November 16, 2018

An Introduction to Apartment SEO (Updated for 2019)

Posted by Jake Meador

 

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:

Screen Shot 2018-04-30 at 4.19.14 PM

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:

recipe-serp-2018

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:

Screen Shot 2018-04-30 at 4.32.16 PM

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:

Screen Shot 2018-04-30 at 4.37.21 PM

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:

Screen_Shot_2018-04-30_at_4_46_12_PM

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:

serp sample

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."

apartments-in-seattle-feb-2017.png

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.

How is Apartment SEO Changing in 2019?

Everything said above is true about SEO generally speaking. That being said, we need to add a caveat to all of this given the way we see Google trending as we move into 2019.

Google is, obviously, a business. This means that their motivations are the normal motivations of any business—what can we do to maximize profitability for our business and for our shareholders?

The answer to that question is fairly obvious: Do more of the things that contribute to the company's bottom line. In particular, two activities put a lot of money into Google's pocket.

  1. Selling advertisements against their enormous user base.
  2. Collecting ever more granular data on their users so as to make their advertisements more targeted and, thus, more valuable.

What this translates to, of course, is "show more ads" and "increase the amount of time people spend using Google."

In the past, Google might have just tried to grow their number of searches. That allows them to run more ads, after all. It also means people are spending lots of time in their products.

But according to many industry experts, we're seeing search numbers in developed countries start to plateau. Here is some data collated by Rand Fishkin of SparkToro:

As you can see, desktop is basically holding steady while mobile has a bit more fluctuation and, probably, potential for growth.

So if Google can't simply grow search volume to increase ad sales and user engagement, what can they do?

The answer is "make the search result page itself a destination."

Here's what I mean: In the old days of search, the SERP was like an airport. You end up there on your way to somewhere else. So you stop off on the search result page and then you click on a blue link that takes you to some other website somewhere on the internet.

That is changing.

Google is now pulling more information onto the search result page, such that people will get whatever it is they need from the page itself without needing to click elsewhere:

When I search for "weather" Google is so confident that it knows what I want, that it doesn't even display any blue organic links at the top of the page.

What's the result of this change at Google? Google is sending less traffic to other websites. Here is data on the number of searches ending without any additional clicks off the search result page:

What does this mean?

It means that as we look ahead toward 2019, Google My Business is more important than ever. Nearly two out of three searches on mobile are ending without a click. Google wants to give the user what they need directly on the search result page itself.

In our industry, the way they do that is through your Google My Business listing. If your community does not have an accurate business listing in Google, you're already missing out on a lot of potential leads coming in via mobile and that problem is going to get worse rather than better as we move into 2019.

If you are uncertain about your Google My Business listing, begin by searching for your community by name. If the resulting search page shows your community's information on the right side of the page with phone number, office hours, address, a website link, and so on, then your listing is set up. If it does not show up or if it has inaccurate data—the wrong phone number, no website link, no office hours, or even the wrong community name—you need to fix that as soon as possible.

To learn more about Google My Business, start with our explainer post.

Conclusion

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:

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