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Geek Build 2012 IDX Review #1 – Diverse Solutions

This is the first of several posts relating to the IDX solutions that are on the table for Geek Build 2012, and focuses on my experience with Diverse Solutions. This post is meant to start a dialogue relating to the pros and cons of their products as contenders for the Geek Build 2012 websites.

I have used Diverse Solutions’ products for over two years now, both their dsSearchAgent and dsIDXpress products. dsSearchAgent is their primary product and is a map-based search tool. dsIDXpress is an indexable, list-based product designed for embedding properties in WordPress pages, posts and sidebars.

I have changed the way I use both products several times and am now using two strategies. For my city/area pages I use a combination of both – the map search displays first, and below that I embed properties with dsIDXpress. The idea is to give users both the map and list choices, and to take advantage of the embedding for SEO. I think this solution (which is of my own design and not documented) is a bit clunky and inelegant. Here is an example (I do realize I have a big “above the fold” problem, which I will address in an upcoming redesign):  St Pete Beach Real Estate

For the fifteen luxury condo buildings we feature I use just dsIDXpress to embed a list, examples here: St Petersburg Condos The smaller amount of properties available means I don’t have to use a map search, so this works well. Combining the indexable listings with a history/background has allowed us to rank in the top ten in Google for 12 of the 15 developments (for the most commonly searched term, which we display at the top of each page).

Here is a partial list of pros and cons of the products:

dsSearchAgent Pros:

  • Simple to use, setting up searches and maps is easy
  • Can limit display of properties to just about anything you want
  • Can limit criteria-controls to the left of the maps simply by dragging and dropping in the control panel (though I use the same ones all the time)
  • Single display of properties is excellent
  • Simple control of signup options
  • Can send signups to TopProducer database automatically
  • Google maps integration is nice
  • Google analytics integration
  • Good calls to action
  • Great technical support
  • dsSearchAgentmobile links to a mobile search solution
  • dsSearchAgentmobile has a pretty cool demo app, and non-demo version for tablets
  • The solution includes a backend email and management system, but my experience with it is limited

dsSearchAgent Cons:

  • Purely a map-based, iframed solution (no indexing or list view)
  • Initial map load (iframe) is slow and clunky
  • Property display on maps can be slow
  • I found that the “modules,” which are “customizable drop-ins,” have limited usefulness. I quit using them altogether after a time. I learned by accident that after using “Featured Maps” on many of my city pages that they were limited to displaying only 25 properties, and this was undocumented (!). Also, I don’t have a quick-search because I couldn’t come up with anything I thought looked good, even customizing with CSS
  • Limited custom options for advanced users/coders
  • The mobile solution, available for pro users, prompts only when you hit the home page. I was able to code in a solution for prompting from every landing page, but now it prompts every time you hit a page so you have to keep saying no if you don’t want it (ipad)
  • The mobile search demo app doesn’t work correctly in IE, and they wouldn’t support it when I asked them. It would sure be nice to use the demo to feature the search product on our site, but not without it working reliably

dsIDXPress Pros:

  • Allows you to embed indexable listings and get a large number of pages indexed quickly
  • Great for landing pages for condos and smaller developments
  • Excellent display of property data
  • Call to action in each listing
  • Very flexible with many different ways to use it

dsIDXpress Cons:

  • No option to prompt for signup
  • Limited to single-column display of listings, which looks bad on landing pages when used in shortcode
  • Documentation on usage is limited, and it is difficult to figure out how to use it most effectively

I’d really prefer to do away with the map solution and just use the WordPress plugin, but dsIDXpress doesn’t really work as a standalone product. To employ these products on a WordPress site effectively you have to have both, and the cost is relatively high at about $110/month.

Perhaps most important to me is that I think our conversion should be much better for the number of visitors we have, time on site, etc.

Who has experiences, opinions, pros/cons of the Diverse Solutions IDX products?

Note from the Editor: Not sure what Geek Build 2012 is? It’s building a few real estate websites from scratch publicly with the help of the Geek Estate Community and overseen by an experienced steering committeeRead more about Geek Build 2012 here, or view all posts related to Geek Build 2012 here.

