One of the things we preach here on a regular basis is that it is always preferable to get a prospect to your community or corporate website rather than a community listing on an ILS's site.
Because you want people interacting with you on a platform you control rather than one you share with competitors.
This basic principle that you should keep internet users on your internet property for as long as possible applies across many other internet platforms besides apartment websites. Craigslist, for example, wants to keep their users on Craigslist—which is why they do things like disabling clickable links.
Facebook is also keen to keep people on Facebook rather than clicking links to get off Facebook and onto another website. This is why Facebook Instant Articles is now a thing. LinkedIn, of course, has also experimented with producing their own content to keep users on their site for longer amounts of time.
It's no surprise, then, that Google is also thinking in a similar way. If Google can keep their users on Google web properties that is better for them as a company.
The longer a user stays on Google web properties, whether that is classic applicatons like Search, Maps, or YouTube or more niche apps like Drive, Photos, or Wallet, the more Google can learn about that user.
The more Google knows about their users, the easier it is to create highly targeted, effective ads.
And as Google's advertising platform improves, the company's bottom line also improves because more people advertise with them and pay higher rates to do so.
How can Google keep users on their own web properties?
There are many ways Google can keep users on their web properties.
One of the biggest is simply to create easy, useful online products. Search is obviously their most famous, but Gmail, Google Docs, and Google Sheets are also major successes that have kept users engaged with Google for longer periods of time which allows Google to gather more information about them which can then be used to create better ads.
In recent years, Google has found another way to get users to hang around a bit more: If they are reasonably confident they know exactly what a person wants based on their query, Google simply answers the question for them rather than pointing them to another site where they can find the answer.
These answers are given in something called the Knowledge Graph. Typically you'll find the knowledge graph results set off in a separate box at or near the top of the search results page.
For example, let's ask Google who won the Super Bowl in 2008:
(Sorry Patriots fans.)
How does Google know this? Well, Google essentially has a huge database full of information. When users enter a query, Google can look at the query, figure out if the answer to that query can be found in their own database and then, if it can, they can serve the user that information directly. It's a really impressive system.
Hey Google, who wrote the Declaration of Independence?
Some of the information in Google's database is general knowledge stuff like the examples above. But it can also give targeted, local information.
For example, you might ask for the address of a local grocery store:
It's this last query that is particularly important for apartment communities.
Google gets the information in its database from many different places online. Wikipedia is a common one for a lot of queries a user might enter in. But they use other sources as well.
For local businesses, the main place it pulls information is Google My Business.
If a user types in "tamarin ridge apartments phone number" Google can pull that information for their users thanks to their local business listings:
What does the rise of the knowledge graph mean for online apartment marketing?
Google is moving further and further from the basic search result page with nothing but blue organic links. (To get a sense of what the future holds, look at this presentation by Peter Meyers of Moz.)
There are three main things that apartment communities need to be thinking about as we brace for what this change may mean for the multifamily space:
- Having accurate information in Google My Business is essential as that is the source from which Google pulls the knowledge graph data for apartment searches.
- We may in the future (though this is likely some way off for multifamily) see organic search begin to drop off a bit as more and more information is getting pulled into the Google SERP, thereby making the click to the website in the organic search results unnecessary.
- Ultimately what you care about most is leases, so if prospects are finding you on Google, getting the information they need, and then calling your leasing office, that's a good thing—even if they never visit your community page. Obviously it's still ideal that they'd spend the bulk of their online search time on your website watching videos and reading about the community. But if prospects searching for you by name are finding what they need on the Google SERP, that's great too.
It is entirely possible that we're headed toward a future where Google basically controls the flow of information using only properties they are able to crawl with their Knowledge Graph.
Thankfully, that is not where we are today. But even so, it is good to be thinking ahead and figuring out how to make sure Google's users can find accurate, relevant information about your community. A community website is essential, but so too is accurate information in your Google My Business listing.