What is paid search? Simply put, it’s showing up in the search results page, whether it be on Google, or Bing, or DuckDuckGo, or wherever people are searching. And you’re not aiming for just any place on the search results page—you’re purchasing visibility in text ads at the top of search results.
It's sort of like a bidding war for one of the top three positions. What we're talking about here is buying text ad positions on Google when somebody is searching for queries related to your brand. When you start to break it down, the way that you bid, what you bid on, and what you're actually advertising makes it possible to target different people at different stages of the buying cycle. So how do you target people at the different levels?
Often, property owners or property management companies will come to us and say, “We've tried that before, it's expensive, and it doesn't work,” or, “I never click on text ads because they're not relevant, they don't work.” The point is, they do work. Paid search is the best performing digital marketing channel that exists. Of course, that also makes it the most expensive digital marketing channel. The people you’re targeting are self identifying that they are searching for something you’re bidding on. And if you do it correctly, your ads will only show whenever they’re very relevant.
When people tell us they spent money on Google ads and it didn’t work, generally it’s because their targeting was not focused enough. They were targeting all sorts of searches related to the industry, and not narrowing it down to a strategy. What it boils down to is your cost per acquisition (how much you're actually spending to get a lead) is extremely high because you're bringing in traffic for things that are not really relevant. It's not so much about the money you're spending as the strategy that you put behind it.
Create a strategy and figure out what your searchers are looking for at each stage of the cycle. Are they in the decision-making funnel (around 90 days or so in the multifamily industry)? Talk about your strategy and put it down on paper before you start spending money anywhere. Otherwise, you could spend essentially an unlimited amount of dollars and get zero results.
Let's talk about the upper part of the funnel, the awareness section. Facebook ads, organic search, everything has a conversion funnel, but today we're specifically talking about the conversion funnel inside of Google ads. There are three levels: the top, Awareness; the middle, Interest; and the bottom, Desire. Properly targeting these areas will lead to what you’re looking for from searchers: Action.
The top part of the funnel for apartments and multifamily typically means targeting searchers in geo. If you're going to build your keywords around an awareness campaign, you’re going to target searchers looking within a broad area—for example, apartments in Chicago, apartments in South Millersville, apartments on Michigan Avenue, etc. Most likely, these searchers are going to end up on an ILS, because that is where a lot of people start their journey, especially when they're moving into a new city. But that doesn't mean that you can’t go down to the neighborhood, to the street level, to other places of interest. All of these things are focused on being close to a specific location.
At this stage, they don't necessarily know exactly where they want to live. They know geographically close to or specifically what general area want to go, but they're not sure of what building, and they’re maybe not even sure what unit type they need. This is someone who's really beginning their process, and they're not ready to make a decision quite yet. They're in the information search mode, looking around three to four months out, getting an idea of where they want to move to. They’re laying the groundwork, investigating what buildings are available, what price points are available, what can they reasonably expect if they want to live in this specific area.
Your objective in this part of the strategy is not tours booked. You can get them this way, but typically what you're looking for is traffic, impressions—you want to show up and you want people to see your building. This is a great place to ask people if they're interested in signing up for a newsletter that has concessions. This is where you get people into a different type of conversion, whether by phone, email, or into your CRM. This is kind of like a soft sell. They aren’t ready to schedule a tour because they haven't figured out what they want yet. But they might be interested to know what sort of concessions you have. You're building your retargeting audiences here: bringing people on your website, tagging them, and now you can remarket to them in multiple channels. By paying attention to that strategy and looking at the overall cost per click, you can start defining your budget, your expectations, and your KPIs, etc.
Let's move a little bit further down the conversion funnel. In the middle of the funnel, you have more information. They've shortlisted what they're going after. A really good example of the mid funnel paid search strategy is the unit type search. They're looking for a studio, perhaps, and they want price points. Oftentimes, the geo modifier is included here: “studios in Chicago,” etc., and if they're searching that, they know what kind of unit they want and where they want it to be. This person is clearly in a lower intent, closer to a decision.
And where you're pushing those people on your site is different now. You're giving them a different set of information and appealing to their search in a different way. You're answering their question of, “Hey, I'm looking for studios, but I want to know about your studio.” They want to know what amenities you have, what comes with the apartment should they choose it, what are the price points, etc. Your objective is now closer to getting tours.
This is where retargeting really plays a part. You're talking about the lifestyle of your building compared to other buildings, and paid search still captures those things. You want to focus on amenities, galleries, floor plans, and visual aspects. This is how you define the lifestyle of your building, so people can start saying I could see myself living there. This is the beginning stages of the decision-making part.
The bottom of the funnel is where they’re ready to make a decision. They know that they want to come to your building. Now they're conducting a search to find your building because they want to go there. Branded search is really the king. Though this is true in many industries, in multifamily specifically, there are other people that are going to bid on your brand. So if you aren't, they're going to take your business. When you do branded search, you can get the best cost per click, too. Google will favor your ads over others’, because you are the business they're looking for. If you do nothing else on paid search, set up a brand campaign.
What does brand mean exactly? It’s your building name, your brand name. There can be other strategies with your phone number and address, etc. but, ultimately, you should be bidding on the name of your building. You're taking people on a journey. At 90 days out, they’re just investigating. At 60 days out they're making decisions about logistics, and at 30 days out, they're signing. If we did our job, and we visualized the funnel effectively, we're touching them at each of those parts and fueling conversions.
These things work. They work together, interconnected. When you start to layer in these other intent structures in your paid search campaigns, you put yourself in control of the funnel. Now you're driving traffic to you.
Have questions about paid search, or feeling ready to start visualizing your funnel? We’d love to chat! Contact us through our website or social media, or give us a call. And, as always, be sure to share this blog and our podcast with others who could benefit from paid search.