Masterclass: SEO Strategies Redefined – Actionable Lessons from Google’s Documentation Leak

SEO in 2024 is no longer just about stuffing your content with keywords. The recent massive leak of Google’s search documentation has revealed crucial insights into over 14,000 ranking factors, highlighting the significant shift in SEO strategies.

Search engines are smarter, focusing more on how users interact with your site and the intent behind their searches. This masterclass will explore these critical changes and offer actionable insights to help you adapt and thrive.

Emily Coble (Content Marketing & SEO Manager at Union Street Media), Michael Phelan (SVP Marketing & Technology Consulting at T360), and Eric Stegemann (CEO at TRIBUS Group) participated in a masterclass moderated by Audrey Whittington (SVP of Strategic Partnerships & Industry Relations, Local Logic) to discuss how to navigate the shift from traditional keyword-focused SEO to strategies centered around user engagement and intent.

In this masterclass, you’ll learn more about:

  • Evolution of SEO: Understand how SEO has transformed over the years and what it means for your real estate business today.
  • Focus on User Intent: Learn why understanding and catering to user intent is now more important than ever.
  • Engagement Metrics: Discover how engagement metrics such as time on site, bounce rate, and page views influence your SEO rankings.

💡 Key takeaways:

  • Foundational Role of SEO: Building a strong SEO foundation is essential for long-term success and brand building in real estate. Starting early, even with small steps, helps establish domain authority and positions brokerages to become local experts over time.
  • Prioritizing the Consumer’s Needs: SEO strategies must begin with a clear understanding of consumer needs and behaviors. This means focusing on what prospective buyers or renters are looking for and aligning content to provide valuable, relevant information throughout their homebuying journey.
  • Emphasizing User Engagement: Engagement metrics, such as time-on-site, click-through rates, and page views, are now primary factors for SEO success. Google prioritizes sites where users find value and actively interact with the content, making engagement the most critical aspect for brokerages to focus on.
  • Dynamic and Continuous Content Development: SEO in real estate is an ongoing process that requires regular updates and improvements. Content must evolve alongside market changes and algorithm updates. Consistently refreshing and enhancing content ensures it remains relevant and valuable, thereby maintaining or improving search rankings.
  • Leveraging Local Expertise and Unique Insights: To stand out in search results, real estate businesses should focus on creating content that leverages their local market expertise and provides unique insights, such as detailed analyses of local market conditions and trends. By combining human expertise with AI support for topic generation and initial drafts, content can be both efficient and deeply insightful.

Watch our latest Masterclass on “SEO Strategies Redefined – Actionable Lessons from Google’s Documentation Leak”:

Evolution of SEO

SEO Within a Real Estate Context

What does SEO mean in today’s real estate environment and how does it relate to MLSs, consumer-facing sites, portals, brokerages, and proptech?

SEO is all about making your website discoverable by the right people — and several factors play a role in that. According to leaked Google documentation, the search engine considers over 1,000 ranking factors, though engagement appears to hold the most weight. SEO is the cornerstone of your online marketing strategy. To grow and ensure success, you need to have a solid SEO foundation to build upon.

The Difference between Real Estate SEO and Other Industries

Although there are many similarities, SEO for real estate differs a great deal from SEO for other industries, such as e-commerce, presenting its own set of challenges. The real estate industry has thousands of websites with the same content, so learning how to do SEO in a sector with a lot of duplicate content adds yet another layer of complexity. However, MLSs and brokerages can capitalize on this growth opportunity if they can assess and figure out how to improve their performance and win in that space.

The Importance of SEO for Long-Term Growth

SEO is crucial if you want to play the long game and have a holistic approach. Everyone who cares about long-term growth should care about SEO — but it comes down to setting the right expectations and goals. A brand new team or brokerage that is just entering the market with a new domain will need to have very different expectations and strategies than a larger brokerage operating across the US.

Building your domain authority and laying down your SEO foundations early is always a smart play. Don’t be afraid to start, even if you don’t dive in fully right away. You won’t be able to knock out your competitors on the first day, but you can build the foundation to eventually do so. Even a small broker can become an important local expert.

Brand Building through SEO

Considering that the lead cycle is longer in real estate compared to other sectors, SEO is important for websites to be found by prospects at every stage of their journey. Incoming leads might not be ready to purchase a home within the first couple of weeks. To stay top of mind, you need to ensure homebuyers find and interact with your brand throughout the entire homebuying process.

