Organic traffic is the highest quality, most relevant, and best converting traffic you can get to your website. Doing proactive Search Engine Optimization (SEO) work on your site is how you get that traffic.
Getting organic traffic from search engines is basically free, making it an incredibly cost-effective way to market your business. SEO is also a long-term investment and strategy that will continue to provide benefits for months, years even. But unlike social ads or paid search ads, the results take time and patience.
For multifamily properties, local SEO is a major part of the conversation. This particularly revolves around your Google My Business (GMB) listing. Google dominates other search engines on the internet, making an accurate and updated listing crucial to SEO. GMB is also key for citation and reputation management.
When a potential resident searches for “apartments in [your area],” you not only want to show up on the first page, you also want your information to be correct and your rating/reviews to be flattering. If you have a GMB listing, Google will include structured snippets like your Google star rating, your address, phone number, a link to your website, and even pictures or posts you or other users have uploaded to your Google profile. Any or all of these can show up when you appear as a search result on the page.
What exactly is citation management? To put it plainly, it’s your business listing across the internet. Sites like Google, Bing, Yelp, Foursquare, etc. allow you to list information about your business that can be found by potential tenants. Many of them also allow users to leave ratings, reviews, interact with you, or add images to your listing.
Most of these platforms are free or at least inexpensive, and, on top of acting as additional search results for you across the internet, they also act as qualified backlinks to your site.
Your online reputation is invaluable. Everyone knows your Yelp, Google, and Facebook reviews can make or break you, and responding promptly and appropriately to negative comments can save you from internet ruin. Your overall rating on these types of sites will determine not only whether people lease from you, but even whether they bother clicking to your site.
Your number of reviews is critical, too. A 4.5 rating sounds great, until you look below that and see there are less than 100 reviews. You want thousands of reviews, because the more you have, the more trustworthy you look—and one negative review will hurt a lot less. Find unique ways to incentivize your residents to leave positive reviews across these platforms.
This is where things get, well, technical. Every page, every element of your website has code attached to it, and search engines crawl that code to determine what content is on the page and where to index it. If your pages aren’t crawled and indexed, you won’t show up in search results.
So part of technical optimizations is making sure your pages are being indexed properly. There are tools that can be used here, such as Google PageSpeed Insights, Google Lighthouse, robots.txt files, etc. to check your site’s performance or guide the search engine crawlers where you want them. This also means making sure all of your links work, your images are formatted correctly, your site doesn’t take forever to load, etc.
Schema is another major facet as well. Schema is snippets of code you build to tell crawlers very specific information about your site that results in you appearing in search engine results like carousels, local business, shopping, and more. This allows you to show up in more than just basic search page results, giving you more opportunities to be found and visited by potential tenants. For multifamily buildings, local schema should always be set up, so that your map listing shows up in search results.
This is a massively important part of technical SEO. Not only will your site’s speed and performance affect your search engine rank, it also affects how potential tenants interact with (or choose NOT to interact with) your site. Multifamily sites are often slowed down considerably by the gallery page. Scores of images and videos bog down the loading time. Making sure your media is properly sized and you don’t have old media taking up unnecessary space helps speed things up immensely.
It’s also important to remember that mobile platforms are used more often than desktop these days. When it comes to page speed, you’ll want to optimize for mobile wherever possible.
On-page SEO refers to the actual content on your website. The words you put on page should reflect your brand while including terms that people you want to reach your site would search for. Every year, the Google search engine becomes better and better at what it does, and machine learning is progressing well beyond the SEO of the past. Before, on-page SEO was all about keyword ranking, which often led to keyword stuffing—using the word you want to rank for as many times as possible. For instance, if you wanted to rank for “apartments in Miami,” you’d work those two words into as many places as possible on the page, including meta descriptions, image alt tags, etc.
In today’s SEO, Google has gotten much smarter, and practices like keyword stuffing now have a negative impact on your rankings. Instead of simply listing the sites that have the most appearances of a search query, the search engine ranks pages based on the value the content, the page, and the experience offer users. While there was once a time when web design was at odds with SEO, because making a site aesthetically pleasing didn’t jive with fitting multiple uses of certain keywords, these days Google wants a well-developed, user-friendly, content-rich website.
Google’s search engine ranks pages based on the value provided to the user by the page, the content on the page, and the experience.
As a result of Google’s continual improvement, on-page optimization now becomes a question of strategy. What’s the purpose of the content? How will it benefit the audience—and to that aim, who is the audience? This part of SEO ties back into the basics of your marketing strategy. You need to determine what type of resident you’re targeting, and then develop content that appeals to them.
This also goes back to your brand strategy. Who are you? Your content should reflect your personality as a building, as a community. What services and amenities are you providing? What topics do you want to position yourself as an authority on? Some of your content strategy should also come from off-page SEO, in the form of competitor analysis. Being relevant, being trustworthy, and being competitive are all crucial when it comes to content marketing.
For example, as a multifamily space, one way to rank well while providing value to potential residents is to have robust content about the neighborhood and city where your building is located. Both potential and current residents can come to your site and learn not only why they would want to live in the area, but also the best ways to get around, fun spots to hang out and meet other locals, or great restaurants with incredible food. As a residential property, you’re not just selling units and amenities—you’re selling people on the life they’re going to have outside of their apartment as well.
