real estate search

RealGeeks says Realtors help Zillow, Trulia outrank them

December 17, 2012
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real estate search RealGeeks says Realtors help Zillow, Trulia outrank them

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?”



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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.

 RealGeeks says Realtors help Zillow, Trulia outrank them

serp RealGeeks says Realtors help Zillow, Trulia outrank them

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?

RealGeeks notes that by altering any of the code associated with the widget to help your own rankings violates the Terms of Use agreed to upon copying the code. “Essentially, by using this widget and accepting these terms of service, you are agreeing to boost Zillow in the SERPs.”

zillow tos RealGeeks says Realtors help Zillow, Trulia outrank them

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.

Graphic outlining RealGeeks’ assertions:

Realtors Zillow Trulia RealGeeks says Realtors help Zillow, Trulia outrank them

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  • http://minnesotapropertyforsale.com/ hempler

    In other words…create your own stuff

    • http://www.ohheyworld.com/ drewmeyers

      @hempler Yea, well said. If agents/brokers don’t want to put in the effort to create their own stuff — then they need to live with the trade-offs of using other people’s stuff.

      • http://www.realgeeks.com/ bdmanson

        @drewmeyers  @hempler  Hey Drew, I heard… Jay Thompson As a Zillow employee said… Quote” So I’m all for educating people and letting them decide what to do.” about this topic..
         
        So when is Zillow going to start educating agents about how they are helping them Zillow Out Rank Them i the SERPs when agents use their widgets and use their $10 sites?
        If they need help organizing that… I would love to help educate them as well…

        • http://www.ohheyworld.com/ drewmeyers

          @bdmanson  @hempler I’m not against educating agents – far from it. That’s what I did for a big chunk of my job there.

      • bobwilson

        @drewmeyers  @hempler Thats funny Drew! Zillow’s existence is based on leeching off of other people’s “stuff” without paying for it.

        • http://www.ohheyworld.com/ drewmeyers

          @bobwilson  @hempler clearly you don’t know what is required to put zestimates on 100 million (or whatever the current number is) properties. I happen to know what it cost to get the property data it took to do the first 42 (?) million at launch in 2006. I (and Zillow) is under NDA not to disclose those figures……but it was certainly NOT even remotely close to free.

        • bobwilson

          Having seen the results, I would suggest that they over paid by a few bucks. But the Zestimate parlor game aside, without industry listings, Zillow is nothing. 
           
          Of course Trulia started off a bit more nefarious by scraping  listings from IDX sites.

  • Michelle Silverman

    What free widgets would you recommend to add to one’s website for a customer to use as a Home Value indicator? I’ve been looking for one but haven’t been able to find? I have Diverse Solutions and they recommended Zillow (which they own) Thanks

  • http://www.AugustaListingExpert.com/ Joe Loomer

    Masked under the auspices of helping your clients, they’re actually stealing them – even if the main intent is purely SEO boost.
     
    Navy Chief, Navy Pride

    • mikelintonteam

      @Joe Loomer Nice Back link Joe ….

  • Jonathan Bowen

    Why would a customer need a widget to use as a home value indicator when they have you?

  • HelpYourSite

    I always thought that Realtors were an SEO-savvy group by necessity. Widgets are almost always created by companies to boost their SEO – with brand awareness as a distant second. That’s the whole point of them.

  • tcar

    Todd from Trulia here,
     
    Agents who want to create banklinks FROM Trulia, back to their own sites can do so by listing their website in their free Trulia Profile.

    • bobwilson

      @tcar Nice try, but thats not the same as requiring a link in a widget to be do follow Todd.

      • tcar

        @bobwilson Bob, we offer widgets that create backlinks to us. But we also offer opportunities for agents to create backlinks from Trulia, to an agents site. I’m not an SEO expert, but if they are so valuable, then the fact that we offer them back is worth noting. Agents can do this by including their website in their free profile or my linking to their sites on our Voices platform. Both options are free.

        • bobwilson

          @tcar And it is your choice on your site to make those links dofollow or no follow. The agent should have the same choice as to whether or not those links should be dofollow or nofollow.
           
