Written by Kathy Jones, Agency Operations Manager
With an ever changing real estate industry, developing a real estate marketing plan informed by strategic thinking is absolutely essential to be able to stand out from your competitors. When it comes to your print marketing strategy, you may feel that your number one goal is to create the perfect flyer or brochure that your team can distribute in high traffic areas. However, what happens next when the prospect receives and reads the flyer is oftentimes an afterthought. In reality, it takes careful consideration of the full leasing/sales journey to create print assets that really make an impact on your prospects.
While COVID-19 brought a large decrease in the number of prospects touring leasing offices and sales centers in person, that number is quickly on the rise again and so is print marketing. Since the real estate industry is quickly changing, your strategic plan should also be changing. Your vision will likely remain the same but your goals should be frequently reviewed. For most clients to the real estate industry, the enduring vision is to impact your bottom line (e.g. improving occupancy rates or increasing revenue), but you can’t get there unless you set more specific, granular goals along the way. For example, one goal might be to increase the number of leases or sales contracts that are signed each month. In order for you to achieve that goal, you need to build a hand-crafted strategy that will push prospects into your leasing office or sales center to close the deal.
Every community is different. One might have a great location where others might have strong brand awareness in their market. If your community is located in a great location, guerilla marketing can be a great supplement to your existing digital marketing. But what happens once your prospect receives your flyer? The prospect will likely view your website and head into your leasing office or sales center for a tour.
Furthermore, your strategic plan shouldn’t end once the prospect walks through the door. A well thought out tour is your next step. In what order should property information be presented to your prospect? In most cases, this is the order of operations that yields the best results:
- Property overview
- Apartment amenities
- Community amenities
- Property location
- Floor plan types
This gives prospects the ability to get to know your property and hopefully be wowed by amenities so they’re already picturing themselves living in your community and exploring the local neighborhood by the time you get down to the specifics of floor plan options. This makes many prospects eager to lock down a specific floor plan as you broach this subject with them during your tour.
Leasing offices and sales centers are likely your last chance to wow your prospect and can make or break your prospect’s likelihood of signing a lease. You may have a well thought out strategy to get them in the office and a tour strategy that piques their interest, but what is really going to make you stand out from the crowd? Creating an experience that will resonate is key, so environmental graphics within your leasing/sales center are important factors in sealing the deal. Living green walls, Instagram walls with neon signs, or custom corkboards where you can add photos of prospects signing are all unique ways to achieve that wow factor. If you stay on top of trends, you won’t be surprised. In fact, you’ll be far ahead of others because you’ll have had years to strategize and adapt, so that when disruption hits, you not only have a plan, but are already implementing it.
Every good digital marketing plan for real estate must take into account the user experience on property websites. After all, a digital ad is only as good as the landing page it directs to, and a bad first impression can destroy your chances with a prospect. Real estate marketers today know they need to provide a great user experience on property websites, but they aren’t always sure how to improve UX or use strong UX design from the beginning.
If this sounds like you, don’t worry, we’re going to go through some UX tips for apartment websites. These tips range from quick fixes to broader strategies, but every one of them will help you build websites that meet user’s needs and encourage them to take the actions that are important for your bottom line.
Study User Behavior
First and foremost, you need to understand your users. Not just users in general, but your users; your audience’s browsing habits, goals, needs, motivators, and preferences. Each market is different and so is each person, but a few strategies can help you discover broad habits that your site should cater towards, like what information is important to your users and what device they usually use to search for housing or access your resident portal.
Conduct a Focus Group
A focus group survey can help you understand a lot about your audience. While the best focus groups require diligent survey design, the payoff can be massive.
When conducting focus groups, make sure to get as representative a sample as possible for your city, university, or age group. You might want to offer an incentive to attract more participants—for example, with a chance to win a gift card once the survey has been completed.
Avoid asking leading questions or limiting the answers your respondents can give. Keeping things open-ended is the best way to ensure you learn something you didn’t already know (or assume).
