Compete Against The Big Real Estate Websites

Ten years has made an enormous difference in the real estate business. With the growing accessibility and portability of the Internet, real estate companies have thrived by turning popular search engines into a medium by which they can share their business and listings with a much larger market than was ever possible before laptop and smartphone ownership became the norm. Large real estate media websites clutter Google search results for homes, condos, land, and, in general, any real estate for sale. They clutter searches using BING, Yahoo, and other search engines, as well. You can’t perform a search for property for sale and not see the same names: Trulia, Zillow,,,, and the list is always growing with more of these mega-sites.

When you dig further in to the “why”, you begin to understand the “how” relating to cluttered search results. The “how” can best be understood by counting back links. It can’t be the page content, as these large sites, quite literally, only display listings and offer different search capabilities, but so does every other real estate website. Why do these websites repeatedly rank higher than other sites with far more content and local information?

As mentioned in our article discussing back links, they play a huge role in how well any website ranks in search engine results. Within these back links is relevant anchor text using key words like real estate, homes, houses, condos, land, and other similar terms. When you factor the size of these websites with their membership numbers, you can better understand how they maintain such high rankings. While a respectable number of back links for the average Realtors website may hover around 30,000 or so, these mega sites have hundreds of thousands of keyword-rich back links. This begs the question of how can we, as smaller websites, compete with these mega-sites?

One of the best ways to compete against these huge websites is to do what they can’t. Most of the time, these sites are based in other areas, sometimes across the country. The large conglomerates can’t possibly understand other markets and the people who live in them the way locals can. They cannot provide local information that residents would be interested in with the same kind of ease as someone who actually lives there. For example, with our websites based in South Alabama and Northwest Florida, we’ve included various types of local info that would be difficult, at best, for these large sites to attempt to cover. They simply do not have the time or the resources. Getting hyper-local is our best chance to rank well enough to compete for new clients.

We’ve included aerial imagery, restaurant and local business info, coverage of local events, and anything else that’s going on in our service area. The more opportunities we provide for the public to find helpful information on our websites, the more views or traffic we receive. Google and other engines pay attention to everything, so if someone were to search for information on an event in the area that you have written about and published, there’s a good chance that they will find your site in their search. Other positive factors include things like CTR (click through rate), time spent on pages, average number of pages viewed, etc. Search engines use these metrics to assess the value of a website. Page rank and link authority factor in and reinforce the idea that the more value included on a website, the usefulness of its information, and the time spent on a particular site all add up to determine where a page or website rank in relation to other competitive websites. Whether you own a website targeting those looking for a vacation rental, a home to buy, commercial property, or an investment property, spending some time researching and providing useful local information can and will pay off in the end as it draws in readers who may not have found your site otherwise.

We’ll be discussing these aforementioned metrics in another blog post, so check back for additional info on some of the more popular means of measuring a websites value and rank.

Back Links & Link Attributes

According to Google, content remains the most important factor in determining the order of search results.  While this may be true, another hugely important factor is back links.  A back link is when another website links to your website.  Google, for example, views this as a vote for your website.  The more back links / votes a website has from other websites, the better it tends to rank.

In fact, in my experience, back links can be more important than page content, regardless of what Google tells us.  The reason I say this is due to some of the larger real estate websites, like Zillow.  If you Google “Orange Beach condos for sale”, you’ll see Zillow ranking near the top of the search results.  If you then open Zillow’s page for Orange Beach condos, you’ll see a lot of property listings, but the local content stops there.  You probably won’t find much actual area info.  Instead, you’ll notice a lack of localized content.  Most local info is auto generated and often not as accurate as you’d find using a local real estate website.

Moving back to the point, how can Zillow rank above other sites offering the same listings, but also provide users with rich local knowledge and helpful area info?  Back links!  They have hundreds of thousands of back links or votes for their website, so Google promotes them atop the search results.  Zillow and other conglomerates are so reliant on these powerful links, that they don’t even allow normal back links from their website to agent websites.  Sure there’s a profile section to add links to your site and they actually will provide normal back links to very few of their paying clients, but most ALL of the links from profile sections come attached with the infamous “No follow” link attribute.  This attribute basically tells Google and other search engine spiders not to follow or give credence to any links coming from their website.  This attribute essentially negates any benefit of a link from Zillow.

In closing, always check for link attributes when working on back links with others.  Open the source code and find the link.  If there’s a lot of content / text on the page, use your keyboard shortcuts – also found in our Free tools blog and look at the source code.

