The following is a Guest Post from Joe Hall.
The internet is changing the real estate industry on a daily basis. And, not surprisingly, it’s the Web 2.0 innovators that are leading the revolution. Of course this isn’t the first time that new media gurus have redefined an industry. However, this time around old school brands are being left in the dust, while innovative startups are reaping all the benefits.
New evidence is starting to come to light that Web 2.0 sites like Zillow.com and Trulia.com are gaining more traction and market share then nationally franchised brand named sites. To get a better understanding of why these sites are doing so well, lets take a look at four sites in particular. On the Web 2.0 side we are going to discuss Trulia.com and Zillow.com on the brand name side we will take a look at RE/MAX and Century 21.
Zillow is a Web 2.0 web site that provides its visitors with tools and information on the real estate industry along with general real estate search. Founded by the same folks that brought us Expedia.com. It garnered much attention when they briefly snagged Vanessa Fox from the ranks of Google a little over a year ago. However, its not the people alone that has made Zillow a popular place for consumers. Zillow has successfully combined social networking and a wiki style portal with up to date real estate listings and market information. Zillow’s “Discussions” is a forum where consumers can engage with other consumers and real estate professionals on a wide variety of real estate topics. This type of engagement is popular in real estate because it gives the consumer the ability to gather information while keeping a comfortable level of anonymity. For most home buyers anonymity is extremely important in the early stages of real estate search. Social engagement is not the only thing that Zillow is succeeding at. Zillow’s “Real Estate Guide” is a wiki style information portal that is chalk full of articles for all areas of real estate. Offering a resource like this gives Zillow market authenticity and makes content ripe for linkbait. But the truly ingenious aspects of adding a wiki is that all the content is free. While Zillow’s users benefit from collectively creating this content, Zillow reaps the benefits of free original content that is constantly fresh.
Zillow is not the only Web 2.0 company trying to make a go at real estate. Trulia.com combines real estate search with social engagement tools as well. Trulia Voices is an area where homebuyers can ask questions about a specific area or topic. Real estate professionals that specialize in that area then have the ability to respond. This once again is another example of social engagement that is extremely popular. One thing that Trulia has got going that Zillow seems not to have mastered yet, is a very polished understanding of SEO. Trulia is ranking pretty well for highly competitive real estate search terms. While their SEO tactics are extremely aggressive to say the least, in my opinion they do provide engaging content that warrants relevant rankings. And it appears that others are taking notice. Just last month Trulia secured another $15 million in venture capital, that’s comparable to the $15 million that power house startup Twitter landed at the end of April.
We already know that RE/MAX is dominating in the area of brand recognition in web search volume. So its no surprise that remax.com is ranking as the top name brand real estate site. Century 21 comes in second and in the same token is placed as the second most visited name brand real estate site. However both sites are still falling short of these Web 2.0 wonders. Why? You ask? Well in my opinion the two big reasons that these sites aren’t doing as well, is their complete lack of social engagement and their limited understanding/dedication to SEO.
Take a look at remax.com. Here we see a typical real estate search tool. However, when one performs a search they are redirected off their site to a locally owned franchise site. This is great for the local franchise but it means that remax.com has significantly less control over their brand, because each locally owned brokerage depends on a different 3rd party developer for web services. The result is that remax.com’s search tool provides some times unreliable ambiguous results. As for social engagement, the only thing that comes remotely close is a directory of sales associates’ contact information. It appears from my view that the biggest thing RE/MAX has going for it on the internet is name recognition.
Century21.com has put much more time into their search tool. They have been successful at integrating mapping features via Microsoft’s Virtual Earth. And it is safe to assume that their index of listings is significantly larger because they combine all of the listings under their parent company Realogy, who also owns Coldwell Banker, ERA, and Sotheby’s. However, once again they have absolutely no social engagement features besides their directory of sales associates.
So, we have seen that social engagement can be very powerful when it comes to real estate sites. Then, one might ask, why isn’t big name brands like Century 21 and RE/MAX integrating social elements into their systems? Maybe they don’t think they need to. Century 21 for example syndicates all of it’s listing data to a handful of different sites, such as Trulia, Zillow, Yahoo Real Estate, Google Housing Search, and others. With this method Century 21 is letting these sites do all the marketing for them. However, at the same time, this method does little to enable their sales associates to build relationships with homebuyers.
In my opinion to build a strong base of support on the internet that will transfer into offline growth, brand name real estate companies such as RE/MAX and Cenury 21 need to integrate social elements into their preexisting systems that allow for the homebuyer to establish a relationship with their sales associates. Otherwise these companies run the risk of being passed over by a market of consumers that are becoming increasingly more social online.