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Apr 19 / Nick Teel

MythBusters on Virtual Tour Providers!


You may currently have a web vendor promising you maximum SEO benefits. That they will get certain landing pages to show up high on search engine results pages, that certain key phrases will guarantee lead generation or you may even be promised a silver bullet solution for SEO. But do you really know if your site and your virtual tours are really getting the most exposure they can in the Real Estate Industry?

The online market for real estate is a completely different beast compared to any other industry.

Could it be the fact that everyone is in the same field, looking for the same clients/consumers, who are searching for the same keywords? Or is it the fact that real estate is the single largest visual competition in the online world. A brokerage’ website success simply comes down to how visually appealing, literally and figuratively, it is to consumers, and thus to the search engines. That appearance extends through all of the marketing tools that brokerages use and none have greater effect on on the visual extension of your brand than that of virtual tours. But if what your virtual tour provider is promising you in terms of SEO sounds too good to be true, it probably is.

Below, VHT debunks common myths that you may have heard from your Virtual Tour Providers.

Have you been told

“Video Syndication is a Backlinking Goldmine”

Issue – Many video sites automatically set a nofollow attribute on any external links within their video pages.  What this means is that search engines do not transfer PageRank or the SEO link markers from the video to the receiving website.  They simply do not follow the link to the website.

Truth – Linkbuilding is now, more than ever, one of the single most important factors to your SEO success. The only difference is you need to be getting a variety of high authoritative sites pointing inbound links to your site. The numbers of links is not as important as where they are coming from.  If your virtual tour provider or web vendor promises you backlinks, make sure you take the time to investigate where these links are coming from.  If they are telling you YouTube is the silver bullet…Look elsewhere my friends.  Be sure to have your virtual tour providers explain their link profile and how they can help build on yours.

“Your Virtual Tour is SEO optimized”

This is often a myth for several very big reasons.

  • Hosting a Virtual Tour on your Subdomain creates a duplicate page on your site

Issue –Duplicate content is a major SEO no-no. Most virtual tours are created using mere copies of the content that a brokerage has on their property details page. This is not actually original content, and it may even be flagged as duplicate content by search engine algorithms and, ultimately, have a negative effect on your site.

Truth – By hosting duplicate content on a subdomain, virtual tour companies are just creating a bigger mess than they probably bargained for and can actually cause penalties for the brokerage site.

  • You are, in essence, creating a competitive arena from your own visual content

Issue – The virtual tour provider is essentially creating a competitive environment between your main property pages, your agent property pages (if you have them) and their tours, hosted on your domain. This can have a major affect on the page authority of your properties, because you are splitting them between several versions of the same content.

The more pages you have, the more spread out your link web is, thus having people linking to multiple versions of your property pages squanders the authority a canonical version of your property information should have.

Truth – Canonical links give authority to one version of a page, but passes on the link value and the content value of the aforementioned duplicate page. A virtual tour should be used as an extension of your property pages,  not take away the authority the original pages should have. By Setting a canonical suggestive (Rel=”canonical” on your Virtual tour pages), the authority passes through from wherever you syndicate out to.   Setting a preferred version of this content will help avoid duplicate content issues and pass the SEO benefit back to the brokerage site, where it should be.

  • Virtual Tour Companies often sacrifice SEO value by hiding the valuable content behind Flash and Ajax

Issue – To this day, search engines do not crawl Ajax or Flash; therefore any content within/hidden behind those implementations are not crawled by search engines. The broker reaps none of the SEO benefit that a virtual tour can provide if that virtual tour is primarily made from Flash.seo_magnify

Truth – If your virtual tours are being created with Flash and Ajax your on-page information is not even seen. Likely, search engine crawlers are not even finding your tour and that means you are missing out on valuable leads or referrals from these page extensions.  Many Virtual Tour companies have no idea the affect that certain programming languages can have on how search engines see their content. You need to really make the provider knows what they are talking about!

  • Rich media is not optimized well for search engines, namely photos and videos.

Issue Plain and simple, in most cases your visual assets are not being optimized for SEO.  Many virtual tour providers and web vendors miss the boat on optimizing your rich media and fail to get this valuable content noticed.  There seems to be a lack of focus on optimizing your visual assets, in a world where visual assets are your key marketing tool.

Truth– Educate yourself and ask your virtual tour provider to educate you about the rich media and html language that will make your content SEO friendly. Many rich media elements influence your search engine results position including the image name, alt attributes and image size.  Best practice of image optimization is surprisingly positively correlated with good rankings. It also helps considerably with image search, a popular and oft-employed vertical/universal search system.

  • “Virtual Tours will provide substantial increases in lead generation via Search engines.”

Issue – If the page is not SEO Optimized then it most likely is not found or even indexed on the search engines. If this is the case, that virtual tour provider is just blowing smoke, because leads cannot come from search engines if the search engines will not even index the tours.

Truth – Don’t miss out on the low hanging fruit because customers cannot find your tour or there is no mechanism that drives traffic. Work internally to create an online lead team that all information is funneled through or more importantly,  Make sure there are clear calls to action on your virtual tour that get traffic back to your brokerage website. And, of course, make sure the tours themselves are being optimized.

The biggest Myth of all is that virtual tours are a silver bullet solution for your website’s SEO.

Virtual tours should be a websites way of extending their reach to various avenues, to help generate traffic back to their site. To get a response you must capture a consumer’s attention with visuals, but if you’re not optimizing your virtual tours and visuals for SEO, if your web vendor is getting credit and seen as the authority of your content, then you’re losing the battle, and eventually the War.

Having an aesthetically pleasing virtual tour doesn’t get you anywhere if you can’t be seen by consumers or by search engines. Real estate is all about being seen. Don’t let your virtual tour provider ruin that because of false promises about how SEO friendly their solution is.