According to the latest company results, it appears that Zillow’s longstanding traffic lead over realtor.com is diminishing. In an industry where metrics like this move slowly if at all, it’s fascinating.
But it’s also insignificant in terms of competitive advantage and revenue uplift — and might simply be an artifact of pandemic browsing patterns — but it does reveal a deeper truth around portal monetization.
Zillow’s traffic advantage hasn’t changed in years — consistently hovering at three times the average monthly visitors compared to realtor.com. However, beginning in Q1 2020, that lead began to erode.
The timing suggests that this is likely a result of the pandemic. Perhaps Zillow has less upside, while realtor.com is benefiting from more consumers willing to visit multiple sites to see all available inventory in a high-demand, low-supply market.
A corresponding revenue uplift
Across the board, the increase in portal traffic has resulted in an increase in revenues. Like Zillow, realtor.com experienced an unprecedented pandemic bump in lead gen revenues — for the first time in years.
But in this case, a rising tide lifts all boats. Both companies experienced a proportionally identical increase in lead gen revenue; Zillow’s revenue lead remains unchanged at 2.5 times higher than realtor.com.
The data above is an apples-to-apples comparison of each company’s lead gen business: Zillow’s premier agent versus realtor.com’s “real estate” revenues.
As I outlined in a recent analysis on challenger portals, there is a non-linear correlation between market share (traffic) and value (in this case, revenue). Time and again, it’s “winner take most” for the No. 1 portal.
What I find fascinating is that despite all of the activity of the major portals, the monetization ratio has remained constant. Like the speed of light, there’s an immutable law of portal monetization at play with an upper limit, unchanged despite:
- Realtor.com’s $210 million acquisition of Opcity
- A new CEO and senior management team at realtor.com
- Zillow launching Zillow Flex and qualifying leads
And it’s not just the U.S. In Australia, the top two portals have a similarly static monetization ratio despite years of intense investment and competition.
At its extreme, this suggests a sort of monetization nihilism — that nothing matters. Product improvements, senior management changes, business model shifts, global pandemics, and nine-figure acquisitions are, in the end, meaningless in terms of portals outperforming each other. There’s a premium for being No. 1, and it just doesn’t change.