Sometimes agents can get confused with all of the different options out there…
Do I get a template site from iHouse, or is Agent Image better?
Do template sites rank lower in search engines?
Is it worth it for me to invest in a custom designed site?
Let me take a second to clear up some of the gossip about template websites, and at the same time shed some light on the “essentials” that every template website needs to have.
Hands down template websites are the cheapest option out there. They range from $0 to $250/month and you can cease use at any time. The cost of a template website generally will include some kind of hosting service and even domain registration.
A template website can be live within hours of purchase. With most custom designed websites the process can take anywhere from 1 month to 4 months depending on the complexity of the website.
After all who wants to wait for a website when they can have one up NOW.
Most template sites come with a content management system (CMS). Essentially this allows the user to login to the website and quickly make changes to content.
Custom designed websites will charge more for this functionality; however it is also more custom tailored to fit your individual needs, making it harder to accidentally change something you don’t want to.
Many good template sites have deals with certain software creators and IDX companies that can help you. These relationships result in functionality embedded within your template site that some custom designers don’t know anything about. (IE: MLS listings automatically updated on your page).
Stop paying the template site company for a month and see what happens. Chances are your website will vanish until you pony up the dough. This is because you don’t own that website, and you don’t have any rights to the server space that it is occupying.
Don’t kid yourself. Even if you own the domain (http://www.thedomainishere.com) you still don’t own the content that is currently occupying that space. Think of it like owning the land while renting the house that sits on it. Sound like a messed up relationship? It is. But ownership isn’t right for everyone.
The average template site provider out there couldn’t tell you what “cascading style sheets” and “clean semantic markup” mean. Many of them do not wish to “update” their template’s code because it would cost money. So it becomes more and more outdated as the years go buy.
Once it starts to look old, template companies will sometimes reskin the website. They do this by keeping the same basic code and updating old images so that it has a fresh look.
Pop the hood and you see the same old mess that was always there.
Here is a list of things to make sure that your template site has:
Table-less HTML coding that complies with W3C standards.
All styles and positioning to be done in an external cascading style sheet (CSS).
A robots.txt file (very important to have, generally found at http://www.yoursitehere.com/robots.txt.
A .htaccess file.
A sitemap.xml or sitemap.html document; generally found at http://www.yoursitehere.com/sitemap.html.
Ability to update meta title, description, keywords, and content tags.
User friendly URLs!!! (This is essential to good SEO and client navigation)
User Friendly: http://www.yoursitehere.com/search-for-homes.html
If your template site is lacking any of these main components you could suffer severely in search engine rankings or even client usability. In some cases Google can’t crawl your site easily while in other situations your clients are stuck with long load times.
Additionally some template sites do not look the same across multiple browsers. Sections of the website could be shifted or broken on Safari while on Internet Explorer it looks good.
How important are first impressions? Think… meeting the girlfriend’s parents for the first time… or even some of those interesting first dates you have been on. First impressions are everything.
Your website is the first impression that many potential buyers and sellers will have of you. So shouldn’t the face that represents you on the web be as unique as you are?
If you have a template website you are risking not standing out from the crowd. By definition the website is a “template.” Hundreds, if not thousands, of real estate agents out there would have the same exact website as you.
Which leads me to the final two points…
Uniqueness of Content~
While the main design also is identical to other real estate agents websites… most template providers have templates that come prefilled with pages of information that is useful to potential buyers and sellers.
Sounds good doesn’t it? Why generate all that content yourself when it is provided there for you. Let me enlighten you. Google does not like duplicate content. They like original, helpful, and consistently updated content. This is under “The Ugly” section because it can be EXTREMELY hurtful to your page rankings in the major search engines.
Let’s look at it from Google/Yahoo’s perspective. It sees 200-7000 sites out there that not only revolve around real estate… but also have the same coding layout of pages, and the same content on those pages. You think you will see page one results with that? Doubt it.
Lumped In, Kicked Out~
Sometimes template sites do things that put them on Google/Yahoo’s bad list. You better believe that your website loses a gold star when it is connected with the provider. Additionally, sometimes just being a template site can hurt your rankings if it is evident to the search engine. Google and Yahoo haven’t seemed to have cast their final vote quite yet on where template sites stand in the pecking order.
Recently Advanced Access, among others, has become a target of Google’s and some are finding their website drop dramatically in the rankings.
Templates are a godsend for new agents trying to get their feet wet. They are cheap, go up fast, and provide an excellent base to build on.
Additionally, if you do your research and sign on with a good template company that knows SEO well, and follows the latest coding standards, you could end up ranking quite high on some of the major search engines.
***Note: Even the best template companies will come with prefilled information and pre-made pages. Delete the content and start from scratch! If you are going to go with a template site, the least you can do is try and make your content unique. Otherwise it will be even more of an uphill battle when you are trying to get ranked by search engines.
If you are a more experienced agent and are ready to make this your professional career… you might consider researching a custom web design solution.
Upcoming Blog Post Preview~
I have tried to provide a fair, balanced, and truthful view of template companies in the above blog post. But in the name of full disclosure I should make it known that I own a custom web design company that specializes in the real estate industry. Below is a preview of my next blog post.
On average custom web designs require an investment initially, without any monthly payments down the road. 50% of that is paid up front and 50% of that is paid upon completion. After that it is yours forever.
The design is 100% unique and made from scratch with search engine optimization and user experience in mind. This allows not only for increased visibility in search engines… but when you are found it allows you to really show your clients what you are about. Here are examples of two of our clients that have a lot of personality in their websites.
All content is created with keywords and industry knowledge that is helpful to your customers.
Unique integration options like MLS search, Blog integration, and content management systems are available.
Keep your eyes peeled for the next blog post for a comprehensive breakdown of what a good “custom web design company” should offer its clients.