Home Real Estate HomeGain, ActiveRain, Trulia – The Tale of the Tape

HomeGain, ActiveRain, Trulia – The Tale of the Tape

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In my little prognostication about the upcoming Trulia Blog Platform vs. ActiveRain, I neglected to include HomeGain in the mix. Louis Cammarosano of HomeGain pointed out over on the followup OnBlog thread that HomeGain had launched an Agent Blogging Network earlier this year, and that they were even conducting blogging schools for agents on HomeGain. It’s an excellent idea all around.

Very interestingly, Louis wrote this in the comments:

HomeGain continues to be one of the top visited sites on the interenet-with a difference-listings are not the main attraction-realtors are.

So now we have three distinct models to compare in a way: Trulia as the listings-centric consumer site, ActiveRain as the content-centric consumer site, and HomeGain as the realtor-centric site. As the industry continues to evolve, I think we’ll see how the different approaches play out. But where are they now?

Naturally, I got curious and started digging around a bit more.

I don’t know that using third-party traffic analyzers, such as Compete.com, is necessarily proof of anything. At the same time, I do think comparing different sites on the same analytics platform could lead to interesting insights and things to talk about. So I ran a quick and dirty analysis comparing the three abovementioned sites. This is the tale of the tape.

Over the past twelve months, HomeGain has essentially had a venous hemorrhage of unique visitors. From a high of over 4million uniques per month, HomeGain is now down to 2.5m visitors — a loss of almost a third of their total from the peak in July of 2007. At the same time, Trulia went from sub-1m uniques to just over 2.4m uniques — a growth of 192%. ActiveRain went from (it looks like) somewhere near 200K uniques to almost 670K uniques — a 270% gain.

Considering this was happening in the midst of a major downcycle, it is interesting that both Trulia and ActiveRain gained. (Although, ActiveRain had a smaller base to start from, so the percentage growth isn’t the whole story.)

But what about visits? How many times did these people come back to the site?

If my rusty math is right, ActiveRain went from somewhere in the 280K visits per month range in June of 2007 to 1.6m in June of 2008 — a 473% gain. Trulia also jumped tremendously, going from a shade over 1m monthly visits to just under 4m monthly visits — a 261% gain. HomeGain, on the other hand, dropped visits by a third as well — from just under 5m to just over 3m visits. It’s almost a one-for-one drop for uniques to visits.

Today, even though HomeGain draws more people than Trulia does (by 120K or so for the year), Trulia’s people come back more often: 4m visits vs. 3m visits. And the trends — looking at from Feb ’08 to June of ’08 — are not good for HomeGain.

Ah, but uniques and how many times tirekickers come back are not the whole story. What’s the loyalty of the users, mmm?

Here, we start to see some funny stuff going on.

Trulia steadily lost average time on site over the past year, going from a high close to 10 minutes per visit to 6:47 per visit — a drop of about 22%. HomeGain users spent more time there, suggesting that those who stayed are not only loyal but find value in what HomeGain is offering, going from a shade over 2 minutes in June of 2007 to 3:05 in June of 2008 — a gain of 31%.

But look at ActiveRain, especially that peak in February of 2008. HomeGain’s users may have increased time on site, but in absolute terms, the ActiveRain user spends almost four times as much time on ActiveRain: a robust 11:38 per visit. The gain is 23% or so for ActiveRain, although they came down from their peak of almost 15 minutes, but that’s a pretty staggering difference, even as compared to Trulia’s 6:47 per visit. Talk about loyal users.

Of course, in a way, you’re comparing apples to oranges when you’re trying to compare time on site for a blog network where people stick around to read lengthy posts with a listings or realtor-oriented site where people come to do searches. (Plus, there is that whole “ActiveRain is where agents like to talk to other agents” angle, which may inflate the average time on site numbers quite a bit.) Nevertheless, as a marketer, I find those kinds of differences very interesting indeed.

[One implication — as a total aside — is that those interested in doing branding ads might want to look at ActiveRain, even with its smaller userbase, because your ad is staying in front of them for 12 minutes. Lead-generation ads… meh… that depends on much, much more. By the way, if you’re interested in how these numbers were derived, check out the FAQ at Compete.com.]

What Do These Numbers Tell Us?

Well, in a way, they tell us nothing. This is a third-party traffic analysis site; who knows just how reliable they are when dealing with niche sites like these? But if you’re willing to accept that there’s at least some validity to the Compete.com numbers, then there are a few things that leap out at me.

