SEO and March Madness: Simple steps to get your website in the ‘Big Dance’

This article was originally published on Inman News:

Every year, a few obscure college basketball teams burst onto the national media stage during March.  These previously-unheralded teams can sometimes out shadow even the biggest basketball programs in the nation.  Their journey from unknown to “Cinderella” media darling, however, isn’t based on luck. College basketball’s postseason tournament has some lessons for any small business that is trying to stamp out a big footprint online.  If you want to compete with the big boys for search engine placement and traffic, you must have a plan:

Know who you are.  Play Like it.  Create an Identity.

A few years back, there was a small, scrappy, disciplined team from Princeton that shocked the world by beating the heavily-favored, over-sized, and supremely athletic UCLA Bruins.  They didn’t do it by playing to their larger opponent’s strengths, but instead by ceaselessly employing their unique advantages.  The team’s identity was fundamentals:  organized play, attention to detail, and never making mental mistakes.  That team’s unique image will be been frozen in basketball fans’ minds for years to come (many of you are picturing the last Princeton back-cut for the winning basket right now).

For real estate brokers’ websites, the same is true.  Before doing any SEO marketing, you need to begin with a solid, fundamentally-sound identity.  Define yourself.  If you’re the Tuscaloosa townhome guy, make it clear.  If your niche is Saratoga short sales, make sure every person who lands on your website knows right away who you are.  Take something as focused as single housing development, and own it. Once you’ve identified yourself, build a solid base of high quality content centered around that identity.  Create videos, blog posts, neighborhood pages, and quality content that focus on your identity and assure your readers that you are the most knowledgable person on this subject and worth their recognition.  Drive it home every chance you get:  this is why I am the expert on this unique subject.

Play outside of your normal sphere to get publicity.

Many smaller schools will play games far from home to start off their season.  They know that within the Eastern Wichita Valley conference, they may never play on national TV.  If they schedule non-conference games across the country, however, the risk of stepping out of their comfort zone can reap them much larger rewards in front of a greater media audience.  For the small fish, national recognition can be scarce but is essential to standing out among the traditional giants and earning a spot in the Big Dance.

For real estate professionals, being seen by a wider group of people can only serve to expand your potential impact on others.  Join discussions in real estate forums by professionals and related businesses.  Share your website’s information with them, and share your knowledge on similar topics with their websites’ readers.  See if you can write a guest post for a local business in your neighborhood, even if their business seems unrelated.  Interact with other professionals on social media.

Broadening your horizons will allow your website, and your business, to be exposed to a larger world.  The more people that recognize your business and your value, the more search engines will recognize you as a unique and trusted source for your particular area of business.

Get some “quality wins” for credibility.

Cinderella basketball teams aren’t created by winning 20 games against lesser opponents.  They need to topple a Goliath or two.   For the small school to truly stand out, the team must have a win that shows they can “punch above their weight”, and lend credibility to their claims that they can play with the best.

Likewise, 10 blog posts/month about the current inventory on the market is a nice steady stream of information, but it won’t make a website stand out as a leader. Find a media outlet that has an interesting story related to your field, and write a follow-up piece for them to consider publishing.  Create a community event that publicizes your business but also generates community buzz.  Call the a TV news reporter with a great story you’ve written and see if they’ll run a story on it.

In short, aim high to mix some big things in with your steady stream of information.   You won’t always win, but the times that you do will reap astronomical rewards for your website’s SEO.  The search engines like to know that you have the credibility to step up to a higher level.

Leverage your team and your conference’s assets

Basketball players don’t make the Big Dance on their own.   They need a team that works together.  They need an organized coaching staff.  They rely on trainers, parents, alumni, and even their conference’s administration to organize, manage, and fund their schedules.  Without these larger organizations giving rise to the team’s publicity, a good team might never even be considered for the postseason.

Real estate pros need help from outside to reach the top as well.  If no one is talking about your website, there is no way for the search engines to find it.  As an industry, we have so many organizations that are there to support us, but we sometimes forget to ask for that support.  Share an infographic on Facebook with your local Realtor organization.  Tweet with your MLS to create more visibility.  Write a blog post for your brokerage’s national brand and collaborate with your associates to generate traffic.Working in concert with the organizations that already support you can do wonders for elevating your profile.  Large organizations carry a lot of clout online.

The recipe for winning is fairly straightforward, but it’s still hard work.

 SEO is not terribly complicated.  Although some might disagree, becoming a winning basketball team isn’t all that complicated either.  They both just require a lot of hard work.  The #1 thing that makes one team or business stand out from its competitors is its willingness to set a goal, stick to a plan, and work tirelessly within a set of guidelines to achieve a specific outcome.

Any small business can carve out a niche and create their unique identity online.  By staking a claim to your expert status, and diligently adhering to your standards and goals, you can beat the big boys for search engine supremacy and successfully defend your unique turf online.


  • All opinions expressed herein are personal opinions and do not constitute the position or views of any organization. Sam DeBord is CEO of Real Estate Standards Organization (RESO). He has two decades of experience in the real estate industry, spanning real estate brokerages, mortgage lending, and technology consulting. He has served as President’s Liaison for MLS and Data Management with the National Association of REALTORS®, a REACH mentor, and on the board of directors for NAR, Second Century Ventures, and California Regional MLS. Sam began his career as a management consultant for PricewaterhouseCoopers. He is a recognized real estate industry writer for publications including REALTOR® Magazine, Inman News, and the Axiom Business Books Award-Winning Swanepoel Trends Report.