Explainer: Google Ads for Apartments

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Google Ads is a digital advertising platform apartment marketers use to create awareness of their communities, drive website traffic, and generate qualified leads that are more likely to lease. 

Commonly associated with pay-per-click advertising (PPC), Google Ads allows you to highlight the best that your community offers with text or display campaigns reaching genuinely intersted prospective renters at crucial points in their online search process. 

But starting out in Google Ads for the first time, or specifically for multifamily marketing, is really difficult without first understanding some of the basics. Because without knowing those basics you may not be able to fully reap the game-changing rewards that Google Ads offer.

This post intends to provide apartment marketers with a brief introduction to Google Ads, how they work, and how they can significantly enhance leasing performance.

What is Google Ads?

Google monetizes its primary service, the Google search engine, by hosting and displaying relevant advertisements to platform users. Google Ads fall into two primary categories: text ads and display ads.

Text ads associated with the Google Search Network are shown exclusively on search engine result pages (commonly referred to as the 'SERP'). A majority of this explainer will focus on these types of ads.

Display ads—those banners, pop-ups, and videos users see throughout their online browsing experience—are a part of the Google Display Network, which includes millions of websites and YouTube.

Does Google Ads produce results for apartment marketers?

Applying guarantees with digital advertising is tricky because every platform is different, and marketers are responsible for establishing strategies that consistently produce positive outcomes. 

That said, there is a simple way to answer the question: Google made $238 billion in ad revenue in 2023. If Google Ads didn't work on some level, they would not produce that kind of revenue. The company makes it a priority that their platform is very effective for advertisers. 

As for that translating into success for apartment marketers, here's proof of the remarkable results Google Ads produced for one apartment community facing a vacancy crisis.

What does a successful Google Ads ad strategy for apartments look like?

Village West Apartments, a 200-plus unit community, officially opened its doors in December 2020. Only ten months later, Village West completed its critical lease-up and raised rents while only having one person on staff in the leasing office.

How? Along with owning an engaging website that featured walkthrough video tours and floorplan-specific content (allowing renters to see the inside of particular units before they were available), Village West also utilized RentVision's predictive digital advertising solution, which automates PPC ad campaigns and spending based on a community's unique Future Occupancy so that it gets the right amount of traffic at the right time to the website.

Together, renters could successfully tour and apply for a lease online without seeing the apartments in person; hence, Village West signed 206 leases in 281 days with just one leasing agent.

Village West ran both Google and Facebook PPC campaigns during those ten months, beginning with significantly higher daily ad budgets, standard for communities during their lease-up phase (the need for traffic generation is highest, so increased marketing investment is necessary).

RentVision's automation dialed down spending as less demand was necessary, but the key benefit of their ads wasn't just that they could change budgets instantaneously; it's that those ads afforded them an unrivaled ability to reach prospective residents, create awareness of the new community, and most importantly, drive traffic to its website than other apartment marketing platforms.

This was the combined results of both Village West's Google and Facebook ads:

Village West Apartments' PPC Ad Results
Google Facebook
Impressions: 454,704 Reach: 858,345
Clicks: 14,066 Clicks: 17,621
Total Cost: $8,386.51 Total Cost: $7,095.13
Average CPC: $0.60 Average CPC: $0.40

In total, the community invested just over $15,000 on PPC ads during its ever-critical lease-up, which is roughly $35,000 less than the average salary of a leasing agent. Village West consistently gained the right amount of highly qualified visitors to its website, leading to more engaged leads ready to rent an apartment—this is what a successful Google Ads strategy can do for multifamily properties (with or without the help of Facebook).

How does Google Ads work?

It starts with an interaction millions of Internet users are familiar with: a Google search. 

Google SERP 2022 example

Above is the SERP for the query 'apartments in seattle'. Note the small 'Ad' text to the left of each of the top four results on the page. Those signify that an individual or business is paying Google to be featured when a Google user searches for something related to their product. 

