By Nathan Janitz, Natual Search Supervisor, Content Solutions
What to Keep in Mind When Dealing with Real Estate Transactions and How they Affect Local Search Engine Optimization and Digital Marketing Efforts
Real Estate transactions are complicated, as anyone in the business will testify. With inspections, complicated tax structures and financing deals, legal teams structure deals to account for every brick, parking spot, and even the use or ownership of the properties identity and associated marketing material; they don’t often account for past digital marketing efforts.
If a property has a dedicated website (i.e. www.xyzapartmentassociation.com), the domain name, associated URLs, and all content within the site are normally included as “marketing material” when transferring ownership. Once the property changes hands, after a lot of extra paperwork, so does the brand recognition and corresponding website.
However, what happens if the online assets of the property are located within the website of a parent company? Who controls the digital assets? This is a problem commonly seen within real estate-based industries (i.e. REITs, Hotel Chains, and Assisted Living Communities). While most legal teams, real estate brokers, and business leaders know the importance of brand management and the effect that Search Engine Marketing has on brand management, the lack of education on the technical basics of SEO are keeping companies from capitalizing on the marketing efforts.
Let’s take an example of Company A selling an apartment building to Company B. Company A branded their property “Seattle Ridge Apartments.” The property is well known within the Seattle area and has number 1 listing for “Seattle Ridge Apartments.” Because Company A still holds several other properties, they want control over the domain CompanyA.com, but the online identity of Seattle Ridge lives at CompanyA.com/Seattle-Ridge-Apartments.html. Normally, Company A will kill that page and try to redirect any traffic to one of its other properties in the Seattle area.
Company B is trying to capitalize on the brand name and wants its website to appear for the phrase “Seattle Ridge Apartments,” which it doesn’t because the Engines still see CompanyA.com as the owner of all content about Seattle Ridge Apartments.
While Google doesn’t mind if Company A sells the property to Company B, Google will not know that the property has changed hands without the proper signals. A letter to Google might seem like the best course for correcting the error, but that letter will most likely be replied with a list of some simple things Company B and Company A can do to ensure that both Google and its users have the best user experience.
Presently, real estate contracts often do not make provisions for SEO basics to transfer over all Search Engine Marketing efforts for that particular property. Since search is an important part of the marketing mix, shouldn’t it be a part of the contract? By placing within the contract a few minor requirements, Company B can force Company A to transfer the property in question’s past online marketing efforts with the sale of the property.
The standard and most reliable method to single to search engines that a property has changed hands is by implementing a server side URL redirect. The primary definition is a response with a status code beginning with 3 that induces a browser to go to another location. Basically, it is a way to signal to either a browser or a search spider that the content on Page A now lives on Page B.
Because of the sensitivity of brand management as well as the timeliness of real estate transactions, a contract should specify that the selling company, if possible, should implement a 301 permanent redirect to the property’s page on the new owner’s site.
For a single page on an Apache server, a directory-specific .htaccess file (as well as Apache's main configuration files) can be used. For example, to redirect a single page, the following line of code would be placed in the .htaccess file (Example using “Seattle Ridge Apartment example from above):
- Redirect 301 /seattle-redge-apartment.html http://www.companyb.com/new-page-name.html
The simple line of code will then permanently redirect the digital content on Company A’s website to its new home on Company B’s location.
Link on Site:
In the rare case that a company doesn’t have the ability to create a server side redirect, the purchasing company should insist that a text based link should be placed at the top of the existing page with the properties name
- Example: Company A has recently sold Seattle Ridge Apartments to Company B. Please follow this link to see the latest updated information on Seattle Ridge Apartments: www.companyb.com/new-page-name.html.
The placement of the links and inclusion of the anchor text is important because those will show the search engines that content about the property in question is located at this particular area. By placing the text at the top of the page, a user will be able to see the link and have the choice to proceed to the desired property, as well as show search engines the importance of the content. This method is not ideal, but it may allow Company B to surpass Company A’s listing in the SERP (Search Engine Results Page).
If this option is being implemented, make sure that the buyer has the legal right to include the legal name of the property on any and all marketing material talking about the property in question.
When dealing with brands that have tainted reputations, it may be that the purchasing company wants to distance itself as far from the original brand of the property. If this is the case, it could be in the purchasing company’s best interest to exclude this clause from any contract. The name of the property in question quickly becomes a liability rather than an asset. However, this will come with acknowledging that Company B has not and will never have a desire to gain online traffic from the property’s tainted name.