  1. One has reason to be skeptical of the realtor-centric model. I like Louis from his sharp blog posts; and I’ve met Salvatore Giammaressi at HomeGain — they’re smart, sharp operators. I’m sure they’ve got a solid strategy and they’re moving ahead. But still, if these numbers tell a story of the past twelve months, that story is closer to King Lear than it is to All’s Well That Ends Well for HomeGain. It might explain the Agent Blog program, for one thing, as HomeGain’s core realtor-centric model is showing a lot of weakness.
  2. Looking at the divergent trend lines for Trulia and ActiveRain for People and Visits, I can’t help but think that ActiveRain had better get some listings, and fast. (Caveat: Jonathan Washburn at ActiveRain uses numbers that are far higher than Compete.com’s numbers, so this could be dead wrong. Then again, I’m pretty sure Trulia uses numbers that are far higher than these as well, so….) Listings-centric sites may not get the most loyal users, or help advertisers build brand, or whatever, but they do generate traffic. It is simply what the consumer wants, period.
  3. Having said that, all the blogging and original content does really pay off in user engagement metrics. Those be some sweet numbers there for ActiveRain. Twelve minutes on average is a staggering number on the Internet. If Trulia can bump their 6:47 average stay number up through its agent blogging platform, that’s a pretty significant win for them — advertisers like to hear that you’ve got super-engaged users who are spending 12 minutes at a clip on your website.
  4. Synthesis and blending of the models are inevitable. I have to predict that before June of 2009, all three websites will have listings, realtors, and content to the fullest. The emphasis might be a bit different, but looking at these numbers, it simply doesn’t make sense not to do listings and blogs.  After Trulia launches its blog network, HomeGain and Trulia will be pursuing essentially the same strategy, but with different emphases.  Time will tell which one will win out in the end.
  5. The other listings aggregation sites, such as Roost, Estately, the venerable Realtor.com, and others have got to think about adding content whether via blogs or something else.  If your business model involves advertising in a serious way, then you have to really consider a content strategy.  The major brand websites like Coldwell Banker, Century21, Re/Max, and so on may not feel the same sort of pressure as their businesses are not advertising supported.  But even they have to be thinking about twelve minutes of average time on site.
  6. Finally, in a way, the most interesting website to look at in a year’s time will be FrontDoor.com — HGTV’s media-centric real estate portal — especially as compared to ActiveRain (if they get listings).  That will be a story of David vs. Goliath, of professionals vs. amateurs, of Big Media vs. New Media, in the online real estate space.  I can’t wait to see how that turns out.

More so than usual, comments, corrections, and “yer smoking the ye olde pipe” are welcome, since whenever you talk numbers without getting them straight from the source… there’s always a risk that one is completely, 100% incorrect.  This won’t be the first, and it sure won’t be the last. 🙂

-rsh

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Rob Hahn
Managing Partner of 7DS Associates, and the grand poobah of this here blog. Once called "a revolutionary in a really nice suit", people often wonder what I do for a living because I have the temerity to not talk about my clients and my work for clients. Suffice to say that I do strategy work for some of the largest organizations and companies in real estate, as well as some of the smallest startups and agent teams, but usually only on projects that interest me with big implications for reforming this wonderful, crazy, lovable yet frustrating real estate industry of ours.

14 COMMENTS

  1. Rob, Great post! Compete’s numbers are off, but like you said, I imagine they are off similarly across the board. There is no doubt in my mind that today Trulia has more traffic than ActiveRain does.

    However, like I told you during our lunch, getting traffic from listings is easy. We are just waiting to see how the IDX / Brokers Direct battle plays out. We pioneered long tail listing traffic a long time ago – well before Trulia was even a glimmer in Pete’s eye. In fact much of the SEO knowledge we brought to ActiveRain we learned while working on our first listing sites.

  2. Rob, Great post! Compete’s numbers are off, but like you said, I imagine they are off similarly across the board. There is no doubt in my mind that today Trulia has more traffic than ActiveRain does.

    However, like I told you during our lunch, getting traffic from listings is easy. We are just waiting to see how the IDX / Brokers Direct battle plays out. We pioneered long tail listing traffic a long time ago – well before Trulia was even a glimmer in Pete’s eye. In fact much of the SEO knowledge we brought to ActiveRain we learned while working on our first listing sites.

  3. Hi Rob

    That’s quite an analysis!

    However, not only are the numbers from compete far from accurate, traffic and time on our site is not the main drivers of HomeGain’s success.

    Unlike other sites, we don’t rely on advertising for the vast majority of our revenue. We sell advertsing only as a remnant play where we don’t have agents to delivery visits and leads to.

