There’s Nothing to Fear — and Lots to Gain — from Zillow Reviews
If you sold a $3.5 million McMansion to your mother last week, Zillow doesn’t want to hear about it.
It’s nothing against your mother — Zillow just doesn’t want her to stack the deck on your agent profile.
Here’s why: Though Zillow doesn’t release the number of real estate agents who use its platform, it does say that agents with more than five reviews on their profiles get twice as many inquiries as those who don’t have any reviews at all.
Zillow says that because reviews are lead generators, it’s in its interest to keep the playing field fair. Reviews have to be impartial, authentic and useful.
Zillow wants reviews from your clients and even your colleagues. But the moment it thinks that you have influenced or tainted a review, or have had your family members post on your behalf, Zillow will kick those reviews off the site. Or, never let them on in the first place.
Every Review is Checked by Hand
You might be surprised to learn that Zillow checks every review by hand for content and accuracy. It’s a big job: Since December 2010, consumers have submitted more than 330,000 reviews of agents to Zillow. Reviews are a fast-growing and popular feature of Zillow. Just a year ago, there were only 150,000 reviews on the site.
That’s why it takes 3-5 business days for a review to appear on your profile after it’s been submitted. Someone has to read and approve it, first. Though vetted reviews appear automatically on your profile, your clients won’t get an email saying that their review was approved. It just shows up on your profile.
The biggest reason reviews get kicked back is for lack of detail, although being a family member is obviously strictly forbidden.
Zillow’s review guidelines also forbid foul language, personal attacks, irrelevant information and spam.
“We’re not the grammar police and we don’t look for spelling, a specific length or sentence structure,” explains Jay Thompson, director of industry outreach and social media at Zillow. He’s also a former agent who can personally attest to the value of having consumer reviews.
“We care a lot about detail and accuracy,” Thompson explains. “If someone submits a review that just says ‘she’s great’ we’ll flag that review because it’s not providing real value to consumers.”
Thompson says that the value of reviews is that they provide insight into agents’ performance supported by tangible details. When reviews are too short, light on the details, overly general or too magnanimous, they’re not useful to consumers. That’s not what Zillow wants, since reviews speak to the credibility of the site as a whole.
And credibility is enormously important to Zillow.
Review Engine Cannot Be Manipulated
Thompson says Zillow built its review system so that it can’t be gamed. For example, the company examines incoming reviews by email address, IP address and profile to attempt to authenticate their veracity. It also looks at whether the email is real and if someone has tried to submit an unusually high number of reviews.
Reviewers must create a profile to submit a review. Email addresses are cross-checked within the Zillow platform to ensure that the reviewer is really who they say they are. Zillow can infer whether the reviewer has a relationship with you based on their activity on the site.
Zillow takes care to prevent agents from reviewing each other. Thompson does say it is possible to get a review from someone who has worked with you in some capacity on a transaction who is not your direct client, like an investor. But the relationship has to be verifiable.
How does Zillow know if or what kind of relationship you have with your reviewer? If you’ve ever received an inquiry from a prospect on Zillow, it’s tracked and associated with your profile. If that person ultimately reviews you, bingo — there’s a bona fide relationship.
Now let’s say you work in Peoria. But your reviews are coming from IP addresses in Thailand. Zillow looks askance at this if it can’t tell that you have a relationship with the reviewer. Or, if it finds that the review was uploaded from the same IP address you use to access and maintain your Zillow account (like your office), forget about it. Those reviews are a no-go.
Zillow will kick IP-compromised reviews out of the system, and your client will receive a note saying that the review has been rejected.
Thompson says that agents may complain about Zillow’s review rules, but they’re in place for a reason.
Reviews Must Be Honest and Fair
“The whole point of reviews is to have reviews be honest and fair,” Thompson says. “If we published any review from anyone without authenticating it, every review then becomes questionable. Reviews aren’t about making it convenient for agents to get or post reviews. They’re about delivering value to consumers.”
That’s why Zillow forbids having agents upload reviews on behalf of their clients, or using family members to post reviews. Zillow also wants the reviews on its site to be original — not repurposed reviews from other sites like Yelp.
Thompson says that agents who may receive less than positive reviews should respond to them promptly on Zillow. He says that often, a negative review can be made positive by responding calmly and addressing the reviewer’s issue.
Thompson says that agents who leverage Zillow reviews make getting them a part of their closing process. They ask for them when the transaction is about to be completed, so the request is fresh and relevant.
You can use the built-in features of your Zillow profile to request reviews from your clients. Simply fill out the form, declare that the person you’re soliciting for a review is a past client (and select from a drop down list of relationship options) and you’re done.
If you want to get multiple reviews, you can send multiple requests to several clients at once. You can also get a direct link to the review form, thus simplifying the process for your clients.
Your client will receive an email that asks them to review you. They’ll need to create a profile in order to write their review — there’s no way around it. If the review is accepted, they won’t receive any more email from Zillow. Thompson is adamant that your clients’ emails are used strictly for verification and authentication, and never for Zillow email marketing.
If your client’s review is rejected, your client will receive an email saying so, and it will ask for a revision so that it is in compliance with the review guidelines. However, you — as the agent — will be (and should be) completely hands-off this process, other than to initiate the request for the review.
Since the only way you’ll know if your clients have reviewed you is to see it on your profile, you should check it regularly. Zillow doesn’t email you to tell you that a new review is posted.
“If you’re a good agent you have nothing to fear from reviews,” Thompson concludes. “They’re the best way to show off how good you really are.”