This is the next article in my rant discussion on how realtors can improve their online presence. My last post discussed why real estate agents need their own website. Having one’s own web presence, and not using the template pages provided by most brokerages, allows an agent to stand out from the competition and to look more legitimate in the eyes of their clients. It also, quite importantly, gives them more control over the content they place on the web and allows them to take their web presence with them when they switch brokerages. In other words, having your own web presence makes a realtor look like they are devoted to their business full-time. Not having such a presence leaves the customer wondering if being a realtor is just a part-time gig for them. In other words, having a web presence helps a realtor to appear like this in the eyes of their client:

successful realtor

Those who don’t have a good web presence, on the other hand, run the risk of their clients doubting their legitimacy and wondering whether real estate is actually their full-time job. Such realtors tend to wind up looking like this:

man with empty pockets

Here’s a hint. If you want to look legitimate, try to look like the former and not the latter. In this article I’m going to discuss a topic which is important for any agent or brokerage that is taking their business seriously – building a website which integrates IDX functionality. If you are an agent or a brokerage and wish to integrate the MLS into your site through IDX, then contact us today. We work with individuals and companies throughout the United States.

This article is going to explain what IDX is and the benefits of it, how much the service can cost and how one signs up for it, as well as the “best practices” to follow when building an IDX powered real estate website. So…shall we?

Understanding what IDX is and the benefits it provides to both real estate agents and brokerages

It is common for agents to ask the question of “what is the difference between IDX and the MLS?”  IDX stands for “Internet Data Exchange.” It is the standards and software which agents and brokerages use to integrate the Multiple Listing Service into their websites. This integration can allow a website to show listings, to provide a search portal in which individuals can search for listings, and more. In other words, when you see a realty website with the MLS integrated into it, such an integration is accomplished through the use of IDX. Integration of such software requires a subscription with a company offering it and an authorization from the particular Board of Realty whose Multiple Listing Service one is wishing to integrate; obtaining this authorization is straightforward and we have assisted with doing so. Also, it is common for software which provides IDX functionality to also be bundled with useful CRM features.

There are multiple benefits of using this technology in your website. These benefits are substantial. First, it allows for your clients to search for homes on your website. This means that they are only exposed to your branding while conducting such a search and that they are not being subjected to the marketing of other brokerages or agents. This reduces the risk of a client calling another agent or brokerage, out of what they see as convenience, simply because they saw the agent’s name somewhere. Second, individual home listings become indexable in Google’s search results. This means that if the house at 123 Somewhere St. is for sale, and someone performs a Google search for that address, your website will have an indexable page which can be returned in search results. As an example of this, we will use the website of a realtor who we will be featuring later in this series. As shown in the photo below, when an address is searched, her website contains a page for the address’ listing which is visible in search results (note that this not the agent’s listing):

Real Estate Search

So, this means that a real estate agent who is using IDX on their website has the chance of potential home buyers calling them for a listing which is not theirs, without having to pay a lead service such as Zillow. Someone simply does a Google search for the address, and the agent potentially gets a call. The benefits of using this technology are, again, substantial to an agent’s efforts at growing their business.

How much does IDX cost and how does a realtor or brokerage sign up for it?

How much does it costIntegrating IDX into a real estate website requires a software subscription. We suggest using the software offered by iHomefinder for this integration and it is what we used on the website whose search results are exampled above. In addition to offering the actual MLS integration, iHomefinder’s software also includes valuable tools which automate your follow ups with customers. For individual agents, iHomefinder has plans which range from $49.95 to $129.95 per month (depending on the various features one wants). For teams or brokerages, plans start as low as $79.95 a month for a group of up to five agents. When we are building out a site for an agent or a brokerage, we deal with iHomefinder directly so our customers do not have to do so. We also assist with submitting paperwork to the relevant realty boards so that the agent or brokerage can get through the process as quickly as possible. As experienced web developers, we can say, in our opinion, that we find iHomefinder to be the best solution in this area.

One of the more powerful tools that comes with the iHomefinder bundle (there are several) is the ability to automate your follows up with potential home buyers. If, for example, a buyer tells you that they are interested in a two-bedroom home priced between “x” and “y,” then you can set the system to send them automated emails with new listings that meet their criteria. These emails will include links to the listing on your website, not the MLS portal, meaning that the customer will only be exposed to you. If they wish to continue searching for homes, after viewing the listing, they’ll likely do so from your website. Also, the automated emails that are sent from iHomefinder will appear with your branding and the “reply to” field will go to your email address. We have found this to be a powerful tool on behalf of real estate agents.

Best practices for building an IDX powered website

Best practices written on computer keyboardIt’s one thing to include IDX in a real estate website but it’s another thing to do it correctly. When adding these features to your website, it is important that you do so in a way which is easy for your customers to use and which also gives your site the best chance of appearing in search results. That is why I feel it’s important to discuss a few “best practices” for building a real estate website and integrating the MLS.

First, it’s a good practice to include individual pages for types of homes and townships/cities. Most real estate websites simply have a list of “featured listings” and a search box where people can look for properties. If, for example, I was to use such a website to look for homes in Cincinnati, Ohio then the website would generate a list of search results. These results, however, are dynamically generated and are not an actual page on the website. This means that the website does not have a page that Google can actually index. This is why we include specific static pages for property types and townships. Just as an example, when building the website for the realtor mentioned above, we included a dedicated page for Dayton area multi-family listings. Now, if someone were to do a search for “Dayton apartments for sale,” that page appears on the first page of the search results. Including dedicated individual pages for townships and property types gives your site a better chance of appearing in search.

Second, it’s important to consider the “technical aspects” of your site. Many developers will assist you with building such a website, but they fail to reduce layout shift, they fail to ensure that the site loads quickly, and they fail to ensure other “coding” aspects that Google considers important to the user experience. When we build an IDX powered website, we focus on these types of issues. We serve the site via Nginx, as opposed to Apache, as the former assists with browser caching without the use of additional software. Also, we focus on things such as minimizing CSS and JavaScript, to the extent possible, to speed up the website. These are important factors to Google. While I understand that this is technical talk, the big takeaway is that it is important to focus on the technical side (which we do) in addition to the general appearance of the website.

Finally, it is important to make sure that the individual home listings generated by the IDX integration are being submitted to Google’s search results. Pages are normally submitted to Google through the use of what is known as an “XML Sitemap.” This sitemap includes the various pages and content on a website and asks Google to index it. Due to the nature of IDX, however, various home listings are not automatically included in the XML file. That is why we built our own WordPress plugin which crawls the website at set intervals and generates an additional sitemap which is then submitted to Google. Since building this plugin we have seen a big increase in the number of pages indexed by search engines. Many web developers who integrate IDX into real estate websites miss the important point of making sure that listings are submitted to Google. Our software handles that task. If you are considering building a website which integrates the MLS, then it is important that you ask your developer how they will ensure that your XML sitemap includes all of the various home listings.

If you need assistance with a real estate website, then contact us today to speak with a developer. We work with companies throughout the United States and we work to provide the highest levels of service.

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