What is SEO for Apartments?
Search Engine Optimization (SEO) for apartments refers to how multifamily marketers improve their communities' presence and visibility in search engine results.
SEO is enormously complex to implement, complicated by the different industry rules and processes to achieve higher visibility in search engines. It's hard to know what works and what doesn't or even how to begin improving SEO. It's often outsourced to a marketing vendor to help with or neglected entirely.
Yet SEO's purpose is critical as you aim to have your apartment websites claim the top paid, organic, and local search results in Google—the ideal method for generating awareness and authority for your communities and, more importantly, driving traffic to your websites.
Our post aims to give an overview of apartment SEO and how it affects your communities' marketing strategy. We hope you can gain some actionable takeaways for improving your apartments' online visibility in Google searches.
Why does Google treat Apartment SEO differently from other SEO practices?
The rules of apartment SEO are not the same as those of hotel SEO, local restaurant SEO, or other types of industry-specific SEO. At first glance, this might seem like an annoying or unnecessary complication on behalf of Google. But Google's top objective is to serve its users with the most relevant search results. The intent behind someone's search impacts what the search engine will show them.
Say someone searches the weather on Google; answering that query will look very different from searching for a dessert recipe.
In the former case, there is only one correct answer—the weather is the weather. There is nothing to gain, for example, by providing users with many choices for information if they want the weather. Just show them the weather report for their area on the search engine results page (or SERP) and be done with it, is how Google's algorithm sees it.
On the other hand, if someone searches for a blackberry crumble recipe, they might want to see several different recipes and decide which one looks best based on their unique situation. In that case, therefore, Google (rightly) assumes the searcher is seeking something more like this:
These are relatively simple examples where the intent of the searcher is obvious.
Now, say someone searches "Taco Bell." They probably want to get information about a Taco Bell store's location to get food there. But they may also look for social media accounts or information about the company.
In that case, the intent behind such a search could be clearer (at least from the search engine's perspective). So Google tries to pack more data into the SERP to reflect the uncertainty around this particular search term:
Essentially, serving a searcher's needs requires search engines to create different experiences for their users based on the intent of their search.
Because different searches have different needs, it opens up search engines to monetize various searches differently. Google's top revenue generator, in particular, is its advertising platform.
Google Ads drastically impact online visibility, so it's more appropriately categorized as a tactic of search engine marketing (or SEM). Advertisers bid on keywords so that their products or services achieve maximum visibility in targeted search results where it's clear that the searcher intends to make a transaction (which renting an apartment falls under in that the end result involves a 'purchase' of some kind).
While SEM and SEO work hand-in-hand with increasing visibility of and driving traffic to your website from search engines, one shouldn't supersede the other in informing your apartment's marketing strategy. SEM offers immediacy in achieving top search engine visibility. At the same time, SEO takes more time and effort (especially with your apartment websites) to bear fruit with higher organic rankings in search results.
So while this may seem like a rather broad explanation of the nuances of SEO practices, the most important takeaway, at least to multifamily marketers, is that search intent affects what Google shows on its SERP.
A classic example of how search intent affects apartment SEO is when someone enters a search term that includes 'apartments in 'x' city'. Though it's a broad search (not identifying one particular community or community feature), the search engine's algorithms can clearly identify the searcher intends to rent an apartment.
See the example below for the generic search 'apartments in lincoln, ne.' The three listings on the SERP are 'Sponsored,' paid ads because Google believes that's what the user expects (and, in turn, monetizes from it).
SEM is influential in searches with obvious transactional intent. But suppose you're solely going to rely on paying for search ads to optimize visibility in Google, especially on broad search terms like 'apartments for rent in (city name).' In that case, you will spend a lot of money hoping to generate leads inclined to rent one of your apartments. Instead, you'll likely deal with lower qualified leads who are less likely to rent your specific apartments and burden both your leasing agents and your communities' revenue.
The best results come by combining the power of SEM with SEO so your apartments stand out to prospective residents online, especially when they search in Google for your communities by name directly or apartments like yours. Some basic rules exist to achieve the ideal search engine visibility for the apartment industry.
What are the basic rules for apartment SEO?
To answer the question, let's look at the two types of search result pages you'll see when doing apartment-related searches on Google.
Branded keywords for apartment communities and how it affects SEO
Branded keywords are varying search terms that directly apply to your apartment community's name, location, amenities, or features but can also apply to communities like yours.
When someone searches for your community by name in Google, it is imperative that your apartments—and only your apartments—are prominently featured on the SERP. It is the most precious real estate (no pun intended) you can claim digitally.
This first SERP is what a prospective resident expects to see when searching for a community by name:
In this case, three main features stand out on the SERP:
- Paid Search Ad at the top of the page (Google Ads, SEM)
- Local Business Listing at the right of the page (Google Business Profile)
- Organic Search Listing at the top of the page (SEO)
A good apartment SEO strategy is thus going to ask, "How can we win in all three result types when someone searches for us by name?"
