An Open Letter to Content Marketers and Link Builders

Dear Content Marketers and Link Builders,

Do you send emails to authors and publishers that frame a backlink request as if you’re doing them a favor?

I’m on to you. And hopefully, other web publishers are too.

I know it’s becoming rare, but I research before I write about a topic. If a link helped me, it’s likely to help my readers, and so I always cite those sources and provide those links. Your URL was not a source for my article, and in spite of your claims, it almost never offers any value to my writing.

The dark secret you don’t authors to know is that giving you a backlink could affect their ranking.  If they link to your content using the keywords they want to rank for, Google may just decide your content is more authoritative than theirs.  But you already knew that, didn’t you? I understand this game because I’ve dipped my toes into your water deep enough to know just how gross it can be.

So I’m unlikely to ever respond positively to these emails. If you’ve got a “blacklist,” then kindly add me to it.

On its face, this strategy feels like it’s light-years ahead of old techniques like blog-spamming. You’re selective about your backlink targets. You’re asking permission rather than posting the unwanted link yourselves. But you’re still gaming the system by soliciting links your content hasn’t earned, and instead of exploiting weak comment forms you’re leveraging human psychology by framing the request as if you’re doing the author a favor.

I appreciate that folks in your line of work are putting effort into finding pages relevant and authoritative on a specific topic if that’s what you’re doing. But are you?

I have no proof, but my coder’s brain thinks you’re working smart, not hard.

It would be easy to write code that calls Ahrefs or some other keyword research tool to build lists of high-authority pages for a keyword. That script could then submit the site’s contact form automatically, filling out the message from a template.

You’ve got to accept that someone like me that works on the web every day knows what’s up when you send these requests. Unfortunately, I also understand I’m a minority. You wouldn’t be doing it if your game was well-understood because it wouldn’t be profitable.

I know you folks are just trying to make a living and I don’t fault you for that. But what you’re doing hurts the web, and it harms humanity.

Thanks to Vladimir Putin and Donald Trump, we’re all agonizingly familiar with the concept of fake news. But the problem did not start with them. Propaganda is probably as old as language itself. But the Internet scales the danger of misinformation like the atomic bomb scales the risk of combustion.

The world wide web started with the potential to transform humanity positively. It could equalize. It could bring us together in ways that physical geography makes impossible. All of the sudden we had a source of virtually free information that could level the intellectual playing field between the haves and the have-nots. Hyperlinks offered a mechanism to reference sources and other information in their entirety, making it very easy to quickly “deep dive” on topics or skills we wanted to master.

I had hope for this technology’s potential to improve our access to low-cost, high-quality education.

But money, advertising, and political gamesmanship left their mark, and now we’re left with a near limitless supply of untrustworthy information in which users ask questions, and get answers whose validity is gauged by how well their authors gamed the algorithms rather than quality or correctness.

The SEO field grew because everyone thinks their content deserves to be in the top 10 search result, or if they recognize that it doesn’t deserve a high ranking, they’re willing to pay to get it anyway. Search engines respond to this challenge with better algorithms to reward better answers and better content. Marketers react by switching tactics. This strategy of benevolent solicitation adds some nuance to link building efforts, but it’s still a game.

You want your client’s content to be the “best answer” to a particular search query. I get that. But unless the material actually fits that description, you’re hurting the web.

As long as marketers can influence and control what users see when they search, those marketers are helping to build the post-fact world, and shift the Internet from a tool of intellectual and political freedom into an engine of global propaganda. </tinfoilhat>

Plus your non-stop emails and follow-ups are just f*#!ing annoying. Make great content, and if it’s worth linking, I’m going to find it. I promise.


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5 Steps to Leave Facebook the Right Way

I hate Facebook. No, that’s a lie. I have a love/hate relationship with Facebook, and both emotions have the power to keep me unintentionally captivated by the nonsense going on in my feed. One thing I know for sure is that I have to leave Facebook.

