Is Your Real Estate Brokerage Website The Right Tool?

 In Marketing, Retail Strategies, WordPress

A Visit To Maui Leads to Adventures With WordPress and IDX Integration

After a recent family visit to Maui, I decided I needed additional reasons to enjoy the fine weather and lovely beaches of Hawaii’s “Garden Isle”. As soon as I got back to Northern California, I started advertising my technical support and web marketing services on Maui. Of the five responses, three that approached me were Real Estate agents. Of those, two had existing websites that were not mobile first or had IDX integrations that broke the mobile functionality and one was looking for options that allowed more flexibility in marketing that their broker’s website.

As I have created other real estate blogs and edited other Real Estate brokerage websites for agents, I was somewhat familiar with typical designs and functions offered by brokerage websites. All the Real Estate content management platforms I have had access to offered the usual lead capture tools such as contact forms, allowed agents to customize the look of their website and in most cases, had options to create additional content in the form of blogs.

Having said that, as a web designer that understands the difference between the “vehicle” and the “voyage”, I did take a look around to see what options an agent had to leverage data such as the IDX listings, in the form of specialized blog posts and landing pages. There were options to add pages and customize IDX output, but you had to dig deep and the set up was anything but intuitive. In fact the major brokerages seemed to be more interested in collecting all the data, not assisting agents in generating leads.

WordPress is The “Vehicle”,  Lead Generation is The “Voyage’s” Destination

The client that engaged my services was somewhat aware of the limitations of their brokerage website. Although they have a presence on that website, they had little control when it came to leveraging any of the brokerage website to their specific marketing strategies. Unlike many large brokerages, their affiliation did not prevent them from focusing their marketing on their own website. The team of agents that eventually hired me did have an older website, but it was dated and not mobile responsive. Plus it was not in their current market, so we would be starting a new Real Estate “team” website from scratch.

Although I am not primarily focused on the Real Estate industry, I have had plenty of experience working with agents and brokers on creative marketing to generate high quality leads. My core tool is WordPress because of the unique power of publishing it has. Organic SEO demands high quality content and WordPress offers publishing tools and functionality second to no other content management system. WordPress isn’t perfect, but there is a reason it is the most choose content management system in the World. No other CMS or “you build it” website platform comes close to how WordPress dominates the Internet.

Research, research, research: Which Is the right IDX (for you)?

As I am quite familiar with WordPress, after consulting with the client, my mission was to find the right IDX company that had a flexible set of tools that would integrate into WordPress with minimal custom coding.
Other important considerations that topped my list”

  • Was there up to date documentation of IDX functionality
  • Monthly cost and set up fees
  • Access to, knowledge, and response time of the IDX provider
  • How integration was achieved, (Short Code, widgets, and/or scripts)
  • Data refresh

Choosing the Right Hosting and WordPress Framework

My research narrowed our selection down to two IDX providers and once that was settled, the next step was to pin down the best hosting and then find an appropriate framework or base theme that was “friendly” to the IDX integration. Hosting seems pretty basic, but there is one thing most don’t get yet and that SSL is now basically a mandatory requirement for anyone with any kind of website. Secure Socket Layer is now fundamental to web development.

As to the framework for the website, I had issues with one of the frameworks I use for other websites and the IDX platform. Prior to making the final recommendation to the client, I was given temporary access to generic IDX data so I could embed it into a test website. It turned out that the popular framework I was thinking about using, generated conflicts with the IDX integration. Although there were workarounds, my clients indicated a desire to manage the site in-house, hence I was looking for minimal custom coding. Plus, if you customize one day and the need for that coding goes away with an update to either WordPress, the framework, or the IDX platform, the custom coding could be a source of a later conflict.

Fortunately another framework I work with had a Real Estate specific child theme! This was a gorgeous coincidence since I have been using this platform for many years. Even better, although this platform was designed in a fashion that allowed painless integration of the IDX platform, it also allowed for creation of custom Real Estate post types. In other words, you could create what amounts to listings within the website even if you didn’t integrate MLS. This was important because of one major issue related to integrating IDX into a website.

Getting Around the SEO Issues When Integrating IDX

The biggest issue facing a custom integration of certain types of IDX feeds into a website is that the domain hosting the integration doesn’t usually benefit from any SEO generated by the listings. You see the IDX content isn’t really hosted on the website. The IDX content is for lack of a better term, “held” in the cloud. The client website basically sends up a “wrapper” which is the design content, which is “wrapped” around the IDX content. When a site visitor access the IDX content, they are fed content wrapped with the client’s website design. That site visitor is actually looking at the IDX content in the IDX platform’s cloud.

