I Want My, I Want My, I Want My … Traffic

Posted by Sherry Chris 

Last week was interesting. I kept bumping into things that raised a question that’s floated around the real estate business since the first home was marketed on the Web back in 1994: Who should reap the benefits of traffic, advertising, and customer engagement derived from broker-supplied listings?

For a while there, it seemed like we settled into a comfortable agreement on this issue. Sites such as Trulia, Zillow, Oodle, Google Base, and others distributed broker listings for free. This content gave them a foundation upon which to build consumer-facing, ad-supported businesses.

Everybody wins, right? Unfortunately, I don’t think it’s quite that simple.

Consider now, my week.

It started off with a visit from the NAR leadership, who updated us on various initiatives that seem very forward thinking and pretty cool. The team there is very much focused on arming Realtors with the information they need to compete. A good thing. But I couldn’t help but wonder if many of their efforts were reactions to forces–or, more specifically, companies–brokers themselves helped create.

Then Dave Phillips at BloodHoundBlog made it known that REALTOR.com is now going to provide free upgrades (no more fees for multiple photos!) after having charged agents and brokers for so many years. Why, some people asked, are they doing this? Why now?

Those who own the listings, those who market and sell them, are becoming restless.

Then an Inman News story reporting that a prominent blog suggested Zillow is valued at $225M hit my iGoogle page.

Late in the week, I found myself discussing licensing content with various companies for the Better Homes and Gardens Real Estate consumer site launch in July. The talks always led in the same direction–the licensor wanting the traffic to count on their site. The shoe was now on the other foot for me–the consumer site owner trying to assess the value of third-party content.

The week ended in a flurry of blog posts and articles about Trulia and their Web-ranking strategy, which illustrated more than anything else just how close beneath the surface the tensions between brokers and online listings aggregators really are.  The talk about “no-follows” and “temporary redirects” was really about ownership of the listing–and the customer.

All of this activity casts new light on the value of listings–and how and with whom–brokers and agents market them. Does aggressive Web syndication ultimately benefit the Realtor? Does it move homes faster for sellers? Or does it create a crowd of players that needlessly interrupt the conversation between the consumer and the practitioner?

As we work behind the scenes to launch the new Better Homes and Gardens Real Estate brand in July, these questions are front and center. While I will continue to support strategic syndication opportunities, I also believe that it’s critically important that our brokers and agents are provided with the tools and support needed to create their own traffic.

There is a lot of grey area here. So I thank all of those above for helping us sort through the issues.

We’ll see what this week brings!

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