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Third party real estate sites’ alleged black hat SEO tactics

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The renewed fight against questionable tactics

For years, third party real estate media sites have been under scrutiny by SEO experts for using what some call “questionable tactics” as they are accused of hurting real estate brokerages’ ability to achieve search engine visibility for their own websites. Many fought against the multi-million dollar sites years ago, but most have given up and accepted the SEO competition as an inevitability.

VHT Visual Marketing Services is making waves in the industry for reinvigorating the debate on what they call “black hat” tactics, and fighting against what they say is an injustice. VHT is known for their digital marketing platform, ImageWorks, now used by Century 21, Edina Realty and 50 other top brokerages, as well as having acquired real estate bookmarking service, Dwellicious last year.

Edina Realty is among the real estate brokerages that have announced their decision to pull their listings from third party real estate media sites, and has opted to use VHT ImageWorks to search optimize their listings. VHT says their platform is different than third party aggregators because they use the brokers’ visual assets (property photos and videos) to inform search engines that brokers are the original source of all of the listing data.

Because of brokers pulling their listings from third party real estate search sites, the fight over who owns the data, how it is displayed, who is compensated (or not) and what each party’s rights are is vigorously renewed.

VHT Chairman takes a strong stand

VHT Chairman, Brian Balduf issued the following statement to AGBeat, addressing third party aggregation practices:

“While brokerages have been fighting battles among themselves to recruit agents, the competition for customers has moved online. Brokers lost the marketing high ground to third party aggregators that have become very good at attracting home buyers on the web and controlling the source of potential customers.

“In October 2011, Zillow attracted 24.4 million unique visitors, that’s more than the total number of visitors to the nation’s 15 largest residential real estate brokerage/brand sites combined. By ceding control of their listings and more importantly, the source of new clients, brokerages risk being perceived as diminishing in value to their agents and franchisees. While the industry once feared that third parties would disintermediate agents from buyers and sellers, instead, what’s happening is that brokerages are actually being distintermediated from agents.

“Some top brokerages, such as Edina Realty in the Twin Cities and Shorewest in Wisconsin, have begun fighting back by pulling their listings from third party aggregators. They believe they can do a better job of search engine marketing on their own. They don’t want third parties getting in between them and their target customers, and they’re frustrated by the rising cost and confusion it causes with consumers..

“Brokerages are tired of being blocked from search engine results due to the questionable tactics commonly used by third party aggregators such as Zillow, Trulia, Realtor.com, and Yahoo. Brokerages provide their listings for free, and in return, the aggregators commonly insert ‘no-follow tags’ on the links back to the broker’s websites. The ‘no-follow’ tags effectively tell the search engines to ignore the actual source of the listing data. It’s dirty pool.

“Search engines don’t count links with no-follow tags in their rankings calculations. So it’s virtually impossible for brokerage sites to be recognized by search engines and consumers as the original, authoritative source of their listings. It also means it’s very difficult for brokerage sites to be ranked higher than third party sites.”

The American Genius is news, insights, tools, and inspiration for business owners and professionals. AG condenses information on technology, business, social media, startups, economics and more, so you don’t have to.

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81 Comments

81 Comments

  1. Drew Meyers - ESM Exec Designs

    January 29, 2012 at 4:06 am

    Black hat? I'm calling total BS on the use of that term.

    Are brokers getting crushed SEO-wise? Yes. But no-follow links are by no means black hat SEO. Z/T/R are too big to risk black hat practices getting them into the Google penalty box.

    • Benn Rosales

      January 29, 2012 at 11:34 am

      If you're not linking to the source of your data, rather placing yourself as the source as it's being drawn from a secured database, then technically by web standards it isn't sourced – google cannot see the primary root of the content. That isn't blackhat, rather, it's another way that brokers aren't getting proper credit for the content they're serving. Because it is intentional to limit pagerank back to brokers, there is a realistic threat to market positions based on the practice. blackhat or copyright infringement either way, it's always been a problem.

      I'm not making this argument, I'm simply positing the reality of conversations we're hearing.

