What is Syndication?
Listing syndication is a method of advertising whereby brokers distribute or ‘syndicate’ active listing information to a wide variety of websites, mobile apps, and print publications to reach diverse consumers searching for properties to buy. There could be many advertising destinations that make sense for a broker to leverage when exposing listings to consumers, including large national websites, locally focused websites, websites that specialize in niche markets or property types, and more. Since over 90% of consumers begin their home search online, it is essential that technology is available to support brokers in the process of distributing their listing content to maximize their opportunity to sell homes to meet the expectations of their clients.
While the wide variety of advertising choices is good for the consumer and broker, it can be challenging for brokers and agents to manage on their own. Brokers and consumers expect their listings to be accurate and up to date, and often updated across dozens, or even hundreds of websites. Brokers have nuanced systems in place for lead routing and offer management. The variety of advertising models across the websites is too diverse for most brokers to continually monitor. And publishers of listing data are sometimes motivated to use the brokers’ valuable listing data for purposes that go beyond the advertising intended by the brokers.
ListHub provides a managed platform to provide brokers of varying sizes, business models, and marketing objectives with a streamlined and safe process for advertising their listings online. With ListHub brokers have control over all of the important nuances of their advertising program and ensures that they have the visibility they need to make wise decisions. Finally, ListHub ensures that the listings displayed on publisher websites will be accurate and used strictly for online advertising purposes.
Difference between syndication and IDX
IDX and listing syndication often get confused. It is not surprising since both involve distributing and exposing listings online. But, they are different in one key aspect – IDX facilitates brokers advertising each others listings; syndication is strictly limited to a broker advertising their own listings.
IDX is a set of business rules that allows brokers who participate in the IDX program to display the MLS listings of other participating brokers in the MLS. This is necessary since there are legal and ethical restrictions that do not allow brokers to advertise other brokers listings without specific permission. Participating in the IDX program gives that permission and allows each participating broker to have a rich and comprehensive consumer search experience on their own websites and mobile apps. Participating in the IDX program is a broker choice. But, once that choice is made, brokers cannot decide which competing broker sites can display their listings. Any participating broker can display any other participating broker’s listings – and vice versa.
Syndication is a process by which brokers make decisions about advertising their listings only. The choice of one broker does not impact the choice of another broker whatsoever. This is similar to the days when print advertising was the primary method. Each broker was in full control on how and where to advertise their own listings. They could choose some publications and not others, and could promote their listing any way they wished as long as they followed state laws and other legal requirements on advertising. Online advertising works in much the same way. Brokers are free to decide which sites and apps they want to do business with.
Since these consumer portals are not operated by brokers, they are not subject to IDX display rules. Instead, the terms for display are governed by one of the following: the Terms and Conditions on the publisher website, an agreement between the listing broker/agent and the publisher, or in the case of ListHub, the ListHub publisher agreements. The ListHub publisher agreements provide brokers with protections and display rules that supersede the publisher’s Terms and Conditions. Brokers, agents and MLSs may also work with the publishers directly to negotiate additional terms that extend beyond those provided by the ListHub publisher agreements.
The cornerstone of the ListHub model is MLS connectivity in order to ensure accuracy of the listing content. There is one place where listings must be kept accurate – the MLS. Unlike other platforms that distribute listings, ListHub does not provide any functionality for brokers or agents to hand enter listings into ListHub for distribution. ListHub requires connectivity to a reliable accurate data source. MLS connectivity leverages the work the agent has already done to update the listing details in the MLS, and greatly reduces cost and effort. Brokers are able to add and maintain listings in one place, then have their listings retrieved and automatically sent to destinations of their choosing. The same accurate and consistent experience given to participants in the MLS is now available to meet the demands of clients and consumers.
In a ListHub-connected MLS, brokers have a free self-service option to make the choice for their company’s listings in the MLS to be automatically distributed to broker-selected websites for advertising purposes. The basic service is available at no cost to the brokers, and does not require any technical work or expertise.
How the MLS Gets Connected
The MLS forms an agreement with ListHub to serve the members of the MLS. Any time listings are made available from the MLS there should be an agreement that specifies how those listings are going to be used. IDX agreements are specific to IDX purposes. With services like syndication, this agreement should reflect that listings are being retrieved for the specific purpose of brokers advertising only their own listings.
ListHub does not charge fees to the MLS or to the brokers for the basic listing syndication service, but our agreement with the MLS does cover proper use and security of broker data. The MLS provides ListHub with a single set of RETS credentials to access and pull active listings from the MLS for brokers that choose to use the service. The MLS also establishes the appropriate local definition of a marketable listing based on the different statuses available.
For most MLSs, this is the extent of the MLS requirements for offering ListHub to members. ListHub provides everything else including support for online listing display, broker tools to evaluate and choose sites, conditions and compliance work related to the manner in which publishers can use the listings they receive, ability for brokers to change their minds at any time, and full transparency to keep the broker in control.
