Digital advertisements are an essential component of a sound apartment marketing strategy. They help control demand, spend marketing dollars more efficiently, and can reach a specific target audience interested in your communities. This guide helps multifamily marketers and executives to understand digital advertising at a deeper level and is a great place to start for those looking to incorporate digital advertising into their apartment marketing plan.
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Does your marketing budget remain the same even though your apartment's occupancy constantly changes?
Do you only think about ramping up your marketing efforts after vacancies hit?
If you answered yes to these questions, you might feel like you're on a never-ending cycle of getting the same amount of leads, or unqualified leads, all the time and never feeling like you’re in a position to increase traffic when you really need it.
Don’t worry, you’re not alone! Most multifamily marketing strategies look this way. It's static, tiresome, and costly. But if you’re here, you’re on the path to a better marketing strategy that can actually deliver qualified traffic to your communities when they need it most.
Break out of the static marketing trap by implementing a comprehensive digital advertising strategy for your communities:
Digital ads will give you confidence in your apartment's marketing strategy again, as they are far and away the most effective lead generator.
But here's the truth: implementing digital ads, especially ones that produce results for the multifamily industry, is hard. Multifamily marketing, in general, is hard.
So, we wrote this guide to help you get started. Whether you're new to the game or a seasoned pro, our goal is to provide you with everything you need to know about deploying an effective and affordable apartment ad strategy specific to apartment communities' needs.
Throughout this guide, we’ll focus primarily on digital ads run on the Google Ads platform (which requires setting up a Google Ads account) and Meta (Facebook).
Let's jump in!
Digital advertising is a way for companies to promote their products or services by placing ads on different online channels like social media, websites, mobile applications, and search engines. These ads aim to reach and engage potential customers by incorporating various types of digital media, including text, images, and videos.
The main goal of digital ads is to promote brand awareness, drive traffic to a company's website, generate leads, and, ultimately, increase sales. Unlike expensive traditional advertising methods, digital ads allow for more precise targeting, which leads to higher conversion rates and better returns on investment.
If you’re still reading, you probably already know the powers of digital advertising. It enables multifamily marketers to reach renters interested in their apartments during critical moments of their online search. If you’re not convinced yet, read this before continuing with this how-to:
Why Every Apartment Community Should Use Digital AdsRead Now
If you want to tap into this power, you need to learn the science of running online apartment ads that achieve the successful outcomes of generating interest in your apartments, bringing traffic to your website, and capturing better leads for your leasing staff.
This section will help you understand the different types of ads and their specific purposes.
Search ads appear when someone enters a query using specific or relevant keywords that you bid for in Google. Say a prospective resident searches '1 bedroom apartments in <location>'. Google matches those terms to your apartments and places an advertisement with your website link at the top of the search engine results page (or SERP). These digital ads are also known as paid search or pay-per-click ads.
Search ads are specific to Google's Search Network. Their sole purpose is to increase visibility for you and your website through prominent placement at the top of the SERP.
Display advertisements are familiar to most Internet users. They're the ads that appear throughout one's browsing experience on pages outside of the search engine, otherwise known as Google's Display Network.
Display ads have many different appearances and placements, from banners at the top of web pages to inserts between paragraphs on a page. They can also feature varying forms of content, such as videos, motion graphics, images, or text.
Display ads for apartments vary greatly but should include essential information such as your name, location, and unique features or amenities that connect with your target audience, setting your community apart from the competition. Additionally, you should include high-quality photos or videos that appeal to prospective residents and create a favorable impression of your apartments.
Video advertising is the most compelling way content marketers can highlight their products, and there's little doubt about the effectiveness a video ad has for apartment communities. They create an appeal for apartment communities that prospects pay attention to and increase the likelihood they'll click on the video ad to explore more.
Most video ads are part of Google's Video Network, which includes YouTube. They are also very prominent for Meta (Facebook & Instagram) and other social media ad campaigns (more on those later). Video ads can vary in length, but usually, consumers prefer shorter ads.
Much thought is put into video ads because, while they can be expensive to produce, they have the potential to reach a large audience both by placement and consumption. Internet users spend an average of 100 minutes per day watching videos!
Investing a significant portion of your digital advertising strategy towards great video ads is a smart tactic for apartment marketers.
