Explainer: Google AdWords Defensive Campaigns for Apartment Communities

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Most of the time when people talk about marketing in our industry they are thinking in offensive terms. They want to find the next shiny penny that will help them reach new prospects, increase lead count, and increase occupancy—all with the goal of being able to increase rent rates and increase revenue. Thus they end up moving desperately from tool to tool, looking for the one thing that will finally get them in front of all those people who should know about them... but don't.

What is seldom talked about, however, is that apartment marketing is never just one simple marketing trick that solves all your problems. It's always a lot of little things working together to produce really good results.

You don't need more home runs. You need better pitching, fewer errors, smarter base-running, consistent hitting, and all the other little intangibles that go into creating a winning team.

Why Defensive Apartment Marketing Matters

Here is the problem that we see again and again and again as we talk with apartment communities: They want to improve their marketing, but they assume that improving their marketing means a better offensive game plan. They want to bring more and more people in through their front door through an ad campaign with wider reach, or by doing something that will go viral, or by increasing the number of likes that they have on Facebook or Instagram.

But let's look at this from a different angle: Maybe the problem isn't that you need new ways of reaching prospects. Maybe it is that you aren't getting the most out of the marketing channels you're already using.

People are already using Google to search for apartments. Are they finding you there?

The best thing you can do to improve your marketing right now is simple: open up a private browser window (so as to prevent Google from using your own personal browsing history as a ranking factor when returning search results), search your community by name, and see what pops up.

What you want to see is a search result page where your community website is the top organic result, there's a large local listing on the right side of the page, and an ad pointing to your community site right there on top of it all.

Unfortunately, many communities do not dominate branded search terms (search terms that include a brand in the term) in this way. In a worst-case scenario, there's no local listing, the top organic result is to some other site—probably a listing service—and there is either no ad up top or, again, an ad pointing to some other site.

That said, even if your community has the local listing on the right and the top organic result, there is enormous benefit from also advertising on the page. Here is why: When a website only has the top ad or only has the top organic result on a page, that website will receive around 5-6% of all clicks from that search result page. But when a website has the top ad and the top organic result, the site receives 56% of all clicks from that search page!

In other words, you'll increase the number of clicks to your site tenfold if you can have the top ad and top organic result on the page–and there is no search term where that is easier to do than a branded term where your community's name is literally in the search field.

That said, there is an even better reason you should advertise on your own brand: The people searching for you by name are your absolute best leads. Why is that? Well, if they are searching for you by name we automatically know two things about them: First, that they are aware you exist. (That's good!) Second, that they are interested in you enough to search you on Google. Compare that person to someone typing in "apartments in Chicago." Which one is more likely to sign a lease? If you can increase the number of clicks you get from that group of people ten fold by setting up some (very cheap) defensive campaigns on AdWords, why wouldn't you do that?

Are there other benefits to defensive apartment marketing besides protecting your branded keywords?

So at this point, hopefully you're sold: The most basic thing many communities can do to improve their marketing is not to come up with new tactics to generate a larger number of leads.

Rather, it is to take more immediate steps to manage and control their own branded keywords on search engines so that when people search for your community by name they find you. Are there any other benefits to using this strategy?

Defensive advertising helps crowd out competitor ads.

Competitor ads come in two different shapes:

  • There are ILS advertisements meant to drive traffic to online listing services and, by extension, your competitors.
  • Second, there are advertisements run by competitor communities that are targeting your community by name in an effort to steal your hard-earned leads.

For example, look at the example screen capture below:


In this case, the community has the top organic result and top local result, but it is pushed well down the page due to the competitor ads showing up above the organic listings. In fact, all you can see below the ads is that a local result is the next result, but you cannot even tell what specific business that local result is pointing to. 

Not only that, one of those competitor ads is running with a push-to-call button. When someone searches for this community by name on mobile, the easiest thing for a person to do on the resulting search page is call a competitor.

One important note here: Sometimes ILS's will pitch their clients a plan where the client pays some kind of extra fee for a better marketing package that will include this kind of branded keyword advertising strategy. This is the thing you need to check before you sign on for something like that: Are you paying the vendor extra money to send traffic to a listing page on their ILS, from which it is extremely easy for visitors to navigate to other communities, or are they sending traffic to your community-specific website? If the answer is the former rather than the latter, you should think very carefully about that before signing on for such a plan.

