Don't Be So Fast to Scrap Your Current Website

One of our larger clients decided to use a friend to redo their multifamily site rather than use a company like ours that specializes in multifamily sites. Because I have a relatively close relationship with one of the owners, I wrote out a short list of the most critical things they needed to include in the site architecture and what to think about during the planning process to achieve their SEO goals. I only included the most essential basics, e.g. make sure your system allows you to assign unique titles and meta description tags to each page.

They launched the site, and guess what? The developer didn't implement a single one of my suggestions.

But the biggest mistake the developer made was that he simply dumped the old site and put up a new one with all new page names (URLs). This was problematic because the old site pages had already been crawled and indexed by search engines, and while they weren't setting the world on fire, they had built up some PageRank and were enjoying some search engine traffic. The minute these pages were pulled down, the search engine traffic disappeared. To add insult to injury, they didn't update their Pay Per Click ad links, and were therefore pouring many thousands of dollars a month in advertising dollars down the drain.

Don't let this happen to you. Your new website developer should keep your site in place and "redirect" old pages to the new one. Only after you are sure that Google, Yahoo, and other search engines have indexed your new pages, and that your old ones are not appearing in search results, can you safely delete the old pages.

Luckily for the client, Google's new algorithm indexes new pages much more quickly than it used to, so they won't be in the search engine penalty box for too long. However, any traffic they could have had during the critical spring leasing season is forever lost, as is the ability to convey the page rank of the old URL.

So the moral of the story is, don't scrap your old website too quickly.

User Experience Personalization

In addition to my day job, I occasionally do due diligence reviews for a venture capital organization that invests in early stage companies. Recently, I reviewed a startup that builds a platform for Internet-based retailers, which creates a more personalized shopping experience for its customers. It turns out that good personalization software can increase short-term sales by 10% or more, which is something that will be in demand provided it works.

This experience got me thinking about two things. First, as an industry, we are years behind retailers in our use and understanding of how to leverage the Internet to do our jobs. Second, personalization is our future.

Since I don't think I'll get much argument about the superiority of top eRetailer websites, I'll move on to talk about what personalization is and how I see it being used in a multifamily context.

As the term suggests, personalization refers to the use of tools that allow users to customize a website to meet their needs. The goal of personalization is to create a superior experience as well as engagement, one user at a time. You're probably already familiar with these types of features if you've customized the layout or color palette of a site or stored items as favorites, or on a wish list.

If you are interested in personalizing user experience, start by allowing users to add communities they are interested in to a personal favorites list. There are several ways you can set this up. Use Facebook Open Graph and let people “Like” the community, or allow them to create and maintain a list of favorites on your own site. Although in theory the latter method has the potential to drive repeat visitors, some users may be more comfortable using a Facebook platform.

I expect that many of the most effective personalization tools used by eRetailers will generate the same reaction that reviews have. In particular, I’m not sure we’re ready for recommendation engines that list other properties a renter might be interested in on your ILS page. But clearly some of the major innovations in online advertising will be the continued development of tools that personalize the user experience.