Why We No Longer Receive 'Best of Houzz'
Updated: Jun 13, 2019
I have been debating if I should write this blog post for almost a year now... this is a really controversial and upfront topic in my professional industry right now and I generally like to stay neutral and really like to deflect drama.. but I think it's important to educate the general public, and maybe even some of my peers in this industry who maybe don't know.
If you've been a long time follower of The Modern Hive, you may have noticed for the past several years, we have always been 'awarded' with the 'Best of Houzz' award both in service since 2014 and in design since 2016! And at the time, I thought that was a pretty great accomplishment - something to be proud of, and something to show off to my audience.
But this year we did not receive any 'Best of Houzz" awards for 2019. Would you think I am crazy if I told you that was strategically planned?
Here's a little back story:
When I first started The Modern Hive, I hustled hard. And not that I still don't' hustle day in and day out to this day, but back when I first started this company I tried anything and everything to get my name out there. I spent countless hours developing this website into what it is today, I attended networking events week after week in my city, and I tried a plethora of social media platforms to increase my SEO rating.
Enter Houzz. Houzz first opened it's internet doors in 2008, but wasn't catching on to the masses until more towards 2011 and 2012. I had just opened my design business in September of 2012. I had seen houzz a time or two maybe a year prior but wasn't really sure what it was all about. I decided, eh what could it hurt to invest a little bit of time into this platform to get my name out there a bit more, so I created a professional profile.
As the years went by, Houzz became extremely popular to the masses - it was (and still is... well kinda) the 'pinterest' for home building. Boy was I glad I had hopped on that train early on and had started to invest countless hours uploading project photos, tagging those photos with key words so that they could be found on the Houzz website by homeowners looking for inspiration, answering questions on those photos when viewers would ask, and begging my clients to write me a review on Houzz.
As I put in the time, energy, and effort into my Houzz profile, I started to climbed the ladder to the front page of their local 'interior design directory' - great news for me! Because when you google "Interior Designers in Omaha" Houzz's 'interior design pro directory' was one of the first things that pop up in your search feed.
And then they really started to push us designers to get more 'client reviews' posted to our page, they also started to push paid advertising for their 'Pro Directory' and because Houzz was becoming so popular with not only the general public but the design industry on a national level, I wanted to keep that local front page spot on their Pro Directory, so I caved and started paying for their advertising for the next few years. That way I would stay top of mind and at the top of the pro directory. After all, Houzz said they built the platform to promote our businesses (okay so I get that aspect of paid advertising) and to connect us with consumers who are working on design projects. And let me tell you, this advertising was not cheap!
"You've won best of Houzz!" I would get this email every year around November or December. Wonderful I thought to myself, I must tell everyone about it! And I must post it on my website so everyone who visits will know. Houzz provides those who win with a fancy little icon badge to embed into their website with a nice little link back to Houzz's page.
And then the dots all started to connect...
We all started to figured it out. These awards were solely based off of reviews my clients had left me... those reviews Houzz pushed us all so hard to get (okay so the "Best of Houzz for customer service" makes sense, kind of) and the "Best of Houzz In Design" was solely based off of how many times viewers had saved my project photos to their inspiration boards that I had uploaded to Houzz ... which is why Houzz wanted us to be 'tagging' our photos with key words for Houzz when we uploaded project photos; so that they could be found and saved to boards, but also behind the scenes only helped Houzz's SEO. It all really started to feel like one big popularity contest. Those badges we were all linking to our website weren't doing us any good. They were actually hurting our SEO because they are backlinks to Houzz, meanwhile taking our viewers off our website, and with the attention span we all have these days, who knows if they are ever to return back to our website to read about our services. And by our viewers clicking through to Houzz, only helped Houzz climb the Google SEO ladder, and pushed our own websites SEO down.
To add to all of it, we slowly started to see that our photos were being tagged with product that consumers could buy. And most of the time it was product that appeared to be similar, but at much cheaper price points. What is this?! So now they were not only ranking us down the chain on our SEO by spreading their Best of Houzz award badges on our websites, taking our photos that we had posted and identifying 'like products' that consumers could buy for themselves off of our photos (and we have zero benefit from this.. but that's not really the point here), we had done a lot of the hard work for Houzz SEO wise by tagging our photos with key words, AND they are taking our money in paid advertising to build up their now e-commerce site even bigger.
