Jumping into the Real Estate Fray, Part 1

Lions fighting
Photo by fortherock (CC BY-SA 2.0)

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.

take your medicine
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.

Paula Allen started at Bruce Clay Inc. in 2008 as a senior technical writer and now manages the company's content and documentation. An English lover at heart, Paula enjoys working in a team where grammar is frequently discussed and in an industry where there's always more to learn.

See Paula's author page for links to connect on social media.

Comments (5)
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5 Replies to “Jumping into the Real Estate Fray, Part 1”

Google is a great innovator, they make great technology! A lot of jobs related to real estate boards will be effected if done the wrong way. I love Google, I think it is so outdated, stupid and backwards that I cannot locate listings as a Realtor throughout the whole state through one MLS system. Granted, certain info should never be allowed to go via the net for safety reasons, etc. I do think Google would make a great marketing partners for Realtors. In real estate, your job as a realtor is not solely to find a home, i.e. consulting, advice, making sure all avenues are covered. A Realtor does a lot to make the process work, rock on Google, please enter the real estate market!

Paula Allen

Tualatin: Ask any real estate broker, and you’ll hear that there are already more than enough third-party real estate search sites! My hope is that brokers will stop operating defensively on the Web and instead become the expert local sites they could be.
Foot In Mouth: You said it! And I quote you in the follow-up to this article. You’re a man after my own heart. I hope you will help MANY in the real estate industry to fulfill their online potential.


I’m not sure what you’re meaning by SEO when you call it “merely the IT business”.
While I’m not even sure if your comment is actually related to Bruce post about IDX issues on real estate sites, I’ll challenge that premise.

I’ve been working with Real estate agents for 5 years working on their websites, and in the past 2 have really delved into how a website impacts a Realtor’s business model. I think real estate agents who just get a template based site and do nothing with it have a very expensive business card. I agree with Paula in this article that there’s more to this than just rooting for the realtor who’s fighting “the man”. Application of online marketing tactics, optimizing the site, actually adding their own unique area specific content to frame their listing data are all steps a smart realtor takes to utilize this online market to their advantage. It’s pretty neat to see Bruce Clay break into the Real Estate SEO realm, so I’m interested to see what recommendations flow out in the next posts.

Many SEO companies claim that the SEO process can generate profitable traffic. I do not agree to this statement because I think that the issue is far more comprehensive and needs expertise from other professionals, persons who known more than merely the IT business

It is surprising to me that there are not more big name real estate search services out there. It seems like it could be a thriving business.


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