A friend mentioned a few weeks ago that she was quitting social media to make her communication more intentional.

Intentional communication.

What a concept. Her words struck a chord with me and ever since I’ve been experimenting with ways to solve my Facebook addiction.

I’m a web marketer. How the Hell can I quit social media?

Here’s how. I need a Facebook account to access pages that I manage. That’s unavoidable. But I want to separate myself from the day-to-day drama of social media. So I’ve developed a few simple steps to help you wipe your account’s information, and the ability to communicate with you through Facebook, while still retaining your ability to log in and manage pages.

Step 1: Back up your Profile Data

Inevitably you’ll want to contact someone you were friends with on Facebook, or you’ll want to reference some long-forgotten post or message. Facebook offers a way to download a backup of your Facebook profile. Click here to learn how to backup your profile. This operation will generate a ZIP file with your Facebook history, Facebook contacts, and more. Is it in a useful format? Eh. Not really. Most of the information comes in an HTML file. You can open in a web browser and manually copy/paste what you need.

how to download your facebook data

Leave Facebook Step 1: Go to your General Account Settings and click “Download a copy of your Facebook data.”

Step 2: Delete Your Facebook Activity

It’s a well-established fact that deactivating your Facebook profile doesn’t delete anything. And remember: I need my account active, so deactivating or deleting my account aren’t good options anyway. But I want to be able to

  • Remove my relationship with all of my friends.
  • Remove as much of my Facebook history as possible so my kids can’t find evidence of what an ass their dad was.

Fortunately, a smart programmer has found a way!

Install Google Chrome if it’s not already your browser of choice, and then install the F___book Post Manager Chrome plugin. Log in to your Facebook account and navigate to your Activity Feed. Open the plugin and configure it to delete the posts you want to be removed. A word of caution: this operation is aggressive. And it’s buggy. You’ll need to run the plugin several times to remove all your activity. Some activity, such as posts by friends you’re tagged in, just can’t be deleted.

Use the F___book Post Manager plugin to delete your activity

Leave Facebook Step 2: Use the F___book Post Manager plugin to delete your activity

Step 3: Unfriend Everyone

Deleting your friends is the emotionally challenging but most meaningful part of the process. You need to say goodbye to all of your Facebook friends. Why? Because bad associations are a big reason why Facebook sucks. That may be a generalization, but it was certainly true for me. Facebook was a negative influence on my life for three reasons I can identify:

  • My friendships were based on real-world associations, friendships, and family ties. Those relationships didn’t translate well into the digital space.
  • Facebook seems to show content based on it’s potential to keep you on Facebook, not on value to the viewer. Ad revenue powers the Internet. And ads are driven by session duration (engagement). If you’re interested in this topic, listen to Sam Harris’ conversation with design ethicist Tristan Harris. It’ll make you want to punch the Internet in its greedy face.
  • My behavior. I had this idea that people can and should have reasonable conversations about ideas. I would posts questions or facts and try to start a polite discussion. My network of friends would prove me wrong about their ability to discuss ideas like grown-ups and damage my respect for them a little each time. In the end, I had to admit that I could accomplish nothing positive. I was just an accidental troll.

The best resolution for me was to unfriend everybody. Nobody can be mad if you’re treating them the same way you treat your mother, right?

It’s easy. Go to your profile and click the Friends tab. Go through your list and click “Unfriend” to everyone on the list. Depending on the number of associations you have this could take a while, and I didn’t find a faster way to do it.

How To Unfriend your Facebook Friends

Leave Facebook Step 3: Go to your profile and click the Friends tab. Then click “Unfriend” for everybody.

Step 4: Update Your Security and Privacy Settings

Now your Facebook profile has no history and no relationships. How do you keep it that way? You lock down your profile. Go to your Facebook settings and, for once in your sad online life, make use Privacy tab. Here are the settings that I have configured to limit communication and friend requests going forward:

  • Who can see my stuff? Friends (which is nobody) You can also restrict the audience on old posts since there is probably some content that was not deleted by Step 2.
  • Who can contact me? Friends of friends (which is nobody)
  • Who can look me up? Friends (for all settings)
A screenshot of my Facebook privacy settings, configured to allow minimal contact.

