Introducing the Riskin Associates mobile application

Introducing the Riskin Associates mobile application

RA-icon-196We are pleased to announce the availability of the Riskin Associates mobile application. Based in Montecito, CA, Riskin Associates has been the top selling Santa Barbara real estate team for the past decade. The award-winning team lists some of the most coveted estates on the south Santa Barbara coast. We were engaged by them to create a mobile application that would add to the services they provide their buying and selling clients that have made them a market leader.

Goals and Approach

For the design of the application, we took queues from the Village Properties mobile website we developed since the Riskin Associates team is part of the brokerage. We decided to keep the overall flow of the application intact, but the branding, content and functionality needed customized for Riskin Associates. We wanted to accomplish a number of goals with the modified design:

  1. Riskin Assoicate Mobile Home ScreenProduce a clean, elegant design that conveys the elegance and luxury of the properties they represent
  2. Provide a vehicle for them to highlight and market their distinctive properties
  3. Incorporate visual imagery that reflects the unique nature and beauty of their listings and the surrounding area
  4. Create a finished product that would further differentiate their brand and set them apart as a leader in the market

Key features of the application

In order to develop the key features of the application, we evaluated their online presence which uses vivid photos and imagery to highlight their property listings. We wanted to provide a similar visual experience on mobile and give Riskin Associates the flexibility to highlight the different properties they represent. In addition to the essential features such as property search (both by location and by criteria), methods to contact the team, and an about us section, we incorporated the following:

  • A vivid home page focused on a full width image that can be dynamically changed by Riskin Associates
  • A featured listing section that allows them to highlight the properties they represent – each listing is its own interactive photo gallery that can be compiled and controlled by the Riskin Associates marketing team
  • Links to custom content created by the marketing team such as property brochures that are hosted through Calaméo

Riskin Associate Mobile Featured PropertiesYou can access the application via any iPhone or Android device by opening the browser (or Safari) on your phone and going to www.montecito-realestate.com. You will be automatically redirected to the mobile application where you can learn more about the Riskin Associates team and explore their featured listings.

Raising the bar for service and performance

It was a pleasure working with the Riskin Associates team on the development of their mobile application. The energy and enthusiasm they brought to the project is evident in the finished product. It is a reflection of the time and personal attention that they give each of their clients. It shows in all aspects of their business, particularly in the level of service they provide their clients and the attention-to-detail they put into their marketing materials. With the availability of their mobile application, they have another tool that reinforces this high level of service, whether it is used for marketing properties or helping prospective buyers identify properties to purchase.

The Riskin Associates mobile application is another example of how leading brokerages and agent teams are embracing mobile to raise the bar on the services the provide their clients, differentiate themselves in the market, and further reinforce their leadership position in the market

 

Introducing Comey & Shepherd’s New and Improved Mobile Property Search Application

Comey & Shepherd Realtors - serving Greater Cincinnati and Northern KentuckyWe’re pleased to announce the release of the new and improved Comey & Shepherd mobile property search application. Comey & Shepherd serves the Greater Cincinnati and Northern Kentucky area and is recognized as a leading real estate firm both locally and nationally. We’ve been working with them since 2010 and were excited about the opportunity to work with them on the upgrade of their mobile property search application.

The Motivation
We built their previous mobile property search application using our first generation technology, which we developed and released into the market over 3 years ago. Needless to say, mobile technology has advanced significantly over that time, and the original application was beginning to show its age, both in looks and performance. Together with Comey & Shepherd, we felt it was time to give the application a facelift by improving the look-and-feel, user interface, branding, and performance of the application. We also wanted to put in place an architecture that would allow us to continually improve the application by incorporating new features and making adjustments to existing ones.

The Approach
As with the first generation application, we chose to stick with a web-based approach. A mobile web solution using HTML5 and CSS3 provides a user interface on par with a native application and allows us to address both iPhone and Android devices with one development. Plus, we can provide updates to the application in real-time, use standard analytics and measurement techniques, and leverage the marketing of the website to promote the mobile application.

Our goals for the upgraded design were to enhance the look of the site to match the current Comey & Shepherd branding, to provide a more engaging user experience by incorporating standard mobile UI elements such as loading indicators, animations, carousels and gesture interfaces, to put in place a modern architecture that would provide the ability to add more features to the application over time, and to incorporate deeper analytics so we could better measure the performance of the application to understand which features are working and, just as important, which ones were not.

For the implementation phase, we chose to use the Sencha Touch framework. It provided both the features and performance improvements we were looking to attain, and it is a solid development platform that lays the foundation for adding features to the application.