The next step towards effectively implementing digital ads in your apartment's marketing strategy is understanding the best methods for getting your ads in front of prospective residents.
One of the most effective methods to do this is by utilizing campaigns within your digital ads. Alternative set-ups often leave you paying for digital ads that don’t produce qualified traffic and don’t increase leasing velocity.
To organize your campaigns, we recommend grouping them into a strategic framework to ensure the right ads reach prospective residents at the right time. The strategic framework we recommend is the Awareness, Consideration, and Decision framework. This strategic framework aligns well with the typical prospective resident's apartment search:
When placed into the context of awareness-consideration-decision stages, an apartment marketing 'leasing funnel' emerges. Prospective residents at the beginning of their search are at the top of the funnel and work their way down towards the bottom, where they're most likely to convert from a lead to a lease.
In the next section, we will highlight the ad campaign types and platforms we recommend using to reach renters at every stage of their apartment search. We'll also dive into common mistakes made with digital ads and how to avoid them.
A defensive advertising campaign is an apartment marketing tactic that protects or defends keywords specific to your community's name or identity against competitors and ensures your property reaches the potential residents actively searching for it on Google. You must have defensive ads so your highly qualified prospects can access the information they seek. If they can do so, the chances that they ultimately sign a lease to rent an apartment grow exponentially.
Defensive advertising campaigns should also be a priority when beginning your digital ads strategy because they're typically associated with the bottom of the leasing funnel, where we know most lead conversions occur. That's why there's nothing more detrimental to your marketing and leasing efforts than when a competitor outbids you with your name or specific keywords in Google to take away your hard-earned leads because you weren't utilizing defensive campaigns.
It's common for competing properties in a shared marketplace to purposefully try to swipe prospects away from other communities by aggressively taking over their search engine presence. Say Property A is targeting the name of Property B, who isn't running defensive ads. When a prospect searches for Property B by name in Google, an ad for Property A appears at the top of the search engine results page. Not only does this create a negative impression of your community because you're not at the top of search results for your name, but it also makes it more likely that the prospect will seek more information about that other property instead.
Now, say Property A is targeting the name of Property B, who is running defensive campaigns. In this circumstance, the search engine's algorithms will know to show the ad for Property B when a prospect searches for it by name. Why? Google's business model relies on its advertising platform to serve users with the most relevant ads.
And here's the other bonus: defensive ads targeting your name and keywords specific to your apartments will always be very relevant to searchers actively looking for you. That means defensive campaigns are affordable to run year-round for every community.
Remarketing campaigns are a commonly used tactic by internet marketers that target digital display ads toward individuals who have already visited and taken action on their website.
We cannot understate the value of remarketing ad campaigns for apartment communities. Within every prospective resident's leasing journey, your apartments have a small amount of time to stand out and make a lasting impression, especially since numerous other properties may be available. Simply getting someone into the top of the funnel or aware of your apartments through a brief interaction with your website is no guarantee that they'll convert to a lease; you need to impact them in the middle of the funnel.
Remarketing ads have a significant psychological effect on potential residents. Each time they see a display or video ad with your community’s logo, colors, branding, or floorplan photo, they build a sense of familiarity with your apartments. After about five impressions, they’ll remember your apartments and develop trust in their interest in them. This phenomenon is known as the “Mere Exposure Effect.”
A well-designed remarketing campaign keeps your apartments at the top of customers' minds as they research other communities.
Whereas defensive campaigns target general, branded keyword search terms that protect your community's identity, offensive campaigns help capture more prospective residents by targeting more specific keywords in Google.
An example of an offensive campaign would be bidding for keywords on a search term like "1 bed apartments in northeast Lincoln, NE" or "apartments for rent near the University of Nebraska." Adding relevant, targeted keywords to your community, such as city district or geographic area, are extremely helpful for shoppers looking for an apartment in a specific part of your city.
You could include additional community-specific keywords like pet-friendly, pool, gym, one bedroom, and luxury (or you could target keywords relevant to competing properties nearby, which can be beneficial if they're not using defensive campaigns!). The possibilities here are endless; you must consider how someone may search online for an apartment community like yours.