      • Drew Meyers - ESM Exec Designs

        January 30, 2012 at 4:20 am

        I know Benn. All I'm saying is that referring to those tactics as black hat in the title of this post is false. No SEO I know would call that black hat…not even close.

        • Karen Highland

          March 5, 2012 at 6:28 pm

          Poetic license, “black hat” is a term that paints an accurate word picture, even though it may not be technically accurate.

  2. Ken Brand

    January 29, 2012 at 9:49 am

    The answer is pretty simple. Crimp the oxygen hose. If third parties didn't exist, the listing information wouldn't disappear. The only thing that would happen is brokers/agents would get an immediate raise due to not buying enhancements and advertising around your OWN listings, and all those page views would most likely land on a broker/agents local site. I believe it doesn't matter how broadly the listing promotion/information is syndicated, what matters is how supremely optimized and easily found by an interested person it is. If Google can find it and serve it up, it doesn't have to be in 50 places.

    Also, if I'm a big broker and paying $50K, $100K, $150k to Showcase enhance my OWN listings on Realtor.com, I could use that money to create a wow-worthy site that would benefit the sellers, consumers and my real estate team members.

    We've seen this movie before, only the issue was Corporate Relocation. Brokers let that one get away too. It was no big deal when referral fees were 20%, now they're 40%. Same story with 3rd party aggregators. Do we imagine that over time the advertising enhancements on our OWN listings will go down. No way! It's business that thrives only if created dependence. The more dependent we/you become the more we'll pay (think Corporate Relocation). It will be interesting to see what happens with issue.

    One thing for sure, we've seen how social media has impacted world wide and local events, revolutions, elections, debate and rescue. This issue of 3rd parties and brokerage revolt is one that would have been invisible a couple of years now. Today their are 3rd party campfire conversations everywhere (online). Most sentiment is resentment.

  3. Sig Buster

    January 29, 2012 at 10:28 am

    anyone who would pay a 40% referral fee is crazy anyway. no one has to be held hostage by black hatters or 3rd party aggregators. If you maintain control of your listing they have to play by your rules.

  4. Roberta Murphy

    January 29, 2012 at 11:13 am

    I wonder what the value of each listing is to the syndicators, and if they have ever considered paying a fee to brokers and agents for the commercial use of their inventory? As brokers, we've never really negotiated with Zillow, Trulia, Realtor.com, Yahoo or other syndicators–and I think we have something of value to offer.

    And that "no follow" thingy quietly diminishes the value of all broker and agent-owned sites. It's not black hat, but is certainly something we should try to negotiate.

  5. Jason Fox

    January 29, 2012 at 12:48 pm

    It is true that for a long time the value proposition for real estat firms was the ability for their website to generate leads. But what about the agents? With the ability to get Idx, a well designed WordPress website, and a little moxy, they can create their own leads.
    Perhaps brokerages would be better suited helping their agents with marketing. I would appreciate someone training me and helping me grow my own referral system, than simply selling me leads with a 40% or higher price tag.
    A large brokerage on the west coast is attempting to do just that, and I have been watching many agents switch to that company.

    • Ginger Fawcett

      January 31, 2012 at 5:40 pm

      Being from the midwest I am wondering which west coast brokerage is doing that (or don't you want to mention it pubicly). I'd love to check out what they are doing to help their agents and try to implement some of the ideas here.

  6. Jack

    January 30, 2012 at 12:36 pm

    These sites can and do rank higher than a regular broker site by using white hat SEO. Do they also use black hat SEO? Maybe, I don't know, probably… true black hat is so hard to track (very time consuming). It's hard to fight for the same keywords against sites like these. We've managed to find a way to out-compete them for a lot of organic traffic, but it wasn't easy to figure out how to do it.

    The incredible amount of keyword-rich internal links is the main reason that allows these mammoth sites to rank so highly for local searches (they are drinking your milkshake). Look at the bottom 3 sections of Trulia to see what I mean by keyword rich internal linking… and some sort of variation of that is found on almost every single page of their multi-million page index.

    Also, these gigantic sites have a higher PageRank than any individual broker site, which will make them rank higher than you. The only way to fight against their PageRank is to inflate your own by pumping up your content marketing. Make infographics & videos and control how people share them using your own embed codes (e.g. the embed button beneath SEOmoz whiteboard Friday videos and the embed codes above and below the infographics at frugaldad (dot) com).