This appears to be the case with most third-party IDX integrations into most content management systems. There are workarounds to extract some SEO using subdomains and other processes, but a website doesn’t generally gain better SEO if it isn’t the actual “container” of the content being displayed. There are complex and expensive ways to integrate IDX into websites that will generate SEO for the website, but I suggest the cost is prohibitive for small Real Estate brokerages, teams, or single agents. In this case we are talking about an initial investment of under $2500 for a turnkey RE website, with IDX integration and additional support.

IDX For Function And Lead Generation –  WordPress Generates The Organic SEO

Prior to any web development, it was clear we’d need a creative strategy to generate organic SEO and generate high quality leads. Again, a website is the vehicle, finding high quality leads is the goal of the voyage. As with any voyage, you need to have a map first. Our map included persistent and consistent use of content. Creating high quality content was a pivotal discussion point before any development or even research on the IDX platform. Content has been and still is king when it comes to organic SEO.

The strategy we will implement doesn’t depend on the IDX integration, in fact as mentioned, the website’s framework and child theme are designed with custom post types designed for Real Estate listings. We could import via database or individual entry, any listings allowed under the rules of the regions MLS license. In this case, the IDX offers us a few important capabilities.

  1. Typical MLS functionality
    The IDX integration offers us the ability to integrate services that people looking to sell and buy Real Estate want. Sellers can research available properties around their homes and buyers can look up their dream homes. Other tools such as mortgage calculators and Home Valuation Tools are part of the IDX integration. There are also specific lead generation and contact tools that can be leveraged to manage inbound leads or information requests. Additionally, there is support for several agents, so as to allow proper routing of contacts and leads in a team or office environment.
  2. Flexible Deployment of IDX Data on WordPress generated Landing Pages.
    Here is where the IDX integration can really been an asset. In realty, the IDX integration are more like flypaper designed to slow a website visitor down enough by offering them an immediate opportunity to search for their dream property. It was important to offer functionality typical to a Real Estate website. At the very minimum, having the IDX integration offers the “look” a visitor to a Real Estate website expects.

The Real Prize: Creative Landing Pages With Custom IDX Output!

Although the “look” typical to those million dollar Real Estate broker websites is important, it really isn’t the main reason we wanted the IDX integration. The project will use the IDX integration as a tool to generate leads using landing pages, posts, and social media. Landing pages are a proven Real Estate lead generation tool. The IDX platform we are using offers us an incredible amount of tools to incorporate custom IDX output on landing pages. These landing pages will be the link targets of social media posts, email campaigns, and could be leveraged with print or multimedia. Additionally, the framework and child theme we are using with WordPress have specific landing page functionality that will facilitate quick deployment of mobile responsive landing pages. With a little coaching, the client should be able to create a complete funnel from the website, social media, or through a newsletter (campaign), to the targeted landing page. Of course it is my hope that the agent’s business is so enhanced by the new website, they are too busy engaging clients so that it is smarter and less expensive to engage a web marketing pro that spend their valuable time fidgeting with the digital marketing assets!

Despite the length of this post, this is really just a summary of the process. The research alone took approximately 20 hours including mock ups to see which of the IDX platforms would integrate into WordPress as the strategy demands. There were about four hours of tech support phone calls and ten hours of developmental testing. Since the IDX integration recommendation was being left up to me, it was of paramount importance that the IDX platform was able to exceed the needs of the strategy agreed on with the client.

I have purposely left out all firms, web frameworks, and child theme references. Ultimately that information may not be relevant to your Real Estate web project. In fact any bias based on the project being discussed could negatively impact your Real Estate website needs. Therefore it isn’t relevant which IDX platforms were considered or which one won. Same goes for the WordPress tools. In fact the process of creating a WordPress website is in itself closer to rocket science than many think. What is relevant is that the process of creating a Real Estate website is unique to every client’s needs. Then there is the fact that it is likely you are not a web developer, so a lot of the technical garble isn’t what a busy Real Estate agent would be bothered with.

If you have questions about how to leverage IDX information, consultations can be arranged in person (if in Northern California or via Skype. WordPress Real Estate consultations are a min 1 hour Prepaid $65 which is applied to any subsequent new web project.

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