The clinical guide to real estate listings syndication

I have plenty of opinions about the syndication of real estate listings. In fact, I view the whole syndication scene as something like a beach strewn with syringes and empty Pringles cans over which waves of opportunism and resentment crash.

But when it comes down to working with a broker client to decide whether to start or continue syndicating that gets put aside.

The process is pretty clinical. Costs. Benefits. Decision. Measurement.

It goes something like this:

The yes/no

Answer the following questions with real numbers, not hunches:

Is traffic to your website comparable to that of other companies in your market?

Is traffic to your website growing, shrinking or flat?

What is your conversion rate – the number of visitors taking your desired conversion action divided by total visitors?

Are your agents responding to and converting the Internet leads they are getting now?

Do you have the budget or the talent to significantly drive change on any of these things from within your organization in the near-term?

Clear, honest, factual answers to these questions make coming to the right decision a lot easier. Where we help is evaluating those answers (e.g., What’s a reasonable conversion rate? What how much money will it take to move the needle on traffic?)

The gut check

Syndication (and, if you choose to do it, advertising upgrades on syndicated listings) will probably increase your referred traffic and lead volume. But things you, your agents and potentially your clients don’t like will happen. Someone, somewhere – perhaps even you – will be pissed off at some point.

You may decide that’s tolerable, but understand that:

Many consumers will be introduced to your brand online in the context of someone else’s site, not your own.

Most sites to which you syndicate will make money off your listings by putting agents from other companies all over them. This may help sell the listing, but will diminish the branding you and your agents expect when promoting listings in other places.

Expired listings or out of date listings may appear on sites to which you syndicate.

You may double-end fewer transactions. This is a loaded issue (and one on which I have strong opinions) but the fact is a lot of brokers rely on in-house sales.

Post-decision review

You (or someone in your organization) should be examining, slicing and dicing your analytics constantly. But after three months, you’ll want to do a big-picture evaluation and ask yourself these questions:

Has my traffic increased as a result of syndication? (Or, if you’ve already been syndicating, what percentage of my leads is coming from visits referred through syndication partners?)

How many complaints am I getting from my listing agents about how they are (or are not) presented on syndicated listings?

Has my number of in-house deals decreased?

Have I received any seller complaints or has there been a threat of litigation as a result of old/inaccurate listings on other sites?

Are the costs associated with any of the above greater than what it would have cost me to increase traffic, conversion and leads on my company site directly?

Clear, honest, factual answers to these questions will make the decision to continue or cease syndicating easier for you.

Reality check

It’s also important to take into account the basic incentives and realities at play.

For example, bear in mind the following:

The syndication environment is becoming cleaner. Move’s acquisition of ListHub, LPS Real Estate Group’s reDataVault, Trulia’s Direct Preference program, and Point2’s MLS Certified initiative and general industry sentiment are making this happen.

You, the broker, are responsible for your listings. You syndicate. You don’t syndicate. You monitor syndication. No one else is responsible. Period. No excuses.

Media sites, however exploitative you may believe them to be, cannot live without listings. They therefore have a strong incentive to not get too crazy with your listings.

The notion of control over your brand and your listings has been completely upended in the past five years. Real estate media sites – no matter how much flack they may take from you or me about problems with listings – aren’t going away. So you’re going to have to contend with them either as a partner or as your competitors’ partner.

Moreover, your digital footprint has spread well outside the sole of your website, whether you like it or not. People – agents, consumers, competitors – are all shaping it. Moving with this reality seems more fruitful than pretending it can be reversed.

Questions and answers

Cleaning up the syndication mess is important. The politics and positioning around industry debates can be confusing. But if you’re a broker – or represent brokers – the process of evaluating whether to start, continue or limit syndication is pretty clear.

You just have to ask the right questions – and seek out their answers.

[Disclosure: Move, Inc. and LPS Real Estate Group are 1000WATT Consulting clients]