Many mortgage professionals, ranging from small loan originators to C-suite executives, spend a lot of time on the concept of how to put their company’s website in a prominent position in web searches. Despite this, however, the process remains remarkably misunderstood.
Another way of describing SEO is that it’s the process and skill of taking intentional actions to improve a website, thus increasing its visibility when users and potential clients look for your products and services via online search engines. A science as old as the internet itself, SEO is the make-or-break delineation process between lenders and brokers who achieve online dominance and those who suffer online obsolescence.
Barring pricey paid placements, SEO mastery is what separates page one Google champs from page seven nobodies. Once upon a time, prominent placement could be attained organically. Not anymore. Today, commercial mortgage brokers and lenders must do more than focus on building a quality business to receive online recognition. They must know SEO.
For the uninitiated, everything that inhabits a search engine’s prime pages is there intentionally. A lot of time, money and resources are put into how these pages look. Businesses are constantly devising just the right terms to be identified by search engines.
As for the money spent, it isn’t as simple as just paying the major internet companies, such as Google, for prime positions. Such paid placements are disclosed as advertising and they do not carry the same cachet as websites that organically appear on page one — ideally as the first listing or “position zero” — of search results.
Instead, commercial mortgage website budgets should include money for SEO strategists. These professionals do the groundwork required to populate webpages with keyword-centric content of a specific quality and quantity. Among other tricks, this will help a website rise to the top of search results.
Why the fuss?
If all of this seems like a disproportionate focus on the search performance of a website, consider the brand evaluation process of the modern consumer. A website is a brand’s 24/7 marketer. Before someone gives a mortgage broker an opportunity, chances are they’ve Googled the broker’s name, perused their website and consulted their reviews.
The amount of searching done today is astounding. Google processes about 3.1 trillion searches every year. There are about 8 billion people in the world, so this means there are about 388 searches per year for every human on the planet, without subtracting children or disconnected populations.
The consumer’s reflex to search has profound implications for any modern brand. If a quick search of a commercial mortgage company’s name doesn’t result in a page that features the business at the top and validating sources beneath it, the efforts invested by the company in more tangible operations — streamlining its application process, improving its client service or optimizing its rates — could be for naught.
This trend already dominated before the COVID-19 pandemic rattled the world. Like so many things, however, the health crisis hastened the disruption of the status quo. SEO is no longer a want but a need. Now, regardless of someone’s job and location, competing in today’s world requires competing on the pages of a search engine, which makes the current marketplace more competitive than ever.
To use SEO correctly, businesses must understand it. At the heart of search engine sorting is the user experience. When Google or Yahoo do their jobs well, their users find quality companies with quality sites that are full of informative content and devoid of pages that confuse or mislead. At least, that’s the goal.
The algorithms that search engines employ to vet the quality of sites change constantly, as do the maneuvers that SEO professionals use to catch the attention of these systems. While not all inclusive, the first rule of SEO is to establish a site that will be engaging to a real human. Much of what search algorithms do is attempt to replicate the human criteria for value.
If this sounds like a daunting assignment, it can be. Understanding the long-term goals of the search engine’s sorting systems is the best way to future-proof your site’s content against constantly changing algorithms.
When looking at the mind-numbing details of this process, remember that SEO professionals exist for a reason. Those who find the following objectives and terms confounding are in good company.
All mortgage brokers should consider hiring an SEO strategist to do the heavy lifting. This discussion will serve as an introduction and briefing book, but a professional should be consulted.
There are some terms that everyone needs to know. A keyword, for example, is a single word, phrase or concept that encapsulates the purpose of your content. In the world of SEO, these are the words and phrases entered into the search engine, once called “search queries” in more formal times.
There are essentially four subcategories of keywords. They include informational keywords, which help users find specific answers to specific questions; navigational keywords, which are used to help users find a specific site or page; commercial keywords, which help users investigate companies or products; and transactional keywords, which are used to help customers make a purchase.
Other terms include meta tags and descriptions. A meta tag is a type of keyword that is written on the head section of the HTML structure of a webpage. It describes the content found on a site or its subpages. As search engines prioritize user experience, ensuring that a site answers a user’s specific questions and satisfies specific searches is crucial to success. A meta description is a longer collection of meta tags that seeks to encapsulate the value you’ve established.
On-site SEO is a term that encapsulates many of the efforts expected of SEO, such as keyword population, content writing and overall user experience optimization on a website. Off-site SEO is the less obvious side of the search engine optimization coin. It includes efforts taken by someone on other sites to improve their own site, such as backlinking from other pages or writing guest content on a blog.
Another important term is local SEO, which includes efforts to improve the standing of your site’s presence in specific geographical markets. This can be especially valuable for local or regional mortgage originators, who may be able to compete for specific terms within certain cities and states, while such efforts would be moot on a national scale.
Terms to avoid include black hat SEO. This is the dark art of digital content and its efforts are explicitly banned by search engines. It includes keyword stuffing (which involves loading webpages with numerous keywords to improve a site’s ranking) and cloaking (improving a site’s rankings by giving users content that differs from what is shown to search engine crawlers). Some sites use private link networks to trick the algorithms into thinking something of value exists where it does not.
Action is required to turn SEO know-how into SEO dominance. While search strategy is a full-time job, short-term efforts can improve a site’s standing.
Some steps can be taken immediately. They include choosing three crucial keywords that best describe a business and will attract customers to its website. To make an informed decision regarding these important terms, consult an SEO program such as Semrush, Moz or SpyFu.
Such programs work to offer insights into SEO implementation strategies and will show users a picture of where their website stands today. They also may offer insights into how competing lenders and brokers may be using certain keywords and reveal a website’s blind spots.
A second step is to ensure that all webpages have meta tags and meta descriptions filled out completely. These details should reflect the following:
- 160 characters or less
- Distinct summaries for each page
- No redundancy (avoid duplicate meta descriptions)
- Sentence case (not written in lowercase for robots)
- Balance being descriptive and concise
- Mirror a human’s search intent
- Located in logical places
Lastly, post relevant content to the site with frequency. To connect with customers, a website’s content needs to be applicable to their lives. And to do that, content suppliers need to know their customers. In today’s saturated market, it’s better to choose a niche audience than to attempt to be all things to all people. But that is another conversation for another day.
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Today, a borrower’s first impression of a mortgage broker or lender is unlikely to be a handshake, an elevator pitch or a storefront. Instead, it will likely consist of little more than characters on a page — a digital impression — written by the business and optimized by an SEO professional. And hopefully, it will be recognized by algorithms controlled in Silicon Valley as a listing worthy of page one placement. ●