Realtors’ uphill search engine battle
Real estate technology company, RealGeeks is asserting in a three part series that large real estate search companies are ranking at the top of all search engine result pages (SERPs), last week releasing a graphic outlining why individual real estate agents rarely rank highly in search engine results, empowered by small changes in Google’s algorithm in recent years. Search engine optimization (SEO) and social media efforts have increased on the part of real estate professionals (Realtors, real estate agents, and brokers alike) as they slip in the rankings, despite their efforts to appease the search engine deities.
Today, the company says that real estate professionals are actually helping Zillow and Trulia to outrank them. “Usually, it’s a matter of other sites simply doing something better than you,” RealGeeks writes on their blog. “Maybe they’ve built more backlinks. Maybe they’re better at marketing. That’s the nature of any business—fair competition. But what if you were unknowingly helping another site to outrank you?”
They outline a “scheme” on the part of Zillow and Trulia, who offer a “widget” offering anything from mortgage calculators, maps, photo slideshows, home value estimators, or even a contact form, driving traffic from independent real estates to the widget’s originator, helping them to rank more highly in the search engines.
Analyzing one such Zillow widget
RealGeeks shows an example of a Zillow home value widget wherein the last line of code has “three areas of concern.” The backlink, inclusion of the city, and the microformat data markup are all said to be a real estate professional’s inadvertent aiding of Zillow’s rankings in search engines to ultimately outrank their own.
First, RealGeeks points to the backlink to Zillow. “Well, you think, that’s only right considering they’re providing me with this free widget. One little link won’t hurt anything. But there’s something you must understand. A link coming into a site—more commonly called a backlink—gives that site a boost in authority and rank. The more backlinks a site has, the better it looks to Google and the other search engines. Every backlink is a boost to Zillow’s rank, and an anchor on independent agents’ sites competing to be found.”
Second, they say inclusion of the city is concerning, as “Zillow is basically horning in on your local search action.” The anchor text is optimized to target people searching “homes for sale in [city]” online, which is how the widget contributes to a real estate professionals’ being outranked locally so that Zillow pops up when someone searches that term, rather than the local agent.
Third, the company looks at the microformat data markup, noting that the widget is telling Google that there is more information available than just text (see “span” in the code), like a map or something visual, which Google has an affinity for microformats because it implies interactivity and additional information, “drowning out your small, text-only link.”
Just alter the code, right?
Further, you agree to allow Zillow to change the content returned by the widget, so at some point in the future, they may not get the information they’re looking for, says RealGeeks, adding that Trulia offers widgets with terms users must agree to as well, also helping Trulia to outrank agents in search engines.
So how do individual real estate professionals fight back?
“The first and best action you can take is to immediately and completely remove any Zillow and Trulia widgets from your independent real estate website,” RealGeeks advises, offering that custom widgets can be created, or there are free widgets that are not as concerning.
RealGeeks calls these widgets “predatory linking practices” on the part of Zillow and Trulia, but as they opine in the beginning, it is a fair business tactic as they offer a free service to real estate professionals via useful widgets, but through extensive explanation, imply that real estate professionals are unaware of the consequences of using these widgets.
San Diego broker Roberta Murphy asks if the battle between independents and “ZTR” (Zillow, Trulia, Realtor.com) is a matter of real estate professionals’ own lack of foresight.
The linking practices have been in place for years, and Zillow and Trulia have been offering free tools for real estate professionals since their inception, which is quite a brilliant business move, and although it has led to thousands upon thousands of links from agent websites telling Google that Zillow and Trulia are high quality and relevant, it is not exactly the fault of Zillow or Trulia, rather agents who like shiny widgets that don’t read or understand the implications of terms of service they agree to.
Malicious? Not really. Taking advantage of ignorance? Sure. Smart business for Zillow an Trulia? Absolutely.