Local Search

Real Estate Has Lost It’s Home In Local Search, But I Offer 3 Tips To Ground Pigeon

By September 29, 2014 13 Comments

house-real-estate

Many of us in local search have specific verticals we pay stronger attention to. By default, with a wife that's a realtor, real estate is one such vertical for me. This summer's Pigeon update to Google's local search results has left many scratching their heads.

Local Map Results Get Foreclosed

With little optimization effort over the years, my wife Marci Weiche enjoyed a top three ranking in many local searches for real estate, realtor, agent and other terms with city and service involved.

Up until the Pigeon update, her local search visibility was always a top local pack result as shown below.

pre pigeon realtor SERP

After the Pigeon update, the results for these various city and real estate term searches look like this -- the local map pack is gone.

port pigeon SERP realtors

The search results pages for these searches has shifted to benefiting the national directories like Zillow, the corporate offices like Coldwell Banker or Edina Realty and maybe just one or two spots for a individual realtor's website. While my wife's website is still on page one for "Buffalo, MN realtor," she is at the bottom of the page with far less visibility than before.

Local Results Triggered By Explicit Terms

To get a map pack in the Google search results, you need to add "nearby" or "near me" to your search. Common sense tells me these additional proximity terms are being searched by no one, so skip holding out hope that this is a sliver of light for you.

realtor Google nearby

Cities big and small are seeing the same thing in the real estate vertical. It's already hard for a real estate agent to get visibility through Google, and this summer it just got harder.

I also find it hugely ironic that Google Insights published this in-depth article about real estate-based searches being on the rise recently: House Hunting Season: 6 Key Trends That Search Reveals. The article even states that "Two in three researched prospective agents extensively online prior to working with them." I can't help but feel compelled to form a conspiracy theory on where and how Google wants to get into the real estate game … but that's for another post!

3 Tips For Realtors To Stand Out in Post-Pigeon SEO

You can't fight the giant in Google, so you need to find the best ways to play within their rules. Here are three tips I'd offer up to help your visibility in real estate-related searches on Google in addition to the many Local SEO best practices you might already be leveraging.

  1. A dedicated page to the service area(s) that matter most to your business. Don't waste your time building 20 of these pages, but pick the top 1 – 3 markets and make sure you have solid unique content and a well optimized page for this area. If you can, utilize your home page for the top geo area you serve.
  2. Encourage and foster reviews online. One thing I started doing for my wife right after Pigeon was set her up with the customer feedback platform GetFiveStars and start the process of capturing customer testimonials and reviews. While she is just 30 days into using the platform, she already has rich snippet reviews on her own website that have been indexed with and appear in the search results. As I mentioned above, Google says that "Two in three researched prospective agents extensively online prior to working with them." There is no doubt that reviews and stars in her search results and website will help her stand out and built trust. While her initial feedback requests have netted zero online reviews so far, I know that it's a long term play and they will come with more customers, feedback requests and time.rich snippet reviews
  1. Open house schedules and Schema. In the Minneapolis area, Coldwell Banker Burnet does a great job of this and you can see the additional "real estate" they garner in the search results. Find out if your IDX, MLS or Broker offer open house information and times in a feed, get it nicely wrapped in schema and watch your Google search result grow in visibility and size.open house rich snippets

While the giant shift in these local search results can be frustrating, it will be interesting to see how things might unfold, revert back to pre-Pigeon or morph another step forward. The three tips above will benefit you regardless of what changes with Google happen, reverse or show up next.

I can't make sense at all on how this is better for the user wanting local realtors or agents in their results, but just maybe it's part of a better master plan (not a master product).

13 Comments

  • Some solid tips Aaron. Curious if you are seeing the same “no big deal” data that we are seeing (i.e. long-tail organic traffic is more than making up for the loss of the pack rankings for these head terms)?

  • Aaron Weiche Aaron Weiche says:

    Thanks for the comment Andrew. For my wife, she is seeing a slight drop in looking at things from a web traffic only perspective, nothing to be alarmed about. I do care though as her past visibility in local packs for so many terms led to many offline leads that the prospect then shared something like “I did quite a few searches and you were always there.” type comment.

