Google's mobile warning and what to do about it

The mobile call to action has reached maximum urgency for brokers.

Google has officially said that it will begin penalizing websites in its mobile search rankings that are not friendly to the mobile user. (Get the details about it here and here.)

What does this mean for real estate – an industry still struggling to understand, let alone grapple with, decisions like native vs. web, or responsive vs. adaptive? That still talks about “websites” without an awareness that what that means, exactly, has changed forever.

It’s time to clear off the table and start making some bold moves.

By now, we’ve all heard the phrase “mobile first” tossed around. Some of the largest tech successes of the last few years have taken this approach: Instagram and Square, for example.

Get more leads from the traffic you already have. Have 1000WATT conduct a usability test on your website.

But it would be misguided at this point to think that every real estate company should stop what they’re doing and take a mobile-first approach to their digital presence. In my mind, it makes more sense to take a serious “mobile too” approach – one that wipes the slate clean and approaches mobile as a co-equal medium that’s not just a smaller extension or version of a desktop website.

One way to start is to peel off various segments of your online footprint and evaluate them separately to see what makes most sense for the mobile context.

One example

This week, I had a chance to check out M Squared Real Estate’s new mobile optimized single-property websites. Click here on a handset or tablet to see what I’m talking about.

This is a sound approach to mobile for a real estate brokerage. When you think about the use case for mobile for the majority of consumers, the single-property website is a no-brainer.

Think of Judy Buyer standing in line at Starbucks waiting for her morning latte. She reaches for her phone and opens an email from her agent with a link to a property she thinks she’ll like. She clicks through and lands on the single-property website the listing agent set up.

At this point, things will go either one of two ways:

Judy will land on an old-school website that is not optimized for mobile, and even broken in many places. She gets frustrated, hears her name called for her latte, grabs it and goes on with her day.


Judy will land on a mobile-optimized site that gives her the goods on the property: pictures, maps, video. She thumbs through the photos and quickly responds to her agent’s email, grabs her latte and ends up viewing the home after work that day.

It’s obvious which scenario makes the positive lasting brand impression.

Listing detail pages

This is another area that we often highlight as a good starting point, or at least segment and concentrate on when looking to optimize for mobile. This is because time and again analytics have shown us that a good chunk of site traffic on mobile devices enters the brokerage site on a listings detail page, not the home page.

So instead of agonizing endlessly over how to optimize your homepage start with the listing pages. This is, after all, where you make your money! has done a good job optimizing listing detail pages for the mobile web. Click here for an example.

Neighborhood content

Just as Joel points out the neighborhood content opportunity in general, the same can be said for mobile. Again, think of the buyers lurking about various neighborhoods on a Sunday trying to figure out the best place to raise their kids.

When optimizing for mobile, it’s tempting to think that stripping out a lot of your site’s content is the way to go. But just because someone’s using a smaller screen doesn’t mean they’re only looking for directions and phone numbers.

The broker who can figure out how to elegantly serve up rich neighborhood information to a mobile user will gain a major point of differentiation in most markets.


Google’s new approach likely will raise the bar for mobile websites all around. So we can stop landing on stripped down home pages we were redirected to regardless of our search. We can stop being fed the terrible user experience even Fortune 500 companies are guilty of serving up right now.

Google has challenged all companies to think deeply and be smarter about mobile. If you’re just getting started, the good news is you have this insight to guide your thinking.

Mobile is more than a redecorated foyer into your website. It’s now more like a satellite office that offers the same products and services, but through an experience more appropriate to the visitors who walk in that door.