The New Rules of Apartment SEO: “Déjà Vu All Over Again”

Multifamily marketers should keep in mind that, for Google, content is still king.

Apartment marketers, listen up! Google, the global search engine that dominates all others, with a market share of 91.37 percent worldwide in March 2024, issued two updates in early March that might affect your digital marketing. One involves changes to Google’s core algorithms, and the other is a spam update.

While apartment owners and managers need to be aware of these changes to tweak their search engine optimization and other digital marketing strategies, at least one multifamily marketing expert said the latest updates only refine Google’s prior algorithms in an effort to improve the quality of posted content.

“There’s nothing really new here,” said Ellen Thompson, co-founder & chief executive officer of Respage. “It’s gotten easier to create low-quality content with ChatGPT, so Google is just prioritizing quality content. As Yogi Berra said, ‘It’s déjà vu all over again.’”

Image by baona/iStockphoto.com
Image by baona/iStockphoto.com

The March 2024 Updates

 On March 5, 2024, Google announced two key changes:

  1. Algorithm enhancements to its core ranking systems to prioritize the most-helpful information on the web and to reduce unoriginal content that frequently pops up in search results.
  2. Policies to reduce spammy, low-quality content.

According to the Google announcement, the company began fine-tuning its ranking systems in 2022 in an attempt to reduce time-wasting, unoriginal website content. The latest updates are the evolution of those strategies.

“Google has always said that it wants us to create quality content, but it’s become easier to create content that is of low-quality using AI,” said Thompson. “People started creating pages that are clones of other pages and putting content up that essentially spams the search engines because it’s so much cheaper to create. With this algorithm change, Google will be better at seeing what’s junk so that it gives priority to content that is actually original.” 

If you’re already producing original content designed to answer questions posed by searchers and to provide beneficial, actionable information—what Google calls “people-first content”—you probably don’t need to make any changes to your SEO strategy. But if your strategy is instead focused solely on keywords, or your site starts to perform poorly after the latest updates, then it might be time to make a few changes.

Cottonwood Highland Apartments, a 250-unit community in Mill Creek, Utah owned by Cottonwood Residential, experienced a 616 percent increase in Google Business Profile interactions between November 2023 and March 2024 resulting from optimizing the community's GBP page and using Reddit to create original content. Image courtesy of Matt Dahlberg
Cottonwood Highland Apartments, a 250-unit community in Mill Creek, Utah owned by Cottonwood Residential, experienced a 616 percent increase in Google Business Profile interactions between November 2023 and March 2024 resulting from optimizing the community’s GBP page and using Reddit to create original content. Image courtesy of Matt Dahlberg

The increasing importance of Google Business Profiles

If you’re not already focusing on your Google Business Profile as part of your digital marketing strategy, it’s time to hop on the bandwagon.

GBP, formerly known as Google My Business, is a free way to attract people searching via Google and Google Maps. You can personalize your GBP, and many apartment owners post floor plans, office hours, amenity information, contact information, reviews and special offers in an effort to reach more prospective residents. Even if you have a website, you need a GBP, because it complements your website, making it more visible to those using Google Search or Google Maps. It’s also a way to direct searchers to specific pages of your website and to interact with prospects through questions and reviews—tactics that will help improve your community’s local ranking.

Katie Szuba, digital marketing manager for Cottonwood Residential, said the company is pivoting toward more helpful user content, using both GBP and Reddit to create original content that’s valuable to searchers. Szuba said that everyone on her marketing team is now active on Reddit, participating in community discussions. “We actively contribute to certain groups in Reddit because Google has such a strong emphasis on helpful user content,” she said.

Cottonwood recently combined both GBP and Reddit strategies to help lease Cottonwood Highland Apartments in Mill Creek, Utah, which opened in December 2023. Currently 30 percent leased, Szuba is utilizing both Reddit and GBP to improve lead generation. The result: a 616 percent increase in GBP interactions between November 2023 and March 2024, measured by someone asking for directions, a phone call or a click-through to the community’s website. “It transfers into more traffic for our website, which means more leads,” she said.

At The Gallery Apartments, a 107-unit midrise community in Huntsville, Ala. that was recently completed, Bristol Development Group used long-form content as part of its SEO strategy to drive digital traffic to the community website. The result: Traffic doubled every month, month over month, between January 2024 and March 2024, translating into more leads. Image courtesy of John Albani
At The Gallery Apartments, a 107-unit midrise community in Huntsville, Ala. that was recently completed, Bristol Development Group used long-form content as part of its SEO strategy to drive digital traffic to the community website. The result: Traffic doubled every month, month over month, between January 2024 and March 2024, translating into more leads. Image courtesy of John Albani

From long-tail keywords to long-form content

Long-tail keywords are phrases consisting of several words, rather than just a single keyword, used to improve SEO rankings by targeting less-competitive niches. Since the latest Google algorithms prioritize meaty content rather than mere keywords, once again, content remains king in the world of SEO, especially long-form content.

Lisa Gunderson, vice president of asset management for Bristol Development Group in Franklin, Tenn., is focusing on adding long-form descriptions to each of the company’s community websites in an effort to improve SEO and drive traffic. “Use long-form descriptions to try to answer as many questions that you think somebody is searching for, and provide as much data as possible,” she said. She’s adding actual text—narrative—inside the website, not just keywords.

How long is long-form content? Thompson suggests at least 1,000 words, but she added that she “can’t point to a single property website that has 1,000 words of content on one page because nobody is willing to pay for it.”

Don’t ignore technical SEO

Technical SEO involves improving your website so that it functions well. It’s not just about content when it comes to SEO; it’s also about a great user experience. You could have the best content possible, but if your site has 10-megabyte images and won’t load on a mobile device, people will never reach your website. That’s why Google also considers the health of your pages in SEO rankings.

“This industry loves videos, but keep in mind that speed is of the essence,” explained Tammy Casserly, senior vice president of growth and brand development for Resident360.

PageSpeed Insights can be a great help in determining whether your website passes muster for technical SEO. The free site assesses the user experience of a page on both mobile and desktop devices and provides suggestions on how the page can be improved.

Perhaps the most important piece of advice on SEO is to just do it. “You wouldn’t believe how many aren’t,” Casserly said. And, remember the basics of SEO best practices. “The best advice was good 10 years ago, and it’s good now,” observed Thompson. “Quality content matters. Do a thorough and good job of telling prospects what your community is about, and the search engines will reward you.”

Read the May 2024 issue of MHN.

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