March 3, 2017

5 Common UX Mistakes on Apartment Websites

Posted by Jake Meador

 

A website is only valuable if it does what you need it to do. For example, if you build an e-commerce site that doesn't succeed at selling goods to your customers online, that site is a failure no matter what other qualities it might have.

Likewise if you have a website designed for reading long-form content, you want to have a clean design that makes reading easy. If you don't, then you're likely to lose a lot of readers because they cannot comfortably read longer content on your site.

Today we want to talk about five particular issues we often see on apartment websites that hurt the typical user experience (UX) on the site.

Do prospects understand what your menu labels refer to?

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One of the common problems you get with any kind of business website is that the people who build the site are often not the same as the people for whom the site is being built. Websites are often built by professional developers and then reviewed by industry insiders. As a result, you can sometimes see insider jargon used on websites that means something to people in the industry but doesn't communicate anything to people outside of it.

The website above is an example of this problem. "Luxury" and "Living" may mean something to multifamily people who know the industry lingo and can figure out that these terms are basically referring to amenities and floorplan/photo information.

But for most prospects these terms are not going to be especially helpful. Using clearer labels like "Amenities" and "Floorplans" would be superior, even if it doesn't seem as flashy.

Remember, the first priority for your site is always that your prospects are able to use it. Usability trumps design.

Can prospects find the main navigation menu for the site?

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There are two natural places to put your website's main navigation menu: at the top of the page or on the left hand side of the page. These are appropriate places to put the menu because a) this is the common practice across the web and so prospects are already trained to look in those places and b) we tend to follow an f-shaped pattern when reading online content.

That said, we still see many sites that do not place their main navigation menu in either of these obvious locations. In the example above, we have a navigation menu right in the middle of the page. In other situations we have seen menus on the right hand side of the page. Neither practice is ideal.

The general principle to keep in mind to avoid mistakes like this one is that you cannot design your website in whatever way you want; rather, you have to be aware of (and generally respect) general website design norms. Whether you like it or not, these norms establish user patterns online. Once a design becomes common enough, internet users become accustomed to it and expect all websites to follow these basic patterns.

To take a simple example, if you see an image online with a sideways triangle with the tip pointed right in the middle of that image, you expect this to be a video that will begin playing when you click that triangle. If you created a video player and did not include that in the still-frame image of the video player, that would be a significant UX failing—even if you included a large play bar at the bottom of the video with multiple commands like "Play," "Pause," and "Fast Forward." Internet users expect a certain design on video players and so your video player needs to work within that established pattern.

If your website is violating some established design convention, you are likely to run into trouble.

Can prospects figure out what you expect them to do next after landing on your home page?

navigation-unclear-markup-apartment-website-ux.png

Though the home page is dying across most of the web, 81% of apartment website visits still start on the home page. This means that it is still essential for multifamily websites to have a clear, discernible homepage design that helps prospects know what to do next after landing on the home page.

In many cases, however, multifamily websites fail to provide users with clear navigation. In the case of the site shown above, there is no clear navigation menu anywhere on the site. In other cases, there may simply be no phone number displayed or a lack of clearly labeled pages on the home page. If you have a website that looks cool but doesn't help prospects know what to do next, you don't have a good website no matter how much money you spent on it or how glitzy it might look. Websites have to be functional.

Is all the text on your site legible?

low-contrast-text-apartment-website-ux.png

Another common UX problem, although one that is thankfully less common, is failing to choose a color for text that has enough contrast with the background on the site. The arrows above point to the two areas where the text does not stand out enough. The worst instance is the top option where the community phone number is dark gray text on a black background. This basically makes the community phone number invisible.

The chief place where you will find this problem is the navigation menu where aesthetic concerns sometimes end up trumping concerns with functionality.

Are links spaced out enough that they can be selected easily?

link-spacing-issues-apartment-website-ux-2.png

On desktop sites this is generally not a problem because a mouse makes it very easy to be precise when selecting a link.

However, mobile is another story. Mobile devices have a much smaller screen and use human touch to operate them in the vast majority of cases. This means that having sufficient space between individual links is essential. In the above example, the website has links for the phone number and fax number directly on top of each other. Of course, it's great that the phone number on the mobile site is a clickable link. That makes it a little easier for prospects to call the community from the mobile site.

However, because the link is so small and so close to the fax number, it's not actually that usable. Many prospects will probably not see the number at all and those who do have as good a chance at hitting the fax link as they do the phone number link. So there is a level of thought here about the goal of the mobile site (and that's great!) but less thought given to how the design of the website can aid users in actually doing the thing the community wants them to do.

One note here: As Google moves toward mobile-first indexing, your mobile site will become more important as the "face" of your community online. So if your site isn't mobile-friendly, it won't just hurt you on mobile. Increasingly, it will affect you on desktop search as well.

Conclusion

Apartment websites should be visually attractive. You're selling people a place to live so it should look nice. But a gorgeous website that prospects can't use will do you as much good as a sports car without an engine. Your website need more than looks to do what you want it to do. This is where user experience (UX) comes in.

So when you're building your site, don't just worry about the look of the site; think about the way human users will interact with it. If you can hit home runs on the looks and the user experience, then you have an exceptional site that should generate plenty of leads.

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