    Basically, to defeat these giants you need highly focused SEO on individual property pages that Trulia, Zillow, and REALTOR don't have the resources or time to (hint: it involves you writing). You also need to increase your PageRank, the quality of the anchor text of your inbound links, and the quality of your inbound links themselves. Feel free to get more specific with your homepage title tags, descriptions, and keywords as well.

    It's possible to beat these sites for your city's traffic, but you need to get better at content marketing to do it. Also, blog more about anything relating to your local area.

  7. exploreto

    September 29, 2012 at 11:34 am

    I don’t think Brian Balduf understands the first thing about SEO. “questionable tactics” are only questionable if you have no clue what your looking at and as for using the nofollow… “aggregators” have to do  that else they are allowing, “Paid links” to be followed and are at risk of putting both the advertiser and themselves at risk.

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ClickUp team productivity app is gorgeous and wildly efficient

(BUSINESS NEWS) Seeking to improve your productivity and speed up your team, ClickUp is an inexpensive option for those obsessed with efficiency.

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Back again to obsess over productivity apps – ClickUp, is a project management tool seeking to knock the frustration out of PM. It’s getting some good reviews, so I gave it a try for a week by setting up my current job search as a project and getting a feel for the app. And as you’ve read in my other reviews, we will address features and design.

On the feature front, ClickUp offers a pretty standard set up of tools for a productivity app. What stands out first and foremost are the status options. In general, most productivity statuses are simple: not started, started, in progress, done, etc.

But ClickUp lets you set up custom statuses that match your workflow.

For example, if you’re doing instructional design projects, you may assign projects based on where they are flowing in an ADDIE model, or if you are a Realtor, you may have things cataloged by sold, in negotiation, etc.

Customization is king and custom status is the closest you get to building your own app. And if you like it simple, you don’t have to customize it. The assigned comments feature lets you follow up on specific comments that originate action items – which is useful in team collaborations.

You can also assign changes to multiple tasks at once, including changing statuses (I would bulk assign completion tasks when I finished applications that I did in batches). There a lot of features here, but the best feature is how the app allows you to toggle on and off features that you will or won’t use – once again, customization is front and center for this platform.

In terms of design and intuive use, ClickUp nailed it.

It’s super easy to use, and the concept of space is pretty standard in design thinking. If your organization uses Agile methodology, this app is ready for you.

In terms of view, you can declutter the features, but the three viewing modes (list, box, and board) can help you filter the information and make decisions quickly depending on what role you have on a board or project. There is also a “Me” board that removes all the clutter and focuses on your tasks – a great way to do focused productivity bursts. ClickUp describes itself as beautifully intuitive, and I can’t disagree – both the web app and mobile app are insanely easy to use.

No complaints here.

And the horizon looks good for ClickUp – with new features like image markup, Gannt charts (!!!!!! #nerdalert), and threaded comments for starts.

This application is great, and it’s got a lot of growth coming up to an already rich feature base. It’s free with 100MB of storage, but the $5 fee for team member per month that includes team onboarding and set up (say you’re switching from another platform) and Dropbox/Google Docs integration? That’s a bargain, Charlie.

ClickUp is on the way up and it’s got it all – features, a beautifully accessible UI, relentless customization, and lot of new and upcoming features. If you’re into the productivity platform and you’re looking for a new solution for your team, go check it out.

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Should you alter your business travel due to the Coronavirus?

(BUSINESS NEWS) Got a business trip coming up? Worried about the coronavirus spoiling those plans? Stay up to date and safe with this cool site!

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The Center for Systems Science and Engineering (CSSE) at John Hopkins University has created a website that tracks one of the biggest trends of 2020: the coronavirus. Also known as 2019-nCoV, this disease has already spread to over 40,000 confirmed cases worldwide, with over 900 deaths (as of when this article was published, anyway.)

Not to mention, the United States Center for Disease Control and Prevention (CDC) notes that we still don’t know exactly how the virus spreads from person-to-person. In fact, there’s quite a bit we don’t know about this disease and although some people are reported as recovered, it’s only a small fraction compared to how many are sick.

