How using heat map data will help you become a better marketer.

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Successful apartment marketing uses data to arrive at sound conclusions about the best way to reach and engage prospective residents. Today we’re sharing some new data we have gathered in hopes that it can help you make decisions about how best to promote your community online to prospective residents.

Briefly, we used something called “heat mapping” to monitor how website visitors interacted with apartment websites we manage for our partner communities. Heat mapping allows you to see where visitors click, how far down they scroll, and where they move their mouse. Today, we’re sharing our findings with you in hopes that you can reach better solutions by utilizing this data. Our goal as a company is to make leasing apartments easy for both our clients and their prospective residents. Ultimately, heat mapping shows us how shoppers use a website. So, by utilizing that data, we are listening to our shoppers and figuring out how to serve them best.

Lesson One: Prospects care more about floorplans than amenities.

We have known this one for a while, but the heat maps did confirm it. Earlier this year we mentioned data we had on how users navigate through client websites. We studied over 200,000 website visits across 20 communities located all over the country.

This is what we found: Amongst visitors who looked at a second page after visiting the home page, 87% looked at a floorplan page next. 5.5% looked at the amenities page. Only 4% looked at the contact page.

What that tells us is that prospective residents care first and foremost about what their actual apartment will look like. Amenities matter, as do other qualifying criteria such as pet policy, but if the prospect can’t picture themselves living in the apartment, it will be a hard sell—even if the price, location, amenities, and all the rest are what they want.

The other point to consider: There is a sales process to most deals when a person signs a lease. True, sometimes a person will make a decision quickly with minimal information and the deal will be done soon. But most of the time people want more information about the community before signing a lease. This makes a lot of sense—for most of your residents, their rent check will be their largest expense in a typical month.

All that being said, we now have heat map data to support this finding:

home-page-screen-capture

As you can see, the map clearly shows that the floorplans link is by far the most popular link on the homepage of this community’s website.

How should this affect your marketing strategy?

There’s a specific lesson here and a more general one.

The specific lesson is “you should have floorplan-specific pages for on your community website, and those pages should have photos and video of each individual floorplan.” This is the content prospects want when shopping online for an apartment. The data makes that easy to see.

The general lesson is “you need to build trust with prospects before you ask for the lease.” This is a principle that holds true across many different types of sales. When the purchase is high-risk, people want to feel comfortable with the brand and the product before they make a decision.  

Therefore, you also need a website that generally communicates to prospects that you want to help them learn about the community before you want to sell them. Your default mode should be toward transparency and disclosure. Share the rental rates, square footage, bed and bath count, unit amenities, community amenities, pet policy, etc.

What this data tells us is that most people who land on your homepage are not remotely ready to be sold yet—that’s why they are either bouncing off the site or looking at floorplan pages. If they’re not ready to talk to you yet, don’t force it. Be considerate— give them the information that will help them feel comfortable moving forward, and be prepared to receive higher qualified leads due to your transparent website.

Lesson Two: Long homepages have limited value.

Scroll depth is a way of measuring user engagement on a web page. Specifically, it refers to how far down a page a user scrolls before exiting.

Because many web designers have embraced a minimalist approach in recent years, websites have moved toward a stripped-down style. In some ways, this is a positive transition. Simple websites tend to load faster, work better on mobile, and provide a more consistent experience to internet users.

But one mistake we’ve seen on websites is trying to scale down the number of pages on the site without actually reducing the content on the website. To do this, of course, requires simply packing more content onto each page they keep.

Using heat maps, we can look at scroll depth and use that metric to judge if users actually view the content further down the page.

The answer, unsurprisingly, is that both desktop and mobile users do not scroll down too far before leaving the page. On desktop, we typically saw only about half of the homepage visitors scrolling below the main hero image, which is the large, dominant image that is displayed when you load the homepage.

Based on our findings, most apartment shoppers view the homepage as homebase. It’s able to direct them to more content specific pages, but always there if they get lost. If you help them find pages that they’re looking for, whether it be the floorplan page or the amenity page, the homepage has done its job. The easiest way to do this is by adding links at the top of the page since the data proves that people don’t scroll down far.

Lesson Three: Resident traffic is not as significant as you might think.

Calls and web visits from residents are one of the biggest sources of noise in apartment marketing data. This is the problem: In order to track phone leads, communities will often use tracking numbers segmented by marketing channel. So you’ll have tracking numbers for the website, Google My Business, each listing service, paid search campaigns, and so on.

The problem is that if a resident logs onto your website or searches your community on Google and then they call your office, they will be calling that tracking number. As a result, that call will show up as a lead even though it is a resident.

Likewise, if you are tracking web traffic as one way of monitoring marketing performance, Google Analytics will not be able to distinguish resident traffic from lead traffic.

However, with heat maps, we can track clicks on certain links as well as mouse movement. So, we tracked how many people were using the "residents" link, which tells us about how much traffic is from residents. The answer? Not much!

home-page-serp-2019-heatmap

As you can see in the graphics above, both click tracking and mouse tracking tell us that very few people are using the resident portal on this website. We found that only 16 out of 339 clicks (4.7%) tracked on the home page went to the resident portal.

In another study, we found that only seven clicks out of 202 (3.4%) went to the resident portal.

In a third study, we saw 36 clicks to the resident portal out of 446 total clicks (8%).

In a fourth study, we found that only three clicks out of 239 tracked clicks (1.2%) went to the resident portal.

We are going to continue to monitor this issue. After all, there are few questions more important for an apartment marketer than, “How accurate is my marketing data?” So anything that introduces noise into the data is a cause for concern. That being said, what our heat map data suggests is that the relative amount of resident traffic to apartment website is fairly low. This then suggests that the vast majority of website traffic is from prospective residents.

Conclusion

Data builds confidence and creates unity. That’s one of the many reasons we love it and lean on it so heavily when making decisions about how best to serve our partner communities. When you can base your strategy on the way prospects actually interact with your website and not merely on hunches, educated guesses, or common industry wisdom you are better positioned to excel as a marketing team.

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