Shopping Or Reading?

The News and Advice page (Image credit: realtor.com)

Every morning at 6 a.m., Editorial Director Jim Kaminsky starts Slacking (yes, it’s a verb now) with his dozen or so writers and data analysts around the country, trading news stories, along with insights on data projects, to see if there’s something they can publish with their viewpoint.

“Thanks to News Corp, we’re an independent news site,” he explained.

“We have to be credible, authoritative, and entertaining.”

There’d always been a small amount of marketing-oriented stories on Realtor.com, but things changed when News Corp bought its parent, Move, Inc., in late 2014.

“Robert Thomson [News Corp’s CEO] saw a massive platform of listings, and the opportunity to use compelling editorial content to engage existing users and attract new ones, while using our news platforms to drive traffic,” said Ruth Altchek, News Corp, SVP, Creative & Strategy.

That insight was a fundamental reimagining of what looked like an existential death match between Realtor.com and its more successful competitor, Zillow.com, the latter of which relies on users to update listings, and introduced a price estimating tool that became a must for anybody curious about what their property was worth.

Realtor.com’s listings were more accurate, and updated more often, thanks to the involvement of the National Association of Realtors. But it just wasn’t obvious, or terribly compelling.

“News Corp had the intuition and data to show that we could be the place for anybody, no matter where they were in the buying or selling process,” said Ryan O’Hara, who joined realtor.com as CEO in January 2015.

Then it set about establishing an editorial function.

“One of the first things we did was take it out of marketing, and put it in product as a core function of the site,”

Additionally, more staff was hired, including a data journalist from Stanford, according to Kaminsky.

He continued: “We were sitting on a huge amount of proprietary data on what people were looking at, so we decided to digest it and add our POV. Nobody was doing that in the market.”

What has followed is a constant stream of stories, not just marketing content, about evenly divided between news and advice. “Top ten” lists are common, but based on insights only available to the site, along with “how to” columns, many of which are targeted at Millennials (who constitute the biggest buying group, and they’re usually first-timers).

That synergy that Thomson saw has become a reality, as Realtor.com functions as a news service, with a portion of its up to 12 stories/day finding their way into widgets on New York Post and Foxnews.com (this story caught my eye on Drudge Report). The Wall Street Journal and MarketWatch contribute stories to the real estate site. It also aggressively chases readers, with a dedicated audience development editor who works social media.

In 2015, the first year since the acquisition, News and Advice on realtor.com saw an increase of over 200% in unique users. In 2016, it’s seeing an average increase of more than 70% over last year’s gains in unique users.

News Corp has significant investments in real estate portals in India, Singapore, and Australia which are also using content to drive engagement with audiences, so the Realtor.com model could be replicated, though Altchek was mum on plans.

“We believe in the importance of real journalism,” she said.

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