Our analysis of the online real estate industry here at RealtyBizNews has focused a great deal on web design, social media engagement, and other key aspects of business branding - the so called "digital footprint" of Realtors and agents online. As a template for how any new age company should look, we now present TheSquareFoot dot com.
In the round-a-bout way most of us surf and find great things on the Internet, I ran across TheSquareFoot (landing above), what has to be the nicest interjection of a set of developers, in this industry niche (commercial space), or maybe ANY real estate channel. Speaking of channels, I spoke with Co-Founder Aron Susman about his fledgling company's strategy in creating marketing value for commercial real estate owners - as well as those interested in leasing or procuring office and other commercial spaces.
Clearly, the refined site, tools, and even SM presence being built by TSF, shows nothing less than very bright young lions, intent on building something very valuable. Building on Ruby on Rails, getting Hashrocket to help that out, lots of good decisions, TheSquareFoot has already made.
Jonathan Wasserstrum, Aron, and fellow founder Justin Lee, launched their commercial enterprise just 10 days ago. Without telling too much of what I know about such endeavors, suffice it to say your company's website does not just "jump" into the top 10 SERPs for search phrases like "Houston commercial space" overnight. You see, the competing Houston websites are much older, so they must have done zero to help Google find them compared to these fellows running this new business.
My SEO friends out there might be snickering; "Gray Hat SEO techniques" - but they would be wrong. These young business people "emulate" and take advice from knowledgeable people in the industry. Link building and other Google accepted strategies having been employed, the old adage "knowing someone smart is good enough" applies. You see, being business oriented as a developer is often a disadvantage, but not in cases where the "suits" know what's good for them. Listening to people in the know... you know?
Site design and utility, even aesthetic, leads any visitor to this business to one conclusion - finding the space in Houston and/or New York (soon the world) in record, easy, and confident style. Let me show you a couple of cool UI/feature elements. Fist, search for any viable marketing channel like this has to be drop dead simple, crisp and appealing, and fast. This sounds like child's play, but you'd be surprised how ugly, clunky, and useless most are. If you look at the image below, you'll see properties described on the left, a clear filter nav on top, and a must have map pin orientation on the right. Interactivity is now a must for such portals, especially moving into mobile (which TSF is bred for). My range was Houston and retail space available, as you can see.
If this new commercial space channel has any "cons" the worst of them would be image size limitations, and to a degree, some lack of description depth where properties are concerned. Of course, much of this depends on the property owner too. However, a best practices for any such startup would be expert help in getting the best property "face" and detail up. Bottom line, tell owners how to do it, or at best, strongly suggest big images and rich presentation aspects. It is here TheSquareFoot falls a bit short. But it's 10 days in.
Moving on, TheSquareFoot's simple dogma - find, tour, lease a space is how people want to do things when they do business online. Time has never been more valuable a commodity. That said, let me show you another service in Houston, the one situated at the top of the SERPs for the same Google search, CommGate dot com (screen above). Back about the time Google decided to launch search, this site must have been cutting edge. Today? A jumble of useful, if you can bear to use them, action clicks take users into a pretty deep maze of form filling. Web 1.0, like 99 percent of the American commercial real estate space online.
Commercial Gateway's Twitter feed was last used November 11, 2011. Just how engaged are these people in selling your commercial lease or title online? They do post to Facebook once in a great while. Let me be crystal clear here, for agents and others interested in commercial real estate. The top Google search result for any prevalent customer inquiry leads the searcher to a site they will hate, to social media points no one tends to closely, and to absolutely no engagement for the businesses depending on this portal. The customer (renter or whomever) literally has to do every spec of work. Sorry, this is just the rub.
You may say I am being cruel or unusually selective in culling out Commercial Gateway. I say, read my other articles about the state of online real estate. Or, look at TheSquareFoot's other competing commercial portals. Loopnet (Web 1.0), Cityfeet dot com (Ugly Web 1.0), Boxer Property (lip service), Houston Craigslist :(, 2MRealty (Could care less), CityWideOfficeSpace (2001). And I could go on. The real issue here is not TheSquareFoot and Houston, but any new face across the landscape of America. Believe it or not, Houston is quite progressive where the digital landscape for Realty goes.
Yes, I am glad I ran across TheSquareFoot. I am 99 percent sure Aron's team's endeavors will be successful. I hit him up for a quote during our discussion of just these issues, here is one thing he had to offer:
"We are extremely excited to launch TheSquareFoot and give small and medium sized businesses the tools necessary to help them look for space in an easy and user-friendly way. We believe our Leasopedia, space calculator, and overall commitment to using terms that a layman can understand will help make the process more enjoyable and reduce the time it takes to find the perfect space."
Finding the perfect space. A quote often reveals a lot more than wordy description (even mine). Aron and his fellows have hit on something a tech guru hammered me over the head with, years ago. "What point of pain does this startup solve Phil?" TheSquareFoot commercial portal solves said points on the both sides of business.
Property owners don't have to be social media gurus and website rocket scientists to get visibility, they have an Expedia of office space ready to sell their unused space online. Busy budding entrepreneuers in need of some office space, they don't have to fill in 500 forms, call the Realtor, or muddle through hours of painstaking search, just find - explore - and lease. I would bet, via their smart device next (hint hint).
As for Twitter (see two founders Aron and Jonathan pic below), Facebook, G+, and other modes of selling/informing? They're there and growing following.
The business world is full of comparative value. 5 years ago all those lame websites real estate tycoons thought they were smart putting up - they are just obsolete now. But more than this, they are also huge branding issues sitting out there hurting business. Anyone who has been to TheSquareFoot, and then heads over to some Web 1.0 BS site nobody knows or cares about, will certainly feel a bit embarrassed for site owners - and the sellers behind those sites? They could not give away Rolex watches for free to some passers by.
And there is the last moment you business peeps need to get. Opportunity on the web is instant. You have all of 5 seconds to glean the attention of a searcher - 5 seconds and POOF! They are gone. Probably forever. The lost opportunity cost you all get, this is the greatest pain - why? Because you can never measure it. Never. Your kids' private school tuition, that new Jag, the power bill, may not get paid because of lack of due diligence. It looks like some new business peeps are doing theirs. Are you listening?
I leave you with demo video of Co-founder Jonathan Wasserstrum explaining the core value of this development.