Tuesday, April 28, 2015

The WordPress Real Estate Challenge

Having been a web designer using Joomla! for several years, we broached into the world of WordPress websites for our Real Estate based websites. We're going to be going through our experience with WordPress for Real Estate. Although WordPress isn't our software of choice, we stepped out in an honest and true effort to research, test, and analyze various WordPress plugins.
When we set out on this project we only had a few primary requirements, based on our experience in database design, prior experience in website design, and what clients have been looking for over the past 8 years.
  1. Be Affordable. Realtors are hit with so many fees, our goal/objective is to provide affordable options for Realtors to have their own branded website, import listings from their MLS with our iPALS RETS for Real Estate software, to be professional looking, and home buyer friendly.
  2. Have it's own database structure. This is a big one in that by having it's own database structure, the listing data is it's own, stored in its own location, dedicated to just that.
  3. A large number of possible data fields. Information is important, and having a large, respectable amount of information is important, but not so much that it's cluttered and overwhelming.
  4. Have a nice looking photo gallery. Most Real Estate listing include lots of photos. Having a nice gallery to display them is important.

So how did WordPress fare in these areas? Honestly, not very well. If you go to the WordPress plugin directory, you will find pages upon pages of WordPress plugins for Real Estate. We spent hours installing and testing plugins, and most were lacking in one way or another, with many in more ways than one.

Is this due to poor developers? I wouldn't go that far. It appears that some of the plugins were good, but it all comes back to what we said in a previous blog regarding using the correct tools for the job, and WordPress essentially being a web based version of Microsoft Word. Can you do an extensive payroll system in Word? Probably, to a point, but you're ideally going to need more powerful software that is designed to handle that.

Affordability. This is a really big issue, as Realtors get nickled and dimed on every little thing. Nickle and diming is a major turnoff to not only us, but to many of the clients that we have worked with over the years. We're not about to mention the plugin, but I will explain one that we came across. There was one that would have met the requirements of 3 out of the 4 items listed above, but affordability knocked it out of the running. This plugin has a decent amount of information that could be entered. The data was stored in its own database, and the plugin was free. However, they then nickle and dimed you to death after that. Want a map to show listings on? That'll be $50. Want an image slideshow? That'll be another $50. Want to allow potential buyers to get a PDF version of the listing? That'll be another $50. All in all, all of their features were going to cost over $350.

Maybe it's because we've been a Joomla! designer for years, and we were never really excited about WordPress, but when I see what that particular developer was offering for $350, and I can get that, and much much more for a mere donation of $49.95 to the developer of a Joomla! component, it easily tells me which is the more affordable, and is more interested in helping than making a quick buck.

The majority of plugins that we tested simply created a blog post, then put the additional information, such as bedrooms, bathrooms, etc. as post meta, again as part of a blog post. Excuse me, but Real Estate listings are NOT BLOGS, but when you are working with blogging software, you've got to work with the framework of what you have. Every plugin that treated Real Estate listings as blogs were immediately discounted, and were no longer even in the list to be considered.

Having a separate database, to store the listing data, you would think would be a fairly straightforward, common sense, development 101 item. However, that was NOT the case. There were only a small handful of plugins in which the developers even showed that they had the slightest inkling of database design. Those that did have their own databases for the entire plugin, we limited, but this allowed them to pass on points 1 and 2 above. However, there were some that did a hybrid between their own database for some things, then utilizing the WordPress posts and post meta, which caused them to fail. Again, Real Estate listings ARE NOT BLOGS!!!!

The large majority of the plugins tested simply FAILED with number 3 above. This is either from every Tom, Dick, and Harry striving to throw something out on WordPress, in the hopes of getting some financial return, or it's "developers" who are creating plugins for a specific industry, and they have absolutely zero experience with that industry, and what people actually look for. Simply having fields for MLS number, description, bedrooms, bathrooms, square feet, and price are not sufficient information, and professional developers would know this.

Score: 99% of WordPress plugins FAIL on points 1, 2, and 3.

Gallery. Where do we start, and where do we end on this one? We could go on and on about how poor this one is in 99% of the plugins, but we've pretty much covered a lot of that already. Many of the plugins that may have scored high on item 1, 2, or 3 failed on number 4. Simply putting several images in a blog style content field doesn't classify it as a gallery. Once again, Real Estate listings ARE NOT BLOGS, and they need to be treated as content, not as a blog.

However, after all of the testing, it doesn't really surprise us that the majority of plugins utilized the blogging features, or simply treated the information as you would a blog. As WordPress itself states: "WordPress started as just a blogging system", and still today that underlying engine is still for blogging. I'm sorry, but you can't take a Geo Metro, put a truck body on it, and call it a truck. It's still a Geo Metro in all but look.

Looking for a high quality, affordable Real Estate website? Look no further than RETS Websites.

Google, You, and Mobile

Did you know that effective April 21, 2015, Google is making a big change to how your website will come up in search results?
According to Google "When it comes to search on mobile devices, users should get the most relevant and timely results, no matter if the information lives on mobile-friendly web pages or apps. As more people use mobile devices to access the internet, our algorithms have to adapt to these usage patterns. In the past, we've made updates to ensure a site is configured properly and viewable on modern devices. We've made it easier for users to find mobile-friendly web pages and we've introduced App Indexing to surface useful content from apps. Today, we're announcing two important changes to help users discover more mobile-friendly content."
The big change that is taking place is that the mobile friendliness of your site will be a ranking factor. What this means is that if your site is NOT mobile device friendly, your search placement will be affected, as well as results for non-mobile friendly sites not showing up on searches using mobile devices.
Don't be left in the non-mobile world. Upgrade your site today to desktop and mobile friendly. All websites at Stallion Online Services are mobile, responsive "right out of the box", with no special plugins, hacks, or secondary websites being needed.
Contact us today for a quote.

