Connect with us

Business News

Third party real estate sites’ alleged black hat SEO tactics

Published

on

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.

Continue Reading
Advertisement
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.

Leave a Reply

Your email address will not be published. Required fields are marked *

Business News

You should apply to be on a board – why and how

(BUSINESS NEWS) What do you need to think about and explore if you want to apply for a Board of Directors? Here’s a quick rundown of what, why, and when.

Published

on

board of directors

What?
What does a Board of Directors do? Investopedia explains “A board of directors (B of D) is an elected group of individuals that represent shareholders. The board is a governing body that typically meets at regular intervals to set policies for corporate management and oversight. Every public company must have a board of directors. Some private and nonprofit organizations also have a board of directors.”

Why?
It is time to have a diverse representation of thoughts, values and insights from intelligently minded people that can give you the intel you need to move forward – as they don’t have quite the same vested interests as you.

We have become the nation that works like a machine. Day in and day out we are consumed by our work (and have easy access to it with our smartphones). We do volunteer and participate in extra-curricular activities, but it’s possible that many of us have never understood or considered joining a Board of Directors. There’s a new wave of Gen Xers and Millennials that have plenty of years of life and work experience + insights that this might be the time to resurrect (or invigorate) interest.

Harvard Business Review shared a great article about identifying the FIVE key areas you would want to consider growing your knowledge if you want to join a board:

1. Financial – You need to be able to speak in numbers.
2. Strategic – You want to be able to speak to how to be strategic even if you know the numbers.
3. Relational – This is where communication is key – understanding what you want to share with others and what they are sharing with you. This is very different than being on the Operational side of things.
4. Role – You must be able to be clear and add value in your time allotted – and know where you especially add value from your skills, experiences and strengths.
5. Cultural – You must contribute the feeling that Executives can come forward to seek advice even if things aren’t going well and create that culture of collaboration.

As Charlotte Valeur, a Danish-born former investment banker who has chaired three international companies and now leads the UK’s Institute of Directors, says, “We need to help new participants from under-represented groups to develop the confidence of working on boards and to come to know that” – while boardroom capital does take effort to build – “this is not rocket science.

When?
NOW! The time is now for all of us to get involved in helping to create a brighter future for organizations and businesses that we care about (including if they are our own business – you may want to create a Board of Directors).

The Harvard Business Review gave great explanations of the need to diversify those that have been on the Boards to continue to strive to better represent our population as a whole. Are you ready to take on this challenge? We need you.

Continue Reading

Business News

Everyone should have an interview escape plan

(BUSINESS NEWS) A job interview should be a place to ask about qualifications but sometimes things can go south – here’s how to escape when they do.

Published

on

interview from hell

“So, why did you move from Utah to Austin?” the interviewer asked over the phone.

The question felt a little out of place in the job interview, but I gave my standard answer about wanting a fresh scene. I’d just graduated college and was looking to break into the Austin market. But the interviewer wasn’t done.

“But why Austin?” he insisted, “There can’t be that many Mormons here.”

My stomach curled. This was a job interview – I’d expected to discuss my qualifications for the position and express my interest in the company. Instead, I began to answer more and more invasive questions about my personal life and religion. The whole ordeal left me very uncomfortable, but because I was young and desperate, I put up with it. In fact, I even went back for a second interview!

At the time, I thought I had to put up with that sort of treatment. Only recently have I realized that the interview was extremely unprofessional and it wasn’t something I should have felt obligated to endure.

And I’m not the only one with a bad interview story. Slate ran an article sharing others’ terrible experiences, which ranged from having their purse inspected to being trapped in a 45 minute presentation! No doubt, this is just the tip of the iceberg when it comes to mistreatment by potential employers.

So, why do we put up with it?

Well, sometimes people just don’t know better. Maybe, like I was, they’re young or inexperienced. In these cases, these sorts of situations seem like they could just be the norm. There’s also the obvious power dynamic: you might need a job, but the potential employers probably don’t need you.

While there might be times you have to grit your teeth and bear it, it’s also worth remembering that a bad interview scenario often means bad working conditions later on down the line. After all, if your employers don’t respect you during the interview stage, it’s likely the disrespect will continue when you’re hired.

Once you’ve identified an interview is bad news, though, how do you walk out? Politely. As tempting as it is to make a scene, you probably don’t want to go burning bridges. Instead, excuse yourself by thanking your interviewers, wishing them well and asserting that you have realized the business wouldn’t be a good fit.

Your time, as well as your comfort, are important! If your gut is telling you something is wrong, it probably is. It isn’t easy, but if a job interview is crossing the line, you’re well within your rights to leave. Better to cut your losses early.

Continue Reading

Business News

Australia vs Facebook: A conflict of news distribution

(BUSINESS NEWS) Following a contentious battle for news aggregation, Australia works to find agreement with Facebook.

Published

on

News open on laptop, which Australia argues Facebook is taking away from.

Australia has been locked in a legal war against technology giants Google and Facebook with regard to how news content can be consumed by either entity’s platforms.

At its core, the law states that news content being posted on social media is – in effect – stealing away the ability for news outlets to monetize their delivery and aggregate systems. A news organization may see their content shared on Facebook, which means users no longer have to visit their site to access that information. This harms the ability for news production companies – especially smaller ones – from being able to maintain revenue and profit, while also giving power to corporations such as Facebook by allowing them to capitalize on their substantial infrastructure.

This is a complex subject that can be viewed from a number of angles, but it essentially asks the question of who should be in control of information on a potentially global scale, and how the ability to share such data should be handled when it passes through a variety of mediums and avenues. Put shortly: Australia thinks royalties should be paid to those who supply the news.

Australia has maintained that under the proposed laws, corporations must reach content distribution deals in order to allow news to be spread through – as one example – posts on Facebook. In retaliation, Facebook completely removed the ability for users to post news articles and stories. This in turn led to a proliferation of false and misleading information to fill the void, magnifying the considerable confusion that Australian citizens were confronted with once the change had been made.

“In just a few days, we saw the damage that taking news out can cause,” said Sree Sreenivasan, a professor at the Stony Brook School of Communication and Journalism. “Misinformation and disinformation, already a problem on the platform, rushed to fill the vacuum.”

Facebook’s stance is that it provides value to the publishers because shared news content will drive users to their sites, thereby allowing them to provide advertising and thus leading to revenue.

Australia has been working on this bill since last year, and has said that it is meant to equalize the potential imbalance of content and who can display and benefit from it. This is meant to try and create conditions between publishers and the large technology platforms so that there is a clearer understanding of how payment should be done in exchange for news and information.

Google was initially defiant (threatening to go as far as to shut off their service entirely), but began to make deals recently in order to restore its own access. Facebook has been the strongest holdout, and has shown that it can leverage its considerable audience and reach to force a more amenable deal. Australia has since provided some amendments to give Facebook time to seek similar deals obtained by Google.

One large portion of the law is that Australia is reserving the right to allow final arbitration, which it says would allow a mediator to set prices if no deal could be reached. This might be considered the strongest piece of the law, as it means that Facebook cannot freely exercise its considerable weight with impunity. Facebook’s position is that this allows government interference between private companies.

In the last week – with the new agreements on the table – it’s difficult to say who blinked first. There is also the question of how this might have a ripple effect through the tech industry and between governments who might try to follow suit.

Continue Reading

Our Great Partners

The
American Genius
news neatly in your inbox

Subscribe to our mailing list for news sent straight to your email inbox.

Emerging Stories

Get The American Genius
neatly in your inbox

Subscribe to get business and tech updates, breaking stories, and more!