This month, the National Association of REALTORS® (NAR) officially launches its new website, my.REALTOR.org. But this is no average website redesign. my.REALTOR.org is an entirely new approach to the online experience for members. Built with responsive design technology, my.realtor.org takes a bold step to engage members like never before by providing a customized website experience—an experience, by the way, that intuitively responds to all platforms and devices. In this interview with RISMedia’s Maria Patterson, NAR SVP & CTO Mark Lesswing explains the genesis, evolution and cutting-edge technology behind this future-focused Web experience.
Maria Patterson: First, what drove NAR’s decision to revamp the site and launch my.REALTOR.org?
Mark Lesswing: We took a holistic approach to the new site, starting with the needs of our primary audience—NAR members. The most pressing need was to provide information that members were looking for and eliminate the amount of time they were spending to look for it. All large information sites have the same challenge. We wanted to make the new site transformational. Our overall mission is always to deliver better value to our members and my.REALTOR.org does just that.
MP: What type of feedback did members provide about the previous site—REALTOR.org?
ML: The comment we heard most about the former site was that members couldn’t find anything: “I can’t find the latest statistics;” “I can’t find the latest update on what’s happening on the Hill;” “I can’t find the best way to succeed with short sales.” I also run NAR’s Information Central call center and cross-checked this information with what people were calling in about. So many calls were simply about how to find something on the site—and everyone was looking for something different.
MP: So the major impetus for the new site was in direct response to member needs?
ML: Yes. We looked at the analytics from the previous site and realized that many pages were being viewed, but eyeballs were not really focused on the content of those pages. Members were actually looking for different information and just visiting other pages as part of the navigation process. We were stuck in a content management strategy that was about seven years old. As the Web evolved, consumers changed what the Web was. We went to our members and asked them how they wanted to interact with NAR. We worked with a forward-thinking and passionate group of members aged 25–45 who spend a great deal of their time on the Web, and incorporated their thoughts on usability and functionality. Their viewpoint, combined with the overall needs of members, led us to the decision to offer website customization.
MP: Please explain what you mean by customization.
ML: While a lot of people present their sites as a monolith with all the content in one spot, we felt the need to let members decide what content is important to them. We have been carefully watching analytics and the trend toward providing “buckets” of information to Web users; the website position of those buckets is based on the popularity of the information itself. If a topic is getting more interest, then that bucket will automatically move to the forefront of the site. Basing our plan of action on this premise made all our other decisions easier.
MP: How does this customization affect the volumes of information and research that NAR produces?
ML: The previous site had every article ever published by NAR. On the new my.REALTOR.org, all the information is current and focused on what is important to the member right now. Therefore, there is now a companion site called archive.REAL- TOR.org, which contains all of the information that is not current. You can still search for any content through my.REALTOR.org, but if there are articles that are less timely, our members will be directed to the archive site.
MP: So obviously, the ability to customize content is the No. 1 difference for members when using my.realtor.org?
ML: Yes. The value of my.realtor.org is that members can now decide what information they want to have up front. The site is customizable so that it can deliver what each member finds valuable about NAR. So the site will actually look different to each and every member based on how they customize it for their needs. Of course, all topics are accessible, but members are able to create their own Web experience. The other important difference is that members can now get their information when and where they want it, thanks to our use of Responsive Design.
MP: Please describe this Responsive Design technology.
ML: Responsive Design allows a single site to deliver content to desktops, tablets and phones. This technology allows the site to sense the display area and modify the look of the site accordingly. Members are no longer reduced to “pinching” and “zooming” while trying to access websites on their mobile or tablet devices that were not created using Responsive Design. Early in the process, we evaluated Responsive Design against more traditional websites that included apps for other platforms. The user experience and cost advantages of Responsive Design over apps were clear.
MP: Why is it important to use Responsive Design to allow access by members?
ML: Again, we looked at the needs of our members. REALTORS® don’t sit in an office and use their desktops all day. Members need to get the information they want when they want it and where they want it—it’s not necessary to use apps to make this happen. Apps would cost a fortune and wouldn’t adequately cover all the information we’d need them to. The fact that a single Web service could present the site near native to a phone and near native to a tablet and desktop was perfect.
MP: Given the monumental changes, how long has my.realtor.org been in development?
ML: We had the support of NAR management and our members behind us, so the entire site was redeveloped and deployed by a small group at NAR in just six months. Considering the amount of information produced by NAR, this was really quite a feat. The best decision we made early in the process was to completely start over in terms of technology, strategy and delivery. Making new things happen with old metaphors adds time and effort to any large project. We have moved away from the “monolith” project-based website approach and toward a more agile approach.
MP: Do you anticipate a big learning curve among members?
ML: Our members are amazing in how much they absorb and quickly change. The bottom line is, the needs of consumers are changing and this site design is right in line with where the Web is going.
MP: my.realtor.org is also a big departure visually/graphically from the former REALTOR.org site. What were these changes based on?
ML: We made a conscious decision to push the HTML5/CSS3 envelope for more than its video and audio capabilities. Using what’s called an “Isotope toolset” (isotope.metafizzy.co), we can deliver an animated approach to content presentation that I believe you will see more across the Web. In our case, Isotope captured the “buckets of information” metaphor perfectly.
In addition to eye-pleasing effects, we now allow members to interact with our charts and research information. This is the beginning of our longer term strategy to deliver infographics: information presentation that represents broader implications from assumptions. For example, if mortgage rates go up a tenth of a point, what does it mean to a particular state? What does it mean to the economy as a whole? You will see a deeper implementation of “infographics” as the site matures.
MP: Overall, why did NAR feel it was important to implement the dramatic changes of customization and Responsive Design to my.realtor.org?
ML: Unless we made one giant page with a million links, we couldn’t possibly satisfy everyone’s need for information. Instead, we wanted each member to be able to cast a Web presence of NAR in their own mind. NAR is focused on real estate issues that concern our members, and customization allows us to deliver a “sphere” of content around any issue.
For more information, visit www.REALTOR.org.