The New and Improved Look (and performance)

  1. The Home Page
    Below are images of the previous generation application (on the left) and the latest generation (on the right). You can see that more emphasis has been placed on the branding, with the Comey & Shepherd logo prominent across the top of the application and colors updated to better match their website. There is also a footer in the new version that is locked to the bottom of the screen to provide navigation through the application as well as a contact button that makes it easy for clients to reach Comey & Shepherd. We also moved the location search to the top of the page to make it easier to find (and use), as the old version had the location search below the fold.
    Comey & Shepherd home page comparison
  2. Larger Thumbnails and property identification
    The thumbnails for property search results have been enlarged so users can get a better view of the properties, and we’ve made it easier, for compliance purposes, to tell which properties are listed through Comey & Shepherd and which are provided through Broker Reciprocity. We also included the icon indicators from the Comey & Shepherd website that shows properties that are under contract (red ball), have an open house scheduled (blue ball), or have just come on the market (green ball).
    Comey & Shepherd listings page
  3. Navigation Improvements
    The pagination of the listings pages have been improved to allow for back and forth movement through listings results, and navigation between details pages has been added. Previously, users were not able to move back and forth between details pages without going back to the listings pages. There’s dedicated home and back buttons in the footer that keep track of the user’s navigation through the application, providing a native app-like experience (see screenshot above and below).
  4. The Details
    A photo carousel has been added to the details page so users can swipe through photos without leaving the page (as before), and the property details has been moved to a panel to keep the main details interface cleaner and easier to read. A second contact button was also added to the details inset so users can quickly get additional information on a property. If the property is listed by a Comey & Shepherd agent, they are connected directly to the agent, otherwise they are connected to  a Comey & Shepherd office for more information.
    Comey & Shepherd Details page
  5. Under the Hood
    Significant performance improvements have been made in the application by utilizing many of the local storage options available through HTML5. For example, property search results are stored locally to limit interactions with the server and to speed up moving from page to page. Likewise, once loaded, details pages are also stored locally for quicker movement between properties. Overall, the application is using the HTML5 Application Cache so the application files and static images are stored on the client’s phone, which makes for a much faster and more consistent loading time when users return to the site.

Analyzing the Results
The application has been live for just over two weeks, and we’ve already gathered quite a bit of data. In a short amount of time, some interesting trends are already developing:

  • Street searches trump Location searches
    Believe it or not, but only 25% of the searches performed are by location. In fact, the leading search is for properties by street name, which comprises almost 40% of the searches performed. We’ll be keeping a close eye on this statistic going forward, as I was completely caught off guard by this and figured the location/advanced search distribution would be flipped.
  • Navigating details pages is more important than navigating listings pages
    Another curious finding is that users tend to primarily navigate forward on listings pages and rarely move backward. The forward button to back button ratio on listings results pages is ~50-to-1. Details pages, on the other hand, have a much more even distribution of browsing back and forth.
  • Most Contact events happen from the Home Page
    Most users are utilizing the Contact Us button from the home page. My guess is that people are looking for quick information after loading the app (like an office or agent phone number) and go straight to the contact button to connect to Comey & Shepherd.
  • The Details Contact button gets good usage
    Adding a Contact button to the Details inset area was a late addition to the app, but it has turned out to be a good one. It doesn’t get as much usage as the Contact Us on the home page, but it isn’t far behind either.
  • People are interested in More Details
    Here’s another statistic that surprised me. I thought most people were not that interested in the detailed description of a property, since it’s mostly marketing speak. However, over 10% of the details pages viewed are checking out the property description, which is 4-5 times higher that I would have expected.
  • Details pages are important
    On average, users are viewing 4-5 property details pages per search completed. What does this mean? It means that the property details pages are important and that people are looking at them.

What’s Next
There is a lengthy list of features that we are planning to add to the application that includes mapping, property sharing, additional contact options (such as email and text), and more office and agent information. Before we start implementing however,  we’re going to let the site age a bit so we can gather more analytics. We will be looking for usage trends to identify any areas of improvement and to see what can be done to increase conversions through the application. The bottom line, mobile is still evolving and moving fast, so the application will be a work in progress.

The application is best viewed using an iPhone and Android powered mobile phone. Simply open your phone’s browser and go to http://www.comey.com to start your property search!

HTML5 is ready

fastbookThere was a link in my Google Reader this past Monday to an article by the folks at Sencha (via Chris Coyier at CSS-tricks) revealing a Facebook application they developed in HTML5 using their Sencha Touch toolkit. The article is a must read for anyone interested in mobile application development, whether native or web-based. Read it here.

Besides pointing out the mistakes in Facebook’s HTML5 app development, the article illustrates how a web-based app can achieve the same performance as a native app. We’ve confirmed their findings through our own testing on their fastbook app (fb.html5isready.com). The News Feed loads fast with no noticeable lag when scrolling. Touch events are smooth, and the UI feels just like a native application. In fact, you’d be hard pressed to tell you’re not in a native application.

As a strong proponent of mobile web applications, it confirms something I’ve known for quite some time – HTML5 is ready for primetime.

