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Don't Waste Money on Zillow, Trulia and Realtor.com

Industry Observer with Swanepoel T3 Group

Every now and again the question of ROI from advertising on Zillow, Trulia, and Realtor.com makes the rounds. Yesterday my friend Jimmy Mackin posted the question in his FB group in preparation for last night's WaterCooler show with Chris Smith. The answers were what I usually see, which is about 75% "No" with a few quiet "Yes" entries. I get the sense that too many agents buy subscriptions and advertising as raw lead generation and then are disappointed when the results don't pan out. 

I buy advertising and subscriptions on all 3 sites and it's a successful component of our overall marketing communication program. I hate to see agents waste money so I put together a list of do's and don'ts for advertising on Zillow, Trulia and Realtor.com

1) Know the site: Use it, play with it, understand how it's laid out. Each site offers a dizzying array of products and services to consumers and agents. Some of the new products are incredibly cool, like Zillow Digs and Trulia's Add Sold Homes.

2) Know the apps: 50% of real estate site traffic comes from a mobile device. Most consumers have 3 or 4 apps on their smart phone or tablet. You need to understand what your client experiences when he uses the app. Realtor.com's Mobile App lets you brand yourself, a feature that all agents should take advantage of. 

3) Have a strategy: Mine is, first and foremost, support for our listing business. Consumers use these sites and we want our listings there, period. Make sure your listings have all the fields filled out and that all the photos are there. Add a video link, fill out the neighborhood information, enhance the descriptions.

4) Understand the programs: The ability to enhance and manage listings is provided through the subscriptions: Zillow Premier Agent, Trulia Pro and Realtor.com Showcase Listing Enhancement. While some leads may be generated off your listings, don't expect a lot of leads unless you also advertise. Do not chat with the ad sales guy while you're driving around town. Sit and take notes, look at the products he's describing, really understand what you're buying and what the results should be. 

5) Understand the subtleties: For example, If you're thinking of buying on Trulia you need to understand the the mobile ad is a separate charge, and that while mobile device traffic is exploding, only 1% of the total number of click throughs are off the mobile ad it self. But I believe you need the mobile ad program to protect yourself on your listings when they display on the mobile device. 

6) Create a presence: My belief is that any of the programs work best when an agent carries a good number of listings. The agent who simply hopes for buyer leads is competing with the listing agent who commands more presence. You have to create what I call "Magic Circles" of Listings, Ads and Reviews. I can't overstate the importance of reviews. If a consumer is looking for an agent, credibility is naturally given to the greatest presence. The new Sold Listings on Trulia is awesome. 

7) Understand the inquiry: People are not leads, they are consumers who have questions. Buying advertising on these sites is a long term play of building your presence with that site's user base. People might have a question about the community, the house itself, or might want to schedule a showing. Do not assume all inquiries are from buyers because many inquiries are from future sellers. People are often on these sites a year or more before they need an agent. This is a chance to create a relationship by providing a service.

8) Create a personal response system: The very best response is a personal phone call, followed by a personal text or email. Brad Andersohn, former AR God and now the head of Zillow Academy, taught me one simple formula for responding to someone: Acknowledge the inquiry and ask a question: "Hi Sue, I see you have a question about 123 Main St. I have information about that house. What is the best way to get back to you, by phone call, text or email?"

9) Create an auto-response system: Unless you personally answer your phone 24 hours a day, you'll need some kind of response that lets the consumer know that you'll get back to them. Do not rely on the site's auto-response to do the job. Do something unique. I've got a crm that kicks off a bombbomb email with a video in it. It's memorable. We rotate getting back to the person personally and I have a loan officer embedded in the response system if it's a buyer. We don't create a new relationship with every consumer who asks a question, but we sure try. 

10) Provide value immediately and over time: Put those market reports or community event schedules to work. Send interesting information that relates to the original question. If they open the report, contact them ask if they would like to receive monthly updates on property values. But do not rely on a crappy drip campaign that you bought for $50 back in 2009. If you don't have time to personally interact with people, you don't deserve their business.

