Let's say you're a WordPress designer/developer. I know that slash in there (‘/') is a pretty crazy way to group both parties, but go with me for a second. Let's say you know a little something about WordPress and a friend (who happens to be an agent) is telling you how bad her site is and how much help she needs. She talks about the pain of updating her own site, and without thinking, you say, “WordPress could make that a lot easier.” Now you see why I bunched those two groups together. You see, it doesn't matter if you come from the programming or design side, real estate web sites will lure you in with their simplicity and then suck you into the depths of a black hole you never imagined – one called “WordPress MLS integration”.
There will always be Pain
I know you've likely heard that a particular MLS supports “IDX” so integration is easy. Let's be clear: ignore all the buzzwords. There will still be pain. Why? Because IDX stands for the objective (internet data exchange), not the method (ftp, .csv files, web calls, etc). Sure, everyone supports IDX but what does that mean? Virtually nothing! Just because someone tells you they support some form of integration doesn't mean they're thinking about what's best for your agent web site. For example, some MLS vendors will provide a nice iFrame solution that won't do anything for your SEO. Additionally, it will create scroll bars within scroll bars and make life miserable for your prospects. Lastly, it won't even look like it belongs on your site – so aesthetically it's ugly as hell. Other solutions will drop your header and footer on pre-fab pages (helping your SEO because now the site is indexable), but it still is pretty clear the interaction isn't seamless – which results in less trust and less leads. The truth is that the MLS is made of Brokers – folks who have a vested interest in not changing too much around because (after all) they've spent a lot of money getting their own systems to work perfectly with the stuff as it is. So why make changes? Therefore, expect to face some pain.
There will always be Plugins
Maybe you've done a quick search on Google for MLS integration and WordPress. If so, you've likely come across a variety of solutions. Of all of them, there's only one I like: Diverse Solutions – a company purchased by Zillow late last year. They come the closest to getting things right. They do this by making sure the content is displayed on your own pages/urls (so it's indexable by Google), while leveraging your own theme (so that users feel that seamless integration that drives trust and action). StudioPress and WooThemes both have some great themes that work well with their plugin. But the challenge isn't just in getting data to your site. Diverse Solutions solves that. It's not just getting it to look good – Woo & StudioPress take care of that.
There will always be the need for Personalization
The issue is making sure that your site is both quick and focused. And that's where Diverse Solutions struggles a bit. The way they deliver the results requires that the data come from their servers, so performance is based on how quickly your servers can hit their servers – not something you can control with perfect ease and in a test earlier this year, I noticed some performance issues that weren't just on the agent side of things. I love WP Engine and how fast their sites are, but that doesn't do much if the data is coming from an external server that makes my pages wait a bit.
Speed is one thing, and maybe if you're not getting tons of traffic, it may be ok to deal with the plugin approach (though now Google is using page load times in their algorithms for page rank). But focus, the need to develop a highly personalized site that represents exactly what you do, is far more critical. As a broker or agent, ask yourself the following:
- Do you specialize in a certain kind of property? Or any property in a specific zip code?
- Do you focus on a certain area? Or any property in a region?
The challenge I've found is that most agents have their own niche. They've had to develop this focus to create the kind of differentiation that helps them in the real world. Unfortunately, plugins (even those as good as Diverse Solutions) work off cities, zip codes, and divisions – not the same nuances that agents use. One example last year hit home particularly clear when I met an agent who focused on expensive waterfront homes in a particular neighborhood and the best the plugins could do was all the homes in the neighborhood – which meant that 80% of the listings on her site weren't in her sweet spot! ugh!
There will always be the need for Programmers
So what do you do? Here are my recommendations -which I share with brokers, agents and WordPress developers all the time. But first, don't be so quick to tell your friend that you can help them out. 🙂 Know what you're getting yourself into.
1. Truly integration with your MLS. Pull listings and updates down regularly. Code up alerts to when prices and statuses change so that you have that data with you. It's hard work but it's worth it. Pulling down the actual data and storing it on your own is the best way to make sure your own data is presented on pages, that they're indexed by Google, and that you control how quickly they come off the site (no one likes calling you about a listing that is already off the market).
2. Create the filters needed to determine exactly which properties need to be on your site. You want conversion, not just tons of browsing. So focus on what criteria you'll use to define featured listings. And ask yourself if you really need more than that. A fast-loading site with a focused amount of listings in your sweet spot is way better than a slow-loading site with tons of listings that aren't the ones you want to close.
3. Focus on leads – getting them to you (and your phone) as fast as possible so you can act on them. If you don't have ways to capture leads quickly, those folks are off to another site in minutes and you're watching your next commission walk out the virtual door.