May 12, 2009 at 2:09pm ET by Matt McGee
With support from the National Association of REALTORS® (NAR), the Indianapolis Metropolitan Board of REALTORS® (MIBOR) has forced some of its members to stop allowing certain MLS listings to be crawled and indexed by Google because Google (and other search engines) is considered a “scraper” site.
This is the latest episode in a long-running battle over who controls home listings that are part of the Multiple Listing Service, or MLS. Some of the affected real estate professionals plan to ask the NAR to change its opinion on search engines at its national convention this week.
Paula Henry is one of about 15 real estate agents affected by the NAR/MIBOR decision. Like many agents/brokers, she shows not only her own listings on her web site, but also listings from other agents and brokers who participate in a data sharing agreement through the Internet Data Exchange (IDX) system. There are strict rules over how listings from other agents may be displayed. In a post on AgentGenius.com, Paula explains the one that has led to Google’s classification as a scraper site:
Section 15.2.2 – participants must protect IDX information from misappropriation by employing reasonable efforts to monitor and prevent ’scraping’ or other unauthorized accessing, reproduction, or use of the BLC database”
(BLC is the Indianapolis version of MLS.)
After apparently getting a complaint from another agent, MIBOR consulted with the NAR and the NAR confirmed that the rule above applies to search engines. On March 27, MIBOR sent Red Door Real Estate (where Paula Henry does business) a cease-and-desist letter detailing two issues:
- “…the National Association of REALTORS® (NAR) is in agreement with our interpretation of the policy that the above described practice of ‘indexing your Web site’ as you have called it, is a method of scraping or reproducing the data”
- “Under IDX policy … participants have no authority to advertise those listings [from other participants] in any other way, including Internet search engines”
The C&D letter asks Red Door to either use robots.txt (actually referred to as “rebot.txt” in the letter) to block search engines from crawling the listings on their sites that belong to other agents/brokers, or to remove the non-Red Door listings altogether. In her blog post, Paula writes that additional demands were made in April requiring Red Door to remove the MLS number, street address, and other listing data from the Page Titles and Meta Description tags of pages on their web sites.
Not mentioned in all of this is the fact that Google is practically running its own national MLS database, with the same kind of search and sort options (Price, Beds, Baths, Area, etc.) in Google Maps that you’d expect to find on full-fledged real estate sites.
Real estate brokers and agents submit their own listings to Google (or they have a third party do it), so the rules about how other agents’ listings are displayed don’t apply. And it’s not just about Google; Yahoo Real Estate also gets listings from agents and brokers, and places them on highly-optimized pages that, in my experience, often rank well for popular real estate search terms.
As for Google being a scraper site, Paula Henry will be one of two real estate agents speaking to the NAR on Thursday. She says they’ll ask the organization to review and change its policy so that Google (and other search engines) is allowed to index all real estate listings from the IDX system, no matter whose web site they appear on.
Matt McGee is the Search Engine Land Assignment Editor, and offers search marketing consulting and training to businesses of all sizes. He blogs at Small Business Search Marketing and HyperlocalBlogger.com.