Monday, April 27, 2015

WordPress...What is it? Do I need it?

Those looking for a website today seem to be focused on WordPress. But what is WordPress, do you need it, and does it truly fit the model of what you're wanting to get out of your website? There may also be those who have heard of Joomla!, Drupal, and some other popular CMS's out there today.
There is so much information available on the internet today about the most popular content management systems, WordPress and Joomla. There are others, but these are the two (2) "big" ones.
First of all, what is a CMS? In 1985 Amway came out with their CMS-1000 vacuum, but that's not what we're looking for, so what is a content management system? From Wikipedia: "A Content Management System (CMS) is a computer application that allows publishing, editing and modifying content, organizing, deleting as well as maintenance from a central interface. Such systems of content management provide procedures to manage workflow in a collaborative environment." In my opinion, this is a pretty broad definition, but it is a common definition. Really, based on this definition, you could almost call any web based website builder a CMS, as it has a single interface, allows publishing, editing modifying organizing, and deleting from a central interface (the web building portal).
Perhaps the most important thing to be mindful of about Joomla! is that it is not WordPress. There are a number of similarities between the two systems: both are written in PHP and run on a typical LAMP system. Both have a robust extension and theming system, and both can be deployed from various web hosting providers, such as Stallion Online Services. That is where the similarities end.


"WordPress was born out of a desire for an elegant, well-architectured personal publishing system". "WordPress started as just a blogging system, but has evolved to be used as full content management system and so much more through the thousands of plugins and widgets and themes, WordPress is limited only by your imagination. (And tech chops.)" (https://wordpress.org/about/)
That really sums it up right there: "WordPress started as just a blogging system, but has evolved to be used as a full content management system". This would be like saying this house that I'm in started out as just a small cabin, but has evolved into this giant mansion we're in today. The big question is: what is the underlying foundation? Is it a foundation for a mansion, or a foundation for a cabin? It doesn't matter if the structure has been expanded, what is the underlying foundation? Obviously, the foundation is for a cabin, unless you destroyed all that you had, and started all over from scratch.
With WordPress, you start with something that is designed for blogging, then through a process of evolution, you now have a content management system. So, you build something for blogging (the foundation), then through various plugins and widgets you can expand the system from a blogging system to a content management system, sitting on a foundation for a blogging system? Isn't this like having the cabin, and expanding the cabin to be a mansion, but on the cabin foundation?
Let's look at this another way. In 1983 Microsoft released Word version 1.0. Microsoft Word was released as a program for writing pages of text, with an occasional picture here or there. Wait a second, isn't that similar to a blog, except that it wasn't posted on the internet? Over the years, Microsoft has evolved into the version of Word we have today. Granted, Microsoft Word today can do so much more than it's predecessor, and with the addition of various plugins, it can be a very powerful piece of software. But, what is the underlying foundation? Oh yeah, word processor. Anyone that has used Word knows that you can do some spreadsheets and graphs within Word, but if you really need something complex, you need something like Excel or PowerPoint. You build what you need in Excel, then pull it into Word, but that's adding something that isn't part of the designed package.
To put this into some perspective: WordPress is Microsoft Word, and Microsoft Word only. No Excel, PowerPoint, Access Database, or anything like that. Just like with Word, you can change the look, layout, and functionality with various plugins, widgets, and themes.


Joomla started in 2005 as a content management system, and has evolved into a system that governments, corporations, educational institutions, non-profit organizations, personal home pages, and many others are using. The Joomla development team didn't think on the side of lets make a basic foundation, then build upon and expand that foundation. They instead had their goal and vision set to create a large, full featured platform from the get-go.
Joomla is actually not just a CMS, but is two parts: 1) the Joomla framework, and 2) the Joomla CMS. The Joomla framework is the foundation for the Joomla CMS. As the Joomla development team adds new features and functionality, they first add it to the foundation, the Joomla framework, then they add the changes to the CMS. This is different from WordPress as these are two separate pieces of software code, where WordPress has all their programming code in one place.
Joomla's addons to the CMS are called extensions, which are made up of components, modules, and plugins. What are these? Let's look at something like a download management system. The component is the main program, where you create the categories, upload and categorize the files, set the display, and much more. A module would be similar to a widget, where you could display something specific in a module, such as popular downloads. A plugin adds additional functionality, such as the ability to integrate your downloads with the Smart Search feature in Joomla, which is a powerful search engine within Joomla.
A good way to look at Joomla is looking back at our Microsoft Word example for WordPress. Joomla is the entire Office 365 platform. Built upon that platform is Word, Excel, PowerPoint, Access, and other programs. Joomla is that type of system; you have the core system, Joomla, upon with you can easily install additional programs to suit your needs.
Joomla uses a much more powerful and robust system for managing users, permissions, group membership, and much more, allowing Joomla to be the proper solution for business. There are currently over 3,200 government sites, and thousands upon thousands of corporations, small and medium businesses, and hobbyists using Joomla!. Make the change to the leading platform for dynamic web content, and the first commercial CMS to be fully mobile, today.