Falling on Google

Real Estate Agent with HomeSmart

I wrote another blog about how I can't compete any longer on the search engines.  Consider this, in 2007 around $8,000,000 to $9,000,000 out of the $12,000,000 in total sales I did that year came from my website.  I've never been able to match that, especially since the real estate bubble burst, but for the first time since I've had a real estate website I'm wondering if the little local sites will be relevant any longer.

This is from someone who considers her sites her "babies."  I've been so proud of all of my websites and blogs.  I've learned how to master Wordpress and I can do certain customizations through studying plus trial and error.  I consider it a hobby that happens to pay.

I recently created some new hyper local websites since I thought maybe by only focusing on one town I could work my way back to top search engine positions.  One of my new sites is for Orland Park homes via Wordpress using Genesis parent theme and AgentPress child theme.  Unfortunately, AgentPress is not responsive and has no plans to change in the near future.  I love the theme and did a lot of tweaking and I feel I'll need to change it once again as I believe in having a mobile friendly website.  As it stands, I used a plug-in that helps a little but it's not truly responsive.

Orland Park homes website   

For many years I've held #1-3 spots for all of the keywords I've worked for, and now I'm lucky if I'm still on page 1.  I've dropped to page 2 for many of my keywords.  These are on aged sites that I am active on.  They have indexable IDX pages.  I've even made sure to limit the IDX sitemaps for each site for the particular town the site was created for and on my main website I have it set to the 3 towns I work most in.

How Will This Affect Future Website Providers and SEO?

My question is, why pay a lot of money for a custom or semi-custom site when you're probably going to have to spend even more on PPC since it's so difficult to compete with the big portals?  The last Google change dropped my sites further down. I'm at a crossroads with one webmaster as I have to upgrade my site and it will cost thousands - until the next needed upgrade, or I have to move on.

Many custom sites boast about their built-in seo and that's why their sites are better.  I don't think I believe that any longer with the new Google algorithm changes.  Wordpress sites are supposed to be created with seo in mind.  So if you create content properly I don't think there's that much of a difference where it relates to search engine position.  There were some real estate website providers in the past that offered zero seo, in fact some sites couldn't even be spidered by search engines, but I think the public became more aware and I'm not sure any of those site providers are still in business, or their offerings have changed.

In other words, the only benefit I can see with expensive custom or semi-custom sites today is the backend/CRM that is available.  For example, I've been studying what's been happening with recent Google changes and it's affecting those with all kinds of websites.  Big, small, custom, semi-custom, DIY, Wordpress.  My local competitors have moved down with me to allow all the big real estate portals in - no longer just ZTR.

Many custom designers state that their sites are better for prospects.  Easier to use, better IDX, etc.  With the webmaster I'm currently working with that is forcing me to an updated template, I think the new templates are too busy, therefore confusing for the average site visitor.

I've read that SEO companies are going to be affected.  If they can't help us achieve and keep top positions then what will their value be?  They might have to go deeper into providing PPC. 

Our Other Internet Alternatives

Do we just throw in the towel and join Boomtown, Market Leader, Tiger Leads, Zurple, etc.  They provide the website and the ppc campaign, but some are simply too expensive for most single agents.  Will we be forced to pay for our zip codes (or a portion thereof) with the other portals we dislike so much?  

Since I'm hands-on because I enjoy it, I'm going to try my own ppc campaign.  If that doesn't bring good enough results I will hire out someone that will manage a ppc campaign for me using my current sites/landing pages.

I'm just sad that my lovingly created content might not matter any longer and that I can't compete against the deep pockets of the big portals.  I'm going to keep trying and see if I can do it - I feel like the Little Engine That Could - but I'm not sure I can.

Posted by
Judy Orr
HomeSmart Realty Group
18305 Distinctive Dr.
Orland Park, IL, 60467
Work: 708-536-8200
Fax: 708-249-0074

Comments (68)

Rebecca Howard
Coldwell Banker Residential Brokerage - Orland Park, IL
Recognized | Respected | Recommended

I agree with Charles Stallions. Im going back to the 'old school' days of doing business. Cant compete with big pockets. Why give them your money when they control all the tricks. Im spending my money where I used to: postcards and local advertising. It always mattered then. Enough of the Internet games.

