Explainer: The Importance of Mobile Apartment Websites

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We're now 10 years out from the debut of the iPhone. The iPhone, of course, pushed us into a new era online in that it brought the internet to a new class of device en masse.

Why are mobile sites a big deal?

At one point, the internet was almost exclusively accessed on desktop and laptop computers. Though the capabilities of these devices differed considerably, as did their size, you could still mostly build one type of website and expect that website to work on the vast majority of machines.

The arrival of smartphones changed all of that. The dimensions of a website had to change because the web content was now displayed on a vertically oriented screen rather than a horizontally oriented screen. There were other problems as well: Phones did not have nearly the processing power of computers, although that is changing. Finally and perhaps most significant, the two things we use to do things on a laptop or desktop computer, a keyboard and mouse, are not available in the same way (or at all, in most cases) on mobile devices.

For all these reasons, it quickly became apparent that web developers would need to build two versions of their website, one for laptops and desktop devices, and one for mobile phones and (later) tablets.

How do mobile sites work?

You can set up your site to recognize the type of device that a person is using to access the site. Based on the device-type, you can then set it up to show them different versions of the site.

Traditionally, mobile versions of websites were very minimal things. Photos were scaled back dramatically and the main feature was typically a text menu that allowed users to select a page they wished to view. As mobile technology has improved, however, mobile sites have become more sophisticated.

These days, it's more common for developers to build a single website but set it up to be responsive to different device types. So the website can detect the device of the person accessing the site and adapt itself to that device, whether it's a phone, tablet, or laptop.

How has the mobile web changed in the past 2-3 years?

We're now seeing some new trends emerge in response to the increased popularity of mobile. Statistically, mobile has overtaken desktop in usage rates for accessing internet content. In response to this trend, a number of different major tech companies are taking steps to prioritize mobile. Facebook rolled out their Instant Articles last year, which allowed publishers and media companies to publish their content directly into Facebook, which would then display it in an easy-to-use, fast-loading format ideal for mobile devices.

More significantly, Google has taken several steps toward emphasizing mobile. First, they rolled out something very similar to Instant Articles called Accelerated Mobile Pages (AMP). If you search Google for any sort of news-related item on a mobile device, you'll run into AMP pages.

Second, Google is also in the process of rolling out a mobile search index which will then eventually transition into being the search engine's primary search index for the internet.

What on earth is a "search index"?

What does that mean? Well, "a search index" refers to the index of webpages that Google keeps which they then evaluate, rank, and provide to their users in organic search results.

Traditionally, Google has had a single index. Within that index, they had slightly different search ranking methodologies for searches done on mobile devices compared to searches done on desktop. However, as mobile becomes more popular and as the shape of the mobile internet continues to evolve, that solution is no longer as effective. Toward that end, Google is now in the process of developing a second index exclusively for mobile devices.

So instead of both desktop and mobile search working from the same index and simply using slightly different ranking methodologies, they will now instead have two entirely different search indices behind their search rankings.

In practice, this means that a website that isn't mobile-friendly may simply stop showing up in mobile search results.

There is more to this as well, however: Google is also hoping to eventually revert to a single search index, but it will be a mobile-first index. That means they will use the mobile index as a way to power all of their search for both mobile and desktop devices.

In other words, we are heading to a world where it will almost make more sense to thinking of your mobile site as your primary website or primary user experience on the internet and your desktop site as a kind of add-on: mobile-first and desktop-friendly, if you like.

What does all of that mean for apartment marketers?

There are three main applications:

  1. You need to think seriously about what your community can do as far as web development goes to make sure that your current web presence is mobile-friendly and can be adjusted quickly to accommodate whatever changes Google might throw at you in the next couple of years.
  2. You need a site that works well on mobile—loads quickly, easy to use, relevant content that is easy to view or access, etc. The last time we did a case study on this, we found that 53% of all traffic to client websites came from mobile devices.
  3. Apartment marketers are still generally used to thinking about marketing in terms of pre-defined techniques using static mediums. Traditionally we're comfortable with newspaper ads and print guides. More recently, we have adapted to the web with internet listing services and our own community websites. But we have still often tended to use these with a sort of set-it-and-forget-it philosophy. That won't really work going forward. Technology is changing too rapidly. To be successful today, we need a more adaptive approach to marketing that is able to identify the key objectives and think creatively about how to use the tools available to us to achieve those goals.


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