Offensive campaigns allow you to hone in on specific keywords that expand your audience and capture more qualified leads at the top of the funnel. These terms should be more targeted and, therefore, less expensive.
Facebook has billions of active users, an audience that digital marketers must pay attention to. Its advertising platform is great for establishing a professional and reputable online presence for your apartments and, more impactfully, reaching prospects in the middle of the leasing funnel with remarketing ads.
A noteworthy benefit of a Meta campaign is their versatility in presentation and placement. The platform offers various ad templates, including photo and video content, that apartment marketers can use to display their communities on the Facebook News Feed, Messenger, or Instagram.
Meta campaigns, however, are broader because you cannot target a specific group of individuals that best fit your apartment community's ideal renter persona. The platform poses a few inherent challenges to the real estate/housing industries because Fair Housing Laws impact your ability to set your ads' audience. For example, you cannot target users on demographic information like gender, race, or age. But you can create an audience through geo-targeting methods (see next section).
That aside, we have observed some cases where the visitors to an individual community's website generated from a Meta ad were more engaged than visitors who originated from Google. It's proving to be a solid additional resource for improving visibility, increasing website traffic, and boosting lead generation.
Geo-targeting campaigns deliver digital ads to users in specific geographic locations. Advertisers can target specific regions, cities, zip codes, and neighborhoods to ensure that their products and services are most relevant.
Geo-targeting campaigns are certainly an effective tactic for apartment marketers. Still, there are some critical elements you need to know before you use them. To avoid violating Fair Housing Laws, you must avoid targeting zip codes and neighborhoods, as that automatically excludes potential prospective residents.
However, one potential use of a geo-targeting campaign is targeting a nearby employer or school from which you know most prospective residents could or are coming from. Keeping a healthy radius (3+ miles) around a particular location would be best to prevent your targeting from being too precise and exclusionary.
Bottom Line: If you want to drive leasing activity at prices you control, all while moving prospects quickly through the leasing funnel, then implement targeted offensive, remarketing, and defensive advertising campaigns on Google and Meta.
A common mistake we see apartment marketers make is assuming their apartment community is for everybody. Thus, they manage their digital ads like a major brand would. They spend, spend, and spend, thinking that impressions will result in more leads. This is false.
Think of the typical consumer of major brands for a second. You can imagine a scenario where a digital ad pops up for Pepsi, and they're thinking, 'Dang, I'm thirsty and could use one of those right now.' Buying a 12-pack of Pepsi will not break the bank, nor will it take much effort to influence the consumer to make that decision. Hence, Pepsi will do everything possible to put its product in front of buyers, including spending millions on digital ads, because they want to be the brand or product someone thinks of when they're thirsty.
Apartment marketers will never be able to replicate that same scenario for one reason: potential residents don't find apartments based on brand recognition. They are about to make an expensive, life-changing decision requiring them to weigh more significant factors like your location, rent prices, available floorplans, and any other need they have of an apartment community that they will live in for the next year or more.
Solution: It would be best if you didn't use digital ads to build your brand but instead put your community in front of the tiny audience of renters looking to move soon to an apartment in your part of town and in their price range.
Video: Maximizing Google Ads for Apartment Marketing
Now that you understand the different types of digital advertisements, their specific purposes, and how to target your apartment community's specific audience, the next step is to make sure your ads help you gain more leads and leases.
In this section, we'll focus on designing attractive display ads with helpful content necessary to drive clicks to your community website.
Let's not ignore the negative stigma associated with general display advertisements amongst Internet users. One study reported that 91% of respondents said digital display advertisements are more intrusive than ever. Some have even developed selective attention, or banner blindness, simply because they don't care for most of the display ads constantly interrupting their everyday browsing experience.
However, the reception of display ads for apartment communities is much more favorable because they're less widespread and invasive. In every case, individuals on the receiving end of an apartment display ad have either begun their apartment search or already expressed interest in that community. That's a good thing. That means that, more often than not, a display ad for your apartment community will be more impactful when it appears on a web page because it's relevant to that user.
So don't be fooled—display ads are a powerful marketing tool. But their content must be attractive and helpful, or the average Internet user ignores them. They will fail to prompt potential residents interested in your apartments to pursue the next steps of scheduling a tour or signing a lease. And you'll ultimately pay Google more to deploy those less impactful display ad campaigns.