Sep 08, 2013 03:12 AM
Judy Orr
HomeSmart - Scottsdale, AZ
Scottsdale AZ and surrounding towns

Edward & Celia - I'm seeing my local competitors using ppc because they can no longer compete with the big guys.  Guess I finally have to join them.  Still ahead of them in the serps for the most part, but not good if I'm below the fold or off page 1.

Kate - very frustrating to see our work not recognized, especially when it used to be.

Jean - sometimes I feel like a FSBO since I want to do it myself, but I like learning a lot of technology and webmaster & seo stuff.

Marie - I've really never seen my AR posts rank, but then I didn't use AR as my main source of blogging - it's to help my other sites.

Bryan - I just have to accept this change and be prepared to pay for what was just hard work before.

Dan - if the changes are for the better then it is what it is, but are these huge nationwide portals with outdated and incorrect data better than our local sites?  I don't think so.


Sep 08, 2013 03:47 AM
Randy Mitchelson,APR
Marketing Advisor & Squeeze Mortgage - Bonita Springs, FL
First Impressions are made at First Click

SEO requires trial and error. When sites rank above, you , analyze what they are doing that is different from you. Do they have more backlinks than you from trusted sources? Do they have a Youtube site with lots of video content and views (Google owns YouTube remember), do they have lots of followers on Twitter, Facebook and Google + (much of that content is indexable), how often are they adding fresh content?, are they registered on Google Local?  There are just a few tings to analyze of your website is falling in the rankings. Tools like SEO Quake and Google Analytics can help provide the data both on your website and your higher ranked competitors so that you can decipher where your biggest opportunities are to boost your SEO.

Sep 08, 2013 03:52 AM
Judy Orr
HomeSmart - Scottsdale, AZ
Scottsdale AZ and surrounding towns

Richard - definitely nice while it lasted!  Plan B now...

Mitch - I've read the same with other users of these lead generating websites.  They start out good and the quality starts lacking, even though you're paying the same amount of money. Kind of why I want to try it on my own so I know what's going on.

William - I'm still getting sign-ups (& wonder how they even find me anymore - got to check my analytics).  Never get too many actual calls from my websites - never did even when #1 in the serps.

Charles - When I started my oldest sites many years ago I followed the seo rules at the time. I've changed as they've changed & have always posted quality content without breaking the rules.  I have always been on top but cannot compete with ZTR & the big portals.  As a home inspector you might have a different set of online competitors and you might not be affected the same as local real estate sites.

Lanre - It's not just the ppc for keywords.  I've seen my competitors direct keywords to the home page of their websites, which isn't the best thing.  Definitely hire out unless you know a little bit of ppc best practices.

Sarah & Lester - I'm hearing a lot of agents being affected, with all different kinds of websites (from DIY to custom).  Doesn't seem like it's just the site you use, it's the size of our sites compared to the deep pocket portals we are now in competition with.

Sep 08, 2013 03:57 AM
Judy Orr
HomeSmart - Scottsdale, AZ
Scottsdale AZ and surrounding towns

Wallace - congrats - you have the right content for your niche of property management.  I'm trying to get hyper-local, started out with too wide of a net.  Wish I had done hyper-local from day one.  I actually did with one of my oldest sites but I moved away from that area and am trying to work on my new towns.

Bill - I've been too busy to check my Google Alerts but I think I'm in the same boat.  No more alerts for my blog posts.

Jimmy - I can't imagine what our business will be like in 5 or 10 years.  My daughter just got licensed and I had a plan of using her for retirement income at some point.  Not sure that will be viable in the future.

Dana - video is my next thing.  Local videos, and lots of them.  The thing is, I love writing blog posts.  I'm not into video, but will have to get that as a new "work hobby".

Allan - I expect changes, but these changes don't seem fair.  The little local real estate sites simply can't compete against the big portals.  And I don't think it's for the best of the consumer experience.

Cindy - When we're busy something's got to give.  I'm just starting to slow down enough to do some major website work and changes.  I enjoy it but sometimes there's just not enough time and energy left in a day.

