Five Keys to a Successful MLS Listing Consumer Website

Written by admin on April 2nd, 2011

While dozens of factors determine the overall success of each MLS listing consumer website, our research into top-performing consumer real estate listing websites shows five key areas of focus.

1. Success starts with a clear understanding of what you want to achieve and a written business plan. This may seem obvious, but it is especially important because developing an MLS listing consumer website is time consuming, expensive and requires an ongoing commitment by staff and leadership. If you already have an MLS listing consumer website, you already know this! However, it may be time to update your strategy and your website with a new and improved offering. This was the case for MRIS in 2008 when it launched the redevelopment project for its MLS listing consumer website,

The business plan should address your longer-term strategy for the website, and the brand that your MLS wishes to create. It should convey a clear understanding of consumer needs and behavior; lay out plans for the ongoing promotion of the site, including advertising, and how you will measure success going forward.  In MRIS’ case, they set out to build based on its commitment to connect consumers with MLS subscribers through an engaging and advertising-free site.  Customer loyalty is built through a great consumer experience.  Local Matters worked with MRIS to design so that the site would provide the most complete, accurate and up-to-date listing information available directly from the MLS. MRIS chose to enhance its subscribers’ value proposition by providing extensive reporting to the brokers and agents — to help them make more relationships and increase earnings.

2. Select strong and proven partners who are experts in online consumer behavior and websites. During your evaluation process, consider and compare all of the options including custom-building your site, and buying or licensing the solution and technology from your MLS vendor or other providers with expertise in this area. Your partners should know how to increase the activity on your site through SEO (Search Engine Optimization), SEM (Search Engine Marketing), and other forms of advertising. They should be committed to constant innovation and leading, or at least keeping up with, the rest of the industry since they are specialists in what they do.

3. Offer the best features and functionality. The best websites continuously innovate by adding new and improved tools and features. Staying ahead of or keeping up with the leading national independent listing websites can be challenging —another reason to select strong and experienced partners. The features and navigation should be grounded in consumer market research as well as matching or even leading what popular independent listing websites are offering.

The following elements make real estate listing websites more compelling to consumers. Include these site features in your long-term strategy for your MLS listing consumer website. A number of them may be implemented in phases, as you extend the budget for the project and learn more about the needs and wants of home buyers in your region.

Powerful, easy-to-use listings search. Real estate listing websites should make it easy for the consumers to narrow their search and find the amenities that they are looking for.  How easy is it to find a fireplace in a community in your area? If the consumer can start with a simple search box (like Google or Bing), sometimes known as “Natural Language Queries,” and type a community name and amenity, it makes their search a lot easier.  Do they have to “ping pong” back and forth between search results and their search criteria, or have you made it easy for consumers to adjust their search on the fly? Do the search results contain property images large enough to give the consumer a sense of the property without clicking to see the detail on each one of the search results? Can they sort by how “fresh” the listings are, so when they return to your site they don’t have to sort through all the listings to find the new ones? Can they see all the properties that match their search on a map? Can they search for open houses and create driving directions to set their route? If your site doesn’t make it easy to find exactly what the consumer is looking for, they will go somewhere else. Additional content. Market data and statistics are highly valued by consumers — especially when integrated into the property search so they can understand market trends for the specific geographic areas they are searching.  Neighborhood, school and demographic information are all important — and be sure to include these details alongside the listing information. It’s not convenient for the consumer to have to visit third-party websites for this information. Websites like Zillow have raised the bar for providing comprehensive and recent “sold” data for nearby properties, and “AVMs” for the property being viewed. “Push” notifications. Are there features that keep potential home buyers coming back to the site, such as notifications of new search result matches, open houses that meet their criteria, price changes on saved search results or saved listings? What about a custom RSS feed so they can see new matches on their Google home page or another RSS-enabled application? Integration with the social web. The Web is increasingly becoming more social in nature, a trend confirmed by Kelsey/BIA and other analysts.  Forrester’s Jeremiah Owyang says, “Consumers will rely on their peers as they make online decisions.”   In the past five years, popular social networking websites have had a profound effect on how consumers shop for everything.  Dynamic websites that encourage interactions between people and provide tools for creating new and additional content are thriving.  On the flip side, static websites that provide just listing content are becoming less favored by the major search engines and subsequently are found and used by fewer consumers. Websites with MLS and user-supplied content (information and ratings — not just data about properties, neighborhoods, schools) are much more interesting to consumers than websites that have just listings.  Allowing the consumer to share listings with others including their agent, family members and friends is key, and this sharing can be via email, text message, or integrations with social networking websites.

4. Know how to measure your ongoing success. Many real estate listing websites brag about numbers of hits, unique visitors and page views. That’s one way to measure things – from a sheer quantity perspective. However, more meaningful measures of success should be grounded in your business plan based on additional metrics that are more actionable. For example:

Attracting consumers: How are consumers finding the site? Where are they located? How are they using the site?  What words, locations, or prices are consumers using when searching? How often are each broker’s listings searched and viewed? Most importantly, how many leads are produced? How often do consumers click through for more information? What is the most popular way to connect with agents — email, telephone? Which agents generate more leads from the website, and why?

These insights are much more meaningful to you and your MLS subscribers than just the number of visitors.  You are looking to understand how well your MLS listing consumer website is connecting with consumers and the value it is providing to both consumers and agents.  It is not enough to understand these internally; you need to think about and plan for learning from these metrics and communicating back out to your subscribers via web and email-based reports on a periodic basis.  Be thinking of these quality metrics from the start of your website design and involve your partners in the conversation.

5. Constantly demonstrate the value to your MLS subscribers. Your subscribers need to be reminded of what you are doing for them over and over again.  Successful MLS listing consumer website operators provide: detailed Internet traffic reports educating the subscribers about the usage of the system as described above the number of free leads that are generated through the site where the visitors are coming from number of click-throughs trends related to the number of visitors, and the number of times each broker’s listings are searched and viewed.

For example, MRIS provides its subscribers a weekly e-newsletter about such activity. Brokers, who are MRIS subscribers, also can run reports on website traffic and activity through an application called ListHub available as part of their MLS subscription. This represents valuable information, which is difficult to get by other means or from other website operators.

The debate about whether MLSs should operate listing consumer websites has come to an end — more than 300 MLSs are doing it now and it is likely many more will follow.  Consumers are looking for information about real estate that is accurate, up to date and offered without advertising, forced registration, and other distractions.  They are looking for impartiality and help in selecting an agent or broker, at the right time.

Because MLSs are the sources of the listing data, they are well-positioned to offer these listing consumer websites, which, in turn, provides valuable information to the brokers about consumer behavior, and helps the MLS subscribers understand consumers better, fostering relationships that result in a sale.

For more information on this MLS web site study, visit

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