**Geek Build logo designed by Dominic Morrocco at M Squared Real Estate.

About Daniel Bacon

Daniel Bacon is a Florida real estate agent and licensed broker specializing in waterfront and luxury homes in the St Petersburg - Clearwater Real Estate market.

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  • Interesting to see the example of your work. I have built several websites with Diverse products. I have found it most helpful when building community pages to build a page with the dsSearchAgent as the primary page, and then include a link at bottom of the page to a separate page with the IDXpress. That way google indexes them separately. We have usually scored 2 of the top 10 SERPS for a community by doing that.

    • Thanks Carmen, interesting solution. Do you find that a lot of visitors click through to the IDXpress page? From an SEO perspective wouldn’t the pages compete with one another?

      • True they do compete with each other, but our market has so much competition. I would rather dominate two of the top ten spots than a single one. I want as many of the first page SERPS to point to me as possible. With multiple websites and a minimum of two pages on each website about a particular community, I am able to cover multiple spots on page one. Not many people click through to the idxpress page, it is simply there to acquire a position on page 1. I don’t find the formating is very customer friendly. I wish we could customize the layout of the idxpress page better.

        • I’m in a brutally competitive market myself and may try experimenting with your solution. I’m a bit surprised you score 2 in the top this way because my understanding is that when Google finds two pages with the same or similar purpose they will downgrade one.

          And yes, the layout is a major problem. A single column of properties running forever down the page looks very amateurish, especially on a wide page with no sidebar. I use a widget in the sidebar for Coverage Areas, and the formatting looks much better than the shortcode option, like so: http://www.baconrealtygroup.com/idx/city/treasure-island/

          If when using shortcode we could make two columns, and add some formatting like the example above, that would solve the issue.

          • Hey Daniel, Ricardo here from Diverse Solutions…. I hear what you’re saying, but unfortunately, it’s that way by design. 

            See, most people, will subscribe to read articles through feed readers like Google Reader which means you can’t use CSS styles. So the shortcode displays a simple single-column lay-out with no CSS styling in order to display properly in feedreaders. 

            You can apply all the styling you want to “virtual pages.” But shortcodes are designed to display listing data in blog posts and pages. In order to render the content readable to users via feedreaders, there’s no styling.

          • Daniel Bacon

            Thanks Ricardo, that makes sense for posts. Is there a good workaround to display the data in pages?

          • Actually, that page you linked to is not a shortcode page, it’s a dsIDXpress-generated city page. For that, you can do CSS styling to display listings in multiple columns, if you so desire. 

    • Smart use of both products together Carmen! 

  • I’d say dssearchagent mobile is the best mobile product out there..by far. At least from what I’ve seen (which certainly isn’t everything).

    • danbeer

       Completely agree that the mobile app rocks.  I just moved away fromf DS but I do miss the mobile part of it very much.

      • What do you do now in instances where you would have otherwise used DS mobile since you’ve switched?

        • danbeer

          It’s not something I ever used myself.  My client’s would use it though.  I noticed this a few months ago when I sat with a client at a coffee shop and she pulled up my site on her Ipad.

          My current site, http://www.SanDiegoHomeFinder.com does have a mobile version though but the site is relatively new to me and I am not sure of how the mobile component is working for my clients.

          • Can someone please explain LOGICALLY speaking why DS exlcludes adresses from the META description as well as MLS. It’s not even an option. We just got set up with DS last month and are now shocked to see this. Massive search loss when you are not capturing those looking for the address. (Concerned that Zillow) who owns DS has done this by design. Waiting to hear back for a workaround.

          • Interesting: Pretty sure Zillow knows a thing or two about ranking for property addresses and mls numbers…

          • Meta descriptions are overrated though…

          • Ron – It has been like that since the product came out few years ago. Most people use specialized SEO plugins or themes that took care of the meta tags for them. At the time, to reduce conflicts we chose not to provide them. We are evaluating more options for future versions of IDXpress.

