How Trulia Dependent is Your Broker Website?

One of the most interesting shifts in real estate broker traffic that I’ve witnessed in recent years is the shift in referrals brokers are receiving from Trulia.com.

For example, below is a monthly charge of visits to a broker’s website from April 2009 through October 2010. This is the overall traffic pattern. Unfortunately for this broker, traffic was trending down and to the right rather than up and to the right:

Visits by Month to Broker Site

In my attempt to diagnose what may be causing this downward spiral, I looked at how traffic from both Google and Trulia were trending over time. Here is what I found:

Trulia vs Google Referrals by Month

Google was holding fairly steady (which is not necessarily a good sign) but traffic coming from Trulia to this broker’s site was plummeting. Here is a look at the monthly Trulia referrals:

Trulia Referrals to Broker Site by Month

Looking at the same data on a percentage basis, we see that this broker was initially receiving up to 12% of their entire site’s traffic from Trulia and as much as 18% from this one traffic source. But, a year later, Trulia referrals had dropped to as low at 4% of total site traffic:

% of Broker Website's Traffic From Trulia

An important thing to remember here is that traffic declines from Trulia are NOT due to a traffic decline AT Trulia. In fact, Trulia’s traffic has been growing like crazy:

Trulia Traffic Growth - Compete.com

So, what’s going on here? As far as I can tell, Trulia has decided that they want to keep home buyers on their site, where they can show them more ads, and force agents and brokers to pay for premium memberships. They are getting real estate agents and brokers to pay to look good next to their own listings. It’s quite brilliant, for Trulia. But, it doesn’t have to be that way for brokers.

Based on conversations I’ve had with brokers over the past year, many brokers have slipped into a Trulia-dependent mindset. Actually, it’s a syndication-dependent mindset. They seem to think that they need to give away the listings their agents have worked hard earn, document and publish in order to earn traffic back from sites like Trulia. In fact, quite a few major franchises have recently stated that they plan to syndicate their listings to as many as 500 different syndication sites around the web.

What happens when each of those 500 sites adopts a model similar to Trulias? Will agents cough up $39.99 (or more) per month to look good on each of those sites? Under that scenario, the only people not making money would be the agents.

Brokers would be much better off if they earned the traffic they deserved rather than holding themselves hostage on sites like Trulia for traffic. That’s what the broker shown above has done. Last fall, this broker partnered with WhereToLive.com to build a site that was capable of earning high quality traffic. Here are the early results:

Trulia vs Google Referrals by Month

As you can see in the above chart, traffic from Trulia has rebounded slightly since this broker partnered with WhereToLive.com. This was due to seasonal market conditions. However, something changed dramatically: the volume free traffic from Google that this broker’s website earns. Lots of free traffic. Highly qualified traffic.

While Google was already a larger source of traffic than Trulia, it now dwarfs Trulia as a traffic source. This traffic had previously been ending up on Trulia and other online competitors’ websites rather than on the broker’s site with the original listings. Clearly, this broker is better off having this traffic on their own site.

On a percentage basis, referrals from Google jumped from 20% of this brokers’ traffic to 60%:

Visits by Month from Trulia & Google

And, looking at the site’s overall traffic, the growth in free highly qualified, organic traffic from Google has more than doubled the site’s traffic:

Visits by Month to Broker Site

This broker has earned back a position as a destination site in their local market. They’re still syndicating listings to Trulia, but they’re much less Trulia-dependent than they were a year ago. And Google isn’t trying to charge agents $39.99 to $149.99 a month to look good next to their own listings.

If you’d like to run the numbers for your own site, log in to your Google Analytics (or other stats program), click Traffic Sources > All Traffic Sources, then increase the timeframe to the past two years. Or, give us a call and we can walk you through it.

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