So, what’s so great about this tracker? Well, first of all, it updates in real time, making it easy to keep track of everything we know about confirmed cases of the coronavirus. It’s chock full of statistics and visuals, making the information easy to digest. Plus, with a map front and center, it lets you know exactly where there have been reported outbreaks – and how many people have been diagnosed.

Because the site sticks to cold hard facts like statistics and maps, it also means you can avoid the racism and general panic that’s accompanied news of this outbreak.

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(In fact, the CDC recommends those traveling from certain areas in China practice “social distancing” when they return to the US, avoiding public spaces like grocery stores, malls and movie theaters.)

Of course, if you have something planned several months from now, don’t cancel your conference plans just yet. A lot can happen in that amount of time, so avoid the urge to check the website every couple hours. It’s supposed to be a tool for staying informed, not staying stressed out.

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New startup curates resources to simplify any remote job search

(BUSINESS NEWS) Finding a remote job that supports travel has never been so easy with this new remote friendly job-finding website, Remote Planet.

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remote.io finds a remote job

Have you ever wanted to travel the world only to have your boss completely reject your request to work remotely? Or maybe you’re not working right now and you’re having a hard time finding a job that will allow you travel? Well, let me tell you, you’re not alone!

As 2020 begins, it’s pretty clear that remote working is not only an option; it can be a way of life that can not only empower an employee, but also increase efficiency and production for their company.

15 years ago, finding a remote job was almost like spotting a unicorn. It was an extremely rare opportunity – one that very few had the pleasure of experiencing. But with technology growing so quickly, and with the benefits being so clear (for both employer and employee) companies are quickly making changes that allow their employees to live and work almost anywhere they’d like – as long as there’s a good Internet connection.

Because of this, working while traveling has never been so easy, and with a massive uptick in dedicated remote workforces (we’re up to 18% of the U.S. workforce being remote), it only makes sense why websites like RemotePlanet.io are becoming so popular.

Remote Planet is an online platform that allows you to search for a job that is 100% remote. Their goal is not only to help find you a job that meets you needs, but also to provide “Curated Data for Remote, Digital Nomads & Travellers”.

J.P. Aulet is the freelance web developer who created Remote Planet. In an interview with him, where I asked him about the website, he said “RemotePlanet.io helps digital nomads (DN), remote workers, travelers and others to find the best resources in different categories, like remote companies, articles, insurances, housing and co-workings, among other things.”

When asked why he created his website, he said “Since I quit my job 2 years ago, I’ve been traveling and working as a [digital nomad], and since then, I curated a lot of interesting and helpful websites that help me with my travels, and I wanted to share with others to make it easier to start their remote journey.”

The website takes a Pinterest-like approach to helping its users find jobs, too, making it a very visual experience. What I mean by this is, the platform appears to aggregate data from 3rd party sites, like Remote.co and Remote.com and filters through their data for remote jobs. Whether it’s automatic or manual is unknown, but the important thing is that Aulet then publishes this data to his site in a sort of board that allows you to click the link, share it on Facebook or Twitter, or “like” it.

In addition, it looks to pulls in data that remote workers should stay on top of, like various tools, and companies that fully endorse the “work from anywhere” lifestyle.

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But the coolest thing about this site is that it takes a lot of the searching work away for people who already otherwise have busy lives. After all, given the nature of the lifestyle and the level of importance travel is to those who seek this type of work, looking for a remote job and traveling at the same time can keep one pretty occupied.

So, whether you’ve been looking for a remote job for a while, or you’re just getting started, we highly suggest checking out Remote Planet for, at the very least, their tools and resources.

Now, with all of that said, their website won’t be any help to those who still have difficult bosses or work for companies who are adamantly against work from home situations, so if this scenario sounds familiar, we suggest checking out this guide on how to convince your boss to let you work remotely. We wish you the best of luck in convincing your boss to loosen the reigns.

On the chance the meeting doesn’t go so well (hey, let’s face it, it happens), and you’re considering another job that has much more flex, we also recommend reading this recent story on “How to crush your next remote job interview.”

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