If you’re a property manager looking to get a real estate website up and running quickly, you may be asking yourself whether an apartment website template is the way to go. But while the industry’s leading template providers seem like an attractive solution for some apartment brands, they often present more difficulties than they solve, turning short-term expediency into long-term headaches.
People use real estate website templates because they expect them to be the easy solution. In fact, many of these template providers are also Property Management Software providers, which is appealing to property managers because it has the potential to save time and effort when integrating their PMS and their website. It’s also affordable for most budgets because it’s a one-size-fits-all approach. By relying on a template instead of a fully custom site, property managers save money for their properties. Sounds pretty sweet, right?
Unfortunately, this picture perfect scenario often fails to materialize. Where leading template providers offered to save time and effort, they often deliver further challenges and sub-par results down the road, requiring further intervention from property managers to address these challenges. Here are some of the common issues we and our clients have noticed when working with the leading real estate website template providers.
Strict Templates Make You Blend In With The Crowd
Most apartment website templates are easy to spot a mile away. That’s because most templates are built for quantity, not quality. In other words, template providers want their templates to be applicable to a wide variety of housing brands, which tends to strip away a significant amount of visual character and functionality that might clash with a subset of brands.
The result is a look and feel that is very generic, with limited flexibility to showcase your specific branding elements and key differentiators. This is especially disadvantageous if your community is part of a competitive housing market and/or offers a lot of unique amenities and features that could earn you more attention, if only you were able to show them off more easily. Instead, with hundreds of other property sites out there using the same real estate website templates, by the time your prospects find your site, there’s a good chance they’ve already run into multiple lookalike apartment websites during their housing search. That means their first impression of your community is that it’s just like all the rest. Not exactly conversion-inspiring.
You might think this is an issue with all templated apartment websites, but not all templates are made equal. In fact, many templates offer more customization options so you can showcase your brand colors, patterns, voice, and key differentiators more prominently while still keeping costs low. Some real estate website experts also combine a templated approach with the assistance of professional web designers and developers to help you fully adapt a template to suit your needs, which could suit some brands better than the bare bones approach that most templates provide. Full disclosure: Threshold is one such real estate website provider, but we’re not the only option out there delivering this hybrid approach to real estate website design. Even if you work with another real estate marketing agency, we highly recommend this hybrid approach to launching a templated apartment website.
Not All Integrations Are Made Equal
While some leading template providers offer integrations with their own property management software and basic Google Analytics without too much trouble, integrating with other software can present surprising amounts of difficulty. This can be a problem when it comes to implementing a diverse ad mix, tracking digital marketing results, and identifying optimization opportunities.
For example, while some website template providers list dozens of available integrations with leading property management software, Internet Listing Services, analytics providers, collections and billing, marketing platforms, resident screening providers, and more, the truth is that many of these integrations are complicated and fickle, requiring a savvy web developer to decode and troubleshoot. And if you’re considering a templated website, it’s probably because you wanted to keep things simple and easy rather than needing the assistance of an expert in web development for apartments.
Plus, many desired integrations are missing, including leading third-party chatbots and CRM software. This means that the average templated website may be a poor choice for teams wanting a cutting-edge web experience with the modern touch that consumers have come to expect.
“Set It And Forget It” Leads To Poor UX
Typically speaking, property managers who opt for templated apartment websites are looking to simplify their life and avoid a lot of messing around with the website backend. For these folks, the ideal that they envision might be to get the real estate website design project out of the way so that they can focus on other things and not have to worry about the website again. Sounds nice, right?
Unfortunately, this “set it and forget it” approach often leads to poor UX when it comes to apartment websites. Templates may offer a quick way to get a basic website up and running, but this short-term advantage can pale in comparison to the long-term reality of real estate website maintenance. Amenity photos, external links, and specials info soon become outdated. Integrations break, leaving ugly and confusing elements on the your website—or worse, incoming leads fall through the cracks instead of being converted into new leases. In many ways, this isn’t a unique failing of templates, it’s just a reality of website management that property managers should be aware of while forming expectations and launching a website.