The answer will include things such as the following:
- Setting up a community-specific website instead of having a community page on a corporate website which may or may not rank well for the community's name.
- Ensure the website loads promptly, is easy to use, and has relevant, high-quality content that helps users make informed decisions during the leasing process. Apartment websites built with SEO top of mind are structured to enhance the user experience while making the website's content easy for a search engine to understand. This is the most critical and least understood element of SEO. Still, it's necessary if you want your website to rank high organically in Google. Here's a more comprehensive guide about how to design an SEO-friendly website.
- Claiming your apartment's Google Business Profile, verifying it, updating all the information to ensure accuracy, and posting photos with the listing.
- Running defensive campaigns on Google Ads to protect the community's brand and placement at the top of the search result page.
If there's any takeaway to this, your apartment's SEO strategy must place those search results as the top objective. While there are technical SEO components (your website) that impact online visibility, much of the basics, like using Google Ads and setting up a Google Business Profile, are achievable and just as meaningful.
Why general apartment queries are less significant for ranking your apartment's website
Let's reanalyze and focus on those generic apartment searches mentioned in the last section. If you recall, the SERP for those searches—like 'apartments in los angeles', for example—appears differently than a search including an apartments' branded keywords.
The top links on the SERP for that generic search all point to an ad for an Internet Listing Service. We know Google monetizes this search because someone intends to rent an apartment, a transactional action. Yet, with these kinds of result pages, there is little for an SEO strategy to address.
The simple fact is that individual community pages seldom rank ahead of listing services on these general search terms (especially for apartment searches in large metro areas).
Likewise, your local listing isn't going to show up because Google doesn't provide local results on these pages, even though they do on equivalent result pages in other industries.
Finally, targeting those generic keywords in your Google Ads strategy will not be an excellent option for two reasons. First, they're costly, and second, you'd also be competing against the industry's largest ILSs, who strategically target those terms in their Ads strategy with budgets much higher than any single apartment community's.
Reducing visibility on these generic apartment search terms is not necessarily a huge problem.
Prospects searching with a term like 'apartments in los angeles' are in a very early phase of the leasing process. This is the broadest possible search term a person could use when searching for an apartment in Los Angeles. Only a tiny percentage of people searching that term will be a good fit for a single apartment community.
It's also worth noting that apartment communities have a hard cap on how many units to rent. If you have 200 units, you can only sell 200 products and no more. Expanding online visibility or reach is not necessarily desirable for apartment communities; you have a limited product selling toward an even smaller audience.
Greater reach does not allow you to sell more products. It might allow you to increase demand which can increase rent rates, but there are better ways to increase demand than simply casting a wide net.
You can increase demand more effectively by ensuring everyone who can plausibly rent from you is aware of you. Getting in front of as many of your actual prospective renters as possible is much better than simply getting in front of as many people as possible.
So, don't look at SEO as the missing puzzle piece to achieving maximum online visibility. Look at SEO as a necessary, helpful method for increasing the visibility and authority of your apartments for prospective residents looking for them online.
Why is it important to invest in apartment SEO?
If it still needs clarification, apartment SEO is complicated and impacts your most visible marketing channels. While much of SEO prioritizes the visibility and discoverability of your apartments in online searches, there is also an aspect that focuses on the user experience, design, and structure of your community websites.
Ultimately, it's about serving your prospects with the best apartment leasing experience —from the moment they first discover you in an online search to the interactions they make on your community website to the day they sign their lease. A great apartment SEO strategy is necessary and impactful throughout.
Can I do apartment SEO on my own?
You can control your apartment's SEO strategy by implementing a great digital ad strategy and owning a Google Business Profile. Doing those things are beneficial toward creating visibility for your apartments in the paid and local sections of the SERP.
But some parts of SEO—namely, the website—are tricky. Most apartment marketers won't know how to code or design their community websites.
That's why we recommend utilizing multifamily marketing agencies who are more experienced in the nuances of SEO, especially on the website creation side.
What are the most important tools and components for apartment SEO?
Here are some essential tools/components to focus on as you implement and measure the performance of your apartment SEO strategy:
1. Keyword research tools
To improve search visibility, you can see what phrases or keywords prospective residents search for when looking for apartments like yours in your location (other than the keywords directly relating to your community's brand). The best keyword research tools are:
2. Website optimization
As stated, this SEO part is complex yet critical for organic rankings. It would help if you started with Google's PageSpeed Insights report to diagnose your apartment website's SEO optimization. It measures crucial facets of website SEO, including mobile and desktop performance, load times, descriptive URLs, and more.
