We want to be No. 1 with ‘no tricks,’ Realtor.com CEO says
In response to Homes.com’s huge traffic growth, Damian Eales said “poor-quality audience and stunts lead to low-quality leads.”
- Realtor.com is leveraging the Wall Street Journal and other members of its News Corp family to attract a high-intent audience.
- Paying for a quick traffic bump “wouldn't be in the interest of my customers” or shareholders, Eales said.
- Realtor.com was “born of the industry,” Eales said, and aims to help agents grow their businesses.
Damian Eales, who has been CEO of Move, Inc. and Realtor.com for just six months, has his work cut out for him. The home search portal has been slowly but surely losing traffic share to CoStar's Homes.com over the past year, and the site shares its name with the embattled National Association of Realtors, which is facing legal and leadership challenges.
Against this backdrop, the competition among leading portals is shaping up as a battle for the trust of consumers and agents, Eales told Real Estate News. And ultimately, with credibility comes value in the form of quality leads and engagement, he said.
This is the second part of a two-part conversation with Eales. This interview has been edited for length and clarity.
You came to Realtor.com from other roles within News Corp. How does Realtor.com fit into the News Corp family?
It's terrific being in this family of brands because it enables us to bring to bear the resources and experience and capabilities of all of those brands. And yes, we want to be number one, but we want to be number one with an engaged, high-intent audience that wants to buy or sell real estate and no tricks.
One of my previous roles was chief operating officer of our Australian publishing business, where we worked very closely for many years with REA Group, which we majority-own. One of the reasons it's highly successful is because we leveraged all of the news media brands that we have across Australia to promote realestate.com.au. I can say that we have absolutely unanimous support from all of the chief executives of companies like the New York Post, Dow Jones, and Wall Street Journal. Across North America, News Corp has an extraordinarily large audience.
We have advertising periods now on a regular basis in the Wall Street Journal throughout the country as an example. And we're seeing an immediate impact in terms of our audience — and it's not just a cheap unaffiliated audience that's promiscuous and doesn't know they're visiting a real estate site — it's a high-intent audience that's there to buy or sell or browse real estate.
Your predecessor told us that high-intent users, not overall traffic, was the most important metric. Has that attitude changed?
Look, we could get high traffic numbers tomorrow. I can buy the lowest-value traffic on the market and I can knock off Zillow. It wouldn't be in the interest of my customers, first and foremost, because they won't get any more quality leads, and it wouldn't be in the interest of my shareholders. So we're not going to do it.
We want to be number one on that headline metric, but we won't do it at any cost, and I think our customers know that poor-quality audience and stunts lead to low-quality leads. And the last thing I'm going to do — particularly in the environment we're in at the moment — is to try and generate low-value leads for customers.
Our job is to generate a high-value audience that's highly engaged, and that converts to leads for both buying and selling. So we're not taking our foot off the pedal one iota in terms of growing our headline audience number, but we're not going to do it with tricks, and we're going to do it in a sustainable fashion.
In addition to the race for traffic, there seems to be a battle for credibility. You say people trust Realtor.com, but what does that mean, and how does trust become valuable?
We're going to grow our audience sustainably in a highly engaged way that generates value for both our customers and our shareholders.
People often talk about the future of buyer agency, and one of our competitors — Homes.com — refers to "fake agents," which presumably means those who are not listing agents. I don't see any good in talking down the value of buying agents. And when I look at what people in the industry are posting on social media, customers are already seeing these extraordinary numbers from Homes.com in terms of viewership, and none of that's converting. So I think that actions speak louder than words, and that builds trust.
Realtor.com was born of the industry. We have had the longest relationship with real estate professionals of all of the brands. We've also got a track record that I think works in our favor. We're not here to disintermediate the industry, we're here to help Realtors grow their business. We're here to help consumers find the most important investment that they're likely going to make in their lives. And we're here to help our customers grow their business. It's as simple as that.