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Student.com has had quite a lot of press recently, what with $60m of investment from the founders of Spotify.
The website is new to me, so I thought I'd have a look through and pick out some points of interest.
Hang on, haven't I been here before?
Student.com has a remarkable resemblance to Airbnb. That's not scandalous or even surprising, after all, why not copy a website that already has enormous brand recognition with the student demographic?
There are now solid design conventions for travel and accommodation websites with booking engines.
Below I've contrasted sections of the homepages of both websites. The video background, emphasis on home, centred and prominent search with brand-colour call to action, and glossy cards hosting international destinations are immediately recognisable.
I've previously discussed how Hilton has also paid homage to Airbnb with its website.
Content - area guides
There's a lot to admire about the more functional areas of the site (we'll look at some more in a minute), though what really stands out is the content.
The website's approach to neighbourhoods is exactly what students unfamiliar with a particular territory are looking for.
Though estate agents use content like this (see Zoopla's area guides for example), what's great about Student.com is that because it's aimed at a very particular demographic, it doesn't have to hedge its bets when it comes to painting a picture of urban lifestyle.
There's no discussion of schools, crime rate or price trends - it's all very similar to a travel or lifestyle site (nightlife, shopping etc.).
See screen shots below from the area guide to Shoreditch. What I found impressive was the use of maps to delineate neighbourhoods within cities, showing other Student.com properties in the vicinity.
There are links to other websites for local attractions (in the vein of Time Out), which is a nice touch, alongside photography of the area.
All in all, it made me want to be a student again.
What's striking about the residence listings is the number of features that seem obvious, but have been missing from the student accommodation market online.
There's a dropdown to select a particularly university, for those unsure if they'll be in the right place.
Specific move-in months and long or short stays can be selected, alongside the obligatory price slider and room type.
On mobile this is pared down to just the University selector and the ability to order by price or popularity. Note the handy 'back to top' feature to allow users to return to the top of listings.
My favourite thing on any website is chunky text, so I'm glad to see that each residence comes with a short but sweet opening sell in bold.
I think it's quite smart to have a prominent 'contact an expert' call to action higher up the page, with the 'make enquiry' buttons featuring further down, beneath the full room specifications.
Catching confused users earlier is important in international property, where users will likely want to be doubly sure they are choosing the right place for them.
Enquiry forms include a prominent Trustpilot rating and a handy little slider explaining what happens after you fill in a contact form (including the fact there's no payment until you sign the contract).
There's another route to get help, aside from the phone number in the header, in the shape of a 'get help' call to action.
This links to a very pleasing typeform survey asking the user a variety of questions about what they're looking for.
See the GIF below.
Fans of design will note the extensive collection of icons that accompany a list of facilities. Smartly done.
The photography slideshow is again impressive, a world away from the dark and poorly shot images that still sit on many rental websites.
There's a simple filter so that users can see all rooms available in a residence or just those available for the full year.
On mobile, the information on page about each room type is simplified.
Rather than having to scroll down a long page of text and detail, there are simple yellow buttons to explore each room.
Room information then slides out, with a back button allowing the user to step back to the residence listing and pick another room.
Room types on desktop
Room types on mobile
Area guides and maps are included at the bottom of all product pages, alongside attractively displayed 'similar properties'.
Right at the bottom of the page, there's more editorial, this time about the experience of studying abroad.
Airbnb and Spotify managers (Student.com has tapped up a few) have obviously prioritised ease and enjoyment of using the service, ensuring a smooth user experience.
The site works well; imagery and editorial sells each residence and neighbourhood.
In short, Student.com should fill a gap in the market and will no doubt spawn competitors.