Scrollmaps are a tool you can use to study user behavior on a site that already exists. It shows you where users tend to linger on a page, where they tend to click, and which areas fail to hold their attention. This is a particularly useful tool if you want to identify areas for improvement on a website you’ve already built.
Scrollmaps can’t provide a full picture, however, because they don’t show you what your users would be doing if things were different. They can only show you what they are or aren’t doing right now. In other words, they’re better at identifying problems than solutions. Still, they can be a great place to start.
Study Your Google Analytics
For more insights into user behavior on already existing sites, Google Analytics is a fantastic resource. It allows you to see which pages have the highest bounce rate or lowest time spent on-page, which pages are most viewed and which are rarely seen. These insights can help you identify sections of your site that need improvement. Combined with the use of scrollmaps, this strategy can give you a lot of information about your current UX without having to ask users directly.
Consider Your Mobile User Experience
While many users’ housing searches take place primarily online, mobile phones and tablets still represent a significant portion of the traffic to your property website. In fact, a user is especially likely to encounter your property website on their phone during the discovery phase, when they’re forming their initial opinions and deciding which properties will move forward into their consideration phase. This means having a responsive website—one that’s optimized for a variety of screen sizes—is essential in making a good first impression.
If you’re not sure how to turn a website design that’s optimized for desktop into one that works on mobile, here are a few basic guidelines.
When it comes to website design for mobile:
- Stack content vertically instead of horizontally
- Use image carousels instead of images arranged in a grid pattern
- Implement expandable elements so users can expand and collapse information as they desire
- Use an expandable “hamburger” navigation menu that remains out-of-the-way when not in use
Address Long Loading Times
Nothing contributes to high bounce rates more than a slow load time. That’s because a slowly-loading page makes for a terrible user experience in a world grown accustomed to lightning-fast internet. Users just don’t have the time or patience to wait for your site to load, especially when they have other options available to them.
The best way to reduce page load times is to be aware of the common culprits—namely, video and images. When you have several large image or video files on a page, it takes much longer to load, even on the best internet available today. It’s best to keep each image or video under 500KB wherever possible.
That’s not your only option, though. Sometimes, you might need to include a large file (or several). In cases like these, you can instead defer certain elements from loading on the page until they’re needed, or until the rest of the page loads. For example, you can wait to load a video until a user scrolls to the section of the page it’s on.
Make Pages More Engaging
The longer a user spends on a page, the likelier they are to take a conversion action or become loyal to your brand. But you need to give them reasons to stick around, and that means offering a great experience while they’re there.
One of the best ways to improve website UX by making your pages more engaging is to incorporate great images and video onto as many pages as possible. Users like to have something visual to enhance their understanding of information and hold their focus.
For apartment websites, we highly recommend taking high-quality photos and video of your community and incorporating them throughout your webpages (not just on a gallery page). Virtual tours have become a must, and your homepage can be a great place to feature a professionally edited community tour video or even feature Matterports of your top floor plans.
Make Pages More Scannable
Much as website creators might want them to, users don’t read pages from start to finish. Instead, they scan pages for the information they need or content that engages their attention.
Work with user habits and not against them by making your pages easier to scan. This creates a better user experience on your property website and improves your chances of showing a user that your community is right for them.
Tips for making web pages more scannable include:
- Develop a clear hierarchy of information by using header tags, consistent font and formatting styles, and visual cues that help signal separate chunks of information (like font color, font weight, background color, and other design elements).
- Use headers that clearly signal the content they introduce (e.g. “Community Amenities” or “Amenities for an Active Lifestyle”).
- Avoid long blocks of text. Break up text into sections of about 100 words or less.
- Avoid repetition. Repetitiveness confuses the reader about where they can find the information they’re looking for. It can also seem spammy to users and search engines alike.
- Use bullets or lists when you can (like we just did).
Make In-Demand Pages Accessible
Some pages are more important than others, and you want to make sure your users can easily find and use the pages they need the most (and the pages you most want them to use). For apartment websites, that’s typically your application portal, contact page, and resident portal. It might also be a page housing your virtual tour or floor plan availability. There are a few things you can do to make these in-demand pages more accessible.
