If you've ever made a new year's resolution then you know that the new year brings with it a sense of new opportunity and maybe even optimism about what the next 12 months will hold. That said, new years also mean new challenges. It may not be that you have the chance to try something new, but that you have to try something new.
Toward that end, we're going to talk about five apartment marketing ideas for the new year which will hopefully help you stay on top of trends and anticipate where the online marketing world is headed over the next 12 months.
Google's mobile-first algorithm becomes a bigger deal.
Since the development of the smartphone, webmasters have had to maintain two different versions of their website.
- The first version is the desktop site designed for people accessing the site on a laptop or desktop computer that has a large screen, keyboard, mouse, etc.
- The second version is the mobile site, built for people accessing the site on a mobile phone or tablet, both of which have a much smaller touch-based screen.
If there are two different versions of the site, the obvious question for search engines is how to handle that when it comes time to rank websites: which version do you look at first for ranking purposes?
In the past, Google has looked first at the desktop site for general purposes. Then, when focusing exclusively on mobile search, they have looked at the mobile site. And if there isn't a mobile-friendly version of the site, they've tried different things to handle that when someone is searching on a mobile device—a warning label that says the site isn't mobile friendly or simply lowering that site in the search rankings being two examples.
Because of the very narrow way in which Google cared about mobile though, this meant that not having a mobile-friendly site was bad, but also wasn't necessarily catastrophic. Ultimately the worst thing that would happen to a website that wasn't mobile-friendly was... it would perform poorly on mobile search.
That is likely going to be changing in the near future. Because more and more web traffic is now moving to mobile, Google is moving toward a mobile-first search index. (The multifamily industry is not immune to this trend. Our latest case study on the issue, published in the fall of 2016, found that around 63% of traffic to the typical apartment community website came in on a mobile device.)
The idea here is relatively simple: Google's search index is the listing of all the websites on the internet that Google has crawled and ranked. In the past, the index has worked primarily by focusing on desktop sites with mobile functioning as a secondary option that is chiefly relevant on mobile devices. That is going to be changing: Google is now going to focus on mobile sites first. If a site they rank highly due to mobile delivers a bad desktop experience than some other site may outrank them on desktop. But generally the trend is going to be looking at the mobile version of the site first for ranking purposes.
What this means is that you need to begin thinking about your mobile website as your community's primary website. Desktop is secondary. If you have a great desktop site but it isn't functional on mobile, you don't have a working strategy for marketing on Google in 2018. They want strong, functional, useful mobile websites.
If you want more information about mobile-first indexing, read this excellent overview from Moz.
Local business listings on Google also become more important.
Voice search is set to become a bigger part of online marketing as more and more people adopt devices like Amazon's Echo and Google Home. Additionally, as people become more comfortable using Voice search thanks to these devices, it is probable that they will begin using Voice more regularly on their phones.
One thing that happens with the move away from text-based search is that the search results provided shift from an array of options you can choose from to the one option that the device thinks is most relevant to your needs.
Google, of course, relies extensively on their local listings to provide that level of precision: If someone searches for a local business, they serve them results that include a local business listing.
As Voice becomes more common, we're going to see more searches like "Alexa, what is the address of Mountain View Apartments?" or "Hey Google, call Mountain View Apartments." If the devices are going to return correct results, they will almost certainly do that through local business listings rather than a website. So having your community's Google listing set up correctly with up-to-date information is going to be more important than ever.
Design for the user.
In the user experience world they have a saying: You are not the user.
What it means is that you, the person building a restaurant's website or testing the mobile version of a school's new site, are probably not the person the site is designed for. In rare cases you might be, of course. But most of the time the person designing a website is not the same thing as the intended user of the site. This is almost always the case in the multifamily industry. Often the people making decisions about the design of the site are not apartment residents themselves and haven't been for some time.
However, that person, whether it's a marketing director, regional manager, or someone else, is going to play a major role in approving the final design of the site. Unfortunately, the things they care about will probably not be the same as the things that an apartment shopper cares about.
