Originally published in 2019. Updated in 2022.
In the past, apartment marketers' most significant problem was a lack of data. You purchased advertisements in local newspapers and maybe a few print guides, and then all you would be able to do is track the number of leads, showings, and leases you had in a given month to know if those ads were effective or not.
Online marketing turned that problem on its head. Now we’re swimming in data—ironically creating a new problem. We don’t know what data we should look at, and that uncertainty can be costly when considering the expense of Internet Listing Services or how easy it is to spend money on Google Ads.
Google Ads campaigns, in particular, generate large amounts of data. You must be able to accurately read that data to know if your ads are producing qualified leads or wasting your precious marketing budget. In this blog, we'll help you understand the five essential Google Ad metrics to focus on to grasp how your campaigns perform and how to help you control costs.
Plus, at the end of this blog, you can access our free whitepaper "Earn More Leases And Save Money Using These 23 Apartment Marketing Metrics," which has more guidance about how to measure the performance of your apartment's ads.
Basic Principles of Google Ads
Ads that perform well on Google generally do two things:
First, the ad is well-written and links to a high-quality webpage that loads quickly, is well-designed, and is easy to use.
Second, the ad copy and landing page are relevant to the person entering the search term(s) on Google.
If your ads are well-written and link to high-quality pages pertinent to the searcher's needs, they should perform well on Google.
How will you know if they are performing well? Keep a close eye on these five metrics.
Click-Through Rate (CTR)
What is CTR?
The Click-Through Rate (CTR) is the ratio of users who click on a specific link to the number of total users who view a page, email, or advertisement. If ten users saw an ad link and two clicked on it, the CTR would be 20%.
It will tell you how relevant your ads are to Google’s users. If an ad looks like it will help address whatever problem or interest drove them to Google in the first place, you should see a higher CTR for that ad.
On the other hand, if there is a mismatch between your ad and Google’s users, that will also show up in the CTR.
How can I improve my CTR?
CTR is all about relevance. The searcher is on Google because they want to solve a problem or learn about an interest of theirs. If they think your ad will do that, they will click on it.
How do you prove your relevance to users? Be concrete and specific with your ad copy. An ad with generic copy blends in with everyone else’s ads. Also, highlight a specific benefit your ad offers.
For example, RentVision clients have floorplan-specific walkthrough video tours. You should tell people in your ad copy if you also have options for touring your apartments online. You can also use ad copy to highlight your specific amenities and offerings, as those things differentiate your apartments from other communities.
Here’s a particular sample of ad copy for an apartment community:
Watch Walkthrough Video Tours of Pet-Friendly Apts in (location)! See Photos & Pricing. Call Today.
Take A Video Tour Now. Pet-Friendly. Amenities: Swimming Pool, Gourmet Coffee Bar, Business Center, On-Site Laundry Facility, Fitness Center.
You reach a broader range of people by citing many amenities. By leading with “Watch Walkthrough Video Tours," you immediately list a considerable benefit for the user.
What is CPC?
Cost-per-click refers to the cost of an individual ad click.
One thing that makes Google Ads unique and distinguishes online advertising is you don't get charged for publishing the ad. Advertisers only get charged when their ad gets clicked on. So, you pay every time a user clicks on your ad instead of paying a single sum to post an ad on Google’s search pages. The amount you pay for each click is your CPC.
How can I improve CPC?
Two primary factors influence CPC:
- Your ad’s quality score
- The bids of other competitors for placement on that keyword
If you have consistently high-quality ads relevant to searchers, your CPC will be lower. Google wants to encourage its best advertisers to keep advertising because it makes them more money. They have an incentive to reward their best advertisers.
That's why Google places a quality score on every ad campaign so that it only shows ads most relevant to the searcher. You can improve your ads' quality score by ensuring that both the copy and the content of the webpages they direct users to contain what they want to find. If your ads aren't achieving higher quality scores, their campaigns become extremely expensive and, ultimately, diminish the return on your investment.
What are conversions?
“Conversions” refer to any instance where a user accesses your site via Google Ads and then takes the next step in the sales process. Typically, this will mean they call your leasing office to set up a showing. But sometimes, users may also reach out via email. That's why you will need to track both phone and email leads in your marketing software to get the best assessment of conversions.
How can I generate more conversions?
You need to improve the quality of your Google Ads to generate more leads for your community. But eventually, you will max out what you can get from a given keyword or ad spend. When that happens, it is time to increase your ad spend or begin targeting new keywords.
That said, the law of diminishing returns very much applies to Google Ads. Be careful about how you attempt to grow conversions. It is possible to max out the number of people you can affordably reach via Google Ads. When that happens, you must consider other platforms (like Facebook Ads) or be prepared to commit significant sums of money to Google Ads to become competitive on broader and more expensive keywords.
Time On Site
What is Time On Site?
Time On Site refers to how long the average Google Ads visitor spends on your community’s website. It's a good metric to show what traffic you attract from Google Ads. If the average time on site is fewer than 30 seconds, that could suggest a few things:
- Perhaps, your website is not engaging to users. You may need to improve the website by adding more engaging content (like video tours or pages dedicated to each floorplan) before putting more money into Google Ads.