          If I were to use your logic that the do follow link should be required as a trade off for the use of your content on my site, then by the same token all links on Trulia should be dofollow, not just those limited to a profile page. 
           
          Google has stated many times that links should be freely given. I believe your TOS violates that principle.

        • tcar

          @bobwilson Backlinks are not just limited to the profile. You can create them on our Voices platform as well. If an agent wants to create content on voices, we offer them a backlink.

        • bobwilson

          @tcar Can I nofollow links in your widgets?

        • tcar

          @bobwilson I wrote a post for Inman News back in 2008 that talked about the tradeoffs of using another company’s “free” widgets. It’s absolutely true that you are providing a back-link to the producer of the widget in return for being able to display the widget. If you don’t want to give a back-link, don’t use the widget. The alternative is to pay for the data the widget provides, or to not provide your consumers with that data. Any of these options might be right for you.

        • bobwilson

          @tcar I understand your position. What I am saying is that trading a link for a widget in lieu of paying for the widget is in effect a paid link.

        • BrianRayl

          Hi Todd. You are being just a little disingenuous here. All of the links on Voices are no follow links which pass absolutely no link authority. The only place that has do follow links is the Blog section. On the other hand, most Trulia widgets are placed into a sidebar which is on every single page of a website.
          You allow agents to link back to themselves in exchange for multiple prices of content (one link per peice) while you get hundreds if not thousands of links from a single widget.
          So lets talk apples to apples here. Thanks.
          @tcar @bobwilson

        • tcar

          @BrianRayl  @tcar  Hi Brian, As I said before, if you don’t wish to provide back-links to Trulia, don’t use the free widgets. I personally recommend Altos Research for some great paid data widgets. You can earn back-links from Trulia’s site without providing any back-links to us. The way to do that is to list your web address in your Trulia profile and to link to your site in your Voices blog posts. My apologies for not being more specific before.

        • http://www.realgeeks.com/ bdmanson

          @tcar  @BrianRayl Most the links from Trulia by design have no-follows on them so they do not pass the juice.. Having that tag essentially is Trulia telling the search engines they don’t trust your site.. They are very SEO smart when it comes to that.. They hoard all their link equity for themselves while sucking as much from agents as possible.. Most agents don’t know any better… and that is what theuy are counting on!!!This is a good read about the subject: http://ericbramlett.com/trulia-awareness/

        • http://www.realgeeks.com/ bdmanson

          @BrianRayl  @tcar  @bobwilson This is happening because most agents are not aware of what they are doing… and that’s exactly what they are counting on too… Use our listings as content… then get local agents to boost their authority in the SERPs so they can then sell leads and traffic to us. Pretty disgusting.. actually..?

        • http://www.ohheyworld.com/ drewmeyers

          @BrianRayl  @tcar  @bobwilson As Todd said, you either pay for that data with links or money. You think Zillow and Trulia spend all that money aggregating and calculating the data just to give it away in exchange for nothing? If agents don’t like using free data instead of paying for it, they shouldn’t use the widgets and they should all go pay Altos Research. Pretty simple. Not sure why this is such a huge issue.

        • http://www.realgeeks.com/ bdmanson

          @drewmeyers  @BrianRayl  @tcar  @bobwilson 
          Drew – You know and I know this is happening because most agents are not aware of what they are actually doing… and that’s exactly what they are counting on too… Use (realtors) our listings as content… then get local agents to boost their authority in the SERPs with their widget spam and cheap crappy $10 sites… so they can then sell leads and traffic to us. Pretty disgusting.. actually..? I know you don’t think so… since you are an ex-employee and share holder… any website provider, real estate coach, so called real estate social guru or marketing person that suggests they do these things is not really looking out for the agents best interest… and are probably getting money from ZTR in one way or another..

        • bobwilson

          @drewmeyers  @BrianRayl  @tcar Simple Drew. Because requiring the anchor text and do follow as part of the widget is gaming Google. You know it, I know it.

