Applying the 4 Principles of Trustworthy Design to Multifamily Websites

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Web design isn't a sexy topic. In fact, many people find it downright boring. So why should you spend time reading about it?

Because design drives sales. Badly designed websites will alienate some users, confuse others, and simply fail to inform many.

59% of consumers would rather engage with well designed content (as opposed to minimal, simple designs), and 75% of consumers say they judge a business's overall credibility based on its website design. Even if you find the topic boring, it is deeply relevant to your work as an apartment marketer.

In this post, we're going to talk about the four principles of trustworthy web design as defined in this post by the NN Group. We'll then explain how those principles translate to the multifamily industry.

Why is building trust with users such a problem online?

The answer to this first question is relatively simple: Because everything we do online is done at some distance from the people we're interacting with, we are not able to build trust with people via normal means. We don't see the person's face or, in many cases, even hear their voice. We don't see the business's office.

Add in the fact that many of us do business with companies who may or may not have any other clients in our area and that makes it difficult for us to speak with other people who have used that business. To put it simply, all the means that we might use to establish trust with a business we interact with face-to-face are either impossible or look very different when dealing with online businesses.

This distance between company and client makes distrust normal and even reasonable on the web in a way that it simply is not when working with someone face-to-face. Thus businesses attempting to market themselves online have an even greater burden on their website to build trust than they might in their office or in other face-to-face interactions with customers. You always need to be building trust, of course, but the online prospect is almost certainly more cautious than the face-to-face prospect.

How do you build trust online?

Of course, this problem raises an obvious question: How do you build trust online? That's the question that the NN Group's four principles are attempting to address. These are their four principles:

  • Design Quality
  • Upfront Disclosure
  • Comprehensive, Correct, Current
  • Connected to the Rest of the Web

So now let's talk about what those principles are.

What does a high-quality design look like?

When you think about design quality, your mind might first go to aesthetics—what color scheme do I use? What fonts? Where do I get images?

But these are not the most basic design questions, actually. The first question to ask is "Is the site organized well?" The second is "does the visual design look professional?"

That being said, these are both questions that can have a number of right answers rather than just one or two. Well-organized sites are sites where labels are easily understood, navigation menus are easy to use, and vital information is easy to discover.

In multifamily that means you need to be doing things like this:

  • Avoid ambiguous page titles and navigation links like "Living" or "Lifestyle" and instead use clear page titles like "Amenities" and "Floorplans."
  • Provide information about rent rates, pet policy, and other basic community data and make it easy to locate.
  • Provide a sufficient number of high-quality photos and videos that will allow prospects to see for themselves what the community looks like.

With business websites, "high-quality design" is less about aesthetics and winning art shows and is more about function.

That being said, there is a baseline you'll want to aim for with the aesthetics of the site. You don't want the site to look like it was built in 2005, obviously. But standards for beauty on the web are pretty broad and anyone with a bit of knowledge about how WordPress works can probably build a good-looking website with the right theme.

What about "upfront disclosure?" How does that apply to multifamily?

All four principles are just variations on the same basic idea: Business websites should help prospects do the things they want to do before buying from that business. The main ideas with upfront disclosure are that you should not be hiding important information that a prospect would want to know.

In multifamily, that means you definitely shouldn't be concealing rent rates. You also should also think about how you ask for a prospect's information when they fill out a form online to schedule a showing.

All you should need from them is a name and then a way of contacting them—a phone number, email address, or both. If you're asking for other things, like income level, whether they have a pet, etc. you're likely going to alienate the prospect by asking for more information than they feel comfortable giving at such an early phase in their relationship to your community.

There are two key ideas here:

  • First, make sure that the basic information is accessible.
  • Second, avoid the appearance of trying to hide something from prospects or of wanting to know too much personal information about prospects.

Comprehensive, Correct, and Current Information

One thing you want to think about is how you portray your community's services on your website versus what your community actually offers. For example, if your property has both townhomes and conventional apartments on it, you need to advertise both. The same goes for properties that have studios and large, three-bedroom units. You need to make sure your website covers all the services you provide.

If you fail to do that, then there is a strong possibility that prospects who actually might want to lease with you will disqualify themselves before calling because your presentation of your community makes them think it isn't for them, even if it might be a good fit.

Connected to the Rest of the Web

If a prospect can find a lot of great information on your website but you are invisible across the rest of the web, that can create doubt. All of Google's ZMOT research suggests that consumers look at multiple sources before making commercial decisions.

So you can't simply focus on your website, pretend the rest of the web doesn't exist, and expect things to work out. You need to think about your presence elsewhere on the internet.

To begin, you need to set up and optimize your Google My Business listing. Google My Business not only provides prospects with an additional source of information about your community, it also syncs up with Google's other applications to help make your community more visible on search result pages and to provide basic information like driving directions, phone number, and business hours.

In addition to Google My Business, you can do other things like start a Facebook page or an Instagram account. That said, those things are going to be harder to do well than Google My Business and offer less immediate marketing benefit to your property. If you have time and the right person to manage it, you can make a run at using those other social networks. But don't count on them the way that you do Google My Business.


Web design can sound like an intimidating field requiring expert knowledge that is inaccessible to the typical marketer. While that idea isn't completely wrong, much of web design can be boiled down to "Make your site organized. Provide relevant information in obvious places. Don't be creepy." There is more to it than that, but if you do those three things, you'll have a decent website. If you have additional questions about where apartment marketing is headed or how to build a marketing strategy to engage today's apartment shoppers, download the eBook below. Thanks for reading!

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