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Attracting Young Residents with Website Design

A person holding a tablet with a wireframe for a website on it

Is your website keeping up with changing demands of the smartphone generation? If you’re thinking about updating your website and not thinking mobile first, you could be making a costly mistake.

The National Apartment Association spoke with Barrie Nichols, vice president of sales and marketing at University Student Living, about the mobile designs that have worked best to attract students to the apartment communities.

Why is a mobile design so important? What are students looking for?

Students lose interest really fast, and they don’t have the patience for a slow load speed. They need to get information really easily and quickly. They can’t stand to wait on slow load speed, and it’s hard to get the conversion that you need when your site doesn’t load fast. Making your site mobile helps to increase the load speed of your page.

What elements should always be at the top of a mobile-first site to keep students scrolling and interested?

The first thing they want to see is something that will engage them. We like to start with a video to show off the lifestyle of the property and get them connected to the community. We use a scrolling page architecture, which lets you continually scroll the site without having to change pages. It’s a seamless mobile experience, and it delivers the same experience and functionality as a desktop computer.

Is there a website feature that you know is effective but isn’t on many community sites?

Click to text. That’s a really interesting feature. Students don’t actually want to talk to you unless they have a big problem. Click-to-text functionality lets the students text your operations managers right from the site.

How important is video on a property site?

It’s very important. Prospective residents want to know that you’re living what you’re saying. I like video because it has a visually appealing element right at the top of the site. It needs to be short. Nobody wants to watch a three-minute video unless they’re in it. I think 30 to 60 seconds is a good length—no more than 90 seconds.

How do you add an emotional component to a site that will attract people? Students want authenticity, and they want to share an experience. We just launched a scholarship this year, and we’re creating short, meaningful videos with the participants. We think that’s going to perform well on our site. When we have Dutch Bros. (a local coffee shop) bringing coffee to residents, our residents will share that and that gets other people interested in living with us. Use your site as a scrolling story of who you are and showcase why the students would want to live there.

In your 20 years in this industry, what has changed the most?

I think the social media platforms are the biggest change. Instagram, Pinterest, Snapchat—students now live on these channels, and you have to capture their attention there. You have to be on top of all the platforms.

We use Snapchat a lot. We actually created filters for their move-in day, so they could show off to their friends. All of our sites have a live Instagram feed at the bottom. (You can see an example at When you use social channels, you want to share events and things that students care about. Don’t put “rent is late” on Facebook.

Do you take advantage of your resident tech packages in your marketing?

The fastest internet is king. In a Rochester community, we boosted the capability of the bandwidth. They can have up to 1,000 Mbps download speed. I had to get the service provider to write up exactly what they were giving us for capability and speed, and we highlighted that in a lot of different places. It’s really paying off. We’re seeing a significant uptick in preleasing. It’s outpacing our other open properties.