Steering Your SEO Strategy to Outperform the Competition

Implementing an ongoing, coordinated and comprehensive plan will help your community stand out from the competition.

In multifamily marketing, visibility is everything, so how you develop your SEO strategy can make a big difference in the efficiency of your marketing plan. Multifamily marketers need to regularly test, monitor and supplement their SEO tactics to ensure that they are consistently driving traffic to their website pages. The starting point for an SEO strategy is research—analyzing what your audience is searching for and using that to deliver exactly what potential renters are looking for.

“The purpose of SEO is to make your property website easier to find for online searches, targeting unpaid, organic traffic, resulting in more qualified website traffic and leases,” explained Billy Wilkinson, CEO of Threshold Agency. Once you know what your potential renters are searching for, use that to your advantage. In addition to neighborhood-specific searches, you should also take into account the modifiers that prospects may use in their search. These include phrases such as “cheap apartments” or “cool loft apartments,” said Mike Whaling, founder & president of digital marketing agency 30 Lines.

In summer 2021, Catalyst launched a digital marketing campaign for The Harper, a new Franklin, Tenn., community. SEO-specific milestones from the campaign included 2,897 new users to the website through organic search, 86 contact-form submissions and 66 phone calls. Image courtesy of Catalyst Marketing

Ranking High on SERPs

The goal is to have a high ranking on search engine results pages (SERPs). From there, your site can receive quality traffic that will most likely convert to a lease application. “If you’re not on the first page, you’re not getting any attention,” said Tim McCormack, vice president of media and analytics at Bigeye Agency. “Most clicks go to the first three listings in organic results.”

There are multiple ways you can rank for a search. Text, images, videos and map results all help drive your ranking, as long as you optimize them. For example, your images should always include alt tags, and your content should have a metadescription, while you could include a city guide with relevant keywords on your map pages.

In search results, individual properties are competing with listing websites. One way to rank higher is by optimizing in areas where the apartment listing websites don’t perform strongly, such as focused queries for a specific type of apartment. “Studio near me” or “Two-bedroom near me,” are good examples of focused queries from prospects who are close to making a decision, according to McCormack. “You have a better chance of breaking through because their search is more defined.”

The keyword roadmap

In the world of keywords, short-tail keywords are generally three words or less and have a high search volume and higher traffic, but these queries are broad, which means that not all traffic will be high quality. Long-tail keywords, on the other hand, are more specific, so they earn your website more targeted traffic. Although the volume of visitors will be lower, visitors will spend more time on your website, because you’re delivering results that are more relevant to their focused search.

Using Google trends can help you identify the keywords and phrases that are the most searched for, but this isn’t the only research you should be doing, because search engines regularly change the way they index websites. According to the REACH by RentCafe e-book, SEO: 4 Reasons You Can’t Just Set It & Forget It, “Good SEO means continually monitoring your website to make sure it complies with constantly changing rules.”

Best practices

Because SEO is an ongoing initiative, multifamily marketers must regularly track and monitor search volume and trends to make sure properties stay relevant. Catalyst uses a detailed dashboard to measure user behavior and changes in search rankings. Image courtesy of Catalyst

Not all content is created equally, and ultimately you need to highlight what’s most applicable to your community. According to Christy McFerren, president of Catalyst Marketing, “going after words that have high relevance and less competition have a better chance of ranking,” McFerren said clients are often looking to establish a baseline of traffic, and she recommends creating new content around secondary keywords. “When keyword optimizing, start with your home page, content headings and top-level pages, such as a floorplans,” she said.

While a broader selection of terms will cast a wide net, it’s helpful to identify which terms you should zero in on for on-page SEO. An older community, for example, may have queries for the specific property name, but a new or rebranded property won’t have that, so your particular property needs will determine drive where you start.

A comprehensive SEO strategy can also help your community compete with nearby properties. Any distinctive aspect of your property—such as floorplans or unique amenities or programming—should be part of your strategy, noted Gretchen Walker, agency manager central with Reach by RentCafe. “If some of your apartments have fireplaces, but your competitors don’t, that’s an opportunity to jump on that for website optimization,” she said.

Page loading time can also hurt your SEO performance. In multifamily especially, most websites are designed with rolling images or videos of apartment interiors and community amenities. These are usually prominently displayed on the landing page and can slow page loading. “You can still have those big images, but make sure they are the right formats and are being loaded in a page-speed-friendly way,” McCormack said.

Keeping it local

SEO metrics to track and analyze include organic sessions and organic leads, metrics that directly impact your cost per lead and click-through rates. Image courtesy of 30 Lines

It is important to regularly monitor your page performance to see where you stand, according to the REACH by RentCafe ebook. On-page SEO boosts visibility to improve your organic search ranking, but with local SEO, you can pivot your focus based on consumer behavior. Language that describes neighborhoods can change, and areas can become popular. “You have an opportunity to rank for that if your content is a good fit,” said Whaling.

McCormack recommends creating content around the key parts of your neighborhood, which, he said, is great for search engines, because they can supply more localized results. Marketers will often update existing website content as well as add new pages to get search volume for specific queries. “Every page on your website is an opportunity to be discovered,” Whaling said. The more pages that are an exact match for users, the more likely you are to show up for searches with specific topics or tastes. Blogs and deep dive pieces are a good way to create website content that might be more commonly searched for in certain markets.

You can also create dedicated pages for really specific queries. For example, The Collective apartments in Washington, D.C., has a page dedicated for “DC Apartments with Peloton,” which helps that property rank higher for that search. Companies are also mirroring the format of apartment listing websites and listing all their communities in a neighborhood or city on one page on their corporate website instead of on separate ones. “If you are a company that has 10 properties in Denver, it really doesn’t make sense to try and have all 10 of those properties competing for ‘Denver apartments,’” said Whaling.

The important thing for marketers to keep in mind is that SEO not a one-and-done process. “It can take up to two or three months to see the impact of optimizations and changes we’ve made,” said McCormack. Depending on the type of community, you should make your adjustments before peak leasing seasons to maximize your visibility during those periods.

Read the October 2022 issue of MHN.

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