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Expanding on the SEO Debate as it Relates to Listing Syndication

Syndication SEO Real EstateI firmly believe that SEO is at the route of this listing syndication discussion that has been picking up steam since Edina and ARG stopped syndicating their listings, so wanted to expand on the SEO discussion that Sam picked up onSome have defended the SEO tactics the syndicators use, but most simply don’t understand SEO — which is prompting this post to help the industry better understand this issue.

Specifically, I wanted to address the thought by some agents/brokers that “without my/our listings, I/we would outrank Trulia/Zillow“.

It’s a notion I’ve seen discussed on several blogs over the past couple weeks. But it’s simply false.

Allow me to explain.

First, let’s spend just a minute explaining the way SEO works at a high level. Every page on the internet has X amount of PageRank, and each page is generally targeted at one or two keywords — such as “homes for sale in Seattle” or “Portland real estate”. PageRank is largely driven by how many other websites & pages have linked to a particular page (both internal and external links). For more on PageRank, watch this video. The idea behind PageRank is that great content will get shared by others in the form of links, Facebook Likes, +1’s — and those represent real people (if you weed out the spammers) voting as to what pages they find valuable. For any given search term entered into Google, their algorithms strive to return the result with the highest PageRank, focused on the exact keyword searched.

Of course that’s an overly simplified version of how SEO works, but there’s no sense getting into the real weeds of how Google’s algorithms work (and no one but Google engineers know anyway). The important thing to note is that LINKS (and Likes/+1’s) drive search engine rankings.

So, even if a number of the extremely large brokerages such as Century 21, Better Homes & Garden, and Prudentail suddenly pulled ALL their listings — and Zillow/Trulia suddenly lost 50% of their listings in a given market, you’d see zero SEO impact on the aggregators.

Would Zillow and Trulia be less value to buyers with half as many listings? Certainly. But from an SEO perspective, nothing would really change. The high value, high traffic pages that rank for “city + real estate” and “city + homes for sale” (such as ManhattanSeattle, or Los Angeles) exist regardless, and they have inbound links and PageRank already. Even with half as many listings, their PageRank would remain the same because all the internal and external links to those pages would still exist.

The argument that listings are the reason that Zillow/Trulia are outranking agents and brokerages for those high value terms such as Denver homes for sale and San Francisco real estate is simply a flawed argument that the industry would love to be true because it would mean a simple fix to beating Zillow/Trulia at the SEO game. Unfortunately, competing on the SEO front with the big boys isn’t quite as easy as pulling your listings off those sites.

What do you think? Do you think SEO has no bearing on the decisions by brokerages to pull their listings? Am I missing something?

[Disclosure: It’s already listed in the about page of this blog, but I’m a share holder of Zillow]

About Drew Meyers

Founder of Geek Estate Blog / Geek Estate Labs. Zillow Alum. Travel addict & co-founder of Horizon. Social entrepreneurship & microfinance advocate. Fan of Red Hot Chili Peppers and Kiva.

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  • Love the discussion, Drew, and we agree on almost all points.  ZTR will outrank the vast majority of sites based on far better SEO, inbound links, media connections, etc.  Very broker few sites will outrank them based on a short tail term like “Portland real estate”, whether or not there are listings available.

    From an SEO perspective, though, it would be an oversimplification to say that a lack of listings would have zero effect.  We all know that bounce rates, average length of time on site, and multiple other traffic statistics do weigh into search engines’ calculations of site popularity/strength.

    A Zillow without listings would still be a great research tool (zestimates aside), and millions of consumers would still visit it and look at tax data, parcel maps, converse in the forums, etc.  However, all of the time that they spend today looking at actual listings of homes for sale would disappear.  Repeat visits from consumers who are specifically looking for new listings would disappear.  That would be a significant percentage of traffic and time on the site. 

    This is the crux of the strategic question for the individual agent or brokerage.  They can outrank a large site for a localized, long-tail terms like “Wallingford Seattle homes for sale”.  This may be all they want or need if they work only work in that neighborhood.  The extra edge in comparative SEO based on brokerage sites having exclusive listing content may be the thing that pushes them over the edge.  How much would it help?  No one knows, but it would certainly have some effect.

  • I think it has something to do with SEO but a lot more to do with Zillow and (not so much Trulia in my market) being a source that our clients mention on a regular basis, while we wish they mentioned our sites more. 

    The major reason home buyers go to Zillow is because they know they will find all homes that are on the market (plus some).  If they didn’t trust it’s value as a site where they can find all homes in their area for sale then they wouldn’t use the site nearly as much, regardless of its search engine ranking.  At the very least there is no doubt that it would lose a lot of it’s direct traffic from people typing it straight into their browser. 

    Also, I don’t know too much about the way Zillow is built but I have to think they would also lose a lot of the long tail address and MLS# searches.  This seems to be one area of SEO where the MLS boards and their agents could win.  City + real estate is a different story. 

  • If the majority of brokers pulled their listings from Z/T/R, of course there would be little SEO affect overnight. But over time, since as you say, those sites would be less valuable to the consumer, eventually the link juice would flow to more valuable sites. And let’s face it, the value to the home buyers is in the listings, which are a product that belongs to brokers, who voluntarily give them to the aggregators in the name of advertising. I’m not sure that will continue forever. So Z is wise to diversify it’s product by buying DS, since it’s steady flow of free content (listings) is not guaranteed in perpetuity.

