Zillow Agent Sites: The Facts

The premier event for luxury agents and brokers
Luxury Connect | Oct. 16-18 | Beverly Hills

The rumors have been spreading, the flags have been flying, and the mudslinging is verging on a political showdown. The reactions to the new online marketing option, known as Zillow’s Premier Agent Websites, have been far and wide.

To say that the announcement of the new Zillow websites (and subsequent release) has been a red hot topic would be the real estate breaking news understatement of the year.

So there are lots of unanswered questions — let’s get some solid answers.

Fact:

1.  Premier Agent Websites (PAWs) were created for agents with little to no online presence.

This is imperative to remember.  So I’ll say it again:  PAWs were created for agents with little or no online presence. For new agents, PAWs sites are a great option because they are easy to set up and use. They look professional and are very affordable.

Keep this in mind: If you are an agent that has a solid site, with a good history, consistent traffic and lead generation, you don’t need to replace it with a PAWs site. But  seasoned agents may still consider a PAW for driving more traffic to their main site or as a niche site.

2.  You DON’T have to be a Premier Zillow customer to get a Premier Zillow Agent Website.

The options are simple.  It depends on whether you’re a premier customer or not.

  • Premier customers automatically get a free PAW (plus any fees your MLS may charge to use their feed on your site),
  • If  you’re not a Premier customer, you can get a PAW for $10/month, plus any MLS fees.

3.  Functionality of PAW sites are very similar to WordPress.com sites.

Note, that reads WordPress.com not WordPress.org.  What does this mean to you?

Remember Zillow designed PAWs for new agents, or agents with a limited online presence. So while Zillow has delivered a robust product with 19 widgets and Diverse Solutions’ IDX plug-in, you can’t extensively customize a PAWs site.  In essence, a PAWs site is a framework you can decorate, not a blank slate.  That’s why it’s more like WordPress.com, rather than WordPress.org.

Why? Jay Thompson, Zillow’s director of industry outreach and social media, explains that limiting customization curbs potential security breaches to Zillow’s sites and infrastructure as a whole.

For example, you can’t customize permalinks or the posts and pages within a PAWs site.  But Zillow does allow you to customize the IDX search result page URLs.

“The default permalink  structure, however, has been set up for the best optimization possible for SEO purposes,” Thompson explains.  “They may not be “pretty”, but they’re not completely ugly either”.

If I were an agent, I would consider myself a seasoned one when it comes to technology and online marketing.  Therefore, I would chose a WordPress.org site (completely customizable) over a WordPress.com site (limited in customizations) as my main site. However, the simplicity of the WordPress.com/Zillow Agent Websites for a non-seasoned agent does have its place (and hence why it was made available).

4.  Zillow’s Agent Websites IDX Solution Is Better

If you’re a Diverse Solutions customer right now, I’m pretty sure you’re not a happy camper.  I put a call into them yesterday to discuss their new offerings with the PAW sites and was on hold for over 10 minutes.  For Diverse Solutions, that’s an eternity. I call them fairly often (and have over the past 3-4 years) about agent set-ups and customizations, and have never been on hold before.  My guess is that they are getting bombarded with calls from existing clients paying anywhere between $29.95 – $129.90 a month for their IDX solutions and want to get it for the same price as Zillow is now offering (at $10/month).

I don’t blame them.

Zillow’s custom IDX solution was created to bridge the gap between Diverse Solutions’ IDXPress plugin and their dsSearchAgent full map search solution. This has been an ongoing request of mine (and hundreds of agents too) for years now. The missing component of having a full-fledged map search within the IDXPress plugin is now included, making this plugin much more attractive for agents looking for complete search capability on their WordPress sites at a lower price ($29.95/month).  So, for those agents paying the $129.90/month for Diverse Solutions complete features, the $10/month Zillow option has got to be painful at the very least.

With this said, I think Diverse Solutions is taking a huge risk here on the success of Zillow’s Agent Websites.  Jay Thompson confirmed that the new Zillow IDX solution offered by Diverse Solutions will be made available to their own customers in the near future. Whether or not it will be at the same price as Zillow is offering is yet to be determined.

5.  Zillow Agent Websites are Standalone Sites

While the platform of the Zillow Agent Websites are set up like a multisite, each PAW is an individual site (unlike the platform of Activerain and Localism).  This is important to know for SEO purposes.  When done correctly, a Zillow site has the capability to rank on Google (and any other search engine) just as any other standalone site.

Now, onto the…

Fiction:

1.  Content added to the Zillow websites is owned by Zillow not you.

This is not the case.  Cynthia Pang Novak, Zillow’s director or public relations, says that that what you upload will always be yours.

“Content uploaded by an agent to their Premier Agent website will remain the property of the agent,” Novak said. “In the event that a Premier Agent website is closed (either by the agent or by Zillow in the case of termination of agent’s PA subscription), all data uploaded by agent will be cleared from the website and will not be retained by Zillow. However, the basic template (without the agent’s content), as well as any Zillow content (e.g., widgets), provided by Zillow on the Premier Agent website is and will remain the property of Zillow.”

Therefore, if an agent closes their PAW site and exports their content, Zillow will not be able to use this information (blog posts, images, videos, etc.,) now or in the future.

2.  External Links to Zillow’s site cannot be turned off. 

Not true.

“The solution [to backlinks to Zillow.com] is incredibly simple – don’t use the content,” says Thomspon. “You have complete control over the “modules” in the listing display. If you don’t want a link back to the source of the information, don’t enable the module. It’s as easy as checking / unchecking a box.”

Each widget (such as links to mortgage rates and Zestimates) can be turned on and off.  The choice is yours. Attribution via backlinks is very common on the Internet, and if you were Zillow, you’d include such links too, wouldn’t you?

3.  Zillow’s Agent Websites are Not Mobile Friendly

While this is not entirely true, it’s not entirely false either.

Zillow’s sites are mobile responsive, meaning that when a site is viewed on an iPhone or iPad (for instance), the site will respond to being viewed on the smaller screen.  A true mobile optimized site is built separately and specifically for mobile viewing.

So while the Zillow agent website itself is not yet mobile optimized, the included Diverse Solutions’ IDX mobile search solution is.  Below are a few snapshots of what the mobile search looks like on an iPhone – which really is very impressive – and when it comes down to it, the search functionality is the most important aspect of  home buyers’ online needs, right?

With the  increased use of mobile  devices by home buyers, this is a important feature for  Zillow agent websites.

What’s To Come?

As with all consumer-driven products, Zillow will be relying on you, the agent, to provide feedback and suggestions for making their websites better moving forward.  A prime example of this already happening. Zillow has revised its terms of use so that users can export their data from any Zillow service. In the past, this was prohibited. Additional themes, widgets, plugins and other functionalities will be considered (and possibly made available) as Zillow receives more feedback from their users.

Suzanne’s Wrap Up

The affordability, functionality, ease of set-up and use, and IDX capabilities make this a sweet option for the agent who is looking for a quick starting point. For agents that are already well positioned online and/or looking for a more customizable site, I’d give it a pass.

So, now you know what’s factual and what’s fictional, do you plan to have a Zillow Agent Website?  Why?  Why not?  Zillow wants to know!