Location, location, location. Its importance in real estate is easily matched by the weight it carries in search engine results.
Just ask the folks at Santa Fe Properties. Last year, a home shopper typing "Santa Fe" and "house" into Google would have found the company on the first page of results. But on Nov. 15, Google changed its ranking algorithm, banishing Santa Fe's listing to page nine -- the Internet equivalent of nowhere. Site visits fell by about 350 visitors a day, or one-third of the typical traffic. And most of those were first-time visitors, says Candy Brenton, Santa Fe's marketing director.
Typically, search engines troll databases of listings, then use an algorithm to rank results. But those algorithms are shrouded in mystery, leaving business owners trying to improve their rank without much to go on.
But there are several ways to improve your chances of a first-page listing. You can make your site as search-engine-friendly as possible, either on your own or with a consultant. You can bid for ad space (often called a sponsored link), paying a fee every time your link is clicked. Yahoo! has a third option, called Site Match. This guarantees that your site and any updates appear promptly in the results page, but it doesn't promise any particular rank. You pay for inclusion, plus a fee when your ad is clicked.
To make your site more search engine-compatible, start by choosing the right keywords for your header. Those words should appear frequently on your site, says Serge Thibodeau, president of Rank for Sales, a Boisbriand (Quebec) search engine optimization consultant. If you have more than one business line, Thibodeau suggests creating separate sites. A focused site will come up higher in the rankings than a larger one that appears to contain mostly unrelated material.
THEY CLICK, YOU PAY
The two main sponsored-link programs are Google's AdWords and Yahoo's Overture, also used by search engines such as AltaVista and MSN. They're useful for advertising time-sensitive events, says Bart Wilson, founder of Santa Fe marketing firm Voyager 360, because keyword changes can take months to appear in the databases that feed the results pages. The price changes constantly and varies widely, with bidders typically offering to pay from 10 cents to $70 each time their link is clicked. Keywords relating to real estate and Web hosting are among the most expensive.
Yahoo's Site Match is a hybrid. Site Match guarantees inclusion and that updates to your site will appear within 48 hours. You'll pay 15 cents or 30 cents each time someone clicks your link. Small businesses pay an annual fee of $49 for the first URL registered, $29 apiece for the second through 10th, and $10 for additional ones, up to 999.
Santa Fe Properties used AdWords for about six weeks for roughly $3,000, while its site was overhauled. Was the revamp worth it? Type in "Santa Fe" and "house," and decide for yourself.
By Lauren Coleman Lochner