Thursday, August 31, 2006

Real Estate SEO Primer (Part 1)

A good chunk of my day job is to try to keep our sales staff busy by generating enquiries through our website. When you get it right it can be a) a great source of low cost leads and b) a great source of smug pride. When you get it right that is.

So how do you get it right? I'm still not 100% sure to be honest but for those of you, like me, with an ever-hungry real estate company to feed I will discuss the steps I have taken to achieve above average websites in a competitive space. Apologies if some of this stuff is ovious.

Its a big ass topic so I will split it into as many posts as it needs/I can be arsed to write, stuff like:

  • Content
  • Site structure
  • Page design and conversion
  • Links
  • Sources of traffic
  • Paying vs organic
  • Tracking (Metrics)
  • Homework
  • Naughty tricks
Plus anything else I can think of. So where do we start?


There are essentially 2 types of factors that can determine how well you fare in the search engines, these are referred to as on page factors and off page factors. Your pages' content, unsurprisingly, comes under on page factors. Content is king is a bit of a cliche in the SEO world, but like most cliches, it holds true.

What does that mean for an estate agent? It means your portfolio. The tens, hundreds or thousands of properties that your company lists are the meat and two veg of your content. Get them all listed on your site. If your portfolio is of any considerable size, and you haven't done so already, look at using a database to store the listings which then provides the content for your site. This is a whole other topic so I am not going to get bogged down here in database and programming talk.

So you have all your properties listed? Yes, good. Now look at an individual property page. Your page should contain:

  • what the property is (eg apartment, villa, slaughterhouse, whatever)
  • where the property is (eg monaco, wigan, wherever)
These are the 2 most important information elements for an individual property, because they are generally the 2 elements (in one combination or another) that a potential client will type in a search engine (eg villas in marbella). Make sure these terms are prominent - place them in the title of your page. Place them in headline size fonts near the top of the page. Place them in the meta tags. Don't be tempted to take the piss however - the page must make sense, and keyword stuffing is something you want to avoid, otherwise the search engines will avoid you.

In addition you will need a decent dollop of real estate prose as a description. Place salient chunks of this into your description meta tag. Try to make sure each property description is unique. Search engines dislike duplicate content. They love fresh content, however, so make sure you update your listings regularly, removing the old, adding the new and updating price changes etc.

Finally, make sure all your individual property pages are accessible via the link structure on your site. If you cannot navigate to all your properties via an ordinary link (not through a search form) then neither can the search engines. You can create a sitemap to to acheive this. Google has a sitemap centre to assist webmasters who want to ensure their sites get spidered fully.

Right, thats enough for now. Tonight's homework - read Yahoo's webmaster guidelines. There will be a test.

Tuesday, August 29, 2006

Play me the blues

Had a bad day. And you're still in the office?

Let it all out with the desktop blues:

Another property information site embraces the podcast! Look out for Martin Dell, boss of on the next edition.

Google offer free applications for your organisation

Google has long been king of the internet, but more recent ventures have seen them targeting the desktop, traditionally the realm of Microsoft and its bestselling Office apps. They have launched Google Apps for your domain which allows you to tie existing popular Google services such as Gmail and Google Talk to your own website. So for example I could switch all our users at Hiperprop across to gmail, whilst still using the domain (ie my email address would still be rather than The users would benefit from the Gmail user interface and I would not have the headache of maintaining a mailserver. None of our clients would be any the wiser.

Sounds tempting, doesn't it. Of course your users would be subject to the normal Google ads which run in the gmail space, but hey, I could live with that for the sake of no more email support calls. The only other potential drawback (as with all these online services) is that you need an internet connection to be able to access your emails or other documents. Not usually a problem, except that recently on the Costa del Sol we have experienced a fairly severe level of piss poor ISP coverage courtesy of Telefonica.

But the advantages far outweigh these rare headaches. All your documents online means a) they are available to you anywhere, from any machine and b) you never need to worry about data loss or back up procedures, since I'm guessing Google has a reasonably together sys admin team.

So have a look at what's available. It's all free BTW, (unless your requirements are bigger than most small businesses) and available applications include:

  • Gmail
  • Google Talk
  • Calendar
  • Google Page Creator - a great and easy to use web page editor, so you can change your website's content as easily as editing a word document.

Also available and well worth checking out, but not (for some reason) bundled with the above suite are:

  • Google Spreadsheets
  • Writely - an online word processing application (similar to Microsoft Word) which was purchased this year by Google.

One of the other benefits of these online apps is that they are all starting to talk to each other. For example I could have written this blog entry using Writely and then with one click published it to my blog. Or as I do now, write my blog entry in gmail and post it by email.

So is Microsoft starting to sweat? Certainly the pace of new products that come from Google labs (or technology that they buy up and then adapt) is breakneck. Fortunately Microsoft are looking to hire some real visionaries to keep up with this type of competition.

Update: had a look around at other online office alternatives and found

Ricky Gervais does Microsoft Office

Created as Microsoft corporate videos, see David Brent as Microsoft's latest management consultant:

Probably the funniest corporate video you're likely to see.