        • BrianRayl

          @drewmeyers  @tcar  @bobwilson That is exactly why I don’t use them Drew. Actually, I may still have a site that has the Trulia widget on it, except I went into the code and removed the linkback. Oh no, a TOS violation! Just like @bdmanson mentions, the problem is that they are taking advantage of those who don’t know any better and using this lack of knowledge to cannibalize their own traffic away from them. They use the guise of “You can put a backlink from us too!” but of course you have to provide them with content in order to get that backlink. ZTR gets a link on EVERY SINGLE PAGE OF YOUR WEBSITE back to them (hundreds if not thousands of backlinks per WP site), while ZTR gives you one. Hell, at least Trulia allows do follow links on the blog portion. Zillow doesn’t give ANY do follow links except for maybe the profile. (Maybe)

        • http://www.ohheyworld.com/ drewmeyers

          @bdmanson  @BrianRayl  @tcar  @bobwilson ex-zillow employee with friends there – yes. I’m actually not a shareholder anymore though – I sold all my stock to fund the development of Oh Hey World – so I have no financial incentive in this.
           
          That said, let me be clear – I wouldn’t be plastering widgets from Zillow or anyone else on my website if I was an agent. I don’t recommend agents/brokers do it. What I’m saying is the trade-off being made — content/functionality for free in exchange for a link — is really clear. If agents don’t like the trade-off, don’t use the widgets. No one is making them put the widgets on their sites.

        • http://www.ohheyworld.com/ drewmeyers

          “ZTR gets a link on EVERY SINGLE PAGE OF YOUR WEBSITE back to them (hundreds if not thousands of backlinks per WP site) ”
           
          Not sure why you blame ZTR for that. Blame the person putting the widget on their site in the wrong spot.

        • http://www.ohheyworld.com/ drewmeyers

          @bobwilson  @BrianRayl  @tcar I actually don’t agree with you on this. Why is requiring a “do follow” link gaming the system? Zillow has to ensure they aren’t putting millions of dollars building data sets anyone can use completely free of charge, branding, and links. Do you honestly believe people should be able to use Zillow data/widgets and either remove the link altogether or make it “no-follow”?

        • http://www.realgeeks.com/ bdmanson

          @drewmeyers  As I said earlier… You know and I know most agents aren’t aware of what they are really doing… Most of them are not tech savvy at ALL… That is why so many vendors and sites like ZTR are able to take advantage of their lack of knowledge :-(  It’s easy to say blame the person that is putting them on… The majority would not do that if they actually knew what they were doing… I do not know any agents that would link to a competitor knowingly if they knew they were going to boost them in the rankings above them and drive traffic to them…I’m sure you know that to be the case :-)

        • http://www.realgeeks.com/ bdmanson

          @drewmeyers  @bobwilson  @BrianRayl  @tcar  They are widget spam and taking advantage of agents that are not tech savvy… PERIOD…

        • http://www.ohheyworld.com/ drewmeyers

          @bdmanson Yes, I’ll agree that many agents don’t understand the SEO issue. That said, anyone actually trying to outrank Z/T/R certainly understands this issue and is not using these widgets. Everyone actually using these widgets doesn’t stand a chance to rank — with or without the widgets.

        • tcar

          @drewmeyers  … and there are many agents who could care less about waging an SEO battle with Trulia, Zillow, RDC, Redfin, RE/MAX, Homes.com, Yahoo, MSN, Zip Realty, their local big brokers, their local MLS…

        • http://www.ohheyworld.com/ drewmeyers

          @bdmanson@bobwilson@BrianRayl  Jeff, can we also agree that it’s in your best interests if fewer agents link to Z/T/R all over the country?
           
          You and I both know that if fewer agents all over the country (and specifically in hawaii) link to zillow/trulia, you have a better chance to outrank them for your keywords.

        • http://www.realgeeks.com/ bdmanson

          @drewmeyers Using those widgets is helping them out rank them.. You can spin it any way you want… ZTR are still taking advantage of agents so are their  SEO teams and management knows it… That is what they are counting on.. They also know that if agents were really aware of what they were doing they wouldn’t be using them..

        • http://www.realgeeks.com/ bdmanson

          @drewmeyers  @bobwilson  @BrianRayl Well yes!!!! It benefits all agents across the country… Hello!!! I think you are finally getting it… Now let as many agents across the country know they are Helping Zillow & Trulia Out Rank Them by using their widget spam.. You would be doing all agents a favor!!

