Search engines are where most people start their web search and being ranked highly in search engines is a big deal. For any website, it is important to be highly ranked in search engines as this helps to drive more users. Recently, there has been some confusion or misunderstanding about Trulia in the blogosphere in regards to high search engine ranking. I think it’s important to address the concerns head on, so that you can understand Trulia’s strategy clearly, without distraction. It’s going to be a long one…and I hope this clears up what we do and where we stand.

Before I start – it’s worth clarifying a few things:

Our mission: To revolutionize the real estate web experience for buyers, brokers, sellers and agents. Now ranked the #8 most popular real estate site according to ComScore, with innovative consumer tools coming out monthly, with tens of thousands of broker and agent partners on Trulia – we aren’t there yet, but we are moving forward in the right direction.

Our model: Agents and brokers can add your listings to Trulia for free. People search on Trulia and when they want information about your individual properties, we send them to your website. Yes, that’s right, we send people interested in your listing to you – for free, the listing agent or broker…not to the highest bidder, like some other companies. We are not a non-profit. Our revenue comes from advertising products that brokers, agents, brand advertisers and others can, but do not have to, purchase.

Now that the basics are out of the way, let’s get to the good stuff about SEO and why we do it the way we do:

There are a couple of different things that have been addressed around “nofollows”, so I’m going to separate the different issues:

1) Property Listings – building Google page rank.
Yes, we put nofollows on property links. It’s part of our overall online strategy and part of what helps us become an authoritative and trustworthy site. This in turn helps us attract consumers and agents. We provide the infrastructure while consumers and agents together, create a thriving real estate community. In the end, if users are interested in specific properties, we pass these home buyers back to you – the brokers and agents. Here are answers to some questions we’ve heard from some of you.

  • So I’m helping you become the authoritative site? The short answer is yes –listings, contributions on Trulia Voices, school info, stats and trends and all the other real estate information on our site helps us to be seen as an authority on real estate information and puts us at the top of real estate searches. The more detailed answer is that there are hundreds of factors involved in your google rank, and we work on all fronts to ensure real estate relevancy. Why do we do this? See paragraph above.
  • Aren’t you just taking my listings, then selling interested people back to me? No, we are not a lead generation model. We don’t sell leads. Like Google, you can purchase featured advertising on relevant searches, but your organic listings will be made available whether or not you advertise. Consumers benefit when we do this and it will not change.
  • So you are sending brokers and agents millions of visitors a month out of the goodness of your heart? No, this goes back to our advertising revenue model. Other than featured listings, we also sell branded advertisements. Aggregating an engaged home buying and home selling audience is good for Trulia, whether or not individual brokers and agents advertise their listings; it’s good for consumers because we bring together loads of timely information in a easy-to-use interface and we keep on innovating to make the experience better; and it’s good for agents and brokers as a platform to market themselves and their listings because they become discoverable by a wider audience of interested home buyers than they would have otherwise.
  • So this means that you are competing directly with agents and brokers? No-we are not a brokerage firm and we do not compete for your business. Yes-sometimes we will be competing with broker or agent sites for consumer visits. Here’s where we think we play an important role in the ecosystem as a marketing platform and ultimately benefit agents and brokers. If a home buyer finds your listing on Trulia, we send them directly to you. Some of these visitors might have come to your site first, but instead found Trulia first and now they are coming to you via Trulia (for free). In most cases Trulia visitors are new traffic to your site that might not have found you otherwise. In this sense we are not your competitor, we are adding to your site visits. We think this a good thing.
  • Why don’t you remove the nofollow from listings? Let’s be honest, most broker or agent websites would not rank better than they do currently if we removed the nofollow in the outbound links (99.9% of listings pages have no page rank or page rank 1). For those web savvy agents and brokers out there with robust local websites, you don’t need us to remove the nofollow. You absolutely can and should rank higher than us as Google will find your local sites more relevant—Greg Swann talked about this on BHB today. In sum – we don’t remove the nofollows because it could negatively impact our ranking and it probably wouldn’t help yours. Obviously not a smart business move for us today.

2) Web References on Trulia Voices – preventing spam.
Yes, we put nofollows on the web references in Trulia Voices. Here is what we are trying to prevent: Someone asks “I’m a first time homebuyer and I need help understanding different mortgage products. Help!” on Trulia Voices. Spammers (not agents) reply: “Buy Viagra now!” without a nofollow link. Yeah, that would be a horrible experience for all – consumers, real estate agents and Trulia. It’s standard practice on forums (Trulia Voices, city-data, and Zillow discussions are all “forums”) to include nofollows on comments to prevent this behavior.

3) Trulia Profiles – manage your SEO juice.
We do not have nofollows on links within your profile. That means that you can pick your term that you want to rank for (123 Main Street, Atlanta real estate, etc) and link to your website, blog or listing. With our profiles, you have flexibility to control where you want us link, and we have seen profiles as high as page rank 4 and page rank 5. The more active you are in the community, the higher your profile page rank will get.

Ah, we love a good dialogue. Send us your suggestions, we are listening.