11) Do not insult people: I think it is a mistake to try to get someone to immediately start using your site. If the person called in while using Zillow, they have chosen Zillow before you, and they are likely to continue using Zillow. If your relationship grows, and your site provides different or interesting information, maybe they'll start to use your site, too.

12) Use the site's resources: Zillow Academy has a great set of course offerings. Trulia and Realtor.com need similar programs. 

1,000 words and I could write 3,000 more. I hope this gives at least a framework for not wasting your money on the 3rd party sites.  



Paddy Deighan MBA JD PhD
http://www.medicalandspaconsulting.com - Vail, CO
Paddy Deighan J.D. Ph.D

I belive that the most important thig to do is prioritize yrou time and choose one primary site and work it heavuily and utilize Twitter to supplment.

Mar 20, 2013 07:49 AM
Christine McDaniel
Christine McDaniel Realty, LLC - Avon, IN
Broker Associate

Great post Leslie!  I personally would love to see a national mls.  There would be no need for these types of third party aggregator websites.  I feel like our mls sells us out by syndicating to those websites.  What am I paying dues for?  I've noticed our top sellers do not advertise on Trulia or Zillow.  Kind of odd to see someone with 95+ listings show up with 0 listings on Zillow.


Mar 20, 2013 03:27 PM
Wallace S. Gibson, CPM
Gibson Management Group, Ltd. - Charlottesville, VA

I'll post to Zillow directly through postlets; however, I have removed Trulia and Zillow from the automatic feed of my website because rental listings are not removed in a timely manner and rental prospects are learning not to go there and to use Craigslist which is more immediate!

Mar 20, 2013 08:34 PM
Sandy Padula & Norm Padula, JD, GRI
HomeSmart Realty West & Florida Realty Investments - , CA
Presence, Persistence & Perseverance
Lesley all well stated and worthy of further investigation to advance my marketing efforts to the next level. Thank you!
Mar 20, 2013 09:37 PM
Sabrina Solesbee
Solesbee Group - Laguna Beach, CA
Sabrina Solesbee

Leslie, you are clearly a leader in our industry! Your post is so well written with valuable information. I am sure your business is consistently booming! Do you receive any coaching? Do you offer any coaching? I am in California and am very impressed. If you would offer your coaches name or if you coach I am very interested!

Mar 21, 2013 08:50 AM
Sabrina Solesbee
Solesbee Group - Laguna Beach, CA
Sabrina Solesbee

I am still thinking about your blog! You really inspired me! If you have a minute I would love to talk with you about your marketing strategies. If you don't mind?

Mar 22, 2013 06:22 AM
Debra Kukulski, Broker Associate
RE/MAX Suburban - Cary, IL
SRES;SFR,CDPE;GRI;ABR;e-PRO Realtor, Northern IL

Excellent Post!

Apr 01, 2013 08:12 AM
Pattie Zanders
Bennett Realty Solutions - Greenbelt, MD

Finally, an agent who agrees with me. I have tried the all. Contrary to belief of many agents, these are not good for lead generation. Your advice to know the apps and understand the programs are very valuable.

Apr 05, 2013 12:02 AM
Brad Andersohn
Retired Executive Director of Education at eXp - Boulder Creek, CA
ActiveBrad - 707.646.1876

Leslie did a great job explaining in detail how she maximizes her return on her investments in a live webinar we did last week. Great information, awesome tools, and best of all, the stuff she is doing works!!  Hope you don't mind me posting a link to the recorded session Leslie?

Leslie Ebersole - Best Real Estate Tools and Best Practices

Apr 05, 2013 01:08 AM
Leslie Ebersole
Swanepoel T3 Group - Saint Charles, IL
I help brokers build businesses they love.

@Brad you can post anything, anywhere. Thanks. That was fun, in a "I love to hear myself talk" kind of way.

