[Please note, as this conversation has the tendency to get emotional and very technical at the same time, I would like to state up front that I do not take any specific or direct side in the discussion.
I can fully appreciate the dissatisfaction of those who feel they could get better SEO results for their association with Trulia. As an internet marketer, I can also appreciate the potential value that Trulia delivers in the form of customers who are fairly well along in their purchasing decision.
Which of those two is the most important can be measured (feel free to give me a call if you’d like me to assist you in this assessment). The answer would likely vary on a case-by-case basis and also over time.
The purpose of this post is to examine some of the tangential benefit of the broader conversation. One is practical and includes information on which you can act, probably today. This information is covered in my “first semester” below.
The other is more of a thinking and strategic issue surrounding online marketing, interlocking ecosystems of information and reputation management. This is where a lot of the heated discussions take place. While you read them here, however, please try to look beyond the specific companies and personalities and consider the systems (personal, technological and economic) involved and how they rely on each other.]
As I recently let loose in Twitter, there’s an entire education to be had in the comment thread on Galen Ward’s post about Trulia and their linking policy over at the Bloodhound Blog. This post was created to back up that statement. Consider this a pivot-table applied to qualitative data. 😉
I’ve prepared a syllabus for you. Please note that not all of the answers to the exam questions will be found directly in the comment threads, but enough clues for you to determine the majority of the answers are present. Some questions (particularly in the second semester) will require creative thinking and problem solving extending beyond the comment thread on the Ward’s post. Outside resources are encouraged in all semesters.
- The first semester is a practical one, with hands-on worthwhile info on which you may be able to act. There are a few though-pieces in there, but it is primarily a “lab” class.
- The second semester is more of a seminar where you examine a controversial issue not for it’s controversy but for its structure.
- A laid back summer session has been assigned as well.
Enjoy. And if you post your answers to the exams publicly, let me know so I can send you a certificate of some sort.
First Semester: Search Engine Optimization
A wide variety of excellent SEO concepts are discussed in this comment thread by people both in the trenches and expert.
- Matt McGee explains the importance of some key technical aspects of SEO: trusted domains, URL age and inbound links.
- Greg Swann confirm’s Zillow’s SEO tips for using Zillow.
- Link purchasing is not an effective SEO tool.
- Do like Tony Sena and avoid linking to your SERP competitors.
- Become aware of the “onclick” issue for Page Rank passing links. This is yet to be resolved and needs to take into account your site traffic analysis needs.
- Given that you are unable to have immediate effect on Trulia (or anyone else’s) code practice, this advice from Matt McGee is worth investigating. But also keep in mind Eric Bramlett’s caveat.
- Eric Bramlett’s 10 places to optimize for your name to improve SEO.
- Consider researching the topic of PR Sculpting. Yes you heard that right, Page Sculpting
- Greg Swann posts a comparative assessment of Zillow and Trulia’s linking practices and what it may reveal about underlying business theories and SEO. I had a hard time deciding which semester to put this in, so consider it a nice segue into the next course.
- In Greg’s post mentioned above Matt McGee tells us about how different search engines handle “no follow” coding practices.
- Eric Bramlett provides a link to an interview with Google’s Matt Cutts (for those new to GoogleWatching, Matt Cutts is final authority on what Google does in its search practice, defending a practice against what Matt Cutts says is like defending a legal case against a station wagon full of nuns).
- Eric Bramlett makes his own post on the BHB that goes into detail on widgets and how to prevent passing page rank to a perceived competitor.
- Halfdeck brings up branding in relation to marketing efforts and SEO, citing it as a larger reason for Trulia’s success. Later, he mentions the high number of indexed pages on Trulia as a more important factor than widgets.
- Eric Bramlett comes through with a nice SEOmoz article about widgetbait.
First Semester Exam:
- What is the relationship between trusted domains and inbound links?
- Outline some SEO strategies for making use of social media.
- Is PR Sculpting an on-site or off-site marketing tactic?