- The searchers you are attracting through Google Ads may not be the best possible prospects for your community. They come to your website and, regardless of its design and performance, leave it immediately because they weren't ready to rent or looking for a community like yours.
How can I improve Time On Site?
If users are quickly leaving your website, it’s either because they easily found what they needed or couldn’t find what they needed and gave up.
Not all short visits are necessarily bad. If the prospect is a bad fit and is unlikely to sign a lease, then a short visit may be good—it suggests that your website helped them quickly realize that they weren’t going to lease with your community. Or a shorter visit could also indicate that they were a perfect fit, and they quickly called your leasing office.
That said, if you attract the correct prospects, you want them to stay around and browse through your website longer. The easiest way is via walkthrough video tours of each floorplan. With walkthrough video tours, you have a piece of content that is valuable to your website visitors. Because it is valuable, they will stick around on the site long enough to watch the video.
Other types of site improvements can also help. Improving marketing copy and adding high-quality photos will help, but the evidence is clear that walkthrough video tours are the best addition you can make to improve time on site.
We did an internal study in 2021 of the time on site for pages on RentVision community websites with and without walkthrough video tours. To see how much of a difference adding video tours had in time on site, download our ebook The Essential Guide To Apartment Video Tours.
Pages Per Session
What is Pages Per Session?
Typically, if a website visitor is interested in your website’s content, they’ll look at multiple pages on the site. Pages Per Session measures how many pages website visitors look at on average on your website before leaving.
Generally, we expect high page-per-session values to correlate with stronger marketing performance. If a prospect lands on your home page and then looks at a specific floorplan and the amenities page, that would suggest a more engaged website visitor than someone who looks at the home page and then exits.
How can I improve Pages Per Session?
Friction in web design refers to the relative difficulty a user faces online when attempting to perform a single task. Great web design reduces friction for the user.
One way to increase the average number of pages per session is by making it easy for prospects to move from one page to another. A well-designed navigation bar at the top of the page is helpful, as is a footer with links to main pages on the site.
To test how user-friendly your site is, consider asking a friend or family member if they’d look at the site and try some relatively basic things—find your phone number or address, watch a walkthrough video tour, find the pet policy, etc. If they can do all those things with minimal difficulty, it is often a great indicator that you have a well-designed site. If they have trouble finding that information, then it is likely that other site visitors are as well, and you could be losing out on valuable leads.
Bonus Metric: Cost Per Minute
What is Cost Per Minute?
Cost Per Minute is a metric we use at RentVision to quickly get a handle on the relationship between user engagement and ad spending—and it is the only digital ad metric an apartment marketer needs.
A high number of clicks doesn’t necessarily mean an ad is high-quality because the site visitors could be unqualified. If you generate 250 clicks from a campaign and none of them are qualified leads that ultimately sign a lease, you don’t get the highest return possible out of your digital advertising budget.
Likewise, a higher cost-per-click is not necessarily bad if the attracted users are well-qualified. Suppose you are spending $10/click, but a third of your clicks from that campaign turn into leases. In that case, a high cost-per-click isn’t necessarily a problem because you're gaining an excellent return on your investment.
Cost Per Minute captures both of these realities. It tells us how much we spend for each minute of a user's time on a website. It’s a relatively simple metric, but it gives valuable insight into the relationship between the cost of an ad and the quality of the traffic it generates.
How do I calculate Cost Per Minute?
The actual equation to determine Cost Per Minute is straightforward:
Cost-Per-Click / Avg. Time on Site = Cost Per Minute
When using this calculation on your digital ad campaigns, be sure that you measure time on site in total seconds.
Let’s consider three different ad campaigns and judge their performance by calculating their Cost Per Minute:
|Campaign||Clicks||Total Cost||Cost-Per-Click||Avg. Time On Site (Seconds)||Cost Per Minute|
The example above is interesting in that the ad campaign with the lowest Cost Per Minute had the highest cost-per-click and total cost! But those clicks generated visitors that stayed on the website the longest, which, as stated earlier, indicates strong marketing performance and, more specifically for apartment marketers, leasing success. Therefore, Campaign B has the best set of digital ads for this example apartment community, even though they're the most expensive from a total cost standpoint.
Cost Per Minute is not magic, but it measures the thing that matters most to apartment marketers. You should still monitor the other metrics described above to get a complete picture of your ads' performance, but if you need a quick way to assess the quality of the traffic you buy via Google Ads, Cost Per Minute is the way to go.
Google Ads is the simplest and best way to generate increased demand for your community. Often, particularly during high vacancy seasons, you will not be able to generate enough demand via ordinary seasonal demand alone. Using Google Ads to supplement the demand you naturally have due to seasonality, you can increase your overall demand and control vacancy, which also means controlling revenue.
As such, you need a clear understanding of their performance to know they're achieving what you need them to do.