    • Thanks for the shout-out and support on mobile Drew!

    • Mobile does work well (for displaying properties), I’ve used it a few times this week in the field, especially easy and clean on Ipad.

      • However, how much the mobile solution does to encourage business, I’m not sure yet. Yes it looks very good and is convenient, but I can just as easily use the (dare I say it?) Zillow or Trulia app to pull up a slick map when out showing property. Of course, I’d rather be connected to my own organic map, so overall I’d say this puts a point in the DS corner.

  • dsSearchAgent looks WAY better and you can actually get people to register. So the solution I’ve come up with is to use that and add this expanding text plugin (http://goo.gl/vT2gj) around the dsIDXpress code. That way the homes are indexable but you don’t have to see the ugly-ness of dsIDXpress. Thoughts? 

  • mrwilliamsburg

    Daniel, 
    I agree that DIverse offers the best solution out there. My only concern is the cost. I know you need to “pay to play” but they are charging 4x what some others are charging. No wonder Zillow wanted to buy them…

    • I don’t necessarily think DS is the best solution. I really want more flexibility, more control over display, and indexable list view options with the map search. The cost is prohibitive for some, and at least one of our participants cannot use the products in their market.

  • Ben, I looked for an example but couldn’t find one. Can you give us a link?

    • My site is a disaster at the moment, I just switched themes and haven’t had time to fix/update things. 

      While this page isn’t exactly what I talked about, it show what the expanding text plugin does:http://mnhome.org/stillwater/homes-with-pool/

      Below the button “all Stillwater homes with a pool” there are 2 little green dots (they can be text, punctuation, whatever). Click on those and you’ll see the indexable listings from dsIDXpress. Click again and it goes away. 

  • mrwilliamsburg

    Daniel,
    I have another problem. Our market is small ( about 1000 transactions a year) DS does not yet service out market and said it would cost me $2000 + to do the initial programming. Anyone following me would then get it for FREE. Doesnt seem quite fair. Another issue is we have overlapping MLS’s in our area. To cover the surrounding areas I need another MLS feed at an additional cost..

    • Ricardo here from Diverse Solutions… Sorry to hear we’re not in your market. But we’re actively expanding into new territories based on demand. 

      Not sure when you checked with our Sales Team, but if it was some time ago, I’d check back again to see if there’s any change in status with regard to adding coverage in your MLS. In regards to multiple MLS feeds, I’m afraid that does in fact require purchasing an IDX feed for each, but also, making sure that each of those MLS’s is ok with co-mingling of the data so that we can provide a combined data feed. 

  • Regarding the dsSearchAgent load being slow & clunky, I have not found that to be the case the majority of the time. Usually it’s lightning fast, due to its AJAX interface. That’s one of the reasons I chose DS over, say, 1ParkPlace, which also has a nice map interface, but it’s crazy-slow! That said, there have been some days over recent months where dsSearchAgent was loading slowly, so I’m hoping they’re upgrading their servers to cope with that. (Today it seems fast again.)

    • Yes Mike, 1ParkPlace IS slow and it uses Bing maps (which are less often used and therefore unfamiliar to consumers)…Making DS a good choice, who I like, by the way – but don’t love. The Iframe map just bugs me so bad. I feel like there is something better out there.

      • One thing I do like about 1ParkPlace is their neighborhood, zip code and school district boundaries. DS says they’re working on that, so hopefully that’s coming soon. As for the map, what bugs you, just the fact that it’s iframed? It doesn’t matter if the map itself is indexable (what of a map could be indexed anyway?), it only matters that property data is indexable. To that end, I feature dsSearchAgent on my neighborhood landing pages, since it provides a better user experience and lead generation, but I also embed dsIDXpress widgets to include indexable listings in that neighborhood. Best of both worlds.

        • It’s not that it’s an Iframed map, it’s that it looks unnatural and too animated. It doesn’t load as cleanly inside of the webpages it’s hosted on as I would expect it to. As comparison, look at a Real Geeks page, and evena 1ParkPlace page. Seems much cleaner of an interface comparably. Perhaps I am being very critical of how it displays, I really need to ask more users with an objective opinion in order to really test my feeling about it.

