Biting back with the hand that feeds

Commercial Benefits of Controlling your Data Feeds

You’ve decided to control your datafeeds…

Great, so you’ve made the decision to slow down and withhold some of your property data feeds to other websites.  Indeed you’ve gone one step further than the basic step of holding back your data or 24 or 48 hours, to give your site an advantage…  No, you’ve decided to do it properly, and to truncate the descriptions, to change the content you send out to different sources, to restrict the size of the photos you send out round the web, perhaps even to restrict the number of photos, leaving dozens of concrete reasons for applicants to have to visit your own website.  And opening up a real SEO weapon.

Potential vendors insist you are on the major portals.  Before they instruct you, they check: “You are going to list me on Rightmove, aren’t you?”, we’ve all been there.  But here’s the interesting thing; we’ve yet to meet a vendor who says: “You are going to list me on Rightmove with full resolution photos, for all rooms, and a non truncated room description?”.  Have you?  No, thought not, and that’s good news…

So you’ve become more sophisticated.  And now you want what benefits are going to rain down on you in return…

So, what commercial benefit are you going to get?:

(1)  A whopping great big SEO advantage…

Sadly the biggest commercial benefit is a pretty technical one, so bear with us.  It’s crucially important to understand this clearly, as it’s one of the biggest commercial marketing opportunities you have to really outshine your competitors and pick up more instructions…

If you are reading this article, the chances are you’re already pretty sophisticated in your understanding of advanced SEO.  You’ll have maxed out all the basic things you can do (content, backlinks, clean URLs, social media, a speedy website, an email alert engine, and so forth).  And you’re looking for more.

As you know Google rates sites based on fresh, original editorial content.  And the most interesting thing about an estate agent website is that you churn out chapter and verse of new fresh content every day.  Much more than the local area guides you write, each new instruction you list on the market, carries with it a whole editorial article – in the form of the property description.  But here’s the rub, the moment you’ve done the back breaking work of writing all of that content, taking photos to go with it, and uploading it to the web, you hand it straight to Rightmove!

Google rates Rightmove.  Indeed Rightmove have built a ping server, informing Google of new content directly, every 15 minutes.  This means Google gets to see all the new property detail pages they’ve you’ve written on Rightmove first.  Your poor little estate agency website isn’t as important in Google’s eyes, sadly.  If you’re lucky you’ll be on the rapid bots, and you’ll be being “crawled” every 2 to 3 days.  At worst, if your site is small, you may still be on the slow-bots, in which case your site will only being “crawled” every couple of weeks.  Google assesses the volume of new content it finds, and the traffic it sees, or other measures of domain authority to determine how long it can leave it, before sending the crawlers back to check for new pages to include in the search index.

Worse, Google is looking for the “originator” of the content.  It wants to punish clones of content (spam farms, or republishers).  It wants to find the BBC, breaking the story first, not the minor blogger regurgitating the content, or copying it wholesale, later.  And so Google has the concept of “duplicate content ratio” and “content originators”.  The trouble with being crawled days later, is that you’re getting a double-whammy, you suffer massive “duplicate content” on well over half the web pages on your site (and certainly the vast majority of the fresh-changing ones), and you’re also potentially getting hit for copying the very content you wrote in the first place!

Why do you think Rightmove put all that effort into building the Real Time Data Feed (RTDF) format?  Forget all the PR guff about being able to upload properties from a vendor’s living room, live, whilst you were on the valuation visit.  It’s nothing to do with that.  Instead, it’s ALL TO DO with them getting (or keeping) an SEO advantage over Zoopla.  They want their website to be seen as the freshest, most important source, from Google’s perspective.  And they want their email alerts to be firing first, so that by the time the poor old applicant get’s your email alert at 11am the next morning, it’s yesterday’s news, today’s fishwrap.

Time to man up and sort this out, and claim the rightful benefit of writing a ton of fresh-original content for yourself.

