This topic goes by many names – data feed, listing feed, BDX feed, XML feed, and simply XML or feed, among others.
No matter how you refer to it (I’ll be using “XML Feed” for this article), it’s one of the most confusing, frustrating, and despised topics in our industry. Unfortunately, I cannot make the hate go away, but with a little deeper understanding of XML Feeds, they should be a little less frustrating.
If you prefer to watch your information, Molly and I covered a lot of these topics in a recent episode of Homefiniti & Beyond.
Note: I’ve intentionally glossed over and simplified technical details. A computer science student would run out of red ink if they graded this post like a classroom assignment. These answers are designed to help new home marketers. Nerds learn about XML from a different perspective.
What is “XML”?
XML is a method of organizing content into a rigid structure so computers can read it.
XML is a file type. You may have been sent an XML file with a name like feed.xml. There’s nothing special about and XML file, and you can open one using simple software like Text Edit on a Mac or Notepad on Windows. The file is ugly to the human eye, but if you look closely you’ll see familiar content like community name, prices, and phone numbers — all very identifiable in normal text.
What is an XML Feed used for?
Home builders use XML feeds to automatically share the details of their listings (communities, lots, plans, and specs). The most common use is Listing Syndication.
What is Listing Syndication?
Listing syndication is the process of getting your company’s communities, lots, plans, and specs included on websites like Zillow, Trulia, NewHomeSource.com, Realtor.com, and others. Each of these sites are also referred to an ILS, Internet Listing Service.
What is the benefit of having an XML Feed?
Accuracy. An XML feed sends the same information to every ILS. Instead of logging into three, four, or five dashboards to change a price, doing it only once reduces the chance of errors.
Scalability. What marketing department has the time to manage three, four, five or more dashboards. Doing it just once means you can do more.
Automation. Most XML feeds are shared amongst builders and ILS’s every 24 hours, and sometimes more often. Once it’s setup, you’re free to focus on more important things.
What types of XML feed are there?
Home builders follow one of the two major formats.
- BDX – Generally considered the industry default XML format. First published in 2001.
- Zillow – A close cousin of the BDX format, but with added support for special Zillow data, and few small limitations.
What are the differences between the BDX and Zillow XML feed formats?
The two XML feed types are far more alike than they are different, but those differences are often the source and frustration and the occasional migraine for new home marketers. The list below is not a complete list, but contains the most compelling differences
The following features are supported by Zillow only.
- Including Lots as part of your community listing.
- Including Promotions for Communities AND Specs (BDX supports only Community Promotions)
- Open Houses dates and times for Specs
The following features are supported by BDX only.
- Add a “carbon copy” email address to be included on all lead notifications.
- Include a Spec when its related Plan is no longer available for a to-be-built sale.
And then there’s the really frustrating differences. These differences are not horribly difficult to overcome, but they definitely cause confusion when marketers notice slight differences between their listings on different sites.
- Both formats support a Stories value for Plans to tell a consumer how many floors a home has.
- BDX allows you to declare a value of 1, 1.5, 2, 2.5, etc.
- Zillow requires this to be a whole number; 1, 2, 3, etc.
- Both formats support a Community Status.
- BDX allows: Active, Grand Opening, Closeout, or Coming Soon
- Zillow allows: Active or Coming Soon
Why don’t all my listings show up on Zillow and NewHomeSource.com?
In most cases, it means they’re missing required information. For example, both Zillow and BDX require that a Spec have price. If your spec does not have a price declared it’s not eligible to be included. Below are some other examples of missing, but required content that makes a listing ineligible for XML.
- A Plan without a base price (and no related Specs)
- A Plan without a bedrooms or bathrooms value.
- A Community or a Spec without an address, city, state, or zip code.
Here, I will toot our own horn a bit to mention that Homefiniti, developed by the ONeil Interactive team, alerts builders when this required content is missing so it can get corrected easily. We know you’re paying to get your listings on the Zillow and the BDX network of websites. Ensuring all your listings are live is the best use of your investment.
How does a builder make an XML feed?
Your Website Content Management System (Best Option)
The best method of generating your XML is to have your website content management system generate the XML feed. This ensures you never have to manually enter information into multiple dashboards, and having one true origin for all your listings content ensures its accuracy. Most building industry web development companies offer some level of this service, but it’s worth asking about the availability and support for the newest features, and what extra costs may be involved.
Builders who choose Homefiniti to power their website enjoy full-featured XML generation – Unlimited volume, on-demand or twice daily automatic updates, and support for all major formats and destinations.
Use an Independent Service (Next Best)
If your website does not, or cannot, generate XML, builders can use a separate tool instead. The downside is the need to manage listings in both your website AND this other dashboard. The upside is you’ll have an XML feed.
We’ve made Homefiniti available for any builder who needs an XML solution just like this. Access to Homefiniti and it’s XML service is completely free for home builders. You can create an account at this link and have an XML feed ready as quickly as you can add your content. It really is free; no gimmicks.
Why is it free? We know XML is hard, but it’s too valuable to be unavailable to the growing builder without the technical staff or marketing budget to build it themselves. I like to think we’re helping the next generation of great building companies grow.
Use an Affiliated ILS Service (If you must)
You may be familiar with NewHomeFeed.com (a Zillow service) or BDXLive (a BDX service, of course). It might be an unpopular take to classify these as a last resort, so I’ll share the pros and cons to help explain.
- These tools are used by many home builders and well-supported by their parent companies.
- These tools support ALL of the XML features of their parent company’s format.
- These tools provide some built-in to support to manage some additional ILS websites as part of their “network.”
- BDX and Zillow are competitors, of course. As of today, you can use one of them to send listings to the other, but there was a time when the two rivals were not cooperating. I hope not, but if that happens again, or another contender enters the market, you could end up managing multiple dashboards again.
- As competitors, there’s limited motivation to support one another’s unique features. If Zillow adds an awesome new capability for its XML, don’t expect to be able to manage that feature in BDX Live, and vice versa.
- There may come a time when you don’t want to pay for all of your communities to be on Zillow or NewHomeSource.com. It’s not easy, or not possible, to send community X to another ILS if you’re not also paying for it to be on their ILS.
- Some ILS sites you might want in your marketing plan are simply not available through these tools. BDX and Zillow have a business model that’s at least partially based on charging for listings, so it makes sense that they work with exclusively with strategic partners. For you, this might mean managing another dashboard, or forgoing an opportunity.
Where do I start if I don’t have an XML feed now?
- Confirm if you website content management system can or cannot generate an XML feed.
- Consider the cost/time of having your website updated or migrated to another system so it can generate XML. (If your website runs on WordPress, ask your web development team if they can install Builder WebPress (a free WordPress plugin that will send your listings to Homefiniti for XML).
- If the first two options are dead ends, register for a free Homefiniti account, or sign up with another independent XML generator service. Of course, going directly with BDX Live or New Home Feed are very viable options.