    I feel like this shift, if it stays, puts a little more work on the user/searcher to decipher what they are looking for from where, but someone who is solid in their web and SEO strategy won’t crumble because of it and can even prosper as your post on SE Land pointed out today. http://searchengineland.com/real-client-data-googles-pigeon-update-affected-real-estate-seo-204164

    • Aaron…I can see how the visibility in the map packs definitely provided a more imputed value for people doing higher funnel research via head terms. Just being there puts on an air of professionalism that serves as a trust trigger, even if only subconsciously.

      I do think that *typically* most agent and even broker websites are severely behind the times, especially compared to the portals. When consumers are in the early stages of searching for property, it could be that Google feels the portals present a better experience (which they do for the most part).

      It’s been a while since the change, so I’m losing hope that the map pack is coming back. Agreed with you about focusing in on important neighborhoods/areas, as the true local expertise should consistently lie with the agent on the ground. Consumers know this, hopefully!

      • Aaron Weiche Aaron Weiche says:

        Hey Rivers, thanks for weighing in.

        Yes, many real estate sites are behind … but no different than just about any SMB in any vertical. I’m leery of Google determining a site like Zillow is better, for while it has more content and data, it’s not exactly accurate. To me, it’s more of a site Google likes, not exactly a user.

        If G wanted to show all organic results when the user doesn’t use a geo keyword, that would be more than understandable, but when a user asks for “realtors in town, state” and then doesn’t offer a map pack, that seems underhanded.

        I’m with you on the longer it stays, the less likely to revert, but who would truly be surprised if this is just step one in a 2 or 3 step process with Pigeon and local.

        Thanks again!

  • Michael says:

    Hi Aaron,

    Great information. Curious as to your thoughts on why google started these changes within just the Real Estate vertical. Is this due to mobile traffic?Industry Trends?Inherent nature of this vertical?

    Michael

    • Aaron Weiche Aaron Weiche says:

      Hi Michael – My thought as to why is that is truly is a bit of a head scratcher. I’m at a loss why purely organically ranked sites (many of which as are just national sites with local sections/pages) is better for the user … unless it is purely that they feel these are better results, thus the omission of the local pack. If I would have been in NY for the LocalU Bootcamp today I would have been asking any Googler I could why this is. I truly am left without a strong theory on the “why” right now. Thanks for the comment and question!

  • Alan Bayer says:

    Aaron, great post! As someone who took a new real estate client just days before pigeon, I have been watching these real estate SERPs (as well as the blog posts coming out in the Local SEO community) very closely.

    To cope with the changes, I’ve been emphasizing mostly traditional organic strategies (Content optimization on the home page, tag optimization, service and location pages), with a little schema thrown in. Going forward, I might double-down on the Schema, and encourage a Yelp review-building strategy (ethically and safely, of course!), as well as good ol’ link building. Thanks for confirming some of my thoughts.

  • Jason Ester says:

    Aaron, I am in the same position as your wife. I had the top spot on many of the big local search terms. My question…do you think they will reinstate them in the future?

    • Mike Blumenthal says:

      Jason. Who knows what Google will do. The real estate thing had a pack, lost it for a number of years, had it again and then lost it once again with Pigeon.

      From a planning and business strategy point of view you really can’t know and thus you need to make a bet on the current reality it hedge it with the idea that things change frequently.

      • Aaron Weiche Aaron Weiche says:

        Jason, thanks for the comment. I agree with Mike, just count on a constant flux with Google.

        My overall takeaway is just keep diversifying your online offering and authority. Adding to your digital reputation across the board helps “future proof” you to these changes. Local, organic, reviews, directories, snippets/schema, traditional, email … you have to nudge it all along in lock step to really succeed.

  • Dave Keys says:

    Well, nearly a year later, the 7 Pack/local results for real estate, real estate agents and Realtors is finally back in full force as if nothing had ever happened. At this end of the game as an SEO provider, my observation it’s been a couple of years of Google slapping real estate agents like an abusive spouse. Now that they’ve given back part of what they took away (authorhship, local hosted video thumbnails, and an increasing love affair with impersonal syndicate sites) Realtors can feel a little relief but I doubt most of them are all that happy with the search engine while competing industries can virtually walk onto page one and pick up valuable leads with relative ease.

  • Great info, I hadn’t ever thought about using open house info from the MLS..going to look into that for sure. Thanks

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