Jay Thompson is a former brokerage owner who spent the past six years working for Zillow Group. He retired in August 2018 but can’t seem to leave the real estate industry behind. His weekly Inman column publishes every Wednesday.
Last week, “Agents, it’s time to forget IDX as part of your lead generation strategy,” by Andre Bodnar, was reposted here on Inman News. As a long-time fan of using a good IDX website as one pillar of lead generation strategy, I read the column with interest.
There is no question that the “big players, like Zillow, realtor.com, Redfin, Trulia,” have changed the game in real estate search. Yes, those sites dominate both search results and the consumer mindshare when it comes to online searching for property.
But to proclaim an IDX site as “antiquated” and saying (twice) that “the big players” have won, that “you simply can’t compete” and you should, “give up,” is a fallacy.
There are tens of thousands of agents seeing success with their IDX-enabled websites every single day.
Bodnar uses two examples of search terms to “prove” that agent IDX sites are dead. One type is very specific — an individual property address. The other example used is for a very broad and highly used term of “[major city] real estate for sale.” The major city in Bodnar’s example was Miami Dade.
Bodnar was correct in saying that it is difficult to compete with the Zillows, Trulias, Redfins and realtor.coms of the world. Those companies employ hordes of SEO experts to ensure their sites pop up among the top of page 1 results for highly used search terms.
That does not, however, spell the death of agent-operated home search sites.
I don’t know Bodnar. Pretty sure we’ve never met. I’m sure he’s a great guy. He can certainly write well, which generally is a reasonable indicator of one’s intelligence. His digital marketing company has a solid website and it seems to produce very nice sites and other things for its clients.
But Bodnar’s cursory glance at search results and subsequent claim that the big players “have already won this race, and there’s no point in competing with them,” is a weak analysis of a changed, yet still very valid source for today’s lead generation efforts.
Bodnar (rightfully) points out that is is very difficult to get high, organic search results for high usage search terms. (He fails however to mention the non-organic possibilities for using ads or pay-per-click.)
But what about “long-tail” search terms? They gather not a single mention in Bodnar’s piece.
The example Bodnar chose of a specific address showed the search results dominated by Zillow, Redfin, realtor.com and Trulia.
But what happens if the consumer doesn’t search for a specific address, but just a street in general? Here’s the search results for “Miami Pine Tree Drive homes for sale” (as opposed to what Bodnar used, “6417 Pinetree Drive Cir., Miami Beach, FL.”
Yes, Zillow still nabs the top spot, but seven of the 10 first page results, including four of the top five, are local real estate agent and broker sites — all of which incorporate an IDX home search.
In fact, I can’t imagine putting an agent or brokerage site out there that was missing something as fundamental as a home search.
Bodnar isn’t calling for the end of agent sites however. He’s just claiming IDX is dead, while encouraging agents to have what is typically known as a “vanity site” — a website that loudly and beautifully proclaims your existence to the world. A site you’re likely to never receive an inquiry from.
Bodnar also shares search results for “Miami Dade Real Estate for sale.” This “[city name] real estate for sale” has long been the gold standard for real estate search terms. And for good reason—tons of people use that search phrase. Why do you think all the big players are focused on it?
One cannot however, simply ignore the long tail of search. The “long tail” is basically using multiple words to generate more specific, versus general, search results.
To use Bodnar’s South Florida examples, let’s try “Biscayne Bay waterfront homes for sale,” which is more detailed than “Miami homes for sale.” That’s the long tail, and here are the results:
Big player Redfin shows up at No. 4, and 9 of 10 first page results are local agent/brokerage sites. Again, all of which incorporate IDX search.
There are an almost infinite number of long-tail search terms in real estate. Individual subdivisions are great long-tail targets. Golf course homes, waterfront property, homes with (or without) a swimming pool, a detached garage, a sun room, RV parking space. Community amenities can be highlighted with long-tail terms.
Back in my blogging days, I hooted and hollered and high-fived anyone I could find when I saw my blog rank No. 1 on Google for “Phoenix homes for sale.” And yes, that drove a ton of traffic to my blog.
You know what kind of traffic? Generic traffic. Makes sense given they were using a generic search term. You know what kind of traffic is super hard to convert to a client? Generic traffic.
But get yourself someone using a very specific long-tail term like “golf course homes under $400K around Phoenix,” and guess what you have?
You have someone who’s really interested in buying a golf course home under $400,000.
That someone will be far easier to convert to a client.
Bodnar goes on to say that agents should focus on displaying their personalities and showing their value. I agree completely that is important to do. But to dismiss the power of and IDX-enabled website, to wave it goodbye simply because the big guys have already won is incredibly short-sighted.
No agent should have a single source of leads. No agent should bet the farm on one pillar of business. But no agent should ignore the power of an IDX-enabled website.
Done right, with focus on useful long-tail keywords and a consumer-friendly property search, an IDX-enabled real estate website is still a quite valid way to generate more leads and business.
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Jay Thompson is a real estate veteran and retiree in Seattle, as well as the mastermind behind Now Pondering. Follow him on Facebook or Instagram. He holds an active Arizona broker’s license with eXp Realty.