For most common apartment search terms, like Los Angeles apartments or apartments in New York, the first page of Google is pretty much taken. Internet listing services own those pages, spending whatever resources it takes to maintain the top positions. That’s not to mention the sheer number of Los Angeles or New York apartments they have listed on their sites that give them an advantage with Google.
But that doesn’t mean an owner/operator can’t compete without spending thousands of dollars a month on numerous upgraded ILS listings. With a hyper-local perspective, a broader strategic view of online marketing and a comprehensive content marketing strategy, property managers can produce even stronger conversion ratios, according to a panel discussion today at the Summit.
“Do we want to always rely on third-party marketing agencies like an ILS as our only source of paid advertising when we can create our own option for getting our name out there?” asked Colby Hansen, digital marketing manager at Weidner Apartment Homes.
The answer for most apartment owner/operators is a definitive no. But saying no isn’t as easy as it may seem. It requires a different perspective on the marketing mix and acquisition funnel that layers multiple marketing tactics, including organic SEO, pay-per-click advertising, social media advertising, online content and retargeting.
Using multiple channels to market a community recognizes that prospective renters review multiple websites before making a decision to rent a particular apartment home. Attributing a lead to a single source based on a first-click or last-click attribution model, which is often done to determine ILS spend, simply isn’t accurate.
In fact, an Entrata review of more than 1,000 owner/operators with robust SEM and SEO programs, including ILS’s, found that more than half of the prospective renters who filled out an application clicked five or more times on several different online advertising sources before making the decision to apply. “This just shows how complex and murky it is to attribute leads,” said Mike Ramsey, faculty member of Ventures & LocalU.
The review of the conversion path also revealed which marketing tactics were most consistent and, therefore, most influential in converting prospective renters into a lease applicants. The top three most influential tactics were Google Organic, Google Ads and Google My Business. ILS listings ranked No. 6.
“If you don’t have a robust search engine optimization program or pay-per-click effort, you’re missing a big opportunity based on this data,” Hansen said. “These activities are very effective and efficient in converting prospects into renters.”
Certain combinations of the online marketing tactics can be more effective than others, according to the Entrata study. Utilizing Google paid search and Facebook together resulted in the highest conversion ratio by far of 47 percent. The combination of Google and Facebook boosting resulted in a 15 percent conversion ratio. Google alone resulted in a 3.4 percent conversion ratio.
“You might find that certain sources are lower cost per lead,” Hansen said. “We find that our lowest cost per lease is actually our team’s paid search program. Sometimes our PPC program is the best thing for us to ramp up and turn off really quickly, rather than wasting a lot of money on a three-month contract which we generally have to sign with a lot of our ILS’s.”
But PPC can’t always do the job alone. That’s why it’s important to install a pixel on your website that allows you to retarget visitors and serve up useful content on other channels after they leave your website. This content marketing strategy can help you garner new leads and nurture those leads through a decision process to supplement your PPC efforts.
“One of the keys to starting that awareness is making sure you have a pixel properly installed on your website,” Ramsey said. “As you start advertising and hitting people with Facebook ads, as you Pixel them on your website or at different stages, it gives you so many opportunities to hit them up with content like research or top 10 reasons a neighborhood is up and coming. You can serve this content that they’re not necessarily looking for but they’ll notice as long as you’re running really good visual images and have very catchy titles and you’re giving highly actionable short to read content for them to digest.”
This content pulls prospective renters through a very complex conversion path, one that doesn’t begin and end with a single ILS listing. While it may seem daunting to run an online marketing program without relying heavily on ILS’s, which own the first two pages of search results, it can be done and might actually be more effective.