Google makes that Ad symbol subtle to counter the same effect that causes us to "not see" a billboard that we drive past every day on our way to work. Internet users see so many ads that they've become good at ignoring them. As such, Google Ads tries to make their ads look less like an ad and more like organically generated search results.

One may assume that Google gives higher placement to advertisers who spend the most money. At first, that might make sense, but that is not how Ads work.

Google Ads would inevitably become dominated by giant corporations that can afford large advertising budgets if the best placement went to the highest bidders.

The trouble with that is two-fold:

  • If small businesses can't win top placement on Ads, they'd eventually abandon the platform.
  • Users will lose interest in Ads over time because they're more focused on creating awareness for name brands and less on giving users the best search results. 

In other words, a straight auction model would reduce advertisers' competition, drive down ads' costs, and lose trust amongst Google's users—a deadly trio for Google's top revenue stream.

To ensure that only ads most relevant to each searcher's query appear, Google invented a metric called "Quality Score." Google looks at the relevance to the keywords an ad is targeting, website user experience, and expected Click-Through-Rate (CTR) to assign a Quality Score to each ad. Google then runs a simple calculation determining which ads rank best for an individual user's search.

Maximum bid * Quality Score = AdRank

The ad with the highest AdRank will get top placement. Note how heavily the formula skews things to favor relevant ads. Google is very interested in ensuring that relevant ads outperform ads with enormous bids because relevant ads are more likely to be clicked. Understanding how this part of Google Ads works is HUGE, as advertisers pay for every click on their ad rather than a lump sum or bid. The more an ad is clicked, the more money Google makes, so they have the incentive to show the best ads. The graphic below further illustrates how Google Ads' business model prevents only the highest bidders from getting their ads placed first.

Google Ads business model

(Source: Wordstream)

In the graphic above, Advertiser IV bid a maximum of $8/per click for a search term, while Advertiser I bid $2/per click. Despite the lesser bid, Google determined Advertiser I's ads to have a higher Quality Score because it was deemed more relevant by various signals. Hence, they achieved a higher Ad Rank. 

An ad's cost-per-click factors both Quality Score and Ad Rank using this formula:

Ad Rank of the ad below your ad / Your ad's Quality Score + $0.01 = Your cost-per-click

Advertiser I's cost-per-click was $1.61, while Advertiser IV's was $8. By Google's standards, Advertiser I's ads will appear more often and, therefore, generate a higher rate of clicks than Advertiser IV's ads at a lower cost-per-click. That is an ideal scenario for any marketer!

How do I budget for my apartments' Google Ads?

Unlike other static marketing tools, which can lock you into long-term contracts that level out the number of leads you receive each month (regardless of your community's occupancy), there are no fixed costs to Google Ads.

Still, you need to be smart about setting your Google Ad budgets. You want to make it possible to dynamically change spending according to your community's unique supply and demand to save money when your occupancy is strong.

Begin by asking yourself these five critical questions before establishing your PPC budget:

  1. What kind of apartment property do you have? A-class communities must be willing to spend more because prospective residents have a longer leasing cycle than a C-class property. 
  2. How many units do you have in your apartment community? The more units you have, the more you must spend  because that creates a greater need for website traffic (demand) to sustain higher occupancy.
  3. What is your community's average rent price? Apartments with high average rent need to spend more  because a) they likely are a luxury community, b) the digital marketplace for higher-end communities is more competitive in gaining prospective residents' attention, and c) they accumulate more lost rent than other communities when units are vacant.
  4. What's the most you can spend on Google Ads each month? Every apartment experiences unique seasonality (busy and slow leasing periods) annually, so you'll need flexibility in your marketing budget for months when spending more on ads is required to generate higher demand. Can you determine the maximum amount you can spend in those circumstances? 
  5. Can you eliminate other marketing sources to free up your marketing budget? Spending most of your marketing budget on Google Ads is a better investment than portioning it toward underperforming lead generation sources that aren't resulting in leases. By using a performance metric like lead-to-lease conversions to assess the effectiveness of each source, you can feel more confident about cutting other marketing channels.

