The Importance of Strategic Distribution

Editor’s Note: This post originally appeared on Zillow CEO Spencer Rascoff’s ActiveRain blog on Jan. 9, 2012 and is being re-published here.

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.

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.

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