Because the multifamily industry has adopted to new tech more slowly than other industries, some of these classic marketing problems were not felt quite so keenly in the past. Maybe you just outsourced your marketing to an ILS and they did a tolerable job of managing it for you. Or maybe you had a website that you knew wasn't great, but that also seemed to do alright for you because several of your competitors weren't online at all.
Times are changing though. One J Turner Research study strongly suggests that ILS's are not as popular as they once were. Likewise, many communities that weren't online back in 2013 or 2014 are coming online today, which means you're now running into actual competition online and simply showing up is no longer sufficient.
One of the best ways to claim a marginal victory of the sort that can successfully differentiate your community from your competitors is to build a site that is usable. This is counter-intuitive for many in our industry, image-driven as we tend to be.
But before an apartment shopper is wowed by your gorgeous community and luxury amenities they need to be able to find your community online and find the specific pieces of information they care about most—simple things like address, phone number, and rent rates. It is 2017 and we still see community sites that don't list the rent rates for their floorplans. That simply won't do. Build your community site to serve the prospective resident—make sure it has a clean layout, provides all the desired information about your community, and that the site works well on both desktop and mobile.
Marketing systems are greater than one-off marketing tactics.
The things we've said so far can mostly be drawn into a single overarching point: In pre-digital marketing and even older digital marketing, you could usually succeed by simply throwing enough various marketing techniques at your vacancy problem. Get a few ILS's, do some work on social, try to attract some leads via your website... eventually the numbers add up and the thing works.
This worked because we had dozens of different ways of obtaining information when we wanted it. Thus you didn't really need a comprehensive strategy; you just needed to exist on another different information platforms to reach the number of people you needed.
What we're seeing more and more these days is that people generally have far fewer ways of accessing information, even if we do end up taking in as much or even more information than people did in the past. When we need information, we turn to Google, Facebook, or Amazon. Google gives us random facts or data points we need for a specific reason. Facebook tends to provide us with information related to specific interests. Amazon gives us information related to purchasing a variety of different goods. This is why Google and Facebook in particular now dominate mobile advertising. They're the platforms everyone uses to access any kind of information.
Because we use fewer platforms to obtain information, we need to change the way we think about marketing strategy. It's no longer a simple volume issue. You need to actually understand how these online platforms and especially Google work. And then you need to develop a strategy that allows you to perform your best on the dominant platforms.
What this means is you don't just need stand-alone marketing tasks. You need a comprehensive marketing strategy because now there are only a few platforms to compete on, those platforms are more complex, and everyone is fighting for placement on them.
So you need to be thinking not only about what things you want to do as an apartment marketer. You also need to think about how those various tasks work together and reinforce one another, such that you have a stronger overall presence on Google.
Bring revenue management and marketing together to make better decisions.
Finally, one of the things we'd love to see more of in the industry is an effort to draw together marketing and revenue management. We think that marketing data should inform strategies involving rent rates, price increases, move-in specials, and the like.
The reason why is extremely simple: The price you charge for units is a simple function of supply and demand. But we shouldn't think of demand purely in terms of national demand or even regional demand. Think about demand for your community and adjust rent rates based on that. And how do you understand demand on such a granular level?
Well, the best way to understand demand for your specific community and your specific floorplans is to look at your marketing data. Moreover, the best way to influence demand for your units is going to be making smart adjustments to your marketing: If you recognize that a given floorplan is extremely popular not only based on occupancy numbers, but also based on traffic to that floorplan page, how much of the floorplan video people watch, and so on, then you can feel confident pushing a more aggressive rent rate increase.
Similarly, if you can identify when a given floorplan is going to have more vacancy, you can make changes to your marketing to drive more people toward that floorplan.
The key thing here, again, is building systems. Your marketing needs to be an overall system that works together to strengthen its various elements. And then your marketing system needs to be talking to your revenue management system. Integration is the name of the game in 2018.