Why is mobile important?
Around 22 million people accessed the internet on their phones in September 2011 (according to the latest Comscore figures). Comscore further reported that around 2.5 million people have accessed real estate listings on their phones in the same month.
In a Rightmove home-mover survey that was conducted in September 2011, more than 45 per cent of the 13,500 respondents – that’s equivalent to a potential 9.9 million of the 22 million users – in one month, indicated that they have used their phones to look at properties for sale or to rent, and the majority indicated that they have then gone on to either phone or email the agent from the same phone.
How can you ensure an effective mobile presence?
Mobile opens a whole new world of opportunities for agents allowing them to reach home-hunters on the move. The capabilities of mobile technology are increasing all the time and growing ever more sophisticated, but with sophistication comes complexity.
Mobile platforms, with their immense variety in operating systems, manufacturers, handsets and form factors, can seem a daunting area to invest in. But perhaps, even more so than with print and with standard websites, the more you invest, in time and money, the greater the return.
Here are the three most important things you should do:
Make your website phone friendly
People don’t use their mobile devices for idle browsing, they use it to get to information as quickly as they can, with as little input as possible. Your mobile website should be functional, minimalist
and finger friendly. If it isn’t, mobile users will abandon your site in droves.
Your standard website will work on most smartphones, after a fashion, but the user experience will be rather bad – slow, fiddly, small, unresponsive, especially on 3G or 2G networks. It is easy to test this for yourself. Get hold of as many iPhone and later models of Android and Blackberry phones as you can. Connect via 3G, not through your nice and fast wireless office connection, and do the following tests:
Arriving on your site
Google your brand and branch name on the mobile browser, and follow the links to your own website.
What does the landing page look like? Does it load quickly? Is the text small? Are the images very small? Can you easily tap or click on links and buttons?
Place yourself in the position of the mobile user. Is your landing page useful, usable and quick? Does it give you clear directions where you should go next? If not, you probably wouldn’t want to stick around. And neither will the 22 million other mobile users.
Finding properties on your site
From the homepage of your website, try and search for properties in your area: How easy is this? Are there any fiddly bits that irritate you or confuse you? How hard is it to find your way around the search screens and the search results? Time how long it takes to reach one of your listed properties for sale and ask yourself if that would be a reasonable amount of time to spend navigating your site.
Finding your contact details Now try and locate your contact details and telephone number on your own site. From the homepage and also from any page with property details on. Is that easy to find?
See for yourself– an exercise Google “Reading Agents” on your mobile. You should find at a least six or seven agents listed on the results page.
Of these, some are well optimised for mobile, some are OK, and some not optimised at all. See if you can work it out which is which for yourself. Which of these agents do you think is going to benefit the most from their mobile websites?
Of these, Romans and Parkers (see screengrab) in particular offer a really good mobile experience. Clean site design, big buttons, and access to all the essential functions. From the landing page, you can easily navigate the site and find what you are looking for, whether to buy, rent, sell or let property. These are GREAT examples of how mobile websites should look and behave.
My site is not up to scratch, what should I do?
If your site failed any of the above tests, ask your website developers to make your site mobile friendly, or to develop a bespoke mobile site for you. Both options are likely to be quite expensive, and will take some time.
In the meantime, make sure you list on a property portal with good mobile capabilities and a lot of mobile users.
USE HIGH QUALITY, CLUTTER FREE PHOTOS
Thumbnails and photos are generally rendered to be quite small on mobile devices. Overly detailed photos with low contrast do not render well. Clear, high contrast images with less detail look much better. Look at the sample images taken from Rightmove’s mobile website. Which images do you think work best and would catch your eye as a home-hunter?
Further, make sure your property descriptions are short, concise, to the point and highlight the most attractive aspects of a property.
USE PORTALS WITH GOOD MOBILE PRESENCE
Portals arguably provide the best value for money for lead generation and also for brand exposure. Portals have the resource and technical expertise to invest in mobile technology. Portals are used by massive numbers of home hunters and homeowners. Choose ones with a good mobile presence. More than 600,000 people access Rightmove’s mobile website every month, more than twice as many as any of the other portals. A further 500,000 use Rightmove’s iPhone app every month.
If you are a member of Rightmove, core membership includes representation of your listings on Rightmove Mobile. If your own website is not yet up to scratch, make sure you tell people to find your properties on Rightmove.
