Zillow.com is crushing it in the U.S. real estate search. It ranks for a stupid number of keywords, and it ranks top 3 for a good chunk of those keywords.
Not only that, the Zillow group also owns Trulia.com, its second largest organic competitor. So if you search for houses to buy throughout the U.S., you’ll likely see two domains belonging to the Zillow group ranking at the top.
Both these domains put a lot of effort into various aspects of SEO, so their success isn’t down to one factor.
But I found one thing that does differentiate them from all their competitors.
Let’s dive in.
No “SEO text”
Zillow and Trulia stand out as they don’t use what SEOs often call “SEO text” on their category pages.
If you don’t know what SEO text is, here’s a typical example from Redfin.com.
Redfin is using this autogenerated copy at the bottom of its listing pages. It’s meant to provide Google with more keywords the website wants to rank for. Users aren’t likely to read this.
This strategy is commonly used. I looked at each of the top 15 real estate websites in the U.S. to check how many use SEO text. And it turns out that Zillow and Trulia are the only ones that don’t!
Moreover, the SEO industry seems to believe this technique works. I recently ran a survey asking SEOs if they think SEO text can help them get more traffic, and nearly 60% said yes.
But… does it work? If it does, why aren’t Trulia and Zillow using it?
I decided to find out. So I used Wayback Machine and Ahrefs and analyzed these two websites going back to 2019. It turns out that both of them used SEO text on their listings pages in the past but then removed it.
Changes to SEO text on Trulia.com
Trulia removed its SEO text around March 5th, 2019. It was replaced with a section containing real estate trends.
Changes to SEO text on Zillow.com
Up until 2020, Zillow used classic keyword-stuffed SEO text. It was then gradually removed from the site in January 2020.
In the following months, Zillow started replacing the old SEO text with higher-quality local guides (which were likely written by AI).
These local guides were then gradually removed from Zillow in April 2021. They were replaced with folded real estate facts sections used for internal linking.
The final change on Zillow was in September 2021 when they unfolded these internal links.
Did these changes negatively affect their search visibility?
Both websites removed lots of text content from their listing pages, so the number of queries they were ranking for should drop. Right?
After all, the SEO text contained long-tail keywords helping Google understand what users might find on those pages.
But that wasn’t the case. Zillow and Trulia ranked better after removing SEO text from their category pages.
Not only that, both domains ranked for more long-tail keywords after making these changes. To find that out, I looked at Ahrefs’ keyword data one month before and after both sites removed SEO text.
A month after removing SEO text, the number of long-tail keywords (4 words or longer) Trulia.com was ranking for grew by 11%. For Zillow, it was 6%.
Here are the possible explanations (they are not exclusive):
- Google disregarded the SEO text on these websites because it was duplicate, low-quality content. It likely wasn’t even always rendered and indexed. As Google saw similar content on all listing pages, it might have skipped rendering them so they ended up unindexed.
- Google doesn’t care about these bottom-of-the-page sections for ranking, because they are supplementary. The main content users are looking for is real estate for sale.
- If Google uses user behavior metrics for ranking (which they don’t admit to doing), SEO text is among the worst-performing types of content on the web. So this content may have been holding Zillow and Trulia down as users don’t need it.
- Trulia and, in particular, Zillow replaced SEO text with lots of internal links, which may be more impactful for ranking.
If you can think of any other scenarios, let me know!
If you have an eCommerce or a marketplace website and you use SEO text in one form or another, I would consider experimenting with it.
Zillow’s case, in particular, shows it might be more beneficial to use bare internal links to improve your visibility.
The days when Google would index everything you throw at it are over. I don’t think there’s a place for such spammy tactics on the web of the future.
Making the web a better place is our shared responsibility.
So if you’re using SEO text on your pages, remove it and see what happens!