2021 IDX & Home Search Report: What 135,000 Consumers Told Us About the Home Search on Your Website
There are multiple options for powering your real estate website. Each one has its pros and cons. We surveyed 135,000+ consumers, analyzed over 20,000 agent websites, and examined 16 IDX providers, in the largest real estate technology study ever.
In this report, an update to our 2020 report, we will help you decide which IDX is best for you and your marketing needs. If you are new to IDX, we’ll give you a thorough understanding of IDX, why you may want to use it, and what many agents get wrong when they build their websites.
What is IDX?
The accepted agent definition of IDX is:
IDX stands for Internet Data Exchange and is a real estate property search enabled site that allows the public to conduct searches of approved Multiple Listing Service (MLS) properties in a certain area. It is the exchange of the MLS Data to the IDX customer giving the IDX customer the ability to display all listings that are on the MLS. Just like Redfin, Zillow or Trulia.
According to NAR, Internet Data Exchange (“IDX”), also referred to as “Broker Reciprocity,” is the next stage in the evolution of MLS as the primary means of enhancing cooperation between REALTORS® to facilitate the purchase and sale of real property. IDX gives MLS Participants the ability to authorize limited electronic display of their listings by other Participants. Under IDX, brokers exchange consent to display each other’s listings on participants’ websites and using applications for mobile devices that participants control.
This is where the confusion on IDX comes in
Technically, IDX is the requirement for members of an MLS to share the data on their listings equally with other members of the MLS. However, it’s more complicated than that. Simply accessing the data is one thing, but someone has to build applications that can use that data.
In 2010, there were 1,400 location boards with their own MLS practices. There are still more than 600 MLSs today in the United States alone. While the Real Estate Standards Organization has been a huge help in the real estate market, most of these MLSs still use differing server protocols, access requirements, rate limits, standards, etc. to access the data. It’s costly to access and normalize this data, with it commonly accepted that Zillow spent $25 million simply ingesting MLS and other data, and that is before building search tools.
How you should think about IDX?
IDX is how consumers perform their home search on your website. It includes access to the MLS data on your website and all of the modern home search capabilities that they require to find their next home.
Often consumers will first go to Google or another search engine and search for something like:
- Condos in downtown Dallas
- Chicago waterfront condos
- Single-family homes near Liberty high school
- Homes for sale in Charlotte
With Google’s shift to “user intent”, the search results for each of these searches could render very different results based on what the search engine already knows about the person. This is why it’s important to look at search engine optimization. Many outdated IDXs use iFrames and subdomains which make it near impossible to rank a website on search engines.
Modern IDX plugins will give you pictures, videos, neighborhood info, market information, allow visitors to save their search, and will never use iFrames or subdomains.
Your website should be the hub of all of your marketing, and a modern IDX will power the real estate components of that marketing technology stack.
Best IDX Plugins and Home Search
What is the best IDX? Showcase IDX is the highest rated IDX plugin and home search from our study.
We tested 20,000 real estate agent websites and worked with more than 135,000 consumers in what was the largest test of IDX, home search, and real estate portals ever done. When combined with our 2020 research, we tracked 250,000+ total home buyers/sellers.
We were most concerned with one question “would qualified leads use the home search from an individual agent?”. Next, we wanted to know where a consumer went when they left an agent’s website.
Zillow made approximately $1 billion in 2019 from advertising services (i.e. that’s the value of consumer value). That is the value of your client’s contact and budget info. As an agent, it’s hard to have a business and grow today if your clients are using a large portal like Zillow that will provide their contact information to a competing agent, unless you have a buyers agreement in place 100% of the time.
As a successful Realtor website must retain clients, generates leads, and increases engagement with clients, we next looked at how each IDX and home search provider impacted the ability of the agent to rank for search terms relevant to the niche they serve.
Here are a summary results agents need to know when deciding on the IDX to power their website:
Showcase IDX stood out above any other IDX plugin overall, significantly outperforming in terms of client retention on agent websites and the ability to rank in Google, especially from an ROI standpoint. All-in-One platforms kVcore and Real Geeks scored 2nd and 3rd overall but at a much higher annual price than owning your own website.