  • Another aspect, although not sure how significant, is the PR impact.  If over time, ZTR became known to be a partial list of active listings it could have a reputation impact. Couple that with the high inaccuracy or misinformation rate, it wouldn’t take long for users to get frustrated and ZTR to beign to lose the value proposition. Approximately 30% of my leads from ZTR start out with “Unfortuantely the property you are inquiring about is not being accurately reflected in ZTR”. Not that I don’t mind the oppotunity to refer them to the most up to date and accurate source of properties, my website.

    In all fairness though, I can’t say every listing on my website is having its status reflected accurately as well. 

    • Agree with you Jason — the PR impact would hurt them.

      But by the time it could actually hurt them SEO wise, they would have time to shift their strategy.

  • Agree on the address issue. I left a similar comment somewhere else on the web — I don’t have access to the numbers, but I would bet Z/T have lost a lot of the address traffic they were getting 2-3 years ago as a result of the indexable IDX’s like DSIDXpress.

    • Which they just bought, which makes you go, “hmmm.”

  • Here is where I find your theory flawed: You put too much weight on Page
    Rank as an algorithmic metric. The general consensus among the SEO
    community is that PR has an insignificant (if at all) effect on SERPs –
    surely you have seen a plethora of cases in which PR0-PR1 pages outrank

    We get it, you see value in what Zillow has to offer consumers (whether
    via their inaccurate Zestimates or tax data), but to summarily say that
    Z/T/R will continue to reign in the SERP’s without the content provided
    by listing syndication seems very biased. 

    • There is internal pagerank and external pagerank. Google’s algorithms go off internal, but trying to explain that to the common person who doesn’t have an internet marketing background would be too confusing. So I tried to keep it simple.

    • And yes, you’re right. PR1’s can outrank PR4’s. Some of that is onsite structure/content/etc

      Again, there’s no simple way to explain SEO. The point I’m getting at is that yanking listings will have (virtually) zero impact on Z/T’s rankings. The only way to hurt them SEO wise is to figure out a way to take away all the links they have built over the past 6 years..

    • And it goes without saying I’d welcome a counter argument to this in the form of a blog post if you’re up for it..

      • Fair enough. I’ll have something in the next couple of days. It’s a great discussion and I’d like to write something sooner, but family/work are keeping me otherwise occupied.

  • Drew, great discussion. I would have to agree with you. Realistically, removing listings from Zillow would never happen in one fell swoop and if it did, it wouldn’t stop them from scraping data from the multitude of property information and public record sources available on the web. Instead of pulling the plug on the interweb competitors, the industry should focus on how to create a more compelling experience for the consumer. The consumer wants information, ease of use, entertainment and trust. The fact that so much data on Zillow is incorrect yet consumers still flock to the site and express pleasure about their experience should tell us something important. “It’s a trade off that consumers are willing to accept until a better experience with better data comes along”. 

    Daniel & Sam- You both bring up some great points. The loss of long tail ranking would be mitigated with a sound SEO strategy and the resources to execute, of which zillow has both. Content is about relevancy and context. Zillow has done a great job with their site structure, taxonomy, anchors and links. And as drew mentioned, the sheer volume of authoritative inbound links are not easily impacted with the removal of current listings. 

    The war, if there is one, is not fighting Zillow, it’s about creating something better. To the spoils go the victor. Evidenced in the pending IPO of Facebook. Do you remember MySpace? I can hardly picture their site. Yet they were the place to be. Just 6 short years ago, they were the most visited site on the web. Who talks about them now?

    • Spot on

      • Anonymous

        Really good points! If anyone wants to beat the big sites in the SEO game, they need to go after the long tail keywords. It will always be hard to compete, especially for the big real estate keywords. 

        My question is, if Zillow/Trulia are winning, is there anything a realtor can do to take advantage of it by making their listing compelling enough to drive traffic to them directly? 

  • It would great if someone would educate these agents that linking to these big sites are only helping Z/T/R rank above most agents sites and hurting themselves. The big sites would lose a lot of authority and drop in the rankings. I just can not see why any agent or broker would link to one of these big sites… it helps them out rank the agents plus potentially drives traffic from their own site and to a site that is selling advertising to other agents.

    The big sites have done a good job selling (fooling) agents that linking to them is a good idea. Blows me away!!

    • You mean the badge I have on my website helps Zillow and not me? *sarcasm loaded* I spoke to a Zillow rep on the phone and they wanted me to complete my profile by adding their badge. I laughed at him.

  • Drew, this post is totally false and entrenched in the Listing Syndication Koolaid.

    REALTORS can control every search across America in under 3 months with a simple and easily accomplished mass SEO directive from national leadership.  Using copyrights and privacy concerns in a targeted educational process aimed straight at home sellers and buyers the wipe out of Zillow is easily accomplished.

    Even if Zillow continues to fool American REALTORS about what their ultimate goal is, REALTORS can still wipe out Zillow in the future when they realize what has happened to their businesses after Zillow finishes with them.

    Americans look to and be warned of what Zillow has planned for you.  Actually why don’t American REALTORS on mass just buy up Zillow Stock then shut down, and earn all the money themselves

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