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October 21, 2010

posted by: Carissa Drohan-Jennings

A Beautiful Apartment Rental Website May Only Be Skin Deep

beautiful websites

A rental website is a vital medium that allows landlords and property managers to reach prospective and current renters.  They're even better than a sales agent because they are available 24/7 to provide your customers with information about your buildings.  While a website can never fully replace a live sales agent, they can add a lot of value to your marketing efforts. 

Nearly everyone in North America has access to a computer, even if it's just at work, and a growing number of people have access to the Internet via cell phones, Blackberries, iPhones and iPads.  Your customers are expecting to find you online and you need to make sure that they do, but it goes further than that.  You need to make sure that their online experience converts them into a lead and to do that you need to focus on the development phase of your website to ensure you develop an effective marketing tool.

So, what should you consider when developing an apartment website?


Don't Judge A Website By Its Cover

When evaluating design firms the last thing you should consider is how nice their portfolio looks, here's why.

Try thinking of a website like an iceburg.  What you see on your screen is the "skin" of the website.  It's what the user sees.  It is important to have a nice looking website but, like an iceburg, the design is only the 10% that can be seen above the surface of the water.  The other 90% of your website has nothing to do with the graphic design and it's this 90% that runs your website.

Websites are run off of a content management system, or CMS for short.  It's this system that is responsible for organizing data, performing the functionality of your site and processing information.  It's this CMS that will determine how well your website performs.  Since this invisible system gives the website its strength and functionality you have to evaluate what kind of CMS your website developer can give you.


How do you select an apartment website design firm?

There are two types of website development firms out there:

  • Non-Specialized
  • Specialized


Non-Specialized Website Development Firms

Many website development companies do not have a background or strength in any one type of industry.  Since these firms don't have experience in your industry they would require you to educate them on the industry, your needs, your clients needs, what your competition is doing, and so on.

Typically these types of firms will use an open source CMS that is generic in nature.  These companies will then try to customize the system, to the best of their ability, to meet your needs.  This is a one size fits all approach and at times can be restrictive in the functionality of the website.

So why would a company choose this avenue for developing their website?  One reason could be the many add-ons and modules that are readily available for free download off the internet.  Open source CMSs are free and developers around the world take part in constantly developing modules and add-ons for the systems.  That means that at any particular time you can download any one of these modules or add-ons for free and add it to your website, avoiding developer fees.  The one drawback is that they may not be exactly what you need.  That's why many companies who have in-house programming capabilities will have their programmers tweak the modules or add-ons so that they work the way they'd like them to.


Specialized Apartment Website Development Firms

Industry-specialized website development firms typically employ staff that has had experience in the particular industry of specialization; in our case, the apartment rental industry.  These firms can be a benefit to landlords who may need some guidance in understanding what makes a successful rental website and how to make the website rank in the search engines.

They also will not require you to spend time educating them on your business, your customers and your industry.  This could make communicating easier and save you lots of time in the development of the website.  In a lot of cases these specialized firms will have modules and add-ons already customized for your needs.

I've had the opportunity first hand to witness the development of a corporate website by one of the best design firms in North America and, although in the end the company received a great website, there were things that the marketing team found frustrating.  The main thing was the lack of knowledge about our industry.  Our team had to take the time to educate the firm on the industry, our needs as a company and our customers' needs.  We needed to be well-detailed about what type of functionality we wanted in the modules and add-ons and evaluate them once completed to determine if they operated effectively.  In the end the development process also took twice as long as originally promised.

My suggestion would be to research your website development company thoroughly before hiring them and contacting their references, especially those in your industry.  Once you contact these references, make sure to ask them how their experience was working with that company.  Some questions could include:


  • What type of CMS is their website based off of and how is it working for them?
  • How long did the development process take?
  • Did the company fully understand their needs and the needs of their customers?
  • Did they see any results with their rankings in the search engines after the site was launched?


These questions will tell you a little more about what kind of product the company can deliver.

I'd like to end off this article with a question:

If you needed to sell an apartment building would you (a) hire a lawyer who specializes in real estate or (b) hire a lawer that knows nothing about real estate law?  Your answer would probably be (a) because you're relying on their expertise and knowledge to quickly and correctly close the sale.

Now, what if I rephrased the question:

If you needed to develop a rental website would you (a) hire a design firm that specializes in the apartment rental industry or (b) hire a general website design firm with no experience in the real estate industry?

That's the only question that really matters.