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Introducing Displet RETS / IDX: How I Spent My Summer Vacation….and the Following 2 Years

It all started with two phone calls to two separate IDX vendors:

Call #1

Eric: Hello. I really like your product and am considering moving from my current IDX vendor over to you.

Vendor #1: Great! Can I send you paperwork?

Eric: Well, there are a few features it’s missing – indexable listings and some conversion features I would like. Is there any way I can pay you guys to add these features for me? I have a decent budget for these features & understand that you would need to roll them out to the entire system, since you don’t provide custom IDX solutions.

Vendor #1: Sorry, we don’t take any customization orders.

Eric: Really? It seems like a win/win, since I get want I want, and you get to charge me to improve your own product.

Vendor #1: Sorry, it’s just something we don’t do.

Eric: hrrrrrm

Call #2:

Eric: Hello. I really like your product and wanted to get some more info.

Vendor #2: Great! What can I tell you?

Eric: Well, I already have a nice website and wanted to see if I could implement your indexable product on my own site.

Vendor #2: No, we have a proprietary system that it integrates with. You would have to move your site over. We charge $125/hour for that.

Eric: Okay…$125/hour is a little high, but I can live with that. I do tinker with code a bit and have some good, local vendors. Is there any way I could get access to just my site, once it’s moved over, in case I want to make my own customizations?

Vendor #2: No. You’ll have to use our developers and work on our schedule for any customizations.

Eric: Are you sure? It’s pretty easy to add directory specific FTP or shell access.

Vendor #2: There’s no way we can allow you to work on the site yourself or use your own vendors.

Eric: hrrrrrm

At this point, I was pretty frustrated. I spoke with a handful of developers in early stages of RETS projects with good, misguided intentions. They saw RETS from the consumer’s perspective, which is fantastic, but they didn’t understand RETS from an agents perspective – namely that the #1 goal is to generate leads.

From there, I made a call to who is now my business partner, Braxton Beyer. Braxton is a full time web developer and has been part time real estate agent for as long as I’ve known him – he was with One Source when we opened our doors in 2006. Because he likes to tinker with code, he had built a rudimentary RETS system on his own site as an exercise to learn a new language.

Braxton & I began working more and more on his own system. I helped him with feature ideas – always with lead conversion at the forefront – and Braxton helped prioritize what should be developed, and when. Within a couple of months we had another developer on the project. Within 2 months we had 2 more. At month 6 came our first true “client” – an agent in New York who wanted the system.

From there, things progressed quickly or slowly, depending on how you look at them. We’ve built the system to be incredibly customizable – agents have control over 100% of the stylesheets (CSS), 80% of the html, and can insert custom Javascript. When we build out any new feature, we also build out controls for agents to customize those features. Because of this, development can go more slowly than it would if we just made all the decisions for our agents.

However, the trade-off is that agents can work on the sites themselves, have their developer brother-in-law make modifications, or use their favorite vendor. What a “monopoly developer” might charge $125 for, our agents can do themselves, or allow the free market to help them get it done for much cheaper. Here’s a video example – adding Google+ in under 3 minutes:

We <3 WordPress around the Displet office and have released a number of plugins. You can insert listings using ~30 different search criteria onto any page, which isn’t new. What is new, though, is that our plugins interface with the RETS app’s conversion tools, so these pages convert as well as they should.

I personally use Displet to generate much of my own real estate business, so I care deeply about how well it can convert. Any time we build a new feature, the first question we ask is, “Will this result in more leads from the system?” If the answer is “yes”, then there’s a good chance we’ll build it. If the answer is, “No” then we ask, “Why should we build it?”

Displet is now in 21 markets and we’re expanding to wherever makes sense. We’re still technically in “beta”, but it’s analogous to Gmail’s “beta” tag three years ago. However, because we still need beta feedback, we have introductory pricing. If you think you’d be a good fit for our beta program, let me know, and let’s talk. If you have constructive feedback on the system, let me know, and let’s talk.

