|This article was published on: 04/01/2006|
FRONT LINES: Internet Strategy
REALTOR.com is ‘on the Move’
BY ROBERT FREEDMAN
Homestore’s new name, new strategy aim to give you search engine dominance.
The battleground for the online real estate consumer is once again heating up as mega players like Google and Yahoo try to expand their reach and new entrants like Zillow eye lucrative advertising revenue from practitioners.
But major changes announced in February by executives at REALTOR.com and its operator Homestore show the real estate industry’s own champions know how to keep the momentum moving in REALTORS®’ favor.
“We’re in the next stage of our evolution,” says Mike Long, CEO of Homestore, which in the second quarter of this year is changing its name to Move Inc. and extensively revamping its online presence. “We’re extending REALTOR.com’s position as the No. 1 real estate site on the Internet while positioning our other sites to capture the exploding online consumer traffic and channel it to industry professionals, our real estate clients.”
The strategy: lead search results
Homestore’s doing that through the launch of a new Web site, Move.com. The site, with its own powerful search function, won’t depend on portals and other third parties to drive traffic to REALTORS®’ listings (see “Vertical search site”). Consumers will have a better experience when they search for real estate online, say executives of Homestore, which operates REALTOR.com, Homebuilder.com, and Rent.net.
The name change itself is expected to be a major business builder, say company executives, because it expands Homestore’s overarching mission and capitalizes on the way consumers search online. Internet users are accustomed to typing action words such as “move” into search engines to find the information they’re looking for on the Web.
“It’s not every day that a company decides to change its name,” says Long. “Our new identity will better communicate to consumers our compelling, value-added content no matter where they are in the move cycle.”
Free basic listings continue
REALTOR.com will continue to be the official site of the National Association of REALTORS®, and strong branding of the NAR site will be a top priority, says REALTOR.com President Allan Dalton. In addition, REALTORS® will continue to receive basic listings at no charge.
NAR collaborated with Homestore on the decision to change its brand, and NAR leaders say they believe the new strategy is important if REALTOR.com is to continue growing its share of consumer traffic.
Homestore’s strategic shift was actually contemplated as early as 2001, when the company bought Move.com from Cendant Corp. The Parsippany, N.J., company had maintained the site for its Century 21, Coldwell Banker, and ERA real estate brands. Homestore also bought Rent.net and Welcome Wagon from Cendant in the same deal.
And February’s announcement included news of yet another Homestore purchase. The company acquired Moving.com, a site that provides resources for consumers looking for movers, truck rental and storage providers, and mortgage financing. The acquisition will add rich content to Move’s arsenal and ensure Moving.com’s audience of 1 million unique visitors per month is directed to REALTOR.com rather than a competitor site, Homestore executives say.
“We’re weaving a bigger web on the Web on behalf of REALTORS®,” says Dalton. “The new Move.com is there to compete on behalf of REALTORS® and extend their reach to consumers who don’t start their search for homes at real estate industry–specific sites.”
Vertical search site
Topping the changes at Homestore is the launch of a vertical search engine for new homes and rental units that, like Google, will “crawl” the Web looking for relevant content and display that content in algorithmically sorted search results.
The new engine replaces the existing search functions at Homebuilder.com and Rent.net, which limited results to paid providers.
The result of the beefed-up search capabilities will be a big increase in the number of results to consumers, making the search experience far more compelling, says Allan Merrill, Homestore’s executive vice president for strategy and corporate development.
The search will also result in greater exposure for REALTORS® who have new-home and rental listings, says Merrill. Those listings will appear in the Move.com search results and will link users back to REALTOR.com for more details.
REALTOR.com remains the exclusive provider of resale listings at Move.com and occupies the first and most prominent position on the site. FSBO listings will continue to be off-limits on Move.com, just as they’ve been on Homestore.com.
“REALTORS® deserve to see Homestore and NAR work in sync, and with these changes, they’re working in sync like never before,” says Dalton.
New products in the works
Homestore’s transformation to Move will complement a host of improvements and new product offerings at REALTOR.com. Among them:
• Free virtual tour links included with paid showcase Web pages
• Paid featured listings topping the site’s algorithmically generated regular-listings home search-results page
• New community pages that will give REALTORS® a forum for promoting their local expertise and interacting with consumers about their community
• Welcome Wagon gift books co-branded with the REALTOR®’s name; Welcome Wagon site integrated with REALTOR.com.
• CMAs, available on a subscription basis, to help REALTORS® generate leads and compete with a growing number of non-industry sites offering them
Rollout time for the new features will vary, and details, including pricing, on some of the features remain under development, the company says.
T-Mobile commercial doesn’t amuse
Executives at T-Mobile heard an earful from REALTORS® and NAR lawyers over the company’s recent TV campaign, featuring an actress playing an ethically challenged real estate practitioner who is identified as a “motivated Realtor” and is being studied by lab workers as a “top talker.” In a Jan. 26 letter to T-Mobile, Marge Hudson of Apple Realty & Auction Co., in Bristol, Tenn., called the commercial “highly offensive and derogatory.” “Need I remind you that REALTORS® also are purchasers of cell phones, and I would think that it would be a good marketing strategy to try to obtain our business instead of alienating us,” she wrote.
In a separate letter, NAR took issue with the negative portrayal and demanded that the company alter the ad to eliminate improper use of the REALTOR® trademark. T-Mobile officials responded saying the company “respects the rights of third parties in their legitimate intellectual properties” but it wasn’t planning to alter the commercial.