Template Websites - The Good, The Bad, and The Ugly

By
Services for Real Estate Pros with Other Side Marketing

 

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.

The Good:

Cost~

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.

Build Time~

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.

Editable~

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.

Tools~

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).

The Bad:

Ownership~

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.

Sloppy Coding~

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).

All Javascripting needs to be in an external file.

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

                Versus:  http://www.yoursitehere.com/search.html?LinkID=1451&title=Our%20Listings

 

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.  

Uniqueness~

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…

The Ugly:

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.

In Summation:

Templates~

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.

Trident Realty Group – A Southwest Austin Real Estate Company

Austin Music Realty – A Creative Agent, For Creative People

 

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. 

a Web Design Company

 

Comments (9)

Brad Golik
Windermere - Portland, OR

Great post! A little self promotion is fine when you know what you are talking about and can offer some good advice. Most of the template sites out there are very un-original and terrible in terms of SEO.

Best regards,

Brad S. Golik
Bellevue Luxury Homes

 

 

Jan 27, 2009 11:16 AM
FAJARDO DELACRUZ
Century Homes Realty Group LLC. - Flushing, NY

shawn

Nice post like the layout of your trident realty group design. You Put lots of thought into your work.Just the what I need. keep up the good work. Right now it might be a little out of my reach. But I will try to keep in touch. I hope the best for you.

Jan 27, 2009 01:09 PM
Stephen M. Wigg
http://4114Info.com - Omaha, NE
4114Info.com

What have you found in the markets where the MLS has gone to a consumer-centric system? Friend of foe?

Jan 28, 2009 12:43 AM
Shawn Parsons
Other Side Marketing - College Station, TX
Internet Marketing and Web Design (Other Side Marketing)

Stephen, 

 

   That is an excellent question. I actually happen to be close to two very consumer-centric MLS's that are located in Austin and Houston. 

What they have both done is to implement Internet Data eXchanges (IDX) search pages that are customized for each specific member (the real estate agents). These pages can also be integrated onto a real estate agent's own website. Consumer access to the MLS would definately be considered a problem for most real estate agents... until they tossed on this last piece of the puzzle. Whenever a consumer is on that IDX search page and finds a property they like, they will click the "contact an agent" button. If it is your IDX search page, that button leads them to emailing you about that specific property. This can result in a new buyer that has already found what they want!

The public side of the MLS sites get heavy traffic as well. In this situation, the listing agent would receive all inquiries made about their own listings. This is also beneficial because it gives you added exposure for your listings, while possibly connecting you with a buyer on the other side of the equation as well. Who doesn't like that?

My father, Kirby Parsons, is a well known broker in the Austin area. He had this to say: "The informed consumer still needs the knowledge and expertise of the Realtor more than ever as the transaction itself has become more complex. This need for knowledge is also a focal point of your website design, because the more consumer-friendly you can make your real estate websites, the more leads they will produce for your customers." 

So all-in-all I would have to come down on the side of "friend." It is definately something to keep an eye on, but as long as it is generating business for real estate agents and maintains fair and balanced policies... this will only help the industry. The only thing that is starting to scare me are, so-called, "premium MLS listings." They are not prevalent right now, but if the MLS starts offering added exposure for money it can provide an unfair advantage. Then again... we are in a capitalist society. 

Hope that answers your question! Maybe i should do a blog post and go more in-depth on this side of things. 

 

Jan 28, 2009 01:58 AM
Stephen M. Wigg
http://4114Info.com - Omaha, NE
4114Info.com

Shawn,

Great come-back. HAR.com is a good benchmark. Here's the more in-depth question you touch on. Isn't a consumer-centric MLS system competition for the bigger broker sites that were getting all the leads on the lesser brokers in that market? If "You list it, you get the leads" is the concept behind the MLS system. But in Mpls, where Edina Realty has 75% of the listings, and 90% of the traffic, (not actual statistics) why would they ever go along with an MLS system and lose those other leads? My answer? One-stop shopping for Open Houses that eliminates the need for print-media. I want to see open houses in a suburb of Houston Sunday. How many places do I have to go to? Well, Edina Realty would show 75% of them but the MLS system would show all!  I don't think the Big brokers will be happy but that's what's interesting about the MLS boards. They aren't made up of members based on % of listings. The little guys win out in voting?

Jan 28, 2009 03:54 AM
FAJARDO DELACRUZ
Century Homes Realty Group LLC. - Flushing, NY

shawn

Great blog, I am working on my own site right now any tips .

Feb 21, 2009 12:39 PM
Mark Menzella
RE/Advantage - Fairfield, NJ
We build websites for REALTORS®

Steve;

Justo to touch on Steve's comment above.  That is one way of looking at it.  Consumer-centric MLS's in the eyes of any big broker is usually perceived as foe but the true nature of an MLS is the cooperation among realtors and in that spirit, the mission statement of any good MLS should be consumer-centric. In any usual market the big guys still need the smaller independants as they usually overall contribute 40% plu of the market.

Feb 24, 2009 09:29 PM
The Real Estate Professionals
Real Estate Professionals - Salt Lake City, UT

Shawn,

Thanks for the input, this is exactly what I've heard from other SEO experts. But, since google is always changing and this article was written in 2009 have you seen changes that have favored template sites or do they still struggle to rank.

I'm doing some SEO for our site and want to start by writing them origional content, but even with origional and updated content will our template still keep us from ranking high in your opinion? We are using a Boomtown template.

I would appreciate any insights you and other readers may have. :)

Sep 20, 2011 07:58 AM
Phil Leng
Retired - Kirkland, WA
Phil Leng - Retired

Good post.

You make a good case for your services and also present useful information for all who read it.

Phil

May 11, 2012 08:21 PM