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How REA buries agents in search results

5 minute read

Google doesn’t like duplicate content. People suspected of using it to manipulate search results are punished, often by their site being banished from a high rank in a search.

Duplicate content is often legitimate and Google understands this. Take property listings for example. Jane Smith is a real estate agent. She uses MyDesktop to upload a new listing to her site. As part of the MyDesktop service her listing is uploaded to reiwa.com, domain.com.au and realestate.com.au, all via an XML feed.

It makes sense for Jane to pay for this service. She enters her listing details once but gets exposure on a number of sites. But that’s not the end of the story.

Jane is interested in more than selling her listing. She also wants to attract new listings. To do so she wants to be found in a Google search and this is where duplicate content becomes an issue.

When Google finds duplicate content they look for instructions from the webmaster about how they want a page indexed. These instructions are found within the page meta tags and help the search engine deliver the most relevant results to the end-user.

However, when Google finds legitimate duplicate content – a property listing on multiple sites for example – without these instructions they are faced with a choice: Which page of content do they deliver in the search results? Their response is to “… always show the version we think is most appropriate for users in each given search, which may or may not be the version you’d prefer.” What that means to Jane is the original content, the page she created when posting the listing on her website, may well not be what a web searcher finds. And she’s trying to build a database of subscribers to her e-newsletter that’s bad news.

Let’s look at a real-life example. I conducted a Google search using the phrase “2brm unit for sale Victoria Park”. It’s a search term that might be conducted by either a buyer or seller. The first page of the search results contained no results from real estate agents. All were from listing portals or site scrapers. Starting to see my point?

The one that caught my eye, though, was from realestate.com.au (REA), the first entry in the search results. It included a link to a listing profile page, which contained the very same information as the original listing page on the agent’s site (when these properties are marked by the agent as sold these links may stop working). In this instance Google has determined that, of the two pages of identical property description, the one from REA was the most relevant. The agent has missed out on a visitor to their website and a chance to add to their email database.

Google’s recommendation about syndicated content, and that’s what agents are doing with their listing data, is this:

Syndicate carefully: If you syndicate your content on other sites…it is helpful to ensure that each site on which your content is syndicated includes a link back to your original article. You can also ask those who use your syndicated material to use the noindex meta tag to prevent search engines from indexing their version of the content.

In other words Google wants to index the original content, but they need help.

Let’s look at Google’s suggestion in two parts as it pertains to the above example.

First, REA does provide a link to the agent’s website, just not from the listing page and not to the original listing page (article) as recommended by Google. There’s no way for Google to know which piece of content was the duplicate. Furthermore, when they do provide a link to the agent’s site (from within the agent’s profile page) it’s hidden by a rel=”nofollow” tag. What this means is that the link is ignored by the search engines. The agent gets no Google love from the REA link and no boost in the performance of their site in a Google search. It’s all one way traffic in favour of the portal.

Second, REA don’t add the noindex meta tag to the duplicate page. If they did the page wouldn’t be indexed and therefore wouldn’t display in the search results.

Agents who think that the reason for a web presence is just to advertise property will have no problem with the portal’s behaviour. Buyers are finding their properties and that’s all that matters. But agents who want to build a brand using the Internet will have a different viewpoint. These agents provide content to REA to advertise their listings not so the portal can dominate search results.

I concede there’s more to SEO than just dealing with duplicate content. Even if it wasn’t an issue some agents manage their websites so badly they will never be found in the first page of a search. But agents who take pride in their website and their brand are right to be peeved at REA’s ethics. And they’re also right to look to the membership organisations to which they belong to step up and help them compete.
It’s high time for agents to demand  a fair go.

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14 Comments

  • Craig
    Posted November 30, 2009 at 8:40 am 0Likes

    So you are suggesting REA should forgo some of their own SEO efforts in order to give agents own SEO efforts a leg up? I can’t see this happening.

  • scott
    Posted November 30, 2009 at 8:47 am 0Likes

    I would suggest that there is a simpler solution to the issue, rather than blaming portals for not sending traffic to your site via google.
    For the agents who really want to build a brand online, they need to spend the time to actually do this, and do it correctly.

    Many are lazy, and simply let duplicate content appear online.
    If the agent spent a little extra time and edited their listing content on their own site, it would not be viewed as duplicate content by google.

    Also, relying on google to send traffic to your site via Portals sites, when trying to build a brand, is lazy as well.
    Portals are not there to drive traffic directly to your site. Their job is to attract views to THEIR sites.
    Agents get site traffic when users follow links from within the portals.

    People need to remember that like any other marketing, taking the easy way does not produce the best and ideal results always.

    Online marketing is not easy. It takes takes work and attention to detail.
    Then you will get full value from it.

    *rant over*

  • PaulD
    Posted November 30, 2009 at 8:48 am 0Likes

    Or, are you hinting that agents will vote with their feet ?

  • anonymous
    Posted November 30, 2009 at 8:57 am 0Likes

    The more I hear about REA ethics the more I hate about them yet agents still have to pay big bucks to list with them.

  • Nick
    Posted November 30, 2009 at 9:27 am 0Likes

    I think Google is one step ahead of REA on this one.

    REA abuses this deliberately to get users to go to them instead of directly going to a agent.
    What does Google do? Google makes Real Estate Maps which levels the playing field somewhat.

    Agents now have the ability to get people going straight to their site which is why REA is not pleased with Google.

