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7 minute read

Our industry’s relationship with online property portals stems way back to 1995 when a little website called realestate.com.au came along.

It wasn’t pretty at the time (check out the image below) and comments echoed the halls of conferences and office meetings to the effect of “this internet thing will never take off”. We all know the rest of the story.

Feeling nostalgic? realestate.com.au in the year 2000…

Online property portals have always wanted, and will continue to want, the same thing – more traffic. In the olden days of property portals, the bulk of their traffic was from us – telling our clients to go there. But interestingly, a significant feeder of traffic to online property portals today is Google, sitting a close second to people who go to the portal directly (not taking into account app traffic).

Similarweb.com reports that 37.51% of realestate.com.au’s traffic and 41.33% of domain.com.au’s traffic comes from someone searching Google first and ending up on realestate.com.au or domain.com.au second.

Source: https://www.similarweb.com/website/realestate.com.au/#traffic-sources

So Google search rankings matter to online property portals. They matter a lot. And they’ll do anything they can to ensure their rankings are maintained.

But as a local real estate business, you have an upper hand when it comes to ranking on Google… you have a physical office in the marketplace you serve.

In short, your physical office location is in fact a local search ranking factor.

1. Proximity as a Ranking Factor

  • How it Works: Proximity refers to the physical closeness of the business to the searcher or the area being searched. Search engines use the location of the user (or the specified area in their search query) to provide relevant local results. For instance, if someone searches for “real estate agents in [suburb],” Google prioritises businesses physically located in or near that suburb.
  • Data-Driven Insight: A study by Moz, a leader in SEO software, identifies proximity as a crucial local search ranking factor. Their Local Search Ranking Factors report highlights that the location of the searcher in relation to the business has a significant impact on how search results are ranked.

2. Local Relevance Through a Physical Address

  • How it Works: Having a physical address in a specific location makes a business locally relevant to that area. This is important for search engines, which aim to provide the most relevant results to users. A real estate agency with an office in a particular suburb is more likely to have in-depth knowledge and listings pertinent to that area, which search engines consider valuable.
  • Data-Driven Insight: Research shows that local relevance is a key factor in search algorithms. According to a survey by BrightLocal, a local marketing software company, 93% of consumers used the internet to find a local business, with relevance being a top priority in their search.

While having a physical office can provide you with an opportunity to outrank online property portals in your marketplace (yes, it’s possible and many agencies do) for popular search terms, it won’t do all of the work for you. You still need a great website with good SEO (Search Engine Optimisation) and a focus on driving traffic to your website over any other platform.

STOP helping the portals outrank you on Google

Seems like a strange thing to do, right?. Well, it is exactly what many agencies are doing right now without really knowing it.

Recently, real estate portals have been inviting agencies to embed links on their own agency website to their listings on the portal website.

It goes something like this:

“Here’s a link to your listings/profile on our website. We encourage you to add these “innocuous” links to the footer of YOUR website which will help boost both your, and our, Google rankings (SEO).”

While this is presented as a mutually beneficial SEO strategy, it’s crucial to delve deeper to understand the true impact of such practices before you agree to adding their links to your website that you have invested time and money into.

Boy, there have been some moves by online property portals over the years that, as an industry, we’d love to have a do-over. This could very well be one of those instances.

What’s wrong with sharing some links to our profile on the property portal on our website?

The premise is simple: real estate agencies are being asked to add “non-invasive links” to these portals on their own websites, supposedly enhancing the SEO performance of both the portal and the agency.

However, the proposed benefits are not what they seem.

Perhaps you’re familiar with the adage, ‘A rising tide lifts all boats.’ And that’s what’s being sold by the portals. However, in the scenario of the proposed linking strategy by property portals, it’s as though they’re quietly removing the engine from your boat. While they sail ahead on the rising tide, your (website) vessel remains adrift (in Google).

Contrary to their claims, this arrangement isn’t the mutual benefit it’s touted to be and you should be aware of the risks associated with adding seemingly unobtrusive links to their website(s) on yours.

  1. Link Value and SEO Impact: When a website links out to another (your website to their website for example), it essentially passes some of its “authority” to the linked site. This is a core principle of SEO. By adding links to the portal on your website, you are boosting the portal’s authority, but without reciprocal backlinks, there’s no SEO benefit to you whatsoever. Consider the number of agency and agent websites in Australia and the number of pages on each website if they’re all linking to the portal. This would provide significant “authority” to the portal’s website but can significantly, and negatively, impact all of those other websites without a reciprocal linking strategy (which is not currently something that is happening or being offered).
  2. Dilution of Authority: Each outbound link on a website can dilute the authority passed to other linked pages. If these links are on every page (like in the footer), the dilution effect could be significant. This might not directly harm your SEO, but it doesn’t help either, especially if there are no inbound links from the portal.
  3. Potential for Over-Optimisation: If the links are not implemented correctly (for example, using keyword-rich anchor text excessively), it could potentially lead to over-optimisation penalties from search engines, which would negatively impact the agency’s website ranking.
  4. Risk of Being Outranked: If the portal gains significant authority through these links, there’s a real risk that it could start outranking the agencies in search results for key local phrases. This would mean that the portal could capture traffic that might have otherwise gone directly to the agencies.
  5. Long-Term SEO Strategy: It’s important to consider the long-term impact. While the immediate effect might not be drastic, over time, consistently boosting the portal’s SEO could lead to a significant shift in online visibility between the portal and individual agency sites.
  6. Perception and Misinformation: The claim that adding these links will boost the SEO of both the portal and the agencies seems misleading. While it’s true that a healthy link network can benefit all parties in the event that mutually beneficial linking is occurring, in this case, the benefit appears to be largely one-sided.
  7. Alternatives to Consider: Agencies might explore other collaborative SEO strategies with the portal, such as content partnerships, reciprocal linking (where appropriate), or co-branded pages that provide mutual SEO benefits instead of simply adding links in your website footer (which show on ALL pages of your website).

Another critical aspect to consider with this linking strategy is the potential impact on user behaviour. If a visitor clicks on a link to a portal from your website, the likelihood of them navigating back to your site diminishes significantly. They find themselves on a platform that’s only a click away from your competitors’ listings and profiles.

This diversion not only reduces the time they spend engaging with your content but also increases the chances of them discovering alternatives, possibly at your expense. It’s essential to weigh the risk of losing potential clients to competitors against the perceived benefits of such linking practices.

Safeguard your website investment & Google presence

While this linking proposal from property portals may present some superficial advantages, such as a very minor boost in visibility through your association with a portal, it’s clear that the lion’s share of the SEO benefits (the most important factor here) skews heavily in favour of the portals.

It’s not necessarily a case of deliberate deception by the portals, but rather a matter of us in the real estate industry taking a moment to critically assess what appears to be a minor suggestion. Let’s not find ourselves years down the line with regrets, wishing for a chance to rewind our decisions regarding the major portals – a sentiment many of us can undoubtedly relate to.

I trust this article has provided valuable insights. I encourage you to share this knowledge with your team, ensuring that collectively, we make informed, forward-looking decisions that safeguard our own digital presence and the investment you’ve made in your website and digital marketing to date.

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