The State of Search- Week of March 30th
Kristi Fickert, Senior Vice President of Engagement and Growth
Patrick Laycock, Senior Manager of Digital Strategy
Our team of strategists spend the majority of their time digging into data. It’s their job and it’s what they live and breathe, every day (even outside of the COVID-19 era). Numbers tell a story that can more effectively guide all of our marketing decisions and now more than ever, it’s imperative we keep a pulse on what’s happening in the apartment industry today. Each week we’re reviewing the ‘State of Search’. How are prospects and apartment renters shifting their priorities? What search terms are they using, and what’s happening with search volume? Are large metropolitan areas seeing a variation in online leasing velocity compared to other markets?
During this critical time, we’ll scrutinize the data, help you make sense of the trends, and more importantly, determine the exact actions you should be taking to maximize your marketing efforts (while being mindful of potential budget constraints).
This Week’s State of Search (March 30th to April 5th):
This week has yielded some of the most positive results we’ve seen since Mid-March when this crisis began. We’re seeing a small upswing in search volume for most ‘apartment’ related searches and keywords.
The search term “Apartments for Rent” is up 8% week-over-week.
While you may be tempted to slash your advertising sources and drastically reduce spend on traffic generation, be mindful that there are still prospects who need an apartment. You don’t necessarily need to ramp up spending and in many cases can dial it back, but don’t quit cold turkey. The fact that this trend is up (even if slightly), tells us that apartment shoppers are getting back on the bandwagon after hitting the pause button in weeks 1-3 of the COVID-19 pandemic. Of course, this metric will continue to ebb and flow week over week, so keep a watchful eye and even look more specifically at what’s happening in your particular geographical area. And remember – the more you drastically dial back, the longer it will take you to ramp back up once we’re on the other side of this crisis.
The search term “Open Apartments” is up 25% week-over-week and this is the highest peak we’ve seen with this search term since peak leasing season in 2019.
“Open Apartments” probably wasn’t at the top of your list of keywords before COVID-19, but you should definitely be paying attention now. Operating procedures have changed and so has the way prospects and residents alike are attempting to do business with you. While the changes you’ve made to your leasing practices as a result of this pandemic are (hopefully) temporary, it’s also created a shift in what your customers are looking for. They’re no longer only looking for “apartments in Dallas” or “apartments near me”, but now, they’re simply looking for apartments that are “open”.
Customers are looking for apartment communities that are still open and leasing – even if that means virtually. Many other businesses they were used to transacting with on a regular basis (restaurants, retail establishments, etc.) are completely shut down right now, so if they’re in the market for an apartment, it makes sense they’d shift to using terms like “open apartments” with the intention of learning “who is still open and able to lease me an apartment right now.”
Update your office hours on every marketing platform you use (your website, Google My Business, Social Media, email signature lines, email campaigns, etc.) so there is zero question you’re open and ready to assist.
And, if your leasing teams are working remotely or, if you’ve got a skeleton crew in the physical leasing office and you’re rotating shifts, this is a great time to offer your team some flexibility in their workdays and extend office hours outside of what you’d normally offer. This new way of operating might give you more opportunities to ‘open’ earlier in the mornings and to stay ‘open’ later into the evenings. Having a staff member available for extended hours (and reflecting this in your posted hours online) could very well give you an advantage in your market and might be do-able now, more than ever.
The uptick in this search phrase could also mean that prospects are looking for apartments that are ‘move-in ready’. Be diligent about showcasing real-time pricing and availability not just on your website, but in your other marketing communications – in email campaigns, in your chatbots, on your voicemail recordings. Make it crystal clear that you have apartments ready for immediate move-in and can accommodate those who do have a need to move right now.
Most city-specific searches (for example, ‘apartments in Dallas’) are seeing a small upswing or at least a leveling-out of the drops in search interest.
The first few weeks of this pandemic led to much uncertainty for many. And, while there are still many unknowns, many households are beginning to adjust to their new normal. The first few weeks were spent working out new work and daycare routines and amassing groceries and supplies, but now that prospects have those pieces worked out (for the most part), they’re shifting their focus back to what they were working on prior to COVID19 – like searching for a new apartment.
Instead of drastically reducing marketing spend across the board, assess the tools you have – which ones fit perfectly into your marketing stack, based on how you’re operating today? Increasing advertising spend probably isn’t the best marketing action to take right now, but unless you’re 100% occupied or have completely stopped renting apartments, you also shouldn’t stop advertising altogether. Nor should you cut tools that are helping you convert the leads that you’re actually still getting (even if they’re fewer). For every advertising source, you still have running right now, you should equally have a conversion tool in place. You’d never drive physical traffic to your leasing office without having a Leasing Consultant there and ready to take them on a tour. Therefore, be wary of spending ad dollars to drive traffic to your website (or other channels) if you don’t have tools in place to help convert all of that traffic into leads (and rentals).
One other, not-so-surprising metric: The search term “can’t pay rent” is skyrocketing. This phrase is up of 3,200% since last year and up 1,000% since the beginning of the COVID-19 crisis in early to mid March.
Continue to deploy plans for your residents to help them overcome this obstacle, whether it’s designing a payment plan, getting strategic with lease expiration management and renewals, or creating a list of resources you can refer residents to for assistance. Communicate often and remember that depending on your market, demographics, and a myriad of other factors, some properties will fare better than others with rent collection efforts.
Geographical Search Terms At-a-Glance
Large Market Search Terms:
“Apartments in NYC” is down 28% YOY
“Apartments in L.A.” is down 41% YOY
“Apartments in Dallas” is down 42% YOY
“Apartments in Chicago” is down 34% YOY
Mid Market Search Terms:
“Apartments in Columbus (Ohio)” is down 21% YOY
“Apartments in Kansas City” is down 51% YOY
“Apartments in Charlotte is down 40% YOY
Looking for resources on how to handle your marketing during times like these?
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