The National Association of Realtors, the real estate industry’s largest trade group, is in talks with tech giant Google to improve broker website rankings on the popular search engine.
In the short term, that means a listing attribution policy pushed by tech-focused real estate brokerage Redfin will no longer be up for consideration at NAR’s annual conference this year. Instead, the trade group will postpone a vote on the policy until its midyear conference in May at the earliest.
The proposed policy would have required listings provided by Realtor-affiliated multiple listing services and displayed on agent, broker and third-party sites to provide attribution to listing brokerages and a searchable link back to the listing broker’s website.
In August, NAR’s MLS Technology and Emerging Issues Advisory Board, which is part of NAR’s Multiple Listing Issues and Policies Committee, voted to move the proposed policy up for consideration by the full committee and potentially by NAR’s board of directors at the trade group’s Realtors Conference & Expo in Boston next week.
But since then, NAR has decided to explore other options with Google, NAR spokesperson David Greer told Inman via email.
“The purpose of the listing attribution recommendation is to ensure that brokers remain the authoritative source for listings information, eliminate consumer confusion, and improve SEO [search engine optimization] for the brokerage community,” he said.
“Since the recommendation was proposed, NAR began working directly with the leading search engine to explore other options to achieve these goals. For this reason, the Committee leadership wants to defer action until the Committee and NAR has all the required information necessary to move forward.”
Asked what “other options” are being explored, Greer said, “Too early to know. Open to any and all ideas that help accomplish the intended goals.”
Redfin: ‘That’s what we pay our dues for!’
Redfin’s proposal seeks to require every website that gets listings from one of the hundreds of MLSs owned by Realtor associations to feature the broker or agent representing each listing more prominently and provide a link back to their brokerage website that search engines can easily understand.
If implemented, the policy would impact big home search sites including Zillow and realtor.com (which do link back to listing broker sites when links are provided, but often not in a format Redfin says is easily indexed by Google) and even Redfin.com (which itself currently does not link back to the rival brokerages representing listings that appear on its website).
Redfin CEO Glenn Kelman enthusiastically promoted the proposal as a way to give listing brokers what he believes is their due and provide an incentive for them to continue participating in MLSs.
Reached on Thursday, Kelman had nothing but praise for NAR’s decision to postpone the vote on the proposed linkback policy in order to have time to work with Google.
“We completely support the NAR’s decision,” Kelman told Inman via email.
“We’ve been impatient in the past to start the process of modernizing listing-agent attribution for the Internet, but now that the process is started, we can easily imagine what a process it is: to solicit the brokerage community for input, and to engage the search engines on the best way to discern the original listing data from the hundreds of copies on other sites.
“Just the fact that the NAR is actively engaged with Google is a sea change for the industry association: the NAR is outward-focused, iterating quickly, technically savvy, and plugged in to the most powerful technology company on the planet. Now that’s what we pay our dues for! If you’d told me six months ago this was happening, I wouldn’t have believed it.”
A link scheme?
When Redfin’s policy was first proposed, there was some concern that it would be considered a “link scheme” that would actually lead Google’s inscrutable algorithm to penalize brokerage sites.
Asked whether this concern played a role in NAR’s decision, Greer said, “The determination was to approach the issue with the best way to improve SEO for brokers, and working in collaboration the search engines was important.”
MRED, the largest MLS in the Midwest, produced a white paper last week citing this concern as well as others and recommended that the policy be optional for MLSs at first, in order to allow for a phased approach.
“SEO experts advise that Google’s SEO algorithm seems to favor sites that provide consumers with the best experience. This policy change is intended to redirect traffic through SEO manipulation and a concern is that Google will penalize sites that make this change because the consumer experience might be negatively impacted,” MRED said in the white paper.
MRED went on to recommend that before NAR approves this policy it “should deepen conversations with Google at a high level to research best practices and get assurances on a future plan of action. This would limit potential broker anxiety around what effect policy changes would have on their individual SEO, further supporting the benefits of the MLS phased implementation approach.”
Asked whether any industry white papers about the proposed policy influenced NAR’s decision, Greer said, “The white papers and feedback on the proposed policy are appreciated. The Committee deserves a wide range of perspectives and opinions, which is the main reason why NAR started its efforts to discuss the proposal with Google.”
The MLS policy that will be up for consideration
In May, NAR’s board of directors approved an addition to the trade group’s standards of practice regarding the submission of offers: “Upon the written request of a cooperating broker who submits an offer to the listing broker, the listing broker shall provide a written affirmation to the cooperating broker stating that the offer has been submitted to the seller/landlord, or a written notification that the seller/landlord has waived the obligation to have the offer presented.”
At the time, NAR leaders said the change would benefit both brokers and consumers by assuring them that their offers were presented.
Next week, NAR’s Multiple Listing Issues and Policy Committee will consider an addition to NAR MLS Policy Statement 7.73, Rights of Cooperating Brokers in the Presentation of Offers. The proposed addition reads:
Where the cooperating broker is not present during the presentation of their offer, he or she can request that the listing broker provide them a written affirmation stating that the offer has been submitted to the seller, or a written notification that the seller has waived the obligation to have the offer presented.
“The purpose [of the amendment] is to create more transparency in the transaction, and eliminate confusion by ensuring the seller has seen the buyer’s offer,” Greer said.