Why Telling Google Who the Author is Shouldn’t Be Difficult for the MLS

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Life is really simple, but we insist on making it complicated. – Confucious

Two days ago, I wrote a blog post about the MLS using Author and Canonical tags to increase the SEO of their member’s sites with Google.The concept is simple, easy and cost effective, has no negative impact on the business practices of the members, and can provide members with a positive benefit of membership in the organization.  The purpose of the post was to start a dialogue about the topic, and it seems to have worked.

In a post yesterday, Matthew Cohen of Clareity Consulting wrote a blog post in which he said , “I received a call from an MLS exec wanting to know if giving agents “Google Credit” for their listings using the canonical tag was really as easy as adding a field to the MLS. The short answer: no. long answer –”  involved several things that I don’t see as creating the problems he suggests exist. Let’s look at them one at a time

Matthew’s first concern? That not every agent has a listings website, so these tags couldn’t be required fields.

To begin, the suggestion was never that agents be given “Google credit”. The suggestion  was to have the Author and Canonical tags added to the MLS feeds which supply the information to  brokerage web sites and third party sites. The attribution would be to the brokerage site since the brokerage actually “owns” the listing according to every state law I am aware of. (I would have said every state without the qualifier, but I haven’t reviewed the real estate regulations of every state, and I want to strive for accuracy) This attribution would increase the SEO of the brokerage sites by telling Google that the listing brokerage was both the source of the content and the creator of the content, both factually accurate statements. Aside from the requirements of Article 12 of the Code of Ethics, and the fact that the statements are accurate, implementing this at the brokerage level is also simpler to implement and more practical for MLSs. As Matthew points out not all agents have web sites, but there are few if any brokerages that have listings but don’t have a web site. Even if there are some infinitesimally small number of brokerages without a web site, that is not a reason for all the other brokerages to suffer a business disadvantage.

The next two items aren’t really objections of complications – they’re just sort of “things”. Matthew suggests that the MLS make sure that “the listing content is found at the URL specified” – something that would be accomplished by the MLS feed itself. Since the suggestion was the addition of the field by the MLS, and the listing is then sent to the broker site by the MLS, this is accomplished with not additional effort.

The second “thing” is something we agree on. The creation of a “national policy” for the implementation of this process. While I would encourage this, and the Trends and Emerging Technologies Advisory Board has already been introduced to this at the last meeting we had in Chicago earlier this year, it is not necessary for an MLS to wait for such a policy before implementing the use of the tags. Large bodies move slowly, and local MLSs can be more agile in this matter. But from here Matthew and I diverge in our approach.

Matthew shows some concern about Broker/Agent disputes over the ownership of the listing.  He says,”Let’s start talking about policy with what websites can be listed as the canonical source. Can a broker demand that agents make the listing URL on the broker site the canonical source? Or should agents put in the URL for the listing on their own site? Can brokers fill it out in their agents’ listings? What if there’s a conflict between broker and agent?”

Now I thought I had answered these questions in my earlier post, but it seems not, so let’s review them. The Broker is the legal owner of the listing. They don’t need to demand anything.They and the agent are both required under Article 12 of the Code to show a true picture, which would require the tags to be on the broker’s site. The tags would be placed automatically in the same way the brokerage names are displayed in the IDX feeds currently, so no one needs to fill it out. As far as conflicts between the agent and broker, the real issue in that case is where the consumer contacts go, something can be handled internally by the business in any manner dictated by their business model. On an agent web site that is not centered on property information, the agent would be, rightfully, the owner of the author and canonical tags so there is no conflict there.  If there is some other conflict between the broker and agent, my guess is the tags will be the smallest part of it.

Matt goes on to ask, “Must it be an IDX website? How about a single property website? Can it be a publisher (ZTR etc.)? If left blank could the MLS fill it in with the MLS public website? Please don’t start arguing on my blog about whether such sites are good or evil – okay? You’ll have enough of that in your own markets.

Again, I think the simple approach I suggest is the easiest way to resolve this . These tags are placed on every property in the MLS feeds. Third party recipients of the MLS feeds agree under the terms of use that they may not manipulate the tags, so they continue to point to the broker sites. And if it is the decision of the MLS to use the tags for their public facing web site, that is a decision to be made on the local level by the leadership, staff and membership as I have mentioned before. Oh, and by the way, Brokers and Agents who use single property websites are bound by the same Article 12 of the code to create a true picture in their advertising, which means indicating the brokerage again, whether that’s done through an MLS feed or not.

It has to be realized that in the real world, right now, there are companies that are misappropriating these tags and using them for their company SEO, in violation of Article 12. Not because they want to be bad people, but because their obligations have not been made clear to them or their SEO experts are unaware of them. Third parties are routinely misappropriating these tags in an effort to increase their SEO, to the detriment of the businesses that are actually intended by Google to be the “owners” of these tags.  All we would be doing is to create some order out of the chaos that exists in the marletplace.

Another concern was the technical implementation “Now comes the horrifying bit – where policy makers realize that there must be no field value until the canonical source website actually has the listing on it – and that may be 15 minutes from finalizing listing input in the MLS – but it’s more likely one to three days.

Since the MLS feed is the source of the data on the brokerage site, and the field is part of the property data, this is a self-curing problem. The tags would be added and sent as part of the MLS feed. As the field is published and made part of the feed,  it is sent to all of the sites in question, so the website that is being named always has the data when its named. Any lag in the publication will be minimal and is not a matter of great concern.

There are a few simple items that follow, a call for the fields to have a common name throughout the industry – making this part of  IDX compliance and  publisher “report cards” (something already discussed earlier) , as well as marketing this to the MLS members as part of the MLS value proposition. All good ideas, and all common sense, but all of them are just part of a thoughtful implementation.

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2 comments for “Why Telling Google Who the Author is Shouldn’t Be Difficult for the MLS

  1. May 8, 2013 at 2:35 pm

    I believe that somewhere about 40 percent of brokers don’t have a listings website and that some discussions of what to provide as tag values is still warranted. I’m not sure why you are still not clear regarding the delay in availability of canonical data to be entered into the MLS. I am however pleased that there are many on the committee that read my blog and will be willing to engage in this conversation at length while on the committee.

  2. May 8, 2013 at 4:36 pm

    Matthew:
    I hate to disagree with you but the 2011 NAR survey reported that 89%of firms had websites with 2% more planning to add one, leaving only 9% of the firms without web sites. I believe that number could be even higher today, making the point that this would positively impact 91% of the real estate firms in the association.
    As far as the delay in the availability of canonical data, you’re correct, I don’t understand the issue – if the canonical tag is in the MLS feed, and the website is “fueled” by the MLS feed, then the property information and the canonical tag appear at the same time. Please help me understand where the delay might come in. And even more importantly, what the negative impact of a short delay might be.
    I don’t want you to think that I am unwilling to engage in the conversation, or that I don’t value your opinions or expertise. Both of those statements are untrue. I look forward to more conversation on the topic and appreciate your input – even when we disagree 🙂

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