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   ARTICLE   |   From Scotsman Guide Residential Edition   |   September 2016

Rank High to be Found Online

Search engine optimization can help purchase-ready customers find your website

Rank High to be Found Online

A 2015 study by Accenture found that 23 percent of U.S. consumers who applied for a mortgage in the previous year did so through the internet. These are local customers who researched rates and products, and decided which mortgage company or specific loan originator to work with almost entirely online.

Making a few changes to your company’s digital approach and boosting your website’s search engine optimization (SEO) can make your company stand out in the virtual landscape — and also help you tap into a significant amount of local mortgage volume.

Before we get into the step-by-step process for improving your online footprint, it is important to understand how dramatically SEO has changed in the last year and why this is such a fantastic opportunity for professionals in the mortgage industry. There are two main reasons why new opportunities exist right now.

  • New focus on local customers. The Google search engine switched its local map rankings to feature only three local businesses instead of seven. This means that three loan originators will be put in front of most of the mortgage customers using Google in a particular area.
  • Automated front-page listings. Google started using an artificial intelligence program called RankBrain to help determine which websites to show on the front page. More importantly, RankBrain has learned how to identify purchase intent, so it has the ability to determine when someone is ready to buy based on what they type into the search field.

So, when a local customer inputs a search that indicates purchase intent, Google returns a map showing the location of the top-three local businesses — the three-pack — along with online reviews for those companies.

A recent study by Bright Local shows that 80 percent of all consumers trust online reviews as much as personal recommendations, and 97 percent of consumers ages 18 to 34 read online reviews to judge local businesses. So, a top-three ranking coupled with positive online reviews can help you capture high-quality local leads who are ready to buy. It’s a simple concept, but one that requires significant effort. The return-on-investment once you get ranked, however, can be astounding.

To show up in the three-pack, you first need to set up a Google My Business profile. Visit business.google.com to sign up for your account. It’s free and the initial setup takes less than 10 minutes. Google will send you a postcard to verify your location before your account connects to your website and goes live. A My Business profile is just the first step, however. To maximize your chances at ranking highly enough to generate quality local leads online, you also need to do some research and improve your website.

Keyword research

Many mortgage companies invest tremendous amounts of time and resources into how their websites look but miss the critical step of determining where their customers come from. Having a website is just one small step. You need targeted traffic to help you generate closed deals.

To get the quickest results, you need to determine which searches RankBrain identifies as having purchase intent. Most SEO tools and companies focus on finding search phrases that get the highest volume of searches. You want quality rather than quantity, so you receive fewer calls but convert more closed loans.

You actually can let Google tell you which search phrases will be the most profitable. Start by searching for “[area name] mortgage lender.” Put the three businesses that show up in the map listings into an SEO data tool such as Semrush. These tools can show you the search phrases that drive traffic to the sites you selected.

Make a list of those phrases and input them into Google searches. Save any that produce a three-pack map listing. Now, do the same thing for the terms “loan officer,” “best loan officer,” “top-rated loan officer” and those same variations on the phrase “mortgage broker.”

This simple research technique will quickly give you the 10 to 20 search phrases that generate the majority of high-quality online mortgage leads in your local market.

Strategic planning

To show up on the front page locally, you also must show Google that you are more deserving of a top ranking than your competition. To do this, you first need to figure out how much optimization your local competitors have already done to rank highly in searches.

To reverse engineer how much work it will take to get in front of quality local customers in your market, find a link-profiling tool that provides website ratings. One good option is the MOZ Open Site Explorer. Type in the URLs for your top three competitors and MOZ will show you how well their websites are rated by Google and how many back links they have.

If you then input the URL for your company’s website into the form as well, you can compare the data returned on your site to the information you got on your competitors. This will give you an exact plan showing how much work you need to do to catch up to your competition.

Website overhaul

Your website is the foundation that all your other online rankings stand on. It is almost impossible to show up in the three-pack or even on the front page of search results without a properly optimized website. There is no way to sugar coat this. Structuring your website to rank well is complicated. The results are certainly worth the effort, however.

You have to make the structure, content and html code on your website match the list of keywords that you want to rank highly on. When search engines crawl your site, they need to be told specifically what you want to rank for and why you deserve to be one of the top three businesses to get the traffic. Your content and website structure need to show Google that your business is a leader in the local market and that you are going to provide an excellent user experience to the customers they give you.

Describing the process for analyzing and properly coding your website to rank highly on search engines goes well beyond the scope of a single magazine article, however. If you are serious about overhauling your website to break into the three-pack, you most likely will need to work with a professional marketing company to get a website analysis and ranking consultation. A good marketing company should be able to review your website and give you a detailed report that shows where your website is broken and provide a step-by-step checklist to help you fix it.

Quality links

Optimizing your website isn’t enough to get you in front of your local customers. With hundreds of mortgage companies that can show up on the front page of a search, how does Google determine who appears there? Think of it as a popularity contest. Google wants to find popular local businesses that provide a good user experience and, ultimately, make the end customer happy.

Online links to your website are an incredibly strong signal to Google that your website is relevant, current and useful. A link is created when another website references your site with a link that people can click on to go visit your site. The theory is that the more quality links that point back at your site, the more reputable you are and the higher you rank.

There are three main types of links: location, relevance and quality. Every time you sign up for another website you create a type of back link. On an ongoing basis, you need to sign up for local business directories, review sites and mortgage-related websites. You also should make sure you are listed on sites like the Better Business Bureau, local chambers of commerce and other professional associations. Every link gets you one small step closer to your front-page ranking.

Online reviews

In today’s market, online reviews are crucial to your success. Online customers have been trained to look for reviews on almost every transaction they make. Google, Facebook, Amazon, Trip Advisor and many other large successful online companies focus on reviews to help consumers make purchase decisions.

Your online clients will be looking for online reviews about you. In addition, reviews will help you secure that top-three ranking. Toward this end, you should focus on getting reviews on your Google My Business page until you are the top-ranked mortgage professional in your market. Then, when you show up in the three-pack, you will be the top choice among the top three.

A simple flyer explaining how to leave a review on your Google My Business page tucked into customers’ closing documents is often enough to start producing an influx of five-star reviews.

• • •

There is much more to improving your company’s online rankings than can be described in a single article. The tips presented here, however, should help you put together a clear plan for structuring your online marketing campaign and give you some initial steps for improving your website’s SEO so you can begin to profit from high-quality online leads.


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