Do Zillow, Trulia and Realtor.com Really Lend Sellers a Helping Hand?

With Thanksgiving merely days away, it is now safe to say “tis the season of giving.”  As hearts (and wallets) seem to magically open during this time of year, I began thinking of a group of people that could really use some giving this season, home sellers.  Yes, this isa group that has seen uncertainty over the past three years or so.  Due to still challenging market conditions, some of them are hesitant to list their home for fear of losing more equity than they wish.

However, perhaps even more daunting to them and to the many individuals who have homes on the market, is how long it will take for them to get the best buyer and price for their property.  And as a result, many of them fall to the perceived “best strategy” for selling a home, putting it in front of what they believe will be millions of eyes on sites like Zillow, Trulia and Realtor.com. These sites are referred to a ‘listing aggregators,’ or sites that aggregate listings from brokerages and a variety of other sources into one single location for easy viewing and searching.

While these sites have done a good job of providing a comprehensive database of national and international (Realtor.com) listings, we decided closer inspection was needed to see if they are driving enough traffic to listing websites to help them sell.  In the spirit of giving, we decided to conduct a study of our own to see if these sites make a difference.  The answer?  Not really.

We thought the best way to assess how well these sites work was to examine how much traffic they were pushing to raveis.com and how many leads were being generated to our call center.   The below pie chart breaks down how much traffic was being pushed to raveis.com from Trulia, Zillow and Realtor.com for year-to-date 2011.

raveis.com traffic sources

raveis.com traffic sources

As you can see Trulia accounts for .5% of all our traffic, Zillow is at .2% and Realtor.com is .1%.  So, as a seller working with a William Raveis listing agent, you likely will have a very small chance of achieving solid exposure for your home through these sites.

And here’s another thing to think about-how far do you think buyers actually end up moving from their original home?  50, maybe 100 miles?  Not so much.  According to National Association of Realtors (NAR) 2010 statistics,* homebuyers move a median of 13 miles from their previous residence.   So if you really want to gain visibility for your home, you should ensure that it is being properly promoted locally.  One of the best ways to do this is to utilize SEO, or Search Engine Optimization.  If done correctly, SEO- which is the process of achieving high ranking in search engine results -can do wonders for ensuring your home is seen by as many eyes as possible.  In fact, Search Engine Land, a prominent SEO and digital marketing site, recently shared that SEO is the number one source of leads for marketers. In addition, SEM (Search Engine Marketing, or increasing visibility on search engines through paid links), social media and other local advertising venues can help you achieve maximum exposure for your home.

This was a very revealing study for us. It confirmed that our powerful combination of branding (60% of our traffic is direct) and SEO is helping us provide excellent service to sellers.  We are continuing to focus on marketing listings with the help of SEO and through ensuring that sellers know they have a powerful, locally focused brand on their side.  Where Zillow, Trulia and Realtor.com provide lines of code, brands like William Raveis gives sellers customized marketing plans, with an emphasis on search engine and local community presence.

The cold, hard truth is, listing aggregator sites rely on ad revenue and have built very clever models to generate that revenue.  They’ve convinced brokerages and agents that they need them, that their business won’t be competitive without them!  So rather than explore more effective strategies, such as robust SEO and local marketing campaigns, many brokerages and agents succumb to the attractively packaged advertising programs from listing aggregators without examining their true effectiveness.  This post is meant to challenge that behavior.  It is meant to shed some light on what many brokerages, agents and sellers hold to be true; that you can’t successfully market listings without the help of listing aggregators.

To all the sellers out there-we hope we’ve “given” you something to think about this holiday season!

* National Association of Realtors Profile of Homebuyers and Sellers 2010

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