Leave Facebook Step 4: Facebook privacy settings for minimal contact.

Step 5: A Final, Public Post

This last step is optional but recommended. Write a final post on your Facebook profile that lets people know that you’re no longer using Facebook, you will not see or respond to their messages, and how they can contact you going forward. Here’s what I wrote:

Looking for Brian? He’s not here anymore. This Facebook account only exists so I can log in and manage my clients. DO NOT POST. DO NOT MESSAGE ME. I will not see it.
If you need to contact me, for business or personal reasons, go to my business page and find my contact info.


As of this moment I’ve been off of Facebook for two weeks. I feel good. I feel happier than I did when I was using Facebook. And I feel more productive. I never bothered to measure the amount of time I spend on Facebook, but it had to average out to 1-2 hours a day. That’s a lot of wasted time, especially to a person whose self-employed.

Leaving Facebook was the right choice for me. And leaving it intelligently by deleting my data trail, removing my associations, and leaving my account intact makes sense for me and my career. But of course, your needs and mileage may vary.

Do you suffer from social media fatigue like me?  Do you have a different way of dealing with it?  Let me know! Leave a comment below.  I’d love to hear your thoughts.

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How to Use MailChimp RSS-to-Email with WordPress

This post will teach you how to leverage MailChimp RSS-to-Email campaigns to notify subscribers when you update your WordPress blog.

Bloggers depend on a variety of channels to notify their fans when they post new content. This includes RSS feeds, social, and in-browser notifications, and the topic of this post: email subscriptions. Bloggers using the WordPress platform often depend on the Jetpack Subscription plugin to do the heavy lifting. Jetpack leverages to manage lists, construct, and deliver notifications to subscripers. And it works. Kind of. But Jetpack’s Blog Subscription plugin can only take you so far.  It’s insanely rigid, more or less impossible to customize, and really not a great experience for your customers.  It just doesn’t feel like a professional solution.  So what does?  Try using MailChimps RSS-to-Email feature. All you need is an active MailChimp account and the ability to make some minor changes to your WordPress site.

How to Integrate MailChimp RSS-to-Email with WordPress

Obviously you need a MailChimp account to get started. So if you don’t already have one, go ahead and register for a free account now.

In order to setup MailChimp Blog Subscriptions, you first need to create a list to hold your blog subscribers. Read Create a New List to learn all about Lists on MailChimp and how to create them.

The Lists Management screen contains the Create List button which you will click to start a new list.

First, create a new list in MailChimp to store your blog subscribers

Create a MailChimp Form to Add Subscribers

Now that you’ve created your Blog  Subscribers list you need a way to for users to add themselves to the list. In other words you need a Blog Subscription form.  There are a number of ways you can do this.

You can of course manually code a form and the requisite client and server-side code to send submissions to MailChimp.  The code to do this is not complex, but it’s also well above the skill of the average non-technical WordPress user. But if you do go this route I applaud your efforts!

The second option is to use the sign-up form options provided by MailChimp. On your Lists Management screen you’ll see a drop-down menu to the right of each list, and under that menu you’ll see Sign-Up Forms.  The Sign-Up Forms option provides a variety of customizable forms that you can copy and paste into your website.

Finally, you can use a WordPress plugin like MailChimp for WordPress which will help you easily integrate your lists with your website. If you happen to be using Gravity Forms they have a terrific MailChimp add-on as well.

Use the MailChimp Signup Forms tool to create forms that you can easily embed in your site.

Use the MailChimp Signup Forms tool to create forms that you can easily embed in your site.

