Most of the time when we talk about search marketing at RentVision, we talk about "search visibility" rather than "search rankings." In this brief post we want to take the time to explain why search visibility is a better way of thinking about SEO and search marketing more generally.
To be sure, this might seem like a nit picky thing to talk about at first, but hopefully as you read our argument you'll understand better why we think the distinction is important.
Just so we're clear, here's how we're defining those terms:
- "Search rankings" refers to where your website ranks in Google's organic search rankings.
- "Search visibility" refers to how visible a business or other entity is on Google across all the different search features Google now includes—organic search, paid search, local listings, knowledge graph, product listing ads, image carousels, etc.
"Search rankings" used to be a good term. It's just badly outdated.
When search-based marketing first was a thing in the late 90s and early 2000s, the search result page was just a bunch of blue links that looked a bit like this:
As a result, your rankings in organic search were basically the only factor to consider. If your website ranked highly there, people would find you. If it didn't, they wouldn't.
In that case, it made sense to think about search rankings because they were the primary factor determining how many clicks your website would get. The top two search results alone would typically get 55-60% of all the clicks on a given search term, so if you weren't ranking in the top two you were missing out in a big way.
That said, the days of organic search being the dominant element on search result pages are long gone. These days we have tons of additional search elements that can take up space on the results page:
- Paid Search Advertisements
- Local Business Listings
- Knowledge Graph Entries
- Answer Boxes
- Featured Snippets
- Related Search Results
- Image Carousels
- News Results
All these different types of search results (and many others as well) will now appear on search result pages. Many of them will also appear right at the top of the page.
For example, if you search for an apartment community by name these days, you'll get a result that looks like this:
As you can see, the search page now has a lot of other elements on it that push the organic results further down the page. There is an ad at the top of the page. There is a business listing on the right.
There are also sitelinks under the top organic search result. The result is that the second and third organic results, which in the past were prominent and attracted ~30% of all clicks is now pushed all the way to the bottom where it's one of the last things you notice on the page.
Multifamily is actually one of the better places for the traditional ten blue links SERP.
For most local business SERPs, there are a lot of different features that pop up on the search result page. If you look at hotels, for example, the organic results are totally invisible above the fold:
In the above, you can see there are ads at the top of the SERP and then local business results below that. Organic search results are nowhere to be found.
On other search results that may have local intent the results are even more eclectic:
Here you can see we have an ad, knowledge graph data on the right, organic search results, and then local listings below the organic results. So, in one sense, organic is more visible here. That's good!
In another, it's competing with even more SERP features for the user's attention. That's...
With apartment listings, the situation isn't quite so bleak. On most general multifamily keywords, the organic blue links are still most prominent.
But the overall direction of Google is quite clear: They're trying to monetize as much of the search results page as they possibly can. And more monetization means less exposure for organic search links.
Why does any of this matter for multifamily marketers?
The big issue here is that search rankings are great if high search rankings equals higher traffic to your website. But as we see from the above, that is increasingly not the case because organic listings are being marginalized by the other new search features Google is introducing.
Since these new features either already are monetized by Google or can easily be monetized, it makes sense that these listings will continue to become more prominent while the traditional organic blue links will diminish. For that reason, higher ranking in organic search may not have as significant an impact on site traffic as it did three or five years ago.
How do you prioritize search visibility rather than simple search rankings?
Here we have some good news: Prioritizing search visibility on Google isn't actually that complicated. We don't need to worry about things like product listing ads in multifamily. At the moment we don't even need to worry about local rankings since Google doesn't display local search results for broader apartment queries.
There are really only two things you need to worry about to maximize your visibility across Google more generally:
Remember these three principles for Ads success.
If you keep these three points in mind with Ads, you'll have the basic foundations laid for long-term marketing success:
- Set up defensive campaigns to protect your brand name.
- Use negative keywords to exclude users who are not relevant to your community.
- Pay close attention to your ad spend and daily budget in the early days of your campaigns so that you can better hone and focus your marketing campaigns and avoid waste.
Remember these three principles for Google My Business success.
If you remember these three principles with Google My Business, you should benefit from the many ways Google integrates their local listings into their broader suite of software applications.
- Verify your listing to make sure Google knows who the owner of the listing is.
- Carefully review all the data listed for your community—name, address, phone number, and website especially.
- Upload high-quality floorplan and community photos to the listing.
Thinking about search visibility requires a shift in the categories you use for thinking about search marketing. It also requires adjusting your priorities a little bit. But the rewards are considerable. A more versatile, agile marketing presence that works across Google's entire platform means better leads and more efficient marketing.