Need more help budgeting for Google Ads and other PPC platforms? Read our PPC ad budget guide here. In it, you can download a free tool that helps you set a budget that fits your community's unique needs. 

How does Google determine when my apartment community's ads appear?

As we've previously stated, Ads in Google Ads are based on the keywords or search terms used by Google's human users.

Suppose an apartment community in Lee's Summit, Missouri, bids on an ad for the search term "apartments in Lee's Summit." That decision complicates things for several reasons.

First, those highly competitive keywords are more expensive and harder to rank for, considering that there may be 100 other apartment communities that also want their ads to appear.

Second, keywords for similar Google searches vary in many different ways. Suppose an apartment community in Albuquerque, New Mexico, is attempting to reach an audience of users actively shopping for apartments locally. Even in a minor metro with no other notable cities sharing the name, there is much ambiguity around the search terms that ultimately affect their placement and cost. Let's examine the search frequency of related keywords someone searching for apartments in Albuquerque may use.

Keyword Average Monthly Searches
apartments in albuquerque 2,900
apartments in albuquerque nm 1,900
albuquerque apartments for rent 880
apartments for rent albuquerque 3,600
apartments for rent in albuquerque 1,000

*Semrush data

Those keywords are a minuscule sample of the variation of terms someone looking for an apartment complex in Albuquerque could use. Semrush found 939 keyword variations for the search term "apartments in albuquerque", accumulating 18,900 average searches per month.

Given all the variations in how people search, Google relies on advertisers by asking them in advance when they'd prefer their ads to appear. Do they want their ads to appear when someone enters a search that includes selected words, like "apartments" and "albuquerque?" Or do they only want their ads to appear on specified searches such as "studio apartments in albuquerque, nm?" Google refers to these as "match types," and there are four match types advertisers can select when setting up their ads:

Broad Match
We use broad matches because Google does an excellent job matching relevant search terms and keywords in our client's ads. By selecting broad match, advertisers tell Google it's okay for one of their ads to appear anytime someone enters a search that includes one of their targeted keywords. Historically, the fear was if advertisers selected broad match on ads targeting the keywords "apartments in seattle," that their ad would appear when someone searched "hotels in seattle." Thankfully, Google's machine learning algorithms prevent those types of occurrences.

Phrase Match
Advertisers designate the phrase in a search term for Google to trigger their ad. It tells Google to match the phrase "apartments in seattle," meaning an ad may appear when someone searches "apartments in seattle" but not "apartments for rent in seattle."

Exact Match
Ads only trigger when someone searches for the exact keyword phrase or grouping an advertiser has chosen. Note that Google has introduced some automated features in exact match ads that could cause them to appear on searches with typos or other similar situations. 

Various match types allow advertisers to decide when they want their ads to appear, making Google Ads one of the more unique and effective advertising platforms.

How should apartment marketers use Google Ads?

Google Ads is fundamentally different from other traditional mass-messaging forms of advertising.

The trouble is that many apartment marketers look at Google Ads and mentally equate the SERP on a keyword like "apartments in seattle" to a billboard on the side of a busy stretch of interstate. It costs a ton of money to earn top placement on a search term like that consistently—certainly more than a billboard.

A better strategy is using Google Ads to target only keywords relevant or specific to an apartment community. They are relatively low-hanging fruit that provides apartment marketers real value at a fraction of the cost of other highly competitive, high-frequency search terms.

Start with targeting keywords of just the community's name. Setting up an ad to appear when someone searches for a specific community by name in Google will accomplish four things:

  1. That community will take up a larger share of the SERP, which means it is harder for people to find links to web properties that don't point to that specific property. The SERP example below perfectly illustrates this. The top organic result points to the Brookside Apartments at Fallbrook's website. The ad at the top of the page does as well. Plus, the business listing on the right is for Brookside. They dominate the entire page.


