Like most real estate companies, Heritage Texas Properties has a robust, mature website offering a full palette of tools and information that prospective buyers and sellers have come to expect. The problem is those buyers and sellers typically want it the most when they aren’t sitting at their desk and that robust, mature PC-based website isn’t very helpful on a Blackberry.
However, the Houston, Texas real estate company thinks it may now have the perfect solution: an alternate website optimized just for mobile users, the first of its kind in their market.
“We’ve been live for four months. It’s been a delightful surprise. Prospects can spot a ‘for sale’ sign from their car and can be looking at pictures and listing information within seconds," says Robin Mueck, president and CEO of this tech-friendly real estate company that employees about 400 people. "Surprisingly, it’s the ease of use that has been a catalyst for spreading the word.”
Getting ready for the mobile Web
With mobile devices outselling PC’s four to one, the trajectory is clear which group of users accessing the Internet is on the rise. It’s only a matter of time before those mobile Web users reach critical mass. “Mobile Web use is just less than a fifth of the size of PC-based Web use in the United States. Obviously, it’s going to be very important,” says Russell Buckley, a veteran mobile marketing executive who covers that industry on the popular blog, MobHappy.
While any Internet address can be optimized for mobile surfers, many early adopters are betting on the new .mobi (for mobile) extension. Dot-mobi is the first top-level domain dedicated to mobile Web access and approved by the Internet Corporation for Assigned Names and Numbers (ICANN). Since becoming available in September 2006, more than 500,000 .mobi domains have been registered. Most of the major hosting companies, such as GoDaddy and Network Solutions, now offer .mobi registration and site building tools that are mobile specific.
“You really have to look at the mobile Web as an additional distribution channel. Just like 10 years ago, businesses had to realize the Internet was a separate distribution channel from traditional catalog sales,” says Alexa Raad, vice president of business development for .mobi.
Before taking the plunge, business owners need to develop a mobile Web initiative that is part business plan and part website design strategy. Be sure to include the following:
Differences in a mobile website
“First of all, you can’t cram information designed for a 19-inch screen onto a mobile site,” says Raad. Paring down information for a screen the size of your fist is just the beginning. Here are other considerations:
Here’s where the care and feeding of a mobile website is like an already existing PC-based site: user testing. Test the site yourself on a variety of handhelds. Involve as many customers as possible to do it right in front of you while getting their reactions and feedback. Remember, both are a never-ending work in progress.