Today online real estate brokerage Redfin sent real estate portal Zillow an open letter basically calling Zillow out for not playing nice SEO-wise and demanding that Zillow change its ways to benefit Redfin’s and other brokerages’ websites’ SEO.

Redfin’s SEO complaints boil down to:

  • Zillow takes Redfin’s real estate listings and puts the links back to the listing on in javascript so Google doesn’t see the link and give Redfin any SEO benefit
  • As a “portal”, Zillow is under some kind of obligation to provide users with a clear link back to Redfin and other sources. Here’s the exact quote:
    “We’re asking to render the listing attribution in the same simple way as the rest of the listing, so consumers can find the full source listing via search engines.”
  • They also compare Zillow/Redfin to Google/Amazon with the following statement:
    “We see a portal like Zillow as just that: a portal to data on other sites — a broad starting point for a consumer seeking general real estate information — not the only point, not an ending point. This model is well-established on the Internet. Google, for example, displays only a small snippet of information about a product being sold by Amazon, with a very prominent link to Amazon. Imagine if Google redisplayed most of Amazon’s product page, kept it up when Amazon took it down, and didn’t show the link to the original Amazon listing in an easy-to-find spot?”

Couple of thoughts:

  • If Redfin thinks that consumers are searching for the “full source listing via search engines” v. just the first version of the listing that comes up, methinks they are smoking crack. Real estate listings are generic data that many real estate sites carry. If people don’t care enough to go directly to Redfin or to search for listings via Google on Redfin, I don’t think pulling the link out of javascript is going to make much of a difference.
  • Redfin’s only recourse I can see is to play a game of chicken and withhold its listings from Zillow. Or delay the publishing of the listing on Zillow until Google has indexed the listing. But that assumes that Redfin’s SEO gain will outweigh the loss of leads from Zillow.
  • Redfin’s Google/Amazon argument is flawed. In this case I see Zillow acting more like Amazon than Google. They post products (listings) from vendors and try to sell them (send leads to agents). And you’ll notice that Amazon doesn’t link out to its vendors.

I’m not saying that Redfin doesn’t have a point. Zillow is being a bit dickish with their links. And some of the other non-SEO arguments may be legitimate industry issues. But in my experience SEO issues between companies are no different than any other business issue: the guy with more leverage tends to win the argument.

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8 Response Comments

  • Michael Klasno  April 3, 2014 at 10:57 pm

    If Redfin takes their ball and goes home, even for a short time the winner would be Zillow, IMHO. They have a 5x better Alexa rating, 3x more pages indexed, 5x more backlinks and a 10x better Quantcast rating. put that together with how consumers really search and Redfin comes out the loser.

    Zillow is the big pond that Redfin swims in and if they die out Zillow still has a pond full of agents and brokers and obviously searchers. Im just saying. . .

  • Mike Wilton  April 4, 2014 at 9:06 am

    As someone who worked in real estate SEO when the big sites like Zillow and Trulia were just starting to get big, I would say “Go home Redfin, you’re drunk…” Sites like Zillow and Trulia dominated the real estate search results a few years back when I was leaving the real estate realm and will continue to dominate so long as searchers and Google find them valuable.

    If I were Redfin I would be spending more time worrying about finding new ways to drive real estate searchers to my website than writing letters to a real estate website behemoth that probably cares less about Redfin’s listings or links.

    • Andrew Shotland  April 4, 2014 at 9:41 am

      Redfin may be drunk but on the other hand maybe this is just a genius linkbait strategy on their part…

  • Andrew – We appreciate your attention on this issue. I did want to respond to a couple of points you made in your post. Most consumers use several real estate sites. The reason they go to many sites is that real estate data isn’t generic. Portal sites get a lot of their data from syndication vendors such as ListHub or Point2, or by relying on real estate agents to manually enter postings. Real estate brokers get a data feed directly from the MLS. Sites that pull data directly from the MLS have the most complete, accurate, and timely information about homes for sale, as shown in this study of listing accuracy:

    This is why we believe it is so important for consumers to be able to find each listing on the broker’s web site, either though a direct link or among search results. In a heavily competitve SEO space like real estate, every link counts – especially a link from high domain authority portal sites. And Zillow isn’t the only portal site. If, say, 10 or 20 high domain authority portal sites linked above the fold to the broker listing in a way that Google can understand – it would absolutely have a meaningful effect on rankings.

    MLSs have developed very stringent guidelines for how brokers display each other’s listings. One common requirement is that, after a listing sells, the photos need to be taken down to protect homeowner privacy. But many real estate agents don’t realize that, when they post a listing on Zillow, Zillow retains a license in perpetuity to that data. That means that, while brokerages can’t display photos and listing descriptions for a sold listing, Zillow can. And, as we all know, photos and text matter to Google.

    Since brokers and MLSs provide listings data to the portals, they do have leverage to change display rules on the portals. In fact, there are already agreements governing some aspects of display. We just don’t think these agreements go far enough, and we want to change them.

  • Andrew Shotland  April 4, 2014 at 3:00 pm


    Thanks for stopping by and responding. I applaud you for wanting to draw attention to the issue. I can only imagine how much Zillow’s ability to outrank you for your own content must drive you crazy. I see this with clients in every niche every day.

    You put forth some valid points in your letter. But as you well know, the Zillows of the world and its ilk all rely on SEO for the majority of their traffic and so doing anything to benefit brokers’ sites’ SEO is unlikely to happen as it puts the core of their business at risk.

    A few years ago I did some consulting for one of the bigger real estate portals and they were hugely afraid of brokerage sites outranking them (Full disclosure: I worked for the dreaded Homestore many years ago).

    Getting the rest of the brokers together and agreeing to withhold listings en masse is the best way to get Zillow and its ilk to play ball. Unfortunately I think it may be the only way unless Google decides that the original data source should always be the top ranking result. Ask the news industry how that one is going…

    BTW I have removed the link to Zillow from this post as a small sign of SEO solidarity 🙂

  • Brian Rothenberg  April 5, 2014 at 11:38 am

    The ultimate irony here is that Zillow complained to me about this very same behavior back in 2007/8 when I was at Yahoo! Real Estate and I nofollow’d links to them (yes Andrew, maybe I was ‘dickish’ at the time). Then Zillow grows up, gains some leverage, and does the same thing…

    • Andrew Shotland  April 5, 2014 at 3:11 pm

      Brian, that sounds par for the course. Great to see you here btw. Your past dickishnesz is forgiven.

  • Dave  April 7, 2014 at 7:53 am

    Andrew: ah…he who has the gold rules.

    At least Redfin got a link from you.

    I worked in real estate for 2 decades. the commercial side, but the same thing applies. Its a dog eat dog world.

    If I were redfin, I’d keep pushing to get those links from zillow and I’d push to get others.