A short while back I wrote a brace of columns about canonical and authorship tags. At their heart is the idea of telling computers the same thing we tell people, and being consistent with how we present data.

Since those went live here at Inman News, I’ve been involved in endless Facebook threads (Mike Bowler Sr.’s extremely well-behaved Listing Syndication group, for example), enjoying excellent follow-on posts by people like Todd Carpenter, Matt Cohen, Bill Lublin and Eric Stegemann. Lots of phone conversations, of course, as well — including one with Rob Hahn that he tells me he’s going to air as a podcast.

All of these interactions and the thinking behind them have had a number of excellent points and questions embedded in them. Since the National Association of Realtor’s midyear meeting is upon us, I figured it might make sense to do a simple roundup of the most common questions I am getting on the whole canonical/authorship conversation.

Will authorship tags or canonical references put a clickable link on my website that leads traffic to my competitor’s website?

No. Using the canonical reference and the authorship tag will not have any impact on the way pages of your website appear. These tags go in the head section of your code, just like the meta-keyword tag of yore.

Will authorship or canonical instantly make me No. 1 on Google?

No. Authorship and canonical are simply two of many different signals that Google and other search engines use to determine what is the best page to show searchers. If your site is terribly built and not helpful to people, Google is unlikely to rank you No. 1 for anything regardless of authorship and canonical tags.

Will Trulia/Zillow/realtor.com go out of business if canonical and authorship are enforced in syndicated listings?

I don’t think so. First, as noted above, Google may still choose to rank whomever they choose as No. 1. Second, realtor.com/Trulia/Zillow are increasingly focused on their own branding efforts to drive traffic. Third, their customers are, in fact, agents and brokers, and deploying these tags will likely remove a dark cloud that has been haunting their relationships (and stock prices if the caveats listed in some of their SEC documents are to be taken into account).

It may be challenging or tough luck for the search engine optimization departments of the aggregators, but I suspect it will be better for their organizations as a whole in the medium to long term.

They might, of course, disagree with me on this.

Can we apply these tags just to syndication but not to IDX?

I’m not a Realtor so you don’t need my permission to do anything really. But I would suggest that canonical and authorship tags get used consistently regardless of the whether the distribution is called IDX or syndication.

The search-related benefit of using this simple technology is founded in creating a clear, consistent signal for Google, other search engines, and other technology to understand who made the listing content and who published it first.

I heard that search doesn’t matter anymore, why should we bother?

You heard wrong.

No really, I heard that.

You heard wrong. But even if — in some bizarro universe — people were to stop asking questions of computers, there are an increasing number of emerging devices and software systems.

All of these systems talking to one another are reason that things like “big data” are happening right now. These emerging systems are just as interested in the origination and creation of data as existing search engines.

Emerging systems use signals like canonical and authorship as well.

Is this part of a secret plot? Who is really going to benefit from this?

It isn’t a secret plot. If it were, I wouldn’t be writing columns about it.

That said, the benefit of using canonical and authorship will likely be uneven. Those organizations that originate a large number of listings, for example, would likely benefit more than those that originate no listings.

The most passionate arguments against canonical and authorship have come from the buyer’s agent camp, for example. Because this group has no listings to receive the benefit of canonical, and they author no listings either.

I suspect, however, that this group would find a myriad of creative and useful ways to market their valuable services anyway. But I agree that it would likely be a long conversation.

Those brokers with fewer listings would in some way benefit from being completely outmatched by larger competitors with many listings. The benefit would accrue in proportion to the number of listings created and originating with a brokerage.

What happens if we don’t do anything?

Nothing really. In many cases brokers and agents are already applying authorship and canonical on their own. Most of my clients certainly are.

However, with a lack of policy there are some problems resulting. For example, I was recently shown a website in which an agent claimed authorship for every listing in his IDX search tool. This agent didn’t, however, author every single listing that is published via IDX.

I suspect it’s an ethics violation to claim that he has, but I’m not a Realtor so I don’t know how these things work. I doubt that this agent maliciously decided to say he wrote every single listing. I suspect he pressed two buttons in his WordPress installation and didn’t think any more of it.

Without a clear policy, these kinds of situations might be more challenging to resolve.

Also, without a clear policy, the technology use sends mixed signals to Google and other technology about who is making the content.

What’s the real challenge in this: the technology or the policy?

Oh, the policy is the far greater challenge. The technology is simple. Add two fields to the data set, require two lines of code on pages where IDX and syndicated content are published. No different than any other requirement.

The challenges are in deciding, as a group, whether Realtors should tell the same thing to computers that they tell people — who wrote the listing and who originated the listing. It will be a policy challenge to decide who should be considered the original source of a listing: the agent or the broker. It will be a policy challenge to gather the support of those members who have no listings but are contributors to the MLS.

I hope this helps some in your conversations about a geeky topic like canonical and authorship tags.

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

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