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  • 8 comments

    Traveling Without Windows

    I attended Homegain Nation early this week.  It was a fantastic time, giving me the opportunity to meet many great people I’ve known online for years.  I decided to run a little experiment and bring my Ubuntu laptop, while leaving my windoze machine at home.  So…Ubuntu performed extremely well, but MLS vendors performed very poorly.  I was not able to get the following web apps to work properly on ubuntu:

    • MLXChange (obviously)
    • Docusign
    • Zipformonline
    • QuickbooksOnline

    I planned to use VNC to access MLXChange from my windoze desktop I keep running (which does crash, and I then call Ali to restart so that I can access it,) but I was pretty shocked that the other 3 vendors aren’t truly cross browser compatible.  So, for now, Ubuntu is my great “around town” OS, but it looks like I’ll have to use my windoze machine on road trips (until I get a mac.)

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  • 21 comments

    Ubuntu is Ready for Prime Time

    I’ve been missing my Bloodhounds!  I reminded myself that arguing about politics is like arguing about religion, so logged in to push up a new post.

    About a year ago, I posted that the Android OS was going to free me from Windows (and Office.)  Unfortunately, the g1 was a gigantic POS, so that didn’t happen.  However, in the meantime something fortunate did happen:

    I dumped a giant glass of iced tea on my laptop.

    During the two weeks of my PC repair, I was forced to move off Outlook and start using the powerful tools that Google provides (free) in their apps products.  End of two weeks, and I was off Outlook entirely.

    Zoom forward a few months from that point and I’m bored out of my mind (funny how that happens in a real estate broker’s life during the Nov-Dec months.)  Out of this sheer boredom, I decided to install Ubuntu (linux) on an old PC laptop we had sitting around.

    I’m writing this blog post on that machine.  Ubuntu is incredible.  This 5 year old laptop with 512kb of RAM runs faster than my 1.5 year old PC w/ 3gb of RAM and lightning fast processor.  I can’t wait to replace buggy Vista with Ubuntu on my fast machine!

    So…I put it to you:  Find an old laptop in your house, download Ubuntu, install it, and give it 2 weeks.  Ubuntu is ready for prime time.  You belong in the cloud, and there’s no reason to be bound to an OS.

    I’d love to hear feedback from anyone/everyone willing to give Ubuntu two weeks1!

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  • 9 comments

    If You Want to Close Deals, Force Registration

    Let me repeat that: If you want to close more deals, force your users to register to view property listings on your website.  I can back this up with hard data.  I can back this up with recent data.  If you allow open registration on your IDX/RETS site, you do not receive better leads than the broker/agent with forced registration.

    Anyone who tells you otherwise has no idea what they are talking about. They either have no data, have never analyzed their data, have never tested, or have never sold or been involved in helping agents sell real estate. Let me repeat that: They have no idea what they are talking about.

    I have confirmed these findings with:

    Each person listed above gets a minimum of 300 visitors per day from qualified sources – SEO, PPC, or social media ads.  Two people listed above have significantly more data that proves this.

    If you don’t get at least 100 visitors per day of potential customers to your site, then you have no real data to confirm or deny these findings.

    Every person I know who has tested forced vs. open registration who has significant traffic has opted for forced registration, and has seen an explosion in the number of leads, no degradation in lead quality, and as a result, has closed more deals.

    Someone please prove me wrong.  With hard data.

    If you want to close more deals, force registration.  The only thing open registration will do for you is get you a table with the cool kids at the conferences.

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  • 83 comments

    How Good is Google Voice Transcription?

    Apparently, if you’re all business and speak clearly, it’s really good:

    rose-transcription

    But, if you’re one of “my boys” and talk really fast…not so good

    stewart-transcription

    Regardless, Google Voice is mad cool.  Here are some instructions on trying it out as Voicemail.

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  • 5 comments

    The Case For Paid Reviews

    As I’ve said in the past, I’m not a fan of the term “Web 2.0.”  I’ll take it a step further and say that there are many aspects of the “Web 2.0″ movement that I dislike.  There are enough aspects of the movement that I find silly that I can, and will, fill a post (but not now.)

