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The Real Syndication Battle: SEO. Are Brokers Giving Away Online "Real Estate"?

[Pre-emption of syndication flack:  I syndicate.  Most brokers do.  Many value the additional exposure in the current situation.  This isn’t a blanket condemnation of syndication.  It’s merely an analysis of the SEO byproduct of that action.]

The real estate industry is buzzing about Edina Realty and ARG pulling their listings from syndicators.  The announcement, one strong view, and a different response.

Most of the arguments about syndication are ignoring the elephant in the room.

Real estate brokers and syndication sites are battling for SEO.

Syndication SEO Real Estate9 out of 10 home buyers today are online.  The first business to grab a consumer’s attention is likely to get that consumer’s business, or generate revenue through the online traffic.  Buyers and sellers create income for whichever business has the most-accessible presence online.

All real estate companies are in competition.

Brokerages, individual agents, vendors, and syndicators collaborate in many useful and productive ways, but we are all in competition for the consumer’s dollar.  Brokers owe a high level of professional representation to our clients, while maintaining a competitive and sustainable business model at the same time.  When we disregard the competitive nature of our business, we lose focus in our decision making.

When you give away your listing, you give away SEO.

Unique content online is king for SEO.  Own a unique piece of online real estate, and you own the traffic and revenue that come along with it.  The more times you duplicate and syndicate that content, the more diluted it becomes, and the less-valuable your share of it becomes, in terms of SEO.  An individual listing is a unique and valuable piece of online property.

Who is #1 when buyers search for [Your City] real estate or homes for sale?

Is it a national syndication site?  Quite possibly.  When buyers search for your listing, “123 Main St ,City State”, they also probably find the syndicator first.  Why?  Because you gave it to them.  Thousands of real estate brokers give their SEO to that site every day.  Brokers create thousands of links to syndication sites’ listings, and effectively encourage their clients/consumers to do the same.

Is diluting your listing’s SEO good for your client?

Who is best to receive the inquiry from a buyer?  Better yet, who would the buyer want to receive his/her inquiry?  Trulia doesn’t know where Seattle homes are in the neighborhoods of Inverness or Arroyo. can’t find Newport Shores or Surrey Downs, because it doesn’t list homes for sale in Bellevue in those neighborhoods (yes, I am pushing my own SEO right now).  A local agent would know, but they’ve all given their rights to that traffic away through SEO dilution.  It doesn’t matter who is “best”.  All that matters is who is “seen”.

Listings create consumer traffic.  Consumer traffic creates revenue. 

It’s true that these large sites currently have far more national traffic than most brokers’ local sites.  That traffic comes from brokers’ listings. Listings are the holy grail of online real estate.  Consumers certainly like maps and research features, but in the end their #1 goal is to find a home.  Without listings, a website is just an informational resource, without a solution to the home buyer’s ultimate need.  [Zillow has an amazing real estate website.  It used to generated its revenue through beverage advertising.  Until real estate brokers’ listings and corresponding agent ads grew the revenue significantly, this company was not in a position to have the big, successful IPO they they had last year.]

Who should consumers find when they search for homes in your neighborhood?

That’s debatable, and really outside the SEO topic.  Most real estate brokers know dozens of local associates that they respect for their knowledge of the local market.  Unfortunately for them, they all point their web traffic to a national aggregator who may or may not.  Collectively, they’ve told the consumer to ask a syndication site.

Real Estate SEO will determine the direction of our industry in the long-term.

The companies that are successful selling real estate online will continue to gain greater power and influence over consumers, brokers, and even legislation that affects the real estate industry.  As a handful of companies gain larger shares of the market, more brokers are taking notice, but far too few are focusing on the source of that power.

SEO is your real estate online.  It is much like real estate in the physical world. 

Those who own the best real estate have usually worked hard for it, paid well for it, and will protect it fiercely.  The more they acquire, the more powerful they become.  Those who disregard its value and allow their real estate SEO to be acquired by others will see their influence wane and, over time, fail in their efforts.

