While responsive design can assist in leading prospects through the renting process, it does nothing to get the user there in the first place. That’s where SEO and PPC come in: Search Engine Optimization and Pay-Per-Click advertising (paid search).
A Short Story: Distributing Flyers
A friend once asked me why SEO and PPC matter. His organization was beginning a total rebuild of their site, and he faced a crucial decision. “Can’t I just build a great website?” he asked.
I couldn’t help but think he’d seen Field of Dreams a few too many times. For the record, “If you build it, they will come” is not a good multifamily marketing strategy (in case you weren’t sure).
I offered to him the following example: “Suppose I started a band, and we wanted to get the word around that we’re going to be playing our first gig. What’s the classic way to promote the event? Flyers, right?” He nodded, so I continued.
“Suppose I hire an excellent photographer to make us look cool, and a great designer to make it eye-catching. Then, I pay a local printer to produce ten thousand copies on the best paper, full color, full bleed, UV coated.”
“I suppose you spent a lot of money,” he chided.
“Right. But now suppose I took all these flyers and stacked them all on a street corner in front of my house.”
He looked puzzled. Which was the point.
“A flyer is made to be spread out. That’s its medium, and failing to distribute a flyer defeats the purpose.”
Your multifamily website is the flyer. SEO allows you to set out stacks of flyers in places where your prospective renters are most likely to be (via search engines).
PPC works similarly, but it’s more aggressive. Rather than leaving behind flyers where someone can be expected to encounter them, PPC acts as a direct hand-off. It’s like sending our guitar player into the club the week before, flyers in hand, distributing them to the very people who’d be likely to return next week. It takes more money and effort, but it often produces greater results.
SEO + Keyword Research
SEO is the art and science of inching your way up in Google’s rankings. Keywords are vital to optimizing your SEO game. The process starts by establishing the unique features your property has to offer and anticipating what prospective renters are searching for.
What’s the best way to do this? Invest the time in researching your industry and creating personas. Most multifamily properties approach SEO backwards: this is what I want someone to find. Instead, you should approach SEO from the searcher’s perspective. What are their needs and their habits? What frustrates them, interests them, confuses them?
Again, we return to our customer-centric approach to digital marketing. When we understand what residents are searching for (and how they’re searching), we can target them better than anyone else.
For time’s sake, we’ll save the mechanics of SEO for another day. Just know that it involves incorporating those insights and keywords into your website, blog posts, social media, links, code, etc. This allows search engines like Google to index your keywords and associate them with your property. In Criterion.B’s post about optimizing social media pages, we discuss some of the basics of SEO.
PPC + Targeted Traffic
While SEO is the organic approach to driving traffic, PPC is the paid. That is, you’re paying for each click into your website (hence the name, “pay-per-click”). Continuing with our example above, PPC is the act of directly distributing your flyers to a relevant audience, but only paying for those who take a look (aka. click into your website).
PPC ads display at the top or in the sidebar of search engine results. They are differentiated from the organic search results by a yellow “Ad” symbol.
A successful PPC campaign combines your keyword research and your insights to design highly targeted ads that drive traffic to your website. It’s important to note that well-qualified traffic is the result of research and continued testing. Too many properties “set it and forget it” when it comes to PPC. Understanding your residents should be an on-going learning process and the foundation of any SEO or PPC campaign (not to mention, all digital marketing strategy).
Partners in Crime
SEO and PPC are partners in crime when it comes to driving traffic to your multifamily property. They work in tandem with each other, and yet serve slightly different purposes. SEO focuses on building a long-term presence in search engines, while PPC can be used to drive quick results if necessary (e.g., to promote leasing specials or the opening of a new multifamily property). Both are advantageous, if not essential, for driving traffic in today’s cluttered apartment market.