    Our revenue per visitor far exceeds companies that strictly sell advertising as we turn a large number of our visitors into leads that translate into referral fees from our Agent Evalutor program.

    Key metrics here are match and conversion rates, not traffic volume. the higher the click to lead ratio, the fewer clicks we need to our site. The higher the conversion rate on the leads, the few leads we need.

    We also through our buyerlink program deliver quality visits directly from our site to agents’ web sites. Indeed if a consumer spends little time on the homegain site and then clicks off to a realtor we have done our job- to connect consumers with realtors.

    Key metric here is not top of funnel visits but delivered visits to agents.
    If our click through rate goes up 50% we can make the same money on 1/2 the traffic. If that happens we can cut out non profitable sources of traffic and make the same money at a higher margin.

    The Agent Blogging on our site drives little of our overall traffic and there are no ads on that portion of the site.

    I would be happy to discuss HomeGain’s business model with you to help you avoid trying to detemine the fate of homegain,trulia and Active Rain by a third party’s inaccurate traffic numbers!

    Email me at [email protected]

  4. Hi Rob

    That’s quite an analysis!

    However, not only are the numbers from compete far from accurate, traffic and time on our site is not the main drivers of HomeGain’s success.

    Unlike other sites, we don’t rely on advertising for the vast majority of our revenue. We sell advertsing only as a remnant play where we don’t have agents to delivery visits and leads to.

    Our revenue per visitor far exceeds companies that strictly sell advertising as we turn a large number of our visitors into leads that translate into referral fees from our Agent Evalutor program.

    Key metrics here are match and conversion rates, not traffic volume. the higher the click to lead ratio, the fewer clicks we need to our site. The higher the conversion rate on the leads, the few leads we need.

    We also through our buyerlink program deliver quality visits directly from our site to agents’ web sites. Indeed if a consumer spends little time on the homegain site and then clicks off to a realtor we have done our job- to connect consumers with realtors.

    Key metric here is not top of funnel visits but delivered visits to agents.
    If our click through rate goes up 50% we can make the same money on 1/2 the traffic. If that happens we can cut out non profitable sources of traffic and make the same money at a higher margin.

    The Agent Blogging on our site drives little of our overall traffic and there are no ads on that portion of the site.

    I would be happy to discuss HomeGain’s business model with you to help you avoid trying to detemine the fate of homegain,trulia and Active Rain by a third party’s inaccurate traffic numbers!

    Email me at [email protected]

  5. @Jon and @Louis –

    Thanks gents — this is what makes blogging worthwhile, when one can learn something useful while debating and discussing. 🙂

    Louis – specifically to you, because your detailed answer raises a very interesting question… as a non-ad site that is based on referral fees, have you guys plotted the revenue vs. total traffic numbers historically?

    Meaning, for some reason, I have a bell curve in my head thinking about your business model. If you have 100% conversion, but not one visitor, your revenues are nil; on the other side of the equation, if you have hundreds of millions of visitors but zero conversion rate, then your revenues are nil.

    Presumably, there’s an inflection point somewhere, some sort of a point where you see no increase in actual number of conversions (in fact, the conversion rate would decline, as additional traffic is worthless traffic) no matter how much more traffic you’d get. To an advertising-supported company, all of that is just additional inventory to sell; for a referral-based company, not necessarily so. Think of it as something like an efficient frontier.

    In any event, I’ll drop you an email soon.

    -rsh

  6. @Jon and @Louis –

    Thanks gents — this is what makes blogging worthwhile, when one can learn something useful while debating and discussing. 🙂

    Louis – specifically to you, because your detailed answer raises a very interesting question… as a non-ad site that is based on referral fees, have you guys plotted the revenue vs. total traffic numbers historically?

    Meaning, for some reason, I have a bell curve in my head thinking about your business model. If you have 100% conversion, but not one visitor, your revenues are nil; on the other side of the equation, if you have hundreds of millions of visitors but zero conversion rate, then your revenues are nil.

    Presumably, there’s an inflection point somewhere, some sort of a point where you see no increase in actual number of conversions (in fact, the conversion rate would decline, as additional traffic is worthless traffic) no matter how much more traffic you’d get. To an advertising-supported company, all of that is just additional inventory to sell; for a referral-based company, not necessarily so. Think of it as something like an efficient frontier.

    In any event, I’ll drop you an email soon.

    -rsh

  7. Rob there is a lot more here
    PART of our business is based on referral fees.

    But one point you made is almost correct : “additional traffic is worthless traffic”
    Almost but not quite. Additional traffic that does not go to one of our realtors in one form or the other ends up in advertising which has a rate of return far lower than if we send a Reator the visit.

