Last week Google announced its new Hummingbird algo update, putting lots of SEOs into doubts and concerns – what should this algo change mean to you and your website? To make sure you don’t get down into panic and plan your SEO strategy wisely, we’ve put up this short guide to explain what Hummingbird update is, how it affects your rankings and how to adapt your SEO strategy to benefit from the changes.
So, what do we know about Hummingbird?
Though announced on September 26 only, Hummingbird was in fact released a month before that and is said to affect 90% of search queries.
Unlike Penguin and Panda, Hummingbird is not a penalty-based update (aimed at cleaning the SERPs from low-quality content), but a change in the way Google reacts to different types of queries, which lets the search engine now get the actual meaning behind a query, rather than the separate terms in it.
Besides, the algorithm is called to better deal with conversational queries, considering the growing number of mobile search users and voice searchers.
So Hummingbird is all about Google being able to catch users’ actual search intent and find the content that matches this intent the best.
Now, more than ever, it is important to note that Google tracks your authority within your industry and will follow the trail of your footprints as you move around from place to place on the web. Then it will aggregate everything you do and put it all together. Your unique content will ultimately get ranked by the ‘authority’ that you, the author, has, and by the value that others deem relevant in your content. This means that an author who has been well ranked by Google will help to raise the profile of any website that they are associated with.
In fact, Authorship is more important than your website because Google is now grading and ranking authors more consistently than they arewebsites. However, the one thing that has not changed is the importance of quality content; this is how you will build your authority. This means that the old methods of link building will not be as important as the credibility of the content that you author.
The best way to showcase your authority within a specific niche or industry is by associating your personal or business profile and website to every relevant piece of content you’ve ever written. Google Authorship is an easy way to connect your content through your Google+ profile and benefit from that association. If your name is listed as the author of the content, you can associate it. You may also hear people calling Google Authorship markup as the ‘rel=author’ tag or “rel=publisher’ tag.
Rel=Author ties your personal Google+ profile to individual pieces of content found online. By claiming your content with Rel=Author, you will see your head shot show up in the search engine results pages when your content shows up. Here’s an example:
Rel=Publisher ties your business Google+ page to your website. By claiming your website content with Rel=Publisher, you will see your Google+ page summary in the search engine results pages when someone searches for your brand name. Here’s an example:
Using authorship helps searchers discover great information by highlighting content from authors who they might find interesting. If you’re an author, signing up for authorship will help users recognize content that you’ve written. Additionally, searchers can click the byline to see more articles you’ve authored or to follow you on Google+.
While there hasn’t been a comprehensive study on how much additional traffic a person can receive from a photo appearing in search, but by building up your authorship, blog posts and articles that you have written will get displayed in the search engine results pages along with your author bio photo, which can increase the click through rate of your listing by as much as 150%!
Google algorithms are constantly trying to discover the best content on the web created by true authorities on various subject matters. Brands and marketers can no longer fake their way into better search engine rankings. They have to deliver compelling content in many different forms, to the right customers, at the right stage of the buying cycle. And Google Authorship is one way to do just that.
VHT Studios’ founder and CEO, Brian Balduf, has been quite busy recently being interviewed, filmed, and providing information on the company’s newest service, Google Business Photos!
The new service is designed to help all types of retailers grow their customer base by letting Google’s millions of users ‘See Inside’ and get a preview. High-quality virtual tours allow consumers to compare different businesses on Google so they can zero in on the ones offering the types of experiences and merchandise that suit their needs.
Find out how else you can help your business ’Be Seen’ by watching Balduf”s recent interview with NBC 5 Chicago.
VHT Studios, the nationwide leader in real estate photography and digital marketing, recently announced today the launch of “See Inside Photography for Google.” The new service combines VHT Studios’ stunning photography and Google’s Street View virtual tour technology. It offers retail shops, restaurants, doctors’ offices, salons, gyms, and other small businesses throughout the Chicago area a powerful way to stand out on Google search results and attract more customers. And those in the business technology world are taking notice.