Apr 09, 2013 10:25 AM
Monica Penagos
As far as creating an "Auto-response system" goes, I use Textoad (www.textoad.com). Anyone that calls on my listings gets an instant TEXT message with details of the property automatically. I also receive a text alert with the caller's phone number. When I get that text alert, I know I have a potential client and I immediately call back. This service has provided me many new leads from buyers chasing properties on their own without an agent. The bonus feature for this service is that it creates an mobile version of your listing on the fly, and you can track every caller to each property. I love it!
May 12, 2013 03:20 AM
Nick T Pappas
Assoc. Broker ABR, CRS, SFR, e-Pro, @Homes Realty Group, Broker/Providence Property Mgmnt, LLC Huntsville AL - Huntsville, AL
Madison & Huntsville Alabama Real Estate Resource

Leslie, when it comes to 3rd party sites I have to admit that I'm really not on board with T & Z as yet.  I have been with Realtor.com for a while and have received enough leads to for it to be profitable.  I think T & Z have a ways to go yet in providing accurate info and I suppose I don't like the idea of purchasing leads on my own listings.  Anyway, my company website  gets about 100,000+ hits a month so we really aren't lacking for leads.  

I liked the Brad Andersohn line you used: "Hi Sue, I see you have a question about 123 Main St. I have information about that house. What is the best way to get back to you, by phone call, text or email?"

Jun 08, 2013 08:29 AM
Tammie White, Broker
Franklin Homes Realty LLC - Franklin, TN
Franklin TN Homes for Sale

Leslie, it sounds like you're doing a lot of business here because you have a large listing inventory and have learned how to optimize the site. That's what we should all be doing no matter which venue we're using. The majority of my business comes from buyers. Right now, it wouldn't make sense for me to do some of the things you suggest because I don't have the inventory. However, it may pay to do so in the future. Thanks for providing this valuable info.

Jul 17, 2013 02:42 AM
Gary L. Waters Broker Associate, Bucci Realty
Bucci Realty, Inc. - Melbourne, FL
Eighteen Years Experience in Brevard County

Spoke with Trulia today. Actually they called since I was on the site and they "captured" me! Was reading all the comments and found my own. Guess I did not remember my comment months ago. Nice thing, search. Thanks!

Aug 08, 2013 06:08 AM
Brian DeYoung
also affiliated with Berkshire Hathaway Home Services Heritage Realty - Ithaca, NY
The Realtor with personal investment background

That was a great blog.

I do NOT find the leads to be good in my area, and i am opposed to giving Trulia and Zillow money for leads. However, I enjoyed your point of view, and even found myseld unexpectedly agreeing.

Oct 14, 2013 02:52 AM
Wayne B. Pruner
Oregon First - Tigard, OR
Tigard Oregon Homes for Sale, Realtor, GRI

This is a great outline on maximizing these sites. Thanks for the education.

Jan 06, 2014 09:10 AM
Kaye Swain
Keller Williams Real Estate Roseville CA - Roseville, CA
Your Roseville Real Estate Agent

GREAT info! I'm making a checklist on Evernote from it work through. Thank you 

Feb 19, 2014 05:57 AM
HomeSalesForce.com Team Brokered by eXp Realty
eXp Realty - Canton, GA
Canton, Alpharetta, Roswell, Woodstock, Atlanta

How does this all change with the Zillow aquisition of Trulia

Jul 28, 2014 10:56 AM
Brad Andersohn
Retired Executive Director of Education at eXp - Boulder Creek, CA
ActiveBrad - 707.646.1876

Hi Jean and John - Brad from Zillow here. This is not final so right now it's business as usual for both Zillow and Trulia.

I can tell you that we intend to operate both brands, and that we expect a lot of benefits for our users and advertisers.

We anticipate the acquisition will close in several months, and we'll have more to share as we get closer to completing the acquisition.

Jul 28, 2014 11:30 AM
Sam Shueh
(408) 425-1601 - San Jose, CA
mba, cdpe, reopro, pe

We pay a NAR fee at national level. I have NOT yet seen an attempt to standaridze a MLS system. What I get is these 3rd party sites with incorrect info and sold info trying to get wishful buyers to think the properties actually exist.

Dec 19, 2014 01:03 AM