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The Real Estate SEO Race: No One Brand Dominates

Less than of the total search market share in the real estate vertical is not consistently held by one brand -- meaning "smaller players absolutely have room to compete against the big guns," says Conductor's Christine Schrader.

Real estate is among the most important purchases a business or person can make. And when it comes to competing for search results to capture those purchases, no one company dominates the space, according to a report from SEO specialist Conductor.

Analyzing Google search data from 2018, Conductor identified the real estate leaders in search and how they’re building and executing successful strategies to own key market share. Brands that dominated online visibility by consistently ranking in the top organic spots for high volume, as the topline findings show:

  • 49 percent of the total market share in the real estate vertical is not consistently held by one brand. This is followed by: Zillow (13 percent)Bankrate (5 percent), and Apartments.com (5 percent). Zillow and Bankrate have held onto the top two spots since 2017, but Zillow continues to pull away from the competition, expanding its lead over Bankrate in overall market share from 4 percent to 8 percent.
  • The Top Performers Across Business Lines:
    • Apartments: Apartments.com (20 percent), Zillow (12 percent), ForRent.com (9 percent)
    • Homes for Sale: Zillow (26 percent), Realtor.com (10 percent), Redfin (10 percent) 
    • Townhouses: Zillow (26 percent), Apartments.com (14 percent), HotPads (14 percent)
    • Vacation Homes: FlipKey (15 percent), TripAdvisor (12 percent), VRBO (10 percent)
  • Mobile Leaders in New York City & Los Angeles:
    • For both NYC and LA, users tend to use Zillow (10 percent in NYC & LA), Trulia (8 percent in NYC; 7 percent in LA), Apartments.com (5 percent in NYC & LA) and Realtor.com (5 percent in NYC & LA) most frequently

We checked in with Christine Schrader, content marketing manager at Conductor, for a deeper dive on the company’s findings.

GeoMarketing: Has the nature of real estate and online search changed greatly in the last few years? How?

Christine Schrader: One of the biggest changes for real estate and online search is the rise of mobile and how important it is in the customer experience, from introductory queries to choosing a home to buy. As new homebuyers and renters enter the market, mobile will only become more essential to the customer journey. The better brands get at optimizing their content for mobile, the stronger they will perform in the future as both searchers and search engines shift toward a mobile-first experience.

What does it mean that half the market is not dominated by one brand? Does that mean smaller players have a chance of competing against the Zillows, Apartment.coms, and Bankrates?

Smaller players absolutely have room to compete against the big guns. Think of the market leaders as businesses that do many things well: they might provide services at every stage of the customer journey, from informative content to specific listings and beyond. Smaller players don’t have to win every fight with the Zillows of the world, they have to be really, really good at a subset of the millions of searches Zillow is trying to rank for. That might mean a specific geographic area, type of property, or a niche market that a smaller business specializes in. Smaller players will always have a place in the search landscape because they have such a high level of utility for the searcher, and the big market leaders are fighting those battles in every one of the markets they are playing in.

What’s the importance of standard links comprising 80 percent of Google search results in the real estate category? Does this mean that video, reviews, images, and social media don’t matter when users are searching for real estate information?

The fact that 80 percent of that first Google result for real estate queries are standard links tells us one extremely important thing: that’s the kind of content people are looking for when they search for those queries. That doesn’t mean those other types of content have no impact or don’t matter, but it does mean that content creators in real estate should prioritize creating the kind of content people actually want. That’s what customer first marketing is: we may think people searching for real estate are looking for video of a particular property, but optimizing your content to get to the top of the standard results is more important generally, because that’s what’s meeting your customer’s needs.

Google is also constantly testing and changing universal results — real estate brands should closely monitor the search results they care about. The makeup of SERPs (search engine result pages) will continually evolve.

Where marketing technology really can make an impact for a business is by telling you exactly where there is opportunity in each of those types of results.

Google is prioritizing video, images, and reviews for certain real estate search queries: do any of them align with the content you are trying to get to your customers? Google is making sure to serve customers what they’re looking for on the search page: your strategy should reflect that reality for your marketing as a whole as well as for the individual pieces of content and pages you are creating.

The report notes that “answer boxes” appear to have impact. Does this point show how important Google’s focus on the “Knowledge Graph” is and the impact it’s having on brands, particularly ones in the real estate vertical?

Google is always focused on improving user experience directly within the search results. That’s why both informational and voice searches are becoming more commonplace: Google wants to provide the best content and experience possible to answer whatever questions searchers are asking. Google is seeing exactly what brands are noticing: the shift in users turning to search to answer questions at every stage of the buyer’s journey.

Early stage questions are especially common in real estate, as searchers try to understand what they need to know before making huge decisions, like looking for their first house, submitting a rental application, or applying for a mortgage. Real estate businesses need to be prepared to proactively answer these questions on their site while making it as easy as possible for search engines to interpret this content through proper organization, optimization and mark-up.

Is there anything that surprised you — or might surprise real estate businesses — in this study?

The big players are getting smarter by paying more attention to fulfilling customer needs at every stage of the sales funnel: listing sites aren’t just listing sites anymore, even if that’s their bread and butter. They are one-stop shops that include educational content and interactive tools to help connect customers with answers right on their site, instead of going elsewhere.

That means real estate businesses are on the forefront of what we call humanizing marketing: focusing more on the people behind the search and really helping them and providing value. And smaller players in more niche markets, like subletting, personally vetted or curated properties or specialized buyer searches, are impacting the status quo in real estate sub-verticals. Those brands aren’t content to let the big players own the field by default, but are finding more and more effective ways to deliver the value people are looking for in a crowded real estate search landscape.

About The Author
David Kaplan David Kaplan @davidakaplan

A New York City-based journalist for over 20 years, David Kaplan is managing editor of GeoMarketing.com. A former editor and reporter at AdExchanger, paidContent, Adweek and MediaPost.