In the end, “set it and forget it” never lasts as long as you hoped, because before long, you’re forced to make site updates to ensure that your website continues to provide a quality user experience that inspires confidence in your prospects and delivers all the information and functionality they need to actually convert. So the goal you aim for in your apartment website should never be to “set it and forget it.” Someone will always need to be responsible periodically for ensuring the website is continuously optimized, or at least in proper working order. With this in mind, it may be well worth your effort to opt for a more hands-on approach from the very beginning, rather than locking yourself into a template that limits your capabilities and presents challenges for the web developer(s) you work with.
If you have a real estate website, when is the last time you dove into your Google Analytics? While most real estate marketers have a Google Analytics account set up for their website(s), many of them still underutilize this tool.
Not only is Google Analytics (GA) a must when it comes to integrating your Google Ad campaigns with site data like traffic volume and on-page conversions, it’s also one of the best tools at your disposal for understanding your online audience. Whether your goal is to reach more qualified users, improve conversion rates, or just gain a deeper understanding of who your audience really is, Google Analytics can help. You just have to know how to use it.
Today, we’re covering some of the best features of GA and showing how they can help you understand your audience better so you can execute more effective real estate marketing.
How To Find Out What Content Interests Your Audience The Most
Finding out what areas of your site draw the most attention from your audience can teach you a lot about what motivates them to take the next step and eventually become a tenant or customer. You can then use this information to make it easier to reach those sections of your site or even link users directly to this information by creating Search, Social, and Display Ad campaigns with messaging related to this information. For example, if users are engaging most with your floor plans page, you may choose to run ads highlighting your floor plan availability, or you may even choose to run a special on specific floor plans that are getting attention.
There are two key ways to gather this information: Screen Performance reports and Event Performance reports.
This report can be found in the Behavior section under Site Content. This will tell you the top pages on your site so that you can see which areas draw the most users. Bear in mind that this can be influenced by how easy it is to reach that section of your site, so take this information with a grain of salt. Think about how many clicks or turns of the scroll wheel it takes to view an area of your site and compare this to how many users actually view that area. If you have easy-to-access sections that no one is viewing or difficult-to-access sections that many users are seeking out, that can help give you ideas for site improvements or marketing campaigns.
This tool can also show you the time spent on each of these pages and the bounce and exit rates for each page, which offers further insights into which pages are your most successful drivers of prospect engagement.
Your Event performance can be found in the Behavior section under Events. This shows you what events people take most often on your site.
This information can help you diagnose whether people are taking the actions you want them to take on your site. For example, if you want people to use the contact page to get in touch with your leasing staff, you can check how often this event actually occurs on your site. If it’s not occurring very often, this could indicate that your contact form is difficult to find or use. It may even help you catch problems with your form, like a broken link or other UX issues.
Similarly, GA can show you your top conversions along with an Event count for those conversions. This can be found in the Conversions section in the left panel. Note that in order to get accurate conversion information, you first need to tell Google Analytics which events count as conversions.
How To Use GA To Tap Into Your Audience’s Interests
Did you know that the user demographics information in your Google Analytics account can show your users’ interests as well as their city, gender, age, and language? Not only that, but you can see which user interests correlate with the highest site engagement and conversions. This is located under “Audience” in the left pane, in the Interests section.
This information can help you create more accurate audience personas and inspire more effective marketing tactics. For example, if you find that many of your users are interested in the automotive industry, you might be inspired to draw more attention to your attached garages, covered carports, or EV charging stations through ads with targeted messaging or an amenity highlight on your home page, Google My Business page, or social accounts.
How To Find Out Who is Most Likely to Convert
At the end of the day, you want visitors to your website to take further action like scheduling a tour or starting an application. Luckily, Google Analytics has tools to help you understand who is converting, where they’re converting, and how often.
Engagement reports show you what actions users take once they’ve reached your site. An engagement report can be found by selecting “Audience” then “Behavior” and then “Engagement” in the left panel. These reports help you determine how well your site gets people to engage (by comparing total site users to users who actually engage). It can also show you which users are most likely to convert across factors like how they navigated to your site (e.g. organic search, link from social, search ad click, etc.) and user demographics.