Sep 08, 2013 04:06 AM
Judy Orr
HomeSmart - Scottsdale, AZ
Scottsdale AZ and surrounding towns

Carla - it is no longer an even playing field.  I feel like my sweat equity built my top serps in the past.  Now it will take money to compete with the deep pocketed portals.

Gary - all we can do is keeping adding our local content.  For those getting hit in certain areas where that isn't enough, we need a new/additional plan.

Laura - my hard work worked in the past.  Now I'm going to have to reach into my purse in order to be seen by consumers.

Gerard - I didn't notice anything different in the past week.  I think it's more than bad backlinks - those sites were penalized & I know someone who is working on getting rid of bad backlinks.  But for those of us who have just been pushed down by ZTR & the other big portals, it's just that those large sites are out-serping us!

Bill - never heard of Scoop.it.  I'll have to check it out.

Christine - although we need to keep our sites updated and keep adding content, I'm not sure your fall is just for lack of maintenance.  If you check, you'll see ZTR in the first 3 serps for your main keywords.  You might have never been in #1 position, but now you wouldn't have much of a chance no matter how much work you were doing on your site.

Sep 08, 2013 04:21 AM
Judy Orr
HomeSmart - Scottsdale, AZ
Scottsdale AZ and surrounding towns

Geri - I realize that when I started my sites there was little local competition and there were no Z & T & similar sites.  R.com was never a problem in the past.  I was able to beat out the franchise sites because they weren't optimizing their sites properly and were too spread out to worry about little local keywords.  I guess I'm lucky I'm considering ppc for the first time at this point in my webmaster journey.

Peggy - that is so great!  I used to have that myself - made a lot of money from my sites.  I still get form registrations and even get listing calls from my websites.  It's just not what it used to be and IMO it is because of the fall in serps.  If they can't find me with a Google search because of the big real estate portals having pushed me down, then I need to try something else to get back to where I used to be with my sites.

Edward - in a similar discussion elsewhere, some agents said stop using Google and start using Bing.  That's fine, but how do we translate that to the consumers out there?  We can't, we just have to find another way to make Google work, and that is to pay them.

Wayne & Jean Marie - thanks for the compliment on my new hyper-local site.  After all that I'll probably be changing it up to get a responsive template.  Oh well.

Andrew - I don't just work my blogs - or at least I don't leave it up to a post here & there.  I do a lot of other things with my posts - I get them out there.  Videos are something I'm going to have to delve in.  Still don't think it will push me above ZTR & the others, but it's something I'm going to add to my arsenal.

Melissa - I'm using Yoast on my WP blogs now.  I recently created my hyper local sites (2 of them) and will see if I can get them on 1st page of Google.  Problem is, if you're "under the fold" on page 1 you won't get as many site visits as if you were in the top 3 slots.  Only way to do that now in my areas is ppc.  My main town has a population of just over 50,000.  My secondary town is a bit above 24,000.  These aren't super large villages, yet I can no longer stay on top.

Sep 08, 2013 04:36 AM
Judy Orr
HomeSmart - Scottsdale, AZ
Scottsdale AZ and surrounding towns

Jennifer - I don't think any of us can depend solely on our websites or Internet presence, but it is a large portion of where buyers and sellers come from now and start their searches.  I still get referrals and past clients and try to stay in touch with them, but I need to do a better job on that.

Charles - you've certainly found what works for you and your area.  I've been doing this a long time but I also love new technology and the Internet and websites, so that's where I migrated to.  I also do snail mail/postcards/newsletters, but my passion is the Internet.  I think that's why I feel upset that I can no longer be relevant and have been kicked off my throne.

Michael - I also joined Google+ and authorship, not sure it really helps but nothing works overnight.  Better to do it than not.

Evelyn - Not sure I believe WP sites aren't set-up for Google's new algorithm.  Google still wants sites that have good content and navigation.  If WP sites cannot remain relevant then someone will come along and create a new WP backend, but I think the person you spoke to was just trying to get your business.  I do believe we need mobile friendly sites.

Andrew - that is why I stayed away from ppc, besides the fact I never needed it (could have done it in the very beginning but I didn't know what I was missing when I started my first website).  However, I click on paid sites if they're not in the top 3 organic results so I'm hoping others will too.

