What is the best MLS feed for my website?
There is incredible value in knowing the answer, particularly when you are building a real estate website.
I should begin by explaining what options are available, but keep in mind that they are often called by various names. The naming convention can depend heavily on the vendor.
The IDX (Internet Data Exchange) refers to the data that is exchanged between the MLS board’s database and a real estate professional website. It has to do with public IDX searches where the listings are displayed, and it typically includes the vast majority of the MLS database.
This is the most basic, and most likely, the most widely used. This is a fully-functioning, ready-to-go property search. It is very elementary, so requires very little setup. The drawback is that your options are very limited. It is a page within your page, which means you can’t customize the frame, since the content is not actually added to the agent’s site. Lastly, what you gain in convenience you lose in appeal, because it is quite unattractive.
Then, there are the rawer data feeds, which are far more advanced. These give you the power to manipulate the data at a greater level, but also require a developer to set up.
An FTP (File Transfer Protocol) server lets you download the entire IDX database, and every morning it sends full updates and a new download of all the data. The downside is the delay in the updates, which occur only once a day. If you need up to the minute information, this might not be the best option you.
The RETS (Real Estate Transaction Standard) format is often referred to organic or cloud data. It does not require daily updates, but instead lets developers access live information. Information is updated almost instantly into your server and can quickly be visible on your website.
The MLS nationwide is looking to adopt RETS as the industry standard because it would drastically simplify the process of getting listing data from the MLS to a website. It also allows for greater customization.
While for most real estate professionals the simplest choice is iFrame, it is the worst possible alternative. Working within an iFrame provides absolutely no SEO benefit, and it forces the design of the vendor to be used on the website. Less sophisticated agents don’t know the difference, therefore they opt for what is familiar to them. In other cases, budget might be a big constraint.
I grant that iFrame integration does provide the ability to search on your site very inexpensively, but the drawbacks far outweigh any benefits. An IDX vendor will offer the iFrame as a low cost, quick turn around solution, but it is not worth it.
Using FTP or RETS will help you rank higher for your content. Yet, RETS is far superior in terms of data control and update frequency. The only disadvantage might be the higher cost of hiring a developer and web designer to implement it, but it will be well worth it.
Agents who select RETS provide a greater value to their clients, so why invest in anything else? Clients will have a much more functional listing search, clearer calls to action, and have a much easier time finding you organically.