There is a common practice by some of the larger real estate portals to now offer a free website to real estate agencies as part of their monthly subscription. I’ve even heard that some of these real estate portals are even offering subscription packages with websites at marginally cheaper rates than the next package down, to entice agencies to upgrade and get the “free” website.'There’s no such thing as a free lunch” is a phrase to come out of the nineteenth century in reference to the then common practice of American bars offering a “free lunch” as a way of enticing drinking customers into their establishments. This saying still rings true today, as it is impossible to get something for nothing.I regularly hear from clients and other agents I come into contact with that “I’m not in IT, I’m in real estate” and this is why the portals are striking with “free” websites. Once you’ve been conned into upgrading your subscription, and you get yourself a shiny new agency website, you’ll see, right down the very bottom of the page some text like “Powered by RealEstatePortalNameHere.com” which links back to that portal.This link may seem small and insignificant to most people, as most web developers put a similar link back to their website on the websites they build. How this is a problem for real estate agencies using these free websites (and for the rest of the real estate industry) relates to two things – Search Engine Optimisation (SEO) and Page Ranking.SEO is a process web developers use to make a website more “search engine friendly” and to improve the visibility of a website or a web page in search engines (Google, Yahoo!, Bing etc.) via the "natural" or un-paid ("organic" or "algorithmic") search results. In layman’s terms, SEO is what you do to make sure your web site shows up when people Google your company or industry. Page Ranking is the process that search engines use to evaluate the SEO of a website and subsequently rank it in the results when people perform searches on key words.One of the many factors that can increase the ranking of a website and it’s SEO value is the number and quality of inbound links. Google's description of their PageRank system, notes that Google interprets a link from page A to page B as a vote, by page A, for page B. What this means is that every “free” website built by a real estate portal for an agency is actually increasing the portal's SEO and ranking.Why, I can hear you ask, is this any different to a non-real estate portal web developer having a link back to their website in the footer of the page? The answer to this is that not only do search engines rank inbound links from one website to another, they also weigh the context of the originating website.Let me “de-techify” this for you: A real estate agency website markets properties and shows listings. A real estate portal also markets properties and shows listings. A web developer’s website promotes their website development services (or in the case of Rex, our real estate sales software and website development) but does NOT market properties or show listings. This means an agency website and a real estate portal share the same context, while the agency website and a web developer’s website have a different context, meaning a link from the “free” agency website back to a portal carries a much higher weighting for that portal in terms of SEO, than the same link from an agency website to a web developers site.Every “free” agency website is giving the portal that provides it a massive SEO benefit. This makes them harder to knock out of the “top spot” in search engine results. The better the portal ranks when people search for real estate, the bigger their market share and the more they will end up charging you for their monthly services. And that doesn’t just affect the agencies using the “free” website option, it affects every real estate agency around the country that uses that portal.Every day, I hear agency directors complain that “this portal” just increased their pricing again and it would be great if there was a way to knock them off their perch. It won’t happen if agencies around the country rely on the big portals for services that can be provided by others. List your properties on the portal – but don’t subscribe to their “free” extra’s because there’s no such thing as a free website.