Apartment SEO Basics: Choosing Keywords for Single Property Websites

by Jan 8, 2017Apartment Marketing, Blog, Search

Your Top Takeaways:

  • SEO helps more customers find you online, but you have to understand how they’re searching
  • Create a targeted keyword list that will drive your SEO strategy for your property website, with both branded and unbranded keyword phrases
  • Unique content is the best SEO tactic, and you should avoid single-page websites that limit your reach

Depending on who you ask, somewhere between 80 and 95% of all renters will go online to research potential options over the course of their search. And when you talk to those renters, many of them start their search with a search — usually on Google. (Most U.S. properties we work with today receive about 65-90% of their search traffic from Google, with the rest coming from Bing, Yahoo, and smaller search engines like DuckDuckGo.)

The search engine is the modern day Yellow Pages. It’s where people go to look for … pretty much everything. So if you want to be considered as an option for those renters who are in shopping mode, you first need to be as visible as possible where they’re looking. This is why you’re should be considering or already doing some kind of search engine optimization (SEO) on your website.

SEO is all about positively impacting how Google sees you site, so you’ll rank higher in the results, and presumably this will lead to more website traffic and more customers.

The best way to be discovered in search is to deliver the best, most relevant answer to the question the prospect is typing (or saying) into Google.

At this point, let’s pause and take a huge step back. The most important part of any marketing strategy is understanding the customer, and being able to deliver what they want when they need it.

Now apply that to your search strategy: The best way to be discovered in search is to deliver the best, most relevant answer to the question the prospect is typing (or saying) into Google. Before you dive into any SEO effort, either in-house or with your search vendor, you need to know what it is your customers are looking for, and just as important, the language they use when they’re looking.

You need a keyword strategy.

Is there a set number of keywords you want to rank for? I don’t think so, but in the world of apartment marketing, there are only so many people on the planet who are ultimately qualified to live at your community, so you don’t want to waste your time trying to rank for terms that aren’t relevant to what you offer. Focus your efforts on the keywords that offer the greatest opportunity to attract qualified renter to your door.

Building Your Keyword List for Better Apartment SEO

When you’re building your keyword list for your property, where should you start? What kinds of phrases should you include? Well, start with the most obvious ones — terms connected to your property name.

These are your branded keywords; terms that include your brand name.

Branded Keyword Examples:

  • Property Name
  • [Property Name] reviews
  • [Property Name] pricing
  • [Property Name] ratings
  • [Property Name] photos
  • [Property Name] specials
  • [Property Name] hours
  • [Property Name] [City Name]
  • [Property Name] address

If you’re not sure what to include, start typing the name of your property into Google.com, and see what it suggests in the auto-complete dropdown. You should see something like this:

Check the “Searches related to this topic” at the bottom of the page, too. These are the most common searches by other people, so you’ll want to add them to your list.

You should be able to come up with a solid list of branded keywords for your property in just a few minutes.

It should be easy to find you by name.

Sometimes we hear that the best apartment SEO should focus on these terms — the property and its “brand name”.

I think this is terrible, lazy advice.

Here’s why. If your website has a relevant domain name, is structured correctly, and has even a minimum level of relevant information about your property (photos, floor plans, address, contact info, etc.), then you should be ranking well for your brand name, even without a lot of other proactive SEO efforts happening. And if you’re not, that’s probably more indicative of an issue with your website than it is your SEO.

No doubt, you need these branded keywords as a starting point, but your next step is to start reaching beyond the people who already know you by name.

Make Your Apartment Community Easier to Discover

The goal of SEO for a local business like an apartment community is to get you in front of more qualified prospects who otherwise might not yet know about you. As in, they don’t yet know your brand name … and therefore, probably aren’t searching for it yet.

Instead, they’re probably searching for terms like “2 bedroom apartments near downtown Columbus”.

These terms that don’t include your property name are called unbranded keywords. And just like the branded keywords, you want to start by building an initial list of the most relevant terms you think your potential customers are most likely to use. To build this list, start with a simple two-step process:

1) Brainstorm your list. If you’re working on a corporate marketing team, get input from the property manager and the leasing staff for this. What do locals call the neighborhood? Is the property on the border of two neighborhoods or towns? Who are the major employers nearby? What are the property’s unique selling points that set you apart from your competition?

Build out this initial list even further by thinking about relevant synonyms — in addition to “apartments”, you’ll want to include terms like “rentals” and “homes for rent”.

2) Find related terms that modify the original keywords. Here, you want to build out as many different variations as you can think of; these longer phrases are called “long-tail” keyword opportunities. Ask yourself, “what are all the different ways someone might search for the type of apartments I have to offer?” These modifiers could include location, price, amenities, and more.

Unbranded Keyword Examples:

  • apartments in [Neighborhood Name]
  • rentals in [Neighborhood Name]
  • apartments for rent in [Neighborhood Name]
  • 1 bedroom apartments in [Neighborhood Name]
  • 1 bedroom rentals in [Neighborhood Name]
  • 2 bedroom apartments in [Neighborhood Name]
  • pet friendly apartments in [Neighborhood Name]
  • apartments near [Major Employer Name]
  • apartments near [Public Transit Line Name]
  • apartments near [University Name]
  • best apartments in [Neighborhood Name]
  • What are the top rated apartments near [Neighborhood Name]?
  • [Competing Property Name] alternative (This can be a challenging one, but rewarding if you do it well.)