Anyway, back to the main argument here: By using defensive advertising, you can crowd out those competitor AdWords ads:


Defensive advertising makes it easier to dominate the entire search result page.

This point is closely related to the one made above. When you crowd out your competitors on the search result page, you are also by definition taking up a larger share of that space for yourself.

Ideally, when a person searches for you by name, they should be directed in multiple places to web properties that you own and control. AdWords and organic search should be pointing them toward your site while the local listing on the right side of the SERP directs them to call your community. You want something that looks like this:


If you look at that result, you can see that the top result in the blue paid search section is an ad to the community website. The grey local result is the community's local listing. And in the orange organic listings you can see that the community has the top organic result.

What this means is that the community dominates the search result page and will attract most of the clicks and user interest on this page.

Defensive advertising will improve your quality score on all of your AdWords advertisements.

To fully understand how this works, you'll need to just read our AdWords eBook. But we can give a basic sketch of it here: AdWords placement on a given search result page is calculated using a fairly simple formula:

Maximum Bid x Quality Score = AdRank.

The quality score is a metric Google assigns to an ad based on a variety of different factors—relevance, landing page, ad copy, etc. Accounts that have a higher quality score can then get away with bidding less to win top placement and will not spend as much on clicks.

Let's illustrate that point with an easy hypothetical:

  • Advertiser A has a max bid of $2 and quality score of 10. Their AdRank is, therefore, 20. (2x10)
  • Advertiser B has a max bid of $4 and a quality score of 4. Their AdRank is 16. (4x4)
  • Advertiser C has a max bid of $6 and a quality score of 2. Their AdRank is 12. (6x2)
  • Advertiser C has a max bid of $8 and a quality score of 1. Their AdRank is 8. (8x1)

In the above scenario, Advertiser A has by far the lowest maximum bid but they are also going to be the highest placed ad on the SERP. Why? Because their quality score is so superior to their competitors.

There's more too: Google determines the cost of a single click using the following formula: AdRank of the ad directly behind you / your quality score + $.01.

Therefore in our example above, the cost per click for Advertiser A is 16/10 + $.01. (16 is Advertiser B's AdRank. 10 is Advertiser A's quality score.) So their cost per click is $1.61. And again, the numbers are surprising as you work down the table. Advertiser B's cost per click is going to be $3.01 (12/4 + .01). Advertiser C will spend $4.01 for a click, etc. (These numbers are taken from WordStreams's absolutely fantastic AdWords infographic that you must check out if you want to understand the basics of AdWords.)

High quality scores, therefore, not only mean that you can win top placement with smaller bids, they also mean that your clicks will be less expensive which keeps your overall ad spend down.

What does all this have to do with defensive campaigns? We're glad you asked.

First, defensive campaigns have very high clickthrough rates, comparatively speaking. If someone is looking for Mountain Brook Apartments, they are very likely to click on the ad that will take them to the Mountain Brook Apartments website.

Additionally, Google recognizes the absolute relevance of defensive campaign ads. If someone is searching for your community, the most relevant thing in the world would be an ad directing the Google user to your community’s website. So, with sky-high relevance and extraordinary clickthrough rates, your Quality Scores for defensive campaigns are typically 10/10. And, since your Quality Scores are for defensive campaigns are high, defensive campaign clicks are dirt cheap.

But here’s the kicker: High clickthrough rates on defensive campaigns help raise Quality Scores across all your campaigns. Google says it right on their website:

Every time someone does a search that triggers your ad, we calculate a Quality Score. To calculate this Quality Score, we look at a number of different things related to your account. By improving the following factors you can help improve your Quality Score:

Your account history: The overall CTR of all the ads and keywords in your account

So, by mixing in an unusually high CTR (clickthrough rate) campaign with defensive marketing, you raise your Quality Score across your account.


So, what happens when you search for your community by name (with city/state) on Google? Are you defending your territory, or is the backdoor as wide as your front door? Do you really need more offensive marketing, or do you actually need to focus on your defense?


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