Setup an RSS-to-Email Campaign

The final step required to get MailChimp to email your subscribers when you update your blog is to setup an RSS-to-Email Campaign. To setup an RSS-to-Email Campaign click the Campaigns tab, and then click the dropdown next to Create Campaign and choose RSS Campaign. Unless you’re using a plugin which overrides the default RSS feed for your site, your RSS feed URL should be where is the site address you have configured in WordPress.

After you add your RSS feed address, you can configure a schedule for how often your RSS feed will be scanned for new posts.  Unlike JetPack Subscriptions, MailChimp cannot send out updates as soon as you update your blog, and this is probably it’s greatest failing at the moment.  However you can schedule daily, weekly, and even monthly emails.

Setting up the template for RSS-to-Email is just as easy as setting up any other mailing in MailChimp.  Simply drag the RSS Header and RSS Items widgets onto the template, and you’re ready to go.

After you've created your list and added a signup form to your site, create a MailChimp RSS-to-Email Campaign to tie it all together.

After you’ve created your list and added a signup form to your site, create a MailChimp RSS-to-Email Campaign to tie it all together.

Pros and Cons

The benefits of using MailChimp RSS-to-Email campaigns over Jetpack Subscriptions are obvious. You have full control over the process, what emails your subscribers receive, what they look like, and what they contain. On a recent project which used Jetpack Subscriptions, the client was very frustrated with the limited control we had over the emails being sent to her subscribers. This is actually the situation that led to me investigating MailChimp RSS-to-Email.

The cons are a little less obvious.  Jetpack Subscriptions have the benefit of being tied directly to your WordPress install. This means that Jetpack can do it’s thing as soon as you publish a new blog post.  Your MailChimp Campaign isn’t directly connected to WordPress. When you setup your campaign you tell MailChimp a time and a schedule at which it should check your RSS feed for updates.  MailChimp will generate and send your mailings only on the designated schedule and not on-demand.  If that’s a deal-breaker, then MailChimp RSS-to-Email may not be the solution for you.  However I would hope that they make this available in the future.


How to Intregtate a Website with Zillow Using a Zillow Listing Feed

Update: Based on some recent experiences with Zillow, we’ve got a very different perspective now on what real estate and rental agents should participate in the Zillow Listing Feed program, and whether or not we’ll offer technical services to insist. Zillow has minimum size requirements that prohibit smaller companies from taking advantage of the feed program. Read the article to learn more. We’re leaving this article up because the technical details are still entirely accurate, if you’re large enough to take advantage of them.

Here at Reich Web Consulting, we’ve got more than a little experience working with real estate clients.  One of the most important factors in helping our customers succeed online is maximizing their visibility both on and off of their website. We must ensure that their rentals and for-sale properties appear correctly in real estate aggregation services like Zillow, Trulia, and, and the best way to do that is with a Zillow Listing Feed.

But integrating with Zillow can be daunting. It’s important to understand how Zillow works and approach your integration with realistic expectations.

This post imparts the knowledge I’ve accumulated through several Zillow integrations and will help you navigate the bumps you may encounter along the way.

Understand What Zillow is (and Isn’t)

I think Zillow did an excellent job of describing themselves:

Zillow is a media site – we display content and sell ads around the content. (Zillow FAQ)

Their goal is not to provide accurate property listings. Zillow aggregates real estate listings from a variety of sources, provides a user-friendly interface to search and review them, and profits by selling ad space around them. Zillow is a service that shows other people’s real estate listings. Zillow is not:

Zillow does not make money from real estate. Zillow makes money by selling ads on web pages that happen to contain real estate listings.

A Zillow search result screenshot with the ad space highlighted.

Zillow’s reason for being isn’t real estate. It’s ad space.

Zillow and other aggregators have an awkward relationship with the real estate industry.  Renters and buyers find the convenience of aggregators useful.  But agents and brokers find aggregators frustrating because they often appropriate their copyrighted material, list their properties without their permission, and often list incorrect or outdated information. Agents assert that  aggregators don’t really seem to care about listing accuracy, because their primary directive is to sell ads, not to provide accurate listings.