In the end, brokers will decide on their own what is in the best interest of their clients, and their business.  The answer is not as cut-and-dry as many might assume.  Page views, traffic, experience, local knowledge, and a host of other factors will determine what is best for each individual’s clients.

Bottom Line:  Buyers will search.  They will find listings.  If they’re not at the syndication source, they’ll find them at the broker source.  The key is not in pointing as many people as possible to just any web site.  The key is pointing the right people to the right listing source.

About Sam DeBord

Sam DeBord is a former management consultant and web developer who writes for for Inman News and REALTOR® Magazine. He is Managing Broker for Seattle Homes Group with Coldwell Banker Danforth, and 2016 President-Elect of Seattle King County REALTORS®. His team sells Seattle homes, condos, and Bellevue homes.

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  • One thing that really gets me about the Austin area, is that the Board of Realtors has a home search website that ranks #1 for a lot of the key search terms. So not only do we have to worry about the syndication sites, we have to worry about our own Board of Realtors. I guess it’s not so bad for the agent that holds the listing, but for agents who market to Buyer’s it’s a business killer.

  • To me, you’ve pointed out the core issue.  Giving away your listing data if like adding gasoline to your competitors burning-brighter-than-yours page rank and discoverability. 

    • I’m sure some would disagree, Ken, but I think most would come to that conclusion if they analyze the SEO factors.  However, most brokers are more concerned with their current listing than the long-term online strategy (which is okay–they’re focused on their clients).

  • Victor Lund

    The big sites have excellent SEO for all properties, active or not – do you think that not sending listings will reduce the likelihood of third parties ranking above broker sites? Have any case studies where brokers are outranking third party sites for property addresses or top keywords.

    I have found a few – try to google Pittsburgh real estate or cleveland real estate – I see howard hanna show up first. But I tried a bunch of other cityname+real estate and did not find any others where a broker or agent site outranked third party websites.

    • The big sites have good SEO for all properties, but if they don’t have the current price/listing, it’s not a sticky landing page.  Consumers will back out to search engine results and click on the next link.

      My company ranks higher than most of the big sites for “Seattle homes for sale”, but we leapfrog with them once in a while.  It can be done, but we have been online for over 15 years and probably poured six figures into web development.  Most brokers can’t duplicate that, but even that is a pittance compared to the marketing/SEO budget of a syndication site.

    • Not so sure I would agree with this. I know of a significant amount of markets that are not dominated by third party sites, in major areas. I guess it all depends on how strong the sites are in that area and how strong the big players presence is there. In my area there is only one on the first page. 

      • Victor Lund

        Shoot me some examples of markets that you know that are not dominated by third party sites, Ben – We use Hitwise to look at traffic in local DMAs. 

        • Victor, how about Manhattan real estate? No? How about Hawaii real estate? No? How about Atlanta real estate? The examples are countless. 

    • “The big sites have excellent SEO for all properties, active or not – do you think that not sending listings will reduce the likelihood of third parties ranking above broker sites?”

      Victor..we agree. Nope, pulling listings will have zero impact…unless every single large broker pulls their listings at once and Z/T/R’s listing coverage goes to less than 60%. And even then — brokers would still have a ton of work to do to catch the big guys.

      • VictorLund

        I just ran a test. 
        510 1st Street Kenyon, MN 55946
        It is an Edina Realty Listing – Zillow has the #1 rank for me on Google. Edina ranks 5th. But that matters little. Pardon the long response.

        Last time I ran a Hitwise report for the MPLS-St.Paul DMA, Edina had a larger share of consumer traffic than any of the third party websites. It is probable that their big, trusted, local brand and significant listing market share is helping them. It is also possible that consumers notice the missing Edina listings and presumably go to a website that has them. Perhaps they go to, or perhaps another site. saw their traffic increase when they stopped syndication. I have no idea if that will hold true for Edina.