John Pletz of CRAIN’s Chicago said of VHT Studios’ Google Business Photos Launch:
The Rosemont-based company, which now calls itself VHT Studios, has built up an army of more than 150 professional photographers nationwide who work on contract.
Google is partnering with VHT as well as other photographers and agencies nationwide to get more pictures from inside local businesses as part of its StreetView product, which allows Google Maps users to see buildings as well as find their locations.
The effort, branded Google Business Photos, is part of the search-engine giant’s broader business of local search, in which location becomes a bigger part of electronic commerce. When someone searches for a local restaurant, for example, both a map and photos will show up.
VHT has launched the service, which it calls See Inside Photography, in Chicago but will expand to 20 cities over the next 12 months, CEO Brian Balduf says. The cost to provide pictures of products and the interior of a business, including a virtual walk-through, is $595.
“We shoot thousands of properties across the country every month,” Mr. Balduf says. “It’s what we already do, just a different market.”
He says it was always part of the plan for VHT to move into other markets. “We started with real estate because there are 5 to 10 million homes sold a year. Everything else is smaller.”
The company already shoots hotels for Orbitz Worldwide Inc., vacation rentals for HomeAway.com and funeral homes for Service Corp. International.
Mr. Balduf, who recently returned to the CEO role after Alex Zoghlin left to become head of global technology at Hyatt Hotels Corp., says the Google partnership could help VHT double its business in the next 12 to 24 months.
He declines to disclose VHT’s revenue, but its sales are thought to be more than $10 million. The company launched 15 years ago and raised about $6.5 million in venture capital, though it’s been self-funded for the past six years.
VHT has about 50 employees, but Mr. Balduf says it will be staffing up for the new business, which will be labor-intensive because it involves serving large numbers of small companies.
“This will double the photography network, so we’re aggressively recruiting,” he says. “And we’re expanding the marketing side.” He plans to recruit about 100 college students and recent graduates on contract for the product.
See the Crain’s article here.
Link building is all the craze this past couple of years. This year has proven no exception after Google launched the mysterious Disavow Tool.
What it is and what it does
Google’s Disavow tool was rolled out last October. Its purpose was simple: If you have done all that you can to clean up your link profile and there are still some unsavory websites in your link profile, linking to your site, Google’s Disavow Tool can help you clean them up. The tool lets you submit a list of links or entire domains for Google’s consideration in discrediting them from your link profile. Disavow will not remove the links, but it lets Google know you’d like the search engine algorithms to ignore them when it comes to your search ranking calculations.
Basically, you can ask Google to ignore links you do not control if you believe they could be harming your website’s rankings. But not so basically, you should know that this tool is not a cure all and you should proceed with caution if you plan to use it as a means of cleaning up your link profile.
Why Google Disavow
In the aftermath of Google’s Penguin 2.0 update, released May 22nd 2013, and websites being unable to discredit spam links, more attention is being paid to the link profiles of websites and blogs.
In the past, many SEO’s would boost the rankings of websites by building links on irrelevant sites, particularly by submitting their domain to web/link directories. When Google cracked down on irrelevant means of building your SEO, many sites that relied on these directories for rankings were hit hard and their rankings plummeted, negatively impacting the company’s search engine ranking position (SERP). Now many webmasters are trying to clean up the mess.
This is where the Google Disavow tool comes in. Google’s link disavow tool allows publishers to tell Google that they don’t want certain links from external sites to be considered as part of Google’s algorithms that calculate link trust, authority, and equity. Some sites want to do this because they’ve purchased links, a violation of Google’s policies, and may suffer a penalty if they can’t get the links removed. Other sites may want to remove links gained from participating in bad link networks or for other reasons.
