Google Threatens Real Estate Professionals. Or Does It?
There’s a debate raging in the real estate world. It isn’t pretty and it isn’t simple. The National Association of REALTORS® (NAR) has supported a regional association’s decision that Google is a scraper site. The Indianapolis Metropolitan Board of REALTORS® (MIBOR) has issued cease and desist orders to a number of its members, telling them to implement robots.txt directives that prevent Google from indexing certain property listings. NAR has tentatively agreed with MIBOR’s claim that the Google index is nothing more than a receptacle of stolen content.
Photo by Phil Scoville
via Creative Commons
This week is the REALTORS® Midyear Legislative Meetings & Trade Expo. The annual event brings together NAR leadership, and it is expected that real estate professionals affected by the decision will ask the association to reconsider. The impending judgment is being closely watched by real estate professionals the nation over as the final outcome could either set a long-standing course for progression or futile resistance.
I consulted BCI tech writer Paula Allen, who worked for a real estate industry vendor for 12 years, for her take on why the NAR and other professional real estate associations are getting their pantaloons in a bunch. Aren’t they aware that getting listings to show up as Google results is as good as free marketing, I asked? Is this just another case of overzealous, old-school types clinging to the past? Where real estate professionals were once the sole owners of listing information, was the solution to educate them on the power of search technology?
As Paula sees it, there’s certainly a measure of that mentality getting in the way here. But there could be an even bigger problem that needs to be addressed before Google can be seen as a partner and not the enemy. To explain this requires a little background.
A multiple listing service, or MLS, is a handy cooperative that allows real estate agents to view and share listings with each other. Starting from the old days of the printed MLS book and continuing with today’s Internet-based systems, access to the MLS data was long restricted to subscribers and is still governed by a strict set of rules about who can show which property listing information to whom. When competitive third-party real estate sites like Yahoo! Real Estate and Zillow started popping up, the MLS established the Internet Data Exchange (IDX), an authorized way to share MLS listings online. Those brokers who opt in to their MLS’s IDX have their listings show up on other participating brokers’ sites. In exchange, their site can advertise the listings of other member brokers as well. In this way, real estate professionals hoped to make listings available to people searching online while still maintaining some control over the information. But, apparently, it wasn’t enough control.
As a member of the IDX, the displayed contact information for listings on your site is your own. So if broker Sally and broker John both participate in IDX, John’s listing on Sally’s IDX site will show up with Sally’s contact info. That way, Sally will get the call, and potentially be able to represent an interested buyer. This is fair enough if someone searching Sally’s site has come upon the listing.
However, things start to get fuzzy if that IDX listing is indexed in Google and someone finds Sally that way. According to the MLS, the listing doesn’t belong to Sally; it belongs to John. John retains the control to put the listing where he wants. If he’s smart, he’ll submit his listings directly to Google and other search engine real estate services to get the traffic himself. And if he opts in to the IDX, then he has chosen to show his listing in that way. However, he hasn’t allowed Sally to get all the credit for his listing in the SERPs.
Photo by FaceMePLS via Creative Commons
While on the surface it appears to be a simple “get over your power trip” diagnosis, there are a number of complicated implications in allowing Google to index IDX listings as they currently stand. I initially thought I’d berate NAR, demand that they embrace search engine technology as free marketing or be doomed to failure! But under the current system, indexed listings could be unfair to the rightful content owners.
The solution, in my assessment, will be two-fold. There will need to be a restructuring of the IDX system so that the contact info listed is that of the selling agent. Then, if IDX listings are indexed, credit will go where it is due. In the meantime, agents should embrace the power of search engine marketing and submit their property listings to sites like Google and Yahoo. This way they can proactively ensure they get all the inquiries. With an improved IDX system and a partnership mentality in place, search engine marketing education can take root. Down the road real estate professionals may just wonder what all the fuss was all about.