          • I think if you match your colors well with your theme and hide the DS header, it looks very well integrated to me. I think most users would have no idea that the IDX is iframed. And oh, I LOVE the full-screen feature!

      • Victor Lund

        I was just looking at 1ParkPlace on the Goodlifeteam.com website – looks like it is working great and it is fast for me. I think that aside from search, 1ParkPlace gets some props from their CRM tie ins. Personally, I like the Bing Maps.

        disclosure: 1ParkPlace is our vendor at http://wavgroup.com – they were chosen on the merits of their customer service and their ability to migrate our blog posts over to word press – a lot of manual work was required. We started out with RSS Pieces – remember them?

    • Mike, I agree that some days are faster than others, and I just checked it a few minutes ago and it was loading pretty well. But I do get the slow load quite often…

    • Love your Mobile Search page, very nice.

  • Victor Lund

    Great review of Diverse Solutions. Perhaps the most comprehensive review of any IDX product ever written – Thank you.

    Have you tried any other solutions – like Wolfnet? I see that they have launched a wordpress compatible product too. Check out http://c21home.com – some of the URL structure is odd. I also did a site:c21home.com search and it does not look like the listings are being indexed, but the site is well indexed – only a couple months old.

    • Agree with Victor. Nice post Dan. Well thought out. Wolfnet is being blown away by competitors though – in this reviewers opinion…

    • Thanks for your comment Victor, appreciated. I have looked at Wolfnet a little but really don’t know much about it. The only opinion I have of it is that visually it doesn’t compete with the other solutions. I am concentrating on just the five IDXs that the steering committee has recommended since I agreed to build the new Clearwater site based on their recommendations.

  • Victor Lund

    Check out allminneapolishomes.com

  • Andrew Mattie

    We’ll be changing the redirect prompt within the next days so that it’ll only prompt once per session (basically per tab / per browser open). That will be configurable as well in case you’d like to keep its current behavior where it prompts on every page.

    The mobile demo app should work in IE FYI. You do need to install the Google Chrome plugin granted, but we designed it to make it as easy as possible for users to do that. Can you be more specific as to what’s not working?

    Andrew Mattie
    Diverse Solutions

    • That will be a welcomed change to the redirect prompt Andrew, thanks. I just checked the demo app on my page again in IE and it sill does not work correctly. It works partially with compatibility mode off, not at all with it on: http://www.baconrealtygroup.com/mobile-real-estate-search/

      The non-demo works fine, but that is a page on your server. Maybe I could iframe that and skip the demo?The response to the issue I received on October 17 was “we are unable to provide support and/or troubleshoot for the demo link for dsMobile as it is just a demo application that is used to give a general display of how it will populate”

      • Andrew Mattie

        The demo is just a simple page that iframe’s in the actual mobile IDX. When you go directly to the mobile app in a desktop browser, the app sees that you’re not on a mobile devices and redirects you to the demo page which then is able to frame in the app.

        IE 6-9 unfortunately isn’t advanced enough to support the tech we use in our mobile IDX and so users in IE have to install Google Chrome Frame. When you go to the demo in IE, you should see a little message that says “You need to install Google Chrome Frame before you can see the demo.” When you click on the link to install it, you should see a popup that’ll walk you through the super fast installation process. When you’re done, the page will reload and the mobile IDX will come up. Is that not what’s happening for you? What are you seeing instead?

        • Andrew, I understand, and I installed Chrome Frame the first time I ever hit the page. Here are two screenshots of inital loads, the first without compatibility on, the second with it on. Without compatibility mode works a little, but you cannot see the buttons at the bottom. With compatibility mode on it does not work at all, as you can see.
          http://screencast.com/t/QjFgEAJ8bh6
          http://screencast.com/t/FXj8mOqIt

          We should probably take this off the thread as it’s a bit off topic, email me at danb at baconrealtygroup.com if you like. I will post back that it is working if we get it fixed.

