Outdo the competition with this ultimate SEO guide


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It’s Marketing and Branding Month here at Inman. As we enter a competitive spring selling season, let’s examine which tried-and-true tactics and cutting-edge innovations are getting deals done in today’s market. We’ll also be recognizing the industry’s marketing and branding leaders with Inman’s Marketing All-Star Awards.

What is search engine optimization (SEO)? It’s the process of improving your website’s visibility in search engine results pages (SERPs). In simpler terms, it’s about making your website easier for people to find through search engines like Google. 

There are 5.9 billion searches per minute on Google. It’s staggering to think about. But here’s the beauty: searchers are expressing commercial intent. They’re actively looking for services like yours.  Good SEO practices will position your website to capture this high-value traffic, putting you directly in front of buyers and sellers who are expressing interest.

Search engines like Google are complex and hard to understand. They constantly update their algorithms to deliver the most relevant results. What worked yesterday might not work today. That’s why I’ve created this guide, to equip you with proven strategies that go beyond temporary tactics and focus on long-term SEO success.

While various search engines exist, Google reigns supreme with almost 90 percent of all search traffic on the internet. 

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The good news? Optimizing for Google often translates to good results in other search engines as well. Let’s look at how Google ranks websites. While the algorithm is complex, here are three important aspects of your website that I will cover in this guide: 

  1. Craft informative and engaging pages. High-quality content isn’t just about keywords; it’s about providing genuine value to your audience. Answer their questions comprehensively, offer unique insights and establish yourself as the go-to expert in your field.
  2. Optimize website navigation for visitors and search engines. A well-structured site helps both human visitors and search engine crawlers understand the layout and importance of your content. Clear navigation, logical categories and internal linking make your website a breeze to explore.
  3. Check under your website hood: Optimize your website for speed, mobile-friendliness and a seamless experience. It’s the key to satisfied visitors and better search rankings.

Don’t worry, this guide won’t turn you into an algorithm decoder. My focus is on practical strategies you can implement to get your website ranking on Google and to attract more qualified leads. Let’s get started. 

Target the right audience with relevant content

I’ve talked about audience segmentation in several Inman articles recently. It’s the practice of dividing your broad target audience into smaller, more specific personas with shared characteristics and interests. 

Think of it like segmenting a fruit bowl — oranges go with oranges, apples with apples. By understanding these personas, you can tailor your content to resonate directly with each group, maximizing engagement and conversions.

You can read my story on personas and download the four personas I’ve already created for you here. Those personas are the first-time homebuyer, the move-up home seller/buyer, the luxury seller/buyer, and the empty nester seller/buyer. 

Here’s why audience segmentation is crucial for your SEO strategy:

  1. Increased engagement and conversions: When content speaks directly to a user’s needs and interests, they’re more likely to stay engaged, read further and, ultimately, convert into a lead or customer.
  2. Improved brand relevancy and trust: Segmentation allows you to showcase your expertise in specific areas, positioning yourself as a trusted resource for your target audience.
  3. Efficient use of resources: By focusing your content creation efforts on well-defined audience segments, you avoid wasting resources on generic content that might appeal to no one in particular.

Website structure: The roadmap to an SEO-friendly website

Google likes a website that is easy to use and navigate. Why? Happy users, happy search engine. A clear structure keeps users happy by allowing them to find what they need quickly. This positive user experience is a ranking factor for search engines like Google.

Additionally, search engine crawlers use automated programs (spiders) to crawl your website and understand its content. A well-structured website makes it easier for these spiders to find and index all your pages.

Imagine a library — a well-organized one, where books are neatly categorized and easy to find.  That’s exactly what website structure is all about. It’s the blueprint for organizing your website’s content, ensuring both users and search engines can navigate it with ease.

So, how do you begin? Begin by outlining the foundational structure of your website. Start with essential pages such as a homepage, search page, services page, areas, blog, etc. From there, you can further expand each of these primary pages by including relevant subpages to provide comprehensive information and enhance user experience.  

Here is an example of a great website structure for a real estate agent or broker:  

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You can see that under SERVICES, there should be a page for each of your personas. You can add more personas, I just picked four of the most common real estate personas. Under AREAS, create a page for each of your top neighborhoods. You could add as many of your top neighborhoods here as you’d like.

Here are a few more tips for creating the perfect website structure:

  1. Declutter for clarity: Avoid overwhelming visitors with too many menu buttons/links. Aim for a maximum of seven main menu items. This ensures a clean look and makes it easier for users to find what they’re looking for quickly.  
  2. Descriptive titles are key: Don’t leave your visitors guessing. Use clear and descriptive menu titles that accurately reflect the content on each page. Bonus points if you can naturally integrate relevant keywords users might search for. This helps visitors find the information they need faster and contributes to your SEO efforts.
  3. Prime placement for power pages: Just like the juiciest steak is prominently displayed on a restaurant menu, prioritize your most important website pages within your menu. Place the links to these essential pages at the forefront, making them easily accessible to visitors. 

Content clusters: What they are and why you need them

The site structure above is perfect for creating content clusters. But before I get into that, let’s look at what a content cluster is. Imagine a library — overflowing bookshelves with countless titles. Finding what you need can be overwhelming. 

Wouldn’t it be easier if related books were grouped together? This is the core idea behind content clusters, a powerful SEO strategy for establishing your website as a trusted authority in your topic cluster.