Firstly, let’s talk about accessibility in terms of how easy it is to find. Use clear Call-To-Action buttons at the tops of pages—especially your homepage—to direct users to what they need and where you want them to go. You might also use borders and contrasting colors in your navigation menu or headers to make links to these pages clearer and more attractive.
Making pages more accessible also means making them easier to use for as many users as possible, including those with disabilities. For example, make sure you use fonts that are large enough for all users to read. You should also avoid using colors that provide poor contrast with one another, especially for text and CTA buttons.
Don’t Forget About Micro-Copy
“Micro-copy” refers to those small pieces of text that guide a user through your website, like the text on a CTA button or the error message they get when they fill out a form incorrectly. It’s easy to overlook the power of strategic micro-copy, but these are often high-impact areas that define the quality of a user’s experience in spite of their relatively small real estate.
Beyond their usefulness in guiding a user clearly through your website experience, micro-copy also offers a great opportunity to turn something generic into something that expresses your unique brand and really makes an impression on users. For example, the ubiquitous “Submit” button is boring and not all that descriptive. A button reading “Send My Message” or “Make Me a VIP” is more descriptive, personal, and flavorful.
Micro-copy applies to areas like CTAs and form fills but can also include hover copy to let a user know something is clickable and what will happen when they click (e.g. on an image or button), like in the below example.
Micro-copy also allows you to set expectations for what will happen when a user does something, which makes them far more likely to take the conversion actions you want them to take. For example, if you want the user to contact you to schedule a tour or start an application, including the text “We’ll read your message thoroughly and get back to you within 24 hours,” near the contact form gives a user the confidence that taking that action will lead to their desired result.
That’s all our tips for improving UX on apartment websites! If you want to learn more about UX or get professional assistance with your UX Design, you can do so by filling out our Contact Form. We’d love to hear from you.
Earlier this year, Google announced that it would be making updates to targeting capabilities for ads within the housing industry. In the wake of this announcement, many real estate brands and apartment marketers have been wondering what to do about the Google Ads targeting changes and how to ensure their digital campaigns continue to run smoothly and effectively. Today, we’ll be going over what you should do today to meet those goals.
Due for implementation on October 19, 2020, Google’s update will limit the targeting options for real estate ads run on Google platforms in order to bring ads on the platform into alignment with HUD standards. The change will impact ad campaigns in Google Ads, Gmail, and YouTube, some of the most popular and lucrative ad platforms in use by real estate brands today.
Google’s announcement comes in the wake of Facebook’s decision last year to limit its targeting options after the company faced criticisms that some of its targeting options conflicted with the Fair Housing Act (FHA) and other civil rights legislation concerning housing, employment, and finance. With these two industry leaders making these changes, we can likely expect to see new updates along the same lines emerge on other platforms as well in the future, although none have been announced as of today.
Google Ads Targeting Changes
So what exactly is changing? Google’s October update will restrict targeting options for housing, employment, and credit advertising shown to users in the US and Canada. Let’s break down what we know so far.
Broadly speaking, housing, employment, and credit ads will no longer be able to target or exclude users based on age, gender, marital status (or whether someone is getting married soon), parental status, or zip code. This policy only applies to in-scope ads targeting the US and/or Canada. These changes will bring the platform’s targeting tools more in line with legislation like the FHA, which is designed to ensure equitable conditions across the housing industry and reduce discrimination against protected classes of people.
This will also mean that any automatic bid adjustments made on the basis of any of the above targeting factors (age, gender, etc.) will no longer be possible.
Real estate marketers will still have many targeting options, however. They can continue to use all other Google Audiences, contextual targeting, automated bidding, and non-zip code geotargeting options. Let’s dig down into some specifics.
First and foremost, advertisers will still be able to target users based on browsing behavior (like what they search for and what websites they visit). This is already one of the most effective ways to reach qualified leads and this capability isn’t going away. For example, you can still target the keyword “student housing” to capture users searching for this term, even if you can’t target users between the ages of, say, 18 and 22.
