Friday, November 7, 2008
MyRealPage vs Ubertor: Facts and Fiction
Hello, my name is Bill Skrypnyk; I am the Technical Director at myRealPage.com.
I usually find myself too busy to publish personal blogs, but I have decided that it's important enough this time. I have been increasingly bothered lately by the incorrect information regarding technological capabilities of myRealPage.com that has become widespread online by Ubertor, our competitor in Greater Vancouver area.
In particular I am going to comment regarding primarily these posts:
I would like to state outright: I don't care about claims of who the "leader" or "innovator" is; I will leave that to the marketing and sales to fight out. I do care, however, when claims of technical nature are made; or when implications are made that MyRealPage's website or listing product is inferior in some way. At the very least, I think I owe this to our existing customers and to those that are looking for a balanced story. Also, this post is not a "plug" for MyRealPage to get signups; this is NOT marketing material and I am not advertising any specials or promotions.
So, I am here to set the record straight and I invite comments and discussion. The way I see it, it's long overdue. Enough intro...
Regarding Ian Watt's video blog: I have to say, Ian, congratulations on a nice blogging methodology: I do like the intimate "pro-to-pro" feel of the "drive-and-speak" medium! I wish, however, the "content" lived up to its "form".
Let's take it one at a time (in no particular order and combining all sources above):
Claim: MyRealPage has bad Sitemaps (Ubertor has been promoting this myth for some time now)
Fact: It seems that in the SEO rush, people forget what sitemap is for. Sitemap should be an easy textual organization of links to relevant, useful sections of your website. It is not intended to be designed for search bots: sitemap.xml is designed for that. Sitemaps are designed for humans. Google Webmaster Guidelines warns against that.
Of course, don't take my word for it! Please read the link that follows (it's 3rd from the top when you google "Google Webmaster Guidelines". Also feel free to go to Guidelines directly): http://www.feedthebot.com/sitemaps.html
It's a simple and accessible explanation of why you shouldn't include every page on your website in your sitemap (contrary to what Ubertor tells you). You have to see that sitemap is valuable to a search bot because it represents a "normalized", no-frills view of what's there. But the important point is that your pages need to be reachable from, not necessarily listed in your sitemap. Google Webmaster Guidelines suggest that you shouldn't display more than 100 links on your sitemaps, and if you want to display more, then break up the sitemap into more pages (I have never seen a paginated Ubertor sitemap)
Ian, take a look at your sitemap. Any Ubertor website owner, please do same... Your sitemaps do not appear made for humans to read, they are just a concatenation of all possible links in your website. Someone may claim that they are Google-friendly, but the problem is no one quite knows what being "google-friendly" means; Google says, don't worry about making it google-friendly, make it user-friendly!
On that same subject, MyRealPage now includes links to all your listings from your Sitemap (paginated by 100). BTW, those links are also very human readable: they actually include the address in the URL, e.g.
: MyRealPage cannot do custom "css" (reference is vague, feel free to elaborate or correct) Fact
: That's a pretty low bar to set, really. I expect any
website hosting and provisioning company would allow the end user to access CSS (cascading style sheets). Here is a short video showing CSS in MyRealPage website tools
. This has always been there.
In addition, please note the following things about the way MyRealPage CSS is constructed:
- Your css additions are going to be appended to the end of all CSS, hence you can make any overrides
- You have the ability to override your "Master Template" which affects all pages; and you can override any individual page's css in addition to make it fully custom.
- The complete css for the website is constructed by the server and sent as one css file, thus saving on "round-trips" by the browser and provides an opportunity for aggressive compression
: MyRealPage doesn't have "video" integration Fact
: Hm, this one made me pause, to be honest. What do you mean exactly here, Ian? Did you mean video integration in a MyRealPage website as in here, for example
Nowadays, videos are embedded into websites via "copy-and-paste" object/embed flash references; or swfobject.js-driven flash (which in the end boils down to the same thing, in case anyone wonders). I can think of 3-4 different ways of doing it with MyRealPage. Not sure, if I am missing something here... Feel free to elaborate. (BTW, MyRealPage can also be thought to have "Google Calendar" integration, "Google Maps" integration, if I were to adopt this kind of attitude: the bottom line is that these integrations are too trivial to claim to be product features). Claim
: Ubertor has had blogs for 3 years and MyRealPage has just got them. Fact
: I assume it's true about Ubertor and their 3-year-old blogs. To be fair, MyRealPage has introduced blogging over a year and a half ago, not "just now" (incidentally, we have finished our completely re-engineered websites system only 2 years ago). So, one would assume that Ubertor would be pretty far ahead of MyRealPage in terms of blogging functionality and features. Since I don't know what exactly the features with Ubertor are, and I don't want to trust sales and marketing on that, I am going to shoot in the dark and invite responses and corrections.
Ian, I had gone to your website and viewed your blogs. Again, congratulations of very active and prolific writing: you definitely take blogging seriously! But here are my questions:
- I didn't see a means for anyone to post comments to your blogs. I thought that was one of the main attractions about blogging: not just to be heard but to also invite feedback, to engage an audience.
