A recent study by research firm Clutch reports that 32% of all small business owners say they do not have a website for their business because it is irrelevant to their business/industry. I'm sure there are some scenarios where you wouldn't need a website for your small business.
A friend of mine cleans houses on the side, but only has time for 3-5 clients and already has them—and the clients she has are happy with her and have recommended her to others. So she has a niche, local business with happy customers and she isn't looking to grow it. She doesn't need a website.
That being said, cases like the above are probably more the exception than the norm. Most small business owners are looking to grow their businesses and if you want to do that, then having a dedicated website for your business is essential.
In this post, we want to do two things. First, we want to talk about why a website is not irrelevant to the needs of an apartment community. Second, we want to talk about some of the other objections cited in the survey to explain why a small business owner doesn't need a website for their business. Those objections include things like cost, using a Facebook page instead of a website, lacking technical knowledge, and so on.
Why do apartment communities need their own community-specific website?
Let's start by talking about the many values to having a community-specific website for your apartment community. Here are just a few of the benefits:
- Community websites help prospects find information more easily.
- Community websites make your community visible online.
- Community websites give you full control over how you present your community to the world.
- Community websites help build trust with local business directories because they provide an obvious, authoritative citation to back-up your business listing.
Let's break those down a bit point-by-point.
Community websites help prospects find information more easily.
One of the unique demands consumers now have (thanks to the internet) is that they would have access to extensive, self-serve information about a business before they make a purchase or even speak to a sales rep. If you do not have a community website, it will be hard for prospective residents to find this information.
They'll hunt for it on community pages on corporate sites, ILS's, Craigslist posts, and so on, but they may or may not find what they need. Even if they do find all the information, it will still be a frustrating process because it will take far longer than it would if you had a single website that had all that information in one place. So don't frustrate your prospects; give them a website that makes information accessible and easy to find.
Community websites make your community visible online.
Most of us have become accustomed to being able to rely on Google to provide us with literally any piece of information we need. But that's not actually what it does. Google provides us with information according to the best of its ability based on what is available on crawlable websites. If the answer to your question doesn't exist on the internet, Google can't answer it. I've run into this problem when doing some soccer writing for side projects of mine.
We've become so accustomed to finding information when we want it that we just expect Google to know the answer to a question like "What was Tottenham Hotspur's record during the 1971-72 season?" But unless Wikipedia has that information somewhere, it's probably going to be very difficult to find online.
Something similar applies to apartment communities that do not have their own website and especially to communities who also do not have a page on a corporate website. Google will do the best it can to find the answer to a user's query, but if there are no obvious sites to pull to fulfill the user's request, then all they can do is provide the best possible results. And they will probably look something like this:
In the above example, there isn't a single community website for the property and so we have a bunch of links that all basically look the same and could be equally trustworthy. The only cue we have for what link to click is the order, and users will likely follow that, but the lack of information about the property means that none of the links may be all that helpful.
In contrast, when you have a community site in the results, it is easier for searchers to quickly identify what page they want and find the information they want.
Community websites give you full control over how you present your community to the world.
Another point to consider is what level of control you want to have over how your community is presented online. In the pre-digital era, you depended on newspaper classifieds sections and print guides to showcase your community. So the presentation possibilities were limited to what you could fit in three lines of text in a classifieds ad or whatever pre-defined template the print guide gave you to work with.
If you still outsource your marketing to an ILS, then you're basically in the same boat. You give them money, in exchange for which they give you access to varying levels of exposure and content on their domain. So it's a flat, "you give us money, we give you x" relationship. But in the digital era there is no reason to accept a relationship like that as being basically normal or inevitable. It is neither.
Thanks to the internet (and cheap hosting, domain names, and so on) you can build a website that presents your community exactly the way you want it presented. You don't need to be at the mercy of some other media company or something like Craigslist which will radically standardize the presentation of every apartment on their website. With your own community site, you can control how your community is seen.
Community websites help build trust with local business directories because they provide an obvious, authoritative citation to back-up your business listing.