          • The first screenshot above does not want to update, so here is another link: http://screencast.com/t/QjFgEAJ8bh6

  • Thank you for this review! One of the things I would like to see improved with dsSearchAgent, is the control over the custom link page titles and description tags – we need to be able to control what database parameters appear in the tags for improved SEO. One issue I’ve repeatedly run into the DS, is duplicate title tags, or “keyword cannibalization” with my own WordPress pages. You can’t change the tags independently… so if you want to rework it, you have to delete the custom link and begin again with a new title. I would also like to see the “tabs” at the top of the map search worked on – I think people have difficulty seeing those tabs, and knowing how to work with those tabs as they’re searching – there’s a lot going on within that window!  🙂 

    • You lost me here. Are you talking about dsIDXpress pages made using custom links created in the dsSearchAgent control panel? In that case, you can control both the title tags and URL – they are generated by whatever you name the search.  BTW, DS has a forum, you’ll probably get better help posting your questions over there. 

      • Hmmm… I just discovered that the URL & Anchor text don’t update immediately upon changing the name of the search – there’s a delay and a redirect of some sort (hence my original thinking that they don’t change at all.). Anyway… yes, I’m referring to the custom links, but also the built-in “community” links. I don’t think there’s a way to change those URL’s or Title tags – they’re automatically generated.

  • Daniel asked me to chime in on Diverse Solutions contact management system dsAgentReach but Ricardo from DS just published a pretty informative post about it here (with a video): 
    http://www.diversesolutions.com/announcements/idx-now-includes-contact-manager-5832

    Brokers looking for a CMS for your entire team – not sure if this is your answer as I think it can only be linked to one account – but hopefully a DS guy will chime in if I’m wrong. 

    It has some great features going for it including the ability to see what properties your registered visitors are searching for, customizable emails and drip campaigns, scheduling of tasks and appointments, and even the ability to upload pdf and jpg files to share with your clients. The power of any system is how far you are willing to go in setting it up correctly and the DS solution will provide a lot of value and benefit to agents who work hard to set it up. I haven’t used it too many times, but from my experience so far it works well.

    • rlarsonds

      As Greg pointed out (thanks Greg!) our contact/email manager is now included with our mapping IDX.  This lets you create custom forms, emails, campaigns, set appointments and tasks, and view all IDX activity (properties viewed, searches performed, etc) for any contacts in a single account.

      If you’re looking for a CMS for your entire team, you’d need to add our Broker/Lead Manager to your account.  There is an additional monthly (or yearly) fee for your account + each additional user/agent you add.  The prices range from $10 to $30 per month, depending on the number of users you need.
      Each user can manage their own leads, contacts, emails, campaigns, reminders, tasks, etc… and can view the properties and all IDX information for each of their leads.  In addition, the main “broker” user can see all leads for the account, track what each agent is doing with their leads, and move/assign leads between each user.  More details on the Broker version are available here:
      http://www.diversesolutions.com/product/ds-agent-reach/tour/brokers-team 

  • I agree at the single column of IDXpress output on pages looks very amateurish. I was hoping to see options in the next release that would make this more customizable. The IDXbroker WP plugin displays in multiple columns….

    • rlarsonds

      We are finishing up our new release, dsIDXpress Pro, which will add lots of new features to dsIDXpress – – based primarily on feedback from our users.

      We threw a hint out in our recent client newsletter, and will have more details on the release very soon (probably sent to clients only first).

  • Real Estate Broker

    Honestly there’s not a whole lot of options, and once you get deep enough its a pain in the ass to switch. But diverse solutions has the worst customer service ever for the amount I pay. If I had to do it over I would not pick them as my idx provider. They simply don’t give a shit, and it does not work with a lot of common themes, even tho they claim it does

    • Lindsay Connell

      Hello,

      Lindsay, here, with Diverse Solutions. I am the Customer Service manager and am very sorry to hear that you have not been satisfied with our service. I would be happy to talk to you directly if you might have a minute to call to discuss the issues you’ve been experiencing with certain themes.

      Please feel free to call 949-544-2330 and request to speak with me if you have a moment.

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