Raymond - I remember those Google dances and how quickly they could be figured out.  Not any longer.  I mentioned Bing in a prior comment, but I just don't think they generate enough consumer traffic.  Google still reigns supreme according to my analytics.

Sep 08, 2013 04:48 AM
Kelly Cherry
Keller Williams Preferred Realty - Raleigh, NC
Keller Williams Preferred Realty

Judy, you have a lot of good information and seem to know a lot about SEO which is great.  Keep up the good work and I'll be sure to take some pointers as I'm working to actively increase my rankings as best I can...just like everyone else :-)


Sep 08, 2013 04:49 AM
David Shamansky
US Mortgages - David Shamansky - Highlands Ranch, CO
Creative, Aggressive & 560 FICO - OK, Colorado Mtg

Sounds to me like you will need to hire an expert in SEO and that should do the trick for you. No its not right but unfortunately if you want YOUR site to be there thats the game thats being played right now

Sep 08, 2013 05:04 AM
Judy Orr
HomeSmart - Scottsdale, AZ
Scottsdale AZ and surrounding towns

Joe - I'm not in super large towns and ZTR still compete for all of those keywords.  I am going to start creating local videos but I still don't think I'll ever get back into the #1-3 organic results against the big portals.  To be on top, it will have to be ppc.

Suzanne - We'll just have to do it differently.  We can no longer expect top organic search results.  So we'll have to pay to be on top.  PPC must work as that is how Boomtown, Tiger Leads, Zurple, etc. get their leads.  Problem is, I've heard you have little to no control over the ppc campaigns with those companies and they start out good but the leads start to change over time, which doesn't make sense besides seasonal fluctuations.  It also might result with a "can't beat them, join them philosophy", meaning paying ZTR.  They did it, they beat us, if we want a chance...

Yvette - if these big portals had good information and not homes that sold and closed a year ago, or a list of foreclosures that aren't even for sale, or home value estimates that can be more than 20% off, I would concede that they're better.  They don't have local news and information, just a bunch of data, much of it not updated or accurate.  Now I've got to pay for something I was able to achieve before with hard work.

Bill - I don't mind change but not when it's not a level playing field.  In the past, it was put it into the MLS, put up a sign, put some ads out, have open houses, contact your sphere & past clients plus expireds & fsbos and do floor time.  Much different today!  We can still get results from the back-to-basics but it stinks when you were at the top (in serps) and made good money while you were there, and then these companies start-up that you can't compete with online.

Richard - money trumps hard work now.

Elizabeth - that AgentPress site is one of 2 new hyper local sites I've created.  The money I made was on my Chicago Suburbs Real Estate website which I've had for a long time.  The IDX on the AgentPress site is iHomefinder and so far I'm very happy with it.  

Sep 08, 2013 05:05 AM
Judy Orr
HomeSmart - Scottsdale, AZ
Scottsdale AZ and surrounding towns

Lori - I've been seeing others out there in the same position as I am, they used to be on top, some with very expensive custom sites, and are now facing the same drop in serps because of the big portals.  Not sure we can do anything to regain our organic positions.

Rebecca - Although I also use old school ways, I have embraced the Internet and won't give up.  I just have to do it differently.

Randy - I don't have to ask those questions.  Zillow, Trulia, et all certainly have more backlinks than I do.  They have more indexed pages than I do.  They have a heck of a lot more money than I do.  Do you really think videos will push them out of my way?  Although I'm going to try everything I can think of, I feel I have to accept the fact that my organic serps will no longer be the top 3 as they were in the past because of these behemoths.  If you know a way for me to compete with Z, T, homes.com, r.com, etc. please share! :)

Kelly - I'm no expert but I taught myself enough about seo to enjoy top search engine rankings for many years.  The rules have changed and now I have to pay to play.  

David - if I knew an SEO expert that could help me beat Zillow, Trulia, homes.com, r.com, etc., for organic results I'd hire them in a minute.  I'm not the only one that this has happened to, and I'm talking about websites that are still paying for seo.  I think I'll pay for ppc as I don't think seo can beat the big guys any longer.