Trolley Good Show

Canadian artist Ptolemy Elrington turns old supermarket trollies into animal sculptures:

Thursday, August 17, 2006

Time Magazine Top 50 websites

Time Magazine release their annual top 50 websites

They have missed out millsbomb, clearly some sort of clerical error.

Spanish MLS to close

Well, it's official, the Interagency Network MLS is closing. John Hollway, the managing director of the IN sent member agents an email confirming this yesterday. The reason given for the closure was Viva Estates' decision to withdraw both its listings and its funding from the group.

Monday the 14th of August VIVA Estates officially advised the Interagency Network MLS that they were resigning from the Network with immediate effect. It is a fact that VIVA were the main contributors in both revenue and listings to the IN Network and without their support the IN Network is no longer a viable business and therefore the Interagency Network MLS will cease day to day trading operations as of today.

This is not unexpected given Viva's recent decision to change their listing commission. Agent co-operation is obviously not part of their future plans and as a result they have dispensed with the organisation that they set up for this purpose.

Unfortunately for the other members, the fact that the IN was funded (for the most part) by Viva means that they can act unilaterally in this manner. Whilst there are also other shareholders who no doubt stand to lose their investment - the main loss will be the effective cross-sales body that the IN had become. For the active top 20 or so member agents, the IN proved an excellent environment in which to collaborate.

It is highly likely that these agents will seek to maintain some level of co-operation and to establish a successor to the IN. The concept of the multi-listing service is still valid to these agents, who will no doubt pursue alternate admin and software arrangements.

Viva have, it ought to be noted, been gracious enough to offer to pay for a transition period whereby members will be switched over to Infocasa. The providers of Infocasa, Mercury, are also the same people who designed the IN software so such a transition should be relatively painless.

So, will we see a new MLS rise from the ashes of the old? Will it still charge 7.5% commission? Will Viva and this new body be on speaking terms? Interesting times ahead for sure. More plot developments than your average Eastenders omnibus.

Tuesday, August 15, 2006

Interagency MLS to shut doors?

According to the totally reliable source that is the Costa del Sol rumour mill - the Interagency Network (the MLS body for over 60 agents in southern Spain) may be about to close its doors in the wake of Viva Estate's decision to list at 2%.

Viva is the majority shareholder in the IN so this decision should come as no surprise to most agents. Sensible commercial decision? Or taking their ball home?

None of this is as yet confirmed I hasten to add, so sit tight, as the plot thickens...

Saturday, August 12, 2006

Insane Manhattan Cyclists

Crazy cyclists risk life and limb around Manhattan, nailbiting stuff:

If you found that a bit too white knuckle, this might be more your cup of tea:

Thursday, August 10, 2006

You'll have someone's eye out with that

So addictive. But not as addictive as this:

Guess the Movie

Shows you random scenes from movies and you have to guess the title of the movie.
That's this afternoon's work out of the window then.

Utilising social network sites for SEM

Social network sites (eg,, can be effectively used for Search Engine Marketing (SEM). Unlike more traditional methods of optimising a site, these Web 2.0 sites can prove more of a challenge. The potential audience is huge, yet fickle. So make sure you have something interesting to say to them!

Read this article which elaborates on this subject and includes commentary from some eminent SEM's currently attending the San Jose SES (Search Engine Strategies) conference.

Wednesday, August 09, 2006

A back door into Google?

I will post some thoughts and pointers on general SEO (Search Engine Optimisation) fairly soon, probably including a basic do's and don'ts for real estate SEO. See my big fat disclaimer though.

But for now have a look at Googlebase. Last year Google announced the launch of this monster application at a conference I was attending. Immediately every geek in the venue was scuttling off to see if or how this app could benefit their business.

Googlebase is a giant database containing all types of information, from products such as shoes and diamond earrings to things like recipes, and you've guessed it - real estate listings.

You can upload any or all of your portfolio to Googlebase. This can be done through the interface or if you have your own house-trained geek, they can do it in bulk with some IT trickery.

The 64,000 lira question - is it worth doing? Well, a year down the line I am yet to see staggering amounts of traffic flooding in to our sites as a result. In fact I am yet to see any I think. Google claim that the data in Googlebase will, to varying degrees, inform their regular search listings. I have seen some evidence of this, but only for very obscure terms, usually small value products. So not houses then.

But, yes, I do think it is worth doing. Eventually I think we will see Google incorporate Googlebase data into their search results in a more significant way. My advice? upload and maintain your portfolio and be patient. Its free, after all.

Property Advice Gets Sexy

Its refreshing when, wading through the daily pile of junk mail that gets into my inbox, I find an interesting marketing email. Its like being at a boring party and surprising yourself by meeting someone interesting.

I received such a marketing email from BuyAssociation. Unlike the usual chaff that clogs my inbox - piss poor sites with no traffic, but the great idea that they are going to charge money - this looked promising.

Basically they say they offer impartial property advice, nothing new there, but the way they deliver it is. You can listen to streaming audio at your desk, of Adrian Mills (yes, him off That's Life), interviewing various industry pundits on overseas property markets.