  • PaulD
    Posted November 30, 2009 at 9:42 am 0Likes

    How can REA not be pleased with Google, when it has been Google that has delivered the majority of their “UB’s” to them. If REA are not pleased, then perhaps they should stop their advertising on Google. There would only be one winner in that situation. As Google seem to be leveling the playing field somewhat, there is still a measure of leveling to go as far as real estate searches are concerned. It would be interesting to see what would happen if Google used a bit of muscle (on their own website mind you) to be a bit more aggressive where real estate advertising is concerned. If you look at any suburb combined with ” real estate” on the Google website – REA is there somewhere. I wonder what would happen if Google decided to place itself as number 1 in all those locations ? I suppose to get an answer, all we will have to do is wait.

  • Glenn Batten
    Posted November 30, 2009 at 9:48 am 0Likes

    Peter,

    I appreciate where you are coming from and the nofollow attribute pm on the link from REA is just greed. You would think at close to $1000 per month we would justify a real link. It must have changed though because last time I looked it was passing through a redirection service which was even worse.

    The whole issue of Duplicate content being penalised is debated often. Matt Cutts from google has said that duplicate content gives you nothing to differentiate yourself from everyone else, but he does not say you get penalised as such by it. If everybody has the same content you just have more competition and unless you have the best onpage seo combined with a strong website pr rating you may not win the race. If you insist that everybody else uses noindex then they are just in the race and you win by default.

    The danger is who is going to rank higher for the same content. Of course realestate.com.au has a much higher PR rating than any other individual agent so if they both serve exactly the same content in the same way then realestate.com.au will win everytime. It’s not so much that the agent or even REA gets penalised, but more that they are ranked much higher so the result is the same anyway.

    If they were to add the noindex tag you suggested it means they would not compete at all but I cant see that happening.

    Thankfully though REA’s SEO on the property pages is terrible and it does not take too much to beat their site’s PR advantage. Domain and Homehound do it all the time with much better rankings for individual property addresses.


    56 Marble Drive, Carrara


    6 Sirius Cove Road, Mosman


    207 Dugandan Street, Nerang


    314 Bulwer Street, Perth

    First in every case is Google Maps …which if you click on brings up the Google Real Estate entry. After that its Domain and Homehound. The only time realestate.com.au does well in this is when the properties are just not listed with anybody else.

    I am sure REA know that very few people search the particular address of a property for sale choosing instead to search “ real estate” or “ property”.

  • Glenn Batten
    Posted November 30, 2009 at 9:50 am 0Likes

    oh yeah.. I forgot something.. welcome to the team 🙂

  • Glen Barnes
    Posted November 30, 2009 at 10:34 am 0Likes

    One key thing here is:

  • Craig
    Posted November 30, 2009 at 12:11 pm 0Likes

    Sal, that is an interesting page from REA. I was actually investigating this recently in regards to upgrades to my own site. It seems that many people believe it is good practice to have a page like this with hundreds of links to other pages of their site and it is common to see such things in the footer of many real estate sites. But further investigation reveals there is limited SEO value from doing such things as pages full of links just annoy the Google overlord.

  • Sal Espro
    Posted November 30, 2009 at 11:56 am 0Likes

    The big portals also get away with spamming Google. If agents did it they’d be Google Black-listed for sure!
    Check this out:
    The top Google search result for
    1135 Bass Highway, Pioneer Bay victoria is
    http://www.realestate.com.au/realestate/vic/gippsland/pioneer+bay
    Click on it to see the results
    – A huge list of unrelated locations – not even close to Pioneer Bay!!

    C’mon Google – Fair’s fair! (Or are you really the Evil Empire now?!)

    Still old and narky. Sal 🙂

  • Craig
    Posted November 30, 2009 at 12:58 pm 0Likes

    Sal, I wouldn’t say they are allowing it, I would find it incredulous if Google made exceptions for a site like REA. I don’t think a site would be black listed for having stacks of links like that, it just wouldn’t be helpful to them. The Google search engine is smart enough to work out when people are trying to game the system and ignore the bad stuff.

  • Sal Espro
    Posted November 30, 2009 at 12:41 pm 0Likes

    My point exactly, Craig. Google is allowing SEO spam here but not on ‘lesser’ sites that actually originate the content!

    More narky now! Sal

  • Glenn Batten
    Posted December 8, 2009 at 2:56 pm 0Likes

    Peter,

    I finally got around to checking out the different portals to see how they link back to the agent.

    This is what I found..

    Realestate.com.au
    They dont provide a link direct to the agent at all. It is to a link gateway that redirects the user to the agents website. This link certainly does have a nofollow on it but whether it did or not it does not really matter as the agent would get no SEO benefit under any circumstance from it at all as it goes though the link gateway. I can only think this is a legacy way for them to track clicks on agents websites but there is far more modern ways using click events to do this that would still provide a natural link to the agent and pass some SEO benefit. If you have an example of REA providing a normal link to an agents site (not going through this link gateway) with or without a nofollow attribute attached can you share please.

    Domain.com.au
    Domain provide a real link to the agent so they would gain SEO benefit from that.

    Myhome.com.au
    I cannot find a link to the agents website at all

    Homehound
    I cannot find a link to the agents website at all

    *********************

    Full marks to Domain on this. Since Homehound and Myhome don’t charge a subscription I can understand that they do not include a valuable link back to the agents site but maybe an upgraded account would include a link.

    But IMHO realestate.com.au need to seriously look at this.

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