The trivial step, which businesses like On The Market have clearly understood, is simply to delay the data feeding out to the major portals.  And indeed some of the UK’s more proactive software vendors have started adding “earlybird” filters, to meet this On The Market objective.  But in our view this simply doesn’t go anywhere near far enough if you want to take your SEO and user benefit seriously.  In the most extreme case, you’re only going to be able to get away with delaying the properties for say 48-72 hours, any more becomes a dis-service to your vendors.  And that’s quite possibly not enough to get the SEO originator benefit.  After 2 or 3 days, we’re back to a level playing field, and Rightmove use their crushingly amazing, domain authority to mop up the content benefit anyway.  We’re still stuck with duplicate content penalties, and the users are back to Rightmove where there’s more utility to be found amongst the other agent’s properties.

The real benefit comes from actually changing the length, and nature of the content that is sent out to the wider web.  You can push out fewer photos (come to our site for more), less description (come to our site to read the full description), lower resolution images (for more, high res images, come direct to our own website).  Better yet, you can truncate all your descriptions and replace them with a boiler plate repeating descriptions inviting the applicants to come to your own site when they get serious.  With a proper data control filter, you decide how much to truncate, what to hold back, and you can do it selectively, per branch, per property (for vendors who just want it flushed through now please), and per portal (who do you want to pull along with you?).

Having built some really big enterprise grade portals in the past, we’ve had the privilege of working with some really high end technical SEO companies.  When we proposed the idea to them, they said it was the single biggest SEO advantage they thought it would be possible to give to an agent site.  The rest becomes “hygiene” factors, and this is your silver bullet.  Use it!

(2) Better (repeat) traffic to your website…

Then we turn to the human benefits of all of that…  It’s inevitable that applicants will go to the portals as that oft used analogy of the “shop-window” for their property search.  But to take that analogy further, they’re only going to scan for price, location, beds, and a quick look at the photos for the house.  If they’re interested, they’ll go through all the photos, and read the description.  If they’re interested they’ll look for the floorplan and start considering it seriously.

If everything they read leads them to the conclusion that there’s more information to be had, then they take that microscopic step, of opening up a new tab in their browser, and typing in your agency name.  Yes, your agency name – so they’re thinking about you.  You’ve jolted them.  And now they’re into your website.  Now they’re seeing your logo, your colours.  They’re looking at your team pages, and chances are they’ll make the enquiry from your site, not from the portal, now they’ve seen the extra photos and read the floorplan.

It’s a fallacy to think you have to capitulate your property search function to the portals, just as much as it’s a fantasy to think that you can operate efficiently without them.  You should use them as a vitally important shop window.  But once you’ve got the applicants teased and on the hook, and you have their attention on a property, then you can draw them into your branch, to ask more questions.  “How long has this been on the market?” (Why else do Zoopla display that very controversial data?  It’s just one reason (for “smart” at least, apparently) to travel out of Rightmove, to go and cross check it.)

If you think about it, this is just an extension of the principle that many agents hold of not putting too many photos on the portals to start with as “it just reduces the number of properties people call up to go and view, as they form a negative opinion based on the ‘partial viewing’ they now do online”.  All we’re doing here, is LAYERING that same principle.  Get a bit from the portal, enough to catch you and tease you.  Hopefully call us, but also hopefully visit our own site for the next layer of information, if you’re still teased, hopefully you’ll pick up the phone, and with luck, we’ll get you out to the property for a full viewing.  The modern trend of pushing all the information out there, just because you can (videos, photos, floorplans, everything) is maybe a bit too rudimentary.  All we’re doing here is adding in some sophistication and measure to our marketing.

Another example is “fuzzier floorplans” (yes, there are some huge, very respectable agency brand names, you know who you are, that deliberately leave a little scrap of essential data, like square footage to be found only on their own site, huge kudos to that SEO judo move!).

(3)  More registrations from your own website

And all of this leads to more registrations on your own estate agency website, rather than at arms length from the portals.  And if they come from your own site, you have achieved a few things… You’ve lowered the perceived dependence on portals.  And you’ve increased the registrations in your own system…  and if you register them on your own site, there’s the opportunity for “dialogue based registration” where you ask them follow up questions AFTER you’ve hooked the first form, about their current situation selling, about mortgage advice, or about whether they want similar property email alerts.  Once you are in dialogue with a customer, you can draw out the conversation (just as you would do naturally in branch).  But you can only control that conversation if it’s happening in your own domain.

