iFrame vs. HREF tags and IDX/MLS search - What are the tradeoffs?

Real Estate Technology with IDX, LLC.

Most Agents are out selling, not writing HTML, so many are not going to know the difference between linking to IDX forms via iFrame vs. linking directly to IDX search forms.

Here's how most HTML designers would describe the two tag types:

  • An iFrame is HTML that pulls a "raw" search form into a window within a page. The iFrame is still considered a link by search engines, but the content appears to be displayed on the website itself.
  • A link sends visitors to a page that displays the form content, while embedding the navigation, sidebar, and footer of the primary website.

What do these two HTML tags look like?

An iFrame tag looks something like this:

<iframe src="myIDXformpage.php" height="300" width="100%"> </iframe>

A link looks like this:

<a href="myIDXformpage.php">MLS Search</a>

What's the best way to identify if a search form is being framed?

Right click on the form itself. If you see a menu item called "This Frame", you know that one page is framing another.

What does a framed page look like to Search Engines?

When you find a framed search form, right-click on the form and then choose the "Open this frame in a new window".

  1. You will see that there is no navigation back to the referring site. This is exactly how search engines see that page - as an orphan.
  2. Also, note that the iFramed page is NOT hosted on the original domain, or even a subdomain of the original domain. This is something most people don't realize - an iFrame is simply a link to a navigation-free page that looks like duplicate content to Search Engines.

Still, there is one advantage to using iFrame tags: Agents who rely on website providers that don't offer outbound links can use iFrame tags to display IDX search forms. The important thing to do in those cases is to add at least a few simple links back to your site. This way if search engines crawl the page, they will at least give you a backlink or two!

And Links? Why would somebody link to a website that's not theirs, especially for IDX search?

The concept behind outbound link tags (a href) is simple - You are simply linking to a page. You are not displaying a page inside of another page. There are a few advantages to this approach:

  • If the page you're linking to is hosted on a site with a high pagerank, you will receive some credit for the backlink - but only if you have a link that goes back to your site.
  • A page link hosted on a custom subdomain (idx.mysite.com) can help you display more indexable pages in search engine results. While Google doesn't index domains with subdomains separately in results as often as they used to, they still do it. By taking ownership of an subdomain that hosts integrated IDX results, you may see more than one of your URLs show up in search results. This is especially true if you build custom links and add unique content to the subheader of each of those pages. Search engines LOVE unique content!
  • No scrollbars, ever. Just say no to scrollbars!

The disadvantage is that somebody may need to maintain the branded look and feel of your linked pages. This might be your website designer, IDX provider, or you. WordPress offers some powerful new ways around that, but it still requires some technical expertise to maintain the design HTML.

The Bottom Line

You always have a choice. Unless you don't ask, then the choice will typically be made for you.

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Gabe Sanders
Real Estate of Florida specializing in Martin County Residential Homes, Condos and Land Sales - Stuart, FL
Stuart Florida Real Estate

Thanks guys, it's why I use your services.  Now if I only had a way to turn off the global wrapper for individual blogs like here to display search results!!

Oct 01, 2010 11:43 PM #1
Tom Branch
RE/MAX Dallas Suburbs - Plano, TX
Broker, CDPE, SFR, ACRE, Plano TX Ambassador

My understanding is to never use iFrames.  We link to a PHP file on our domain to access IDX. Since the PHP is nothing more than a redirect, I doubt it indexes very well. 


Oct 02, 2010 02:09 AM #2
Bruce Swedal
Denver, CO
Denver Real Estate

I used an iFrame type search platform for a website several years ago and dropped it for an integrated idx solution. Like Tom said, for indexing purposes of the idx and a few other reasons. iFrames don't help you much in search engines.

Oct 02, 2010 03:21 AM #3
Brian Portwood
FW Realty Solutions - Fort Worth, TX

I am currently using an Iframe IDX solution right now and am searching for an indexable solution. If anyone knows of a good one at a reasonable cost I would certainly appreciate it. Fort Worth Homes

Oct 02, 2010 03:54 AM #4
Laura Pearlman Broker Associate
Gold Crown Unlimited, llc - West Palm Beach, FL
Excellence Through Experience and Resourcefulness

You guys rock!!! I signed on about a month ago..best move I've made in a long time, makes my website top notch! The staff is the absolute best, it was a bumpy ride for me in the beginning trying to learn how to do implement your system with my site and NOT ONE TIME did I request help from the staff that is wasnt replied to IMMEDIATELY! I will be bookmarking this, there is so much to learn... I really want to be able to have the actual search results in each post for whatever particular area I am referring too...

Oct 02, 2010 04:18 AM #5
Jon Quist
Tucson's BUYERS ONLY Realtor since 1996

This is a great blog with specific advice. I bookmarked you. Now if I can only figure out what you are telling me to do?

Joined your blog as I assume more goodies will be forthcoming.

