One of my favorite bloggers, Real Estate Tomato, just penned a blog about duplicate content. As is quite typical of the Tomato’s efforts, it was well written, chocked full of info and has already generated several comments.
Many of the comments center around “template sites”. Maureen Francis & Dmitry Koublitsky (another great AR blogger) ask, “So there really is no such thing as a decent template site, right? I don't mind creating my own content, but do I have to have a completely custom site in order to get somewhere?”
Since the Tomato somehow read my mind and shamelessly stole the idea I was working on, I shall attempt to answer Maureen & Dimity’s question here.
The short answer is there are decent template sites and you do not have to have a custom site to get somewhere. The long answer follows…
- Template sites are cheap. Compared to a custom site, template sites are a bargain. You can spend thousands of dollars (tens of thousands if you really want to) on a custom web site. There are dozens of template site providers with products ranging from free to $150/month—and everything in between.
- Template sites are easy to edit. Most template providers provide “WYSIWYG” editors. (What you See is What You Get). You don’t HAVE to know HTML, CSS, AJAX or any of those cryptic, confusing and scary “programming” languages (though knowing a little HTML is a big plus). Most custom sites will require you to know HTML, unless you pay for a WYSIWYG “back end”. And yes, even with a custom site, you’ll need to add content to it, unless you pay a LOT for someone to do it for you.
- Template sites can have a great support network. Some of the larger providers have user forums that can be a huge asset. Point 2 and Advanced Access both provide forums and the large user bases mean there are many opportunities for learning and sharing.
- Template sites can have unique features. Point 2 Agent has “Handshake Listings” – sharing user’s listings across multiple sites. They also use the power of a large user base to get listings syndicated on large national sites such as Yahoo, Google Base, Trulia, and more.
- “Template sites all look the same”. This comment comes up all the time. And yes, there are only a limited number of “styles” that most template providers have. I can tell immediately if a site is an Advance Access, Superlative, Point 2, or homes.com site to name a few. But with the right provider, you can customize the appearance of a template site. I know for a fact there is not a Point 2 site in existence with a menu structure like ThompsonsRealty.com because I did it myself. Search engines don’t really care what color your site is, nor do they care if the buttons are all the same shape. What search engines care about is content. Which leads us to…
- Template sites are a lot of work. By their very definition, template sites contain similar (actually identical) content. The “boilerplate” site you first get with a template provider will have the same content as every other site they have. You MUST change this boilerplate language if you want to separate your site from all the others. Custom sites are not exempt from this either. A stagnant, never changing site--custom or not--will eventually suffer in the search engines.
- You don’t “own” a template site. True, but if you change the content, you own that. And you should NEVER use a provider that owns your URL. I’ve changed providers before. It’s a pain, but you can move your content from one provider to another, so this isn’t as big a negative as some people make it out to be.
- If there is one possible major drawback to template providers it’s that you can get caught up in a “provider penalty”. Recently many Advanced Access sites took a pounding in Google. Point 2 sites have been hammered by Yahoo. Sometimes the search engines seem to decide if they penalize one, they penalize them all. On the other hand, this can work the other way as well. And even fully customized sites are often at the mercy of the search engines.
So to make what’s turned out to be a very long story short, you CAN have a great web presence with a template site. I’ve seen many template sites at the top of Google for very competitive search terms. Yes, it takes work. Yes, you need to edit and add to the boilerplate site, but it’s entirely possible to turn a template site into a lead generating (hence income producing) machine.