Note: There are 20 different display ad sizes Google utilizes. Usually, the best practice for gaining visibility is to design an ad for each size format but that is a heavy amount of design work, especially if you have more than one apartment community.
In studying 23,000 of our clients' display ads, we found that apartment marketers only need to design seven or so display ad sizes to still achieve 90% of the results of having all 20. Doing only a third of the work for similar results sounds pretty good, right?
⬇️ Download our free whitepaper below to learn more about the best display ad sizes for apartment marketing. ⬇️
Whitepaper: The Best Display Ad Sizes For Apartment MarketersRead Now
Everyone wants their resident acquisition costs—or cost-per-lease—to stay as low as possible. You immediately know your apartment marketing strategy struggles when you pay too much to earn just one lease.
You need to actively measure the effectiveness of your ads to ensure you're paying to earn qualified leads and not useless website traffic. In this section, we'll help you do so clearly and concisely.
There are a lot of different metrics available to help you measure the success of your digital ads.
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Cost-per-click (CPC), bounce rate, time on site, and conversions are the four most common metrics that apartment marketers use to assess their digital ad performance.
Now, if you’re wondering whether one of these metrics is more valuable than the others, you're not alone. The truth is cost-per-click, bounce rate, time on site, and conversions are helpful, but none give a complete picture on their own.
For example, your ad campaigns may have a lower cost-per-click, but the prospects visiting your website stay on it for a short time or aren't converting to a lead. You're just getting 'junk traffic.'
Or the average time on site is relatively high, but every ad click costs you a fortune. Too many variables regarding each metric distort the true success of their performance.
At RentVision, we manage millions of dollars worth of digital advertising for our clients annually. When we first began running digital ads in 2011, we found it challenging to help our clients maximize their digital ads because each would value certain metrics over others. Even our team members had differing opinions.
This growing debate forced us to pause and ask one question: Is there a more straightforward way for apartment marketers to evaluate the effectiveness of digital ads? The answer resulted in us developing one objective metric to help us know that our clients were paying for ads that earned qualified leads and improved leasing.
Video: What Is Cost Per Minute?
Cost Per Minute is calculated by dividing the average cost-per-click from a campaign by the average time on site of that campaign.
In other words, if a campaign drives visitors to your website where they spend an average of two minutes and thirty seconds on the site, and your clicks cost you $1.00 each, the Cost Per Minute is $0.40.
The lower your Cost Per Minute, the more effective your campaign is. But why does this work?
Our research has shown that website visitors that ultimately convert to leads (and later leases) typically spend an average of three to five times longer on an apartment's website than those who don’t. In other words, people spending more time on your website are likelier to become a lead.
So, a lower Cost Per Minute indicates that your ads are cost-effective and drive visitors who spend more time on your website.
And because of that, you'll also have a lower bounce rate and get a lot more conversions.
The higher your Cost Per Minute, the less effective your campaign is. You're not targeting the right keywords or reaching your intended audience. Your display ads aren't appealing or don't drive people to click on them and go to your website. Or your website isn't very engaging because the bounce rate is high. Whatever the case, a higher Cost Per Minute will help you identify a problem with your ads or website.
Cost Per Minute is such a helpful measurement of a campaign's success. It paints a better and more descriptive picture by optimizing cost-per-click, time on site, bounce rate, and conversions. Using it as your go-to metric will enable you to cut through the mess of deciphering all those metrics individually and instead make better evaluations of your digital ads. It also allows you to reallocate your budget to the most effective campaigns.
Now that our clients prioritize the Cost Per Minute metric, our advising conversations are much more precise. Everyone can quickly evaluate each campaign's performance and reallocate their budgets toward their best-performing ads.
Here is the power of digital advertising for multifamily marketers:
The last bullet is the crux of this section. The amount of money you allocate toward your digital ads determines just how powerful you want their impact to be. Or, putting it another way—if digital ads drive needed traffic to your website, your ad budget is the gas pedal.
Let's say you currently have six units sitting vacant. The rental price of those units is $1,250, so each month those units are empty, you're losing $7,500 in revenue.