If your property serves a unique niche, leverage this … whatever it is, people are likely searching for it. Make sure you add relevant related terms to your list. Some examples might include:

  • pit bull friendly apartments in [City/Neighborhood Name]
  • affordable apartments in [Neighborhood Name]
  • apartments that accept section 8 in [City/Neighborhood Name]
  • apartments in [City Name] with utilities included
  • apartments in [City Name] with washer and dryer
  • new apartments in [City/Neighborhood Name]
  • loft apartments in [City/Neighborhood Name]

If you need some help identifying good keywords and modifiers, there are a number of useful tools to help with this exercise – Keyword.io, Keyword Tool, UberSuggest, and Moz Keyword Explorer are all good options for generating suggestions.

Remember, another easy way to identify related terms is go directly to Google and look at the suggested results in the auto-complete and the related searches.

How Do You Know Which Keywords Are the Best to Use?

As you can see, it doesn’t take very long to develop an extensive list of potential keywords for you to target with your apartment SEO. But that doesn’t mean you need to (or should even try) address all of these terms.

So how do you narrow down your options and know where to focus your efforts?

Here are three criteria you can use to prioritize your list:

Volume of Searches

How many people are actually searching for the phrase? If you improve your ranking for this term, how many more potential people could that get you in front of? You want to spend your time on terms that people are using more frequently.

Use tools like Google AdWords, Google Search Console, or the Keywords Everywhere browser extension to help you approximate the search volume for the terms on your list.

Other Competition for the Term

Type each term on your list into Google, and take a look at the actual results page in each case. See what other sites are ranking for these terms, and also look to see if there are lots of ads or other search page features like videos, ratings, maps, featured snippets, or Knowledge Graph boxes (the ones that sometimes show up on the right side).

Are there lots of ads? Is the first page of results dominated by big brands? These are signs that there’s a lot of competing sites trying to rank for the same term. (“[City Name] apartments” is typically at the top of this list in each market.)

This is your balance against volume. Even if a term is getting a lot of searches, it might not be worth prioritizing if there’s already a lot of competition there — you’re likely going to end up spending a lot more time, effort and money trying to rank for these terms.

Ideally, you want to find terms that have a relatively high search volume (at least a few dozen searches per month, and ideally more), and relatively low to moderate competition. This balance gives you a good window of opportunity to do some work that will produce noticeable results.

If you’re running any paid Google ad campaigns (PPC), you (or your agency partner) can use the Keyword Planner tool in Google AdWords to gather data on the keywords that provide the best opportunities.

Your Relevancy to the Selected Term

Intent matters, and it’s something that Google considers in its rankings. Google is in the business of providing answers, so they’re going to deliver results that best match the intent of the search. When it comes to apartment marketing, this is where the advertising sites (ILSs) win a lot of search traffic.

Think about the mindset of the prospect.
Can you provide the best answer to their question?

Google knows that when someone searches for a broad phrase like “Columbus apartments”, that person isn’t looking for one specific apartment community. Rather, they want to see a number of potential options so they can start to narrow down their short list. The ILSs and Craigslist have many more options, so they tend to dominate the first pages of these types of searches.

(Side note: Ranking for broader city and neighborhood-specific terms can be difficult — and often not even recommended — for single property websites, but corporate portfolio websites can easily be structured to compete with the bigger ILSs. When you’re putting together your complete SEO strategy, it ideally should include smart, complementary content on both the corporate and individual property websites.)

Focus on the terms that are legitimately relevant to your property. Think about the mindset of the prospect that’s typing or saying the phrase … can you provide the best answer to their question? These are the terms you should be working to rank for.

With these factors in mind, you should be able to develop a solid list of at least 15-20 unbranded keyword phrases that represent good opportunities to attract more traffic to your single property website.

Why Single-Page Websites Are No Good for SEO

Every one of these keywords you’ve now identified is a unique way that you could potentially be discovered via a Google search.

Search engines tend to look for the few core concepts that a page is about to determine what keywords it should rank for. This means that every page on your site is probably only going to rank really well for a small number of keyword phrases.

In a recent survey of SEO professionals across multiple industries, the #1 most effective SEO tactic was relevant content creation. (#2 was the keyword research that drives the subject matter of that content.)

If you only have a single-page website, you’re limiting your opportunities out of the gate, and any new content you create on that site will further confuse the search engines about the intended focus of the page. You’ll likely never rank well for many of those unbranded keywords that represent the best opportunities to reach new customers.

Instead, your apartment SEO efforts should focus on creating unique content that addresses each of the priority keywords you’ve just identified. Your homepage will rank best for your property’s brand name, and your new content-rich landing pages fill in the gaps and extend your presence to the most relevant unbranded search phrases.

These new pages on your site enable you to focus your content and be the best answer for the exact search term your prospect is using. Yes, it’s more work, but it’s exactly what you (or your SEO agency) should be doing to make your business more “discoverable”.

SEO Starts With Knowing What Your Customer Wants

Before you dive into blogging or any other content marketing … before you update your meta descriptions and images … before you start building links, you need to know what your customer is looking for, and the language they use when they’re looking. That’s your keyword strategy.

You’ll want to revisit your keywords fairly often (at least once a quarter) to make sure you’re still focusing on the right topics. You’ll also want to track the progress you’ve made — are you seeing an increase in traffic and leads from the search engines? Are you getting more impressions in the search results? Are you ranking for more of your target keywords (especially the unbranded ones)?

Now that you have your keyword strategy, you know what questions you need to answer to show your prospect your community is the best choice for them. You know what content you need to create. Out of all the marketing tactics and options available today, I can’t think of many that are more mutually beneficially for you and your customer than delivering exactly what they’re looking for in their moment of need.