Some MLSs choose to make preliminary decisions on behalf of their broker participants. These include delivering listings to some or all destinations by default, routing consumer inquiries to the MLS public site to display listing detail pages, giving brokers guidance by labeling certain sites as “preferred,” and enterprise-level purchase of the reporting available for all members to reveal the activity listings receive on each of the publisher websites. In each case, brokers need to retain control of their own listings, so the MLS’s selections in ListHub serve as the ‘default’ and brokers always have the option to overwrite the MLS’s preliminary selections. Brokers have the tools in ListHub to alter these MLS level decisions to opt-out of sites, redirect traffic to their brokerage websites, and include their consumer site activity from their brokerage website on the reports.
Once the MLS is connected, the head broker in charge, or ‘designated broker,’ has the option to visit www.ListHub.com where they can create an account online at no cost and access numerous tools and resources, as well as select from more than 60 different publisher websites to advertise their listings.
MLSs who support ListHub are provided with login access to the ListHub MLS dashboard which contains important online resources and options for the MLS leadership and staff, providing the ability to review the information the brokers see, and tools available for the MLS to guide brokers and support them when needed.
Following are the options available in the MLS Dashboard:
- MLS Preferred Publisher Program
The Preferred Publisher Program enables MLS partners to designate MLS Preferred Publishers based on the MLS’s own criteria to help guide more discerning syndication choices by broker members. There are built-in features provided in the ListHub dashboard that can be used to filter the list of publishers by key criteria, helping the MLS to choose ‘preferred’ publishers. MLSs may also create their own criteria independently in order to determine which Publishers will be marked “MLS Preferred.” The MLS's Preferred Publishers are then denoted in the ListHub dashboard, visible to broker members, with an easy option for the broker to filter on the MLS’s Preferred Publishers and choose those sites. Brokers are not required to choose the MLS Preferred Publishers.
Here are the dashboard filters that are currently available:
Mobile App Available: The website offers real estate search via a mobile application
No FSBOs: The website does not display "for sale by owner" listings
No Re-Syndication: Data remains in the publisher's control at all times and no portion is redistributed at any time.
Posts Redirect Link: Posts a link to the agent or brokerage property detail page of choice.
Provides Error Reports: Publisher reports to ListHub when a qualified listing was not posted to their site and/or gives a link to successfully posted listings
Provides Metrics: Tracks and reports listing views and inquiries and provides this data to ListHub for display on ListHub Reports
Shows Broker Contact Info: Posts the brokerage name and brokerage address or phone number
Timely Listing Removal: Identifies and removes inactive listings within 1-3 days
Timely Support: Responds to support requests within 1-3 days on average
MLS Level Reports
The MLS can access reports that show aggregated activity provided through the platform on all sites, plus realtor.com®, publisher performance data and rankings, information on which brokers are using the platform, how certain property categories are performing online, etc. These online marketing reports and member subscriber reports are available 24 x 7 and can be accessed for any date range for the life of the MLS agreement, all aggregated at the market level.
Publisher Comparison: Detail page views, click throughs to the listing source website, and inquiries generated
Property Characteristics Report: Traffic and leads analyzed across property types and price ranges to show the most popular property characteristics market-wide
Online Buyer Locations: Identifies the geographic locations of the largest volumes of online consumers in the market
Top Performing Marketers: Ranks member agents by their effectiveness in generating traffic and leads totheir listings online
Listing Report: Easily search and view listings that are being delivered through the platform
Report of all participating brokers, along with their ListHub Basic (free) or Pro (pay) status
VIP Support Dashboard: Access to our top tier support team via online case input
Broker Controls and Tools
ListHub is a broker-controlled platform at its core. That means that a head broker in charge owns the listings and they control all aspects of their online marketing program for marketing listings online, including:
- Selecting/deselecting the online publishers where their listings will be advertised
- Deciding where consumers will be redirected when they click to “see the listing website” on the publisher detail pages for more information (redirection settings)
- Determining where leads will be routed, etc.
- Having the option to change the MLS default settings at any time, easily, and at no cost
Broker Registration: Registration is a simple online process. Account confirmation may take several days while ListHub verifies that the registrant is the head broker in charge. During account registration, the broker enters their office codes within the MLS and other details to link them to their listings in the MLS. These office codes are the key identifiers of the listings for each brokerage, determining which listings will be picked up from the MLS system, and distributed according to that broker’s account settings.
Consumer Traffic Routing
All but one site in the ListHub network (Homes.com) display a “redirect link” on their property detail page to the source of the listing. ListHub provides flexible options for the MLS or broker to control these links.
MLS Public Site: If the MLS has a public site, it makes sense to leverage the online publishers to drive traffic back to the MLS site. This is to ensure that, in the absence of a broker or agent site, online publishers will redirect consumers to the MLS site so those inquiries and leads can be delivered back to the broker based on the MLS settings. The MLS may designate the MLS public site property detail pages as the default redirect for all member listings. By doing so, the MLS drives more traffic - and thus more business to their members - through the MLS public site.
