc.)

NOTE: Don’t use all caps in your headers. Aside from being obnoxious, some search engines will penalize you for this practice.

Heavy repetition of keywords in headers may also risk search engine penalty, so use these headers to capture multiple keyword combinations by using variety in each listing’s header.

Write Cutlines for Photos

If you aren’t writing “cutline” descriptions for each photo, you are missing opportunities. A one or two line description of what is seen in the photo can be loaded with information and valuable keywords. For instance, under a photo of the cottage we have been discussing, you may want to attach thefollowing:

This charming Kentucky waterfront cottage offers the beauty of wooded land and a view of Cumberland Lake from the back deck. A perfect vacation home or year-round home for a first time buyer, this Russell County, KY home for sale can be yours by Valentines Day!

Use Your Image File Names

When you upload photos, do you pay attention to the name of the image? You should. After all, it costs you nothing other than a few extra moments to create an appropriate filename for each photo. Depending on your website’s flexibility, and the way the file names are handled, these may be an easy way to give you a search engine boost.

For instance, the automatically created file name “003y000074.jpg” won’t help you at all. Whereas the file names “Lake_Cumberland_KY_Cottage.jpg” or “LakeHomeForSale42524.jpg” might.

Add Alt Tags to Each Photo

Alt tags are metatags that provide textural alternatives to website photos. They are usually visible when your images don’t load on a visitor’s browser for some reason and
they pop up when a visitor moves their cursor over a photo on your website. Alt tags are used for sight impaired visitors to describe or define the photo they can’t see. Be sure to
consider how it will be “read” before adding alt tags to your photos because alt tags are picked up by voice-aided browsers.

Like header tags and links, alt tags carry more weight in the search engines than standard body text. An alt tag looks like this:

IMG src=”KY_Lake_Home.jpg” ALT=”Front View of Cottage Home for sale on Lake Cumberland in Russell County Kentucky” with a leading < and an ending > around the alt tag.

If you want the “rollover” effect to work in Mozilla’s FireFox browser, as well as in Internet Explorer, you will need to add a title tag for the rollover. It will look like this:

IMG src=”KY_Lake_Home.jpg” ALT=”Front View of Cottage Home for sale on Lake Cumberland in Russell County Kentucky” TITLE=”Russell County,
KY Home for Sale on Cumberland Lake” again with the leading < and ending >.

NOTE: Although search engines don’t yet penalize for keyword loading of alt tags, you should always be ethical in your marketing practices. Don’t over pack alt tags. Remember that they can contain keywords, but should be used to benefit sight impaired
visitors and to actually describe the photo accurately.

Pull Them Up Front

If you aren’t pulling one (or more) of your own listings to display on your index page, you are missing a great opportunity. Any index-page featured home should change regularly to keep your content “fresh” and to show content updates and changes each time the search engines revisit your page. You can even specify the revisit schedule in your metatags on your index page, but should not request a revisit any more often than the content actually changes. If you change your page weekly, you can request a revisit every 7 days. If you make the changes manually, and can only do so once a month, request a visit on that timeframe. The metatag to achieve this looks like this:

meta name=”revisit-after” content=”31 days” – again with the leading “<” and ending “>”

You don’t need to display the entire listing on your index page – your search engine optimized header and a single photo (with an appropriately descriptive and keyword rich alt tag) should be enough.

Can I Customize?

Many of the website “packages” for real estate agents don’t allow you to customize features like metatags, alt tags and assigned file names for uploaded photos. If you aren’t sure what your company offers, ask. Sometimes, if you have specific requests, the website company will help you reach your goals. And, if you can’t get what you want with your current package or current company, there’s no better time than the present to find a provider that will allow you to revamp your site to take full advantage of all your online marketing opportunities.

This covers a few of the quick changes you can make to keep your content fresh without expending much extra time, money or effort. And, making these small changes to the way you handle your headers, photos and meta tags can offer you huge online marketing advantages!

Note: This article was orginally published in the February 2006 edition of ePOWER! News.

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