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Agent branding is good, but Trulia.com is still deliberately hi-jacking street addresses, frustrating the interests of sellers

I’m still digging out from Unchained, so this is not as timely as it might have been.

First, I think we might have gotten distracted by whatever cozy arrangement does or does not exist between Trulia.com and Number 1 Agent.

Second, I think Trulia’s recent announcement that agents can “brand” their own listings is a move in the right direction. Trulia has always seemed to me to play favorites with the White Shoe set, and giving the grunts on the ground a chance to compete with their bosses for their own business is… damned near decent.

But: I am not prepared to yield on the main issue. When Trulia.com puts a “nofollow” on the link back to my single-property web site for my listing, it is depriving my sellers of the natural dominance they should have in Google over their own street address.

The issue is one of canonicity. If Truila were giving my URL an ordinary HTML anchor link, then Google would know that my site is canonical and Trulia’s is derivative — which is undeniably the truth.

By putting the “nofollow” tag on what is in fact a JavaScript link, Trulia is falsely implying that it is the canonical resource for information about that property.

That much is a lie, but it gets worse: If someone Googles the street address for my property and finds my single-property web site, my sellers — through me — have an uncontested opportunity to sell their home to that potential buyer.

If instead that potential buyer finds Trulia’s link to that home, the buyer is thrust into a vast supermarket of real estate, and the sellers are deprived of their opportunity to sell their home and their home only.

This is not a dual agency issue here, this is simply a matter of giving sellers the best advantage they can possibly have from searches on their own street address.

Because Google would regard a normal link as leading to a more canonical resource — regardless of differences in Page Rank — by putting a “nofollow” tag on its links to agent- and broker-supplied real estate listings, Trulia.com is deliberately hi-jacking the street address of the home as a search term.

Enabling agents to brand their own listings is a move in the right direction, but it is not nearly enough. Trulia.com needs to revise its software to provide open and honest links to the actual canonical sources of information about its real estate listings.

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  • 17 comments

    17 Comments so far

    1. Eric Bramlett May 29th, 2008 7:19 am

      Greg –

      The biggest issue w/ agent branding is that they’ve now circumvented the agent link. The biggest call to action is “inquire about this property” and the user stays on Trulia’s site, rather than being directed to the agent site. I’ll take a screenshot & hack up what I’m talking about a little later today.

      It’s a good move on Trulia’s part, but they’re not giving away branding out of the goodness of their hearts. They’re after user retention.

    2. Flynn Gentry-Taylor May 29th, 2008 7:29 am

      It looks to me like Trulia has a long way to go to even head in the “right direction”, let alone take the first step. JMHO Don’t you sometimes see the meaning of “fox in the henhouse” when you really look at all the little “services” they provide? (My sugar coated opinions)

    3. Mark Eckenrode May 29th, 2008 8:00 am

      i’ve often wondered how companies like trulia view the agent on the street… with practices like this it’s almost as if they have a “natural resource” approach. “mine them for what they’re worth and get what we can from them until we have to find a new resource from which to suck profits.”

    4. Christina Ethridge May 29th, 2008 8:26 am

      Greg – I agree with you 100%. I know that Trulia knows exactly what they are doing and until enough agents stand up and protest and protest LOUDLY, they will not change. They’ll try everything else in their toolbox first in order to skirt the real issue. Please keep educating people as you have on this subject. Thank you.

    5. Rudy from Trulia May 29th, 2008 8:55 am

      It was great to finally meet you at Unchained Greg. With all due respect, the conversation about SEO and linking is getting pretty convoluted. We have our policies in place as we think they are the best overall option for Trulia and our partners as we have stated and explained many times on our blog, yours and others. I encourage everyone to visit our recent blog post about “Brand Your Listings” to decide for themselves if it works for them or not – http://www.truliablog.com/2008/05/21/helping-you-build-your-brand-one-listing-at-a-time/

      Hey, you’re entitled to your opinion, I’m ok with that.

      We have lots more innovation coming in the future – including something today at 10 am PT. Stay tuned.

      Best,

      Rudy
      Social Media Guru at Trulia

    6. Greg Swann May 29th, 2008 9:16 am

      > It was great to finally meet you at Unchained Greg.

      Indeed. Likewise. You’re a remarkable man.

      > the conversation about SEO and linking is getting pretty convoluted.

      To the contrary, it’s very simple. Trulia.com is taking content but willfully denying that the source of that content is canonical. This is dirty pool. I won’t get distracted by side-issues, and I won’t let this drop until the policy is changed. Then I’ll focus my attentions on players who are — admittedly — even dirtier on these grounds.

      The future of real estate search is horizontal — which is why Trulia is trying so hard to compete for long-tail searches in Google. That makes vertical search portals optional and expendable. If any are to survive, they will do it by being the best kind of good citizens in the Web 2.0 world. The White Shoe types can deliver the listings — in undifferentiated bulk — but it’s the grunts on the ground who will decide the winners and losers in this game. Trulia needs to stop screwing the people who matter most to its future.

