Building Martel Maides a new website was a fairly large undertaking and involved a website build, plenty of custom functionality as well as a complex integration project with their existing back-end system. The website look and feel was provided by a third-party designer and my task was to build the entire site from the ground up including some elements of design, but mostly a large amount of HTML and back-end code which in this case was Ruby. We decided, in agreement with the client, that Ruby on Rails was really suitable for this project due to the complex nature of the site and the speed at which we could develop a rails site. I think this was a really good decision and the client has had a really good response from their customers. Take a look at the screenshots below, or just visit the live Martel Maides website. After the gallery I discuss some of the key features of the site in more detail. Content Management The site required several important areas of content management. Most importantly were the properties themselves, even though they were going to be integrated with a third party system, as the client needed additional information and photos to be stored for each property; not to mention the commercial properties that were to be handled entirely by the website. Then there was the news section of the site that needed to be as simple as possible for the clients staff to use and allow them to add formatted text and photos to articles. The final areas were the little snippets of content such the copy and rolling images on the homepage. All of these areas were handled within the sites administration system and built using pretty standard Ruby on Rails conventions, utilising the CKEditor where appropriate. Blog While the content management allowed the client to add dated news articles and features to the site, some extra work was needed to show these articles off. Each page is listed by category and in a monthly archive in a standard blog format, as well as articles being linked to from other articles that are deemed to be related by the system. I also ensured that newsletters were automatically added to the blog section to minimise the effort required to keep this section up to date. Property Search How house-buyers find the properties they are after is of utmost importance to any estate agent and so extra care was taken with designing the core navigation and search features of the site. Because of the housing control legislation in Guernsey the properties are split into open and local markets. All of the search and navigation on the site is initially divided in the same way and then optionally by sale or rental, then allowing users to select properties by price, parish and bedrooms using a very simple search. These search criteria can either be entered in one step from the homepage, or by drilling down through the menus providing selection criteria by navigation rather than searching. There are also areas for featured and “new to market” properties along the way so that the client could have some extra control over the exposure certain properties received. Property Listings Property listings are of vital importance, in almost the same way the text of a google adwords advert are. This is where the user makes a quick decision about clicking further based on the information you provide them. We therefore tried to feature a reasonably large photo of each property along with a short description and other important information such as price, location and the number of bedrooms. Two of the key features of the property list screens were the highlighting of recently sold, sole agent and under offer properties; as well as ensuring that as many of the elements of the listing clicked through to the detailed version as possible. It is a massive mistake to assume users will always click the “more information” link you carefully place for them and titles, text and especially images should all be made clickable to make it easier for the user. Once the user selects a property and clicks through the layout changes to allow for a longer description, larger photo and a decent number of thumbnails. I firmly believe the more detail you can give a potential buyer the better. At this point we also introduced the ability for users to share the property on Facebook. SEO Friendly URLs One of the really fantastic things about Rails is that it makes it simple to use search engine friendly URLs for your pages. Specifically here we were able to re-use all of the property listing and search pages across local market sales, rentals, open market and commercial. All of these sections benefit from having simple folder names that match the topic that the page is displaying. More traditional ways of doing this may not be visible to google and other search engines – which can really hurt the sites rankings. This was also done within the CMS and blog pages, to enable dynamic naming of pages, categories and folders – allowing the site to grow without sacrificing its structure (in the eyes of google at least). Automated Email Alerts A really important factor in winning estate agents business is ensuring it is their clients are receiving new properties from them first. To help automate this property we built a function into the site where users could sign-up and save searches for properties. Whenever a new property is added to the site it is emailed out to everyone who is looking for that type of property. This function works really well and takes advantage of ar_mailer to send emails out in batches and prevent the system from becoming overloaded. Save Favourite Properties Another simple piece of functionality that we added for signed-in users was the ability to add properties to a favourites list and return to them at a later date. this was added to make it as simple as possible for users to find properties they had seen before but also to try and encourage repeat visits. Integration with 3rd Party Estate Agency System One of the largest phases of the project was to integrate the website with Martel Maides existing property management system, in this case Encore. The system we built synchronised the properties on the website, along with a huge number of photographs, every 30 minutes using Rake tasks that formed part of the Rails application, as well as several windows scripts and rsync running on the Encore server to transfer the data first to a staging area on the web server and then into the database. Newsletter As part of the site we built a newsletter builder, based on the same editing capabilities as the CMS, and dispatch system. This again user ar_mailer to send large volumes of emails out to the companies mailing list. Webcam As a small later addition, we added a webcam to the site that takes its feed from a computer running in the Martel Maides offices – a pretty fantastic view of St Peter Port harbour.