Or, you can download the podcast ( a pod what?) to listen to at your leisure. Plus they back up all their broadcasts with downloadable pdf fact sheets. Brilliant. Plus it looks like they have spent some money on designing and marketing the site. So they are probably serious. And I bet Adrian Mills doesn't come Alan Partridge cheap.

Although.. talking of money - their advertising rates may make smaller agents spit out their sangria. From their media pack I worked it out to be more expensive per click/download than some Google ads. But we'll see. I like this new media approach, its sexy. And they get an 'A' for effort.

Tuesday, August 08, 2006

Viva to list at 2%

Has the cheese finally slid off the cracker? Or is this a bold stroke of genius? Viva Estates, one of southern Spain’s largest real estate agents has dramatically changed its listing commission from 7.5% to 2%.

Agent commissions have long been the subject of argument here in Spain, particularly since the introduction of the Interagency Network Multiple Listing System (MLS) a few years ago. 5% remains pretty much the standard commission charged by agents across the board (compared to 1-2% in the UK), although properties listed on the MLS are sold on a sliding scale starting at 7.5% for the lower value properties.

To UK estate agents, and to many vendors and buyers this rate seems exorbitant. “At least Dick Turpin wore a mask”, etc.. Read Mark Stucklin’s article here.

But, and I must declare my interests here - I work for an MLS agent - I have seen how the MLS works at its best, and why it can be argued, that if you want your property effectively marketed and sold within a reasonable timeframe, then sometimes the 7.5% route is a good option. The commission is usually split (although not always) between 2 agents who have cooperated to sell the property. A small admin fee is also retained by the MLS themselves.

This produces a situation where 2 agents are healthily incentivised to sell the property, whilst working within a set of policed guidelines (the IN code of ethics). Providing the vendor is not too greedy or unrealistic (expecting [put silly number here]% growth inside of a year), he can expect to move his property reasonably quickly and confidently. In a buyers market, where we are seeing a surplus of product - this can be a sensible option for the vendor to consider.

I’ll stop banging on in defence of the MLS now, but perhaps we can see now why Chris McCarthy’s change in policy seems so dramatic. At 2% there will be no agent cooperation. There will be a significant interim cashflow issue too, I would guess, as the reduced commission rate will necessitate an increase in sales volume to keep the ship afloat. There will be staff changes afoot too, no doubt, since the prospect of earning significantly less commission (or even none) will make salespeople vote with their feet. Rough seas ahead.

But what if it works? Well for vendors and buyers, it is a no brainer. In theory at least, reduced commissions make for cheaper listings, make for increased sales. It could potentially change the market as other agents are forced to reduce their commission rates in order to keep their rapidly diminishing slice of the pie. Plus what many consider to be an overcrowded marketplace will no doubt thin out somewhat, as many real estate agents fail to “rationalise” and pack up and go home. Or to Bulgaria.

Interestingly the 2% covers resale property, what about offplan property where developers are offering commission rates in double figures? A recent email I received, proudly declared that the developer was offering 18% commission alongside generous volume bonuses including free apartments. Mmm, 2% resale, or 18% offplan - if I was a salesman, I know which I would rather be selling.

There is, interestingly enough, a precedent for Viva’s actions. UK agent Foxtons opened a branch in downtown Manhattan, undercutting the local NY realtors by 3%. The outing was not an unqualified success, though, as you can read here.

So we await the next few months with eager anticipation. If nothing else, Viva have got everyone’s attention. Maybe its just a marketing exercise, after all.

Update: Chris McCarthy explains all

Monday, August 07, 2006

Property Guide Spain

Ben Johnson has sent me the link for his new site: It is basically all the facts, Q&As and info you would want to know when buying a property in Spain.

Unlike many news sections on property websites it is a) complete and b) up to date. I like this, especially given the fact that I know first hand what a pain it can be to maintain a decent set of guides on this subject. Ben assures me the guide will be kept up to date and legally accurate.

So for those of you doing your buying homework - there you go.

Oh good, another f*cking blog

Yes, I know, the last thing the world needs is another blog that nobody reads. I’m not a “citizen journalist”, or even a particularly good writer. I don’t have anything particularly exciting going on in my life to write about and I don’t work for some huge exciting company where I can leak any fascinating inside info.

But I sat down today and thought I really would like one place where I can keep all my thoughts, pics and interesting crap I find on the web. I had a look at a few different sites and couldn’t quite find what I was looking for. So hey I started a blog. So lets move on.

Who am I then? Well my name is Jamie Mills and I am originally from the UK, but now live and work in Andalucia, Spain. I moved here around September 2002 with a friend of mine.

I am an IT consultant, of sorts.

Anyway, I’m probably going to be writing about

  • Real Estate stuff - especially relating to Spain
  • Internet Marketing - what I do for work!
  • Stupid/funny crap I find on the web, and
  • whatever I feel like. Its my blog.

Its already getting a bit boring isn’t it? Told you.

Tuesday, August 01, 2006

My Big Fat Disclaimer

All the opinions expressed in this blog are mine and not those of my employer. Or my mum.

Plus any SEO advice I give comes with a warning - ITS ONLY MY OPINION, I MIGHT BE WRONG.

So we're clear on that? Good.