- How would you find an answer to theory of “onclick” not passing Page Rank?
- When is it good use a widget on your site? When is it potentially harmful? How might you decide whether to install one on your site?
Second Semester: Reputation Management and Social Media
The majority of the conversations in the comment thread of Ward’s post are about one company, Trulia, and how it treats individuals with whom it interacts/effects. Wherever you read the word “Trulia” insert your own company and try see how you might react or engage the conversation if it were your brand. This semester requires broad-based thinking about specific problems of online community engagement.
Galen’s original inspiration is a to look into why Trulia does well on street address searches. He comes up with two compelling reasons:
…the original source doesn’t even display the address on the page..
and (emphasis his):
Trulia blocks Google from following their links.
This of course gets the ball rolling very quickly. The importance of this statement is that Trulia’s coding practice prevents Google from finding the original listing’s source by way of Trulia; basically Trulia isn’t being as SEO friendly to the original source as it could perhaps be.
The follow up from there is a discussion of why Trulia might block Google from following links on Trulia to the original source and why the original source would give the listings data to Trulia, given that disparity.
Glenn Roberts Jr. made a good assessment of the situation over at Inman News.
Here is the link to the Official Google Blog post about “no follow” coding practices. Also, SearchEngineWatch has an article about how other search engines deal with “no follow” coding practices.
As you review the comments please note that I have presented some of them slightly out of order so that they will connect better with related comments. Also, please note that I am attempting to present these comments as a way for all of us to understand how issues unfold and change online. The vast majority of these comments were made within 24 hours of the original post.
The conversation initiated by Ward spread to a variety of sources. Currently, the best method to track these conversation is via a widget developed by Greg Swann at the Bloodhound Blog. The irony of a widget to track a conversation about the widgets of another company is not lost on anyone. Below, you can view this widget and follow the conversation further than the items in the coursework.
Comments and reasoning critical of Trulia’s “no follow” code practice
- Tim O’Keefe calls the situation “the great real estate giveaway” and suggests that Trulia is trying to hoard Page Rank (a component of Google’s ranking algorithm that determines a site’s credibility).
- An anonymous user notes that Trulia’s coding practice displays an attitude of competitiveness vs the original sources of data and also that “MLSs will never get to this level of sophistication to compete against Trulia’s 5 in-house SEO wonks.”
- Eric Blackwell does a fine job of summing up some of the frustrations of real estate professionals when he says “If we 1) Give them our listings 2) Give them link juice and 3) Give them content (TV, et al). Ummm how can we gripe when they bite us (rank well in Google)?”
- Tim O’Keefe preempts conversations about duplicate content (Google doesn’t like to see the same stuff on multiple pages and so penalizes one of the duplicators) by explaining that “if they have the most page rank on that content then they do not have to worry about dupe content.”
- Ryan Ward mentions the practice of widgets as promotional items that further enhance the SEO of the sites to which they link, while providing “woefully inaccurate” market stats.
- Laurie Manny brings up an issue she has about agreeing to blog for Trulia accusing Pete Flint of breaking his word in regards to the “no follow” coding practice.
- Teri Lussier notes that “after 21 comments and no one from Trulia has chimed in.”
- Ryan Ward claims that Trulia’s is “a 3rd party site that wants in on a very lucrative piece of pie” and then speculates about a possible strategy that they are pursuing.
- Galen responds to the practice of “no follow” being used to prevent spam (see Pete Flint below) by stating: “There is no reason to limit outbound links on listings except to push agents out of the top results… .”
- Mike Taylor, in reference to the spam rationale for “no follow” says “I give you (Trulia) my listings and you give me no follow link as a way to control spam? I don’t think so. Get bent.”
- Eric Bramlett gives a technical assessment of the strategic value of choosing to implement or not implement “no follow” code practices. He believes the reason Trulia doesn’t allow Google to follow outbound links is because “because they [Trulia] consider them [agents/brokers] SERP competitors.”