        • BrianRayl

          @drewmeyers  @bdmanson Drew writes “Yes, I’ll agree that many agents don’t understand the SEO issue. That said, anyone actually trying to outrank Z/T/R certainly understands this issue and is not using these widgets. Everyone actually using these widgets doesn’t stand a chance to rank — with or without the widgets.”  — @drewmeyers , the problem with this statement is that it doesn’t just hurt those that link to ZTR. It hurts EVERYONE. 10 agents linking to ZTR from Canada hurts me in Texas. It is not simply a matter of linking to ZTR hurts them. It hurts me too, and ZTR is taking advantage of the uninformed in order to have a major head start to those who are trying to do things the right way.

        • BrianRayl

          @drewmeyers  @bobwilson  @tcar  Drew writes: “Do you honestly believe people should be able to use Zillow data/widgets and either remove the link altogether or make it “no-follow”?   — Well, ZTR has no problem turning our content into NoFollow links such as Q&A sections and many more places and we are providing them with a PAGE of information that will help them rank with search engines, not just a single widget that does nothing for our SEO.  So yes, I feel that as long as ZTR turns OUR content into No Follow, then we should be able to turn THEIR content into nofollow.

        • http://www.ohheyworld.com/ drewmeyers

          @bdmanson   Look, I applaud you for the public awareness effort. It’s smart business. You and I both know you know more about seo than 95% of people in the industry, probably 98%. As a result, you stand to gain way more than most because many people don’t have the faintest idea what they should be doing to compete on the SEO front. 
           
          Your awareness campaign strategy is smart for someone in your shoes, just as Zillow’s widget strategy was (still is) smart for someone in their shoes.
           
          Just be honest about the motives behind your efforts.

        • http://www.ohheyworld.com/ drewmeyers

          @BrianRayl    The difference in that scenario is that the website owner (zillow) doesn’t vouch for each and every piece of content that is inputted onto the site. There is a lot of spammers/marketers that abused early dofollow links Zillow did provide. I know first hand, as I spent countless nights and weekends from 2006-2010 cleaning the site up from crap that spammers posted. 
           
          In the widget scenario, the website owner is choosing to put that widget on the site on their own accord. It’s not a case where there is potential for a 3rd party to abuse their site but putting links/functionality. Therefore, there is no logical case to be made to no-follow something you as the webmaster chooses to put on your own site.
           
          That’s my 2 cents.

        • bobwilson

          @drewmeyers  @BrianRayl Completely agree about the spam issue.

        • http://www.realgeeks.com/ bdmanson

          @drewmeyers You are funny with how you try to spin it.. My motives are to let as many agents know how they are helping a competitor out rank themselves and also push traffic away from their sites to one that is competing with them.. When agents link to the portals it hurts all agents… Pretty simple…  You said earlier “I wouldn’t be plastering widgets from Zillow or anyone else on my website if I was an agent. I don’t recommend agents/brokers do it.” 
           
          So we are in agreement that it is not good for the broker to do that…
           
          You also said you were all for educating the public.. We could post the infographic from  http://www.realgeeks.com/blog/how-youre-helping-zillow-and-trulia-outrank-you/  on GeekEstate.com and start educating them there  :-)How does that sound?

        • bobwilson

          @drewmeyers  Why isnt a simple “Powered by Zillow” link sufficient enough? Why is each link specific to the market of the given site? Wouldnt that be more honest on Zillow’s part?

        • http://www.onewavedesigns.com/ onewavedesigns

          @bobwilson  @drewmeyers  @BrianRayl @bdmanson I have to at least put my own 2 cents in at this point. Yes, it’s the webmaster’s choice to put a widget on a site, but it’s also their site, and therefore should have the right to make any links from any outside sources to be nofollow. Simply put, if Zillow and Trulia didn’t have a selfish motive, they should have no problem allowing us to choose to nofollow or not.
          They are using a very, very sneaky way of taking advantage of their own customers to promote themselves, not their customers.
          I currently manage almost 20 real estate sites around the country, and not one of them has a widget from either company. I steer people away from their widgets.
          Jeff, I applaud your effort on making creating this blog. I preach these things to my own clients when they listen. I don’t normally speak up on posts and such, as I typically prefer not to get involved in these discussions. However, I consider this post by Real Geeks to be a well-needed “Public Service Announcement.”

