Real Estate Marketing Academy

IDX Explained: The Differences Between an iframe, FTP, & RETS

By Seth Price

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IDX (Internet Data Exchange) is the exchange of data between an MLS and a real estate website. In many instances, “IDX” is used to refer to a specific technology or solution for achieving that data exchange. Just like Google crawls the web, gathers data, and then puts that data in a searchable format, an IDX solution crawls an MLS database, gathers listing data, and then puts that listing data in a searchable format. With an IDX-powered website, visitors can search an MLS on your turf, which means they won’t need to go to a national listings site like Trulia, Zillow, or Realtor.com to learn more about a property: you’ll have everything they’re looking for.

iframe vs ftp vs rets

iframe: An iframe, or inline frame, is an HTML element that lets you embed HTML documents – like MLS search windows – on your website. Technically speaking, however, an iframed MLS search window doesn’t qualify as IDX technology. This is because when you use an iframe, listing data is never actually transferred from the MLS to your site. Instead, the iframe just displays the listing data. Think of it like a projected image: The actual image data is in the projector (the MLS), but people can see the image when it’s projected on a screen (your website).

Unfortunately, while an iframe is super simple to use – you just copy and paste an embed code to install it – it is a poor choice from a marketing and site optimization perspective. Since there’s no actual transfer of data, your listings don’t show up in search results, making it harder for people to find you online. And because you have little control over the look and feel of the iframe, there’s no guarantee that it will mesh with your site’s design or match with its color scheme.

FTP (File Transfer Protocol): FTP is a standard for exchanging program and data files across a network. Implemented before RETS (which we’ll talk about next), an FTP-based IDX solution synchronizes your real estate website with an MLS database. Updates happen at specific time intervals, such as once every 12 hours, meaning your listings always stay relatively up-to-date. And because data is actually transferred from one host (the MLS) to another (your website), the listings on your site show up in search results, making it easier for potential customers to find you.

One of the downsides to FTP is that there are no set FTP standards amongst MLSs: each has its own unique way of doing things, which makes the integration process both more complicated and more costly in comparison to other options. And while FTP does synchronize your site with an MLS database, updates happen less frequently – and less efficiently – than with the more modern RETS standard. As a result, a RETS integration yields higher SEO benefits.

RETS (Real Estate Transaction Standard): MLSs nationwide are moving to adopt RETS as the industry standard for IDX integration. In comparison to FTP, RETS allows for simpler and less expensive integrations. RETS is also the better option for boosting your “SEO juice,” as updates occur as frequently as once every hour. This means new, searchable listings are constantly being added to your site. And unlike FTP, which updates your site by re-sending all of the old MLS data along with the new data, RETS just sends the updated data. This more efficient data transfer process allows for a faster, higher-performing IDX integration.

The one drawback to RETS is that – on its own – RETS data is essentially useless. In order to deploy RETS data effectively, you need additional software or a trained professional to make sense of it.

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