- Eric Bramlett is “offended that all the Trulia spin doctors came over here so quickly to play damage control.”
- James Boyer sums up sentiment expressed in several comments with: “What Trulia does is get in the way, and make it harder to get the word out about our listings in a way that gets consumers to contact us.”
- Galen Ward clarifies a statement by saying that the issue is one of thinking you are getting relevant inbound links from Trulia, when in fact you are not (at least for SEO purposes).
Comments defending or further refining the understanding of Trulia’s “no follow” code practice (and other aspects of their business model)
- Kevin Boer outlines two reasons why Trulia’s practice may be better for agents focusing primarily on the fact that Trulia has Search Engine Friendly URLs (SEF URLs are actually more human readable in the form of http://www.yourdomain.com/your-headline vs http://www.yourdomain.com/p=12l3jkldll)
- Rick NHS, while agreeing with the premise of the post mentions that “Trulia isn’t doing anything illegal and as far as the average agent is concerned, they aren’t doing anything unethical either.”
- Mike Taylor says that Trulia “manage[s] to dupe agents to into giving them content for their site so they can then outrank those very agents that supplied them the content to outrank them.”
- 23 hours after the original post is made, Rudy from Trulia offers the following: The page redirect is being used for tracking, they focus the use of Google links on profiles, the individuals who arrive from Trulia are of high quality even if Google isn’t following the link.
- Pete Flint from Trulia reiterates some of Rudy’s points and then responds to Laurie’s accusation of him not keeping his word by stating “I do remember our telephone conversation. I explained at the time that links that exist within your profile on Trulia Voices are for link love.” He also clarifies the way that Trulia passes Google-aware links: “We channel all the link love to your profile where you can manage the link text and url.”
- Ines gives a Trulia success story and notes that the more important issue may become a “question will become an issue of ‘exposure’ not leads” but also states that she needs more from Trulia: “If I’m giving you my listings, I better get more than just a profile.”
- Pete Flint says he’s listening and that there will be updates and changes to help with Ines’ issues in the near future.
- Rudy notes that “Wikipedia and flickr put no-follow on all external links and, as far as I can tell the same goes for Realtor.com and Yahoo Real Estate. We follow the industry standard.” He then comments right afterward and says “like it or not, we are connecting consumers and agents together everyday.“
- Rudy makes the following statement: “Let’s think about what’s in the best interest of your client. Isn’t that to sell their home? I haven’t heard anyone mention that here.” [Note, I’ve read all the comments to the point at which he makes this statement and he is correct.]
- Rudy notes that he is in a conundrum: “Some said I didn’t respond soon enough, now you say I respond too quickly.“
- Ryan Ward notes “Trulia has put together an excellent package that does in fact provide quality content and most people I talk about this with feel that their search capabilities are more intuitive than realtor.com.“
- Rudy outlines who is a customer for Trulia.
- The Trulia blog pings back to BHB with a response about 3 1/2 days after the initial post.
- As the conversation spills out across the web to Iman News, Vito Boscaino describes his approach to online marketing for his office and says “Trulia has outperformed every other real estate dedicated portal that handles listings. Only Craigslist drives more traffic to our sites.”
- Trulia outlines it’s value proposition on their blog. It focuses heavily on delivering customers who are presumably (given that they are arriving via a real estate search site) well along in their purchase decision-making process.
The situation in relation to other businesses
- Your’s truly notes that Googlebase is also a player in this realm and that things will likely get more interesting “as syndication gets more prevalent.”
- Eric Blackwell (comment also referenced above) drags Zillow into the conversation by noting that “adding content or listings or links to folks like Trulia, Zillow and others is ‘feeding the hand that bites us'”
- Zillow reluctantly wades in and mentions how its coding practice is different from Trulia’s, packaging it as SEO tips.
- Thomas Johnson describes reasons he prefers Zillow, but also wonders whether it is because Zillow is moving slower than Trulia in some way. His feelings appear to be based on aspects of authenticity or sincerity. He describes David G. from Zillow as “a class act” while considering Truliatown “a bit contrived.”