What is one way you could combat this problem? While this is a rudimentary multifamily economics scenario, when you're facing a higher number of vacancies, spending more on your digital ads would make sense because you need more traffic to fill those units.
Or, say your occupancy is strong, and you only have one or two units available. Why would you spend the same amount on digital ads as when you had six units available? It's better to decrease your spending and save money when you do not need additional traffic.
Your digital ad budget should be dynamic rather than static. Spend less when occupancy is high, and spend more when occupancy is low. Here are the critical steps to setting a dynamic budget:
The number of units in your apartment community is essential when determining a maximum and minimum budget for your ads. The more units you have across the property, the more you need to be willing to spend on digital ads because you will naturally need more web traffic to maintain a healthy occupancy.
Let's say you have 200 units at your property, and your turnover rate is 50%. Your goal is to rent 100 units annually to achieve maximum occupancy (obviously unrealistic, but the point remains). Suppose renting one of those units takes 100 visits to your website. In that case, you must attain 10,000 visits annually to your website to accomplish your goal.
Or if you have 400 units and need to rent 200 per year, that requires 20,000 visits to your website.
When you put it in such stark terms, the case for needing a mechanism in your marketing for pushing traffic to your website, like digital ads, becomes self-explanatory. They are your lifeline when things look bleak.
Different communities have different supply and demand, budgets, and renters.
C-class properties don’t need an astronomical digital advertising budget to reach their desired leads. We have seen communities of this type hit their occupancy goals by spending as little as $50/month on defensive-only campaigns in Google Ads.
In other cases—particularly with luxury communities—you must be willing to spend much more on Google Ads. We advise our clients marketing for luxury lease-ups to be ready to spend between $2,500–$5,000/month on digital ads.
Why the disparity? In a lease-up situation where you have many units to rent, we know that each day those units sit vacant costs you money. Filling up those units as fast as possible is critical, which is why you need to be able to run digital ad campaigns to get that necessary return on your investment.
The other reason an A-class property must maintain a higher ad budget is that its average rent price is also high. Therefore, the lost revenue from vacancy is much more significant. On top of that, competing A-class communities have large budgets and can spend just as much, if not more, on marketing. The digital advertising space has become highly competitive amongst luxury communities.
A-class properties also experience a longer buying cycle with prospective residents, requiring them to spend more time and money marketing to their target audience. We have noticed that people looking at luxury apartments begin their online search well before contacting a property. Those communities need digital ads that impact their target audience at every stage of the leasing funnel. That's why their budgets are significantly higher than B-class or C-class properties.
The table below shows the influence of unit count and property class on ad budgeting.
|Unit Count||A-Class Property||B-Class Property||C-Class Property|
This data comes from an internal report of apartments utilizing RentVision's predictive digital ads in March 2023. It shows communities' average high and low budgets as categorized by their unit count and property class. The budgets are combined for both Google and Meta campaigns. You can see that the minimum threshold for those combined ad budgets incrementally increases the more units you have, regardless of class. You can also see a clear distinction between budgets for A-class and C-class communities.
Setting an appropriate budget for your property type is the first step in adopting a dynamic strategy for allocating your marketing spend towards digital ads.
Every apartment community experiences changes in demand at different times throughout the year, commonly called seasonality.
For most apartment communities, the summer is the busiest time of year because people want to move when the weather is good. The slow season usually occurs in winter, when fewer people want to move due to weather, as well as it being in the middle of a school year.
The quickest way to see your seasonality is by reviewing the last 12-month period of organic traffic to your community's website in Google Analytics. (Here's how to set up an Analytics account.) In doing so, you will see visual evidence that clarifies months when demand is high vs. months when it isn't, helping you differentiate between your busy and slow seasons.
(Note: Seasonality patterns changed significantly over the last few years due to the COVID-19 pandemic. The previous 12 months of your community's data may drastically differ from a standard seasonality period. So, you could look at years pre-pandemic to get a more accurate assessment of the historical timing of changes in demand your community typically experienced.)
Why is knowing your seasonality helpful? It helps you define what you want to spend ahead of time during slow or busy months. This, again, is one of the most critical elements of digital advertising in general: you control your budget, and you can strategically change spending anytime.
Spending year-round for defensive and remarketing ad campaigns is feasible for most community's marketing budgets. However, when you need more traffic, you'll utilize more expensive campaigns like specific/offensive, requiring a higher budget.