3. Local SEO
Yeah, you'll need a Google Business Profile, pronto. It only takes up a significant portion of the SERP. Not a big deal :) While we're on local SEO, we cannot neglect the importance of ongoing maintenance of your business listing—especially regarding online reviews and their impact on prospective residents during their apartment search. Here's more insight into the importance of online reputation management for apartments.
4. High-quality content
Content vitally impacts website SEO. In the case of apartments, you need to provide information on your website that helps prospective residents build trust and take the next step in their leasing journey. And as you're 'selling' a place people will live in, you need to prioritize photos and videos that show the inside of the place they may live. It also helps to organize your visual content on pages specific to each floorplan, making it even easier for prospects to find the correct information they're looking for—all of which helps your website's SEO.
5. Site speed optimization
Ensure that the photos and videos on your community website are correctly sized for site speed optimization—wrong formatting can slow your website and hurt user experience, a critical SEO ranking factor for Google. Other technical SEO aspects for site speed optimization include unnecessary HTML scripts and slow hosting servers.
6. Mobile responsive website design
Google favors mobile-friendly websites. User experience must stay the same between devices. For apartment marketing, it's even more critical as most prospective residents can now perform their apartment search entirely on their phones. Like proper site speed optimization, ensuring your website is mobile responsive is beyond the purview of most apartment marketing professionals; so again, it is best to utilize vendors who specialize in multifamily websites from a mobile-first mentality.
7. Google Analytics 4
Connect your website to Google Analytics 4 (here's a quick explainer guide and tutorial) so that you can actively measure performance and engagement and ensure visitors' user experience matches expectations. Doing so can provide some context into your apartment's SEO strategy.
Budgeting for SEO for your apartment community
Some important advice regarding budgeting for SEO is to not look at it as a bolt-on solution to fixing your apartment's marketing problems. Usually, there are much bigger issues at play regarding your website and online visibility that simply hiring an outside SEO vendor would fix. You need a comprehensive strategy before investing in SEO—and investing is the key word here because improving SEO is a long-term play. It takes a lot of time for the fruits of SEO to come together.
You should conduct an apartment SEO audit to determine if it's problematic. The key is that most marketing budgets are limited, and SEO can be an expensive overhaul (often, it's hard to know the upfront cost). But if you have other marketing problems impacting leasing capability, it would be best to portion your budget appropriately instead of adding an SEO partner.
Suppose an SEO audit diagnoses a viable issue, whether it be technical, website SEO items, keyword targeting, or the content on your website. In that case, you can make a strategic plan and be more prudent as you research various vendors to help with your apartment SEO.
How is apartment SEO changing in 2023?
Let's first begin by highlighting the elements of apartment SEO that will stay the same now and going forward. User experience, local SEO, high-quality content, and website SEO—all things we've already discussed in detail—still very much matter. And don't forget about Google Ads. Owning the top paid, local, and organic listing on the SERP is still the ideal outcome for any apartment SEO strategy, so prioritize those things first.
But there are two interesting trends in the SEO world for apartment marketers to pay attention to: voice search optimization and E-A-T (Expertise, Authoritativeness, and Trustworthiness).
Voice Search Optimization
More internet users rely on voice queries (think Apple's Siri, or Amazon's Alexa), so you may need to adapt your SEO strategy to optimize for them. This may involve focusing on long-tail keywords in your apartment's targeting strategy. A long-tail keyword is a phrase that is 3+ words and generally more specific than other search phrases. For example, if you target a long-tail keyword phrase like 'pet-friendly apartments in lincoln', a voice search optimized target of that keyword phrase could be 'which apartments in lincoln allow dogs?'. Usually, a voice search is conducted with a question.
E-A-T, short for expertise, authoritativeness, and trustworthiness, are important factors built into Google's search algorithm.
You can instill expertise with a great website with helpful, relevant information and high-quality content, especially the compelling visual medium showing your apartments, units, and amenities. Google can quickly identify your website is for a particular apartment community and all of the relative information alongside it (your floorplans, your location, etc.).
You can instill authoritativeness by making your website easily discoverable, accessible, and usable online. When someone intentionally tries to find more information about your apartments online, you establish instant authority when you've achieved the top paid, organic, and local search listing.
You can instill trustworthiness by maintaining a positive online reputation and showcasing renter testimonials in your apartment's marketing messaging.
By prioritizing E-A-T, you can gain tangible SEO benefits for your apartment community.
Apartment SEO is complex. You may need help in some aspects, especially with your website. Make it a priority to present information about your apartment community with a discoverable, user-friendly, and mobile-responsive website. But there are other aspects you can control, like Google Ads and Google Business Profile implementation.
The main goal of any apartment SEO strategy is to be highly visible on the paid, organic, and local search sections of Google's search engine results page. When you've achieved this, you're building credibility and authority for your apartments and making prospective residents feel confident about renting from you.