I hope this doesn’t touch off some sort of multiple listing service data-purity war. But I think it’s worth digging into this WordPress plug-in a bit.

It’s named, in a very search-engine-optimized way, "The WordPress Real Estate Plug-in." It’s designed to add property-search and lead-gathering capabilities to a WordPress site.

The plug-in is developed by the people at Go Smart Solutions and released under the GNU General Public License. (Keep reading to learn more about what that part means and why it’s important.)

I hope this doesn’t touch off some sort of multiple listing service data-purity war. But I think it’s worth digging into this WordPress plug-in a bit.

It’s named, in a very search-engine-optimized way, "The WordPress Real Estate Plug-in." It’s designed to add property-search and lead-gathering capabilities to a WordPress site.

The plug-in is developed by the people at Go Smart Solutions and released under the GNU General Public License. (Keep reading to learn more about what that part means and why it’s important.)

To make things clear from the outset and so that no one misconstrues what I’m about to say about this plug-in: You aren’t going to find more up-to-date or accurate listings anywhere other than your local MLS.

Now that I’ve got that out of the way, the data source for the WordPress Real Estate Plug-in is not the MLS … it’s Google Base. This means that the source of the property data that goes into the search of this plug-in comes from:

  • Google crawling the Web.
  • Real estate professionals and others who actively syndicate their listings to Google Base.

So the data source for this plug-in is not going to be what you’re used to if you want a true feed of all the listings in your MLS (unless your MLS is already automatically syndicating to Google Base on a regular basis).

Whether any of that matters to you or not depends on what your business objective in having a real estate search is in the first place.

Product: The WordPress Real Estate Plugin
Cost: Free
What: Integrated real estate search functionality
Listings data source: GoogleBase
Requirements: WordPress site
Note: GPL allows modification of this plugin to suit your own needs.

There are a lot of reasons to have search on a website, and not all of them involve having the most comprehensive or accurate listings. The strength of the real estate aggregation sites are an example.

If the data source of this plug-in isn’t a deal-breaker for you, there are some other things worth noting. The main one being the advantage that this plug-in offers over many real estate search solutions: integration with your site.

It’s not based on framesets.

Geeking out: Framed real estate search solutions vs. integrated solutions

Sorry, but getting through this part requires a little bit of "geekery." There are two common ways of getting real estate search into a website. One uses a technique called "frames" to open a window onto another site that is actually hosting the real estate data.

You know you’ve got a frames solution if you can’t really change much about the look, feel and layout of the data. Another way to tell if you have a framed solution is if the web address (up in the browser bar where you type YourDomain.com) doesn’t ever change when you search and explore the properties on your site.

The best way to tell if you have a framed solution is to view the source, hold your breath while all that code comes up, then search the source for "iframe" (without the quotation marks). If you find something, then you have frames.

Frames are good in that they’re usually pretty easy to set up and get moving. Since you can’t change much about the design, you can deploy them pretty quickly. All the data is hosted with whoever is providing the frameset, so some technology burdens are lessened as well.

The downside, and it’s a real one, is that there’s zero search-engine benefit to deploying a frame-based site. So if you’re hoping to use your property data as part of your SEO plan, using frames is a poor choice.

The other method of getting property data on your site is to integrate the data into your site. This means all of the property data will get put into your site database regularly, which has the advantage of helping you with your SEO (instant addition of a lot of pages with localized keywords) and is usually much easier to style and design.

The WordPress Real Estate Plug-in is an integrated solution. Moreover, the people who put it together did some thinking about SEO features and included a few of the basics, including using the property address as the page address (example: www.yourdomain.com/123Anystreet-Town-State) headline and title of a page on your site.

These sorts of things can help in competitive markets where every little thing counts.

Real estate search for tiny MLS?

This plug-in can also be useful for MLSs that are too small to get the attention of the larger or more innovative real estate search developers. While it’s great that every little nook and cranny of the U.S. has an individualized database of property features — keeping real estate local — there’s a downside.

Software developers are loath to spend resources trying to adapt to the idiosyncrasies of an MLS with, say, 35 potential customers. If your MLS is small and none of the integrated- or framed-solution developers have anything for you, something like this plug-in may be the only option.

Digging a little deeper

Overall, the plug-in does what it says it will do: put a search box on your WordPress site with just a little setup and configuration. It has all the basic features you’d expect: Google Maps integration, street-name URL naming, simple and advanced search modes.

It could definitely use a little more love in terms of making it easier for designers to style. It lacks some of the code required to make the search results styled to match the rest of the site.

This is sort of ironic since one of the main pluses of going with an integrated solution is to take advantage of branding and design capabilities. But it’s clear that this effort was focused almost exclusively on SEO benefits.

And they did their homework and released a pretty solid effort on that front.

About the GNU General Public License (GPL)

If you thought frames vs. integrated was geeky, hold on to your buggy whip. This plug-in is yours to do with what you like (with a few small catches). The GNU GPL lets you make modifications to the work and release it — so long as the new version also carries the same GNU GPL.

For example, I could go in and fix the code so that designers would have an easier time styling the search capabilities and then release my own version. I’d have to release this under the same license (so someone else could come along and further modify my modifications etc., etc.).

So if you try this plug-in out, and wish it did something differently (hmm, what was that about data source again?) and felt strongly enough about it, you could fix it. As a result, this plug-in could serve as a foundational element to future iterations of free WordPress real estate search capabilities.

Gahlord Dewald is the president and janitor of Thoughtfaucet, a strategic creative services company in Burlington, Vt. He’s a frequent speaker on applying analytics and data to creative marketing endeavors.

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