Every content cluster starts with a pillar page. The pillar page links to the cluster pages, and reciprocally, topic cluster pages link back to the pillar page. This creates an interconnected content ecosystem that offers significant value to readers and convincingly signals to Google your authority on the subject.

In the above website structure, there are eight pillar pages, one for each persona and one for each neighborhood. In a content cluster, each pillar page has multiple cluster pages linked to it. You can embed content as well.

Here’s a diagram of a potential topic cluster for first-time homebuyers: 

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Creating a pillar page can seem daunting, but these tips can help simplify the process:

  • Within the body: Throughout your pillar page content, identify opportunities to naturally insert links to your relevant cluster pages. This could be when explaining specific aspects of the main topic or providing additional resources.
  • Call to action sections: Include dedicated sections with calls to action (CTAs) that direct readers to delve deeper into specific subtopics. These CTAs can be linked to relevant cluster pages. For the pillar page diagrammed above, the CTA could be “Download Your First Time Homebuyers Guide Now” and the link would go to the cluster page blog post on that topic.
  • Resource lists: Create a curated list of resources at the end of your pillar page. This is a great place to showcase all your cluster pages related to the main topic.
  • Navigation integration: Depending on your website structure, consider incorporating a sub-navigation menu within the pillar page itself. This menu can provide quick access to all the cluster pages within the topic cluster.

Clustered content will help you portray yourself as an authority in your field as you provide a variety of valuable content on a given topic. The most important thing to remember is to create a loop by linking the content back and forth:

  1. The pillar page must contain links to the cluster content that is relevant to the pillar page content. 
  2. The cluster content could live on your blog, on your YouTube Channel, or anywhere else you host content. Each piece of cluster content should include a CTA that links back to your pillar page. “For more information about first-time homebuying, click here.” Add a link to the CTA that goes to your first-time homebuyer pillar page. 

Optimizing page performance: The impact of speed and mobile compatibility

Here’s a wake-up call from Google: A 1-second delay in loading time can increase your bounce rate (visitors leaving) by a whopping 32 percent. That’s a significant chunk of potential clients lost before they even see your website. Why are page speed and mobile compatibility important for SEO?

  • More searches happen on mobile: Over 60 percent of all property searches originate on smartphones. If your website isn’t mobile-friendly, you’re missing out on a huge chunk of potential clients.
  • Google loves mobile-first: Google now prioritizes the mobile version of your website when determining its ranking. If your site isn’t optimized, your desktop efforts won’t matter much.

Don’t assume that just because your website loads quickly on your own device that everyone has the same experience. It’s essential to test your site’s speed from a user’s perspective.

An easy way to do this is with Google’s free PageSpeed Insights Tool. This tool will give you a list of things you can do to improve your site’s load speed. Some may be more complex than others, but here are a couple of the easier, more common page load issues that you can address: 

  1. Optimize image sizes: Large images can significantly slow down your website. try cropping images before uploading them. This reduces each page’s overall size, improving speed. When choosing file formats, go for PNG or JPEG. PNG keeps images crisp but can be larger. It’s great for detailed graphics. JPEGs are smaller but lose some detail. They’re ideal for pages with lots of photos. A site that I love to use for compressing images is Squoosh. Squoosh is owned by Google, is easy to use and best of all, it’s free. 
  2. Minimize plugin usage: While plugins add functionality to your website, too many can bog down performance. Having numerous plugins on your site can lead to slow loading times and potential security risks. Regularly review and remove unnecessary plugins, especially those that consume a lot of resources or are no longer in use. 

The best way to ace mobile SEO is with responsive design. This approach ensures your website automatically adjusts its layout and presentation to fit any screen size, providing a seamless experience on every device.  

With responsive design, you won’t have to create and maintain separate mobile and desktop versions of your website, saving you time and effort. Plus, responsive design simplifies link sharing and reduces the risk of technical errors that can hurt your mobile experience. 

Importantly, responsive websites should load faster, keeping potential buyers engaged and on your site. Here are additional tips for making your website mobile-friendly:

  1. Pop-ups are a no-no: Avoid pop-ups on mobile; they cause frustration and are hard to close on small screens.
  2. Make buttons thumb-friendly: Enlarge buttons and place them strategically where they can be easily reached with a thumb.
  3. Font size and clarity are key: Use a font size of at least 14 pixels on mobile and test for readability. Avoid fancy fonts that might be hard to read on small screens. Emphasize with bold formatting, not just different colors.
  4. Keep your design clean: Prioritize the most important calls to action on mobile. Maintain a simple navigation structure — consider the “hamburger” menu for space saving. Utilize whitespace for visual clarity.
  5. Test, test, test: Regularly check your website on both Android and iOS devices to ensure a seamless mobile experience. Additionally, try a free tool like MobiReady to test your site. 

SEO might feel overwhelming at first, but remember — every step you take improves your website’s visibility. Start with the fundamentals we’ve covered: craft compelling content, streamline your navigation and get those technical details dialed in. These actions lay the groundwork for attracting more qualified leads and boosting your online presence.

In part two of this guide, I’ll delve into additional tactics like building backlinks and mastering on-page SEO, giving you even more tools to outshine the competition.  

Marci James is the founder of Be Inspired Digital. Connect with Marci on Linkedin and Instagram.





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