The Diverse Solution Mobile Web Snafu

mobile real estate search app

Chances are, if you’re reading this, you’ve gotten yourself to the point that you’re ready to throw your computer out the window.  If you haven’t started your DS mobile integration yet and have landed here, you’re one of the lucky ones.  🙂

For those not in the know, Diverse Solutions took a different approach than most other IDX providers with their mobile system.  Rather than having an app with an agent ID (ensuring that your visitor is using your IDX and not everyone else’s), they didn’t do an app at all.  They went full web with their solution, so there are no downloads, and no additional steps needed to get your client the tools they need when they’re standing in front of a home.  This isn’t to suggest that it’s better, or worse than an a downloadable app.  It’s just a different approach.

So what’s the problem?

The problem is this:  It’s been largely understood that to use DS’s mobile agent, you need to load a script in the head of your site.  Once done, any mobile visitor to your site will be redirected to your new Mobile Search application, which is all well and good, but what if your visitor wanted access to something other than a search?  What if they wanted to review an article, or grab a PDF?  What if they’re a seller trying to review your service offering?  In this case, yeah…  You’re pretty much screwed with a header script solution, and it’s not what we recommend at all.

What do I need to think about when coming up with the proper solution to this issue?

Here it is, in a nutshell…  How “mobile” do you want your site to be?

  1. Keeping in mind that the vast majority of mobile devices can browse the web just as well as any desktop computer, we’re not talking about a mobile compatible site.  We’re talking about a mobile enabled site, which offers your mobile visitors a completely different interface and eliminates the need for pinch-zooming and double-tapping to make your content readable on small screens.  In many situations, these sites include mobile specific settings that automatically scale your content for the device it’s being viewed on and it can be a very nice thing to do for your visitors.  iOS introduces an additional layer to this model.  “App Mode”.  On Apple devices you can save a site to your home screen and iOS will make a nice little button using the homepage of your site and simply open Safari to your site whenever that button is touched, but with App Mode your site is loaded as an application of it’s own with no Safari tool bars or options.  You can also load up standard iOS app splash screens which will be loaded from the web every time your app is executed.  It can be a great landing tool, but keep in mind, even this, changes what you have to think about when designing your mobile user flow.
  2. You can forgo the options above and have your visitors experience remain exactly as it is on your normal website.  Yeah, they’ll have some pinching and zooming to do, depending on the device they’re using, but they’ll be familiar with the interface and know their way around for the most part.

With option 2, you don’t need that evil header script.  All you need is to be sure your users know that your advanced search (your DS SearchAgent iframed search) is also a mobile search.  Yep!  That’s it.  That wonderful little page that’s being iframed in from DS on your site is, in itself, loading that header script, so if you visit it from a mobile device, you will be redirected to DS’s web based mobile search app, and when you’re visitors are done using it, they can just click the back button to get back to your site, which is my only pet peeve with the DS (Zillow) mobile web search app.  You have no way of directing your visitor’s back to your site (less the back button) once they’ve landed themselves in it.  But this issue is made even worse when you implement it within iOS App Mode.

Option 1 is a great option too.  Its downside is that you’ve now got to consider your content on an entirely separate plane.  Depending on your site, you may even need to have multiple pages, allocating some specifically to your mobile site, which can double the required edits and cause other issues.  Note that I didn’t say posts.  If you’re on a WordPress site (which I hope you are) posts will never need to be duplicated for mobile considerations.  This would only be an issue for pages, and even then, only some of the time.

Headwaythemes, for example, used leafs as a means of placing your various types of content, so Headway’s pages (up to version 2.X) wouldn’t be supported by most mobile theming plugins.  This is one example of where you may need mobile specific pages.  There are others, but you get the idea.  🙂

Aaaaaaanyways…If you’re still on board with a true mobile enabled site, your DS Mobile integration works in much the same way as it goes with option 2, above.  The nice thing about doing it this way is that you’d generally be relying on a separate navigational structure for your mobile site, so you could build in specific menus for your mobile visitor, again, making it easier for you to get your visitor to the search they needed.  There’s no dual purpose menus that react differently depending on what device a visitor is using.  You actually have some degree of control.

I like this Apple “Web App” idea!  Any issues with that?

I thought you might say that.  Yes.  Yes there is.  Remember how I said there’s no Safari navigation when you build a web app?  Yeah, that includes that magic back button you need to get back out of DS’s mobile app.  In other words, once a visitor has clicked on the mobile search option, there no way to get out of it, less closing the app all together.  Worse off, a mobile app is designed to work just like most iOS apps.  If you close it on a specific screen, you’ll be on that screen when you open the app the next time.  So you’re completely trapped and have basically cut your consumer off from all the content you work so hard to create for them… but there is a solution.

JUST FIX IT!

When I first saw how DS put this solution together, I was pretty miffed.  I didn’t like the implication that they could trap my clients in their search interface.  It wasn’t what I indented when I build my sites, and I didn’t want to have to jump through hoops to keep it from happening.  But now that I’ve had a moment to look at it from all it’s various angles, I’m convinced they did it exactly right, less the absence of a prominent link back to my client’s site in the header of their app. THAT still needs to happen!

The solution to this snafu is to build your site in Web App mode, but have your link to the DS mobile app open as an external asset or an external link. (depending on what mobile theming framework you’re using)  Truth be told, this is the correct way to do it anyway and I believe Apple actually required it in the past when calling an external asset, but they don’t at the moment.  (Shame on you Apple  🙂

What this does is force your Web App Mode site to open the DS link in Safari, entirely separate from your app.  Your site remains open, again, as a separate application, but task switches to safari with DS’s mobile search loaded.  Once they’re done with their search, they can close Safari or even switch back and forth between your App and mobile search as needed.

For an Example of option 2, you can visit Homesville Real Estate of Austin, TX from your desktop and then your mobile phone.  If you’re on an iPhone or iPad, there will be a small pop-up letting you know you can add it to your home screen if you like.  Follow those directions to see what that looks like, and how mobile searches are run from that environment.  It’s not a big enough pain in the butt to avoid and certainly warrants some consideration.  Again, it can be a great extension of your brand and depending on how you structure it, it can be very helpful to your clients.

Additional Resources:

  • For more on Diverse Solutions and their IDX product, pay them a visit.  For the specifics of their WordPress IDX Plug-in product, have a look here.
  • If you’re running a WordPress site and are looking for a great mobile theming plug-in.  Please don’t go cheap.  We recommend (and no, we’re not asked to, or compensated to) Brave New Code’s WPTouch.  Hand’s down the best product out there and worth every penny, as are most things those guys do.  =)
  • As we’ve implied, there other other things to consider when looking at mobilizing your site, including the theme you’re currently using and how your data is structured.  If you’re not knowledgeable about these things, it’s best to hire a professional to help you.  It’s generally a good idea to start where you left off and talk to the folks that developed your current site.
  • You’ll need some imaging done for your mobile app.  Be sure your have all your brand assets available before you get started.

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2 Responses to The Diverse Solution Mobile Web Snafu
  1. Missy Caulk
    January 17, 2012 | 8:43 am

    Can you do it for my site, linked above? It is a Tiger site. Noticed I said YOU not me.
    Thanks!

    • Jon Hardison
      January 17, 2012 | 11:13 am

      Hi Missy! Kisses to you! I hear you spoke to Inna this morning, so rather than answer, I’ll run and talk to her and see what we can do. 🙂

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