Sep 08, 2013 05:16 AM
Tamara Inzunza
Realty One Group Capital - Alexandria, VA
Close-In Alexandria and Arlington Living

I agree with your post and will continue to follow the comments.  It is becoming more and more expensive for a single agent to stay ahead of the SEO curve.

Sep 08, 2013 05:54 AM
MichelleCherie Carr Crowe .Just Call. 408-252-8900
Get Results Team...Just Call (408) 252-8900! . DRE #00901962 . Licensed to Sell since 1985 . Altas Realty - San Jose, CA
Family Helping Families Buy & Sell Homes 40+ Years

I'm interested to hear how you continue to do. I would think your sites should still do well in the long-tail searches. Do they?

Sep 08, 2013 07:27 AM
Judy Orr
HomeSmart - Scottsdale, AZ
Scottsdale AZ and surrounding towns

Tamara - I just can't see how it's possible to regain top organic placement any longer.  What can I really do to compete with TZR et al unless Google once again changes its algorithm to make results more localized.

Michelle - Although I'm very hands-on with my sites, my least favorite part is in the analytics data.  What I have noticed is that my most popular posts are general information vs. local.  One of my top posts was about transfer taxes and I doubt I got a lead from all of the people that read the post.  Another of my top popular posts was a general post on earnest money. Because our county and our MLS are so large and widespread and I only work in a small portion of it, I can never figure out how I get web visitors that are sending me questions about listings in towns I've never set foot in.  I don't optimize for those towns so I'm not sure how they get to my site.  

Sep 08, 2013 07:48 AM
Marco Giancola
Beachfront Realty - Miami Beach, FL
Realtor (305)608-1922, Miami Beach Florida

Hi Judy-first timer here on your blog and I enjoyed it. You pose an interesting question.

Sep 08, 2013 08:29 AM
Tammie White, Broker
Franklin Homes Realty LLC - Franklin, TN
Franklin TN Homes for Sale

I concentrate on long-tail keywords and have had good luck with that and I always drive traffic from my AR blog to my website. That helps me move up in the ranking.

The other thing I have noticed is load times. I have a couple different sites. One site has a terrible load time, I'll be doing away with that one. The other site is very fast. That matters to consumers. Remember, they want information instantaneously. I have seen an improvement in my traffic and return visitors due to quick response time. I don't have a WP site but I have heard others say they had to remove some of their plug-ins because they affected their load times.

Sep 08, 2013 09:07 AM
Sharon Alters
Coldwell Banker Vanguard Realty - 904-673-2308 - Fleming Island, FL
Realtor - Homes for Sale Fleming Island FL

This is a very interesting topic. I have even noticed that posts on ActiveRain don't rank as quickly or at all like they used to. Sounds like Google is pandering to the big boys - hopefully they will figure out a way to level the playing field again.

Sep 08, 2013 12:41 PM
Eric Crane -- Your Full Service, Discount Fee Realtor®
DPR Realty LLC - Gilbert, AZ
Greater Metro Phoenix Arizona

The reality is that most of us have to try a variety of approaches to generate leads and downstream business.  We all know that the washout rate for new agents is off the charts... I always tell a new agent: "Leads, leads, leads... you need more of them than you will ever think you need, or can handle." 

And you've got to throw a lot of spaghetti up against the wall to see what sticks.

Still reading through the various posts though and it is interesting reading.  thanks!


Sep 08, 2013 02:14 PM
Judy Orr
HomeSmart - Scottsdale, AZ
Scottsdale AZ and surrounding towns

Tammie - I also drive traffic/links from AR to my website.  That is how I use AR, not as a main blogging platform but to help my other sites.  I get long-tail keywords but having been on the top for so long with my main keywords and with an update falling below all the big guys is a reality I have to deal with.  

Sharon - others have mentioned the same thing with AR posts.  None of my localized AR posts have ranked anywhere I could find them.

Eric - having a high ranking website was all I needed at one point in time besides past client & sphere referrals.  Now that source is drying up with the new Google algorithm changes.  Of course, if I use ppc I'll rev up my traffic again but it's something I never had to do before and it can get very expensive.  My organic rankings were mostly time and effort expended.

Sep 09, 2013 12:50 AM