Last week, my wife and I lined up a babysitter and we went to a great bookstore a couple blocks from our office here in Seattle to hear Liz Gilbert do a reading from her latest book, “Eat, Pray, Love.” Liz is friend of my brother, Pat. It was great to see her, and to spend a couple stroller-free moments with my wife in the bookstore. It makes me ache for the day I get caught up and I can read something other than e-mail again.
I mention all of this because nights like this are a big part of why I love Seattle. The shops and restaurants which line our streets are a huge part of what defines the character of the places where we live. Take “The Cold Cut Store,” out of my hometown of Emerson, NJ, the “Boulevard Grocery” off my street here in Seattle, or Hoagie Haven out of my college town of Princeton, NJ, and they would be totally different places. I know that these are for-profit enterprises, but the fact that someone shows up behind these counters every day because they are trying to make a living makes them good neighbors in my book.
We are all trying to make a living, and I can assure you that folks like George at Hoagie Haven are doing it by providing a valuable service which makes people happy (if you have never had a bacon double cheesesteak trust me – it will make you happy).
I feel exactly the same way about our advertisers on Zillow. These folks range from local real estate professionals, builders, lenders, to some really scrappy entrepreneurs. For me, their ads are just like the shops in my neighborhood. Some are big, others small, some are fancy while others have more of a homemade feel – but they are all there to let you know that they are open for business and happy to help.
In my experience, these are nice, hard-working people, who are trying to make an honest living offering goods or services which they think you will find valuable. Increasingly they are looking for new ways to do this. These folks are constantly testing new ideas, trying new things, measuring the results.
This recent article on ClickZ reveals how these businesses are pushing themselves and the market to uncover more efficient ways to reach out to customers. My job at Zillow is to work with our advertisers to make sure that we are getting their message in front of the right people at the right time. In some ways, I am trying to make sure that we have a nice mix of businesses and cafes as you drive up and down the streets of our virtual community. I want you to be able to find what you are looking for, when you are looking for it.
Something useful is rarely annoying, so relevance is key (a can-opener under my pillow – annoying; a can-opener in the kitchen – not annoying; no can-opener at all – very annoying).
There is a fantastic array of things we do to try to increase the relevance of the ads which we show you. Advertising can be targeted on the basis of geography, demographics, psychographics, and user behavior. We work with advertisers, and watch user behavior to make sure that we are always putting more and more relevant messages in front of them. We will get better at this over time, as our community of advertisers grows and as we refine how and where their messages appear on the site.
If you listen to Car Talk on NPR you sometimes hear them mention the “Shameless Commerce” section of their Web site. I love the sound of those words. There is nothing shameful about offering an honest product or service at an honest price. Likewise, there is no shame in making sure that there is a can-opener in the house, and that it is in the kitchen where you need it instead of under your pillow where you don’t want it.
Hopefully, that is what we help do everyday.