What's wrong with this approach:
Guys, I get it, we're all looking for a good deal (myself included) but this is borderline copyright infringement and just flat out scheme'y'. We have clients who have paid us for this very specific design. And now, without previous knowledge of this tactic, our photos are being tagged with knockoff products that Houzz is selling; that Houzz is profiting off of, and that we have zero control over if the product tagged in our photo is right for the person buying it (and yes we do care.. because that is just our nature), and these photoes... we cannot remove from their website. If a client came to me with a product they found off Houzz, who am I to stop them from buying it? But I do think it's important to educate them of these unethical issues. Houzz is slowly becoming an e-commerce amazon frenzy combined with homeadvisor.com (a paid for advertising platform for trades), instead of backing the designers who had helped to build their platform through our paid advertising and our published work to their website. When I first created a profile on Houzz it was a platform for home inspiration, not shopping for product. Not only is this disheartening, but it also presents a few issues in and of it's self:
On tagging products for purchase: often scale is off - the product is smaller or not proportionate to what the viewer sees in our photo, quality is off and absolutely out of our control, coloring is off, and it competes directly with our profession. Plus how do you think our clients now feel that someone can 'shop' their design?!
Designers don't even have the rights to take down our own photos, even if they wanted to, because Houzz does not allow it. Once published onto their website, it's permanently there for Houzz to do whatever they want with it. They now own the rights.
Not only do they not allow us to remove our photos while they are tagging our photos to sell product, they are also using our photos to write editorials and don't always give proper credit.
And if we did want to close our Houzz account? They make us look like we are a closed business, but our photo still circulate on the platform (okay sure, I get it.. what you publish to the internet will always be there.. but it's the principal that matters here).
I have to give it to them, they were pretty strategic, maybe even smart about how they grew their platform. I can't blame a business for trying. But what I think stings the worst is that they were so dishonest to the design industry about who they were and what their motives were. They really fooled us all (designers). In fact, those designers who were now aware of Houzz's scheme, put out a petition to stop this behavior and to respect our industry more. There's over 2,460 signatures to date! If you're a designer and want to sign this petition, please contact me!
Okay, so why am I griping about this and making it such a big deal? Really, I just want to educate the public more about our industry and why our industry can no longer support Houzz. And I think it's important to shed light on being a hardworking, honest business. We all need to make a living, and there is nothing wrong with that, but having your clients best interest at the forefront and being honest is key to a successful business relationship.
I'm not going to say I regret being on Houzz, because at the time I was active in it, it served a purpose and there were also lessons to be learned. It provided me with a way to get my name out that and to slowly get clients and gain experience. And while I will still keep my Houzz profile active (it would be a dumb business move to remove my profile.. and I also don't want to appear to be a closed business) unless Houzz re-structures their approach, I will no longer be contributing to their platform or will no longer be asking for my clients to write me a review on Houzz but instead on google, as our ethics simply do not align with Houzz.
Lesson 1: adapt, grow, change. This world is ever changing and things like this will happen and do happen to all kinds of industries across the board. You have to stay educated, and adaptive to an ever changing world
Lesson 2: Don't ignore your gut. A lot of us had concerns about the direction of Houzz and chose to ignore it, until it became really apparent and was really too late
Lesson 3: always, always keep your clients best interest at forefront. They are who keep your business running. Don't bite the hand that feeds you.
Lesson 4: read those terms and conditions and check back and re-read those terms and conditions like its your job if you have even the slightest hesitation. Houzz would change their terms without notice all the time. I just about got stuck into a whole additional year of paid advertising because they changed their terms to 'auto renewal' unless they received written notice 30 days before the contract was up.
If you made it to the end of it, thank you so much for reading and for hearing us designers out. If you are a client, or past client of a designer, thank you so much for supporting our small businesses. I truly believe that design impacts lives! How you feel in the space you are in, absolutely affects your overall mental health.