Why Has Multifamily Hit a Mobile Tipping Point?

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Last week we published new data that shows a sharp uptick in mobile traffic to apartment websites. We talked about the significance of this change and how you need to react with your marketing strategy in last Friday's blog. What we did not address in the post is why mobile has become such a big deal in 2017 when it was still not nearly so dominant in 2014 or 2015.

In this post, we're going to offer some theories on why it took this long for mobile to break through.

What the Data Tells Us

Before we move toward analysis, we should keep an important point in mind: Ultimately these numbers tell us more about multifamily shoppers than they do about anything else in the industry.

We're simply looking at pure traffic data for a range of community. That means the only behavior actually being observed in these numbers is the web behavior of people who visit apartment websites.

Granted, all the traffic data comes from RentVision clients and we have been thinking about mobile for years and we probably attract a certain type of client who is also thinking ahead and trying to figure out what comes next. So perhaps there is some small amount of selection bias here.

But given the diversity of communities we selected and the sheer volume of traffic, it's hard to say anything about the behavior of industry insiders based on this data.

Rather, what we're seeing is a shift in the preferences and habits of apartment shoppers.

The good news is that there is probably still a great opportunity for forward-thinking communities to get ahead of this trend. The consumer behavior is telling us something, but the industry hasn't fully caught on.

The bad news, of course, is that it seems likely that the industry is lagging behind consumer trends, which isn't good for anyone.

Let's talk about why mobile is bigger now.

There are several things probably affecting this trend.

  • Mobile is a preferred device for intention-based browsing.
  • People will often use their phone to accomplish specific tasks while they are watching something on TV or on a desktop device.
  • Finally, behaviors that are "normal" in cutting edge industries take longer to become "normal" in more traditional industries.

Let's take each of these points in a bit more detail.

What do people do on mobile?

We can answer that question. Google released a study in 2016 on how people use their devices. The overall theme was that people use mobile when they have some quick, very specific intention and use desktop when they are doing something more general. Here are some examples:

For beauty and personal care searches, the most popular mobile search concerned nail care—looking for salons, mostly. The most common computer and tablet search item was "fashion and style."

Likewise, in financial searches, the top mobile search was for ATMs. The top computer/tablet search was related to accounting and auditing.

Finally, in media and entertainment searches, the top mobile search was movie tickets. The top computer/tablet search was filmmaking.

The pattern is clear: Generally when people use mobile to research something, they're looking for some specific piece of information or are wanting to complete a specific individual task. It's not surprising, then, that an extremely specific intention like "finding an apartment" would over time become the sort of search people do on mobile rather than desktop.

Mobile and the Second Screen

Another angle to consider with this is how popular "second screen" browsing has become. The idea here is that someone is sitting at home watching something on TV or a desktop device when they remember something they need to do and get their phone out to complete the task.

According to Tubular Insights, 92% of millennials browse on second screens while watching TV and 53% of them are using those screens do something other than learn about the TV show they're watching. It is not a stretch, given that data, to imagine a lot of people pulling out their phone to look for an apartment during a commercial or while watching a sports event.

Finally, we're probably seeing normal consumer patterns finally coming to multifamily.

Apartment shopping can only be as modern and innovative as the industry will allow. This is probably a big part of why it has taken awhile for mobile to catch on in our industry. As recently as 2014 or 2015 I still saw a lot of apartment websites that were not mobile friendly.

When I put together our guide post on mobile, which was first published in 2015, I had no problem finding examples of apartment websites that failed Google's mobile-friendly test. It is harder to find sites like that these days.

What we have seen in the past couple of years is a nice step forward for the industry as websites in general have improved dramatically and mobile in particular has gotten significantly better. It's no surprise that, as community sites improve generally and particularly on mobile, that we would see an uptick in mobile usage.

If you have a good mobile site, Google is happy to direct people to it and users are happy to visit it. It isn't a surprise that this would lead to higher traffic numbers.


The big idea here is still what we said last week: If you don't have a good mobile site you need one as soon as possible. Working beyond that basic point, it's helpful to reflect a bit more on this because it helps us understand some of the material realities driving marketing outcomes.

In this case, there are several things feeding into this increased mobile usage. Understanding what those things are helps us get into our prospects' heads, anticipate future behavior, and build marketing strategies that reach them where we expect to find them.

Ultimately that is the goal, of course: You want marketing content that actually produces results for your community because it reaches people where they really are and not where they were ten years ago. So keep reading, thinking, and really dedicate a lot of time toward building a great mobile site. You won't regret it.


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