Zillow Group, content marketing and syndication

Editor's note: This is the second part of a three-part series on Zillow Group's content marketing strategy. Read part one here and stay tuned for part three soon.

Amy Bohutinsky is the 10th the most powerful person in real estate. Zillow Group's former chief marketing officer and now its chief operating officer, her vision and execution helped catapult the Seattle-based giant to tremendous growth and an anticipated $1 billion in revenue in 2017.

She built Zillow's brand from the ground up. The term "Zillow" is now synonymous with "real estate" in many consumers' eyes thanks to her (just ask Google). When she joined Zillow pre-launch in 2005, its visionary co-founder and then-CEO Rich Barton tasked her with growing monthly traffic to 1 million by month six after launch without spending any money (on advertising).

Amy Bohutinsky, Zillow Group chief operating officer.

Amy Bohutinsky, Zillow Group chief operating officer.

She achieved a million visitors in the first three days and brought in 5 million visitors in the first month. A former broadcast journalist, she knew what to do when presented with a great product and an engaging unique value proposition (read "Zestimates"): turn to content marketing. She started a newsroom within Zillow and it began cranking daily out content.

The investment continues (in addition to nine!-figure annual spends on traditional marketing). Zillow Group, which runs the consumer brands Zillow, Trulia, StreetEasy (New York City-focused real estate site) and rentals sites HotPads and Naked Apartments, now has a digital magazine, Zillow Porchlight, focused on consumers, and an information site, Premier Agent Resource Center, focused on real estate agents (the source of its revenue).

The firm has a bifurcated strategy as it has two distinct audiences: consumers and agents, the exact audiences many brokers must reach. (The rest of this post focuses on Zillow Group's consumer play -- part three in this Zillow Group series will drill into the agent-strategy). 

Benefits of its content marketing play are many, but, surprise, Zillow Group's content marketing management team told me an analytical ROI performance evaluation is challenging (welcome to the club). Of course, the team measures traffic, engagement (via interactions with on-site quizzes, comments on posts and social media, though the latter is difficult to accurately track, management said).

The firm distributes content in a variety of ways, including:

  • Zillow Porchlight (three to four posts per day on celebrity news, unique homes, home improvement, tips and advice around transactions and market trends).

  • YouTube video content. See Zillow TV, discussed in part one of this series, including the video below.

  • Social media: Facebook, Twitter, Instagram, Snapchat.

  • And a weekly marketing newsletter (three out of four newsletters focus on pointing traffic back to content on Zillow Group’s sites).

Zillow Group also maintains a compelling syndication strategy, which, at times, involves partners republishing Porchlight content and other times partners commissioning (without pay) custom content to show up exclusively on their sites.

Digital video is a core component of Zillow Group's content marketing. It launched a digital "show" in October, "Open House Obsessed," that exemplifies content marketing well: it showcases Zillow Group's expertise and focus on real estate through interesting stories and provides exposure to, and develops relationships with, agents, its core customers.

Syndication, a story of reach

As a brand content machine, a newsroom supporting a dominant, growing brand looking to grow audience, Zillow Group isn’t as concerned about roping in traffic to its consumer-facing content -- it just wants its message, and brand, to spread throughout the internet and social media.

It has close syndication partners in MSN, AOL and Today.com, who frequently feature Zillow Group content on their homepages. Sometimes these partners ask for specific stories from Zillow Group, which happily complies in many cases, Zillow Group director of content marketing Stephanie Reid-Simmons told a crowd during a speech she gave at Content Marketing World last September.

Although traffic isn’t the chief reason for this syndication strategy, it brings Zillow Group millions of pageviews, Reid-Simmons said.

This strategy requires hustle and a plan. Reid-Simmons outlined the approach:

  • Form personal relationships with editors at each syndication partner. (Note from Paul: this goes for earned media and PR as well -- as all of us in real estate should know, relationships rule).

  • Think about the syndication partners’ audiences when designing and executing content.

  • Earn trust. Verify, verify, always be accurate.

  • Have a collaborative attitude. Zillow Group has weekly emails and monthly calls with its syndication partners. It's also proactive -- the firm will call up and ask if they need a story on a specific house-related story to coincide with news, such as celebrities buying or selling a home.

  • Be persistent. “We’ll bother (in a productive way) syndication partners,” Reid-Simmons said.

A strategy at this scale only makes sense for a firm like Zillow Group with a newsroom, but real estate startups and brokerages (and agents) can apply some of the same principles to their strategy on a local or hyperlocal level to big-up their expertise and brand via content partnerships with local news sites (which are starved for good content) and the firm that seems to have a stranglehold on the serious real estate business audience, Inman.

Syndication breeds two key content marketing elements: it enhances distribution (always a core concern for content creators) and lends authority, in general and SEO-wise.

Reach out to HageyMedia for help devising a smart, sustainable syndicated content marketing strategy and stay tuned for part three on Zillow Group's content marketing play.