So, you can be dynamic and set a maximum and minimum monthly budget for your ads. In months when you'll need more traffic to your website, you can spend more towards your maximum amount. Then in months when you don't need to drive as much traffic, you can shift down to your minimum spend (essentially just defensive and remarketing ads) and save money.
When deciding your ad budget, your average rent works similarly to your unit count. If you have a higher average rent, you'll need to be able to spend more on your ads.
Generally, communities with a high average rent are of the luxury class and reside in larger metro areas. Affording that lifestyle is costly and attractive to specific renter personas. As a result, we have noticed that prospective residents for these communities usually begin looking weeks ahead of making their decision. They are more thorough in their apartment search, completing multiple visits to a community's website before converting to a lead.
When the average time somebody needs to look at your website or build trust in your apartments is longer, you will have to spend more on your digital ads to keep your community relevant throughout that search. In this case, you'll also compete with properties with bigger marketing budgets.
Regardless of average rent, every community wants a great return on investment regarding digital ads. If you make it a priority to rent units faster, then you'll see a better ROI on ad spending.
We know you've got a competitive market and a limited amount to dedicate to spending on ads and that it's hard to stop doing what you've been doing for years. But dynamic apartment marketers know that a more visionary approach is to stop paying for sources that don't work toward generating leases and distribute that additional source of spending toward Digital Advertising instead.
To do this, you need to know where your marketing dollars are going and whether or not you're getting your desired ROI from them. It would help if you looked specifically at your resident acquisition costs and applied the Cost Per Minute metric for each marketing channel.
You can also track the lead-to-lease conversion rates of each one of your marketing sources. That should help you instantly know if a source isn't producing the desired results when either of those metrics is too high. The goal is to ensure you're spending your marketing budget resourcefully, using only the sources that generate the best results for leasing activity.
How To Track Lead-To-Lease Conversions—And Why It MattersRead Now
Marketing sources like Internet Listing Services are great at the top of the leasing funnel mentioned earlier; they make prospective residents aware of your community. But after studying 70,000 leases to attribute them to the marketing source each renter converted to a lead, there was clear evidence that even the most popular ILSs struggled to generate conversions.
Meanwhile, there was attributable evidence that Google Ads were effective during every stage of an individual prospect's search. Utilizing specific/offensive campaigns at the top, remarketing in the middle, and defensive at the bottom is the best set-up for moving prospective residents through the leasing process faster.
So if you're putting most of your marketing budget only towards sources at the top of the funnel, like ILSs, you will spend more to generate conversions.
ILSs have an impact, but a solid digital ads strategy will make you feel more comfortable downgrading some of your ILS packages or eliminating them.
After tracking both sources, one multifamily company went exclusively to Google to highlight its diverse profile of apartment communities and away from the ILS model.
To recap, here are the things you should consider when establishing a dynamic digital advertising budget for your apartments:
Need more help establishing your apartment's dynamic marketing budget? Download our free digital ad budgeting allocation tool below.
Download Google Sheet (make a copy)
Enter your community's yearly turnover rate, dynamic budget*, unit count, organic traffic by month from the previous year, and your expected monthly lease expirations for the upcoming year.
The budget allocation tool will automatically calculate your data to give you recommendations on total monthly marketing spend and combined daily spending for Google and Facebook ads.
(*Only input the amount of money in your marketing budget that can be dynamic. For example, you may have to pay a provider to host your community's website and other static marketing expenses that can't be changed or removed from your year-to-year costs. The number you enter into the 'Dynamic Marketing Budget' field in the tool should only be the amount of money you've freed up in your total marketing budget after eliminating underperforming sources.)
We know you don’t want to be determining ad budgets while simultaneously dealing with the stresses of peak leasing season or all the other details in your role. Wouldn't it be easier to remove the day-to-day guesswork and let your digital ads do the work themselves?
With RentVision's predictive digital advertising solution, that's possible.
Video: RentVision's Predictive Digital Ads for Apartments
Here's everything we know about how to be a great digital advertiser for apartment communities:
Everything we've explained is the same approach we use with our clients. We hope you can take something from our process and apply it to your apartment community's digital ads.