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Will Google Eventually Punish Realtor.com, Zillow and Trulia Or Any Others For Lack Of Listing Data Integrity?

There was an article in the San Diego Union Tribune that was one of the many attempts to explain the listing data integrity and syndication debate to the general consumer. As most of us and some of the big players in the industry have already taken a position, I was left wondering if Google and friends would eventually take a position as well on the subject. Obviously they are not going to formally take sides but rather if there would be any direct consequences as a result of one of the core issues, accuracy.

Following is my logic and pardon any improper use of SEO terminology as I am not an SEO expert but rather just a fellow professional dirt peddler.

  1. Google strives to produce the most beneficial and rewarding search results for the consumer.
  2. It does this by its infamous “algorithm” which is designed and tweaked to provide the most relevant, current, accurate, and updated information only from authoritative and streamlined sources.
  3. Zillow, Trulia, Realtor.com have serious listing and property data integrity issues.
  4. Zillow, Trulia, Realtor.com dominate search results in the real estate industry.
  5. Doesn’t it make sense that Google and friends at some point will start to penalize them for this?

Granted they have multi million dollar budgets to implement their SEO strategies and maintain their authority, but in the end, bad and specifically misleading information is just that. Do you think they are addressing the issue internally or do you think that tells you that maybe data relevance and integrity are not as critical as some may think?

About Jason Richards

Jason Richards provides residential real estate services, strategic planning and investment consulting in San Diego County. Our model is to combine an entrepreneurial approach with being on the cutting edge of an ever changing industry.

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  • I don’t think Google is going to specifically going to penalize zillow/trulia. Zillow has information on every home – not just currently listed homes in the MLS. A home owner likely does want to see a zestimate, tax info, local schools, regional home value trends, maybe local Q&A, etc.
    I’m glad the re industry doesn’t control Google’s decision making process. They’d lose their trust with consumers if they made decisions to penalize certain sites on their own and not with algorithms.

    That said, I’m guessing improving listing quality is at the VERY top of the list of priorities for both Z/T.

    • I agree with you that they would never single anyone out (and they shouldn’t) but rather will the algorithms be tweaked to somehow address it universally? 

      • bh9

        No. Algos aren’t magical. With no rock-hard reference data to compare to, it would be impossible for Google (or any other outside observer) to determine which listings are “accurate” (which is to say data is precisely correct and up to date with the MLS).

        Moreover, Google Base “error checking” was a mess and they also carried many listings long out of date.

  • Don’t understand how you can say Realtor.com has “serious integrity issues” when all the data it receives is direct from the MLS — and it’s listing the agent who enters it on the MLS system. If there is any data error, it is the agents error. It can be easily corrected by the listing agent. If they do their job correctly from the start, then there would be no errors. 

    The same applies to Trulia and Zillow since they get their “active listings” data through one of a few sources. Either ListHub,com (which receives the data from the MLS listing), or a direct brokers feed, or a manual agent posting. Any which way you look at it, it’s the agents responsibility to make sure the original listing data they enter is correct (to the best of their knowledge of course).

    The blame game has to stop! Really it’s pathetic now.

    • Fred’s first point is the most important distinction.  Realtor.com’s listings are
      directly from MLS sources.  While there might be a small fraction of the
      listings missing, their actual database is almost as accurate as the actual MLS.

      However, on the second point, the same does not apply to Trulia’s and Zillow’s databases.  Research shows their listings are bloated with expireds, sold homes, and questionable foreclosure “listings”, creating wildly inflated numbers of actual homes for sale.  They’re not in the same class in terms of accuracy. 

      http://www.realtyv2.com/2012/03/arg-is-not-all-wrong-about-zillow-and-trulia/

      Will Google penalize them?  To the contrary, Google doesn’t know what a “good” or “accurate” listing is.  They just see more content, more users viewing content, and more time spent on site.  If site visitors start leaving because of flawed data, that would hurt, but that’s a leap in logic because the visitors don’t know it’s flawed.

      You might say that a larger database with more “listings” to view, whether real or not, is actually an SEO strategy (even though it clearly is a hindrance to consumers).  Until Google can verify a web site’s listing against the actual MLS database (good luck getting access), they’ll treat more listings as more content, and that will probably be a net positive in terms of SEO.

  • Chris Dowell

    I respectfully disagree with you Fred. The data in my area MLS and many surrounding area MLS’s does not match Zillow, Trulia and Realtor.com. These services take out terms and information and plug in generic terms. These services also omit important information. 

    •  What your saying doesn’t make sense. Give me an example of this? What “important” information is omitted? There are certain bits of data that these sites do not publish but that is not an “integrity issue” or error — It is intentional since not all the data in an MLS listing should be offered.

      • Fred, Im not necessarily agreeing with everything Chris said, but consider: although Realtor is the most accurate of the 3… important information being omitted from this site is pictures. Realtor deliberately only displays 4 pictures of listings (except for advertisers listings in which they post all pictures). This is a net loss to consumers.

  • Approximately 20% to 30% of “listings” in Trulia and Zillow are incorrect. I don’t mean minor pieces of information, but rather property status and price which are the most important to the buyer. I receive a lot of leads from T and Z and at least 30% of them are for properties no longer available. Properties that have sold, been taken off the market, marked contingent or pending stillshow as active on Z & T even up to a year. In addition, properties with trustee sales show as active at the defaulted price which is incorrect.

    As of this morning, San Diego’s mls showed approx 7,300 properties as active.  I just went to Zillow and typed in San Diego County, removed for rent and make me move and Zillow says there are 22,000 homes for sale in San Diego County.  Trulis is showing 31,000.  I know San Diego’s mls does not include everything (fsbo’s, outer lying tiny mls’s) but it does cover 80% to 90%.

    The reason is agents will put anything they can as up for sale and leave it that way to generate leads (done it myself).  Its like leaving the sign in the yard as long as you can after the property has sold. 

    So who is at fault is not the question, rather will google somehow recognize the lack of listing integrity and penalize them….

    • I just used San Diego’s MLS Sandicor site.  Number of homes for sale in the city of San Diego:

      Sandicor MLS: 3,764
      Realtor.com: 3,835 (2% over)
      Zillow: 7,488 (99% over)
      Trulia: 4,642 (23% over)

      I did the same search in Chula Vista, CA with remarkably similar results. 

      Realtor.com was off by 2.6%. 
      Zillow was off by over 100%. 
      Trulia off by about 30%.

      You really can’t lump these companies together.

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