But the darned services are so useful that real estate customers just can’t help themselves.

While realtors generally despise aggregators, they’re also well aware that ignoring them is a monumental marketing misstep. Realtors embrace services like Zillow begrudgingly. This is understandable. Aggregators have largely usurped the realtor’s role in the home buying process.

If you’re a realtor, broker, or real estate company with properties to sell or rentals to fill, what’s your best course of action?  Embrace aggregators and take control of your listings. And the best way to do that with Zillow is to build a Zillow Listing Feed.

What is a Zillow Listing Feed?

A Zillow Listing Feed is an XML document that’s specifically coded to provide property listings to Zillow.  A Zillow Listing Feed:

  • Is an XML document that meets the Zillow Feed XML specification
  • Changes dynamically as listings’ details are updated
  • Is periodically downloaded by Zillow and checked for updates
  • Is checked for accuracy and combined with other data sources to build a Zillow listing

Businesses with only a handful of properties may find that managing their listings directly on Zillow meets their needs.  But realtors, brokers, and clients with large sale or rental portfolios will benefit from creating a Zillow Listing Feed.

Your Zillow listing feed should not be a static file: it should should be a dynamic document that changes as the status of your listing change.

A sample Zillow Listing Feed XML document.

A sample Zillow Listing Feed XML document.

How to Build a Zillow Listing Feed

Building a Zillow Listing Feed isn’t a job for a realtor.

Building a Zillow Listing Feed requires knowledge of your property management database which could be FlexMLS, your website’s content management system (such as a real estate plug-in for WordPress), or something else entirely. It also requires knowledge of a web programming language such as PHP that can read your database and translate your properties into the Zillow Feed XML format. This isn’t a process I can describe here, since how is dependent on where you store  your data.

You’ll want to hire a developer with the proper skills. If you don’t have such a developer, we’re kind of experts at this. Give Reich Web Consulting a call for a consultation and quote on your Zillow integration.

Once you’ve built your feed, you’ll submit it to Zillow. And then after that, all of your listings will appear in Zillow exactly as you’ve provided them in the feed. Right?

Not so much.

Zillow is quirky. Continue reading for a deeper understanding of what Zillow will do once it has access to your feed.

Approach Zillow Integration with Realistic Expectations

To the changrin of realtors everywhere, Zillow listing feeds and Zillow listings are rarely a perfect match.

If you decide to integrate with Zillow by building a Zillow Listing Feed you need to approach the project with a good understanding of Zillow’s process and a realistic expectation of how your feed will influence Zillow’s search results.

A Zillow listing with problem points highlighted.

Zillow listings are rarely prefect. Realtors get particularly upset when Zillow decides they’re not the realtor, or when the ZEstimate gives customers an inaccurate idea of the property value.

Zillow Builds Listings From Multiple Sources

Zillow aggregates real estate data from a variety of sources, only one of which is your Zillow Listing Feed.

Zillow’s process for building listings is similar to how Google builds their search index.  Google uses 200 signals to rank your content. Some you can influence directly, and some you can’t. Zillow is similar.  Zillow builds listings from multiple sources including manually entered data, Zillow Listing Feeds, and a variety of third-party data sources such as MLS (Multi-Listing Service) databases.  They verify sources and eventually combine them into the final listing.

How Zillow combines the data sources is not always obvious, accurate, or within your control.

Some data, like Zillow’s ZEstimate numbers, are controlled by complex algorithms and can’t be directly changed through your Zillow Listing Feed, or by updating a property directly on Zillow.

We use proprietary automated valuation models that apply advanced algorithms to analyze our data … to generate each home’s Zestimate. (What is Zestimate?)

Let your realtors know that not every detail of their Zillow listings can be changed and help them understand what can and cannot be influenced by their Zillow Listing Feed. Failing to set this expectation can leave realtors with the mistaken impression that incorrect listing data is always the fault of a broken feed (and the programmer that built it).

