By Matt Van Emmerik
I’m not sure how things work around the world with different MLS branches etc, but in Canada and British Columbia more specifically our MLS system
compresses the hell out of photographs when they are implemented through the Matrix system by Realtors. MLS does this to keep their server space down and page speed up across all platforms. So no matter what resolution photo is inputted by agents, their software will automatically compress images to fit their system. This is not an article about MLS but more about image display on the web, image compression and it’s resulting effects on our images which we provide our clients with.
Over the past 5 or so years I have noticed more agent websites are using matrix or MLS compressed photos to auto load into new listings they put up on their website. I can tell by the visible watermark in which MLS overlays on each image in their system. The result is usually a small on screen image and also compressed so much that it doesn’t even look like a professional photograph. I wanted to find out more about this and why agents are sacrificing quality and image display size, so I picked up the phone and spoke with a few of my top Realtor clients.
My Realtor clients that do use the MLS photos all said pretty much the same thing when asked why they display their listing photos in this way. They were all told by their web design company that they need to use this method for certain reasons. The first reason was simplicity and speed of adding new listings. This was very important to all the clients I spoke to as they want things simplified and not all of them are tech savvy or don’t have time to input manually every listing. Some of them did comment to their web developers about the small display size of the images on desktop computers so their web developers increased the display widow size which in turn decreased the quality further by doing so. This seemed a fair trade off for the Realtor clients I spoke with as they had no other options provided to them.
They were also told by their web developers that large image sizes will harm their Google search ranking and in Real Estate your ranking is very important so this is a scary thought. This is something I had to dig into further as I had a hard time believing Google would penalize a website ranking position solely based on image size as there are so many factors in ranking and SEO which I won’t dive into. I wanted to see if this was more of a scare tactic than anything.
Well I found quickly what I was looking for in this article pasted below from January of 2018. Essentially, effective July 2018, Google implemented a new algorithm in it’s MOBILE device search criteria which will potentially impact websites that have slow loading pages and large slow loading images. There is no data or method to find out if your page will actually be impacted by this algorithm or not. The article also states that the content of the page is more relevant to ranking and that image size alone does not necessarily harm your ranking as long as you have relevant content on the page. Unless I’m reading this wrong it contradicts what web developers are telling their realtor clients because if they design the page properly, there will be no penalty by Google rankings new algorithm. This change is also brand new and web developers have been telling clients this for years now with no validity to their comments. https://webmasters.googleblog.com/2018/01/using-page-speed-in-mobile-search.html
It’s also very important to keep in mind this new algorithm only applies to mobile searches using Google. Mobile display of the images is not really the problem, it’s desktop display where this new search algorithm does not apply from what I see.
I went ahead and ran some mobile load speed tests using Googles Developer tool called *Pagespeed Insights. I did these on my own website (which is rich with large file size images) and on 4 local Realtor websites, 3 that use MLS images and 1 that uses full size 2000px wide images.
My page got a ranking of 34%. The client that uses full size images also received a 34% ranking. The other clients I tested which all use MLS images got between 3% and 25% rankings.
This to me spoke volume as my own page and client with full size images, both ranked quite a bit higher than the MLS photo Realtor sites. This is because image size alone does not make a fast webpage and having a well built site is much more important. I went ahead and tested the top local luxury agent website with the most listings and larger images and it received a 51% result which again speaks against what web developers are telling Realtors.
Now I’m not worried about my own low ranking as there aren’t many pages out there that will score high. For example www.apple.com gets a 43% ranking and www.walmart.com gets a 22%. So as you can see there’s way more to having a high ranking site than image size or load speed alone. I should mention www.google.com gets a 94% but that is to be expected as it’s Google…and mostly text anyways.
In conclusion, not much is going to change as a result of these findings, but I have made my clients think about it and I also followed up with them on my findings which they will be taking back to their web developers. It’s also worth mentioning I reached out to two local web design companies involved in designing my research pages and as of publishing this article neither company got back to me for comment on my questions to them. If they do you’ll notice a comment below with what they said.
It’s always good to know you can speak with your clients about this and let them know image size alone will not harm their Google rankings but a poor website design will. High quality imagery will help them stand out in the crowd so if they’re paying good money for quality photography, they should seriously consider changing the way their listings are displayed in order to take advantage of those images and the money they’re spending on them. Further to this, they should also do some research on who they are using to design their site.