Time to tell Google who owns the listing

Implementing author tags would be good for all industry participants

You know how sometimes when you search on Google you see a picture of someone next to their article in the search results? That’s pretty cool, because it helps that particular search result stand out from the rest and, of course, it gets that person a little bit of extra personal branding power.

What if, when people were searching for house listings, a picture of the agent who represented the listing showed up next to their listing on Google?

If it was your listing, for example, it would display your face right there on Google. Your face, your listing, on Google. What’s not to love?

It’s possible. And, in terms of technology, not that difficult.

Tell computers who’s the listing agent

Wherever you find real estate listings online, you should also see which agent wrote or represents that listing. Why show something for sale without saying who to talk to if you want to buy it? That’s why we show who the listing agent is — because it makes sense.

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This makes sense for at least two reasons. First, consumers searching to buy a house are going to need to talk to the agent who listed the house, so let’s make that connection smooth and simple. Second, letting everyone know who the listing agent is also helps keep everything above board and ethical — it keeps people from misrepresenting who the seller is.

This is something that is already done and already enforced by a lot of the data sharing and syndication stuff out there: Tell people who the listing agent is.

Why don’t we do this for computers too? Don’t people begin their search by using computer tools like Google? Why do we let Google guess about who the listing agent is?

Why do we tell people who the listing agent is, but we let computers guess about it?

Computers are, in reality, pretty stupid. They need to be told everything directly. They’re aren’t especially good at guessing stuff, even with a bunch of context.

For search engines and other Web stuff, the way we tell computers who wrote a listing is by using one simple line of code. That code is referred to as the “rel=author” tag.

The rel=author tag tells search engines and other Web stuff, in no uncertain terms, who wrote that piece of content. This is the same as when we tell people “This listing is by Agent Hammerheimer” but instead, it tells computers that the listing is by Agent Hammerheimer.

This bit of information, the rel=author tag, sits in a part of the Web page that doesn’t display to people. It only displays to computers.

In fact, it’s the same part of the Web page that holds the keywords, the short description and all of the other information about the page that computers use to sort, sift and search. It’s called the header.

Web developers, even untalented hacks, have been able to make changes and improve the header of their Web pages by adding meta tags for the past 10 years or more.

Once the rel=author tag is inserted, then Google and any other technology that can read the header will know, in no uncertain terms, exactly who wrote the listing.

Google can even show the picture of the listing agent right on the search engine result pages.

What if your listing is on someone else’s website?

The rel=author tag can (and should) be inserted on every single page that shows the listing. So if your listing was on your site, or that of another brokerage in your town that shares your MLS, your picture woulb be there. Same with third-party listing portals like Zillow or Trulia or Realtor.com.

All of these sites already tell human beings who the listing agent is. If they used the rel=author tag, they would also be telling computers who the listing agent is.

How would they know how to fill out the rel=author tag? The same way they know what the square footage of the listing is: by including it in the data feed and incorporating this one line of code into their Web templates.

I suspect there would be some disagreement about whether the author should be the agent or the broker.

If I ran the zoo, the default setup would be to have the broker be listed as the author, because in many circumstances the broker “owns” the listing. Then, if I ran the zoo, some brokers would pass the authorship of listings to their agents, and some brokers would keep authorship of listings for themselves. Agents would then use this point of differentiation as part of how they decide who is a good broker to work with.

But I don’t run the zoo. I do know that people could argue about this aspect until they’re blue in the face. My solution would allow people to do what they feel is right for their business.

Good for everyone

Implementing the rel=author tag is good for all industry participants. But it’s especially good for agents or brokers, because they get their picture next to their listings on Google.

It’s good for consumers because it connects them to the person who can sell them the house they’re looking at online.

It’s good for agents and brokers because they get their picture next to listings on Google.

It’s good for the MLS because it gives them an opportunity for them to provide value to their members.

It’s good for search engines like Google because they learn which agents and brokers write listings that people click on.

It’s good for listing sites like Realtor.com, Zillow, and Trulia because it allows them to establish goodwill and mend some fences with the people they want to have as customers: agents and brokers.

Gahlord Dewald is the president and janitor of Thoughtfaucet, a strategic creative services company in Burlington, Vt.

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