The Importance of Strategic Distribution

By
Services for Real Estate Pros with Zillow

It’s a new year, so what better time to take on a controversial topic: listings syndication. There is a lot of discussion about this in our industry, and I thought it was time to give Zillow's thoughts on this important topic. My comments below will also be the basis of my speech at this week's Inman Connect in New York. 

First, let me emphasize that Zillow has a lot of usage. In December 2011, more than 23 million unique visitors used our websites and mobile applications. The primary reason they use Zillow is because of Zestimates, and the other unique content we have on our website. It is because of this traffic that nearly every major real estate brokerage in the nation puts their listings onto Zillow, for free.

Because the number of real estate websites has dramatically proliferated, real estate brokers and MLSs are now giving a more careful review of what sites they send listings to. I applaud this, as I think it is important to carefully evaluate which sites make the most sense. This trend towards "strategic distribution" is different from the more shotgun-like approach that characterized listings syndication for the last few years.

Strategic distribution is all about making the right decision on where to put listings based on criteria that makes sense for your business. Brokers own their listings, and can put them on whichever sites they choose. But in my opinion, brokers should carefully consider several important criteria when making these decisions:

1. Which sites are most likely to provide my listings with exposure to the most buyers. After all, that's what the listing agents and their brokers have been hired to do by their home sellers: get the house sold quickly, at the best possible price.

2. Which sites have business rules which are most acceptable to my brokerage. 

Listings on Zillow receive exposure across Zillow.com, Zillow Mobile - the most popular suite of real estate apps across all major mobile platforms - and the Yahoo!-Zillow Real Real Estate Network the largest real estate network on the Web (according to comScore Media Metrix, 1), so clearly we have many millions of buyers visiting our website and using our mobile apps. Sellers benefit from their listing receiving as much exposure as possible. 

Some in our industry have commented that although Zillow has more than 23 million unique monthly visitors to our websites and mobile apps, perhaps Zillow and other national media sites "don't have very much traffic in my area". That's incorrect. Zillow reviewed November 2011 data from comScore Media Metrix, the leading third-party source of website traffic information. Note that this data does not include traffic on mobile applications, where Zillow and other national brands have overwhelmingly more usage than others. Just looking at website statistics though, the Yahoo!-Zillow Real Estate Network is the #1 or #2 real estate entity in all 20 of the top 20 local markets in the United States (2). The data simply does not support the argument that "those sites aren't big in my area." [If you'd like to learn more about Zillow's traffic in your area, please email me; we will happily share Zillow's internal traffic statistics for your region.]

To emphasize the mobile point further, let me stress that not putting listings on Zillow, REALTOR.com and Trulia is tantamount to abandoning any hope of finding a buyer who is using a mobile device. In December 2011, Zillow had more than 36 homes viewed every second of every day on a mobile device. Zillow has leading real estate apps on iPhone, iPad, Android phones, Android tablets, Blackberry, Windows Phone 7, and Kindle Fire. Mobile usage accounts for about a quarter of all of Zillow's usage -- it's too important a channel for a seller or their listing agent/broker to ignore. 

Brokers and MLSs should not only consider a website's traffic when making syndication decisions. But they should also consider how each website gets its traffic. At Zillow, most of our traffic comes directly to Zillow.com or Zillow's mobile apps, rather than coming to us through SEO. Our tens of millions of users are attracted to Zillow's unique content, including over 100 million Zestimates and 100,000 consumer reviews of real estate agents. We bring this traffic to the table in these syndication discussions; it's not like we showed up at the potluck with just a fork. 

Putting listings onto top real estate sites is what sellers want, because it helps sell their homes. But don't take my word for it -- let's look at the data. Zillow data shows that homes which receive the top 10% of page views sell more than a month faster than their counterparts in the bottom 10% of views.  Similarly, these highly viewed listings achieve sale prices closer to their asking price than those with less exposure. The difference is especially pronounced among homes priced less than $250,000. It's obvious, but if you give your listing exposure to lots of buyers, it will sell faster and at a higher price. The data proves it.

The Objections

I've already addressed one objection to sending listings to leading media sites: the local traffic stats.