Similar to engagement reports, retention reports can tell you which users are interested enough to become a return visitor. A retention report will show you the number of return visitors you have over time, but it will also show you your number of return visitors by cohort. A cohort is a group of users who share a common characteristic such as when they first viewed your website. This feature is useful when you are making website updates, because it helps you determine whether those changes result in more return users, fewer return users, or no change. If a site update results in more return users, that’s a great sign that it’s generating more interest, more brand awareness, and ultimately more brand loyalty.
If you’ve configured your conversion events, you can easily compare users who convert to users who don’t convert. Navigate to Audiences in your left pane, then create an audience that includes a particular conversion event and another audience that excludes that conversion event. Once you’ve created these audiences, you can compare them in your reports. This will help you compare the behavior and attributes of converters vs. non-converters directly.
This can tell you the user behaviors and attributes that are most likely to lead to a conversion. For example, it might reveal to you that users who navigate to your floor plans page first are likely to convert, while users who visit your amenities page tend not to convert. This can help you diagnose site issues and show you where you should direct users through ad landing pages, home page links, or social media posts.
How To Understand Your Audience’s Full Renter Journey
Acquisition reports and user journey information in Google Analytics can teach you a lot about how users find and navigate your site and what behaviors make them most likely to eventually become a tenant. These features are particularly useful for understanding how your audience thinks as they navigate your site and can also give you insights into how to make your site experience more conducive to conversions.
Acquisition reports are a small glimpse into your prospects’ renter journey before they have arrived to your site. It tells you where the user was before they came to your site and/or what action resulted in them arriving on your site. In other words, clicking on the Acquisitions section in the left panel will bring up reports showing you the sources bringing in new users; that might be organic searches, ad clicks, referrals from your social media accounts, or other behaviors like typing your URL directly into their address bar.
Knowing how users tend to get to your site is useful because it shows you where your energies are best spent when it comes to digital and print marketing strategies. For example, if people are coming in from organic searches, that could mean SEO enhancements are your best low-hanging fruit to gain even more users. But, if people are clicking over directly from your social media accounts, that means putting extra effort into your social media presence could deliver the highest ROI when it comes to generating site traffic.
Not only that, but these reports can show you whether a particular acquisition source correlates with higher rates of engagement and conversion. This information provides additional insight into how your different marketing tactics are resonating with users and whether a particular marketing tactic is aligning with what users eventually find on your site. For example, if users arriving from ad clicks tend not to engage with your site very much, you might want to ask yourself whether your ad messaging and design is consistent with what a user sees when they first land on your site.
User Path Exploration
One of our favorite features of GA is the ability to explore a user’s full journey through your website. The path exploration or Behavior Flow feature allows you to see how users tend to move from one screen, page, or event to another.
For example, it could tell you that users tend to start at your home page, scroll to a CTA button about amenities, click that button, arrive on the amenities page, then bounce. Or, it might show you that a common user journey is arriving on your floor plans page, clicking on a particular floor plan, viewing a virtual tour video, then navigating to your contact page and filling out a contact form. Each step of the way, you can see how many users make it to the next step, how many end up somewhere else, and how many exit your site altogether. You can even dive down into a specific user’s journey to help troubleshoot a specific user flow or create an audience segment based on that specific user flow to help you gain further insights into your audience.
All this information about how users move through your site can be an eye-opening experience for real estate marketers, designers, and web developers. For one thing, it can help diagnose problem pages that lead to the most exits and give you the opportunity to redevelop those pages. Or it can help you identify which landing pages lead most consistently to a conversion action further down the line, giving you the opportunity to direct more of your ads, social media links, or links in email campaigns to that page. Whatever you discover, diving into path exploration really helps you get in the mind of your users and see what’s important to them, what they find most eye-catching, and what messaging leads them to keep exploring and/or take action.
