SAN FRANCISCO — Even if you have to patch together a mobile experience for consumers with a mobile-optimized website, do so, said mobile experts on a panel at the Real Estate Connect conference.

If consumers have a bad mobile experience on a site, they never come back, said Marci James, director of marketing at real estate marketing firm Obeo Inc.

James pointed out that there are off-the-shelf solutions like MobDis and GoMobi that make it easy to cobble together a mobile version of a desktop website, even without vast tech experience or savvy.

Sites built with those tools take an SEO hit because they typically have different URLs than the desktop version of the site, James said. Without a native app or a site that automatically shifts to best fit the screen size of the device accessing it, that’s the price to pay to give consumers a better mobile experience.

A mobile-optimized website is the bare minimum mobile experience a firm should have, said Matt Holder, senior product manager at Trulia. However, mobile really sings with native apps.

Native apps, unlike mobile websites, take full, seamless advantage of smartphones’ growing list of features like geolocation and push notifications, but they’re also expensive and tricky to get right, Holder said.

Given their complexity, if a firm wants to build a native app, they should look to companies that specialize in creating and maintaining them, Holder said.

Some other mobile best practices the panel shared include:

  • Always include a “Click to Call” button on the mobile version of a website, James said. A prominent email call to action is also important, she said.
  • If you have a native mobile app, prompt users to download it when they first access your site from a mobile device. Fifty-three percent of consumers who visit a mobile website download the native app when prompted, James said.
  • Design mobile sites with fewer pages, but more scrolling.
  • Always put a link to the full website on a mobile-optimized site, so consumers can access the desktop layout if they want to.
  • Consider learning to code, said panelist Kevin Hincker, co-founder and chief technology officer of digital offer platform NuOffer. It’s just a language, he said, and the barrier to entry is lowering all the time.
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