The second objection I sometimes hear is that "the media site is selling my leads". Most major media sites (including Zillow) have free models which pass buyer contacts to the listing agent -- all they have to do to be presented as the first choice for buyers on their own listings is set up a free account and free profile on the site (which ensures that the buyer contact will get through to them).

In addition, some listings syndication services such as ListHub, owned by Move, Inc. (operator of REALTOR.com), have recently introduced dashboards to help brokers and MLSs understand different media sites' business rules, and decide which sites to send listings to. This allows the MLS to facilitate the efficient distribution of listings under the direction of the broker who owns the listings.

Diverse Solutions

No discussion of listings syndication would be complete without mentioning Zillow's acquisition of Diverse Solutions, the leading tech provider of IDX for websites. Many of you have told us what a great company, staff and products they have. But there are some conspiracy theorists who have speculated that Zillow will simply flip a switch and take all of the IDX listings through Diverse and put them up on Zillow.com.

It won’t happen and can’t ---due to contractual and legal reasons. 

However, from the day the acquisition was announced, we started hearing from brokers that asked why they needed to continue to send Zillow a direct feed, when it was already coming to Diverse through their MLS. Therefore, if a broker wants us to use their listings from IDX, and their MLS agrees, then we will do this. We are in the midst of conversations with many brokerages and many MLSs about this, since it significantly reduces the complexity for the brokerage and it improves accuracy of listings on Zillow, which benefits brokers, agents and their MLS.

Speaking of listings accuracy ... Zillow invests massive resources in making our listings as accurate as possible, and it all starts with what’s provided to us by our partners. Complaining about accuracy while providing us with a less than stellar feed or no feed at all does none of us or our industry any favors. Those who decide to pull listings from sites like ours due to their own business reasons have the right to do so. But to take that step and then say a key reason was listing accuracy feels disingenuous when they have removed the very direct feed that is the most accurate, often leaving their agents to rely on less reliable options.

Conclusion

Strategic Distribution is an important part of a broker's marketing strategy. It is very important for brokers to put their listings where buyers will find them -- this is critical for agent recruitment and retention, and to help sell clients' houses. 

It is for these reasons that nearly every major brokerage in the country has chosen to put their listings onto Zillow. We are very proud of our partnerships with companies like RE/MAX International, Coldwell Banker, Century 21, Windermere, Halstead, Prudential Fox & Roach and hundreds more.

I look forward to further discussion of this important issue, and I hope to see you at Inman Connect later this week.  

 

Data Sources:

(1) comScore Media Metrix Real Estate Category Ranking by Unique Visitors, November 2011, US Data.

(2) comScore Local Market Key Measures, November 2011, Real Estate Category by Unique Visitors

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Re-Blogged 3 times:

Re-Blogged By Re-Blogged At
  1. Sara Bonert 01/09/2012 03:40 PM
  2. Brad Andersohn 01/09/2012 03:59 PM
  3. Joe Jackson 01/11/2012 09:33 AM
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Anonymous
Todd Miller

I have about 150 listings and we get leads from Zillow for free.  If you don't have a substantial listing inventory then pay for the leads.  What's most important is most agents can't convert, and most leads are also talking to other agents, so lead conversion is critical here.  Zestimates, while not always accurate give the agent an opportunity to engage the customer in a conversation about values, their goals, and ultimately setting up an appointment.  

Some agents may dislike Zillow, but they are #1 and if they aren't using it they are missing out.  

Many of our 85 under contract buyer sides we have are from Zillow.  

Jan 11, 2012 08:20 AM #1
Rainmaker
179,009
Nikesh Parekh
Trulia - Bellevue, WA
Technology Entrepreneur, Executive, & Investor

Hey Spencer,

This is a great and well thought out discussion of the issues with listing distribution.  Interesting data correlating views on Zillow to time on market and price. 

Would love to chat more about it at some point and grab coffee.

Niki

Jan 12, 2012 01:01 AM #2
Rainmaker
582,820
Phil Leng
Keller Williams Eastside Market Center - Kirkland, WA
Phil Leng Team - Residential Real Estate Experts &

Hi Spenser,

This is a good presentation of your company and the benefits it provides to realtors.