        • http://www.ohheyworld.com/ drewmeyers

          @bdmanson I’m in your camp of thinking online is a serious investment, and one I would make if I were an agent. But there is certainly more than one way to run a real estate business. Some agents just want a professional looking presence so that when people go look them up they don’t look like someone with a website from the dark ages, but have no desire to spend the time or money it would take for a real online marketing effort.
           
          Tell me this. Do you genuinely believe if the average agent removes a zillow widget from their website, it will help them? How is that going to help their business? Yes, it may help agents/brokers who really really understand SEO…but I don’t see how it’ll help the average agent. They aren’t even close to ranking well now, and one less widget on their website isn’t going to change that.

        • http://www.ohheyworld.com/ drewmeyers

          @bobwilson I’m not going to get into a debate around what specific links are included. That’s a decision Zillow and Trulia will have to make.

        • http://www.ohheyworld.com/ drewmeyers

          @onewavedesigns  @bobwilson  @BrianRayl  @bdmanson Of course there are selfish motives involved. Very seldom do companies, or individuals for that matter, do anything for unselfish reasons. Why would Z/T spend so much money calculating the data they do, and let anyone use it and get nothing in return? Doesn’t make any sense.
           
          Would your clients consistently write fantastic blog posts that take 4 hours each, post them on someone else’s website — and all they get for that is a “Written by Susie Smith” in small text at the bottom (no link, photo, bio etc)? Doubtful…

        • http://www.fischer-realestate.com/ Greg Fischer

          @drewmeyers  @bdmanson semantics. Doesnt address the issue of the post though dude (true as it may be)

  • http://minnesotapropertyforsale.com/ hempler

    It can also be done with blog posts…I link back to articles on my site all the time

  • IndyAgent

    How can agents NOT know this?!?

  • http://sandiegopreviews.com/ RobertaMurphy

    Anyone have a good link for reporting spam? And an honest infographic developer?

  • NathanFroelich

    Great article AGBeat. For the comments which assume agents understand this I can safely say having managed hundreds of good agents most don’t. The other reality may be that most agents don’t have the time/resources to have their personal sites rank high on the engines therefor these widgets may enhance their site functionality and the fact they are helping “RTZ” is of no consequence.

    • bobwilson

      @NathanFroelich How do they increase functionality?

      • NathanFroelich

        @bobwilson  @NathanFroelich Bob, great question and I honestly don’t know, that is up to the individual agent to determine and make a business decision that is best for them.

  • kenbrand

    Nice article on how not to pee in your own Google punchbowl.  #MoreAhHa #RealEstateAgents

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  • http://www.realgeeks.com/ bdmanson

    Long time SEO expert Greg Boser (CEO of Blueglass) commented over on this on Google+ post: https://plus.google.com/u/0/110263460160370936113/posts/Ly5AbnqdhZu?cfem=1Quote: “What makes it worse is the fact that it goes beyond widgets. I’ve spent a lot of time over the years working with smaller companies trying to get re-included for engaging in the exact type of thing you find when looking at the backlinks of a page like http://www.zillow.com/agent-websites/Thousands of crappy Hello World template pages with awesome targeted anchor text in the footer of every page.?”

    • gboser

      @bdmanson I’m actually the President, not the CEO, bit thanks for the temporary ego boost. :)

      • http://www.realgeeks.com/ bdmanson

        @gboser You’re welcome!!! I knew it was important ;-) Even more importantly is that you know this stuff better than most!!!

  • http://www.biggerpockets.com/ Joshua Dorkin

    Come on folks . . . we’re all in the real estate business, with an emphasis on BUSINESS.  Trulia and Zillow aren’t charities, nor are the agents who use their tools to grow their businesses.  I don’t understand all the complaints here.  These companies are providing agents with a service.  That service comes with a cost — a link.  In SEO 101 we learn that links pass juice.  
     
    I just don’t see the validity of any complaint against these guys.  No one is stealing your rankings; you’re helping them beat you willingly.
     