Written by Chelsea Friel, Graphic Designer
Designing with accessibility at the forefront has never been more important, but it can be daunting to determine whether or not your website is in compliance with regulations. In 2020 alone, over 3500 digital accessibility lawsuits were filed, including federal and state ADA lawsuits, and an estimated 56 million people in the U.S. are currently living with a disability. As we look to expand our services in the real estate and housing market, it’s paramount that we keep accessibility top of mind in our work. The goal is to improve our practices to make our designs as accessible as possible for the widest audience, and to make usability as high a priority as visual appeal.
What Does Web Accessibility Look Like?
To be frank, the word “compliance” doesn’t exactly bring to mind a font of creative flights of fancy. It usually summons images of black Arial text neatly organized on a white background, which is fine for doing your taxes but less than ideal for promoting your sparkling new multifamily property. In truth, adhering to Web Content Accessibility Guidelines (WCAG, from here on out) is pretty easy to incorporate alongside our existing design practices. WCAG ratings are ranked from A to AAA, in a sort of “good, better, best” system. If A is the rank for a solidly usable website, then AAA is the gold standard of accessibility.
Similarly to how we build successful brands that thrive in the wild, the process of establishing an accessible web presence requires some collaboration between designers, copywriters, and developers. By keeping a few helpful guidelines in mind, each team’s work contributes to a fully accessible real estate website that anyone can (and will want to) use, regardless of their level of ability.
A Helpful Guide for Accessible Design
When establishing a color palette, high contrast is critical for usability. When considering moderate to severe visual impairment, the ideal contrast ratio is between 1 to 3 and 1 to 4.5, depending on the size and the boldness of the text. The larger and thicker the characters, the lower the ratio can be while maintaining legibility to the eye, or to a screen reader. Any important copy should be designed with the highest contrast possible to ensure greater visibility for users.
Chrome extensions such as Spectrum can help you determine how user-friendly your website is by showing you alternate versions of your website based on various visual abilities.
On the topic of visual acuity, consider using alternate methods of establishing a hierarchy of content apart from color changes. If a piece of text changes color when a user hovers, the addition of a line under the text serves as an additional cue that the copy can be clicked or is interactive in some way. Other visual indicators can be icons, boxes, or typeface changes (such as semibold to bold or black) to indicate to the user that they’re on the right track.
Charts and graphs can also present a challenge. Apart from using distinct colors to designate a data set, one solution is to incorporate texture or patterns into the design to further differentiate the information presented to the user. Trello has a plugin that can convert graphs using color blindness–friendly patterns to help aid legibility for all users, while maintaining the overall look and feel of the design.
Alt Text & ARIA Labels
Used to describe an image when it is unavailable to the user, alt text and ARIA labels should provide as much detail as possible. Describe what’s happening in the image instead of opting for the file name or a bland categorization of the subject like “man” or “house.” For folks who use screen readers to navigate websites, this attention to image descriptions provides a much clearer idea of what is in the design and what the website is trying to convey. This can be a key factor in whether or not they pursue your property further, depending on how well you describe the photo of the premises or the neighborhood using these tags and labels.
Content and Type Hierarchy
When writing copy for a website, simpler is better. Important messages should be short and to the point, while conveying all of the essential information a user needs to know right off the bat. WCAG recommends limiting a line of text to 80 characters or fewer, and to avoid writing overly complicated or lengthy sentences. Designers and copywriters should work in tandem to draft copy that looks beautiful in the design, excites the user with its content, and can be read by as many people as possible, regardless of the tools they use to view the website.
UI and Navigation
Users of varying abilities frequently use keyboard navigation to explore websites, and care should be taken to establish a logical flow of information. Good design is obvious, and a user shouldn’t have to spend time deciphering how to move through a website to find what they need. Clean focus states, clear and easy-to-remedy error states, and concise links makes a site more accessible to all, and provides a better user experience across the board.
Designing for Everyone
Accessibility should always be as high a priority as creating a beautiful design. A visually stunning website that can only be accessed by half of our users is ultimately a design failure, and our goal should be to be as inclusive as possible in our work. As we continue to go above and beyond for our clients and our audience, normalizing accessibility practices deepens our understanding of who we serve, and provides a more inclusive space where all are welcome.