- Overland Park Real Estate references Prudential’s decision to push its listings to Trulia.
- The BlueRoof blog submits a trackback that compares Trulia’s practices to MLS practices.
- Ines mentions vFlyer and it’s integration with Trulia.
- Eric Blackwell thanks Zillow for not engaging in “no follow” code practices.
- Ryan Ward compares Trulia’s Alexa rank with Realtor.com.
- David from Zillow is required to state, once again: “All links from your listings on Zillow are followed by search engines.“
- David from Zillow notes that an earlier comment about Zillow link using “no follow” was correct and vows to have it fixed immediately.
- Google is mentioned as a potential competitor in the same vein as other real-estate-as-content sites.
- Kevin Warmath, responding to Zillow’s immediate fix summarizes his feelings: “Can you see why a strong listing agent would be bitter, particularly in this market? Great thread, though, i learned a lot…I think. ;->”
- Louis from Homegain.com wades in which allows Eric Blackwell to ask “Are any of the 3rd party bots being transparent (read: honest) with REALTORS?” Louis responds by describing how homegain.com works.
- Mark A. mentions that he is “done syndicating my future listings to [Trulia] (through vFlyer).
- Flickr and Wikipedia are mentioned, in particular, in relation to how they use or don’t use “no follow” coding practice by Galen Ward.
- David G. from Zillow confirms that the no-follow issue is resolved for Zillow.
- Eric Bramlett notes that Number1Agent is creating backlinks to Trulia in their template sets. Halfdeck suggests a response for Number1Agent.
- Eric Blackwell creates a post researching the impact of widgets on SERP. He reserves special attention for Number One Expert.
- Kevin Boer, inspired by the initial conversation and its ongoing spurs, presents a description of co-opetition in relation to the real estate industry, including some hypothetical examples.
The Outcome of the Situation
The immediate outcome of the situation is that Trulia developed new technologies for their site as reported over at the Future of Real Estate Marketing.
Second Semester Exam:
- How many organizations and brands are brought into this conversation? Which brands participate willingly and why? Which ones unwillingly and why?
- How many topics/grievances/frustrations beyond the original “no follow” coding practice are discussed?
- Where does the “no follow” coding practice fall within the spectrum of online business development? Is there a difference between perceived value and actual value?
- What needs are being served by the “no follow” coding practice? What damage is the practice doing, if any?
- If you drew a map showing “customer/client” and “vendor/provider” relationships based on financial transactions what would it look like? This question was first broached in the comment thread about 2 1/2 days after the initial post.
- If you were developing a social media marketing plan how might you balance your efforts between sites that have a “no follow” coding practice with those who don’t? Is it always clear-cut how the coding-practice will effect your marketing plan?
- Who has the most to gain or lose by inserting themselves into this conversation (and yes, this post is my conscious effort to insert Union Street into this conversation so feel free to help me justify this post to my boss. 😉 )
- Write a brief essay on any aspect of this online reputation management exercise that strikes your fancy and adds to the wealth of knowledge on this topic
Summer Session: Spare bits of good info.
There are a number of random bits of information scattered throughout the comment thread as well.
Pete Flint gives a link to the official Google blog that describes the “no follow” issue in relation to comment and wiki spam.
Greg Swann’s breakdown of PR, “no follow” coding practices and number of outbounds from several top real estate blogs.
Chris McKeever notes that many of the real-estate-as-content sites are built using excellent technology which “unfortunately, is increasingly hard for the individual agent to achieve.”
Greg Swann says: “the bottom line is that we make money from conversions, not from our SERPs.”
The future of real estate marketing technology is the $9,000 business card.
Summer Session Exam:
- Create a work of art that expresses your feelings/emotions/thoughts on the variety of knowledge that can be gained in reading an comment thread discussion that contains high-caliber thinking on a tricky business or technical issue.