Responsive Web design: a flexible solution for real estate

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In my last two articles, I discussed how to mobilize your WordPress website, and the future of mobile apps. Native apps and Web apps share a symbiotic relationship on a mobile device, and each provides the end user with a unique experience.

However, there is no question that the mobile Web is tremendously popular. In fact, according to the Adobe "Mobile Experience Survey," 81 percent of users prefer mobile sites to apps for researching prices.

I was thrilled with the positive feedback and the dialogue that ensued from my last article. However, if a scaled-down mobile website or WordPress mobile plug-in isn’t the right fit for your website or real estate blog, a responsive Web design could be the solution.

If you’re not familiar with responsive Web design, it’s a single, clean, flexible design that accommodates all devices and screen sizes.

As Joel Burslem of 1000watt Consulting points out in "Responsive Web design is the future of real estate online," there is no need for a separate mobile-only version of your site (one that’s usually hosted on a separate subdomain). There’s also no need for iPhone or Android apps.

Responsive Web design utilizes HTML and CSS media queries to deliver a platform-agnostic design. If you’re interested in learning more of the technical specifications, "Responsive Web Design" by Ethan Marcotte is a comprehensive guide.

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Marcotte is a notable designer who consulted on the new Boston Globe design, which is a subscription-based website not to be mistaken with the existing site, Boston.com.

A responsive design could have meaningful value to the real estate professional. Here are just a few of the benefits:

1. Eliminates the need for creating a website for multiple platforms and screen resolutions.

2. One site with one design can be more cost-effective and easier to maintain for a real estate professional.

3. A responsive design provides consistent branding across your Web presence.

There are a few really cool and responsive WordPress themes out there. I have put a few to the test and have to admit that I prefer them to mobile plug-ins.

Here are three free responsive WordPress themes to try out:

1. Responsive Twenty Ten: Responsive Twenty Ten is a child theme of the default WordPress theme, which simply means it inherits the functionality of the main default theme. The developer states, "special touches such as flexible images, nice margins, and some mobile image rules" have been added. You can preview or download the theme here.

2. SimpleMarket: The SimpleMarket theme is a clean, lightweight, HTML5 WordPress theme. You can preview or download the theme here.

3. Yoko: Yoko is my favorite responsive WordPress theme and I am currently running it on my website now. The developer states in the theme directory, "Yoko is a modern three-column blog theme. A responsive layout optimizes the theme for mobile devices like tablet PCs and modern smartphones (the layout switches to a two- or one-column layout depending on the screen size the theme is viewed on)." You can preview or download the theme here.

Consumers expect to have a mobile experience comparable to the desktop, if not better, and responsive Web design can provide this.

Is it the future of Web design and where the real estate industry is heading? That still remains to be seen. However, I think it’s a trend that’s going to make impact in 2012.

Tom Flanagan is the director of information technology at Residential Properties Ltd. in Providence, R.I. You can contact him at tflanagan@residentialproperties.com or @tflan on Twitter.

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