Declines in Google Traffic For Some Web Sites
I'm starting to think that google doesn't like some or our web sites due to the quantity of real estate listings on the sites that are outside the area the client works in. These less relevant listings have a higher bounce rate and can't be optimized as well since we don't write pages about them or have any relevant links to them.
Google algorithm changes that may have hurt us
Between March and June 2012, I think Google may have made some changes that seems to effect the way we have been going about optimizing real estate web sites. The change in traffic for some clients is quite large. They are now receiving less the half as much google traffic compared to the same period the previous year. This makes me question if we are able to do it the same anymore and perhaps it costs more to do things at the right quality now.
Many articles out there refer to "webspam", "penguin" and "panda" google updates because google has called it that in their public blogs. Google has programmers who wake up on a daily basis with the goal of figuring out how to stop low quality sites from succeeding and to focus on meaningful sites that people like.
The significant drop in traffic for some of our sites is not normal or seasonal this time. It's not due to me breaking something or making mistakes. We have some sites that are doing better then ever and technically the sites are faster and easier to use now. Google has made policy changes to combat spam that conflict with the way everyone used to do things. You can find more information by looking for "google webspam updates" on google, click here. I think this is impacting some of our older clients more because we had done the old methods of link building, cheaper copywriting and had made fewer changes to their sites recently.
Realtors aren't very popular online
Often times real estate web sites are in this low quality bracket because they are having to compete with big national sites who do many things better because they have millions of dollars to spend. No one really cares about individual realtors which makes it hard to rank well in the ways google recommends. No one is going to write about you or link to you because they like you. This makes it quite difficult to compete as a realtor. Realtors can only hope to not fall in google's definition of spam with their web site.
Everyone needs to narrow their farm area
I have had the feature which allows removal of the mls listings and/or mls search form options for over a year. I think using this feature is an excellent and cheap way to address some of the problems right now.
Thinking you can sell a miami condo with a web site about daytona beach or a tampa condo with a web site about the lake mary area is probably impossible from a google search point of view. Some of our web sites are setup like that right now with listings in areas that are too far away. Just because you are a member of that association doesn't mean you have to show everything in the database. There are too many sites for you to be able to compete with a realtor out of your area. Even if you occasionally do sell out of town, you need to think about the lost business that is happening right now by trying to target too many things with the web site.
I think it is more important then ever for a web site to choose what it is about and stick with that narrow subject so that it does it well.
I don't see any advantage for having a higher number of pages indexed in Google when those pages aren't improving your traffic statistics. It seemed to be helping at first last year, but it seems that now that google stores everyone's entire site so getting indexed takes no effort at all. Google has chosen to combat spam more aggressively by punishing sites that are more manipulative and "spammy". Over time, any kind of cheap automation becomes completely ineffective with google as they make progress with their goals.
Perhaps there is a threshold related to relevance or bounce rate, where some of our clients have just slipped outside of the "safe zone". I believe a bounce rate of 60% or higher is unsustainable and your rankings will decline for that topic eventually. If you have a bounce rate under 50%, it is more likely to be helping your site stay relevant for that subject. The best bounce rates I've seen are around 30%. That means 3 out of 10 people leave the site without clicking on anything. Some of our clients do have a bounce rate between 50% and 70% for some topics and this is surely causing a negative impact on their business.
Now is the time to make changes
If your web site has already lost most of its traffic, you should consider changing strategy. The recommendation is to remove the irrelevant parts which have a higher bounce rate and continue to focus on the area in which you are willing to drive to and sell real estate in on a daily basis. If you want an office more then 30 miles away someday, you should make a separate web site for it.
I'm not going to remove listings from our clients web sites without permission because it could still have unpredictable changes in their business, but it is my recommendation that they remove around 80% of the listings that are able to be searched on their web sites now. The recommendation is based on knowing that some other clients that already do this are performing better on all the metrics that matter including conversion rate, time on site, bounce rate and total traffic.
Google is crawling our web sites non-stop all day. 70% of the server traffic is google downloading about 6 mls listings per second from all the sites. I think google is spending way too much time grabbing these listings and it doesn't seem to be helping. It might only be causing some of the sites to be marked as duplicates of each other. When that happens, google has to pick the web site it likes more. I'm tempted to enforce a change across every web site that removes all listings beyond a 30 mile radius of the broker's office location. My theory is that this would cut down on the bounce rate, traffic decline and waste of system resources by a huge amount.
Do MLS listings even help on google?
If you wanted to try something really new and radical to change the situation, it might be to change the web site to have none of the MLS listings able to be indexed in google. That way your entire site would be 100% unique. Some of our older clients have a few hundred pages of content that could potentially stand on their own against the competition just fine. I plan on building new sites that use my new recommendations. If existing clients don't take new risks and experiment with new approaches, they will surely fall behind even further.
I'm working on upgrades constantly
I'm doing a great deal to improve the search interface. I'm adding mobile/tablet features. Faster performance. Easier to use. More secure. Better email handling. Adding documentation for the manager.
In the last 3 months, I have announced many new features on my company blog:
- Image cropping improved for all our web sites
- Our system now supports animated instant content loading via Ajax
- SPDY Protocol & Other Apache Upgrades
- Now using smart cards for login, email security and server administration
- Video upload & resizing feature now built-in and it's iOS (iphone/ipad) comptiable
- Our web applications now route email through SendGrid.com
The search results interface was updated to support multiple listing layouts. It works better with tablets & phones now because I have a kindle fire tablet, ipod touch and android phone I test it on.
I'm getting closer to having an entire new mls search system available which loads instantly, works well on any size device and has a better search form layout. Here is an early technical preview of it:
There are plans to make the navigation of communities & condos easier eventually so people can compare and browse the area if they are unfamiliar with it.
You need to stay in touch to stay relevant
I'm trying to guarantee our clients can't find a better real estate web site somewhere else. I still need clients to participate with getting their sites customized and optimized every so often. Some of the new features will cost a small amount extra or require customization to work for your web site. If a client has not had a budget with us for a long time, I may not be in touch with them as much, so they make not get all the latest features. If you care about improving your web site, please make an effort to keep us working on your behalf and maintain a budget with us so we can continue to work towards your goals.
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