Search Engine Optimization (SEO) refers to the process by which webmasters improve their websites in order to have greater visibility on search engines. Apartment SEO, then, is the process by which apartment communities improve their websites in order to be more visible on search engines.
What makes SEO complicated is that different industries have different rules. This is because search engines treat different industries differently.
Why do search engines treat different search types differently?
At first glance, this might seem like an annoying, unnecessary step from Google. But it's actually essential to their work as a search engine for a few different reasons.
First, the need of a search engine user is going to differ based on what they are searching. If someone searches for the weather, answering that query will look very different from someone searching for something like a dessert recipe.
In the former case, there is really only one right answer—the weather is the weather. There is nothing to be gained, for example, by providing users with tons of choice if they need weather. Just show them the weather report for their area on the search result page itself and be done with it:
On the other hand, if someone searches for a blackberry crumble recipe, they might want to see several different recipes and decide which one looks best based on their unique situation. Showing one recipe on the SERP may not be helpful if the searcher doesn't have two of the ingredients or if they don't have the equipment or knowledge needed to do a step in the recipe. In that case, therefore, you want something more like this:
In the past, Google has even displayed a carousel of results for searches like the above.
These are relatively simple examples where the intent of the searcher is obvious. If someone searched "Taco Bell," their intent is not as clear. They are probably wanting to get information about where a Taco Bell store is located so they can go get food there. But they may also be looking for social media accounts or information about the company. So Google tries to pack more data into the SERP to reflect the uncertainty around this particular search term:
Searcher need requires search engines to create different experiences for their users based on the intent of their search.
Second, because different searches have different needs, search engines need to monetize different searches in different ways. This is why Google is rolling out more product listing ads, local business ads, and so on. Usually they run four ads at the top of the search result page just above organic results:
But in cases where someone's search has an obvious purchase intent of some kind—"restaurants in omaha ne" or "men's dress shoes" they don't want paid search links sending them to a website. They want the specific information they need immediately—restaurants near them or the types of shoes they might buy and how much they cost. So Google serves them that information first, instead of AdWords ads, and finds ways to advertise within the information they are serving those users:
For all these reasons, the rules of apartment SEO are not the same as the rules of hotel SEO, local restaurant SEO, or other types of SEO. (This is also why we generally counsel apartment communities to work with marketing vendors that have industry experience.
What are the basic rules for apartment SEO?
To answer that question, let's look at the two types of search result pages you'll see when doing apartment-related searches on Google.
Apartment SEO on Branded Search Terms
The first is what you should expect to see if you search for a community by name:
In this case, there are three main features that stand out on the search result page:
- Paid Search Ad at the Top of the Page
- Local Business Listing at the Right of the Page
- Organic Search Listing at the Top of the Page
A good apartment SEO strategy is thus going to ask "How can we win in all three result types when someone searches for us by name?" The answer will include things such as the following:
- Setting up a community-specific website instead of having a community page on a corporate website which may or may not rank well for the community's name
- Making sure that the website loads promptly, is easy to use, and has relevant content that helps users make informed decisions during the leasing process
- Claiming your Google My Business listing, updating all of the information to make sure it is accurate, and posting photos with the listing
- Running defensive campaigns on Google AdWords to protect the community's brad at the top of the search result page
Apartment SEO on General Search Terms
The second is what you should expect if you do a more general search term, like "apartments in seattle."
With these kind of result pages, there is not really that much for an SEO strategy to address. The simple fact is that individual community pages will almost never rank ahead of listing services on these general search terms.
Likewise, your local listing isn't going to show up because Google doesn't provide local results on these pages even though they do on equivalent result pages in other industries.
Finally, AdWords is not going to be a great option for most people simply because the listing services are targeting these terms with their own AdWords campaigns and they have more money to spend on this stuff than any apartment community does.
That said, reduced visibility on these terms is not necessarily a huge problem for a few reasons.
- First, people searching a term like "apartments in seattle" are in a very early phase of the leasing process. This is the broadest possible search term a person in Seattle could use when searching for an apartment. Only a small percentage of people searching that term will be a good fit for a single apartment community anyway.
- Second, apartment communities have a very hard cap on how many widgets they can sell: How many units does the community have? If you have 200 units, well, you can sell 200 products and no more. This means that expanding reach is not necessarily desirable for apartment communities. Greater reach does not allow you to sell more products. It might allow you to increase demand which can increase rent rates, but there are better ways to increase demand than simply casting a wide net. You can increase demand more effectively by making sure that everyone who can plausibly rent from you actually is aware of you. Getting in front of as many of your actual prospective renters as possible is much better than simply getting in front of as many people as possible.
The key to understanding apartment SEO is understanding that it is principally about search engine visibility rather than high organic rankings. For apartment communities, a successful SEO strategy has to account for organic, paid, and local listings. If you ignore one of those, you don't have a successful strategy that is doing all the things for your community that a sound SEO strategy can do.
If you have additional questions about apartment SEO or want to learn more about SEO generally, we'd recommend using these resources: