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Buying Ads on Zillow

When I was attending Real Estate Bar Camp in Seattle I had the good fortune to meet a number of the crew at Zillow including Rich Barton, Spencer Rascoff, Drew Meyers and David Gibbons. Spencer was especially friendly and inviting and remained so even after he found out that I was Geordie Romer not Geordy Rostad of Windermere.

From those introductions, and subsequent emails and phone calls to David about all the glitches and issues I had with Zillow, I ended up being invited to Zillow headquarters to meet with a small group of agents, consumers (ok, just one consumer) and numerous Zillow staff (Zillow Blog article).

The topics for the meeting:

  • How to make Zillow more useful for the consumer
  • How to make Zillow more useful for the real estate professional

It boils down to this. Zillow is a media company and sells ads, both to companies and agents. What does Zillow need to do to get me to buy more ads?

I got my first sales call from Zillow the day before my meeting in Seattle. I got my second sales call from Zillow yesterday. I don’t envy someone who has to sell to salespeople and I certainly don’t envy them trying in this economy.

Some Ideas

  • The sales folk tell me that my ad on Zillow is likely to get 2000 impressions a month. How many unique visitors is that? From what zipcodes? How long are these visitors staying on the site?
  • I have two options for ads. I can advertise myself “Geordie Romer – Leavenworth WA real estate expert” or I can advertise the “world’s cheapest yet glamorous vacation home”. Which is likely to have a better click through rate? Which is going to make the phone ring? What kinds of agent ads work best? What kinds of properties make the phone ring? I’d love a white paper that tells me how to make the best of this opportunity.
  • How and why do people go to Zillow? They certainly don’t find Zillow by searching “Leavenworth real estate” or “Leavenworth WA real estate” — nope, those visitors are going to my website or my competitors, but certainly not Zillow (or Trulia or Cyberhomes).
  • If more consumers are using the Zillow iPhone app, how does this affect my ads? Are less people going to see it? Is there a way to make me easier to reach via i-Phone?
  • Is the lack of consumer participation in my zipcodes on Zillow Advice and Make Me Move an indication of the kind of traffic I’ll get? Is there a correlation?
  • It’s not about price. It’s about value. The cost per month is $30 or so. Less than $400 a year per zipcode. The cost is low – raising it to $50 or lowering it to $20 probably wouldn’t have much of an effect on me. I would spend $500 month if the return was there.

My job is to sell houses. If Zillow can help me do that more efficiently, I’m happy to pay my share. If Trulia or Cyberhomes can do it better, I’m happy to give them a try too.

About Geordie Romer

Geordie Romer is a Realtor in Leavenworth Washington. He specializes in selling vacation homes in Leavenworth, Plain and Lake Wenatchee. He has been blogging on his own site since 2005 and guest posts for others around the web. In 2013, he rediscovered competitive cycling and if he's not showing houses, he just might be off riding his bike.

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  • Thanks for the shout Geordie! Nice to see you on here. You guys will all have to hound me to get me out to the next REBAR camp.

    Good, honest breakdown of the Showcase Ads on Zillow. There are definitely more than two ways to play that ad. I’ve tried about ten of them now I think 😉 The showcase ad system still needs more work to be efficient but I’ve submitted my wish list to the powers that be already.

    I’ve not directly generated any business off the ad so far (to my knowledge). I have generated many healthy leads off of Zillow however so I don’t mind chalking it up to trial and error. I do hold hope that I’ll figure out how to better monetize the ad but in the end I’m not sure that it will be by trying to sell myself, my listings or my blog in those three lines of text. Whatever the case, it is a good bullet point at a listing presentation if nothing else and has led me to thinking much harder about my ad campaign.

  • “I don’t envy someone who has to sell to salespeople”

    Ha! Good point. I’ll try to answer a few of your questions:

    – You can get the estimated traffic that each ad is likely to get by ZIP code on Zillow in the ad purchase path (click “advertisers” at the bottom of any page on Zillow.) Another approach is to look at the views in the ZIP on any home’s “home info” page. The important point here is that your Zillow ads are priced according to traffic and that because you buy a fixed “share of voice” your ad impressions will not be diluted.
    – Your optimal ad copy depends on your marketing goals and while your salesperson should advise you on options, it will take experimentation and customization to perfect it. It’s a good thing that you’re thinking about it though – ad copy has a huge impact on ad performance. Depending on your goals, each of the following can work well in showcase ads:
    1) “Just Sold (in 22 days!)” … with photo of type of listing your trying to attract.
    2) Use “Subscribe to Leavenworth RE investing insights” … to pick up blog readers. You could promote specific content this way … “Leavenworth buyers guide” etc.
    3) “Price reduced 20%” or “Short Sale Log Home, new on market” to attract traffic to hot listings.
    4) “Want to know what this Leavenworth home is REALLY worth?” … use content that play’s to Zillow’s Zestimate audience.
    5) [use your imagination and experiment]
    – Our branded traffic (people looking for “Zillow”) is still our primary strength and I’d argue that that has far more inherent intent than SEO traffic (in general) but we can certainly offer you some Leavenworth Google goodness: http://tinyurl.com/lhudap
    – Our iPhone app advertising opportunity right now is all about listings – so take advantage of that. We are in the early phases of testing ads in the app. – stay tuned for details!
    – IMO, the primary correlation you should be looking for is; are you hearing about Zillow and Zestimates from your buyers and sellers?
    – Agreed!

  • David-
    Love your insight and ideas.

    However, regarding your “Leavenworth Google Goodness” – do a Google Keyword Research check on “Leavenworth Home Values” – yep, no data. You beat me on a term no one searches for. Shucks.

    And “Are you hearing about Zillow and Zestimates from your buyers and sellers?”

    Nope, not really. No Zestimates in my area and I would guess that most agents here as well as consumers don’t use it.

    We always hear -“Fish where the Fish are”. Zillow has lots of fish, I just need to know if they are the fish I’m fishing for.

    Certainly an ad that drove traffic to sign up for emails or RSS feeds would be pretty easy to measure.

  • Sandra Sims

    David,

    I am a Virtual Administrative Assistant and we have Realtors as clients and all of them use Zillow to place ads for their sellers! I like Zillow due to it’s easyness to put the listings on their website and then track the website visits. This seems to be the attraction for our sellers which is what helps our Realtors to get those leads!

  • I appreciate this insight from fellow agents using zillow. I’ve tried a few ads with no real success. However, I get their solicitations to purchase more and have offered to if they will make me a ‘local expert’.

    The ‘local expert’ in my area is unknown to me and I don’t think he has closed a sale in my neighborhood while I am in the top 10 Realtors in the neighborhood and region. At least I can say that the tag of ‘expert’ is not based on ad revenue purchased on their site. Sadly, it isn’t based on being an expert in the area either.

    I think the iphone app is bringing a lot of attention to zillow in my area. While I don’t think many people will actually use it, it is a great concept.

  • Folks at Homegain read this article and are now trying to sell me their product. (AgentView – one of three products they sell.) Again – not really impressed. I DON’T CARE ABOUT 4 MILLION VISITORS. I want to know about traffic in my specific area. I want to know how you are going to save me time and money and make my life easier.

  • geordieromer

    So I spent a few $ for a month to try out Zillow's Showcase Ads. I thought I would try it out for a few months, but have been so underwhelmed, I don't think I will.

    I did 3 ads for the zipcode that I work – 98826.

    Two ads were shown 50% of the time and 1 was shown 100% of the time.

    The first ad promoted an oversupply of condos in Leavenworth. 2 clicks or .17% CTR.

    The second ad promoted building lots at Kahler Glen golf course. 10 clicks, .44% CTR. (this was the 100% ad)

    The third ad promoted my blog as a source of real estate data for Leavenworth. 5 clicks, .45% CTR

    The state average for CTR is .12% so I really did well didn't I?

    On the other hand, I only had 17 clicks. 17!

    For this amount of traffic it's not even worth my time to set up the ads, much less pay for them.

    As I said before, it's not so much the price but the ROI. If I ran all 3 ads for a year would I get a closed sale from these ads? Maybe.

    It's so little traffic it's hard to make any sort of judgement call.

    I think I'll let someone else fund the experiments from here on out.

    • srascoff

      Hi Geordie,
      Spencer from Zillow here,
      I think you hit the nail on the head when you pointed out that the experiment length was too short to draw conclusions. That's one of the reasons we don't even sell 1-month only ads over the phone — we really discourage it for exactly the reason you experienced. We do allow you to buy very short contracts through self-serve advertising on the website (which is what you did) but our sales reps won't sell contracts shorter than 6 months.

      The key benefit of Showcase Ads are that an agent has the ability to “own” a particular territory for a long period of time. Zillow users get used to seeing the two agents who own that neighborhood over and over as they use the site. It positions the agent as the expert on that area to the Zillow user. It may not generate massive clicks in the near-term, but we believe (and our advertisers tell us) that this works. In addition, it's quite valuable in your listings presentation to point out to prospective sellers that if they want their listing to be advertised on Zillow, they need to list with you because you own that Showcase spot on every search in that zip code.

      One other thing — the performance of ads on Zillow differs dramatically based on the type of ad. Photos of agents don't perform well; photos of listings do. If advertisers worth with a sales rep rather than doing it self-serve on the web, we help them build the ad and it performs better. Sara Bonert wrote a great post on this in Active Rain which you'd find interesting: http://bit.ly/j2A1w

      Anyway, sorry to have not gained your repeat business. You can't win em all.

  • geordieromer

    Spencer- Thanks for your thoughts. I found Sara's recent post on the Zillow blog to be quite helpful.

    http://www.zillow.com/blog/the-top-and-bottom-p

    It sounds like you are suggesting that showcase ads are a successful tool for some agents in branding in specific zipcodes. It also sounds like it can be used as a tool during a listing presentation to win over clients as part of a marketing campaign.

    I can see how both might be indirectly helpful for some agents, especially those with weak branding or difficulty getting listings.

    I was hoping for more traffic to my website or conversions by buyers on specific listings. As a strong listing agent, I don't have a hard time winning listing presentations, but I certainly would like to attract more buyer traffic to my listings – both online and in real life.

    What dismayed me the most was that average CTR for the state are about 1/3 of the CTR that I was getting. Can I really expect that my CTR could be 10x the state average or will the law of averages catch up with me and will my CTR decrease as time goes on?

    As I asked Sara:

    I’m curious what kind of click through rates (CTR)the successful ads are getting and maybe more importantly, how do they each compare to state averages?

    It would also be interesting to know how the zipcodes for the top performing ads perform as far as Zillow answers, # of Zillow listings, and Zestimates.

    If there are no Zestimates for a zipcode do the ads perform poorly? If no one participates in Zillow answers, do the ads perform poorly?

    I can see how in certain markets, with well crafted ads, Zillow Showcase ads could work. I'd love to hear about others experiences.

  • geordieromer

    Spencer- Thanks for your thoughts. I found Sara's recent post on the Zillow blog to be quite helpful.

    http://www.zillow.com/blog/the-top-and-bottom-p

    It sounds like you are suggesting that showcase ads are a successful tool for some agents in branding in specific zipcodes. It also sounds like it can be used as a tool during a listing presentation to win over clients as part of a marketing campaign.

    I can see how both might be indirectly helpful for some agents, especially those with weak branding or difficulty getting listings.

    I was hoping for more traffic to my website or conversions by buyers on specific listings. As a strong listing agent, I don't have a hard time winning listing presentations, but I certainly would like to attract more buyer traffic to my listings – both online and in real life.

    What dismayed me the most was that average CTR for the state are about 1/3 of the CTR that I was getting. Can I really expect that my CTR could be 10x the state average or will the law of averages catch up with me and will my CTR decrease as time goes on?

    As I asked Sara:

    I’m curious what kind of click through rates (CTR)the successful ads are getting and maybe more importantly, how do they each compare to state averages?

    It would also be interesting to know how the zipcodes for the top performing ads perform as far as Zillow answers, # of Zillow listings, and Zestimates.

    If there are no Zestimates for a zipcode do the ads perform poorly? If no one participates in Zillow answers, do the ads perform poorly?

    I can see how in certain markets, with well crafted ads, Zillow Showcase ads could work. I'd love to hear about others experiences.

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