(4)  A bigger email database off buyers / and a better email alert engine

And if you have more registrations on your own database, then you can do more with that database over time.  You can farm it with your call centre.  You can have your automated email alerts engine farm it, to drive further brand impression, and repeat visits, keeping you in their mind.   You can pump the user data back into your back office software system.  And you can advertise your enormous database of applicants to potential vendors.

(5)  Better branding impact

All of those repeat visits and higher traffic to your own site, result in drip feeding your brand name, and your content, into your future customer’s minds.  Remember, applicants are often vendors in disguise, just not ready to sell yet.  So if you can lure them into your own branded brochure environment online (your website), then you can sell to them, and build the power of your brand.

(6)  Further knock on SEO benefits from traffic

And all of this loops back around to SEO again.  We started in our first point, analysing how the reduction in duplicate content, and the winning of the fresh / original content bonuses were great for SEO.  However, there’s a secondary effect too.

Because users are now “pogo-sticking” back and forth between your site, and the portals, on a weekly, monthly basis, as properties come to market, your REPEAT VISIT RATIO climbs.  More of your users, visit more times a month.  And this matters…

Google has been putting steadily more and more emphasis on it’s “quality” metrics (things like session length, page speed, bounceback ratio, etc. all indicators that  your users are “enjoying what they find on your website”).  For more on this, watch the SEO section of this presentation.  And one of those key quality indicators is “repeat visit ratio” (if your users keep coming back to your website, then Google sees this (through tools like Chrome – one of the reasons Google built a browser in the first place?!).  And Google concludes your site must be “good”, so up the rankings you go.  And when you go up the rankings, your phone rings more often for valuation / market appraisals in a set of three agents called in any given town.

(7)  A sophisticated story to tell your prospective vendors

If you are really canny, you can also turn all this marketing sophistication, into a vendor winning pitch too.  You need to boil it down into very simple terms that Mrs Smith can get her head around…

“Mrs Smith, we’re not like other agents, when it comes to launching your property, we have a much more sophisticated launch process, here let me leave you this article about it…  On day one, we launch it to our own early bird database, we have a bigger database than other agents, as buyers in our town have learned over time that if they want first dibs on a new property coming to market, they need to be registered with us.  Then we launch it the following day on Portal X, which fires their email alerts.  Then the day after that, we launch it onto Portal Y, which then fires their email alerts.  By taking this controlled, measured approach, we can handle the load of enquiries properly, and can give them the service they really deserve, so we don’t drop the ball.  Other people just push it out there in one hit, and that gives no chance to respond properly, with poise, and quality, you risk blowing it.  We also take bookings for viewings starting the following weekend, or we operate open days, yada, yada…”

Does Mrs Smith understand?  Who knows?  Does she care?  That’s not really the point…  Here’s what she thinks:  “Boy, I didn’t really understand what Charlie just said, but he sure as heck sounded sophisticated.  Far more measured and considered.  All those other guys were you going to blat it out there, he’s really thought this through.  Sounds like he knows what he’s doing.”

We’ve got a boiled down suggestion for the kind of script you can use to explain this to your vendor here.

(8)  Wrestling back control from the portals

We’re in danger as agents of capitulating to portals too much.  We need to remember that they’re just the shop window.  We want the balance of applicant (and vendors in disguise) activity to shift as much as we can into our own branded environment.  So anything we can do, to wrest control of traffic, and lead flow, and bring as much of it into our arms as possible is a good thing.

It also helps keep the power balance healthy in your portal re-negotiations.  If you can parade charts about your lead flow from your own site, and from other portals, and if that balance is healthier, plus if you have a strong SEO position, and big email database working for your own site, then you are in a stronger position at renegotiation points.

(9)  And even a bargaining chip between portals

Take this a step further still, and you can actually use the quality and speed of your data supply as a negotiating chip in your portal advertising relationships.  Portals are great.  But if you have something you can offer them back, over their competitors, then you’ve got something even more powerful up your sleeve, which you can use in negotiation too.

We hope that helps.  If you have any questions, please do get in touch.