This is a more technical point, but it's one to consider. Increasingly, it is common for various search engines to build their own local business directories within their own information ecosystems that they then display to search users like this:
Those clickable links—"Lo Sole Mio Ristorante" and "Dario's Brasserie"—are not going to take you to the websites for those restaurnts, but to their local listing data in Google. Here's how that relates to apartment SEO: Google wants to show those local listings to their users, but only if they are confident that those listings are trustworthy and authoritative.
To establish whether or not a listing is trustworthy, Google looks at a variety of factors. One of the main ones is "Does the data we have for this business in our listing match what is listed for this business elsewhere on the internet?" So they'll compare what is listed in your Google My Business listing with what is listed on other websites, listings services, etc. That said, they don't weigh all those various mentions of your community equally. If the listing on a corporate website for your community agrees with the Google data but a mention an old Geocities site does not... well, Google doesn't really care that much. Geocities isn't trustworthy; your corporate site is.
The most reliable citation, however, is going to come from a community website that is obviously controlled by the business. So if Google looks at the data in their Google listing and can compare it to data on a community website, that's ideal. And if the data Google has in their business listing matches what you have on your website, that gives Google more confidence that the local business listing is accurate and reliable, which makes them more apt to show it to their users.
So having a community website can have some strong indirect benefits when it comes to boosting your community's overall visibility online.
What about some of the other objections that small business owners have to creating their own business website?
Here are the most common explanations, besides "it's not needed," that small business owners gave for why they didn't have a website:
- Use of social media profiles in place of website
- Need for ongoing maintenance
- Lack of technical knowledge
Of the four, three of them kinda fit together—cost, need for ongoing maintenance, and a lack of technical knowledge. We'll talk about those collectively in a moment, but first we want to talk about the choice to use a Facebook page in place of a community website on a separate domain.
The main trouble with going this route is one we've already discussed above: You are severely limited in how you can present your community. You can only work within Facebook's default template system and there simply isn't much room for customization. You can't really create floorplan-specific landing pages, you can't use CTAs in the same way, you can't make all the information prospects need as easily accessible as it should be, etc. Facebook pages can be good, but you have to understand what they do and do not do well. And serving as a community website simply isn't their thing.
What about the cost and expertise required to maintain a website?
Turning to the issue of cost, maintenance, and a lack of technical knowledge, there are a few points to make.
First, be careful not to overestimate the cost. Yes, if you hire a web design firm to build you a custom website, that will be expensive. But you shouldn't own your website anyway, so that's a cost no community should be paying.
Second, following from that last point, you can find providers who will help you maintain a website for a smaller monthly fee. If you go that route and have a good vender, then you won't need to worry about the technical stuff because if the vendor is solid you should be getting security updates, SEO updates, etc. packaged with the monthly retainer you're paying.
Third, there are resources out there for making websites at a lower cost. Really all you need to maintain a website is a domain name where the site will live, servers to host the site, and, realistically, some kind of content management system to put content on the site. Here's the good news: Domains are cheap. Hosting is cheap. WordPress is free. Yes, there's a learning curve there, but even if you hire someone to just help with buying the domain, setting up hosting, and installing WordPress on the domain, that isn't that pricey. You still need some level of technical knowledge, which speaks to one of the other concerns, but it is possible to maintain a website relatively cheaply and without knowing a ton of technical programming lingo.
Fourth, you shouldn't think only about the cost of maintaining a website. You also need to think about the cost of not maintaining a website. How much do you lose in rent revenue because your occupancy is lower due to marketing problems? How much do you lose in unnecessary spending on other marketing sources that do not work as well? A good accounting of your expenses isn't going to focus only on the dollar cost of a website, but the many other things you are spending marketing dollars on and the potential loss in revenue due to inadequate marketing resources that do not generate enough leads or generate a high number of bad leads.
At this point the internet is old enough that most everyone in the USA is familiar with it and uses it somewhat regularly. There are conventions about how we use it, professionals who help us do things on it, and enormous business value to be taken from it. That said, it is still new enough that many businesses, and this is especially true in a more conservative industry like multifamily, are still figuring out how to harness this technology and use it to their advantage.