This is a rather obscene notion, but sometimes the best way to innovate is to ask a bunch of questions about the status quo. For brokers and MLSs to innovate, they need to question the effectiveness of IDX. I would not question its value. Rather, I believe that it has uncompromising value to MLS participants and subscribers. I question how we can make it more valuable. Perhaps it is time for a reboot. A reboot is a process where you turn something off and turn it back on to stop routines from running that undermine the operation of the machine.
Here is a little background on how the consumer’s online behavior is measured. This is important to understand because if you don’t, you will take some consumer statistics for facts when they really are not. For example, according to ComScore, 1 in 3 consumers visit the top 3 real estate websites: Zillow.com, Realtor.com; and Trulia.com. The education about this stat is in the statement “according to ComScore.” You see, ComScore only counts using survey data. They put a tracking cookie in a bunch of consumer browsers and watch how they behave. Using a little bit of data, they estimate a lot of trends. The second thing that you need to know about ComScore is that they only track the top 100,000 websites in America. That means that they only track a thin number of real estate websites. Only huge broker, franchise, and a couple of MLS consumer sites even get counted.
Taken out of context, ComScore data would yield that IDX is useless to most agents and brokers because nobody goes to those websites. That is incorrect. ComScore is not counting IDX sites. In truth, nobody really is.
Reboot Idea Number One – Start Counting
What is really great about IDX is that permitted use is structured in a way that benefits all participants in the program. There is an agreement. What if that agreement required that you install a tracking code on every site that displays IDX data. You have seen reports from portals about the number of times that a listing appeared in search results and the number of times a listing detail page was viewed. If that data were counted for every IDX site in every MLS across America, I would expect that the total amount of traffic would be very different than what ComScore is reporting. In fact, I know it would.
Counting all IDX visitors can be confidential. You would not track site traffic to any given site. Simply roll up the aggregate report and produce seller reports on a listing-by-listing basis. Listhub does this for portals, why not do it for IDX. Go even further and track all of the activity in the MLS (Russ Bergeron concept).
I am convinced that consumer activity in the MLS, broker, and agent websites will dwarf third party websites. Our industry is short sighted not to mandate this tracking on all IDX sites. I would like to see a stat that says that 9 out of 10 consumers visit IDX websites rather than third party listing websites.
Reboot Idea Number Two – Listing Broker on Listing Detail Pages
There is a stoic methodology deployed on IDX where rules only require that the listing broker be displayed at the bottom of the listing detail page. It was a good idea years ago, but that may have outlived its usefulness.
The idea was that the consumer would contact the website owner rather than the listing owner if it was hard to find the listing broker or agent. Today, even the most illiterate website user can Google the name of that broker and find their information. The old strategy does not do what it was intended to do. So, lets rethink it.
In rethinking the listing broker information, there are three ways you can go. Keep it the same. Remove the listing broker information all together. Or, provide more information about the listing broker and link to their website.
I would recommend linking to the listing broker’s website. Cross linking would effectively mandate that IDX sites treat the listing broker’s listing in a way that you would expect a third party website to treat it. But there is more. Today, few publishers allow search engine spiders to follow those links. My recommendation would be that IDX becomes a huge cross-linking network through which every IDX sites links to every other IDX site. In doing so, it would lift all boats for Search Engine Optimization. Today, when you Google a listing address, a publisher site normally appears at the top. This strategy would defeat that outcome by feeding Google search algorithms to preference websites in the IDX network.
I could go on, but then this article would turn into a white paper. Perhaps it should. I am happy to say that Marilyn Wilson from the WAV Group has been asked to do some industry research on ways to improve IDX. If you have some ideas that should be considered, send her a note or give her a call.