    If a company requires the use of their widget without the alteration of their code in order to use it, you have three choices: use it under the license, don’t use it, or take a chance and violate the terms of use that you agreed to (I strongly recommend NOT doing this).
     
    If you want the information that these companies offer, but don’t want to give them a link, you can spend the money to get it some other way, such as licensing it or building your own tool.  
     
    There are countless ways to market your business and to build your web presence.  You’re not forced to use a service whose terms you don’t want to agree to — just be sure to read the fine print before signing on the dotted line.  Unfortunately, far too many of use decide it isn’t worth our time to do just that — and that’s where the problem begins.
     
    Educating yourself on the consequences of the decisions you make in your business is the best way to protect yourself from the competition coming in and taking what you think is yours.

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  • Kristal Kraft

    What ever happened to “transparency?”  In all fairness ZTR should be required to disclose that using these widgets and be hazardous to your SEO health.  Love the infographic, kudos to the creator!  Let’s get the word out…finally. @bdmanson @gboser

  • Pingback: Realtors Help Zillow and Trulia Outrank Them | | Property For RentProperty For Rent

  • Tanishaxe3nvprm

    @laineyinbrklyn http://t.co/hRFhLZTE

  • MTrewe

    Question – is trading data for a backlink where a site earns money from rank/traffic, equal to buying a link? It seems to me, and I could be totally off the mark that Google has a double standard in link policy?  If the link is freely given by an agent then it’s not a value trade, but if it’s forced, then, technically, is that a TOS issue for Google/ZTR? @bobwilson

    • http://www.biggerpockets.com/ Joshua Dorkin

      @MTrewe  @bobwilson How does ZTR force anyone to link to them?  If you use their widget, you freely choose to do so, and in so doing, agree to the terms set by the companies offering the widget.  I’m not aware of any of these companies blackmailing or making someone use their widget by force.

      • bobwilson

        @Joshua Dorkin  What is forced is the choice of the anchor text and the way in which the link is done. Drew has stated in his comments that many agents dont understand the ramifications of many SEO strategies. Google has come out against anchor text laden widget spam in the past. If the anchor was “Powered by Zillow”, there would be no issue, but linking to the same market with market specific anchor text is the issue. That makes this widget spam. Taking advantage of the agents who dont realize the one sided benefit is predatory. 
         
        Widget spam isnt new. It started with Myspace widgets. Google took some action on those, but they still work. Zillow and Trulia make the argument that since the anchor text isnt hidden, its ok. The big difference though is with the myspace widget I can alter the link. With Trulia and Zillow, I cant. That isnt exactly freely given because we all know that a large percentage dont realize what the consequences are to using these widgets.
         
        Drew makes the argument that not all agents care about SEO and just want a site. That is about as disingenuousness as it gets. I talk to 100s of agents a month who all expect or want their website to produce something in the way of business and not just be an online business card. The fact that they dont understand how to accomplish that isnt the same as not wanting that outcome.
         
        For the sake of argument, I will concede the trade of widget for link, but please explain the why behind the market specific anchor text. 
         
        @mTrewe – Yes this is absolutely a double standard with Google and goes to the brand bias built into their algorithm. Aaron Wall has written numerous times at http://seobook.com/blog about this bias and the pass that big brands get we dont get, and that is the point. ZTR exploit this and use agents to do pull it off, with the end goal of using our juice to help them sell leads looking at our listings back to us.
         
        @tcar – I find your choice of words interesting. You call it war, I would suggest it is defending ourselves from the enemy among us. It seems to me that Trulia still seeks to find the short cut. When they first started, they scraped my site for listings. It took a call to your legal folks to point out the copyright infringement. Now they call asking “on behalf of a client” for data from a RETS feed you cant have, from an MLS that they know prohibits those with the RETS feed from syndicating. And while not all agents “wage war”, there is a growing group, including brokers (Edina, Abbott Realty Group, et al) that are not exactly thrilled with how you all do business.
         
        I believe that agents can do what they want with their sites within the law. I also believe that it is in their best interest to understand the ramifications of doing so. That happens with knowledge. Knowledge that will also help them discover when their web site companies sell them on the SEO benefits of said sites while also recommending the use of widgets that are counter productive to that endeavor. Sam Debord said it perfectly, “Having outbound links to your competition on your website is like Pizza Hut offering coupons to Domino’s.” 
         
