Here's a simple exercise you can do to find out if your apartment community needs help with their apartment website SEO: Switch to private browsing/incognito mode on your web browser, go to Google and search for different branded keywords for your community.
So let's say you're Sudden Valley Apartments in Orange County CA.
You'll need to Google keywords like these to see how your community is performing:
- sudden valley apartments
- sudden valley apartments in orange county ca
- sudden valley apartments orange county
- sudden valley apartments california
- sudden valley apartments los angeles
- sudden valley apartments in los angeles ca
Look at the results, take note on what result is the top overall—paid search or organic—as well as where your own community site (or community page) is ranking in the organic listings.
The screen capture below identifies the type of data shown on each page: paid, organic, and local.
Why are branded keywords such a big deal?
Before we get into what you need to be doing with branded keywords, we should first establish why they're a big deal. You might reasonably think that you should be focusing on more general keywords—"apartments in orange county" or something like that. To understand why this is a bad strategy, let's switch over to another industry for a second. Imagine how you go about shopping for something online—let's say a pair of shoes.
Suppose you work for Famous Footwear and are trying to build up the store's presence on search engines. Which of the following two guys in our example are you going to care about more?
Prospect number one searches "mens shoes lincoln ne." What does that tell you about where he's at in the buying process? It tells you he's just begun to look around. He's not looking for a specific brand or even a specific type of shoe. You don't know if he wants tennis shoes, dress shoes, sandals, or something else entirely. You'd like to get in front of this guy, of course, but he's not a high priority because if he's after running shoes and you sell dress shoes then he is not a valuable lead for your business.
Now let's imagine our second guy just searched "famous footware hours." Based on that search, we know he's quite a bit further into the sales process because he's not searching for some really broad, general keyword but something incredibly specific. Not only that, we also know that he's specifically interested in buying from Famous Footware.
We have two different people searching, but only one you really need to worry about at this point.
In the first example, you don't necessarily care about showing up at the top of the search results. But in the second example you really care about showing up at the top. If the first guy buys from someone else, it doens't really matter that much because you may never have had a shot with him anyway. If he was looking for a locally owned shoe store, more of a boutique store, or something like that, he was never going to end up at Famous Footwear anyway.
But if the second person ends up buying elsewhere that's a missed opportunity for you. He wanted to know your hours, presumably so he could go to the store and buy shoes but somehow he ended up buying from someone else.
To sum up:
- General search terms generally come from the least qualified leads. Consequently, if you spend enormous amounts of time and energy in an attempt to rank highly on those terms, it could still be wasted because many of the people who will find you won't be qualified to buy from you anyway.
- Branded search terms, in contrast, always imply a higher level of interest in your company because of the simple fact that the person is specifically searching for your company. This is especially powerful in the multifamily industry as the vast majority of branded searches in our industry are going to be from prospective residents.
How do you optimize your website to rank well for branded search terms?
Ideally what you want to see is that the top overall result—whether it's paid or organic—is pointed toward your community. Nearly half of all search engine users cannot identify the ads at the top of the page (above the organic results) as ads. So even if you're winning the organic results if you have a competitor above you with an AdWords ad you are still losing a significant number of clicks to your website.
You'll also want to make sure that you have the top organic result. According to the latest data, the top result has a 29% click-through rate (CTR) on desktop search and a 25% CTR on mobile. When you factor in the 15% and 17% CTRs for the second result, that means on both desktop and mobile the top two organic search results have a CTR between 42 and 44%.
The good news is that if you have your own community website and you haven't done anything really really bad, like buy tons of shady backlinks or produce thousands of pages of thin content on your site, you're likely going to rank first for most of your branded keywords. If another community in another state has the same name as you then it's possible that you'll be behind them, but in most cases that won't be a big deal.
That said, most communities that do not have a community website are going to have a bigger problem. Community pages on corporate websites will sometimes rank well on search engines but most of the time they do not. We'll also see a lot of ILS listings ranking first for communities that do not have a community website, but this is actually a disaster for the community because the prospect who clicks that link doesn't just see the community they searched for by name, they also can easily navigate to all of that community's competitors while they're on the ILS.
Prospects who search for your community by name are your hottest leads. So before you do anything else with apartment website SEO, you want to focus on making sure that your community website is what people are finding when they search for you by name. This will require having an established presence on both paid search and organic search. It also means that you want the link a prospect clicks to find you to be a link to your community website, not an ILS.