Initially published in 2018. Updated in 2022.
Apartment marketers commonly rely on online platforms they have no ownership over. Whether it's an Internet Listing Service, social network, or even a search engine like Google, external platforms make it harder for them to control how prospective residents discover and learn about their communities.
These external platforms only support your apartment's digital marketing presence with help from your advertising budget. That's ok if it's part of your marketing strategy, but it will force you to verify those platforms' performances with lease tracking software to ensure you're spending your dollars effectively.
You must also accept that, someday, those external platforms may no longer exist or change so dramatically that it doesn't make sense to keep paying for them. Writer Austin Kleon alludes to this and suggests that it's more important, as he puts it, to "own your turf."
Owning your turf, from an apartment marketing perspective, means establishing (and prioritizing) your community website. It will always be the best platform because you have the most control over the content you place there, making it the lowest-risk, highest-reward marketing investment you can make.
In this blog, we'll discuss how you should approach using external platforms in your apartment's digital marketing strategy, and the importance of prioritizing your community website.
What can apartment marketers control on external digital marketing platforms?
Let's start by defining the digital marketing platforms you cannot completely control and how you should consider your apartment's relationship to them.
Internet Listing Services
Internet Listing Services (ILS) have been around for years, but slowly they are shifting toward becoming a multifamily industry dinosaur.
Indeed, if you wish to advertise your apartments on an ILS, you can. You'll still reach an audience of some size, though that audience is shrinking. Truthfully, such a marketing investment is not as promising as it has been traditionally. It'll buy you a mostly indistinguishable placement next to all your competitors. So, you should think very carefully before investing money in ILSs, as you cannot control the quality of the leads generated from them. Essentially, you pay and then pray that your ILS investment results in leases.
Search Engines (Google)
While search engines are external platforms, many things in your control can affect their performance.
It's essential to view any brand-related search terms (which mention your community by name) as an extension of your website. They are there to promote your property as much as your actual website is.
The example below shows an excellent example of what you can control as an apartment marketer with Google when someone is looking directly for your community.
The area in blue is a paid advertisement link to your community's website, and it appears only when you're running Google Pay-Per-Click (PCC) Ad campaigns that defend your community's name (to accomplish this, you need to build apartment PPC campaigns into your apartment marketing strategy).
The section in green, commonly recognized as the 'local' search result, links a Google Business Profile to the search query. Google Business Profile is free and gives you an extreme amount of control on your apartment community's search engine visibility. You can post updated photos and highly relevant information such as your community's location, phone number, and most importantly, website link. Utilizing this real estate on the search engine results page establishes legitimate authority for your apartments in the eyes of prospective residents.
The section in red is the organic link to your website, which appears because the search engine can clearly understand that it's the most relevant result for the search query. This is where things can be tricky because you're not guaranteed to achieve a high organic ranking if you have a poor website that's not optimized for search engines. If you're relying solely on achieving high organic rankings, you must have an effective apartment SEO strategy in place. But to truly own your apartment’s digital marketing turf, you need to invest in apartment PPC campaigns, an apartment SEO strategy, and a community website designed specifically for apartment marketing.
Making sure that your apartment community achieves the top paid, organic, and local links is highly beneficial. It connects your most qualified leads from Google searches directly to your website. Once they are on your site, you can have even greater control over what they see and move them down the sales funnel in the best way for you.
Apartment marketers need to utilize the tools available to help secure prominent placement in search results to maintain control of Google. Neglecting those things makes it harder for prospective residents interested in your specific community to find your website or get the most precise information they need to pursue renting from you. They may only see your community in the ILS 'maze' or on other websites, which can negatively impact your community performance.
Social Media Networks
Social media networks live somewhere between search engines and ILSs. ILSs you can abandon without consequence in many cases. Search engines you cannot escape in any circumstance we can imagine.
Social networks sit between these two poles.
To begin, the real value of social media in the multifamily industry is not through building a page with many fans, followers, or "likes." In every case, the problem you're going to run into with this strategy is two-fold:
- First, it is not immediately clear why someone would be interested in the multifamily industry, such that they would "like" a bunch of random community pages on Facebook. So you probably will only get a few followers, regardless of how much work you put toward doing so.
- Second, many social networks are taking the "organic reach" of brand posts down to zero, so even if you get 1000 fans, most of them will never see any of the content you post.
The real value of social media is the ability to use additional advertising dollars, when needed, after you lock down the brand-based search pages on Google. We recommend only using social media PPC ads when you need excessive traffic to counter vacancies.
What about a community website gives apartment marketers greater control?
Your community website is your best digital leasing agent, and you have the most significant control over its content. So, what exactly should that content be?
To answer that question, consider what leasing agents do for your community. Those are the primary things your website should do, too.
To begin, leasing agents handle phone calls from interested prospects. So your website should encourage people to call your community and schedule a leasing tour.
Leasing agents also give tours, of course, so your website should use video tours to give prospects an online viewing of the unit from the comfort of their homes.
Finally, leasing agents answer questions about the community regarding rent rates, pet policies, amenities, availability, and more. The best website design for an apartment community should provide people with that information.
RentVision's community websites convert visitors to leads with beautiful visual content focused on each floorplan, and are designed with apartment SEO, mobile responsiveness, and website accessibility top of mind. Learn more >>>
To be sure, you can also have other features on your website. An online rent payment system is helpful for many residents, as is an online maintenance request feature. So, by all means, include those things. Remember that the primary purpose of your website is to drive traffic to your community with the goal of leasing apartments.
Most people will primarily access the internet through search engines, social media, and other online platforms. You must stay on some borrowed platforms as you build an online marketing presence for your apartment community. However, you should do as much as possible to emphasize your website and drive people to it rather than build your marketing house on borrowed turf.