On a recent web site project for an Estate Agents based in Buckinghamshire we had to make a big decision right from the outset. How best to create an optimal user experience for their mobile customers? Of course such a decision isn't one for the web designer to make based on his or her own personal preference and it's not enough to to simply look at existing analytics (as important as that is).
Future-friendly in the multi-device world
Looking at web analytics we were able to see that 25% of users in the last 12 months visited via a smartphone or tablet, something we might expect to increase as smartphone and tablet penetration increases. One decision was easily made.
Our starting point was to understand both the business and user needs and look at the proposed overall functionality of the site. We chose carefully and decided to create a Responsive Web Design. Here's some of the criteria we looked at and some of the insights we gained that led us to that decision.
What does the industry do?
A bit of research in to other estate agent web sites revealed something interesting. Roughly 85% of the sites we looked at (a random selection of Estate agents based in Berkshire, Buckinghamshire and Oxfordshire) had mobile optimised web sites—and all of them used the separate mobile site approach.
Making assumptions about users
One thing I noticed from almost all of the estate agent web sites was the tendency—almost a trend—to present only the property information and search functions as 'mobile friendly'. Usually a button to click for the 'full site' - an unsatisfying pinch and zoom shrunken desktop version.
“Your customer doesn’t expect your company to be different just because they visit you on a device with a smaller screen.”
Excerpt From: Content Strategy for Mobile by Karen McGrane.
Yet it appears so many Estate Agents offer a formulaic mobile experience that offers the visitor the ability to fulfil only the basic tasks. Why wouldn't a user on a mobile device want to comfortably browse all the content on a web site? We felt that as web designers our job was to create several facets of the same experience. Why wouldn't a mobile user want to know more about what a business stands for or the other services offered by that business?
Meet you new app: your web site
There are certainly some good reasons to invest in a native iPhone or Android app but I'm not sure smaller independent estate agents need to go down the route. Our client was keen to provide as good an experience for non-desktop users—there was no immediate requirement for added functionality beyond what can be achieved in the web browser. Essentially we are providing a wrapper for content where a phone's native technological wizardry are not being utilised. I've seen plenty of Estate Agents apps that simply wrap basic content in an interface yet do nothing other than what is possible in a web browser.
We might reasonably ponder this question of users: would you browse the web to look for a property or go straight to a branded app on your device? A native iOS or Android app is an expense that not all estate agents need.
Adaptive in Responsive
With Responsive Web Design we can make the mobile site behave in a different way rather than just resize or restack the elements. Adapting the experience for mobile users is possible and advisable. The luxury of all that space is not available on small devices. For example we make the phone button more prominent and simplify the navigation menu so it is fully revealed only when clicked.
'The Right Way' is what's right for your business
Whether you decide to go down the route of Responsive, mobile site or native app there is no right or wrong answer. It's a decision that should be determined by carefully looking at the goals and objectives of a business, the resources available to that business and of course the all-important needs of your customers.