  8. Rob there is a lot more here
    PART of our business is based on referral fees.

    But one point you made is almost correct : “additional traffic is worthless traffic”
    Almost but not quite. Additional traffic that does not go to one of our realtors in one form or the other ends up in advertising which has a rate of return far lower than if we send a Reator the visit.

  9. Hi Rob!

    Great meeting you this past week…..your “notorious” online reputation did not disappoint in real life.

    Although each company is different – a very interesting comparison nonetheless. Using third party sites to analyze growth is not the most accurate method, but he trending is fairly close.

    Although Trulia started with real estate listings, the natural evolution is to offer consumers and agents a much more rich user experience. We get roughly 5 million uniques per month – and it’s growing. Generally speaking, repeat usage on Trulia is up. Voices Q&A contributions are up. Agents and consumers are really connecting on with each other Trulia Voices. We’re always interesting in learning more about these types of success stories and encourage people to let us know when they do happen.

    Our Voices blog platform, which is in beta, is an extension of our already popular Voices Q&A community. Our community feedback led us to create this new functionality for them. We’re excited to see how real estate professionals and home buyers and home sellers utilize our new platform. Will home buyers and sellers blog? I don’t know but I can’t wait to find out…….

    That being said, agents and consumers will frequent a multitude of sites for various reasons. Consumers are searching for answers to their questions or for information that can help them make better informed real estate decisions. Agents are looking for ways to showcase their expertise to a targeted audience and to hopefully make a connection with a home buyer or seller. We are passionate about facilitating this experience for them. At the end of the day, it’s these two groups of users that will determine a sites staying power….

    Rudy
    Social Media Guru at Trulia

  10. Hi Rob!

    Great meeting you this past week…..your “notorious” online reputation did not disappoint in real life.

    Although each company is different – a very interesting comparison nonetheless. Using third party sites to analyze growth is not the most accurate method, but he trending is fairly close.

    Although Trulia started with real estate listings, the natural evolution is to offer consumers and agents a much more rich user experience. We get roughly 5 million uniques per month – and it’s growing. Generally speaking, repeat usage on Trulia is up. Voices Q&A contributions are up. Agents and consumers are really connecting on with each other Trulia Voices. We’re always interesting in learning more about these types of success stories and encourage people to let us know when they do happen.

    Our Voices blog platform, which is in beta, is an extension of our already popular Voices Q&A community. Our community feedback led us to create this new functionality for them. We’re excited to see how real estate professionals and home buyers and home sellers utilize our new platform. Will home buyers and sellers blog? I don’t know but I can’t wait to find out…….

    That being said, agents and consumers will frequent a multitude of sites for various reasons. Consumers are searching for answers to their questions or for information that can help them make better informed real estate decisions. Agents are looking for ways to showcase their expertise to a targeted audience and to hopefully make a connection with a home buyer or seller. We are passionate about facilitating this experience for them. At the end of the day, it’s these two groups of users that will determine a sites staying power….

    Rudy
    Social Media Guru at Trulia

  11. If trulia.com can add 400 more links per page to every site, they will dominate… of course you can barely find anything through the mess of added links as it is… but they have shown that the more whoring your site does for SEO the more seuccessful you will be even though you have to wade through the insane clutter of worthless links to get to the actual data.

    Is it me? Or my screen resolution? Perhaps… but I am tired with the trend to popular sites. It basically comes down too who’s site is designed for “down on knees, servicing google’s SEO” wins the battle…

    ActiveRain, and other sites, have the SEO links, and the clutter, but no where near the extend of Trulia.com, which in my eyes, makes me feel as though Trulia.com is nothing but a infomercial / QVC… they really don’t care as long as thye can use you to generate more traffic… it all feels very sell-out-ish… I don’t get that from ActiveRain. Homegain, and other sites…

  12. If trulia.com can add 400 more links per page to every site, they will dominate… of course you can barely find anything through the mess of added links as it is… but they have shown that the more whoring your site does for SEO the more seuccessful you will be even though you have to wade through the insane clutter of worthless links to get to the actual data.

    Is it me? Or my screen resolution? Perhaps… but I am tired with the trend to popular sites. It basically comes down too who’s site is designed for “down on knees, servicing google’s SEO” wins the battle…

    ActiveRain, and other sites, have the SEO links, and the clutter, but no where near the extend of Trulia.com, which in my eyes, makes me feel as though Trulia.com is nothing but a infomercial / QVC… they really don’t care as long as thye can use you to generate more traffic… it all feels very sell-out-ish… I don’t get that from ActiveRain. Homegain, and other sites…

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