  1. Pairing a high organic search placement with a high paid search placement increases the likelihood that users will click one of the two search results.
  2. And here's the best part: An ad pointing to the website for "Brookside Apartments At Fallbrook" is highly relevant to someone searching for 'brookside apartments' on Google. So, the ad's Quality Score will be very high, which makes the cost of the ad very low. When utilized correctly, Google Ads allows apartment marketers to generate highly qualified website traffic at the lowest possible price. 

Targeting community-specific keywords, like its name, is called a "defensive campaign." It defends that community's identity and makes it virtually impossible for competitors to create ads targeting those keywords.

What other keywords should I target for my apartment community?

We'd recommend using tools such as Google's Keyword Planner (free), Google Search Console (free), or SEMRush (free-ish) to help you identify the keywords you should target for your apartments.

Starting there will help you see what exactly renters are searching for when your apartment community gets prominently featured on the search engine results page. 

Taking this step before setting up your Google Ads campaigns is key because you can identify 'negative' keywords—ones that are not at all relevant to your apartment community (or an apartment search in general), and either label those keywords as ones you want Google to purposefully avoid having an ad for your apartment community display or know to eliminate from your keyword marketing strategy entirely.

Secondly, you can then also identify the keywords you know are fruitful, which are the ones that are extremely relevant to your community—which, as we said, is where you want to start.

Select the right 'qualifier' keywords to boost your apartment's Google Ads.

Once you've targeted specific keywords of your apartments, the next step is to target keywords that prospective renters typically enter when they are searching for a community like yours. We call these keywords 'qualifiers', in that they serve to help your apartments get top placement in searches where the results could've applied to multiple apartment communities.

Qualifyer keywords you should focus on in your targeting strategy are:

  • Location (ex. 'in/near downtown')
  • Price (ex. '$1,200/month')
  • Bed / Bath Count (ex. '2 bed / 2 bath')
  • Policies (ex. 'pet-friendly')
  • Property Type (ex. 'apartments'...Don't say 'condominiums'!)
  • Property Class (ex. 'A class')
  • Move-in Date (ex. 'Two months'...Don't say 'Now Leasing'; you're always leasing!)
  • Property Descriptors (ex. 'modern')
  • Amenities (ex. 'big gym')

The more qualifiers you have in your targeted keywords, the more valuable they are! Prioritizing high-volume search keywords with the right qualifiers relevant to your apartment community will significantly boost your Google Ads' performance.

Are there other features in Google Ads that apartment marketers can use to help their ads stand out?

There are! All ads use the same basic ad design template. Still, within that template, there is room for customization, primarily thanks to a feature called ad extensions.

Ad extensions are additional features that can be attached to an ad that allow you to bring in more information or graphic components to the ad. Extensions can let you do a variety of things:

  • Add online review information.
  • Add location information.
  • Add a phone number. (On mobile devices, it will function as a push-to-call button that allows Google users to call your leasing office directly from the search result page.)
  • Add additional links to pages on your site, such as the floorplans pages, amenities page, or contact page.

Google recently added image extensions to ads, which is even more beneficial to apartment marketers for highlighting their communities' exteriors, units, and amenities. 

Pro tip: extensions also function as a tie-breaker in the event of a tie on AdRank. In that case, if one ad uses extensions and one does not, the one that uses extensions will likely be placed higher.

Conclusion: Should apartment marketers use Google Ads? Yes!

Google Ads are an essential tool for apartment marketers. They put you in control of your communities' visibility in search engines and can help you create a competitive advantage by displaying search, video, and image ads that capture prospective residents' interest and attention during each stage of their apartment search process. 

Additionally, Google Ad campaigns are dynamic. You can use them to generate demand at the right time for your communities and safely dial down your spending when your occupancy is stable. They and other PPC advertisements are the only multifamily marketing source that allows you to make adjustments alongside the frequent changes to your communities' seasonality. 

Ultimately, a great Google Ads strategy for your apartments helps sustain your occupancy year-round. You can get the right qualified visitors to your website precisely when needed, and then save money when you don't.

Continued reading on digital advertising for apartments

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