- Perhaps, you simply disabled the comments; but then I couldn't see it on other websites by Ubertor, so perhaps others did that too. I will assume that this is the case;
- Then, can you filter the comments, to avoid manual spam posting about "rolex watches", etc? How does Ubertor let you do that? Do you need to monitor pending comments? Are you notified by email?
- Can you configure "ping-backs" to well-known blog aggregators (or custom ones) that understand blog pings? (I mean without someone setting up a script on the Ubertor's back-end)
- Also, do you have free-of-charge access to multiple unlimited blogs, making unlimited number of posts, and spreading these blogs on unlimited number of pages on your website?
- I have seen automatic listing blogs on your web pages. Do you have access to editing the templates that produce these blog postings. So that your postings don't have the same text as all the other Ubertor websites, if you wanted to be different? Can you edit these templates yourself?
Now, I expect (hope) that many of the questions above would be answered "yes"! (Of course, it's all "yes" for MyRealPage). But I wonder if all or how many are? Do you have questions, like "but can you do ... this ... with YOUR blogs?" I will be happy to entertain those questions! Perhaps, there may be some good ideas there for us too! Claim
: This one is a general attitude, that Ubertor websites are more flexible Fact
: Oh boy... This is a big one and can take chapters. Instead, I am going to post here a "power" video about some of our website capabilities and let others decide... Here is the video outlining some of the many feature our users can take advantage of
A note about flexibility: it's not enough to have "theoretical" flexibility in the sense of "hey, yeah we can change these files for you on the server". These sorts of hacks involve custom orders, which means the customer is out of money... I will not make a claim here that this is the way Ubertor extends their websites, because I simply don't know (this was certainly true for MyRealPage old website product). But I would be happy to hear feedback!
MyRealPage's notion of flexibility is that all the tools and power should be in the hands of the customer. If they want to go to town, they are free to do so. If they employ outside design or technical help: even better! We have used the exact same WYSIWYG (what-you-see-is-what-you-get) tools which we have built and which we offer our clients, in order to build our own themes in the first place; and we also built our corporate website with them. We eat what we cook! BTW, we also use our own blog product on our corporate site: if we think it's good for our customers, it should be good for us too, no? (Does Ubertor? [added: No!]) Claim
: MyRealPage uses Flash, search engines can't index Flash, etc. Fact
: Yes, MyRealPage does use Flash for page banners. However, and this is very important, Flash does NOT pre-empt regular markup in MyRealPage websites. You can compare our flash banners to just regular static images; in fact, you can choose to just use plain old images for your banners; and yes, you can do it yourself... If our flash banners include navigations, such as menus, our themes are careful to include additional, duplicate menus that are rendered via markup.
Along the way, I should disperse another false claim made by reachd
A little update too: Google can actually read text out of flash: http://news.cnet.com/8301-13530_3-9834708-28.html?tag=mncol;txt
But that doesn't change anything for MyRealPage; we never depended on that capability. Claim
: MyRealPage "frames" your listings and search engines can't see them. Fact
: True. MyRealPage does indeed employ iframe for displaying your listings, searches, etc. . However, you also need to consider the following facts:
- MyRealPage listings are embedded in the page in a very tightly integrated way. There is hardly a way for a visitor to tell or be obstructed in their navigation of the listings. So it doesn't hurt your website's usability.
- I imagine, that this is primarily brought up to point out that this is bad for content indexing and SEO. Yes, iframes are not good for relevance, not because they are not indexed (at least by Google), but because what's in them doesn't get related to the website where they are placed (even though, to be fair, once found individually on Google, the embedded iframe will re-frame itself into your website). MyRealPage has not initially intended to expose the listings which we get from various Real Estate Boards, including GVREB to be indexable (I think we may also need to clear legal issues there too). MyRealPage expects that listing oriented searches will be done via well known portals that are familiar to everyone: mls.ca or realtylink.org. If you include a link in your REB listing to your virtual tour or your website, the leads will land there and have access to complete information as it was entered into mlxchange. From there, MyRealPage provides a great means to make your website "sticky" for the lead: they can search listings via Reciprocity, an anonymous search, on par with mls.ca and realtylink, but using better search forms and your name as the contact person for every listing; or sign up by giving you their name and contact info and get access to Virtual Office Website (VOW). VOW allows them to get up-to-date search results without the 48 hour delay as happens with mls.ca and realtylink; and also save searches, mark favourites, be notified about changes in listing activity in their searches, etc... (Of course, you can monitor and track your leads activity: we have a great lead manager!) This will give them a reason to come back to your website, not just find it, and get the information that they are really looking for, i.e. ALL listing matching their criteria, not just yours.
