Zillow Uses Your Website To Out-Rank You

Zillow and Trulia are two of the biggest names in the world of real estate listing services.  Everyone in the industry knows them and if you search for property online you will sometimes see their results at the top of the list. Even if a very careful search using local terms is performed, they will still, at times, show up above any of the local realtors.  I just performed a local search and Trulia came up number one and Zillow was number four.  There are many reasons why this is occurring, and to be perfectly frank both companies have the money to invest in their online presence.  Beyond that though, realtors have become unwitting partners in the downgrading of their own search results. The method of this unintentional self-sabotage is free widgets.1

Many real estate companies use widgets from Trulia or Zillow on their sites to provide any number of services for their customers like mortgage rate calculators, slideshows, search boxes and many others.3  These widgets can be dropped onto a website for free in a matter of seconds.  It appears to be a win-win.  Trulia or Zillow gets a free bit of advertising by giving away the branded widgets and the realtors get a professionally designed site element for their customers to interact with.

What is really going on is that every time a realtor installs one of these widgets onto their site, they are nearly ensuring that their own search results will be degraded and Trulia and Zillow’s will improve.  All of this is occurring behind the scenes.  Firstly, the widget itself is linked back to the site that developed it in the first place.  One of the many metrics that Google uses to determine a site’s rank is based on how many other sites link back to it.  By installing this widget on a website a realtor is effectively linking back to one of the two companies and improving their search results in the process.  Secondly, the widget’s link includes the local city or town in the description, which helps them to focus on the very market the realtor is trying to work in.  These two companies, by way of their free widget, have just honed in on a realtors local market and will be promoting all the properties for sale in that area not just the ones listed by the realtor.  Thirdly, this little widget is tagged so that when a search result comes back, Google will display a nice local map which users are more likely to click on.  All in all, the widget works for nearly the sole purpose of promoting the parent company (Zillow or Trulia) and not the realtor who wanted it in the first place.

Widgets are not inherently evil and neither are these two companies, (though they have had past bouts with the real estate industry2), but it is best to be fully aware of what is being added to a site and who is actually benefiting from it.  Widgets can be a quick way for a company to add functionality and professional features, but like anything else, it is worth looking into the details first.  There are several options for realtors who no longer wish to aid these two companies, but the best one is to uninstall these widgets from the site and then seek out a developer to build a custom designed tool for their customers.  A custom designed site element allows a realtor to be fully in control of the outcome and it will only benefit the site it is intended to.

On a positive note, Google understands that this is happening and is working to fix the problem.  Check out http://googlewebmastercentral.blogspot.com/2012/07/new-notifications-about-inbound-links.html to see what they’ve started implementing.

1. http://www.realgeeks.com/blog/how-youre-helping-zillow-and-trulia-outrank-you/
2. http://www.thefiscaltimes.com/Articles/2012/02/24/Zillow-and-Trulia-Face-Backlash-from-Realtors.aspx#page1
3. http://www.trulia.com/tools/

Written By: Paul Scavitto (26 Posts)

Paul Scavitto holds a Masters Degree in Education and currently teaches English at a small private high school in Vermont. He has held positions in a number of industries including sales, state bureaucracy and corrections. His background includes training in business management and customer service best practices and he is an avid follower of trends in business technology. Currently, he is the lead writer for the Barcode Publicity Blog.


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One Response to Zillow Uses Your Website To Out-Rank You

  1. Mike Schmidt says:

    Looked at both T and Z’s widgets in the past. Additionally, there isn’t a way to have their links open in a new window, so visitors get routed away. Knew to stay far, far away from them. No, Trulia and Zillow ARE inherently evil.

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