What does it take to become a real estate SEO expert?

Reading between the lines

A few years ago, I was an SEO (search engine optimization) generalist. I could speak on and practice a wide variety of SEO tasks, from technical SEO to content marketing to link building. I could work across many verticals and types of websites online and was functional in all of the different types of SEO — very large sites, B2B startups, you name it. A few years later, I had become a real estate SEO expert by virtue of working on some of the largest real estate sites on the internet.

At the same time, I had friends who had carved out niches of their own and were becoming both very good at SEO as well as very well-known in their industry of choice. Some years later, we have taken very different but equally rewarding and lucrative paths through our careers.

Become a real estate SEO expert in 3 steps

  1. Gain SEO knowledge and experience.

  2. Decide what types of SEO tasks you enjoy.

  3. Get your first clients.

Before we dive into the three broad steps required to become a real estate SEO expert, let’s talk a little bit about the differences between SEO specialization and SEO generalization.

What it means to specialize in the world of SEO

Before we get any further, I want to define what we’re talking about in this post. There are two different ways we can use “specialization” in this article.

  1. First, there is the specialization in SEO as a marketing channel. I know a lot of people through my work at Credo who are world-class at SEO and drive amazing results for their clients or their own businesses through organic traffic. Some choose to focus only on organic traffic, while others will also work on other marketing channels such as Facebook Ads.
  2. Second, there is vertical specialization such as in real estate or eCommerce. It’s very possible to specialize in SEO for real estate and build a successful and rewarding career that also pays very well. It’s also possible to build a successful and rewarding career as someone who works across verticals — real estate, banking, financial services, etc.

For the purposes of this post, we will be talking about specializing in both SEO and the real estate vertical.

How SEO specialization differs from generalization

Let’s say you’re set on becoming a real estate SEO expert. If you’re going to focus solely on a specific industry like real estate, you should be sure of two things:

  1. That you aren’t going to get bored just working in one industry, learning the players and ins and outs of how that industry operates.
  2. That you are absolutely passionate about that vertical industry online.

Having done both — working with clients of all types as well as specializing in a specific vertical for a few years — I can tell you that there are pros and cons to each.

Doing it all: Pros and cons

As an SEO generalist, you’ll get broad exposure to different types of businesses and business models. You’ll be able to learn how to do SEO for any type of business, as well as the businesses that do not work well or where the financial models do not make sense or require something of you that you do not want to do. I, for example, don’t like working within a big company. So as I build my own company now, I make specific choices to keep headcount small.

If you’re easily bored or need to be always learning, specializing might not be for you.

 

If you’re the type of person who’s constantly bored and looking for something new to do, or you really enjoy learning new skills and would like eventually to move up into a Director or VP of marketing role, specializing in a specific niche like real estate may not be right for you.

Focusing on a niche: Pros and cons

As a vertical SEO specialist, you’ll have the opportunity to go deep into the specific industry of your choice. You’ll learn the industry inside and out, including who the big players are, who’s legitimate and who isn’t, and what works in that specific industry to drive real, tangible and long-term business results. You’ll know exactly how your competitors are ranking and therefore how you can beat them, as well as seeing your strategies through to completion and hopefully success.

Given the size of the industry, real estate SEO experts will always be in demand.

 

As an SEO expert who specializes in a particular industry, you can be doubly dangerous. Assuming you pick an industry that’s large enough, there will always be plenty of demand for your work.

So what’s it take to become a real estate SEO expert? I’m glad you asked.

1. Gain SEO knowledge and experience

Before you begin to even think about selling your services, you need to be an expert. There are quite simply too many people online these days selling services for work that they cannot fulfill, or that they plan to outsource to low-paid workers overseas.

The best way to learn SEO is to practice it, preferably on your own site or sites. Learn how to build a website, learn how to do keyword research, and get that site ranking for the terms that drive traffic.

At the same time, learn how to prioritize keywords and rankings by how much potential business those keywords could bring you.

Real Estate SEO Expert Keyword Tool
Google’s Keyword Planner is an excellent resource for identifying keywords for any site.

There are many resources, both free and paid, to help you get started with SEO and then go deeper. Two of my favorites are Moz’s free “Beginner’s Guide to SEO” and DistilledU (not free but worth it).

2. Decide what types of SEO tasks you enjoy

SEO is a fantastically complicated area of digital marketing and what works for one type of website will not necessarily work for another.

Even within specific verticals there are many types of sites. For example, within real estate you have all of these:

  1. Very large portals, like Zillow or Redfin.
  2. Individual brokerage websites with listings.
  3. Real estate agents’ personal websites.

The strategies and tactics that work to get Zillow pages ranked on search engines are very different from ranking a local brokerage because they have:

— Different competitors
— Different opportunities — a better-funded site might use maps or rich snippets
— Different ranking factors to drive traffic through rankings

It takes one skill set to get your client ranked No. 1 on the map below for the keyword “denver real estate agents” and another to achieve the No. 1 organic position (shown below the box):

Real Estate SEO Expert Search Results
Getting a client’s site listed on the map requires different skills than a No. 1 organic ranking.

3. Get your first clients

Once you’re an SEO specialist and have picked the vertical you want to work in, you can go about getting your first clients. This is a question I literally get asked every day, and often multiple times. Here’s one recently:

Real Estate SEO Expert Client Question

If you’re specializing in a business vertical with a very specific offer and you have proven experience, getting new clients shouldn’t be very hard. You’ll have people trying to sell you courses on how to do it using Facebook Ads or something else, but the best ways to get your first clients are:

  1. Ask your friends who they know that might be looking for the services you offer.
  2. Target your ideal customer by posting content online aimed at educating them on what they need to increase web traffic.
  3. Go to local meetups where your ideal customer hangs out and meet people.

Point blank, your best clients will come from referrals from people you both know and trust.

This is the single best way to get clients when you are first starting out. Then you can concentrate on other potential lead acquisition channels and avenues after you have your base expenses covered.

Advice for aspiring real estate SEO experts

Becoming the go-to expert for a specific marketing channel in a specific business vertical like real estate can bring massive satisfaction and career success to the right person. As a real estate SEO expert, you have the opportunity to be an industry leader which will open many doors for you down the road.

My best advice is this:

Become world-class at SEO. Find a vertical you are absolutely passionate about, like real estate. Learn the size of website you enjoy working on, such as local brokerage sites. Then learn everything you can about how to optimize those sites and seek to solve the problems they have.

That’s how you win.

John Doherty
John Doherty is the founder of Credo, where you can find the best SEO and digital marketing agencies and consultants available to help you grow your business. John lives in Denver, Colorado with his wife Courtney and their very large black labrador Butterbean. Connect with him on Twitter and Facebook.