        Non Brand related keywords, long-tails like “minneapolis real estate” or an address plays a minor role in driving traffic to publisher or broker websites – less than 2% of over all traffic. Lots of WAV Group clients have the top position for cityname+realestate in the cities they serve. 

        For the sites we track, which are all big broker sites, 90% of traffic from search comes from keywords like company name, not long tail.

        Syndication drives about 5% of overall traffic to big broker websites. It is a listing tool, hardly a traffic or lead generation tool. Sellers have the impression that the internet sells homes. The truth is that agents sell homes, the internet only supports the consumer search process. 

        The effectiveness of syndication goes up significantly when a broker features their listing because publishers bias the search results to featured listings. This is a great tool for listing presentations and recruiting too.

        To be clear – I like syndication, but think that it could work better and benefit both publishers and brokers. Terms of Use need improvement, better data management, expunge non-active listings, stop accepting non-broker generated feeds from bad data sources like VT sites, better support for other broker services like mortgage, title, etc.

        I have witnessed new, constructive conversations between publishers and brokers firsthand. I think that there is a willingness to make it better. Until change happens, there will be some brokers who take their toys and go home. Others may be more tolerant. It is individual choice driven by personal opinion.  I think that this conversation is less about syndication to leading sites and more about syndicating to the other 200 syndication sites that have no consumer traffic, and generate no support to the broker.

        My advise to brokers. Take a look at your lead source and your traffic source reports. If sites you send listings to are not appearing – turn off the data feed.

  • I really don’t believe listings syndication is why brokers are losing to T/Z/R with regard to SEO. Z/T/R would beat most brokers with or without their listings. The Zillow’s of the world are just MUCH MUCH better at link building and public relations (which is also a form of link building).

    • Agreed on ZTR being better at UI, PR, link building.  They’re far better at online business in general.  You have to admit that traffic increased significantly as more listings came online at Zillow.  You can’t just remove that component from the success.

      It’s all relative.  How much success would they have without listings?  We’ll never know.  But it’s certainly a big factor.  Consumers would spend far less time on a site that had no homes for sale.

      • Here’s one answer:

        Google my client’s listing @ 269 Wilkenda Ave, Waterbury CT.

        His site is and his link to his own listing is at #6.

        He is a Weichert broker. Weichert’s link to his listing is #8.

        Guess who is at 1-5 and position 7? is #1 and #2 (even though page 2 makes no mention of the house being for sale).

        Then Trulia, Zillow,, (my guy),, then Weichert.

        If my client dropped syndication and he would likely be #1 and his franchise #2.

        They are “better” only because they are bigger. Also, changes that Google made last summer have made it more difficult to compete with the “Big Guys” across the board, not just in real estate — BUT —  relevance still trumps.

        Stop syndicating and R/Z/T are much less relevant to your listings, although you still need the content and an SEO strategy to overcome the placeholder pages (like the #2 R page) that they put up for addresses that aren’t for sale.

  • Anonymous

    As a B2C eCommerce Developer from the ’90s who switched primarily to real estate in 2004 (aka “Bubble Boy”), I’ve been asking why agents and brokers all-too-freely give up the power of their content for at least 6 years, now.

    Conclusion: It’s because agents and brokers think of listing content primarily as “advertising” and not as homebuyers see it, which is as a PRODUCT.

    If content=advertising then why not puke it all over the interwebs? What difference does it make? Exposure is exposure, right? That is the argument T/Z/R have been all too happy to make and make a lot of money on.

    But homebuyers are sitting in the same chair, using the same device to shop for a home as they are when they are shopping for anything else that requires a little research. 

    Years and years of searching on Google and buying on Amazon and eBay have trained people to interact with the Web in specific ways that can be tapped to influence behavior.

    In other words, merchandising a real estate listing has a lot in common with merchandising a Kindle or an iPod or a used car on eBay. 