How to find link attributes:

Normal html – <a href=”Your domain and URL here”>Anchor text</a>

No follow html – <a href=”Your domain and URL here” rel=”nofollow”>They hit me with a no follow link</a>

Another no follow example – <a rel=”nofollow” a href=”Your domain and URL here”>Anchor text</a>

Basically, look for the rel=”nofollow” which is the basis of this attribute

Article excerpts

Anchor text: The anchor text is the text that shows up on a page that a user click on.  In the first example, the on-page link users would see is “Anchor text” which would be underlined and clicking it takes users to another page.  In the second example, “They hit me with a no follow link” would be shown on the page and constitutes the anchor text.  Read more on link attributes and no follow

Beware of Free Tools! Check the Code

Free! It’s the most common word used on the worldwide web. It’s tied to almost everything: free access, free clothes, free subscribers, and, my personal favorite, free money. With all of these things flying off the shelves for free, how do these ingenious people stay in business while giving things away?
I was taught at an early age that nothing is free. As I’ve gotten older, this lesson has proved true again and again. One of the latest examples I’ve found and written about involves real estate media sites and their free tools, such as mortgage calculators, imagery, IDX feeds, and any other free tool. Large websites like Zillow, Trulia, and market and provide anyone interested with easily embedded tools. Simply copy and paste a piece of code to your website and — voila — a free helpful tool is yours to use. But is it free?

When I started looking further into these tools, the aforementioned lesson showed its face yet again. I looked at the code for the free mortgage calculator and found links to the website offering the tool. In my case, I think it was Trulia, circa 2010. Further investigation unveiled that while I was attempting to compete against Trulia, I was inadvertently helping Trulia to outrank me in search results. (Back links, link attributes, “no follow”, and why it’s important.)

While reading more on the subject, I’ve also found numerous methods aimed at making these links harder to find. I’ve found free tools linking to innocuous pages which, in turn, link to a “middle man” type of page housing something free. And if you guessed this “middle man” page was linked back, you’re right!

One person embedding a link would not have much impact, but tens of thousands of agents and web designers adding these back links, is one of the reasons it’s currently so difficult to compete with large media conglomerates. It’s understandable for some people to promote their relationship with large real estate websites because meeting new clients is essential, but, for the vast majority, creating a business website that facilitates growth is important.

Competing against Zillow, Trulia, and the likes is something I’ve found interesting and thoroughly researched. Circa 2010, we had two agents sign up for a share of the same zip code in Perdido Key, Florida. One of our only questions involved the sharing of new leads. We were repeatedly ensured the leads weren’t distributed to their other clients in that zip code, but we watched for an entire month as we received the same leads as others. Needless to say, we didn’t renew and actually started our own campaign as a result of this frustration.

I’ve developed my own method to search through code for links.  Open the piece of free code in a text editing program, like Wordpad or Notepad, select all text (Ctrl A on PC) and search for links (Ctrl F for FIND on PC) by running simple searches.  An example using a free tool from Zillow – open the code and search for things like “”, “.com”, “zillow” or anything that would be included in a link.  Another idea would be searching for the html pieces of links, like “<a href=” or something similar.  Also, look for links on those “middle man” types of pages by repeating this search inside the page code.

We’re going to try and create a forum of sorts to determine future blog topics. Please comment or email us with suggestions and, providing we can keep the SPAM out, we’ll continue to try and help other web developers, real estate webmasters, and other people interested in collaborating on current real estate marketing. If you found this helpful, please share and check back for new information.

Excerpt meanings:

  1. “share of the same zip code” – This is how media sites charge their clients.  They offer portions of zip codes, and in turn, a percentage of the total number of leads produced for that zip code.
  2. Easily embedded tools – simply copy and paste a piece of code to your website.  Normally, adding functionality to a website requires some basic understanding of html.  With these tools, anyone can easily copy and paste and create working tools.
  3. “Ctrl A” is a keyboard shortcut to select everything on a page.  “Ctrl F” is for FIND and used to search within a page.  For a list of other keyboard shortcuts, visit Microsoft Keyboard Shortcuts  A basic understanding of keyboard shortcuts can really boost efficiency.
  4. “<a href=” is part of the html code for a basic link.  Html is like English or another language, but strictly for computers.  All websites work using this fundamental language.  Html is an acronym for hypertext markup language.

Online Marketing 101

We’ll be using this space to create a blog discussing the ins-and-outs of online marketing.  It’s a broad subject that includes a multitude of things, but can most aptly be condensed to include content, structure and off-page optimization.  Approximately 80% of everything we do is off site.  If we’re trying to promote something on or, we might spend 20% of our time working on the page we’re promoting.  The remaining 80% is typically used to create back links and market content.

One of our favorite methods of creating back links is through the use of WordPress.  Compatible with a variety of devices and very user-friendly, WordPress is a great tool that has been made extremely simple over the years.  Pretty much anything you need to market online, can be found as a plugin for WP.

This site is new and this is our first post.  We won’t be promoting this website until we finish placing info on our network;  in other words, this will be the last place we add new info.  Please comment or email with questions or topics and we’ll try and begin fielding these questions and creating a place to find info on everything related to web development and optimization.