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Optimize Your Real Estate URLs for Search Engines

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To achieve success in the always competitive SEO and real estate games, creating competitive URL's are esstential if you want to appear on first page results on Google or another major search engine. One important technique up for discussion on this weeks blog is the optimal use of URL’s. The key is to make your websites URL simple and unique so that customers can easily return to your site or pass it on to friends. In the real estate industry, it’s a great opportunity for you and your firm to showcase your speciality whether it’s product or geaographcially. (Think /downtown_condos or /Miami_beach or both together /downtown_Miami_Beach_condos.)
 
Eleven Guidelines to Successful URLs

1. Describe Your Content

The more obvious the URL is the better. If a user can look at the address bar (or a pasted link) and make an accurate guess about the content of the page before ever  reaching it, you've done your job. These URLs get pasted, shared, emailed, written down, and yes, even recognized by the engines.

2. Keep it Short

Concision is a virtue. The shorter the URL, the easier to copy & paste, read over the phone, write on a business card, or use in a hundred other unorthodox fashions, all of  which spell better usability & increased branding.

3. Static is the Way & the Light
Not to bring religion into this, but I can tell you with certainty that some of the engines absolutely DO treat static URLs differently than dynamic ones. And no human  likes a URL where the big players are "?," "&," and "=."

4. Descriptives are Better than Numbers
If you're thinking of using 114/cat223/, go with /brand/colliers/ instead. Even if the descriptive isn't a keyword or particularly informative to an uninitiated user, it's  far better to use words when possible. If nothing else, your team members will thank you for making it that much easier to ID problems in development and testing.

5. Keywords are Key
If you know that you're going to be targeting a lot of competitive keyword phrases on your website for search traffic, you'll want every advantage you can get. Keywords  are certainly one element of that strategy, so take the list from marketing, map it to the proper pages, and get to work. For dynamically created pages through a CMS,  create the option of including keywords in the URL.

6. Never Use Sub Domains
Never use multiple sub domains (e.g., siteexplorer.search.yahoo.com) - it's too complex and lengthy. Also, consider that sub domains have the potential to be treated separately from the primary domain when it comes to passing link and trust value.

7. Use Fewer Folders
A URL should contain no unnecessary folders (or words or characters for that matter), for the same reason that a man's pants should contain no unnecessary pleats. The extra fabric is useless and will reduce his likelihood of impressing potential mates.

8. Use Hyphens to Separate Words
When creating URLs with multiple words in the format of a phrase, hyphens are best to separate the terms (e.g. /brands/colliers-international/), followed (in order) by, underscores (_), pluses (+) and nothing.

9. Maintain Conventions
If your site uses a single format throughout, don't consider making one section unique. Stick to your URL guidelines once established, so users (and future developers) will have a clear idea of how content is organized into folders and pages. This can apply globally as well for sites that share platforms, brands, etc. Re-inventing the wheel in situations where reliance on convention makes everyone's tasks easier is madness.

10. Don't be Case Sensitive
Since URLs can accept both uppercase and lowercase characters, don't ever, ever allow any uppercase letters in your structure. If you have them now, change them to all-lowercase versions to avoid confusion. If you have a lot of type-in traffic, you might even consider a coding rule that sends any incorrect capitalization variation to its rightful home.

11. Avoid Attaching Extraneous Data
There's no point to having a URL exist in which removing characters generates the same content. You can be virtually assured that people on the web will figure it out, link to you in different fashions, confuse themselves, their readers and the search engines (with duplicate content issues), and then complain about it.

12. Some Examples:

Here are some examples which you should try to avoid under any circumstance!
http://www.target.com/gp/detail.html/602-9912342-3046240?
_encoding=UTF8&frombrowse=1&asin=B000FN0KWA
Target doesn't describe their content, use keywords, or keep it short. This URL can so easily be made to look more aesthetically pleasing without changing the function at all and therefore it should be avoided at all costs.

http://etsy.com/view_item.php?listing_id=477443&pic_id=2
Despite being one of my favorite sites, Etsy's URLs provide no descriptive information, use multiple dynamic parameters and separate breaks with underscores.

http://maps.google.com/maps?f=q&hl=en&q=98115&ie=UTF8&z=12
&om=1&iwloc=A
Google should be ashamed - their guidelines for URLs practically set the town for the recommendations, but their maps feature is almost unusable due to inefficient, bloated URLs (when they must know that millions want to copy those URLs into emails).

These few below are doing a considerably better job, but could still go the extra mile:
http://men.style.com/news/gadgets/092006
It's almost there, and one could almost argue that the sub domain use here is justified for branding purposes. It is too bad they gave us so much data, but then cut out keywords and descriptives right at the end.

http://www.nasa.gov/home/index.html?skipIntro=1
Nasa has uselessly appended dynamic parameters onto the page, and added /home/index.html for no logical reason.

http://www.newyorkmetro.com/fashion/fashionshows/2007/spring/ main/newyork/womenrunway/marcjacobs/
They're trying to be descriptive, which is great, but not separating words and going 7 folders deep is really pushing it.

These last examples have done nearly everything right:
http://www.discoverohio.com/visitors/map.asp
Brilliant - it's short, descriptive, static and obvious.
http://web.mit.edu/is/usability/usability-guidelines.html
Despite the subdomain, everything else is near perfect.
http://www.whitehouse.gov/history/presidents/jk35.html
I'm letting the White House off the hook for not using "john-kennedy" as the page title, because they've wisely also provided his number (the US' 35th President).
 
URLs may seem like one of the most simplistic parts of SEO, but they are one of the most important. Hopefully these guidelines can help real estate professionals like you make use of the best online practices for their specific business so that their underutilized website can start doing what it was intended to. Generate leads.  By following these guidelines, your property company will be one step closer to that ever elusive Google first page.