As I and countless others have written here and elsewhere, real estate companies are no longer the “keepers of the gate” when it comes to consumers and property data. According to Google however, in the ZMOT (Zero Moment of Truth) consumers do spend a lot of time looking at property information online, and the competition for the consumer’s eye is fierce and ongoing.
The “Great Syndication Wars” of the early 21st century are far from over, and it is a slow week when there is not a conversation or article or blog post and IDX feeds, syndication and the role of the MLS published somewhere by someone who talks about the challenge real estate companies face in being found by the real estate consumer. And it is even a slower week when a real estate agent of broker doesn’t receive a number of email solicitations from individuals or companies that claim to be able to increase their SEO through some arcane manipulation of the interwebz to foil Google’s attempts to return relevant results to consumers where their search engine is employed. But Google’s value proposition to consumers lies, in great degree, in their ability to provide relevant search results, and they work diligently to make sure that the efforts to “tilt the playing field” are countered so that the most relevant returns are provided on every search.
One of the ways Google ensures relevancy is through Author and Canonical tags. These tags provide information about what piece of content published to the web is the “original” and who the author of a specific piece of content is. By adding 2 fields to the property data collected by the MLS, we would increase the SEO for the web site of the real estate firm who has the listing for that property. every participating broker would immediately increase the relevance of their web site in Google’s eyes, making them more likely to be found by a consumer looking for property in their marketplace.
The technical conversation about these two tags has already been started by Gahlord Dewald in his Inman news column. Since Gahlord and my friend Mark Lesswing of NAR were my two “go to guys” about the technical feasibility of this, I would suggest reading those columns if you have any questions about how this works – my purpose here is to discuss the business benefits to the industry and how this could be implemented to benefit the members of every MLS in the country.
Of course, every action raises questions about the whys and wherefores, and what better place to ask and answer some of those questions than right here.
Why Should we do this?
The first and most obvious answer is that we should do this because it is the right thing to do and it helps present a “true picture” as required under Article 12 of the NAR Code of Ethics. Further it benefits the members of the MLS at little or no cost. Every brokerage that has a web site wants that website to be found by consumers. Assigning the author and canonical tags to the listing broker provides every one of those brokerage websites with additional SEO.
Why should the Listing Brokerage receive any SEO benefit from the use of the tags?
Why not? Without the participation of these brokerages there would be no “stock” for the MLS, and nothing for the consumer to see. Doing this is no different that adding the name of the listing broker to every one of their listings that are displayed, as every MLS already does. Doing this merely tells Google in a meaningful way what the MLS mandates as part of their listing display.
Why Brokerage sites instead of Agent’s web sites?
The first reason and the most compelling is that the legal relationship between the client and the real estate firm is based on their relationship with the brokerage. The second is that its far easier to implement and police. And finally, if the business model of the brokerage is such that they wish the consumer contacts generated by the web site to be distributed to the listing agents, its an easy matter for them to do so. Frankly, with the amount of concern about dual agency that I hear expressed all the time, distributing the consumer contacts to people other than the listing broker may be more prudent, but in any case, its an internal matter for each company.
Are we providing an unfair advantage for some brokerages over others?
Actually, vis a vis their relationship to each other, adding these tags is a “zero sum” game for the member brokers. While the brokerages with larger listing inventory benefit from the publication of a larger number of tags than offices with smaller listing inventories, if everyone gets some benefit from the use of tags on their listings , the impact is really seen in competition with websites that do not have the benefit of the use of author and canonical tags on the listing display information. In other words, the brokerage web sites gain more advantage over non-brokerage web sites than they do over each other.
Why Would Real Estate Brokerages Want their MLS to Add these fields to the IDX Feed?
By adding these fields, the listing broker would be seen by Google as a trusted source of property information, and the originator of new property information content every time a new listing is added to the IDX feed. It would, at no expense to them increase their SEO, and make their web site more relevant in the “eyes” of Google, making it easier for consumers to find.
Why Would an MLS Want to do This?
The integrity of property data is a primary concern of the MLS. Many of the rules and regulations of local MLSs are designed to insure that the information published is as accurate as possible. The publication of the listing brokerage in the author and canonical ages is nothing more than additional data accuracy. It is the equivalent of adding the listing broker name on each property in the IDX feed.
In addition. the MLS exists for the benefit of its members, to facilitate cooperation in real estate and act as a n engine to increase market efficiency in a fractured marketplace. Helping members achieve better SEO for their sites, at no cost to the MLS is a no-brainer. What MLS wants to take the position that it is uninterested in benefiting its members? What benefit could be better than increasing the ability of the consumer to find the member’s website? Even MLSs with public facing websites generally send the traffic directly to the listing company’s web site, and this is merely an extension of that philosophy
How would it Work?
It is really very simple. The tags are two extra fields added to each property in the feed. The cost of adding them is minimal, and the execution is really simple.Two simple fields identify the author and the canonical tags, they are opaque so they cannot be changed, they are placed in the idx fields supplied to syndicators with the restriction that if they (the syndicators) change the fields they lose the data feed, and the members each , in their own idx feeds get the tags that identify their site as the one deserving of trust and authority befitting the owner of those tags on their listing
Why Does The MLS Need to be Involved?
The MLS is the obvious mechanism for assuring inserting the tags and assuring that the tags are correct on each listings. The tags could be added the same way the Broker’s name is added to each listing. NAR’s code of ethics already prohibits placing misleading meta-tags, and the MLS can help members conform to the COE by automating this process for them. As the provider of IDX and MLS data feeds to syndicators, the MLS can also assure that Non-members don;t manipulate or modify these tags by making that a condition of the IDX feed. If the entities receiving the feed, or their affiliates, manipulate those fields, they lose the feed. Since most of them have business models that require an MLS data feed, they will certainly not risk losing it over something so simple.
Why would an MLS not want to be involved?
I truly don’t know. Perhaps they are distrustful of change. Perhaps they have some concern about how the aggregators might react. Perhaps the leadership is afraid of change. Or possibly because they are skeptical of ideas that originate from others. Perhaps they are waiting for others to do it before they try it. But every MLS executive I’ve spoken to face to face, ends the conversation by understanding how little it would cost, how much it will help their members, and how easy it would be to implement. So maybe we’ll get lucky and we won;t even need to have this questions raised…
What will this mean to ZIllow, Trulia, Realtor.com, and other sites?.
It means far less to them than it does to the brokerages across the country. They have groups of tech people whose job is to maximize their SEO. They are tech companies with long term strategies about reaching the consumer. This will require an adjustment for them, but nothing that will destroy their business or harm their income. Brokers on the other hand will receive a far more substantial benefit from the additional ongoing relevance this will provide to their sites while they are busy doing what they do best – listing and selling real estate.
Well, that’s all the questions I could think of. If you have more questions or comments on how best to promote the use of the author and canonical tags, I would love to hear them.