As the Disavow Tool continues to grow in popularity with webmasters who were hit with Penguin 2.0 penalties, the real estate industry should take note, as it was one of the industries hit the hardest by Penguin 2.0. Penguin 1.0 focused solely on the link equity and external backlinks pointing to a website’s homepage. Penguin 2.0 looks at all sub-pages coming from a root domain or homepage and could potentially penalize a site accordingly. If your brokerage site has a sub-page for every agent and every listing in that agent’s inventory pointing back to the brokerage homepage there is a lot of potential for bad links to negatively impact the brokerage site as a whole. Especially if agents, admins, staff have bought in/purchased/taken part of any false claimed link building programs, that assert they will get their listings and their vanity sub-domains to the top of the search engine rankings. The disavow tool is just a way for brokerage webmasters to give Google a hint that they have done what they could to get rid of these tactics, and there are still some lingering sites that will not remove their links back to the brokerage domain.
Here are three major takeaways to understand about Google Disavow
1. The majority of websites will never need this tool
If you are the average website owner, you follow good guidelines or a simple mom-and-pop shop, there’s a good chance that you will not need this tool. This tool will only be used by those who participate in SEO efforts and have spammy link profiles that they would like to clean up or that are lingering from outdated SEO tactics.
2. Clean up as many links as possible directly with the website first
Google always recommends to work directly with the website to get all the spammy links taken down before using this tool. They suggest only using this tool as a last resort if you cannot get a hold of the website or cannot get it taken down.
3. Take your time, do research and be cautious when using this tool
You must really take your time to use this tool correctly, if you don’t, you may be doing more harm than good. Use Google webmaster and Open Site Explorer to download your inbound links and carefully research all the spammy links.
Use Google’s Disavow Links Tool the Right Way
Ultimately, Google’s Disavow Tool can be a powerful resource that complements Google’s recent link preference updates and offers sites options beyond spammy former practices. Used in moderation, this tool will shape the way in which websites develop and ideally help to usher in an age of integrity-rich link building strategies. Be proactive in managing your link profile.
But for truly successful SEO it is important to keep looking forward. If you continue to focus on generating good, organic content that people want to link to and share, future Google updates will have little effect on your website.
If you’re a small local business, having a Google+ Local profile is imperative to putting your brand – quite literally – on the map. A decade ago a basic website with a phone number and an e-mail address would get enough attention to generate new business.
Then, everything got local.
Instead of projecting a global presence, today’s best SEO targeting techniques encourage companies to dive deep into their neighborhoods. Prospects, especially in real estate, identify more closely with businesses who have established themselves as part of their communities. This is because real estate agents are relied on to be experts in their community, especially for those who are relocating to a new city. Agents need to know what each neighborhood can offer potential home buyers.
Google+ Local is a powerful tool for small businesses targeting local customers because it combines customer reviews and local search into one platform. Google Places was recently replaced with Google+ Local – a merging of Places and Plus that serves up your Google+ Local listing in Search and Maps results on mobile devices and traditional browsers.
Yet, many small businesses still aren’t sure how to take advantage of Google+ Local. How do you, as a small business owner, unlock the full potential of this tool?
Over the past few years, search engines have started automatically applying more localized filters to users search results. These localized filters are apparent by the search results that appear on the map to the right of the “google+ box” results, when executing a search. Listing and claiming your business properly with Google+ local is the most important step to improving your local search rankings.
Google+ Local needs some special attention to be effective. Google wants to provide searchers with the best results so focus on making your page as informative and appealing as possible. Pictures, custom business descriptions, and videos are just a few of the ways Google+ Local listings stand out from the others. For a good Google+ Local crash course, check out this article on Search Engine Watch.
Today’s best organic search engine optimization techniques require you to meet your neighbors. And everything you do, both online and off, can be leveraged for SEO. Are there any local events you can participate in/contribute to that will help with your local branding AND build a few links to your website? That coffee shop will improve its search rankings when it posts blog items about the pizza shop that moved in on the corner, or about the new bookstore up the street. A neighborhood with local businesses that link to each other create a rising tide that lifts all their boats. The more, the merrier!
When you live and work in a local area, social media is a fantastic way to connect with your community, especially when you have a claimed Google+ Local profile. Post updates about what is going on in your store, share other local events, have conversations with your customers and local leaders and more!