Zillow’s Approval Process

Zillow specifies that it can take 4-6 weeks to process and verify your feed.

Please allow a minimum of 4 to 6 weeks before the feed is activated. (Broker Feeds FAQ)

In other words: you’ll submit your feed to Zillow and it’s likely that you won’t see your data reflected in Zillow’s listings for a month or more. Don’t panic.  But do ensure that all agents with properties listed in the feed are aware of the time gap between feed submission and seeing the feed reflected in Zillow. Otherwise you’ll be hearing a lot of complaints that you’re powerless to resolve.

After your feed is verified and your listings appear in Zillow’s search results, your feed will be periodically checked for changes.

Zillow’s Refresh Rate

At one time the Zillow’s FAQ specified that feeds would be checked for updates every 24 hours. But that information is now conspicuously absent.

Zillow specifies that feeds must be updated at least every 24 hours in order to be accepted, which seems to indicate that they plan to check it for updates on a daily basis.

Since Zillow doesn’t explicitly state how often they’ll download your feed, I decided to see for myself how often my client’s feeds were being updated.

I downloaded the raw access logs for their website and filtered the records to display only requests for the feed URL, and only those accessed by a user agent called HotPadsFeedFetcher, the name of Zillow’s feed crawler.  On this particular client the feed was being accessed at least once every day by Zillow and often twice. Good news indeed.

But regardless of the results that I see in my server logs, experience tells me you should not expect Zillow to reflect the changes in your feeds very quickly. Here’s a post on Zillow’s community bulletin board that shows the confusion around Zillow’s update schedule. The consensus seems to be that there is no consensus.

I’ve seen Zillow take days to update listings based on my feeds.  I’ve also seen it ignore some feed updates completely.  We’ll talk about what to do when that happens momentarily.

Do Certain Data Sources Get Preferential Treatment?

According to Zillow’s Listing Feed FAQ, manual property listings will override data submitted in your Zillow Listing Feed.

No active listing data that is manually created and maintained will be accepted in a feed format. (Broker Feeds FAQ)

What this seems to indicate is that Zillow won’t accept feed data for properties that have been manually created by a realtor. Beyond that Zillow doesn’t seem to provide any guidance as to whether one data source is trusted more than another.  Experience indicates that it’s a case-by-case situation.

Can Realtors Manually Update Properties in the Feed Through Zillow?

Yes and no. Properties in a Zillow Listing Feed can and should specify the name and email address of the realtor listing the property. Once the feed data has been accepted, that realtor can log into Zillow using the email address specified in the feed and manually edit property details.

But unless listings are updated in your feed, they’ll revert back the next time Zillow downloads it. If you’re going to use a Listing Feed, consider it the primary source for your listings and have your realtors avoid making manual changes that they’re not also making in the feed’s data source.

If a realtor is antsy to change a Zillow listing they can manually adjust it by logging into Zillow.  But make sure the same change is made in the feed’s data source too. A listing from a feed with have manual updates overwritten when the feed refreshes.

My Feed is Right but my Zillow Listing is Wrong. How Can I Fix it?

You’ve paid a programmer to build your Zillow Listing Feed. You’ve submitted the feed to Zillow, and waited the 4-6 weeks indicated by Zillow’s FAQ. Your listings still aren’t showing up. Or they’re showing up with incorrect data. What do you do?

The first question to ask: is your feed technically sound?

An error in the XML feed format can throw off your listings pretty easily, and support should be able to tell you if your feed is wrong. Run your feed through an XML Validator to make sure it’s proper XML. If the feed passes XML validation, the next step is to make sure that it conforms to the Zillow’s feed specfication. Unfortunately Zillow only provides the spec in PDF format. They don’t provide a validator tool or even a Document Type Definition you could use to validate your feed. So open up your feed in a text editor.  Compare the structure, the tag names, and the tag content to what Zillow expects to see in the feed.  Some common errors are:

  • misspelled or improperly-cased tags (for example, <Prince> instead of <Price>, <listings> instead of <Listings>)
  • incorrectly nested tags (for example, putting <UtilitiesIncluded> inside <Listing> instead of inside <RentalDetails>)
  • specifying incorrect values for tags (for example, using true or false instead of Yes or No for Yes/No tags like <Water>)

Do your best to verify the XML before you submit your listing so technical details don’t prevent your listings from displaying beyond the default 4-6 week period.

