SEO and the Inspection Industry

by Chris Morrell, InterNACHI Chief Technology Officer
Note: this is a pretty long post.  If you don’t feel like reading the back story, you can jump to the summary.

A lot of things on the Web have changed in the last 10 years, and search engine optimization is certainly one of them.  Years ago, when Nick and I started to really focus on InterNACHI’s growth, SEO was a pretty brute-force tactic: you made sure you had keywords on your pages, and lots of links to them.  Nowadays, SEO is much more nuanced.  On-page optimization is much more complex; PageRank (Google’s search engine ranking “score”) matters a lot less; links can’t just be any old link; etc., etc.

One of the biggest changes to hit our industry is Google “local” results showing up in regular searches.  Go ahead and do a search for home inspectors in your city.  You’ll see something a lot like this (click to enlarge):

Being #1 in traditional search rankings really puts you at #8 or #9 when local results come into play.  If you’re not in these top 6–7 local results you’re going to have a much harder time getting visitors from search.

So what does that mean for InterNACHI and its members?  Well, it certainly means that our members should all have a Google Places account, and should be optimizing their listings.  But it also means that InterNACHI has had to change the way that we send leads to our members.

A lot of these changes focus on the flow of “link juice”—the SEO term for the quantity, type, and value of links pointing to your site.  If you think of the Web as a large plumbing system, each link to your site is another pipe directing link juice to it.  The more juice you have flowing to your site, the better your site will rank.

Well, in the early days of SEO, most links delivered about the same amount of juice, with PageRank having some effect of the pipe’s “diameter.”  Nowadays, that’s completely changed.  There are tons of factors that determine the quality of a link, with brand, age, PageRank, industry, speed, and other factors all playing a role.  InterNACHI has focused on optimizing these factors, so that links from our thousands of inspection-industry sites all deliver the most link juice possible to our members’ web sites.  This helps both our members’ local search listings, as well as their traditional search listings.

On top of that, new technologies have been created specifically to solve some of the problems with location-based search (what most people are doing when they’re searching for a home inspector).  Specifications like Microformats and RDFa help spiders like Google’s Googlebot gather more meaning from pages.  And we can optimize that data so that our members benefit from it most.

It used to be that we’d constantly hear from members, thanking us for all the calls and emails they got from our search engines.  Some folks would get 2-3 inspections a week directly from our web forms.  But as Google and other search engines have changed, we’ve had to move our focus away from direct leads to an approach that sends clients directly to our members’ websites without necessarily knowing that they got there through InterNACHI (we no longer think of our “Find an Inspector” search engines as destinations, but rather as hubs).  It’s bad for our image, but good for our members, and we’re not interested in compromising our members’ success just to make the organization look better.

But at the same time, it’s nice to know that our organization is working for you.  So a few months ago, we started publicly listing a small portion of the leads that we send to our members.  But we wanted to take this feature one step further.  So starting later this week, or early next week, we’re going to start sending our members a custom list of the leads they receive through InterNACHI.  It will be a weekly digest of the leads you received, and which InterNACHI website they came from.

If you don’t want these emails, you can opt-out right now.  But I urge you not to opt-out, because receiving this information has an added benefit that will help your business.  Each week you’ll see a list of all the people that InterNACHI is sending to your website.  If you’re not turning 10-20% of those leads into phone calls or emails, that means your site is not performing as well as it should.  If you’re getting a lot of leads and not a lot of phone calls, it may be time to rework your site.

This post got pretty long, so in summary:

The SEO industry has changed a lot in the past 10 years, and InterNACHI has changed with it, even if that’s meant that our influence in our members’ success is less obvious.  Local search has particularly changed how inspectors need to optimize their sites, and InterNACHI has implemented technologies like RDFa and microformats to ensure that we’re highly influential data providers for search engines.  But we recognize that it’s nice to see evidence that we’re working for you, so we’re going to start sending out weekly notices about a portion of the leads we’re sending to our members’ sites.