IDX Broker vs iHomeFinder vs Showcase IDX vs Others
Some agents generate leads from ads, others from organic traffic, others from local events, and countless other ways. A successful real estate website will be a site and home search your clients actually use and will help you be found on search engines by clients in your target niche.
To better understand the benefits, costs, and risks associated with investing in an IDX or home search, The Made in America Movement analyzed 25,000+ real estate agent websites, interviewed multiple customers from each vendor, and spoke directly to dozens of consumers about their preferences.
Key Findings on IDX and Agent Websites
- IDX Choice Matters: Our research shows a substantial difference in how the choice of IDX impacts client retention, the impact of the IDX on search engine rankings, and the long-term lower costs of successful real estate marketing tools once set up properly.
- Value of a website: This research also reinforced the value of 1) real estate agents that have their own website compared to 2) the agents without a website, a simple agent featured page on their broker’s site, or a subdomain with their name from their broker.
- Client Retention is the #1 Most Important Success Factor: Client retention is the percentage of qualified leads that are sent to an agent’s website that leave and go to a competitor’s website or a large portal. Every website and category has a normal “bounce rate” (percentage of visitors that leave). Normalizing for these typical bounce rates showed a significant difference in consumer willingness to use a given home search on individual agent websites. Imagine sending your past clients to Zillow, or spending $5k in advertising this month for 60% of those potential clients to leave and go to Zillow? The best IDX in our study had a client retention 15.9x that of the worst IDX.
This does not mean that the IDX has a “connection to Zillow/Trulia and sends consumers to those sites. It means that the consumer does not like the search experience for some reason and chooses to go to Zillow, Trulia, Redfin, etc and do their search there instead of on the agent’s websites.
- Search Engine Optimization Matters: Many agents simply need a website with a home search their clients will use (i.e. client retention) and do not need to generate leads from Google and Bing. The all-in-one platforms typically rank well for SEO because of how they are built. For agents that need an IDX website and are using an IDX plugin, we found that many agents have been hurt by website developers that use an IDX that utilize subdomains or iFrames because the developer is simply accustomed to using one of the outdated IDXs, rather than one of the newer modern options.
Here is how each of the IDXs and home searches compared on Client Retention and SEO Capabilities:
|IDX Home Search||Consumer Retention||Consumer Loss||SEO Value|
|Real Estate Webmaster||38.5%||61.5%||48.2%|
*Consumer Leakage is the inverse of Consumer/Visitor Retention.
Stand Alone IDX Plugins
Showcase IDX is the best IDX software across both plugins and all-in-one platforms, including map search, a great mobile polygon search, lead routing, 9 lead generation CTAs (call-to-action), and more features. It does not use iFrames or subdomains and works in a way that makes it easy to rank community pages on Google, if you put in the work. Showcase IDX retains 9.8x more clients than IDX Broker and 4x more clients than the typical iHomeFinder website, in our study. They do not have coverage of every MLS though. If you’re one of the 1M+ agents that they cover, you have access to the best performing IDX home search. If not, sign up to be notified as they expand into your area.
FlexMLS IDX is offered by many MLSs to their member agents and often chosen because it’s provided by the same company, FBS, that provide the MLS platform. They offer a framed IDX and WordPress plugin, both are better than several other IDX plugins in terms of retention. The ease of use and cost makes it a good solution for agents putting up a quick website while they get started with more modern marketing workflows and tools. We also like that they have a team of employee-owners. See our full review of FlexMLS IDX here.
Founded in 1997, now owned by FRONTSTEPS, offers a good looking, user-friendly home search. The search looks good, however, it relies heavily on iFrames which is why it works on Wix and Squarespace. iHomeFinder saw a signficant loss of qualified leads (77.3% of qualified leads went to Zillow or a competitor’s website) compared to other solutions in our tests. The plugin is easy to install for individual agents, which makes it a good choice for an agent on Wix or Squarespace.
