If I were going to build a real estate website today starting from scratch. These are a few things I would focus on. Understanding what I know now about web design, SEO and Real Estate Websites.
1. Domain name – This is tricky because if your only marketing will be Organic Search/ PPC you may want a keyword spam type domain name. i.e. [http://www.YOURCITY_State_REAL_ESTATE.com] or whatever. If you are going to advertise your website in your Webdesign print advertising, business cards etc. You want something someone can see and remember. You can rank any site with time and effort but as far as I know keywords in the domain name are still a factor in all the engines so it’s just a little harder. The best solution to this problem is to just simply have 2 domain names. One for print and one for ranking. Have your print domain redirected to the keyword rich domain name and you get the best of both worlds.
2. Website – I would focus on building (or having built) a SEO friendly site that was easy to add content/new pages to as well as having a blog installed. I would make sure the site looked professional of course, I believe that having quality photography and a clean design are the two best ways to get a professional site. I would have a very limited amount of outgoing links on my main page and NO BANNERS from directories.
3. Lead Generation – I would build my site so it entices people to contact me. I would have a contact me page, a Auto Email from MLS page, free CMA page, and of course I would have my IDX search accessible and I wouldn’t make people sign up prior to using it.(This is debated but I find forced contacts to be a waste of time others disagree and I see there point as well) The reason behind this is a site that doesn’t convert might as well not be ranked. If you have 1 million visitors and only 1 person contacts you would probably be better off building a site that 20 people visit you but 10 contact you. You want a site that does both, you want to both a rankable site and one that converts those visitors to leads.
4. Off Site SEO – if I had the money I would hire Off Site SEO out. If I didn’t have the money (which I don’t) I would focus on building relevant links to my site. I would rotate between 10 or so different anchor texts but I would be heavy on my main 1 or 2 terms. These are the different types of links I would focus on getting. 1 Ways links, Recips, 3 Ways, Article, Directory (free and a select few paid), Forum Sigs, Offsite Blogs, Blog Comments, and Press Releases.
I believe if you do (or hire someone to do) just these 4 easy steps you will rank well in the search engines. MSN will be almost instant, Yahoo 3-6 months, Google 8-12 months. During this time I would use PPC and print marketing to supplement my poor rankings and help drive people to my website.