My Feed is Technically Accurate But My Listings Stil Aren’t Updating/Are Wrong. What Now?

Get friendly with  

Getting support can be troublesome. Zillow isn’t in the accurate property listings business. They’re in the ad space business.  So at times it seems intentional that they don’t respond promptly to emails or provide a support phone number (though you can sometimes find it if you dig hard enough). That may be true.

So once someone responds back, get a name and direct contact information for that individual, and a phone number if possible, and do your best to make them the point person for your feed. During my first Zillow integration it was incredibly difficult to contact support. But once I did I worked with a woman named Rachel, who over time was able to answer our questions and solve our problems. Shout out to Rachel! I’m not sure if she’s still at Zillow, but at a company who had a poor customer service culture, she was a beacon of light.

Even after you fix any technical glitches you’ll still find that listings have old and inaccurate data.  I’ve made dozens of calls and emails to Zillow to resolve these problems only to be told our feed is correct, it just takes time to verify and update the information.

So How Close is Close Enough?

It’s up to you to decide how correct your listings need to be.  I have some customers that are happy with the instant boost they receive from simply submitting to Zillow. I have other customers that demand perfection in their Zillow listings. Working with support to fix listing data is time-consuming.  If my code causes a listing mistake I fix my code for free. I always charge for my time when Zillow is at fault for listing errors.  It’s then up to the client to decide if it’s worth that expense to resolve.

A Tale of Two Feeds

I’d like to part with a story of two Zillow Listing Feed integrations. One was a huge success. The other was a slow, frustrating, loss for all involved.

My First Zillow Integration

A sales team spearheaded my first Zillow integration. Unfortunately they lacked the information necessary to set client expectations before the integration began.

The project turned into a tumultuous relationship between my employer, the brokerage, their realtors, and Zillow.  The brokerage hired us to redesign their website. As part of the redesign, my agency had agreed to build out the brokerage’s Zillow feed based on the listing data stored in the website.  The sales team didn’t understand Zillow’s 4-6 week time gap, their approval process, or how they build their listings. So through an error of omission, the sales team set expectations the web development team were powerless to meet.

What followed were several difficult months. The client had daily complaints from their realtors about incorrect Zillow listings. They responded with complaints to our sales team. The sales team did the only thing they knew to do, which was to make the development team investigate errors that weren’t errors at all, but a gap in the time it takes Zillow to refresh a feed, verify data, and update their listings. You can waste hours of time waiting for Zillow to say “it’s you. It’s me.”

The realtors lost faith in their brokerage. The brokerage lost faith in us. And we lost faith in Zillow. All because the integration began with unrealistic expectations.

A Recent Zillow Integration

My most recent Zillow integration was the opposite experience.  The client was new to Zillow, but I sold them on its value based on past experience.  I explained the issues with verification time, Zillow’s process, and listing accuracy prior to approval. My client approved the project will an understanding of the results they could expect.

The end results?  I’ve never had to follow-up with this client about incorrect listings.  They’re happy with the exposure that Zillow provided, and that the metaphorical No Vacancy sign still shines bright.

These two projects were technically very similar. But setting expectations made all the difference in the success of the project and the happiness of the client.


As you can see, integrating your real estate or rental website with Zillow can be a frustrating task.  But it doesn’t have to be.  Follow the suggestions that I’ve provided.  Ensure that your feed is technically correct before submitting it to Zillow.  Be patient. Don’t expect perfection from every Zillow listing.  And by all means, approach the project with appropriate expectations.  Start your Zillow integration with realistic expectations. Understand that a properly-built feed will offer your listings to millions of visitors through Zillow, Trulia, and Yahoo! Real Estate, but Zillow’s process may prevent the details from ever reaching perfection.

