Zolo: Blending AI and Advertising to Drive Aggressive Growth

Major Tom
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Zolo wanted to produce thousands of timely real estate ads faster than any team of copywriters could write them.

Reinventing Real Estate

A fully integrated real estate and mortgage company, Zolo is changing the way that people think about real estate. The tech focussed brokerage empowers its customers with data, knowledge, and access to the very best agents to create a seamless and stress-free real estate experience.

It’s an approach that has been a hit with customers. Indeed since 2012 Zolo has driven incredible growth and now boasts a database of more than 8 million properties, alongside 150,000 active listings.

But despite their success, the company refuses to rest on its laurels, and still maintains a startup’s goals and mindset at the core of their entire organization. This was evident when they approached Major Tom to help them achieve an aggressive goal to double their year-over-year growth, while at the same time reducing their CPA (Cost Per Acquisition) and diversifying their channels of acquisition.

Turning to AI and Machine Learning

Working closely in partnership with Zolo, Major Tom identified paid search on Google AdWords as the next logical step for such an intensely performance-focused business.

With a national market and the broadest of audiences (anyone and everyone trying to buy a home), we knew that we needed to create a cost-effective strategy that could be scaled enough to be worth executing.

Faced with an account that targeted more than 20 million people we knew that human input alone wasn’t enough, so we turned to cutting-edge technology to take Zolo’s paid search to the next level. As a result, we decided to augment our manual keyword targeting with the use of AI and machine learning to automate key components of the campaign, dynamically creating and launching advertising faster than the human brain can imagine them.

We needed a way to create and delete hundreds of ads every day, seven days a week. We needed to create a new process for creating ads at scale so we developed a new automated process to fully leverage Google’s machine learning in AdWords.

To achieve this Major Tom programmed a system in which over 70,000 active listing URLs in Zolo’s target regions are automatically updated and uploaded every 15 minutes. With machine learning enabled optimizations across more than 1,000 ad groups and nearly 100,000 keywords, we were able to target a wide breadth of long tail search terms that would simply have been impossible to achieve had we conducted the campaign manually.

An Automation Mindset

Following the success of our Google AdWords activity, Major Tom continued our automation to other aspects of Zolo’s digital marketing.

Despite an impressive organic search presence, the fast-moving nature of the real estate industry meant that Zolo was being restricted by the limitations of search engines that were simply not able to keep up.

In the case of Google and Zolo, that limitation is the time taken to index the thousands of new real estate listings that are uploaded to the site each day. It can take up to 48 hours for Google to re-crawl them all, which would feel like an eternity in the hottest real estate markets where properties can be snapped up hours after they’ve been listed.

Once again the power of automation was key to unlocking Zolo’s potential.

By using a combination of automated internal scripts (AdWords Scripts), external scripts (PHP), and Google Sheets we were able to turn new listings from Zolo’s database into paid search ads in under an hour, ensuring that Zolo’s listings show up before anyone else.

Putting the I into AI

The intelligence might be artificial, but the thinking behind it certainly isn’t. AI and machine learning form a powerful tool, but like any tool, they need to be harnessed in order to deliver the right results for organizations.

AI and machine learning enabled Major Tom to build the scale, speed and efficiency of Zolo’s campaign, but the human touch was still essential to building the holistic strategy behind it. While the robots were producing text ads, analyzing data and automating processes, Major Tom’s human team were hard at work creating the ideas and offering the strategic insight to make them effective.

It’s a holistic approach, designed to not only identifying the tactics and techniques that would work for Zolo, but having a team of cross-functional specialists in place to execute on them at a world-class level

That way we could connect all of the dots on Zolo’s digital marketing, keeping one eye on the bigger picture at all times, even when we were working on the frontlines.

Truth in Numbers

The marketing landscape is constantly evolving. Every day there are new opportunities, tactics and technologies for companies to employ in order to stand out from the competition online.

They key is identifying the right tactics and technologies that will provide the keys to success. That’s exactly what we did for Zolo. By taking a 50,000 ft view of the organization we were able to identify the right approach to help them reach their aggressive growth goals.

Our effort has not only delivered great business results however, it’s also become an example of the power of emerging technology to move the needle for organizations and a case study for the power of AI and machine learning to unlock new opportunities.

Just some of the highlights from our campaign to date include:

  • Major Tom and Zolo have been able to find far-reaching opportunities to scale and drive more than 10,000 signups a month at a time when the real estate market continues to cool.
  • Despite an aggressive target to double growth, the project is currently trending towards 2.6x growth year-over-year.
  • Alongside the growth the campaign has been able to achieve a cumulative CPA that is still 60% below the client’s initial goal. As part of the Dynamic Search Ads campaign we built for Zolo, we saw conversions increase by 35%.
  • By converting all of Zolo’s campaigns to Target CPA bidding, we were able to effectively drive a 31% lift in conversion rate and a 22% reduction in CPA.