Search engine optimization is the process of maximizing the number of visitors to your website by ensuring that your website appears high on the list of results returned by a search engine. While Google and other search engines aren’t super forthcoming with how exactly their algorithms work, they do publish information that gives us clues. There are also really good third-party resources like Moz, Search Engine Land, and others that you can use to understand what factors Google uses to determine search engine ranking and how Google’s algorithm changes will impact your website’s organic search ranking.

Top Search Engine Ranking Factors

The top factors influencing how often your website appears on the search engine results page (SERP) in non-ad, or organic, placements, include:

  • Security and accessibility (SSL, robots.txt, sitemap.xml)
  • Page speed (and mobile page speed, in particular)
  • Mobile responsiveness (mobile-first indexing, no different mobile version of your website)
  • Domain age, URL, and authority 
  • Optimized content (on average, the top five results have between 2,300-2,500 characters so the current trend is toward longer form)
  • Technical SEO (keywords, meta data, headers, schema, image optimization, and alt tags; websites should be built not only for people, but also for search engines)
  • User experience (especially click-through rate, or CTR, and bounce rate)
  • Quality and relevant links
  • Social signals
  • Local SEO

Which Factors Matter Most?

SEO is often a catch all for user experience. There are some ranking factors that matter more than others. Search engine ranking factors, in particular, can be bucketed into three groups:

  1. Usability – how easy is it for people and search engines to find what they want on your website.
  2. Popularity – how many people use, stay on, and link to your website and how has that grown (or not) over time.
  3. Relevance – how closely does your website content match what someone just searched for and the intent behind it (i.e. what Google thinks the user is looking for).

All three of these buckets are important and where you focus depends on what you’ve done so far and how your website currently performs. Today, Google crawls most sites via mobile, so you absolutely have to make sure you are providing an ideal mobile experience. Ensuring your website loads quickly, is secure (https), looks good on all devices, and is easy to move around in are key. Your mobile navigation should be simple and clear, you should limit heavy content like a ton of photos and videos and focus on what’s most relevant to the user (creating well-optimized targeted landing pages is key for this), and your phone number should be prominent throughout the site as many people who find your website on mobile will end up calling you as opposed to filling out long forms.

Under the popularity bucket, work on your backlink strategy and user experience. Building out quality and relevant links sends signals to Google that your site and individual pages on your website are trusted. User experience is also key. If your website attracts a lot of people who leave right away, you’ll lose search engine ranking or never gain it in the first place. Use tools like Google Search Console, Google Analytics, ahrefs, Screaming Frog, and others to measure how people are finding your website and what they do once they get there. Make sure your user experience is sticky, meaning people stay on site and click into more content, and focus on developing your website content and your linking strategy to ensure your “money pages” or the pages that people like most are prominently featured and link to other high-quality relevant content your users will like.

Finally, relevance is all about metadata optimization and content creation. In order to be seen as an authority, you actually have to be an authority. Focus on creating high quality, unique content and making sure each page’s metadata, including title tags, meta descriptions, URLs, headers, and more, sends the right signals to Google. For search engines to discover all of the amazing content you’ve created and easily know what it’s about, you need the behind-the-scenes website data and HTML (your website’s “code”) to match the content the users see when they look at your website. Google won’t index content unless it’s “useful, unique, compelling, or high-quality”. Google literally won’t look at your website unless it thinks it’s a quality website. And you also have to optimize your website content so that your most valuable content, and as much of it as possible, gets indexed by Google every time your website is crawled. That’s where metadata, schema, and the way your website is tagged, described, and structured becomes incredibly important. It’s one thing for Google to think you have a quality website, it’s another for Google to identify topics on which your site is an authority. You want both and that’s where technical SEO comes in.

What is Technical SEO?

Technical SEO refers to website and server optimizations that help search engines crawl and index your site more effectively to help improve organic rankings. It’s SEO work that’s done aside from content creation and user experience optimization. It’s laying a strong foundation to give your content the best chance it can have to rank for relevant keywords and phrases. Think of this like the engine under the hood. If the engine is dirty, old or has a leak, the car isn’t going to run the best that it can. 

Why is technical SEO important?

Put simply, technical SEO determines how easy it is for Google to know that your site exists and for which searches your site is most relevant.

Google makes an average of nine algorithm updates every day. Compared to a decade ago, this is 9x more (in 2009, Google made an average of one change per day). Google also continues to release core updates, or major changes to how its algorithms work, every couple of months. So, technical SEO is much more than building a well optimized site. It’s continuously tweaking and updating your site to make it easy, and keep it easy for Google to find and understand.

What are the key parts of technical SEO?

Just like a car, technical SEO involves everything that’s under the hood of your website. We have a 26 part technical SEO audit that we run on sites and a three part scoring system that gauges your overall SEO health score, best practices score, and performance score.

How Important is Ranking Number One?

The other thing that typically comes to mind when people think of SEO is how to rank number one for your most important searches. In fact, it is important to focus on increasing your overall organic search share of voice, which means the number of times your website appears in search results, excluding any ads. And it’s as important to increase your average position, or where on the page, and on which page, your website appears. Most users do not get past the first page of Google’s search results. 75% of people stay on page one. And position does impact performance, though you can see tremendous success with a targeted, page one search engine optimization strategy that gets you seen for your most important searches in a prominent way, even if you’re not in the number one position. That said, we’ve put together some tips on how to achieve top search engine placement, whether that’s page one or position one, and ensure you beat the competition for the searches that matter most.

Optimize for More Search Engines than Google

Often, people only think of Google when they think of optimizing their website for search engines, but there are actually other search engines you should keep in mind when working to ensure your website, and its content, can be easily found and read. These include YouTube, the second largest search engine, Amazon, and Facebook, as well as more “traditional” search engines like Microsoft Bing and Baidu, which each have about 13% of overall global market share and cater to a different, and equally important audience, as Google. Bing, for example, is more common among older users and higher net worth users. The mistake many make is only focusing on Google, as opposed to optimizing, testing, measuring, and optimizing again for other search engines that you can leverage to attract high quality traffic and potential leads to your website.

How to Rank on Page One of Google

Now that we’ve broken down the key components of search engine optimization for real estate and shown why ranking on page one is so important, how do you actually get top search engine placement? Where do you start?

The answer to this depends on how your website, and overall digital marketing strategy, are setup and performing currently. Our team are experts at auditing real estate websites and advising on the most effective digital marketing strategy for real estate, so feel free to contact us to receive tailored recommendations for you. They’ll likely include a focus on the three areas of SEO: usability, popularity, and relevance. We’ll look at how often you’re appearing in search engine results today, for which keywords, and discuss your goals. Most importantly, we’ll look under the hood, and that’s something you can do too. Make sure your website is secure, loads quickly (tools exist like Google’s Page Speed Insights and GT Metrix), is easy to navigate, and has clear, compelling content that easily lets a user know what you do and how you help them. Contact our team today to learn more about getting your website top search engine ranking for the real estate terms that matter most.