    When you think in terms of Merchandising, it makes NO sense to puke your UNIQUE PRODUCT all over the Web for free. If you were selling cupcakes, would you send your pictures and descriptions to if they put another baker’s contact info next to them so he could talk the person who is looking for your cupcake into trying his, instead?

    Obviously not. How are real estate listings any different?

    Now, you might choose to advertise your cupcakes and direct the traffic from that advertising back to your OWN cupcake detail page. Then again maybe not. Maybe your particular cupcake is locally popular partly because you have a sign out in front of your bakery with your name on it, so when people Google your cupcakes they are Googling them specifically, by name.

    Which is exactly what happens with real estate: Most people move within 10 miles of place they have lived 10 years. They know the neighborhoods, the streets, and often the individual listings they are interested in. 

    They google them because the property portals and most broker IDX sites want them to pick a town, pick a property type, pick a price range, pick how many bathrooms, etc.. which is a root canal compared to just telling Google the street or the address a listing is on.

    Fear not. If you pull your listings from syndication and then merchandise them properly on your own domain, people will google them and when they do, they will find your site, because it will be the best source of information Google knows of for that particular cupcake of a listing.

    • The difference between a cupcake and a real estate listing — is that a cupcake is YOUR product, while a client (seller) is PAYING you to sell their home. If you don’t sell it? It’s no loss to anyone but yourself. But if you don’t sell a clients listing? They lose…AND you lose.

      • I’m sure the cupcake metaphor breaks down (crumbles?) somewhere, but I don’t see how ownership of the product in question comes into it.

        As I said, I’m not inherently anti-syndication. If its treated as advertising, meaning brokers and agents pay to make sure they are the one who is most prominently associated with their listings, and they see value in that, have at it.

        What baffles me are all the brokers who allow their content to be syndicated and settle for the “free” exposure way down at the bottom of the page while other broker’s agents are prominently featured. 

        That, IMO, is a disservice both to themselves and their sellers.

        • Chris Dowell

          When you place your pictures on and the consumer  buys the cupcake from another baker, you don’t get paid. 

          Listing agents are looking to gain as much exposure for their listings as possible. When the property sells, they get paid, no matter who the consumer calls to show them the listing.

      • Drew, you act as if with out the benevolent aggregators brokers would not be able to effectively market their listings on the web. This is nonsense. For any local real estate search term, there are only 10 slots on the first page of Google. The buyer searching will click on one of them. If the aggregators ceased to exist, that would still be the case. If all brokers ceased giving away their listings to the aggregators, Z/T/R would find themselves with virtually no valuable content, and the consumers would simply click on the next link in the SERPs, and the listings would sell just the same.

        • “If all brokers ceased giving away their listings to the aggregators, Z/T/R would find themselves with virtually no valuable content, and the consumers would simply click on the next link in the SERPs, and the listings would sell just the same.”

          I don’t buy this. Zestimates, Zillow Home Value Index, and mortgage rates bring Zillow millions of visitors a month on their own. Listings are important, but they are not all the aggregators offer of value. Zillow had 4 million uniques a month before a single listing was on the site. Clearly, consumers want to see Zestimates…and that’s not going to change.

  • Zillow has a “page” on every property regardless of whether it’s listed as for sale or not. They have over 100 million addresses in their database. The only difference is that it would not be marked “for sale” if they stopped syndication…

    • Which is a huge difference in terms of consumers staying on the site, i.e. bounce rate.

    • And they also continue to display properties for sale long after they are no longer on the market. Licensed brokers can’t do this or they would lose their license. But Z/T/R can do anything they want, because they have no license to lose. It’s deceptive and misleading, and don’t think this is by accident.

      • Zillow has property data for every listings because they PAY for the data initially rather than rely on MLS data.

        As to the listings, trust me when I say that they are motivated to NOT have stale listings on their site — it’s just a tough problem to solve given the multitude of data sources they have for listings.

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