    Contrary to popular belief, I am a fierce capitalist.  Granted, I do love the open source movement, but I also think that there are ways to monetize open source, working within our capitalist system.  Much of “Web 2.0″ seems to be anti-capitalist.  Users want everything free (no registration, no paid memberships, etc…) and in many cases don’t want site owners/bloggers to earn directly from their endeavors.  It should be a labor of love, right?  Any money earned should be earned indirectly, the 2.0′ers say.

    Chris Johnson hit some great points in his recent post, and I agree with 95% of what he says.  However, I don’t reach the same conclusion.

    In the past, paid blog reviews were fantastic for SEO, but with Google’s call to turn in paid links, and with the proliferation of the nofollow tag, this isn’t the case any longer (for white hats.)  However, Paid Reviews are still fantastic ideas for many vendors.  Why?  Highly targetted traffic.  Traffic that can, and will convert.  When was the last time you clicked on an ad when reading a blog?  However, would you follow a link to a vendor, if a blogger you respect wrote a thoughtful review, and the product pertained to you or your business?  Many people do…even when they know the review was purchased.

    I disagree with Chris’ conclusion that all Paid Reviews are bad for blogging.  However, I do agree that paid reviews can, will, and should evolve.  He’s correct that Ratespeed could possibly have become better, had an intelligent conversation occurred, and all aspects been discussed.  How much more valuable is honest criticism over blanket praise?  If the community you’re targetting recommends you change, and you make those changes, how would that community respond?  There’s real value in that discussion – value that many vendors would pay for.  If a blog owner has developed a wide, valuable readership, I see nothing wrong with the owner earning for that hard work.

    Contrary to Chris, I don’t believe that paid reviews are the “stamp of a moron,” or that they make you a whore.  I read many, many, many, blogs that have done paid reviews.  This tells me nothing except, “these bloggers like money.”

    One aspect of “Web 2.0″ that I do love is transparency.  “Web 2.0″ paid reviews should be (and often are) transparent.  Just as you should nofollow and tag all advertising on your site, paid reviews must be disclosed, and the links must be nofollowed.  Genuine discussion should be allowed, and your advertiser should welcome it.  Otherwise, you can, and will look like a…

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  • 17 comments

    The GPhone is Here…and Here are My Thoughts

    I was pleasantly surprised to come home from the grocery store last night and see a package from T-Mobile w/ my new G1.  My girlfriend wasn’t so pleasantly surprised b/c it meant that I would for the most part ignore her for the evening while playing with my new toy.  Here are my first impressions:

    1. If you’re already a Google fanboy, you’ll love it.  When you fire it up, it prompts you for your google ID, and you’re done.  Your email, calendar, and contacts are all seemlessly integrated with the phone.  You don’t have to lose your @mywebsite.com email address, either.  Using Google Apps, you can allow big G to give you all their services for free, and retain your branding.
    2. The App Marketplace is REALLY thin right now, but there’s not an app on there that costs.  I immediately installed Accuweather (which I had on my BB,) and Plusmo College Football (which was already available for IPhone.)
    3. Coming from the BB, I like the trackball + touchscreen navigation.  Very easy to maneuver websites with a lot of small nav buttons using the trackball, and very quick to navigate easier sites with the touchscreen.
    4. I’m assuming b/c they piggybacked off the 1-800-GOOG-411 technology, the voice dialer actually works REALLY well.
    5. There’s no port for headphones, which is really annoying.
    6. Amazon MP3 is every bit as good as itunes.
    7. So if you rotate the g1 on its side the screen does NOT adapt.  It’s very easy to navigate through w/o using the keypad, so I think this was a pretty silly move.  I’m not sure if they can do a soft upgrade using the compass or something, but I hope they can.
    8. The messaging is not as consolidated as the BB.  I really like getting my sms, mms, and emails all in the same viewer.  There doesn’t appear to be an option for that here.
    9. The browser isn’t quite as nice as the Iphone’s.  The Iphone browser does a good job of autosizing a site to fit the screen – android’s, not so much.  However, it’s still the 2nd best phone browser I’ve used.

