Zillow and Realtor.com are at the top of the list for the most popular real estate destinations online. While Realtor.com has been the leader for years, Zillow’s skyrocketing success has recently had it matching or beating Realtor.com’s traffic numbers, and its current trajectory certainly points to a growing lead in the future.
Instead of lamenting the current outlook or ignoring the ever-growing elephant in the room, it would be wise for the folks at Move, Inc (the current operators of Realtor.com) to take a step back and recognize what Zillow is doing right–the things that create web traffic and repeat, loyal web users.
Five Things Realtor.com Could Learn From Zillow
Mix in a Bit of Entertainment With Your Real Estate
Real estate consumers want to be intrigued, educated, and entertained at the same time. Have you read the blog on Realtor.com lately? If you’re a consumer, the answer is almost certainly “No”. The majority of the content on Realtor.com’s front page is about Realtor designations, continuing education, and statistical reporting. (Edit: there is quite a bit of entertaining content, but you have to find the blog first.)
Zillow’s blog, on the other hand, is chock-full of celebrity homes, tweets of the week, video interviews, and home tours. It’s eye candy, and it’s visually intermixed extensively with the other elements of the site. It’s the kind of thing that visitors come back to every morning to see something interesting or exciting. They share it with their friends. Realtor.com has recently made an attempt to move in this direction, and my advice would be to get some entertaining writers on board, pronto. Building a loyal fan base is more than just displaying home listings.
I’m not just talking about having Facebook and Twitter sharing buttons here. Every site can and must have a way for users to share the content they find interesting, but we also need humans who actually interact in the social web.
Look at Zillow’s CEO, Spencer Rascoff. He’s responding to not only questions on the Zillow advice forums, but also tweets from average consumers on Twitter. Call me naive, but knowing the guy, I believe Spencer is really the person sitting at a desk and responding whenever someone on Twitter writes something interesting about Zillow. Of course, there are dozens of other Zillow employees doing the same throughout the social media platforms.
Can you imagine the kind of trust and loyalty your business achieves when employees are having one-on-one communication with “non-paying customers”? I’m not saying that Move Inc’s CEO needs to be on Twitter 24/7, but building a personal face, with local or regional interaction, would be greatly helpful for Realtor.com to create a stronger connection with its users. We want to talk to people, not brands.
Mobile is the New Bookmark
The key to being successful with web traffic is to get repeat traffic. Businesses need to find a way to remind consumers that they are still available when it comes time for a consumer to take a second look online. Repeat traffic creates loyal users.
Zillow knows that by getting its app on a user’s mobile device, they have a permanent “bookmark” on that user’s most personal possession. They carry it everywhere. Every time they look at their mobile device’s desktop, there is a nice big icon begging them to come back to Zillow. When you look at Zillow’s traditional website, there’s no way to miss the ever-present ads for the free app. That app is a hook into a user’s online world, and it is worth its proverbial weight in gold.
Realtor.com actually has a very nice app. Most users who download it will probably enjoy using it. The problem is finding it. Sure, there’s a tiny text link in the corner of the screen, but this just crystallizes the importance that the site places on creating mobile users. Compare this to the four inch image of an iPhone on Zillow, and guess which site is creating more app downloads and mobile users.
Leverage Your Strongest Allies
Zillow has a huge ally in Yahoo right now. The two companies combined have access to untold finances and online visibility. The partnership might be the strongest we’ve ever seen online in the real estate world, and their combined influence is exponentially stronger than it was as two separate organizations.
Realtor.com, on the other hand, theoretically has/had a trump card. The site is supposed to be the face of Realtors nationwide, and has unmatched credibility when responsibly used. The 800 lb gorilla, so to speak, is the “official” real estate landing page. The problem is the disconnect that has been created between Realtors and the quasi-Realtor organization, Move Inc.
Let me preface this by saying that I am an unabashed advocate of the Realtor organization, have worked with the government affairs group, and published outreach efforts for the local and state organizations. The ever-growing ideological divide between Realtors and Realtor.com seems like a major disappointment that never had to happen. Realtor.com needs to be brought back into the fold, and the two groups’ goals need to be aligned to create real success. This leads us to the final point.
Focus on the Consumers – Agent Advertising Dollars Will Follow
Focus on what consumers want, and leverage your ultimate asset: Realtors working in the field. Get every listing from every MLS in the country, and don’t muddy the waters with silly premium listings that distort the listing inventory for consumers.
Keep listing agents happy by listing all of their homes, without exception.
Keep consumers happy by having the all-encompassing, up-to-date, accurate database that home buyers are searching for.
It’s fairly simple. Realtor.com would have a huge leg up on its competition if it focused on making both agents and consumers happy instead of resorting to a “pay up or else” sales model. Traffic will grow organically with a full database of homes, as agents and consumers alike gain trust in the site as the “official” database of homes. Advertising revenue could easily grow as traffic increases, but the model should again be like Zillow’s. Buyers’ agents can pay for advertising space, and rates will be set by demand. There would be no conflict of interest in artificially displaying one listing over another. Just present a consumer with the best list of homes for sale, and an opportunity to work with a buyer’s agent in the area.
Sometimes, an old dog has to learn new tricks. The 800 lb. gorilla would be wise to emulate some of the moves its competitor, because it just happens to be the elephant in the room.