I should begin by sharing that although I have nothing against Zillow, many agents see it as a threat. What I find more interesting, however, is the large number of agents who feel that way but still write checks to Zillow. 

When I come across these agents, I like to ask them why they still write checks to a company they feel threaten by. Generally, the answer I receive is something like: “I have no choice — it has all the traffic, and I need the leads.”

In our company, both my business partner and I have implemented a “blue ocean strategy” that, paired with guerrilla marketing tactics, has allowed our regional firm to not only hold its own, but also to compete with the likes of Zillow and other large online companies, as well as convert online consumers into clients for our agents.

So, how have we done this and what’s the secret? For starters, there is no silver bullet here — it’s a lot of hard work and persistence — but there are some key strategies that I’ll share.

5 winning strategies to compete 

1. Forget the address

The first thing to do is concede that which you will not beat Zillow or the other mega sites at: the address search. 

Zillow is a consumer powerhouse. A household name that consumers turn to (with many real estate agents sending traffic there as well), so there is no way you are going to show near the top of any search results when a consumer searches an address, so give them this one. 

2. Get personal

One of the many things we teach our agents about online leads is the importance of taking them offline as soon as possible. Whether it be by showing them a home, having a buyer consultation or scheduling a seller consultation, try to get face-to-face to make your relationship personal.

At minimum, have a phone conversation with them. One of the things to continually stress on your website, in your drip campaigns and in other communication with online leads is that you are a real person who is available for them. 

Establishing and nurturing a personal relationship is something Zillow simply can’t do, and its call center operators don’t know your area like you do. You can help consumers from the beginning of the conversation with no hand-off to another agent. 

3. Be hyperlocal

Real estate is local, which is something you can capitalize on that the Zillows of the world can’t (or won’t).

For example, in St. Louis, Missouri, where our firm is based, there are all sorts of nuances to neighborhoods and areas that make them more (or less) desirable to homebuyers, and they won’t show up in macro-level statistics.

There are streets in St. Louis where home prices and demand vary significantly from block to block. These are the types of things you as a local agent know and should take full advantage of by creating informative and shareable original content for your website and social media. Talk about the impact on home prices, time to sell, etc. Write blog posts on the same topics, and link to your site with this info.

4. Be original

Don’t waste your time putting generic, mass-produced content on your websites or using newsletters that are exactly the same as the other 25,000 agents using that same company or service. 

Instead, pour some time and effort into creating original content that is specific to the niche you are trying to be an expert in.

Make it a genuine, accurate representation of who you are. It won’t do you any good for a customer to see you online, read what you have to say, watch your videos and then get a completely different experience in real life. Be authentic.

Let your personality show in the content you create and the information you share. Here are a few examples of how we have done this:

  • We have developed proprietary software that makes it easy to produce hyperlocal charts and reports from MLS data allowing us to give clients the specific market data they are interested in, such as information about their subdivision or perhaps house style.
  • We have created custom email templates in our CRM that are very specific to a location, property type or style. Included in the email are links to market data and information specific to that location or property type. This makes it easy for agents to share with prospects or clients who show interest in that area or property type without it looking like another generic real estate email.

5. Keep them in the store

I saved the best for last. One of the things I repeat over and over to our agents is to “keep them in the store.” Once you’ve invested all of that time and effort into getting traffic to your site, compel someone to register after visiting and connect with them — don’t let them go.

I can’t believe how many agents send their clients to other websites for information. That’s like someone walking into a Best Buy for an iPhone and the sales person sending them to the Apple store to get more information. Focus on keeping people engaged with your site and making your site the “go-to” place for all of their real estate needs.

Statistics show that even with all the millions of websites out there, consumers typically pick a few “favorites” and return to them over and over. You want your site to be one of these. If there’s information the customer wants that’s not on your site, put the information on your site. Granted, this is not always possible, but when it is, do it.

The following are a few examples of how we have done this with clients and prospects:

  • We don’t use the MLS portal at all. We only send them links to listing information and details on our site.
  • Instead of sending clients to a lender or title company partner’s site for contact information, we have pages on our site for our partner’s with complete information. In some cases, we have even framed the partner’s site on our site.
  • If there is additional information we want to share that might not be on our site, we add it to our site as soon as possible. This might be school information, crime statistics, local eateries, etc. One time, an agent wanted to share FEMA flood map info and was going to send clients to the FEMA site. Instead, we added a FEMA flood map to our site and, not only have we kept our clients and prospects engaged with our site, but this page has also now had over 25,000 visitors as a result of organic search results!

These five strategies are not the only things you can do to compete with Zillow, but they are a good start. Begin by thinking local, making it personal, and not letting go of someone once you get their attention.