    So, all in all, I’m happy with the g1, but not ecstatic.  As a piece of hardware, it misses a few functional aspects.  The software is very solid, but does miss out on a few key points.  However, as an open source project, the software stands to improve incredibly fast, and will only get better.  I’m very excited to see an open source project this size, and I think it has the potential to change the way the mainstream thinks about open source.  I will more than likely keep my g1 just for that reason – I’m a lefty open source pinko!

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  • 5 comments

    The (lack of) Soul of Numbers: Boiling the Republican Party to Its Essence

    What does this have to do w/ “the maverick?”  At this point in time, I would literally vote for a feces throwing monkey, as long as it wasn’t stamped w/ the elephant, and wasn’t throwing feces at me.

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  • 39 comments

    My GPhone Will Be Delivered on 10/22

    Microsoft Office will be uninstalled on my PC on 10/23.

    If all goes as planned, Windows will be replaced by Ubuntu on 10/24.

    Sure, the Google phone isn’t as sexy as the Iphone.  Open source isn’t supposed to be sexy.  Just free and awesome.

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  • 15 comments

    Google Search Volume & Mind Share

    Huge news in the world of search: Google now publishes search volume for specific keywords through the Adwords Keyword Selector Tool.  In the past, we’ve had Overture (which went away,) or Wordtracker to turn to.  Both of these tools were fairly inaccurate.  The new data that Google released appears to be far superior to either of these tools.

    I’ve long been a fan of Google Trends, and I’ve wasted many an afternoon looking up the strange search habits & statistics of Googlers in different areas & cities.  Want to know if Keller Williams is more popular than Re/Max? Google Trends can give you a good idea.

    The new data that Google has opened up to us gives us very powerful information about mind share, or public awareness.  It logically follows that the more people are searching for a specific brand, the more generally aware the public is of that brand.  We can now put a “search score,” in points on any specific brand.

    So….how did everyone stack up?  you can click on the image for an easier to read doc, and more information

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  • 13 comments

    Trulia Pulls Down User Agent Cloaked Redirects

    The title pretty much sums it up.  They’ve pulled down the cloaked 301′s that we identified last week.  So…they’ve either gone white hat with it, or they’ve gone deeper to an IP cloak (which is very difficult to identify.)

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  • 12 comments

    Google Juice? Yeah…That Hits the Spot!

    Lots of fun at the Bloodhound Blog lately! Unfortunately, I had to miss Unchained, but was able to catch enough on Youtube to realize that I missed out on a lot – not the least of which was a great networking opportunity. I’ve been enjoying BHB more and more, though, and I know it has to do with increasing the level of my participation.

    I think it just took me a bit to get warmed up, and to find a topic that I could really sink my teeth into. As much as I love real estate, I’m a relative pup (5 years) compared with most of the ol’ dogs here, so it took the introduction of a pretty serious SEO debate to reel me in. I’m not here to grind this topic in. In fact, I think we’ve done a fine job getting the word out about a practice that bothers us. However, during the debate, the statement “No one really knows how Google works” was thrown out a few times. Because of this, I wanted to write a quick tutorial on one basic concept that we know Google uses, and that has been proven time & again to be correct.

    Page Rank, or “Google Juice,” was developed by Larry Page & Sergey Brin in the mid 1990′s while students at Stanford. The algorithm utilizes the inherent democracy of the web, counts the links to different websites as votes for those particular sites, and so measures the relative importance of each website.

    Rand Fishkin, of SEOMOZ, put together one of his fabulous illustrations demonstrating the very basic function of the Page Rank system:

    innate-pagerank.JPG

    Obviously, the algorithm is much more complex than this, but this gives us a very fundamental understanding of how Page Rank works, and why inbound links are so important. The web, according to Google, is one big popularity contest, with the authoritative sites (like BHB) holding a lot of the juice, and less authoritative sites (like my dinky search blog) carrying less juice.

    The easiest (but not always the most accurate) way to measure the importance of a site/page is by looking at its PR on the Google Toolbar. (We’ll leave the difference between true PR & toolbar PR for another day.)