The Mobile Versus Desktop Debate

The desktop vs. mobile debate is part of that home discovery process. Since most users access your site via a mobile device, the user experience on your site needs to be optimized for mobile (e.g. larger buttons versus in-text links). If you fail to consider mobile-friendly experiences, you risk losing those users as they may navigate away to your competitors’ websites.

A Balancing Act between SEM and SEO

Both SEO and SEM strategies are necessary. An SEO strategy is generally designed to attract people at the top of the funnel, who are often years away from making a purchase. On the other hand, SEM draws people who are more likely to make a purchase due to their willingness to fill out an online form after clicking an ad.

However, the majority of people who click through an ad will not complete the purchase process. So, if you only focus on SEM, you are missing out on a lot of customers. Paid leads aren’t necessarily ready to buy something right now. They may be just a little further away from the zero moment of truth, which is the most critical moment in a consumer’s decision-making process. It occurs when the consumer is ready to do research, educate themselves, and find their next home. When this happens, a solid SEO or retargeting strategy will help you build brand recognition by highlighting your local expertise, keeping you top-of-mind and visible in the market.

The (Continued) Importance of Interlinking

Interlinking within your website remains very important. Make sure that your content links to other website pages, such as community pages, listings of homes for sale in the market you’re referring to, or market statistics — any page that is going to rank and grow traffic.

Focus on User Intent

Understanding Your ‘Why’

To build a successful SEO strategy, you must first determine why you are doing the things you are doing — and it shouldn’t be because everyone else is doing it. Having a clear understanding of your objectives will help you align your strategies and tactics. For example, if your goal is to build awareness for your brokerage in your market, you need to make sure that people can find you. You also want to establish yourself as a local expert, so that people can perceive your agents as valuable resources in their homebuying journey.

The Consumer Comes First, Always

Always think as a consumer first — not as a salesperson, a vendor, or an industry leader. Think about what influences someone’s decision to buy, sell, or rent a home. What would they like to hear and read about? What are they hoping to gain from a website? It’s important to provide the right content to consumers, so they can easily find the information they are looking for. Don’t lose sight of that cause. The consumer is your north star, at the end of the day.

Keeping Your Content Fresh Amid Algorithms Changes

The real estate industry is always evolving. Markets change over time. The economy changes. Algorithms also constantly change, so SEO is an ongoing process. You need to keep developing your content flywheel once you begin creating content. The process can’t be done on a one-off basis. You can’t just write once and then stop — even if you get a hit. Because one hit doesn’t give you an SEO strategy. You’ll have to continue to build the latter progressively.

Testing is the key to staying on top. You can’t just do one thing once and expect to rank for those keywords forever. New questions will always arise. As a broker or an agent, you have the expertise to answer those questions and create content that will provide people with the information that they seeking. But creating high-quality content is only the beginning. Find out how your users interact with your content, and how you can improve it. One way to do this is to iterate and update your page’s layout to keep your content fresh.

Moving Beyond Evergreen Content

Brokerages often make two mistakes when it comes to content development: they either create content that is too short or hire external firms for evergreen content. When there weren’t many of these posts out there, that type of content performed well for a long time. However, now these evergreen posts do not rank as well as they once did

Gemini is one of the reasons why previous content is underperforming. When you type a query in the search bar, it responds with a ChatGPT-style response because its LLM scoured the Internet and found, for example, “What are the top ten reasons you should move?” Google then keeps the traffic on its site instead of sending it elsewhere.

In contrast, if you offer something that these models can’t, such as detailed analyses of local market conditions and trends — which would be hard for an LLM, Gemini, or ChatGPT to do without being fed custom data — these are the types of content that people will find most valuable on your site. By combining your local expertise with updated figures, data, and industry statistics, you can increase your content’s performance.

Leveraging Generative AI to Support Content Development

AI is a tool in your SEO arsenal that can help you scale. For example, when paired with good prompting, it’s great for generating topic ideas, subject lines, summaries, and multiple versions of original content. However, AI shouldn’t be used to solely write content — it still takes a human to edit and make content memorable, unique, and interesting enough for people to engage with.

