It was hardly an hour after I published my last blog post, “The Semantic Web and the Real Estate Industry” (https://www.realtown.com/mattcohen/blog/semantic-web-2013), that I received a call from an MLS exec wanting to know if giving agents “Google Credit” for their listings using the canonical tag was really as easy as adding a field to the MLS. The short answer: no.
The long answer is that there are a few steps to consider:
1. Add a field to the MLS listing. Since not every agent has a listings website, this couldn’t be a required field. For field validation, make sure it’s a valid URL, beginning with http or https. There, that was the end of the easy part.
2. For advanced (read: “actual”) validation: make sure the listing content is found at the URL specified via automated means during listing maintenance.
3. Create a policy surrounding use of the field – and ideally one policy nationwide so you aren’t driving brokers who belong to multiple MLSs bonkers. Realistically, this should be step one, but will MLSs wait on policy to implement this? Maybe some will.
Let’s start talking about policy with what websites can be listed as the canonical source. Can a broker demand that agents make the listing URL on the broker site the canonical source? Or should agents put in the URL for the listing on their own site? Can brokers fill it out in their agents’ listings? What if there’s a conflict between broker and agent? Must it be an IDX website? How about a single property website? Can it be a publisher (ZTR etc.)? If left blank could the MLS fill it in with the MLS public website? Please don’t start arguing on my blog about whether such sites are good or evil – okay? You’ll have enough of that in your own markets.
Now comes the horrifying bit – where policy makers realize that there must be no field value until the canonical source website actually has the listing on it – and that may be 15 minutes from finalizing listing input in the MLS – but it’s more likely one to three days. That means that there would need to be a reasonable grace period before one could assume it was being left blank and (hypothetically) the MLS could possibly assign the listing URL on its own website the canonical value. But the really ugly part is that it also means that the value can’t be filled out during listing input – which means that an agent would have to come back to listing maintenance later to fill it out – which is not very convenient, to say the least. Yes, we’ve just added an awkward step to listing input, with unmeasured business value for doing so. Hmmmm.
Anyway, who can fill the field out, what values it can contain, when it has to be filled in, and if the MLS can fill in the MLSs public site URL for that listing at some point – all needs to be figured out via policy.
But wait, you haven’t done all this work to not see the data show up (in the code) anywhere! So there’s one MORE aspect of policy: Is use of the code and MLS-provided values REQUIRED for IDX display? I would assume so, or why bother adding it to the MLS? As for getting publishers (ZTR) to use it, that’s a whole other challenge.
4. Now that you have the policy squared away and have put the field in your MLS, you need to get the entered values off to technology vendors. Please, please don’t everyone make up your name for this field. Why not coordinate a single RETS field name via RESO’s dictionary and syndication workgroups? Actually, I suggest starting that conversation on day one of your policy meetings if folks are serious about this, so both policy and data standards efforts are coterminous.
5. Add this as one more item for IDX and “publisher report card” compliance testing.
6. Don’t forget member marketing. If you implement this, you’re going to have to communicate the value of this new field and promote its use to members.
Have fun with this, my friends! Now, it’s time to consider similar steps for “author” and “publisher” tags…
Then just wait for the phone to ring as webmasters tell agents and brokers what they’re going to charge to add this to their website (from free to nominal to exorbitant).
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