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How to Take Your Life Back from Social Media

Everything wants your attention and almost nothing deserves it. There are moments when the noise generated by the Internet seems to drown out the things that matter.

Count how many notifications your phone generates in an hour. How many of those distractions really deserved your attention? On my average day, I’d say somewhere close to zero.

Our modern mobile obsession didn’t bother me until recently. I figured it’s a social change and that we’ll adapt to it in time. But as I struggled to meet a deadline I realized the speed of Darwinian evolution wasn’t going to fly for me.  Five different social networks screamed for attention as dozens of blogs were actively nagging me with Push Notifications to read new posts.

Each time something tugs at our attention, it takes time to get it back. Some studies show it can take over 20 minutes.  Reading a new comment on Facebook only takes a minute, but getting your brain back into the task you just abandoned could take longer.

Whether you’re self-employed like me or you work for somebody else, your time is money to somebody. And more importantly, your time is your time. Take control of it.

I don’t suggest you stop using smart phones or social media.  I love this stuff. I’m suggesting you use technology intelligently to make it your bitch and not the other way around.

Disable Unnecessary Phone Notifications

I’ll cut to the chase: here are instructions on how to disable notifications on the two major types of smart phones, iPhone and Android:

If you have a smart phone turn off notifications from apps that aren’t that important. For me this included Facebook, Instagram, Twitter, LinkedIn, shopping apps, news apps, and others. If anyone expects you to be instantly available through any of these apps (looking at you, mom!) realign their expectations and suggest contacting you a different way if they really need your attention.

You won’t lose notifications: most apps just present them the next time you open the app.  Disabling app notifications ensures that you see them on your schedule and not when the app wants your attention.

Social networks and app developers know that once they have your attention, you’ll likely waste a few minutes scrolling through your feed, reading junk, and generating ad revenue. Your wasted time equals their money. Don’t play their game.

This simple step has simplified my life considerably. Disabling phone notifications has improved my productivity, and when I’m spending time with friends and family I feel more present.  Now I only check my phone when they start to bore me!

Disable Browser Notifications

As if mobile notifications weren’t distracting enough, now the web has push notifications too. While the technology has cool implications for web applications, it’s currently being used to nag users to revisit social media and blogs.

Embrace RSS

RSS is a web format that’s popular among geeks but never caught on among the unclean masses.  Bear in mind: I call you unclean as I sit here typing with orange Cheeto fingers.

Think of RSS as push notifications in reverse. So… pull notifications?  Kind of.

A website’s RSS feed is updated whenever the website has new content to share.  But the website doesn’t blast this information to all of your devices. Instead it quietly updates it’s RSS feed, and it’s up to the user to refresh the feed and see what’s changed.  I use a program called Feedly to view and manage my RSS subscriptions to about 30 blogs. When I open Feedly it provides me with a list of unread articles from all my favorite news sources.

I’m not sure why this model isn’t more popular.  RSS isn’t annoying. It doesn’t beg for your attention. It’s the information you want, when you want it, and not a moment before.

No Self-Control? Lock Yourself Out of Social Media

If you really want to level-up your productivity, install a browser plugin to lock yourself out of time-wasting websites and social media. I use a plugin called StayeFocused to keep me away from Facebook during my office hours.  Of course there’s always a way to circumvent the system, but it prevents turning knee-jerk moments of boredom or frustration into a spiral of pointless scrolling and clicking.


Nobody is suggesting you give up social media. The productivity suggestions above are deceptively simple, but on average I’d say they’ve saved me an hour every work day. That’s an additional hour of billable time. Or an extra hour to spend with my family, or on hobbies and projects I’d rather be working on. Try it out. If after a week you don’t feel better about life, you can always go back to donating a portion of your day to Mark Zuckerberg.