Google has made it clear that they do not penalize AI-generated content — it is a misconception that the latter will not rank. Content does however need to be unique. Boring and stale content can be found everywhere, regardless of whether it’s written by AI or a human. If a piece of content offers no value, it will simply not perform well. By incorporating your brand voice and adding a local twist, you can create high-quality content that will get to the top of search rankings.

Hiring for SEO

Staffing for SEO requires a multifaceted approach. There is no one-size-fits-all solution. Getting started with SEO doesn’t require a lot of money or time, but you do have to begin somewhere. A good starting point is to leverage and share your own local expertise, especially with AI available to assist you in your content creation. It will also be easier to scale your content efforts once you can effectively communicate your brand voice in an AI prompt. 

Once you’ve got a decent base set, you might consider hiring an in-house SEO expert who is also knowledgeable of the real estate market. Consultants and third-party agencies can also help build out your SEO strategy if you’re looking to take it further.

The Case for Hiring Internally 

If you want high-quality content for your site, you need a local writer who understands the market. While this person could start off as a part-time contractor, you should look for someone who enjoys writing, knows how to craft AI prompts, can edit AI-generated content, and understands how to work with your data.

How to Hire External Support for SEO

Vendors can help you structure and set up your SEO content, as well as provide you with high-level ideas. If you hire an outside firm, you should ask your vendor the right questions to ensure they produce quality content:

  • How do they know the market?
  • Do they check Google Search Console regularly?
  • Are they looking at an analytics platform like Google Analytics?
  • How often do they review these tools?
  • Do they provide reports on how the content is performing?
  • Do they provide reports on how things rank on different pages of the Internet?
  • Are they looking at algorithmic changes?
  • How often do they update the structure and schemas of the website?

Knowing Your Competition

T360 provides T3 Fusion Website Rankings as a free service to the industry, so brokerage leaders can see how their site ranks against others. With more than 500 brokerage websites on this platform, brokerages can gain insights into why another site is performing better. A key part of this resource is Benchmetrics, which allows brokers to view their Google Analytics within the context of the industry, and see how their data compares to their competitors. This allows them to determine whether their tactics are working and to improve them if necessary.

Engagement Metrics

There have been a few notable SEO plays in real estate in the past. Being the first to gain a large share of the market organically, Zillow has done SEO better than most portals out there. Furthermore, Trulio was the first company to buy keywords aggressively and effectively secure them. Now, however, SEO is seeing a shift beyond keywords-based strategies towards strategies focused on enhancing user engagement.

Penalization of Keyword Stuffing

A key takeaway from the Google leak was about penalizing keyword overuse. An interesting note is that too many keywords in titles and metadata can be penalized. Google’s models have become sophisticated enough to penalize anything even slightly resembling keyword stuffing. Today, it’s more about providing users with actual value and unique content that answers their questions rather than relying on keywords.

Building Awareness Through Memorable Site Experiences

It is important to build interest and awareness for your brokerage, so that when consumers are ready to engage and need support, you are at the top of their minds. Google still cares whether people are spending time on your site and interacting with it. Brokers often lose sight of that piece. Creating an engaging user experience is crucial. People won’t return to sites that look and act like every other one. An ideal site experience is one that is memorable, easy to navigate, and allows users to find the information they are looking for.

Engagement As the Most Important Factor to Consider

Google’s documentation leak emphasized engagement over other factors that were previously thought to be important – and they still are, although to a lower degree than initially anticipated. So, from the perspective of a brokerage, engagement is the most important thing to consider. As confirmed by the leak, Google is looking at how long people stay on a page, how much they click, and how often the content is updated. Google wants to know that when users land on a certain page, they find value in it. 

Video Content Has High Value for Engagement

The leaked document also acknowledges that how content is generated and how people interact with it have changed. Videos, for example, may be more valuable than other content formats, as Google likes engaging content. The use of AI can once again help produce this type of content. For instance, video and image content generated by OpenAI and DALL-E 3 can be of very high quality. You’ll also be able to take your data set, feed it into their system, and request a 30-second video that explains how markets are doing.

Adapting to the evolving SEO landscape is crucial for success in the real estate industry. The recent Google documentation leak reveals that effective SEO now requires a deep focus on user intent, creating valuable and engaging content, and moving beyond keyword-centric strategies. By understanding these shifts and prioritizing user engagement through unique, locally informed insights and high-quality experiences, real estate professionals can enhance their online presence and drive sustainable growth.

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Thao Tram Ngo

June 12, 2024 | 15 minutes read