Putting real estate data on the web with schema.org.

You can publish raw data through your website in a format the search engines can read using the schema.org vocabulary. This has a lot of potential for brokers who want to drive traffic and leads directly to their websites from listings. It’s not difficult or expensive, but it does require minor changes to your website.

Schema.org is a vocabulary for publishing data, typically embedded in HTML pages or email messages, allowing you to express information like:

To visualize the potential benefits of putting data on the web in this way for real estate brokers and agents, let’s start by looking at how search works right now. I’m searching for “Oakland homes for sale.”

First, I see pay-per-click results.

Google paid search results.

Next, I get the top 10 pages based mostly on keyword and page rank. In this instance I see 6 pages from aggregators, 3 from different flavors of Realogy and 1 local independent broker (Congratulations Red Oak Realty for breaking the top 10).

Classic search results — advantage aggregators.

Structured Data Search

Now let’s try searching for “Oakland real estate agents.” I get this.

Google location search using structured data.

What’s going on here? Because I searched a category “Real Estate Agent” that google knows about, google will try to answer my question directly, in this case by returning not a list of pages, but a list of places, along with address, phone number and website.

You’ve probably had this experience searching for restaurants, gas stations or grocery stores on your phone. The change is starting to show up in real estate related searches. Google already shows open houses published this way (Zillow and Redfin are doing it). To get a sense for what the search experience could be like for real estate, you can look at how it works in other industries. For example, people who publish recipies have really embraced structured data on the web.

Thanksgiving is right around the corner and I’m on the hook for dessert. I need a great “apple pie recipe.”

Google search results enhanced with structured data.

There’s a lot going on here, but one stand-out is search results that show photos and ratings. This could easily be done with real estate listings using schema.org vocabulary.

To be clear, I’m not saying search will work this way the instant you put structured data on your website, but it can’t work this way until you do.

Identity on the web

The problem of identifying things which are the same in the real world but have multiple names in the digital world, i.e. a listing that’s been data-shared and syndicated, has bugged MLS providers and aggregators for a long time. Today, we don’t have universally accepted, web-friendly solutions for this problem in today’s RESO standards. Perhaps we can borrow ideas from the web to help us tackle this type of problem in real estate.

On the web, a URL is the natural identifier for a page. But, it’s possible to take this construct further, for example, I can be identified by my facebook or linkedIn profile URL. In the web of data, either URL can be used to identify me. In the schema.org vocabulary, you can attach any URLs you know about to an entity using the sameAs term, defined as…

The URL of a reference Web page that unambiguously indicates the item’s identity. E.g. the URL of the item’s Wikipedia page, Freebase page, or official website.

SameAs is like a web-friendly version of the data dictionary term OriginatingSystemID. The use of “sameAs” with a link to the listing broker’s property detail page could enable search engines to correctly credit brokers and agents for their listing content on the web.

Schema.org and Content Authorship

The ability to declare authorship of information on the web is incredibly powerful and sure to generate the usual controversy around who “owns” the listing. Regardless of your position, structured data is not going away, and it’s going to have an impact on everyone who works with real estate data on the web so it’s time we start talking about it.

MLS associations must understand how authorship works and create or clarify rules for the appropriate and fair use of structured data in their market.

Developers should learn about schema.org and contribute to the development of RESO guidelines for structured data on the web. If you’re interested in contributing, you rock! Email [email protected]

Brokers, here is your chance to reclaim a measure of control over your online content. Talk to your website developer about structured data on your website today.

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