The ubiquity of embedded IDX (Internet data exchange) widgets is something that can’t be ignored. The traditional agent website and its visitor search experience are almost always tied to some type of embedded IDX widget, which has been the industry’s answer to the question of how to provide home searches on agent websites. A survey of agents by ActiveRain found that 63 percent of respondents used IDX on their sites.
But even with advances in IDX technology, millions of home shoppers have turned to portals over agent websites for a better search experience, design and perceived coverage of listings. IDX has become something you are “supposed to do” rather than a strong value-add to an agent’s Web presence. So why do agents continue to use IDX and pay for it every month?
Finally, some agents and brokers are starting to reconsider IDX. As Greg Fischer, a broker in Fort Worth, Texas, told Inman in 2013, “Why would I dilute my brand [by] delivering subpar search? If I had Trulia’s search platform, I’d reconsider.”
In that spirit, we want to debunk the six myths of IDX. If you take a cold, honest look at the effectiveness of IDX, you’ll probably consider investing your technology budget in tools that deliver higher return.
Myth 1: Clients use it.
According to a 2014 California Association of Realtors poll, only 4 percent of buyers found agent websites the most useful resource for them in the home search. Evidently, homebuyers don’t consider IDX search to be a valuable part of their homebuying experience.
Today’s homebuyers expect search technology that not only provides an excellent user experience but also boasts capabilities beyond just searching for bedrooms and bathrooms. Buyers want to search by school districts, distance to lifestyle amenities, premium home features, and so on — and they want to be able to do so at any time and from any device.
Embedded IDX simply cannot compare to the robust search capabilities provided by the national portals. As Kimberly Dotseth, the San Diego Association of Realtors’ Broker of the Year in 2011, said in the same Inman article, “I wasn’t getting business from IDX.” She ended up canceling it and saved $700 in fees.
Myth 2: It’s good for SEO (search engine optimization).
We reached out to Warren Lee, former SEO manager at Move and realtor.com, to help us demystify the potency of IDX for SEO.
“Even with best practices in place, the challenge with IDX is how its ubiquity created significantly more competition for search engine rankings,” Lee said. “IDX content is notoriously difficult to optimize for SEO because it is not unique — vendors give the same content to every other real estate website. To a search engine, it might look like spam.
“To overcome these challenges, you need to find a way to make the IDX content unique,” he said. “The best way to do this is to ensure that each and every page of your website offers experiences that are carefully crafted to the needs of your website visitors. Consider adding valuable content around the inline IDX content, such as reviews or expert commentary.”
In other words, IDX doesn’t provide much SEO value because the content isn’t unique, and making IDX work for SEO requires significant additional effort.
Myth 3: It’s smart to force your visitors to register.
There are many proponents of forced registration pages — a mechanism requiring your website visitors to provide additional contact information in order to view more details about the properties listed on your site. As with most things in life, however, it’s all about timing and value.
If you force your visitors to register before they can search, you’ll see those potential leads flee to national portals or multiple listing services (MLSs), where they don’t have to “pay” with their contact information. Yes, some buyers may need a bit of a push to contact you, but if you push them at the wrong time, you’re at risk of losing them entirely.
Instead, focus on delivering value to the visitor first, then ask for their information. Whether it’s a delightful ungated search experience or curated content, a lead will be much more willing to fill a form out after significantly engaging with your value.
Myth 4: I can trust that IDX works on mobile.
Go ahead: Pick up your phone and go to an agent website with IDX. How does it look? Does it work? Those tiny buttons are pretty hard to press on a touch screen.
According to the National Association of Realtors’ 2014 Profile of Home Buyers and Sellers, 50 percent of buyers used a mobile website or app in their home search. In January of 2014, Zillow said that 60 percent of its search traffic is mobile-based. Your website must be optimized for mobile search if you want buyers to stick around. Take the time to test out your website and its search capabilities on your own phone and tablet — you don’t want to miss out on 50 to 60 percent of your prospects.
Myth 5: White-label IDX is best.
Agent branding on IDX is important. After all, you want potential buyers to associate your name, face and brokerage with buying a home, and it’s important to have contact details that put you front and center. But overbranding does have a downside. User testing at our company showed that it could create the perception to buyers that they see only your listings in a market, even though you might be showing every listing. This misunderstanding can drive potential clients back to the national portals to make sure they’re getting the full picture.
How do you balance the need to build your brand and your potential client’s fear of missing out on listings? You can have it all through appropriate third-party validation. For example, by using a co-branded search experience instead of a white-labeled one, your clients can be confident that they’re seeing more than just your corner of the market while at the same time getting exposure to your brand.
Myth 6: If IDX doesn’t work, agents are out of options.
This is the biggest myth of all. Many of you already know IDX is broken, but it’s not clear what comes next. But don’t forget: Agents are in a unique position to provide the best data and expertise to homebuyers — something unavailable not only to IDX, but also to national portals.
Your Web presence should first and foremost persuade your prospects that working with you empowers them in their home search. Rather than relying on a basic IDX, consider tech solutions that offer a robust search that emphasizes this empowerment. Agent benefits, such as access (through you) to full MLS data, neighborhood expertise and practical school knowledge, are perks that national portals can’t take away from you. Pick solutions that make this clear. Mobile-friendly interfaces, exceptional lifestyle search capabilities and back-end resources to better customize your clients’ experience are always a plus — but we’re getting greedy.
Is your IDX widget working for you? We’d love to hear your thoughts on whether IDX is an integral part of your business model or if you’ve found success with other solutions.
Andrew Flachner is chief real estate enthusiast at RealScout, the collaboration platform for agents and their clients.