Are You Helping Zillow and Trulia Outrank You
Are you helping Zillow and Trulia outrank you in Google SERP? Maybe you are, then again, maybe you’re not. An interesting article by realgeeks.com suggests these well-known real estate industry sites benefit from the links contained in the data widgets they provide for realtors in the USA.
Maybe you even thought you’d try to take advantage of their name recognition, and add one, two, or a few of their widgets to your site. Little did you know that by doing so, you are giving Zillow and Trulia more firepower to outrank your site.
It’s a brilliant scheme, really. Both Zillow and Trulia provide a full range of widgets for agents to use on their independent real estate sites. Read more
On first glance the article makes sense, but is it the whole story?
Backlinks Boost Ranking
We all know backlinks are one of the factors search engines consider when ranking a website and deciding where it places in SERP.The widgets from Zillow and Trulia contain backlinks to their websites so surely these links must boost Zillow and Trulia in Google SERP. This was a very important part of search engine marketing a few years ago.
But, and here’s the thing, since Panda and Penguin multiple backlinks to a website are not necessarily to the benefit of the linked site. This is especially true if many backlinks have identical anchor text. Where backlinks are found (by Google) to have identical anchor text of a non generic nature the value of the backlink is reduced or possibly ignored. Generic anchor text is wording e.g. trulia.com, zillow.com, read more and so on. Non-generic or “optimised” anchor text (using the example quoted by geeks.com e.g. “Homes for sale in San Antonio”.
It’s not just the link itself, but the text that is linked, which is called anchor text. In the backlink, the optimized anchor text is: “Homes for sale in San Antonio,” intended to target people searching for that specific term.
Here’s the other thing – sitewide backlinks have little if any value. When you place backlinks to a website on every page, or most pages, of your site, the value of outgoing links transfers very little “juice” to the linked site! Google Farmer and Panda algorithms dealt harshly with sitewide backlinks, even dropping the linked and linking sites in rankings.
Remove the Trulia and Zillow Widgets
Geeks.com suggest realtors remove the Zillow and Trulia Widgets from their sites. I don’t disagree with this advice. The real estate online industry is tough, possibly one of the hardest industries to achieve consistent top results placement, so any method to boost the realtors site is worth doing. Sitewide widgets are definitely a bad idea.
However, this is not to say the widgets are worthless. On the other side of the coin is the really good value of linking to strong website content as a referral. Referring to content on a stronger site (stronger in the way Google ranks it) is an important factor Google considers when ranking your article (or page).
Realtors can benefit from this by using the widgets where appropriate. Placing a widget on a relevant page can be beneficial for that page. Let’s consider a variation of the example mentioned earlier.
You are a realtor operating in the Clearwater Beach area, and have a page with content optimised for Homes for sale in Clearwater Beach. You’ve followed all the best practice guidelines to optimise the page;
- the focus term “Homes for sale in Clearwater Beach” is in the page URL
- the term is contained in the content, with a key (focus) term density over 1% but less than 3.5%
- Images contain the key term in the “alt” text, and the image description
- There’s some variety in the way the key term is used (to avoid spamming the term)
- Your meta title and meta description contain the focus term.
- Your content is original and well written
Then you decide to provide live data about the area, so head over to Trulia or Zillow and find there’s a widget that provides average property value for the Clearwater Beach area. There’s no harm in using this widget!
What should be considered is the type of information contained in the widget; using this example of property value, make sure you have a paragraph discussing the value of property in the area. If included correctly, the backlinks add value to your content – after all, Zillow and Trulia are extremely strong websites with a high reputation in the real estate industry (at least Google thinks so), so referring to content on those sites can be good for your site’s reputation
One thing you may consider: Place the widget inside HTML blockquotes. If you don’t want the styling your theme adds to blockquotes then use CSS to override the style. All the mainstream website systems (incl. Drupal, WordPress and Joomla) have easy ways to use custom CSS. Another thing worth doing is use a low order heading e.g. to open the paragraph. Low order headings tell Google the following section is less important than what came before.
Site Speed – A Reason Not to Use Zillow and Trulia Widgets
Site speed is a ranking factor! Page loads over 2.5 seconds are bad news for any website. Unfortunately, most realtors sites are hosted on one of the shared hosting services. Worse still, many realtors are business people, not web developers, and select a host based on fancy advertising and marketing techniques rather than technical expertise, so often end up using a high profile, low performance hosting service.
The servers providing Zillow and Trulia widget data are often slow – very slow. A page speed analysis shows these widgets often load very slowly, adding considerable time to page loads. Depending on the placement the widget load may harm your site’s load speed seen by Google bot. The impact does depend to some extent on where the widget is placed. There are badly developed themes (for all CMS) that load the sidebar content (incl. any sidebar widgets) before the main content – instead of after the main content loads.
Ideally, the Zillow or Trulia widgets should load “below the fold”. Below the fold means that part of the content that is low down on a page – the visitor needs to scroll down to find it. Placing the Zillow or Trulia widget low down the page will help to improve the way Google sees the load speed. But remember – this is subjective – if your server is slow, nothing you do will be much help – except moving the site to fast server.
One added benefit of using the widgets only within page content is caching. Caching systems generally do a better task of caching page content than widgets. Caching the Trulia and Zillow widget means their servers are not providing the widget every time the page is loaded – however, one must ensure Google get’s a cached page, not a live page – which means the cache expiry time should be fairly long – days rather than minutes or hours. In any case, if the server is slow, cached page expiry should be long any – preferable weeks or at least several days. And the page must be preloaded to cache, not reliant on visitors to generate a cached page
More About Geeks.com and Backlinks
Interestingly enough, after criticising Zillow and Trulia for embedding backlinks in their widgets, Geeks.com go on to offer a large graphic users can embed on their own sites, and provide the code so the image can get served from their site. Along with “followed” backlinks and optimised anchor text.
A clever bit of backlink building themselves. Although the article is good, and very relevant to improving realtor’s website ranking, we must consider geeks.com is a company involved in the industry. Geeks.com provide websites for realtors, based on a template concept. As such they are competitors in the industry, and seek to attract customers , and of course visitors (potential customers) to their website.
NOTE: I am also active in providing web services to USA based realtors, so this article may be considered in the same light. While I do not consider myself in competition with Zillow, Trulia or Geeks.com, not everyone may agree.
Conclusions on Zillow and Trulia Widgets.
Should realtors use these widgets.
- Maybe. If they are used to add value to specific pages, then they can be beneficial.
- If used sitewide then they are a bad idea, as is anything else used sitewide.
At the end of the day, the most important thing is fresh original content. Zillow and Trulia are both massive websites, with lots of new content added daily and hourly. They have teams of people working to build content, something most independent realtors don’t have. They also provide IDX MLS data, and guess what – their data is always available on their sites long before it appears on realtors sites. Hence anyone else adding the MLS data to their website is adding duplicate content – and as we all know, Google hates duplicate content. But that’s a topic for another article…