ListHub Default Landing Page: If there is no broker, agent, or MLS public site, there needs to be a place for these redirect links to go. Unless otherwise specified, the ListHub landing page is the default. The ListHub landing pages provide consumers with complete contact information for both the broker and the agent, as well as the complete property details with photos from the MLS.
Brokerage Website Page: Regardless of which MLS default setting is selected, each individual broker may override these settings, and redirect consumer traffic from their company’s listings to the property detail page on their own brokerage website. The broker must login to their ListHub account and click “support” to submit the request online. The request will be fulfilled within one business day. There is no charge to the broker for this service.
Agent Website Page: There are two requirements that must be met before the agent can redirect consumer traffic from their own listings to their own website. 1) The broker must give the agent permission to do so within the broker’s account settings, and 2) The agent must pay a one-time setup fee of $99. Once the broker sets the permission, an agent can submit a support request to make this change and the agent will be billed upon fulfillment.
Brokers should have full control on where leads generated by their listings will go. By default, all broker, office, and agent email addresses and phone numbers provided with the listings from the MLS are included in the feed that is distributed to publishers. Typically, in the absence of specific lead management information from the broker, leads generated on the publisher websites are routed to the listing agent. Brokers who operate a lead management software system, call center, or other system for receiving, qualifying, and/or routing Internet leads can use the Lead Management tool in ListHub to control where leads are routed. Online publishers are required through ListHub’s publisher agreements to send leads per these instructions. Brokers and agents who use ListHub’s lead management tools are able to set lead routing settings one time and have this instruction span the network of publishers available through the platform. Lead management can be set at the company, office, and agent level for maximum flexibility to meet the needs of all brokerages.
Publisher Information Resources
The key elements are:
Scorecards: ListHub provides a Publisher Scorecard that details the features and practices of each publisher across more than 60 different factors, which is available in two different formats: a comparison spreadsheet for the ability to easily contrast the different sites and a scorecard flip-book for a more graphical online magazine review of each site in detail.
Publisher Ratings: Like the “Yelp” of publisher websites, brokers can rate each publisher on a 5-star scale and enter comments to share their view or experience with other brokers and agents in the network.
Reporting: Brokers cannot have an effective online marketing program without reporting. Reporting helps brokers decide which publishers are most effective for them and thus where to send their listings, as well as where to target their advertising expenditures. For this to be effective, reporting should track key consumer behaviors including:
- How many times the listing was viewed
- How many times a consumer clicked to get more information
- The number of leads generated
- The geographic location of consumers who viewed the property
- Historical trends
- Activity by property type, price range, agent etc.
No issue is more important than ensuring listings are accurate when displayed to consumers. ListHub is built for the highest level of accuracy attainable. There are numerous measures that ListHub takes to ensure that the listing information provided to publishers is the most accurate:
1. Listings are sourced directly from the MLS. There is no dashboard tool available for agents or brokers to hand-enter listings into ListHub for distribution because this practice leads to erroneous information and stale data online.
2. The core fields syndicated by ListHub from the MLS fields must remain intact and cannot be edited on the sites themselves. These core fields include beds, baths, price, square feet, and other primary fields. Agents are restricted from being able to modify these core fields directly on the publisher websites because overwriting the MLS information online leads to inaccuracies. Instead, the data must be updated in the MLS. By updating these fields in the MLS system, these fields are updated consistently across all sites to ensure accuracy. Core fields do not include marketing information such as photos, remarks and virtual tours. The marketing fields are not restricted by ListHub and can be enhanced directly on the publisher websites to display to online consumers.
3. ListHub’s listing feed sourced from the MLS “trumps” or overrides listings received from non-MLS sources. “Trumping” refers to the business rules by which publisher websites handle the de-duplication of listings that they receive from multiple data sources. If a publisher receives the same listing from other sources, the ListHub version is required to trump the other sources to ensure accuracy and to ensure that the publisher is displaying a listing that is authorized by the head broker in charge. The only exception would be a listing feed provided directly by the broker, since brokers must remain in full control of their own programs.
4. Update frequency. ListHub picks up listings from the MLS 4 times per day, and updates to publisher websites 2-4 times per day (at the discretion of the publisher). Our customer surveys have reflected a daily update frequency for syndicated listings, and our goal is to always meet or exceed these expectations. Our plans include more frequent updates as the demand grows for updates at a faster pace.
Duplication and Trumping
Trumping refers to the business rules by which publisher websites handle the de-duplication of listings that they receive from multiple data sources. Not all publishers de-duplicate listings, but most of the largest sites have business rules in place for determining which version of the listing will be displayed. ListHub’s publisher contracts influence those trumping rules. Because ListHub’s listings are sourced from the MLS and authorized by the head broker in charge, they are considered to be an authoritative source of listings on publisher websites. Barring direct feeds coming from the brokers, or certain pre-existing contracts that the publishers have in place with, for example, franchise organizations, the ListHub feed will trump other sources of listings. This is an important factor that keeps brokers in control of the accuracy of their listings online, and prevents less accurate and less authoritative versions from appearing from sources such as agent website providers, virtual tour companies, print publishers, and other unmanaged syndication sources.