Oct 02, 2010 04:44 AM #6
Tom Waite
Thomas Waite Real Estate Broker - Cypress, CA
So Cal-Apartment Bldg Investments

Jon:  I'm right behind you... but I thought YOU were going to explain it to me.


Guess I need more schooling in this IDX stuff.

Oct 02, 2010 04:53 AM #7
Bill Gillhespy
16 Sunview Blvd - Fort Myers Beach, FL
Fort Myers Beach Realtor, Fort Myers Beach Agent - Homes & Condos

This type of nuts and bolts advice is helpful to those of us just trying to get a handle on all this !

Oct 02, 2010 06:19 AM #8
Ben Yost - 303-587-4297
First Time Home Buyer, Mortgage Rates, Pre-Approval - Denver, CO
FHA, VA, Conventional - Mortgage Loans in De

Google hates IFrames and if they catch you using them (outside of your own website)- they could ban your account for life. Most likely they will just "sandbox", your site- so it will be near impossible to get it ranked.

I imagine Bing (which is absorbing Yahoo as we speak) will most likely go this direction also.

Good Info!

Oct 02, 2010 07:04 AM #9
Gene Riemenschneider
Home Point Real Estate - Brentwood, CA
Turning Houses into Homes

Very Techy and you lost me right off the bat, but I know the issue is important.  I think mine can do both. 

Oct 02, 2010 10:14 AM #10
J. Stephen Gregory
Mom's House on the Cape - Yarmouth, MA

A question for Ben (#9) - GoogleMaps are iframes, and YouTube videos can be done the same way (they can also be done as embeds).  Why would Google hate these?

Oct 03, 2010 08:18 AM #11
IDX Broker
IDX, LLC. - Eugene, OR

Gabe, you can always use a showcase or slideshow widget to display results in an ActiveRain blog post. Google doesn't index Javascript effectively, although they plan to do that at some point in the near future. Add a widget then use effective keyword content in your post. The IDX results in post may not be fully indexable via the Widget, but it will be highly relavent information for anyone reading the post. Especially if you create a Widget using the custom showcase tool.

Tom, You're correct that a redirect is less desirable than a simple link out to integrated IDX pages. You generally want to use redirects only for a small # of pages that are no longer relevant; where you need to direct people/search engines to a more relevant page. For example, if you had previously posted a URL about a listing that has now sold, you may want to redirect the post to a page showing results for that neighborhood.

Thank you Laura! We love to hear from customers like you! Is it ok if we use your quote on the testimonials page on our website?

Jon, Tom, Bill, and Gene - We certainly understand where you are coming from! We get a lot of calls from people who do their best to navigate through all the "noise" around IDX. These Agents focus on closing, and don't have time to become a site programmer or search engine expert. This FAQ page might help explain how integrated IDX is a unique way to add IDX/MLS search to your site. The idea behind integrated IDX is that rather than making it look like you're embedding IDX search into your site (iFraming), integrated IDX solutions embed your design into every IDX page (and then give you ways to customize those URLs and pages). 

Oct 04, 2010 05:55 AM #12
Laura Pearlman Broker Associate
Gold Crown Unlimited, llc - West Palm Beach, FL
Excellence Through Experience and Resourcefulness

Thank you Laura! We love to hear from customers like you! Is it ok if we use your quote on the testimonials page on our website?

ABSOLUTELY! I couldn't say enough good thing about your company and its employees. For me, I needed "IDX guide for dummies" breakdown on all my questions and when I expressed this to the support staff at IDX Brokers, they made it so even someone who is not exactly tech savvy be able to use the program and that kinda of support is irreplaceable! Thank You! Laura

Oct 04, 2010 06:08 AM #13
IDX Broker
IDX, LLC. - Eugene, OR

Question 23 and 24 of this interview with Matt Cutts may provide some insight regarding how Google treats iFrames. It's probably more important to thing of iFrames as links that may pass your site's pagerank out to a third party domain. If you do need to use iFrames to host IDX (some of our clients do), at least use a custom subdomain to go with it so you're passing pagerank between your primary and custom subdomain rather than to an IDX provider's domain. 


Oct 04, 2010 06:43 AM #14
IDX Broker
IDX, LLC. - Eugene, OR

Great to hear - thanks again Laura!

Oct 04, 2010 06:44 AM #15
Local Charleston Plumber
Rooter Man Plumbing and Drain Service - Charleston, SC

I love active rain. I always learn something new. Thanks for the information.

Mt. Pleasant Plumbing

Oct 13, 2010 06:16 AM #16
Virginia Gardner
Roy Wheeler Realty Co. - Charlottesville, VA
Realtor, Charlottesville, Serving Central Virginia

Thanks for this, great information, very helpful!

Jan 20, 2011 01:19 PM #17
Adrian Willanger
206 909-7536 AdrianWillanger-broker.com - Seattle, WA
Profit from my two decades of experience

Thanks, my web designer is gone until March studying Iframes, I'm trying to keep up with the advantages/disadvantages etc so thanks for breaking it into smaller pieces.

Feb 22, 2011 01:13 PM #18
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