In a day and age where nearly all of the work on our computers is done through the browser, why do we insist on doing things differently on mobile devices?

Sure there are some apps that benefit from being native, just as with the desktop, but these should be the exception and not the rule. Look at it this way, I don’t download or purchase a Facebook app to access the service on my desktop, so why do I have to do that on mobile?

The conspiracy theorist in me would contend that the constant refrain of native apps being better than web apps is propaganda pushed by the platform owners (Apple, Google and Microsoft) in order to lock users into their mobile operating system. In other words, it’s not in the customers’ best interest for native apps to win out over the web. It’s in the best interest of the companies building the mobile platforms.

I applaud the folks at Sencha for investing in the effort to prove Facebook wrong. It shows that mobile web applications are not second class products when done right. Simply put, consumers should not have to settle for poor performance and a poor user experience when using the internet on their phone.

Fastbook is not an anomaly. Be prepared for the rise of the web-based mobile app in 2013.

Mobile Lessons from the Campaign Trail

We’re one week from election day, so I figured that I should write up a summary of an article I saw a couple of months ago regarding the Presidential candidates’ mobile websites. If I didn’t do it this week, it would be totally out of date next month!

Anyway, the article was a comparison of the mobile website approaches taken by the Obama and Romney campaigns. It was written by Brad Frost and posted over at Smashing Magazine (one of my favorite web design resources, by the way). It’s a long read, and you can access the full article here.

To summarize, Romney’s campaign developed a dedicated mobile website while the Obama campaign chose to do a responsive website design for their mobile presence. While Brad doesn’t say which approach is better, he does a great job analyzing the pros and cons of each. After I read it, it highlighted and reinforced a few key concepts I like to emphasize with our clients when we work with them on their mobile website projects.

They are

  1. Start with Why
    The first question I like to ask is “why would a user access your site on a mobile device?” In other words, you need to think like a mobile user and deliver an experience that matches their expectations and/or guides them efficiently to the actions you want them to take while they are mobile.
  2. Watch the fold
    The “fold” on a mobile screen is a lot more compact than a desktop, so you need to make sure the most important actions are at the top of your mobile website. There’s a good chance users won’t ever scroll below the fold on their mobile device to hunt for more information.
  3. The 5-second rule
    Performance is key. Users don’t give mobile a pass when it comes to load times. If your mobile website doesn’t respond in under 5 seconds, there’s a good chance the user leaves – a 74% chance according to the article!
  4. It’s a communication device
    Remember, it’s a phone, so take advantage of mobile calls to action such as calling and texting. Email is another communication medium, and people love to share on social networks with their phone. In other words, people are in a communicating mood when they’re on their phones. Use this to your advantage.
  5. Geolocation, geolocation, geolocation
    It’s easy to get information about someone’s location when they’re browsing on their mobile device. This information can and should be used to provide context so that information and actions they can take relevant to their current location are highlighted and prioritized over other materials.
  6. Learn from native
    Just because it’s a mobile website doesn’t mean you can’t use native design techniques. Tabbed menus, panels, animations and local storage are available through the use of HTML5 design techniques. Using these techniques will give users a more native experience that they are both comfortable and familiar with.

So while Brad does not crown one approach better than the other, I do agree with his assessment at the end of the article where he states:

If there’s one lesson to learn from analyzing these websites and techniques, it’s that this stuff is genuinely hard.

As he also states, it’s true that a lot of time, effort and work goes into making a great mobile experience, and it’s not a project or process that should be taken lightly. If you’d like assistance making your mobile presence relevant and effective, feel free to contact us. We’d love to help!

Web presence first, then app

Jeff Turner forwarded me a link yesterday to a great article yesterday called “Mobile Sites vs Apps: The Coming Strategy Shift”. I recommend you take a minute to read it before reading on.

I’ve been a firm believer in the mobile web for years and agree with the article’s premise that mobile websites are the future with one major exception – mobile websites are the NOW too.

Too many companies, both large and small, are jumping into mobile by building expensive apps first without looking at their web presence on mobile. While apps are great for buzz, they are not a long-term solution. Jakob Nielsen does a great job explaining why, although I believe his most powerful statement is at the end: “In the long run, the Internet will defeat smaller closed environments”.

Additionally, optimizing your web presence for mobile need not be complicated nor expensive. By employing responsive web design techniques, it’s possible, easy and cost-effective to create one web design that scales to the user’s device – computer, laptop, tablet or phone. I recently saw a design done by Zeek Interactive that embodies this philosophy. And here’s an article that shows 50 examples of responsive web design done right.

So despite what the high paid analysts are telling you to do (see this article regarding a Forrester Research study), don’t give in to the hype and fear surrounding mobile. Take a step back and recognize what your best strategy is: Optimize your web presence for mobile first, then consider an app if you have a strategy and budget that support it.

(If you’d like guidance creating a mobile web presence, contact us today – we’d be happy to help!)