Commercial Real Estate, The Mobile Update

Everyday something comes out about how lucrative the mobile market is or how users are ditching the big screen for small ones.  Is mobile yet another tech frontier on which CRE is going to be a laggard?

And I’m not talking about mobile apps for agents.  There’s been some activity in productivity apps for agents at least.  I’m talking about consumer strategy – capturing attention and generating leads.  Is a mobile friendly site enough or do you need a mobile app?  Do you need to have a presence on popular mobile apps?  And what about mobile advertising?

Mobile Website
No doubt about it.  People are using their mobile devices to do research. Time to check what your site looks like on the small screen.

But first, for sale from my limited research, thumb if your site isn’t overly complicated now, smartphone/tablet users don’t seem that interested in using mobile only sites.  For a site that I have statistics for, 13% of all visitors are accessing the main portion of the site from a mobile device.  About 20% of the visitors to the search portion are using a mobile device – and this is for a site that has a mobile search option (which only about 10% of mobile visitors use).

The number of pages per visit is lower than normal for mobile visitors, but it’s hard to say whether that’s because the user gets annoyed or user intent is different when using a mobile device.  And it seems that national brokerages that had mobile sites dumped them.   Maybe it was because no one used them.  Then again, the retired mobile sites were poorly designed/didn’t provide much value – and none offered listings search.  And that’s what users want – search.

Most brokerages use LoopNet, for search – and it’s not mobile optimized.  So mobile visitors are stuck with a cumbersome search interface which could be driving them away.  Maybe someday, LoopNet will offer their own mobile search interface to LoopLink users.  But until then, if you can’t offer search in a usable/comprehensive mobile format, don’t waste your time on a separate mobile site.

Do You Need an App?
If you‘re looking to push your brand and listings, go with an app. It’s not cheap and you’re not likely to have any measurable ROI – it’s all about looking cutting edge and mostly a branding opportunity.

Of course you want to make it easy for users to contact you and learn a little about the company, but look to residential apps for inspiration and put the focus on search.  Make sure the app is constantly updated – the listings in your app should not be older than the ones on your website.  Of course, this would be easier if LoopNet or other aggregators offered an API (like that’s going to happen…).

But let’s face it– users want to see all the market listings – not just yours.  If you have other market listings, consider adding those but provide limited info  – like 2400 SF Office for lease in zip code 11111 – kind of like how LoopNet “locks” listings to non-subscribers.  Your users just need to call instead of paying a subscription fee.

Maybe you can’t add those other listings, but if you can’t add location awareness, skip it.  What’s the point of creating an app if they’re getting the same experience they’d have on your website?

Presence on Popular Mobile Apps
Why not create a presence on every app du jour?  Because you’re not going to get much out of it unless the user demographics and usage patterns work for what you’re selling. Do you really think Instagram users are going to be subscribing to your stream of building photos?  Better to focus on Google, Yahoo, Bing and other major directory listings that will appear in map apps.  Or register your office location on Yelp, Foursquare or other apps are commonly used in  your area.

Another opportunity, albeit a small one, is to promote your blog, Twitter or listings feed so users can add it to mobile RSS readers like Flipboard.

But be realistic.  Keeping up with every new app that comes along is a huge time suck.  

Mobile Advertising
Compared to online ads, mobile advertising is more effective simply because it’s easier to target the ads.  Location, carrier, type of phone – even the apps a user has installed – there’s much more data to filter so advertisers can display more relevant ads.  Users also have better brand recall for mobile ads.  Plus, a Neilsen study found that 21% of tablet users (and 11% of smartphone users) searched for more information on a business that had a mobile ad.

Ad Networks – These companies’ aggregate ads from numerous sources then display them in partner apps or mobile sites/search.  Some are better at targeting than others and some will let you choose where you want your ads to display.  iAds (Apple) and Admob (Google) are two of the largest networks.  This type of mobile ad is ideal for coupon/discount/special offers or, more relevant to CRE,  to promote properties to targeted users.

Content Networks – Content marketing – basically churning out interesting/useful content that readers want to read and share – is turning into the most powerful form of online advertising ever.  One way to get your content out to a wider audience is to use content networks.  They’re the ones placing those “related articles” or “from around the web” blocks at the end of an article you’ve just read.  Google Display Network or Outbrain are two of the biggest content networks.

But even more effective for mobile is placing your content in social network streams. Makes sense since the app interface is streamlined to put the focus on the user’s activity stream – it puts your sponsored/promoted content front and center.  For Facebook sponsored stories (currently their only mobile ad platform), click rates were 13 times higher than the same ads on the standard site.  Almost every social networking site offers a sponsored content platform of some kind.

If you’re interested in creating brand awareness,  or have some high quality properties to promote, give mobile ads a try. Just keep an eye on the budget and metrics to determine which method works best.  (credit to CRE Outsider)