As a business owner, you should be harnessing the power of reviews. Executing a localized SEO strategy doesn’t necessarily mean devoting yourself to blogging about your neighborhood. The best testimonials about your business have always come from your customers. Today, your customers are writing about you online, whether you know it or not, and those reviews have an affect on your Google Local rankings. Embracing those conversations and inviting them onto your site and your Google + Pages can help your business maintain its commitment to serving existing customers while discovering new ones. Real customer reviews are essential for local SEO.
Furthermore, managers and owners who take the time to resolve complaints in public can earn repeat business by building trust online. In return, they can reap the benefits of comments, tweets, and blog posts attesting to the quality of their business—all of which factor into the latest search engine rankings.
To sum up, here are the key ways that will help you maximize the power of Google+ Local:
- Make sure you have a Google+ Business Page for entry into the Local space
- Once its claimed, merge your Business Page with your Google+ Local Page
- Update it with marked up business information + engaging content
- Build rank for your Google+ Local Page by optimizing the most important ranking factors (on-site/offsite factors, social media/mobile factors, reviews)
- Consistently publish value-charged content and engage with your online communities
Ultimately, when your customers live and work in a very specific community it’s important to go after that location in as many ways as possible with your SEO. The stronger presence you can build online and off the better success you’ll have over time.
Integration of VHT floor plans and photo services creates robust marketing package that sells more homes.
Chicago, IL – May 21, 2013 – VHT Inc., a leading provider of visual and digital marketing services, announced today that @properties, a leading Chicago-based real estate brokerage, has chosen its Professional Interactive Floor Plans Service to enhance its marketing of real estate listings.
VHT Studios’ Professional Interactive Floor Plans Service is integrated with its photography capabilities, providing real estate professionals with the same high quality, consistency and convenience they have come to expect from the nation’s leader in real estate imagery. Photographs and expert room measurements are taken on-site by VHT specialists in one easy appointment. Both photos and floor plans are delivered within 2-3 business days.
The combination of interactive floor plans and great photos creates the ultimate shopping experience for buyers and a robust marketing package that sells more homes.
“In today’s competitive marketplace, selling real estate is all about the visuals,” said Brian Balduf, VHT Chairman. “Having great photographs and videos of a property is critical in creating an emotional connection with potential buyers. But the addition of a professionally-drafted floor plan enhances a buyer’s viewing experience and helps them understand dimensional aspects of a home that aren’t apparent in the photos.”
“It’s almost irresponsible not to make floor plans available when it’s so easy to do with VHT’s new service,” said Thaddeus Wong, co-owner of @properties. “Properties can be equivalent in location, and number of bedrooms and bathrooms, but that doesn’t mean they’re all the same. You need to have a full grasp of how all the rooms relate to one another to help you determine a property’s value and if it fits a buyer’s needs.”
Wong said @properties is committed to providing interactive floor plans and high-resolution photos free of charge to sellers on all properties listed at $500,000 or higher, and will soon extend the service to those at $300,000 or higher.
“The majority of our listings will soon have floor plans included,” Wong said. “It’s crucial to give buyers as much information as possible.”
“The addition of interactive floor plans is yet another innovation by @properties that gives our agents and clients an advantage in a competitive marketplace,” said Erin Mandel, agent for @properties.
VHT Professional Interactive Floor Plans show all walls, partitions, doors, windows, staircases, columns, recesses, chimneys, major appliances, floor levels and room dimensions. Measurements are taken by experienced professionals.
VHT also offers a Floor Plan Reconstruction service to produce new floor plans from architectural blueprints that may be difficult for buyers to read and interpret.
‘Real Estate for Sale in (insert town name here)’ might be the Holy Grail of keywords in the real estate market, but is it really the right local keyword for you? To avoid competing with businesses that are outside of the country, state or even town, there is one appropriate strategy: focusing on hyper local SEO.
Local SEO has the ability to personalize a customer’s experience and blends the boundaries of the real world and the internet. Companies now have the power to release a message locally and get the information right to their target market. In fact, local SEO benefits businesses in ways that global SEO cannot.
Here are 5 ways to stand out using hyper local keywords and tactics.
