Jumping into the Real Estate Fray, Part 1
Photo by BlackHawkTraffic via Creative Commons
I’m feeling game today. Not having a snake pit to jump into or a wild animal to tame, I thought I’d venture onto the blog and dive right into the center of one of the messiest, most controversial issues confronting the real estate industry today. Why? Because it relates to SEO. And because it sounds like fun.
Real Estate Lessons to Learn
Virginia broached the dilemma facing real estate professionals in their search marketing presence yesterday. It deserves a closer look, because there are facets of this discussion that can be applied to every industry. Issues like content ownership rights and ranking for your own content may be red hot in real estate, but they have global application. So let’s take a closer look at the problem, and tomorrow I’ll outline a Web marketing solution.
Waving the Wrong Flag
We should be careful choosing a side to cheer for in the case of the multiple listing service that called Google a scraper and told some of its members to stop allowing certain MLS listings to be indexed. The broker whose Web site received the cease and desist order, Paula Henry, wants to make the issue about embracing technology and giving the public free access to information. She’s raising the free-access flag that all of us love to rally behind. Her case paints NAR as old-school and against progress, and describes the local MLS as “an 800 pound gorilla” out to stomp on her rights. It’s easy to give this a surface read and jump on her bandwagon. After all, we in the SEO industry are on the cutting edge of progress. We support technology. We’re in favor of public access to information, and the more that can be indexed, the better!
But that’s not what it’s really about. This case is about Web content ownership, duplicate content, and who gets to rank for what in the search engines.
MLSs Are Not the Bad Guys
Multiple listing services do not stop Google from indexing property listings. They can control which information fields should be public-viewable (the banned list is usually short, things like agent-only remarks and showing instructions), but they actually encourage the online distribution of listings. Search engines cannot spider the MLS system directly because it’s behind a login. However, selling brokers can and do advertise their listings on the Internet. Besides putting the information on their own Web sites, brokers can send it directly to public Internet sites such as Realtor.com, Google, Yahoo!, etc. Homeowners nowadays expect this extra online marketing, and many MLSs have even required their software vendors to provide easy ways to send new listings to these third-party sites automatically. I know, because I helped fulfill those requests while working for a leading MLS system vendor before coming to Bruce Clay.
Is Content Really Yours?
Paula Henry’s indexed pages in question, however, were IDX listings that didn’t belong to her. IDX is a different sort of thing. It enables showing other brokers’ listings on your Web site.
A listing is like original content, researched and entered by the selling broker. Imagine you create a Web site with beautiful, original text. When someone comes and copies it, which always happens, you’re rightfully miffed. If that person’s Web site starts outranking yours for your content, though, you’re justifiably angry. Won’t you complain to Google and everyone else you know to try to get the index corrected? Or will you just roll over and surrender to the inevitableness of duplicate content?
When Broker Joe sends his own listings to Google, the search engine links back to Joe’s Web site. That’s perfect, no problem. However, if competing sites show Joe’s listing information after receiving it through IDX and get indexed for it, it’s Joe’s loss, as least as far as his search engine marketing efforts go.
In the Web marketing world we know that it is often futile to fight for your rights when faced with content ownership issues. But that doesn’t mean you shouldn’t fight. Similarly, it is probably futile for real estate brokers to continue to demand ownership rights to listings and try to block other sites from being indexed for them.
Photo by Aaron G Stock via Creative Commons
I can’t help wanting to root for their right to try. However, in the course of writing this article I’ve come to realize that blocking access just won’t work.
So What’s the Solution?
Real estate agents need to stop worrying about what to block, and focus on what to allow, instead. In tomorrow’s post, I’ll recommend some search engine optimization principles that the real estate industry needs to know and apply. Bickering in committee meetings over what Internet content to block isn’t going to solve the real estate industry’s dilemma. They need strong Web marketing and SEO medicine now in order to survive.