Today’s feature: An interview with Real Estate Webmasters CEO Morgan Carey about the SEO benefits of indexable IDX.  He reveals hard data on the resulting increased traffic, and the ability of individual agents to compete in the elusive quest for search results.

There’s been a lot of chatter about some of the newer listing scrapers and IDX wordpress plugins and what they can do, and what the value is or isn’t of having a spiderable IDX products.

I’m interested in this topic because I got a spiderable IDX in May of 2009 from Real Estate Webmasters. So far the numbers look good, but I want to know what the potential is, and whether people’s concerns about the topic have any validity. So, for my own research (and yours), I’ve decided to do a case study on my blog that looks at the effects of having a spiderable IDX on my site, and on sites that have higher authority than mine. I’d like to see where my traffic will be in a year or two!

Also, after reading all the posts at Active Rain and Geek Estate Blog, I decided to speak with Morgan Carey of Real Estate Webmasters to see if he could answer some of the most common question/concerns regarding spiderable IDX.

Question: If I have an indexable IDX, will I get a duplicate content penalty if others also have an indexable IDX?
Answer: No, that’s a myth. From Google itself: “Let’s put this to bed once and for all, folks: There’s no such thing as a ‘duplicate content penalty.’ At least, not in the way most people mean when they say that. Duplicate content on a site is not grounds for action on that site unless it appears that the intent of the duplicate content is to be deceptive and manipulate search engine results.” Furthermore, although it is true that everyone is starting with the same “data set” – not everyone will implement it as effectively or in the same manner. Diversification and creativity makes having this kind of data hugely valuable if leveraged correctly.

Question: Will a spiderable IDX help my site compete with the big guns (Redfin, Trulia, Zillow etc.)?
Answer: Yes of course. It’s weird – folks seem to be thinking now that the “cat is out of the bag” about spiderable IDX (we have been doing it for over 6 years btw, it’s hardly new) that there is “no point” in having spiderable IDX because companies like Trulia or Zillow also have spiderable listings (many powered directly by MLS feeds),so don’t even try to compete. The fact of the matter is – there is a very small amount of these super powerful aggregators out there, and there are 10 spots on the first page of a search engine. Even if you couldn’t outdo these sites, why not be in the fray? #4 for any keyword on the first page is really not a bad place to be. That being said – although these sites from a “domain” perspective are very powerful – they must distribute this power to their most popular / desirable targets and cannot possibly dominate or even focus on all listings in all areas. Many times just by having a spiderable IDX and a decent site, our customers easily outrank the big guns on address and MLS # related searches. One thing is for sure – without spiderable IDX – you aren’t even on the field, let alone in the game.

Question: I have a high authority site, great rankings – if I add spiderable IDX how will this change my stats?
Answer: Well, check out Jay Thompson’s case study, or take Gary Ashton‘s site. Gary got a spiderable IDX at the beginning of January, this year. You’ll notice the massive jump in the number of pageviews on his site:

Gary Ashton’s Page Views
Gary Ashton's Page Views

His traffic’s also increased over the previous month by about 45%, while his bounce rate has dropped by 36%. Users are spending about 2 1/2 times as long on the site, and they’re exploring an average of 8 pages on the site, whereas before when he had an iframed solution, people were only visiting about 2 pages on the site.

Question: I have spiderable IDX and I only have a few hundred pages indexed – why not all of them?
Answer: Chances are you do not have the authority (domain) required to keep that many pages indexed. A solution is to improve your overall pagerank, and also work on your internal linking and architecture as much as possible to leverage the pagerank you do have. Still not the end of the world though – that’s probably 350 more pages driving traffic to your site than you would have had without it. Chin up – keep building links and working on your site structure, and your pagecount will reward you with a ton of long tail traffic over time.

Question: There are many websites (with as much or more pagerank as me) in my area that have spiderable IDX. How can I compete?
Answer: Again, build your authority / pagerank is step one – whoever has the most juice (domain) has the best chance. However, there is something to be said for differentiation & augmentation. If you can come up with creative ways to rewrite your information using algorithms (titles, meta data etc.) so as to provide a “different look” (layout) and additional information on the page, then your chances are far better to generate additional long tail traffic than those simply using “out of the box” spiderable IDX. Also try to find unique ways of getting your users involved – does your MLS allow after-listing comments? Why not have users contribute comments about their favorite listings, thereby adding valuable visitor-generated, “unique” content to the page?

Here’s a question brought up by Jeff Corbett: Does the SEO value evaporate, since everyone will effectively have the same content?
Answer: I would say that everyone needs to make sure that outside their IDX data, their site has unique, quality content, period. This will help differentiate your site from the rest of the pack. As for the listings themselves, as I mentioned above, you can modify your titles and meta data to make your listings different from everyone else’s. Focus on the basics of good SEO, and the listings will only help your site in the rankings–as well as improve user experience. BTW – unless you are in a market like Austin, TX where everyone seems to be on the ball (example, then chances are you only have to compete with 1, maybe 2 sites – again, although it’s not exactly a secret, it’s also not like anyone is taking advantage. How long exactly do you want to wait before everyone but you does have spiderable IDX and there is actually some competition? Life rewards originators.

Question: Is there anything people should be aware of before they decide to get a spiderable IDX?
Answer: Realtors should stay away from IDX vendors with RSS feeds – these people are violating the NAR’s guidelines with respect to their obligation as vendors to protect IDX data from scraping or misappropriation. If the MLS board was informed (and educated as to why) RSS should not be allowed, chances are they would pull the feed. Furthermore, any solutions (such as the DS IDX wordpress plugin Jay Thompson references in his post) – should be avoided as well. My feeling is that because these plugins put complete control into the hands of untrained webmasters with no regard for regulations or compliance, the various boards will very soon pull the feeds (and perhaps the vendor agreements) of those not adhering to the quality standards expected of IDX vendors. The boards already have enough problems with members reporting members on items that are not even real issues. Imagine what will happen to a board’s compliance staff once these IDX’s (now in the control of untrained webmasters / Realtors) start gaining popularity. The MLS board is going to have so many legitimate complaints, they will virtually become buried. They obviously don’t want that, which is why they have “approved” vendors and a compliance process in the first place. Any spiderable IDX company however that does have a compliance department, and is responsible and “accountable” with regards to the MLS boards’ terms of use should be fine.