My friend Bill Lublin wrote a great post this morning calling on MLS’s to adopt Google’s author tags to help identify the true owner of a real estate listing. First off, let me say that I’m 100% for this. However, being the broker of record for a listing doesn’t necessarily make you the best place for Google to send its users to.
There’s a mid-century modern home in Denver that I absolutely love. According to Trulia, the property was purchased in May of last year. The new owners are renovating the home and building an addition. They created a blog about the property to document the renovation. The house is nearing completion and I assume you’ll find a listing in the MLS before too long. If you Google the address today, you’ll find search results that include this blog and pages that portal sites like Zillow and Trulia have created for off-market property. Very few brokers have a content strategy in place to rank for off market property and because of this, are ultimately losing the SEO race. Google looks for trusted resources that provide a long history of updated information about a search term. The fact that a home is for sale is a very temporary thing. It’s important, and Google recognizes that, but those reliable trusted sources still deserve a lot of credit, and they receive it.
When the house enters the market, will the broker’s website really be the best resource for someone searching for that address? In many cases, it could be. In this case, absolutely not. In most cases I don’t think the searcher will be any better served by the broker’s web page than they will be by a real estate portal. It’s not a given that the person who searches for an address, wants to buy it. If you were Google, what would you do?
Your syndicator’s perspective
I agree with Bill that, in the context of ranking for transaction specific search results, the broker deserves top billing. However, I’m not sure you can fault Zillow and Trulia for not giving the broker as much credit as they deserve. The blame for this falls more on the syndicator the broker gave their listings away to. It’s no coincidence that the first two points in Trulia’s data pledge reference the “source” of the listings, not the broker. The broker may own the listing, but Zillow and Trulia ultimately negotiate with the source, not necessarily the broker.
If you send your listings direct to Zillow or Trulia via an XML/RETS feed, you are the source. If you opt-in to a feed sent via the MLS, than the MLS is the source. If the MLS uses ListHub, than ListHub is the source. If you belong to a franchise network that syndicates, than guess who the source is? The broker may own the listing, but they give up many rights of ownership when they hand off syndication duties to others.
These syndicators, whom brokers pay subscription and franchise fees to, are positioning themselves between internet consumers and brokers. They want the leads as well. Of course, they will likely pass the leads on to the broker for no extra charge. They may even pass on the proper attribution to the broker. But they are still there. They currently position these activities as a value added services. What they do in the future could be quite different.
Ultimately, I think the push for author tags is a good one. It matters: at least a little. I just don’t think the practical end-results will be as transformative as brokers hope they will be. To truly take control, I think brokers might be better served by developing direct relationships with the companies that publish their listings instead of handing it off to another “source.”