    Really authoritative sites have lots of juice to give out, and so help the sites they’re linking to increase their own PR, and their own rankings. How does Google measure the PR that’s passed from these sites? Again, Rand has a great illustration.

    pagerank-explained.JPG

    Bloodhound Blog carries lots of juice, and Greg links to TONS of sites. This does nothing to hurt his own rankings (unless he accidentally links out to a bad neighborhood) but it does affect the amount of juice he’s giving to the sites he links to. However, BHB isn’t in the business of selling links, so who cares? The links are helpful to the end user, and they’re still helping out the recipient in the way of traffic and PR.

    This is the fundamental basis of Google’s ranking algorithm. It is by NO means comprehensive – Google has gotten very good at determining the quality of links through other metrics. For more reading on SEO topics, I suggest checking out SEOMOZ, Sphinn, Matt Cutts blog, or hitting up my boy David for his great beginner’s guide to SEO.

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  • 20 comments

    Number1Expert/Trulia Widget Link Count Correction

    Earlier this week, I posted a mock story about Number1Expert rebranding as Number2Expert due to their decision to automatically include Trulia widgets on their template sites, and thus give Trulia over 11k links.

    11k-links.JPG

    Well, I never claimed to be perfect (only close,) and ummmmm, I screwed up. Number2Expert is actually providing Trulia with 36,400 links.

    Let me explain…

    I first checked the total # of links to Trulia from N2E sites. Because N2E currently tags every site w/ the text “Number1Expert” at the top of each page, it was pretty easy to find. I ran this link analysis.

    But jogging through some of the link pages, I realized that many of the webmasters linking out were doing so on their own. Sites like this guy were putting the widgets on their home page, and I’m only concerned about the links that N2E is placing on the sites through corporate policy.

    So this meant that we needed to find the template pages where N2E is automatically placing the widgets. N2E uses the same page naming structure on all of their templates, so again, it wasn’t that difficult. We already knew they place the widgets on all of the “myhomes.asp” pages, and are providing them 11,200 links on these. I dugg a little more, and found a TON of dynamically generated pages that all have “myhomedtl” in the URL.

    I ran this link analysis, and found an additional 25,200 links coming from N2E sites. Add that to the 11,200 links coming from the myhomes.asp pages, and we’re at a total of 36,400 links that are automatically placed on Number2Expert sites.

    To put it in perspective, BloodhoundRealty.com has a total of 48,600 incoming links. Activerain has a total of 13,500 incoming links.

    Trulia has a total of 164k backlinks. Number2Expert sites make up over 22% of their link profile.

    Do you guys think this might be partially responsible for Trulia’s rankings?

    Here’s a basic resource on how to check backlinks using yahoo.

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  • 12 comments

    Number1Expert Re-Launches as Number2Expert

    n2elogo.gif

    In a surprise move, website template provider Number1Expert has announced plans to rebrand as Number2Expert. This decision came following their inclusion of Trulia widgets on the myhomes.asp pages of all of their client sites. Here’s an example.

    When asked about the decision, a spokesman said, “To date, our clients are providing Trulia with over 11,000 links. We live in a web 2.0 World, and transparency is very important. Since we’re effectively promoting Trulia as the #1 real estate expert, we felt it important to re-brand ourselves to more consistently mesh with this strategy.” He then added, “We’re very excited about the new opportunities that will arise with our market position as the Number 2 Experts.

    The widgets that Number2Experts places on their template sites have been a hot topic in the RE.net as of late. Demonized by real estate SEO’s, and heralded as powerful, free online tools by others, the real estate world cannot seem to come to a consensus.

    Be sure to keep an ear open, and an RSS reader ready for more news to come regarding this intriguing topic.

    trulia-awareness-ribbon-180.jpg

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  • 16 comments

    Trulia Widgets: Truliamazing Trojan Horse(s)

    Much ado about Galen Ward’s Truliamazing Tricks of the Trade! Greg has already written a fantastic post about the reaction, so I won’t spend any time rehashing. An interesting side note that has been brought up by a few commentators is why Trulia is really kicking butt in the SERPs. It’s their Truliamazing Trojan Horse(s)!

    Linkbait is one of the most powerful tools a white hat SEO can come up with. It can come in the form of interesting content (ahem, BHB,) controversial content, and neat tools that include a link back to the creator. Linkbait is by no means a bad thing. It’s part of what makes interesting/cool sites rank highly in the search engines. Google like-a-da-linkbait!