        If you, as an agent or broker, are spending a single dime on the marketing of your site, then pull the widgets or change the code (Powered By Zillow” and link to the home page is a fair trade, and truly freely given) and let the ZTRs decide how valuable they believe their widgets are to the public.

      • MTrewe

        @Joshua Dorkin  @bobwilson Hi @Joshua Dorkin  The question I asked, has nothing to do with anything you described at all. 1) It’s simply a question, not an accusation. 2) Positioning within this thread has been described as an exchange of expensive raw data for a targeted backlink. That’s money for a backlink, a review for a backlink etc… – I could go on, but they’re no different, so I am asking Bob how it’s not or is different and if the backlink requirement implies a transaction. 
         
        I never get in the middle of these things, just trying to wrap my arms around the policy side of this equation.

  • MTrewe

    I mean, that’s a link farm, no? @bobwilson

  • bobwilson

    What is forced is the choice of the anchor text and the way in which the link is done. Drew has stated in his comments that many agents dont understand the ramifications of many SEO strategies. Google has come out against anchor text laden widget spam in the past. If the anchor was “Powered by Zillow”, there would be no issue, but linking to the same market with market specific anchor text is the issue. That makes this widget spam. 
     
    Widget spam isnt new. It started with Myspace widgets. Google took some action on those, but they still work. Zillow and Trulia make the argument that since the anchor text isnt hidden, its ok. The big difference though is with the myspace widget I can alter the link. With Trulia and Zillow, I cant. That isnt exactly freely given because we all know that a large percentage dont realize what the consequences are to using these widgets.
     
    Drew makes the argument that not all agents care about SEO and just want a site. That is about as disingenuousness as it gets. I talk to 100s of agents a month who all expect or want their website to produce something in the way of business and not just be an online business card. The fact that they dont understand how to accomplish that isnt the same as not wanting that outcome.
     
    For the sake of argument, I will concede the trade of widget for link, but please explain the why behind the market specific anchor text. 
     
    @mTrewe – Yes this is absolutely a double standard with Google and goes to the brand bias built into their algorithm. Aaron Wall has written numerous times at http://seobook.com/blogabout this bias and the pass that big brands get we dont get, and that is the point. ZTR exploit this and use agents to do pull it off, with the end goal of using our juice to help them sell leads looking at our listings back to us.
     
    @tcar – I find your choice of words interesting. You call it war, I would suggest it is defending ourselves from the enemy among us. It seems to me that Trulia still seeks to find the short cut. When they first started, they scraped my site for listings. It took a call to your legal folks to point out the copyright infringement. Now they call asking “on behalf of a client” for data from a RETS feed you cant have, from an MLS that they know prohibits those with the RETS feed from syndicating. And while not all agents “wage war”, there is a growing group, including brokers (Edina, Abbott Realty Group, et al) that are not exactly thrilled with how you all do business.
     
    I believe that agents can do what they want with their sites within the law. I also believe that it is in their best interest to understand the ramifications of doing so. That happens with knowledge. Knowledge that will also help them discover when their web site companies sell them on the SEO benefits of said sites while also recommending the use of widgets that are counter productive to that endeavor. Sam Debord said it perfectly, “Having outbound links to your competition on your website is like Pizza Hut offering coupons to Domino’s.” 
     
    If you, as an agent or broker, are spending a single dime on the marketing of your site, then pull the widgets or change the code (Powered By Zillow” and link to the home page is a fair trade, and truly freely given) and let the ZTRs decide how valuable they believe their widgets are to the public.

  • markbrian

    @advantage_group always look a gift horse in the mouth when it comes to those 2

  • ModernDaniel

    @markbrian good article! That’s something we have discussed a lot in our brokerage. We’re sort of helping create the monster.

    • markbrian

      @ModernDaniel too many don’t realize they are NOT your friend

  • bobwilson

    What is forced is the choice of the anchor text and the way in which the link is done. Drew has stated in his comments that many agents dont understand the ramifications of many SEO strategies. Google has come out against anchor text laden widget spam in the past. If the anchor was “Powered by Zillow”, there would be no issue, but linking to the same market with market specific anchor text is the issue. That makes this widget spam. 
     
