Just wanted to share a recent experience I had creating a RE website. Granted, I don’t have a huge amount of experience building or designing websites, but I was up for the challenge and wanted to get my hands dirty with some of the new technologies available with RSS, IDX, social media, etc…
Luckily the client is a close friend so he was very patient with me… He’s my dad! He hired me on a limited basis to redesign his old Advanced Access website that he had for over 10 years.
WordPress was the obvious choice as a platform since it’s so search engine friendly, but is also very flexible in terms of design and features. I also jumped right on with Diverse Solutions as they have a really slick IDX system that allows the creation of RSS feeds based on a custom property search criteria.
The design and set up went smoothly enough… I used my favorite hosting company: BlueHost to switch the domain over and got to work installing WordPress. I chose a real estate specific theme called irealestate, that at the time was one of the first real estate WordPress themes ever created to my knowledge. It has a really cool blue tabber on the right that can feed recent posts from any category you choose.
Without boring you with the details, we got the site up and running without too much trouble… but there was one thing that was really bothering me. How do we showcase listings on the website without using a lame, cumbersome, framed in version of the IDX search? It’s slow, confusing, and just looks crappy framed into the site. You can see an example of what I mean here.
Not only that… from experience, I know that those iframes are very UN-friendly to search engine crawling and might as well be a blank page in the eyes of the search engines.
So immediately, one of my #1 goals became: how do I fix this??? How can I get listings to show up as static pages of the website that can be crawled and found by the search engines?
As I was digging around and researching this problem, I stumbled upon a feature of the irealestate theme I had purchased that had a page template that allowed you to feed listings into into it through RSS. Bingo!! I thought I had found the perfect solution!. You can see an example on this OC Foreclosures page.
The only thing that bothered me was that it just lined up all the listings on the page. I had seen something like this before on Jay Thompson’s website under the Phoenix Listing Feed section. It is really cool, but I recognized immediately that this wouldn’t solve my search engine problem. Yeah, the search engine might crawl this page and find some of the listing data, but it was on a single page, and it would constantly change because of the data feed it was pulling from. Not exactly the great solution I originally thought it was.
So I kept looking… I knew exactly what I wanted, but didn’t know how to make it happen. My dream was to have a feature that allowed individual listings to automatically create a single blog post as they came into the feed under whatever criteria I chose. So, if I wanted to have a category of listings in a certain zip code with a certain price range, I could set it up so every time a listing came up, a new blog post was created with WordPress. This would ensure that each listing got it’s own unique URL on my site and would be able to be crawled and found by the search engines.
Alas, I began to start thinking that this was probably just impossible…
Around the same time I was looking for a solution to this problem, a friend of mine over at the Real Estate Tomato (Jason Benesch) announced the soft launch of a tool he called Listing Press. It was almost exactly what I was looking for (and I highly recommend it if you want a plugin solution).
But being the DIY’r that I am, I had to find another way to make this happen and make it have the flexibility I wanted it to. The the search continued…
Low and behold, after searching for many many hours, I found just the thing. A combination of plugins and tweeks that would do exactly what I wanted. I turned it on at about 2am one night after working for about 6 hours on it, crossed my fingers, and went to bed…. The goal was to set it up so the listings would populate as blog posts automatically without me having to do anything and I knew that by the time I woke up I would know whether I had accomplished this goal.
I rolled out of bed at about 8am to check the computer, and to my utter amazement, 95 new blog posts had been created over night!!!!! Each one of them was a new listing pulled down from my Foreclosure feed that I had created with Diverse Solutions. Amazing!!!
Sorry, I know this post is getting long, but I almost feel like I need to journal it because what happened in the weeks to follow was incredible…
Because of some other work obligations and a vacation, I wasn’t able to really work on the site for about 2 weeks. I did set up some new feeds… I was really interested in the foreclosures because I knew that the REO market was really hot in Orange County and wanted to capitalize on that. I created 5 categories on the blog, each one targeting a different price range of foreclosures. I also found a really cool tool on Diverse Solutions that allowed me to find properties with price reductions… that was pretty cool too so I created a new page for that as well.
After a couple weeks, we had over 1,000 blog posts on the site as listings and noticed that many of them were even ranking when you did a search for the address, or even the street name. I found that they even outranked sites like Zillow and Trulia for the same listings… and most of the listings were so fresh that most of the sites that publish listings hadn’t even found them yet.
But where was the traffic??!! I was starting to get frustrated that my dad wasn’t getting any calls or emails. Why wasn’t it working?
Then I got the call that changed everything…
My dad called me early on a Monday morning saying that he just got a call from very angry Orange County resident saying that he was so tired of his phone ringing off the hook for people wanting more information on real estate listings. Bingo!
Stupid me!!!! I had placed the wrong phone number on the IDX feed! LOL!!!! There were hundreds of listings being indexed by Google with this poor guys phone number on them. I immediately deleted all of the posts and started from scratch. But the good thing was, I knew it was only a matter of weeks before we started seeing some real leads and traffic.
It didn’t even take 3 days… My dad called me on Thursday telling me he had 4 calls that day for people wanting more information on “listings they had seen on Google” and it looked like at least 2 of them were going to use him to represent them as a buyer’s agent. Pretty amazing. We had done it, and the scary thing was that we hadn’t even scratched the surface yet.
That was a couple weeks ago. Since then, the phone is still ringing off the hook, the listings are still getting posted automatically, and the traffic for the site is around 200 visitors per day when it was previously about 25 per day. Over 90% of the traffic is coming from search engines and I’m just amazed at the potential.
Some possible opportunities and deals have opened up, and I’m weighing my options on what I should do with this technology.
I wanted to get some feedback from you, my readers on what you thought about this whole thing. Even though I’m a nerd, I’m not as smart as I look. I feel like I’ve got a tiger by the tail and am not totally sure what to do with it.
You’ll notice that I didn’t get into alot of detail on how I did it, and that is for a few reasons:
First, I’m not completely sure what I should do with this information. Should I share it with the world, or keep it under my hat?
Second, I don’t want everyone and their mother flooding the Google index with listings. A wise man once told me that if I have something good going, why try to publish it to the world and risk running into unforeseen problems (that man was actually Jonathan Washburn who gave me personal advice on another business I had in late 2006)
Third, I’ll be honest… I’m selfish. I’m not sure I want to release it on a broad scale because there might be some business models I can create out of it.
So, I defer to you the my readers. What do you think I should do with it? I’m trying to be as transparent as possible here.
Here are a few of my ideas… you let me know if I’m crazy or not…
- Keep it secret and just make my dad a ton of money.
- Release it to a few key brokerages around the country that could benifit from it as a source for leads.
- Create a business that designs basic WordPress sites, or takes existing WP sites and add this functionality.
- Hire a developer to create a WordPress theme that has this functionality built in.
- Create a bunch of sites around the country and use them to farm leads and create a referral network.
- Lastly (and this is my favorite and the one I’m leaning towards)… create a large video series on how to do it and release it for a small fee. There are a ton of features and possibilities that I didn’t even go over in this post. Like how to exclude listings from showing up in your main blog, how to syndicate this feed to Twitter and Facebook, how to create a custom email subscription box for a certain search criteria, how to create a feed based on any search criteria you choose… the possibilities are endless and I think I could create about 5-6 hours of video that would explain how to do everything…
What do you guys think? Am I crazy? Shoud I try one of the above ideas or just keep it under my hat???
Thanks for listening to my ramblings this morning….