- In addition, the bottom line to the iframe story is that yes!, your listings are being included as part of your website now. Recently, MyRealPage has started publishing automatic blogs on all our customers' listing activity, including New Listings, Sold Listings and Open Houses (see http://www.myrealpage.com/blog.html?blogEntryId=10786) . Each such blog posting includes listing info and appears as part of the blog pages, and hence reachable and readable to search bots, so your listings are actually being indexed. You can opt-in or out of this feature as you wish. Of course, you can also configure your own template for these blogs, so they don't look like everyone else's.
Claim: MyRealPage title tags, meta tags, or take-your-pick-tags are bad Fact
: Title tags are important. From what I understand by listening to Google, they are especially important for visual presentation when your website shows up in search results. Apparently "Untitled" is the most popular title on the internet! Obviously, it's not a pleasant entry in search results for Google, and they are trying to fight that. The title shows up in search results and you want it to be descriptive. Let me make it clear: at MyRealPage you have full control over your title tags
. You can put whatever you like there. Please watch this video about Page tags, title, etc. in MyRealPage web tools
, so I can nail all these "tag" claims in one. The bottom line: all these tags are under your control!
So now, that you have fine-tuned all these tags, your website should start getting some rank, right? Wrong! Do you really imagine that you need to spoon-feed somebody like Google (or others) all these little quirky keyword snippets to get rank? Google hasn't gotten to where it is right now by relying its ranking on meta tags in which website owners self-promote their own relevancy. Let me say it though: page meta information is important and should be treated carefully and thoughtfully, but not because of Google, but rather because it is The Right Thing To Do
and helps make the web more semantically structured and coherent. In very plain and simple terms: Google bases its rank on relevancy of the Supreme Ruler of Googledom: CONTENT
. Google appreciates your help when you give it metadata, and you should continue to do so, but please stop believing that someone fixing your meta tags will fix your ranking. The person Google listens to the most is Google User, the person performing a search. If the visitors searching for content "walk away" from search results, it means they are not relevant, and Google scrambles. So please, if you want rank, write useful, interesting, insightful content first! Don't blame your website company, mine or others (Ubertor included of course) for losing your rank [Update: there was no single real complaint levelled at MyRealPage for losing anyones rank. There were fake ones, engineered by Ubertor, as discussed in my "Ubertor: Anatomy of a Lie" blog.
]. If you want rank, please pay attention to your content. My and other companies in this space get you started with sample content but if you leave it unchanged, you have exactly zero chance of getting any rank. Google calls these websites "affiliate programs"; and in Google's view of the internet, these websites just clog the pipes because they produce no original content. If someone selling you a template-based website tells you otherwise, you should be very cautious with your trust.
: You have to pay to switch MyRealPage theme Fact
: Completely wrong. See a short video about switching themes in MyRealPage website tools here
. In fact, there are extremely few things that you would ever need to pay MyRealPage for in addition to your regular monthly rate. (Of course, if you want us to do custom design or other work for you, there is a charge, like everywhere else) Sometimes it feels like that chewing gum commercial where the execs are afraid that the longer lasting gum will kill production. Our products simply include everything. We currently don't have a tiered product structure (I can't make promises for the future of course). Back to themes: all our themes are HOT-SWAPPABLE. That's my personal pride and joy. You can experiment by swapping themes in and out and publish live when you are ready. You have access to all
the themes for free
. Of course, our themes are not just rebrands of one theme with different typefaces and colour. They are fully distinct, with different structures. The theme browser is available to you along with the other tools in your Website Management.
: MyRealPage handles Page Not Found incorrectly Fact
: MyRealPage allows you to create your own policy on what happens when a page is not found. In many cases, people choose to redirect the page to the main page. You can create your own "notfound.html" and offer whatever you like on it. Claim
: (This is a non-technical one, and I may as well cover it...) MyRealPage employs contracts to cling to customers because our product "sucks"
("maybe just a little...": thanks Ian :) Fact
: All the sign-ups that go through our corporate website are contract-free, month-to-month: you can go to our corporate website
and read the Terms and Conditions for yourself.
This exhausts my list of claims for now. But I would like to mention a couple more things.
I want MyRealPage to have your business: that's true. But I want it not because someone promised you the world just to sign you up, and certainly not if you feel you were taken advantage of. I want you to use MyRealPage products because I think they can go head-to-head with the best ones out there and win. I am not afraid of competition. I personally owe gratitude to Point2, RealPageMaker, Redman, and others for creating competitive technical challenges for MyRealPage to match and outperform.
I don't have internal access to Ubertor's administration interface. I have neither time nor spy skills to get this info. I don't have complete knowledge of their billing and tier structures and I don't want to rely on information discovered by marketing and sales. As I have said before, what I am interested in is technology. So I am inviting here tech talk. I am calling out to Ubertor's tech advocates: let's challenge ourselves here. Why don't you come out and level the "hey, but can you do ... this ... with MyRealPage, we can!" at us. I would be honoured to stand in our products' defense and level our challenges at you! What do we have to lose? Finding out bugs and strangenesses which I am sure both you and we will fix shortly upon discovery in such exchanges. Maybe we'll even be motivated to enhance our products based on these exchanges. The only winners will be our customers!
Your move, Ubertor...