Another big part of on-page SEO is your meta data. Page titles, meta descriptions, H1s, and so on should all reflect your content while also optimizing for search engines. For example, if your page is about amenities, the title should tell searchers what they’re going to find on the page, while also convincing them to click through. Your description should delve further into what’s on the page. And if your H1 is about how you have great amenities in your building, your H2s should name those amenities—a resort style swimming pool, a state-of-the-art fitness center, an onsite yoga studio, etc.
The last major piece of on-page SEO to mention is image quality. Particularly for multifamily buildings, the photos and videos you have on your site will make or break you. This refers to both the quality of the content in your media—is it a good picture or video of the inside of an apartment or one of your amenities—and the quality of the file. Pictures uploaded in their original size and format are typically huge, which means they take forever to load (especially on mobile devices) and drag down the speed of your website.
The good news is that there are easy ways to compress file size without damaging the quality of the media. Taking the extra steps to properly size your images before uploading them is essential to speed optimization, as well as making your site look good to potential residents.
Image alt text is what describes your photos. This is used in Google image searches, as well as in screen-readers for visually impaired users. Additionally, if an image fails to load on a user’s screen, the alt text is what will show in the empty box. When you upload an image to your website, the alt text will usually default to the file name, but you don’t want to waste characters on words like “kitchen sink1.jpg.” Not only is this good for on-page SEO, but Google also measures your site’s accessibility (which falls under the technical section), and considers your alt image text in that score.
This is where search engine optimization gets tricky. Off-page SEO, done properly, is difficult. There are easy ways to do it, but they’re bad and can damage your site’s reputation almost irreparably. You can get your site blacklisted by Google, and removing bad backlinks or negative off-page SEO history is beyond difficult.
Off-page SEO, at its core, is your site’s online reputation, PR, and how you connect with other sites.
So, what is backlinking? Simply put, it’s people engaging with your website through outside means. Maybe their friend shared a link on Facebook and they clicked it, or your site is listed on an ILS, like apartments.com or Zillow. Having other sites linking to you makes you look like an authority in the space, but you don’t want just any other website.
At one time, all Google cared about was how many backlinks you had, leading people to resort to means such as paying for backlinks to up their numbers. Now, Google cares less about the volume of backlinks and more about the quality of those links. Quality over quantity is the name of the game now. You want the sites linking back to you to be credible.
It’s important to note that search engines do look at social media metrics, and favorably so. If people are interacting with and engaging with you on Facebook, Twitter, and other credible social media sites—Google probably isn’t concerned with Tumblr or 4chan—search engines see that and register your brand is worth paying attention to.
The same holds true for distributing content anywhere outside of your domain. Part of off-page strategy is looking at where your brand or your content is mentioned across the internet. If a reputable website, such as Forbes or Business Insider, writes about your building, that improves your off-page SEO even if they don’t link to you. Getting other people to talk about you online is key.
For multifamily real estate especially, we stress the importance of investing in the equipment necessary to create extremely high quality video and imagery. A big part of digital marketing for multifamily brands is making your building, your apartment units, look appealing to potential residents. If you have poor quality, grainy, or simply bad photos or uninspiring videos, you’re wasting your own time and money. Putting together a social media presence and a robust YouTube channel with beautiful, eye-catching videos and photos is crucial to off-page SEO for this industry.
One thing you should always look at when it comes to off-page SEO in any industry is what your competitors are doing. Even more so in the multifamily industry, because your competitors are often across the street or around the corner. When a potential resident searches for “apartments in Chicago” or “apartments near the beach” or “apartments with X amenity,” you want to show up, especially if your competitors are showing up. Running a keyword analysis to see what they’re ranking for that you’re ranking lower, or not all, can help you see where your site content is lacking. Then you can create a content strategy with these topics included.
The question that always comes up at the end of a discussion about SEO strategy is, “if I do all of this, will I rank first on Google?” And the answer, unfortunately, is no. No matter how much time and effort you spend on SEO, it won’t guarantee you the top spot every time, because search engines aren’t just a keyword plug-and-play. Google and others use machine learning to tailor every search to not only the query, but also the device being used and the personal internet history and data of the searcher.
If a potential resident searches “apartments under $2000” from their phone, they’ll get a somewhat different set of results than if they were to search from their computer, even if they’re sitting in the same spot. Their personal search results depend on if they have location services turned on, what that location is set to, what they’ve searched previously on that device, etc. The results will also be different based on device type, whether mobile or desktop, and the browser can even have an effect (Safari versus Google Chrome, etc.).
This doesn’t mean SEO is worthless. It means that your strategy should never be targeting a broad audience, just trying to be at number one all the time. Your marketing should be tailored to a relevant audience. Who are you trying to reach? Your goal is to show up as often and as high up as possible for the right searcher, not just for any searcher.
Have more questions about SEO for Multifamily Real Estate, or ready to take your site to the next level? Give us a shout, we’d love to hear from you! Be sure to check out our blog and podcast, and share with your friends and colleagues.