The new product, called Local Expert, marks a bid by realtor.com to cope with competition from Facebook, and comes two years after Zillow Group adopted a similar strategy of “coopetition” by introducing a Facebook offering of its own. One notable feature of the realtor.com Facebook ads is that agents can link them to personal websites or brokerage profile pages, so that when a user clicks the ad, they’re taken back to the agent’s site.
Agents can customize their head shot, home background photo, information and logos that appear in the ads, which include realtor.com branding.
The ads appear in two places for realtor.com users: co-mingled with listings in search results pages on realtor.com’s website and mobile app and in those same realtor.com visitors’ Facebook News Feeds. Agents can also use Local Expert to feature individual listings on Facebook, not just themselves.
Real estate agents might be able to generate a higher return on investment by purchasing Facebook ads directly than by purchasing realtor.com’s new Local Expert ads, but they would need to know how to skillfully design and target their ads.
Local Expert takes this work off their hands, ensuring an agent is reaching a qualified audience — buyers searching on realtor.com — and providing a menu of slick ad designs, Thakral said. By importing data from an agent’s realtor.com profile page, agents can quickly create and publish the ads, he added.
The ads work by using Facebook’s “Pixel” technology, which involves adding a piece of code to users’ web browsers that lets Facebook anonymously track their Internet activity.
The ads, which can be purchased by zip code, are more geared towards helping agents build “consumer awareness” than to immediately capturing leads (realtor.com has also long offered the ability for agents to purchase buyer lead forms on its website).
“In advertising, it’s all about subtle, subliminal advertising,” said Deepak Thakral, senior vice president of product management at realtor.com, explaining the logic of the product. “You keep seeing the image and over again. You say, you know, [the agent advertiser] is probably an expert in the local market”
He offered an example of how this could play out:
Say a homebuyer searched a zip code in San Francisco on realtor.com. An image of “Barry The Real Estate Agent” will pop up in the listing search results, putting the advertiser on the buyer’s radar; Then say a couple hours later, the same buyer is scrolling through articles and posts from friends on Facebook. Again, the same ad for Barry The Real Estate Agent might suddenly appear. Later that night, the buyer peruses realtor.com’s mobile app. Barry, once again, materializes.
Persuaded that this omnipresent Realtor is a leading local expert, the buyer clicks on the ad and arrives at Barry’s profile page on his brokerage website. Then she submits a contact form to Barry.
Thakral said the cost of Local Expert varies by zip code, among other factors, but that its price competitive with similar offerings from other listing portals.
Local Expert looks like an attempt by realtor.com to match a similar product introduced by Zillow Group two years ago.
When the Zillow product was unveiled, it published listing ads for agents on Facebook. But unlike realtor.com’s Local Expert, the product didn’t involve corresponding listing search results ads on Zillow platforms, and it didn’t provide the option to run Facebook ads that only feature the agent; the Zillow product always would feature the agent and one of the agent’s listings.
The Zillow Facebook ads also could only link to custom agent profile pages on Zillow or Trulia, whereas Local Expert ads also provide the option for agents to link their ads — both on realtor.com and Facebook — to a custom landing page, such as their personal website or brokerage profile page. Zillow Group didn’t respond by press time when asked if it has since added the option for agents to link Facebook ads to a custom landing page.
“We really, deeply believe in choice,” Thakral said, explaining realtor.com’s decision to offer both options.
Local Expert illustrates one way listing portals are dealing with the growing challenge of competition from other marketing channels, particularly Facebook — which has placed a focus on real estate marketing in recent years.
Rather than exclusively compete for real estate advertisers with sites such as Facebook, portals can form mutually relationships with them.
Thakral says realtor.com is considering expanding the Local Expert’s reach across other social media platforms. Nextdoor, which has been wading into real estate marketing in recent years, might be one potential candidate.
Thakral also pointed out that there’s potential for realtor.com to syndicate Local Expert ads across publications owned by realtor.com’s parent company, News Corp — such as the Wall Street Journal, Dow Jones and MarketWatch.