    Widget spam isnt new. It started with Myspace widgets. Google took some action on those, but they still work. Zillow and Trulia make the argument that since the anchor text isnt hidden, its ok. The big difference though is with the myspace widget I can alter the link. With Trulia and Zillow, I cant. That isnt exactly freely given because we all know that a large percentage dont realize what the consequences are to using these widgets.
     
    Drew makes the argument that not all agents care about SEO and just want a site. That is about as disingenuousness as it gets. I talk to 100s of agents a month who all expect or want their website to produce something in the way of business and not just be an online business card. The fact that they dont understand how to accomplish that isnt the same as not wanting that outcome.
     
    For the sake of argument, I will concede the trade of widget for link, but please explain the why behind the market specific anchor text. 
     
    @mTrewe – Yes this is absolutely a double standard with Google and goes to the brand bias built into their algorithm. Aaron Wall has written numerous times at http://seobook.com/blogabout this bias and the pass that big brands get we dont get, and that is the point. ZTR exploit this and use agents to do pull it off, with the end goal of using our juice to help them sell leads looking at our listings back to us.
     
    @tcar – I find your choice of words interesting. You call it war, I would suggest it is defending ourselves from the enemy among us. It seems to me that Trulia still seeks to find the short cut. When they first started, they scraped my site for listings. It took a call to your legal folks to point out the copyright infringement. Now they call asking “on behalf of a client” for data from a RETS feed you cant have, from an MLS that they know prohibits those with the RETS feed from syndicating. And while not all agents “wage war”, there is a growing group, including brokers (Edina, Abbott Realty Group, et al) that are not exactly thrilled with how you all do business.
     
    I believe that agents can do what they want with their sites within the law. I also believe that it is in their best interest to understand the ramifications of doing so. That happens with knowledge. Knowledge that will also help them discover when their web site companies sell them on the SEO benefits of said sites while also recommending the use of widgets that are counter productive to that endeavor. Sam Debord said it perfectly, “Having outbound links to your competition on your website is like Pizza Hut offering coupons to Domino’s.” 
     
    If you, as an agent or broker, are spending a single dime on the marketing of your site, then pull the widgets or change the code (Powered By Zillow” and link to the home page is a fair trade, and truly freely given) and let the ZTRs decide how valuable they believe their widgets are to the public.

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  • EricStegemann

    @rqd I think “predatory linking practices” is strong. It’s the same thing all widget people do. But agents don’t know better.

    • rqd

      @EricStegemann That article (and comments) seemed right up your alley.

  • IsabellaScott

    I read the post substantially … I put a trulia mortgage calculator in one of my posts, although it’s an older post from several years ago and the property is not longer available, so I can’t compare how it would rank with trulia today for a current listing, but I have a page rank 3 on that post where many of my other posts are a 2. I had noticed when I checked before that trulia had a link back to my post showing how to use the widget but I see they don’t show an example now from their page. That post is still near the top of the first page of google depending on key words chosen to search for the subdivision. I understand what the article says but and I don’t know why that post ranks higher, but just thought I would mention it …..

  • http://www.cedarcity-realestate.com ginbontadelli

    I don’t think that ZTR are being dishonest or manipulative.  Their links are not hidden on the widgets.  if you don’t want to link to their site, don’t use their widgets.  That being said they are definitely making it hard for local realtors to use the web to get clients and make real estate sales.

    • bobwilson

      @ginbontadelli The links in these widgets blatantly violate what Google considers to be editorially given links.

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  • http://www.facebook.com/BradJenkinsRealtor Brad Jenkins

    It amazes me that people did not know this. However, this little widget is just a small snippit of the bigger picture. We as agents share the blame for not meeting the needs of the real estate consumer and thus the rise of ZTR like companies. We are too slow to act. Instead we react and are constantly trailing behind. Look at the ages of the CEOs of the major sites that are honing in on real estate agents back yard, 35 and then look at the average age of today’s realtor, 55. The head of our own organization, NAR is over 60 isn’t he? Hello??? What are we missing here?

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