They also have some of the best MLS coverage. Web developers should note that the company began offering websites as a product offering recently, which puts them in competition when many of their partners. A few large real estate website developers such as Agent Image, Agent Elite, and Easy Agent Pro still use them.
Read our full iHomefinder review here to learn what you need to know before choosing them for your home search.
Diverse Solutions was an incredible product 5+ years ago, and a top tier product in terms of SEO back then. It still maintains a moderate number customers but has fallen behind the market leader. The company was acquired by Zillow in 2011. In 2015, Zillow sold Market Leader to Constellation Software and then Diverse Solutions to Constellation in 2016.
IDX Broker is the most used IDX plugin in the US, and has been the go-to for many marketing agencies for years since they released a newer version they call IDX Broker Platinum. It operates well out of the box but many designers are increasingly using it as a backup option where better IDX plugins do not have MLS coverage. Of the three major IDX plugins, IDX Broker had the highest loss of qualified buyers with more than 90% of visitors choosing to use Zillow (or another site) to conduct their home search during their buying journey. If comparing to other vendors, make sure to add up all of the options and make sure you are comparing apples to apples (e.g. setup fees, polygon tool, are their fees for using multiple MLSs, etc). Similar to iHomeFinder, some website developers may not feel comfortable working with them as they acquired real estate website agency and theme developer Agent Evolution in 2014. In addition, IDX Broker was acquired in 2020 by Elm Street Technology, which provides real estate technology and marketing services competing with some former partners.
Read the only in-depth IDX Broker you need before choosing them for your website.
Realtyna has made a place through unique marketing and pricing. The solution does outperform many competitors in terms of SEO capabilities, while still falling well behind SEO king Showcase IDX. Realtyna has attempted to coin the term “organic IDX”, but the reality is having indexable content that performs well in Google is available from almost every all-in-one platform and some other IDXs.
They push their one-time payment of $199 as cheaper than other IDXs, which charge monthly. The reality is that your total cost for 1 – 5 years of your IDX may be much higher when you “add-on” additional features (e.g. $950 for MLS add-on, $550 for advanced portal search, $350 for CRM, $350 for Zapier integration, $350 for neighborhoods and community pages, etc). Overall, the solution is respectable, but make sure you are comparing the true cost with other options. Here’s what else you need to know in our Realtyna review and comparison.
All-in-One and Platform IDX Options
We did look at how a variety of IDX and home search options compare in terms of consumer/visitor retention and search engine capabilities. Platform options such as kVcore and others offer many services (e.g. full website, drip email/text campaigns, advertising features, etc.) not available from those companies that hyperfocus on IDX.
We have chosen to not compare or review these all-on-one and platform options given their unique capabilities and significantly higher price points.
We heard from many agents that they like many of these all-in-one options and as you can see in the data above, many perform well on pure home search capabilities. However, the results from this study show that owning your own website powered by Showcase IDX + a CRM like LionDesk or Follow Up Boss will not only save you hundreds, if not thousands, of dollars per month but will also overdeliver when put head to head against any all-in-one system.
We encourage you to discuss your needs with a local marketing agency that specializes in real estate marketing and real estate websites to see what best meets your needs based on your marketing investment this year.
Consumer (visitor) retention and search engine optimization capabilities are the two most important factors affecting the success of a real estate website, according to the results in our survey from 135,000+ US home buyers/sellers and 20,000 real estate websites.
If building your own website or working with a web developer to create your real estate website, Showcase IDX is the best performing choice across all categories. Do not take the “default” IDX options from website developers like Agent Image, Agent Elite, Easy Agent Pro, or others.
All-in-one real estate marketing platforms offer many more features and capabilities and outperform many standalone IDX solutions. However, in most cases, a strong marketing agency will be able to create your website and marketing system using a best-in-class “point solutions” to give you a lower cost and better ROI than a real estate “all-in-one”.
Now, check our list of 7 Best Real Estate Tools for Top Producing Agents in 2021 + 12 More to Consider.
Need help with your website or other parts of your marketing? Here are the Top 17 Real Estate Marketing Agencies in the United States.