Rightmove has recently introduced QR codes. QR codes provide a handy link to a list of all your properties, or to any individual property. Look out for these codes (and instructions on how to use them) on the Rightmove property details pages, and on your Rightmove profile page.
Simply print or save this code and display it in your window cards, your newspaper adverts, your For Sale boards, or anywhere else you advertise your properties. Users of some of the newer smartphone handsets can be taken straight to the property particulars or your branch listings by merely pointing their phones at the QR code, if not it is easy to download a QR code reader to read each code.
AN IMPORTANT QUESTION: MOBILE APPS OR MOBILE WEBSITES?
Apps have certain advantages over mobile websites. In general you can present a better user experience, slicker functionality and better workflows. If this is important to you, and if the branding prestige of having an app is part of your marketing strategy, by all means consider developing one.
However, keep the following in mind: If you develop an app, you still have to have a mobile website. Some homehunters might search for your app on the various app stores, but far more people will search for your brand on their mobile browser.
You have probably worked very hard to get yourself as high as possible in the Google search results for various search terms. People will find your website naturally when they Google these terms on their phones browsers. They won’t find your app. You need to capitalise on this by providing a user friendly mobile website when they click on your links.
Apps penetration is high for big brands and content aggregators, like Ebay, BBC and Rigthmove. For smaller, local and less well known brands, people are less likely to search for and download an app.
Downloading and installing an app requires more user effort than just opening a website. People will therefore only download an app if they think that they will use it frequently and for a prolonged period. An app from Rightmove will give them all the properties in an area, and therefore they might install it. Downloading 25 apps from 25 different agencies and then opening them all individually will be too much effort for anybody, and therefore they will tend to not download agency specific apps.
You probably run email campaigns. Your emails probably contain a number of links to your website. When someone opens your email on their mobile phone (and a lot of people do), those links will take them to your website, and not to your app. Therefore even those people who have downloaded your app, will still be directed to your mobile website from emails.
Of course, your intention with an app might not be to give people home hunters access to your properties. You may want to use an app to interact with your prospects, or maybe you want to use it to give your clients updates on their properties, or you may identify something unique that no-one else provides. In that case, an app might be well worth it.
FAQs – Some answers from mobile website expert, Ian Laverty
Q: I’ve noticed that when using my iPad, I can’t access websites that use Flash. Do mobile optimised websites automatically remove this issue – or not?
A: We wouldn’t recommend using Flash in a mobile site. A Flash video can significantly compromise the performance of your site. This is where the content of your mobile site needs to be very carefully considered. Individuals using the mobile web behave in a very different way to those on a desktop. It’s action oriented browsing – giving people the information they’re looking for when they want to do something with it. For property agents, that means the ability to search for properties and get in touch with you.
Q: Is it possible to put a ballpark figure on the cost of optimising a website for mobile use?
A: How much do you charge to sell a house? It depends on the house and it depends on which of your services they want to engage in. It’s the same for web design. Hundreds of pounds not thousands of pounds in short.
Q: Have you noticed an increasing flow of agents who invested in their own app, now looking to develop a mobile site? Are apps finished?
A: The app market is flooded with apps that people don’t use. Only 18 per cent of smartphones sold in the UK in the first half of 2011 were iPhones. If you build an iPhone app you are ignoring 82 per cent of your customers. Unlike a mobile website, you would need to build an app for every mobile operating system (Android, Blackberry, etc). There is a more compelling reason for the failure of apps however. Think about the way you use your phone to search for information…. Is your first port of call the app store, or is it Google? Google. If you have a mobile website you are visible on Google. If you have apps, you’re not. Your customers won’t find you.
Q: What are your top tips for going ‘mobile’?
A: Speak to a company that has experience of developing mobile websites for your type of business. They will guide you regarding the content that will work best for you on your site. Importantly, don’t replicate all of your desktop website content on mobile.
Q: Can you give three examples of details on your clients’ sites that demonstrate how important mobile is?
A: Three of the best property mobile sites that I’ve seen (in terms of content, layout and functionality) would be: Hunters in the North of England http://m.hunters-mobile.co.uk Fitz-Gibbon in London http://m.fitzgibbon.co.uk and Bidwells in the South Midlands http://m.bidwells.co.uk
Ian Laverty, Sales & Marketing Director, Intelligent Mobile Ltd