    7. Bob Wilson May 29th, 2008 10:22 am

      Greg, you are all beating a dead horse. Anyone who knows what they are doing can position themselves as the canonical source. I can do it here and not have to give anyone a link – no follow or otherwise. Heck, I can do it in your market if I wanted.

      In California, a company called movoto has done well with their IDX. Listings show up just like with trulia, but at least Trulia brands the listing to the agent.

      If the issue is about who is the canonical source, then your argument is with Google.

      If agents/brokers want to be in control of how listings show up online, then understanding SEO is key. Unfortunately, most want to chant the “content is king” myth and pretend that SEO is all bad. The fact is that while agents want to argue about it, others are just doing it.

      As long as IDX is ok, then who ever knows what they are doing and is willing to do it, or hire some who does, is going to win. Beating on Trulia is missing the point.

      Once the data comes straight from the MLS, it won’t matter anyway. Your only option will be to not play or figure out how to play the game better.

    8. Todd Carpenter May 29th, 2008 10:37 am

      Greg, I disagree with you that Trulia “needs” to add no-follow links. I disagree because you can practically count the number of agents who are trying to own addresses in Google on one hand. And even if those agents voice their opinion here, the vast majority of the industry has no idea what no-follow means, nor will they ever bother to learn, nor will they care to learn.

      I can’t imagine why Trulia would give up this advantage for the sake of a couple dozen disgruntled professionals. Were I a member of the company, I’d be urging them to stand pat.

    9. Greg Swann May 29th, 2008 10:46 am

      > I can’t imagine why Trulia would give up this advantage for the sake of a couple dozen disgruntled professionals.

      In order to establish that they are honorable people, worthy of trust. Their behavior in this dispute, so far, argues to the contrary. No stain on Rudy. He’s just the messenger. But the policy is obviously dirty. Tulia management knows it is dirty. Tulia management would have no problem objecting to this kind of behavior if it were being done to it by its own upstream partners. There is no excuse for the stonewalling, but Trulia management is establishing beyond all doubt that it is not to be trusted.

      Now do you understand why it matters?

      The reflection of freedom is transparency. Trulia.com is making plain that it has much more than just a business model in common with Realtor.com.

    10. Todd Carpenter May 29th, 2008 11:05 am

      I don’t see it as dirty Greg. Most agents aren’t trying to fight the battle. If anything, far more depend on Trulia to fight the battle for them. Trulia’s smart to be as effective as possible for the agents who depend on them, even if it disgruntles a few who are getting burned.

      On top of that, I still think the effects are overblown. Can you site examples of single property websites that are loosing to Trulia in the SERPS? I often find myself ahead of Trulia after simply posting an address on my modern homes blog. And thats with no inbound links to the post, and a “do-follow” link off to the listing agent.

      I concede that you are correct in the principal of the matter. But in my opinion, the real world benefit to both Trulia, and the agents that work with them, simply isn’t important enough to change.

    11. Greg Swann May 29th, 2008 11:10 am

      > But in my opinion, the real world benefit to both Trulia, and the agents that work with them, simply isn’t important enough to change.

      For that we’ll have to wait and see.

    12. James Boyer May 29th, 2008 12:16 pm

      Trulia still just does not get it, or do they get it better then we think. I still am of the belief that trulia knows exactly what they are doing and unless fully challenged on it, Trulia will not relent.

    13. Doug Quance May 29th, 2008 2:58 pm

      When this “no-follow tags” issue first appeared, one might think that it was an oversight on the part of Trulia.

      We all now know it was no oversight.

      And that speaks volumes about the philosophy of a company.

    14. Bob Wilson May 29th, 2008 3:24 pm

      They won’t relent. Dont give them your listings if you dont like it.

      One other thing – Trulia, Zillow, homegain, et al are not ‘partners’, trusted or otherwise. That is spin on their part. Partnerships have mutual agreements. That won’t ever happen with any 3rd party in this space.

      This is simply free enterprise at work.

    15. Charles May 29th, 2008 5:10 pm

      Bob hit the nail on the head. There are no partners here. Just other sites competing for visitors looking to buy a home.

    16. Colleen Kulikowski May 30th, 2008 8:45 am

      I was reviewing WordPress Plugins this morning and discovered this one: http://wordpress.org/extend/plugins/nofollow-reciprocity/

      Basically:

      “This plugin detects links to above mentioned sites, and puts ‘nofollow’ tags on them. ‘Do unto others as you would have others do unto you.’ WordPress is a major blogging platform, with tens of millions of users. If many people using WordPress use this plugin, other big sites may reconsider their ‘nofollow’ strategy.”

    17. Eric Bramlett May 30th, 2008 8:49 am

      With all due respect, the conversation about SEO and linking is getting pretty convoluted.

      With all due respect, Rudy, the only entity confusing the issue is Trulia. You’re correct, you do have your policies, and they happen to coincide w/ predatory SEO techniques. I am 100% certain that your SEO team played a big part in developing your linking policies.