1) Get specific, and then get more specific
‘Real Estate for Sale in X’ is a fine keyword, but it is incredibly broad, and with broad, all-encompassing keywords comes competition. When you work in a metropolitan area or in an area with a lot of competition, it pays to get hyper local with your SEO. For instance, let’s say you’re a real estate agent in Chicago, every other real estate agent and brokerage in Chicago is going to be focusing in on ‘Chicago’. Take it a step further and focus on the neighborhoods you serve, ‘homes for sale in Lincoln Park’ for example. If you’ve followed our past blog posts (‘Get Specific and Go Local’ and ‘Content is Key(word)’) we may sound like a broken record, but going hyper local with your keywords will help ensure the right customers are finding your website.
2) Be a recognizable face in your neighborhood
As a real estate agent or brokerage, it is important to show you are an expert in your local community. So get involved! Show that involvement on the neighborhood pages of your agent or brokerage website. Offer a list of the top things to do in your neighborhood. Give information about the shopping, the nightlife, the restaurants, the schools, etc. Creating pages on your site that give details about your marketplace, the surrounding shops and businesses and insights into the homes in the area, allows you to be in expert in ways that nobody from outside your marketplace could possibly do. Plus, when you write about community news and events, you naturally attract people who are fans of that community. Everything you do, both online and off, can be leveraged for SEO.
3) Get social
Along with showing your neighborhood expertise on your neighborhood pages and website, social media is a fantastic way to connect with your community. Social media and local SEO are interdependent. Social networking sites, like Facebook, often have geotag media, creating an optimization point for local SEO. This gives credibility to a business and solidifies its location within search engine listings.
Furthermore, post photos of new listings, photos of happy new home owners, share local events, links to blog posts, neighborhood trivia, and your pets – whatever! Just start posting and sharing. Social signals are becoming increasingly important for SEO so the more times your content is shared on social sites the more valuable it becomes to the search engines.
4) Utilize Google Applications
The data you input in your Google+ profile, the connections you make, the interactions you have and the posts you make are all part of an increasingly visible digital footprint that begins to define ‘you’ as an entity in Google’s search. Google is starting to view this information as humans see it, which means that you are likely to have a more targeted audience in Google search than ever before. And the key here is relevance. This is because in most cases Google can see the general location of a searcher, or the location he or she is searching for. When localization is in play for your area, Google will boost your search result even more for in-network users, and more importantly for mobile search.
For example, the listing of a condo for sale in Chicago posted on Facebook may get a little bit of interaction with some of those who see it, it may get re-shared a few times, a few comments might be posted, but its chances of finding a buyer are slim and the post will get buried in the stream of new content within a couple of hours or so. The chances then of the right person seeing it, at the right time, with the right mindset, are so slim that they hardly do justice to the effort involved in posting it. Posting on Google+ is a whole different, and better, ballgame. The data is indexed by Google. The search engine notes that the listing is for a condo in Chicago. Google will move your listing to the top of the search when it’s relevant to the search query.
Quick tip: It is important to just get your presence felt through these Google+ pages and Google Local. The way to start going about this is creating profiles for all of your offices and be sure to completely fill out those profiles. Incorporating photos, video, address, local phone number, business hours, etc, will help your local search results. Correlation studies show that Google takes “profile completion percentage” into account when ranking Google pages.
5) Be Authentic
Aside from attracting local search traffic, local SEO has a few other key advantages. The first advantage is that a website that has had the proper local optimization treatment done to it will be viewed as being more authentic by big search engines like Google. The second benefit is that local search engine optimization has the ability to bring authenticity, mobile users and an audience of people who are more likely to purchase products or services directly to a website. The last feature that local search engine optimization carries with it involves the ability to bring in users who are more likely to be customers.
These are just five ways to get hyper local with your SEO. When your customers live and work in a very specific community it is important to go after that location in as many ways as possible with your SEO. The stronger presence you can build online and off the better success you’ll have over time. Today, local search traffic is something that the real estate industry can’t afford to ignore.
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…
1. “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.
2. “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.
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.