    However, linkbait can definitely be a bad thing to you – in your market. If one of your local competitors cooks up some tasty linkbait, and you happen to repost it, and link to them, you’re helping your competitor rank higher than you in the search engines.

    Trulia is truly kicking butt in the SERPs (for big time terms, and for long tails) because they’ve cooked up some solid linkbait in the form of widgets.

    Let’s focus on one widget, and why it works – the “Trulia Stats” widget. (Oh, let’s also completely ignore how terribly inaccurate this widget is.)

    trulia-widget.JPG

    Take a look at the bottom links that are included on the Trulia stat – “Austin Real Estate” which links to their Austin page, and “Trulia” which links to their main page. When you post this widget, you effectively tell Google that Trulia is the authority for your market, and then you give them another vote to their index page, which helps them kill it in the longtails.

    So….what to do?

    I would recommend not using the widgets at all (did I mention they’re really inaccurate?) However, if you want to be a “Truliamazing Agent” and act just like Trulia, then you can go ahead and post the widget, and either delete the link, or add the rel=”nofollow” tag. After all, you just trust their data – you don’t trust the source, right?

    Here’s the (slightly modified) code for Trulia Stats:

    <table border="0" cellpadding="0" cellspacing="0" style="width:300"><tr><td style="text-align:center;" align="center"><object classid="clsid:d27cdb6e-ae6d-11cf-96b8-444553540000" codebase="http://fpdownload.macromedia.com/pub/shockwave/cabs/flash/swflash.cab#version=8,0,0,0" width="300" height="323" id="sample" align="middle"> <param name="allowScriptAccess" value="sameDomain" /> <param name="movie" value="http://widgets.trulia.com/300_short.swf?rand=12926937" /> <param name="quality" value="high" /> <param name="wmode" value="transparent" /> <param name="FlashVars" value="place1_nhood_code=&place1_nhood=&place1_color=526131&place1_city=Austin&place1_state=TX&place2_nhood_code=&place2_color=&place2_nhood=&place2_city=&place2_state=&show_price_tab=true&show_volume_tab=true&bg_color=F0F2D8&header_bg_color=526131&header_text_color=FFFFFF&link_color=62A1D1&text_color=000000&price_type=Average&custom_text=Local+Real+Estate+Trends&show_search=true&rand=12926937"> <embed src="http://widgets.trulia.com/300_short.swf?rand=12926937" quality="high" bgcolor="#FFFFFF;" width="300" height="323" name="sample" align="middle" allowScriptAccess="sameDomain" type="application/x-shockwave-flash" pluginspage="http://www.macromedia.com/go/getflashplayer" wmode="transparent" FlashVars="place1_nhood_code=&place1_nhood=&place1_color=526131&place1_city=Austin&place1_state=TX&place2_nhood_code=&place2_color=&place2_nhood=&place2_city=&place2_state=&show_price_tab=true&show_volume_tab=true&bg_color=F0F2D8&header_bg_color=526131&header_text_color=FFFFFF&link_color=62A1D1&text_color=000000&price_type=Average&custom_text=Local+Real+Estate+Trends&show_search=true&rand=12926937" /> </object></td></tr><tr><td style="text-align:center;" align="center"><a rel="nofollow" href="http://www.trulia.com/TX/Austin/"><font color="#000000" face="arial" size="1"><u>Austin Real Estate</u></font></a> - <a rel="nofollow" style="color:#62A1D1;" href="http://www.trulia.com"><font color="#000000" face="arial" size="1"><u>Trulia</u></font></a></td></tr></table></td></tr></table>

    Do you see the big, red rel=”nofollow” tags that I added? Just add those to your Trulia widgets (anywhere after the “a” and before the “href”,) and you’ll make sure that you’re not helping Trulia beat you in the search engines. Or you could just not use the widgets. Please email me if you need help.

    Vote this up | Puurple.com!

    trojan-horse-trulia1.jpg

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  • Number1Expert Re-Launches as Number2Expert

  • 49 comments

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