We're going to dive into the search marketing weeds a bit today, but it's an important topic so it's worth taking the time to understand.
When you set up your apartment community website, one of the first things you need to do is select a domain. Normally when we think of choosing a domain, we think about one specific part of the domain: the text that usually is found between "www." and ".com".
Suppose you are Main Street Apartments and are located in Grand Island, NE. So in this case we will be thinking about the difference between, for instance, mainstapts.com, mainstreetgi.com, mainstreetapartments.com, and so on. This is certainly an important part of setting up your website. It's so important that we have written a lengthy article on how to do it.
That said, it is not the only part of the web address where your website lives. There are actually seven components to it. It's helpful to understand each of them in order to better understand how your website actually works.
Let's take last week's blog post as an example: This is the string of text you would put into your browser to access last week's blog post:
If you were accessing the blog post via an email that linked to it or via social media, then you would likely see something like:
That entire string of text is often referred to as the URL, which stands for "uniform resource locator." As we said above, the URL is the string of text you enter into your browser in order to access that page. If you think of the URL as the home address and the content as the page as the family that lives in the house, you're on the right track.
The Components of a URL
Here are the seven distinct pieces that make up the URL:
- Protocol: "https://" You will also see "http://" or even sometimes "FTP" as the protocol in a URL. In almost all cases when accessing normal web content, you'll see "http" or "https." The difference between the two is that the former is used on non-secure sites while the latter is used on secure sites. We have written at greater length on secure websites elsewhere on the blog.
- Host: "www.rentvision.com" The host is the string of text that is between the protocol and the path. Often when we tell people how to access our website, what we're telling them is the host: "Just go to www.mainstreetapts.com and you can see our community site."
- Subdomain: "www" The subdomain is the text appearing before the domain name. Most often, it will be "www" but in other cases you might see websites that use a different subdomain. For example, some websites put their blog on a subdomain. So to access the blog you might type in "blog.rentvision.com". There is debate about the relative benefits and costs of using sub-domains in this way and getting into that would take us too far afield. If you want to learn more, start with this Whiteboard Friday video about subdomains and sub-directories.
- Domain Name: "rentping.com" This is what many of us think of when we think of the URL for a site.
- Top-Level-Domain: ".com" This is the extension that you type at the end of the domain name. There are a number of different top-level-domains (TLDs) available for use these days. Traditionally, you only really saw ".com," ".org," ".gov," and maybe the stray ".co.uk". These days, however, there are all kinds of options, including ".apartments"!
- Path: "/apartment-marketing-ideas-blog/user-experience" This is the specific file that the user is going to access, which is found on the domain. In simple terms, web pages are just HTML files uploaded to a server that "live" on a given domain. The path, then, is the string of characters you enter to access the file.
- Parameter and value: "?utm_medium=email&_hsenc=p2ANqtz" The parameter and value help webmasters to track user behavior by identifying things such as the place the website visitor is coming from, whether it be email, Facebook, Twitter, or something else.
Today we want to talk about number five, the top-level-domain. We want to discuss this because there's a difficult tension here. On the one hand, some are beginning to use new TLDs that theoretically will tell people more about their site, help search engines categorize the site more accurately, and give them more options for what their domain name will be.
In theory, this is a great plan. After all, we've had .org as a TLD for non-profits for a long time and .gov as a TLD for government sites for a similarly long time. We're also used to seeing .edu used for schools and universities. Why not extend that logic to other industries? We could use .biz for businesses, .apartments for apartment communities, .bank for banks, and so on. If you were an apartment community, your domain name could be mainstreet.apartments. That's super easy, right?
There's actually enough interest in this idea that there are now almost 1000 different TLDs in existence with the potential for more to come.
Should your community use ".apartments" for your website?
Unfortunately, there is one notable problem here: human users. Whenever you're thinking about a new innovation in tech, you're dealing with two groups: Group 1 is "people who think this new thing will be great and everyone should try it." Group 2 is "people who don't see the need for change and will be very slow to adopt."
For domains, Group 1 wants to try new domain extensions. They think it will make the web easier to use. Group 2 sees the new domains and says "I've never heard of these. Can I trust them?" and often their answer is "I don't think I can."
When it comes to these domain issues, Group 2 is much larger than Group 1. In fact, according to one study, 70.5% of respondents said they trust common TLDs like ".com" and ".co.uk" more than alternatives.
This means that generally speaking, it is still prudent to use a ".com" domain. It is possible that may change in the future, but for now it is seen as being more reputable than other TLDs, such as ".biz," or ".apartments."
How do TLDs affect SEO?
There are two answers to that question. First, if you're talking about them having a direct affect because Google looks at them and judges sites based on the domain, then the answer is "they don't affect SEO at all." Here is an official post from Google saying they treat all TLDs basically the same.
That said, here's the other answer. We said above that human users trust older, established TLDs more than they do new ones. This user bias is going to likely impact user behavior on search engines and on the website. TLDs impact SEO to whatever extent users actually treat a .biz site differently than they do a .com site.
- If users don't click sites with .apartments URLs on the search result page, that affects SEO.
- If they bounce quickly because they think they're on a spammy site, then that would affect SEO.
- If they see the site URL elsewhere and do not click because the URL looks questionable, even that can affect SEO in that it is missing out on a user who could interact positively with your site, increasing the site's trustworthiness in Google's eyes.
How to Think About New Tech in Multifamily
We'll say more about this in a future post, but this whole discussion is based on one key idea: Adopting new tech simply for the sake of adopting new tech is unwise. The new top-level domains described above are totally fine. There is nothing inherently spammy about them. But for many users, there is a negative association with websites that aren't ".com" or ".org" or something similarly old. So while there isn't anything wrong in itself with adopting this new tech, if you adopt it just because it's new and cool, then you are making a mistake.
You should adopt new tech because it actually helps your business in a real, measurable way. If it will lease more apartments, it's worth considering. In the case of a top-level domain, the main thing you're concerned about is whether or not the switch would affect the experience of apartment shoppers on your site. "Will this make my site better for apartment shoppers?" is the key question. Generally speaking, the answer (for now) is "probably not because people don't trust these domains yet." But if that shifts, then the answer may change.
The big idea is that you should always be evaluating tech decisions on the basis of its business impact. If it will help you lease more apartments, it's worth looking into. If it won't, then you don't need to worry about it.