We use Zillow with all our listings

Phil

Jan 20, 2012 04:46 AM #3
Rainmaker
1,015,143
Greg Nino
RE/MAX Compass, formerly RE/MAX WHP - Houston, TX
Houston, Texas

Would love to see this featured. I spend more time explaining why a Zestimate is inaccurate than I do showing buyers who "have found a home on Zillow." It's rare, but when they do ask about a home on Zillow or Realtor.com it's usually "outdated." This classic complaint seems to be an ongoing problem across the country. I spoke to a home seller who was furious that their home was still being "marketed" on Trulia after it sold. They contacted Truilia and were told.. "It's the agent's responsibility to update us."

AS IF.

 

As if any agent is going to hunt down the hundreds of different enslaving websites to "update" them with every price adjustment!  If you put milk on the shelves to sell then it's YOUR responsibility to make sure it's not spoiled, not the guy who is cultivating and originating the business for everyone to take and sell back to us.

May 05, 2012 09:58 PM #4
Rainmaker
748,552
Jackie Connelly-Fornuff
Douglas Elliman Real Estate in Babylon NY - Babylon, NY
"Moving at The Speed of YOU!"

When these sites take our feeds for our listings, they should also remove them when they sell. I get at least a few calls per year from buyers wanting to see REO homes that aren't REO homes at all. Know what it's like to knock on the door of a homeowner with a Zillow/Trulia listing in hand showing them that their home is being advertised on Zillow and Trulia as an REO? It ain't pretty and this needs to stop.

May 06, 2012 04:31 AM #5
Ambassador
520,836
Tom Branch
RE/MAX Dallas Suburbs - Plano, TX
Broker, CDPE, SFR, ACRE, Plano TX Ambassador

Spencer,

It's not the fact that you leverage our data, it's the fact that the data often comes from sources that are not kept current such as virtual tour providers and manually entered agent website listings. The consumer finds a home they like and we have to tell them it's no longer available.

The good news is your staff will take them down when this is pointed out to them. So not only do you get the data at no cost, you also expect us to scrub it for you.

I'm not anti-syndication, but I am against rampant syndication from less than reputable sources. Zillow could clean this up but since it's all about traffic, why bother?

Tom

May 06, 2012 05:51 AM #6
Rainmaker
121,017
Spencer Rascoff
Zillow - Seattle, WA

Tom (#6),

You wrote:

it's the fact that the data often comes from sources that are not kept current such as virtual tour providers and manually entered agent website listings. The consumer finds a home they like and we have to tell them it's no longer available.

The good news is your staff will take them down when this is pointed out to them. So not only do you get the data at no cost, you also expect us to scrub it for you.

How do you think the data ends up in the virtual tour provider's feed in the first place? The listing agent puts it there, not us! Believe me, we want it out of the feed and off of the site as much as anyone. We expend enormous resources to try to rid Zillow of stale listings. It's the listing agents who use these syndication services and forget to remove stale listings; Zillow is a victim, not the criminal here.

It confuses me when people suggest that we intentionally keep stale listings on Zillow in order to increase traffic on our website. On the contrary, it is a terrible consumer experience when someone sees a stale listing. We want our listings to be as accurate as you do. 

 

May 07, 2012 09:42 AM #7
Rainmaker
121,017
Spencer Rascoff
Zillow - Seattle, WA

Greg (#4), you wrote:

As if any agent is going to hunt down the hundreds of different enslaving websites to "update" them with every price adjustment!  If you put milk on the shelves to sell then it's YOUR responsibility to make sure it's not spoiled, not the guy who is cultivating and originating the business for everyone to take and sell back to us.

Similar to my comment to Tom, in my opinion it is the listing agent's responsibility to keep his listing information updated -- in the MLS, and on any sites that he chooses to display the listing information on. As a web publisher, we do a lot of work to fix these issues ourselves (much more work than we get credit for), but the listing agent is the one who is responsible to the seller for marketing the listing accurately. 

May 07, 2012 09:44 AM #8
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Spencer Rascoff

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