Advertisers will also still be able to target based on Interests, providing the possibility of further nuance where useful. For example, if your property is located near a major stadium, you can still target people interested in sports.
Finally, let’s talk about geotargeting options. Targeting based on zip codes will no longer be possible for housing ads, which is a good thing. Zip codes are often drawn on the basis of districting practices that were (or are still) influenced by systemic racism and classism, such as red-lining or gerrymandering. This doesn’t mean that you can’t use location as a targeting factor, however. It just means that, instead of zip code targeting, you’ll need to rely on radius targeting. This will allow you to target users within a certain radius of your property, allowing you to generate qualified leads without the same risk of inequitable impact.
What You Need To Do Today
So what, if anything, should you be doing to prepare for this change? The vast majority of ad campaigns can continue uninterrupted, but if you are running ads that use any of the soon-to-be eliminated targeting options, you’ll want to take action sooner rather than later.
Once these changes are implemented in October 2020, any campaigns using the now-eliminated targeting options will automatically be paused. In order to ensure uninterrupted campaigns, we recommend you make the necessary adjustments to remove soon-defunct targeting options from your campaigns before October 2020.
Whether you’re reading this before or after October 2020, performing a self-audit on your existing ad campaigns (or having your marketing partner do this for you) is an important first step. Determine whether any of your existing campaigns use targeting options that will soon be eliminated, such as age targeting, zip code targeting, or targeting on the basis of family or marital status.
For any existing campaigns that use such targeting features, remove these targeting features. Then, if necessary, you may choose to implement other options that will have a similar targeting impact. For example, you may choose to replace zip code targeting with radius targeting.
After you’ve made the changes, keep an eye on your results and adjust as needed. Impressions, clicks, and cost-per-click are the Key Performance Indicators to focus on as you optimize your campaigns.
Overall, these targeting updates should still leave real estate marketers with the tools they need to see meaningful results that positively impact their bottom line. If you’re looking for more guidance on these changes and how your brand can adapt, don’t hesitate to reach out to the experts at Threshold. We’re always here to help.
Whether you’re coordinating with investors or resolving an issue with your residents, how people see you matters. Public Relations (PR) and Crisis Communications can impact everything from your development schedule to your renewal rates, so you need the right tools to build positive relationships. But how can you avoid classic PR mistakes in the real estate industry and ensure you always meet the goals you’ve set out in your apartment marketing plan? Understanding these simple PR dos and don’ts could be the difference between a reputation-destroying scandal and the unwavering trust of prospects and residents…or it could just help you empower smooth and steady operations day in and day out.
Do Your Homework
Understand your stakeholders, the history of your community, and the needs of your audience. A little market research goes a long way in the world of PR. That’s because the most effective PR is proactive, not reactive. Doing your research ahead of time helps you anticipate any potential issues before they ever arise and proactively generate positive PR to offset any challenges that may arise.
Engage With Your Community
Speaking of proactive PR, taking the time to involve yourself with your local community builds brand recognition and trust, improves word-of-mouth reputation, and broadens your opportunities for positive press. Participating in local initiatives and charitable efforts can also help engage audiences looking for socially conscious brands, which is increasingly relevant for today’s renters, who have more outlets to stay connected and socially aware than ever.
Do a Visibility Audit
Understanding how and where your brand is visible is the necessary foundation for you to build on. Part of good PR is ensuring that your brand is as visible as possible—through SEO efforts, media coverage, social media activity, and so on—but it’s just as important that what’s visible represents your brand in a good light. In other words, it’s great if your brand is the first Google search result for relevant keywords, but if it’s also associated with overwhelmingly negative reviews on its Google My Business page, the harm might offset the good.
Get a holistic picture of your brand’s optics to start, then identify areas for improvement. Next steps might be a round of SEO improvements to your website, launching a paid Google Ad campaign, rehabilitating your reputation management strategy or becoming more active on social media.
Write Your Own News
You don’t have to sit around hoping for positive press—write it yourself! Writing your own blog posts and press releases allows you some control over your own narrative and helps capture your community at all its best angles. Generating positive news is especially relevant for new start communities looking to generate buzz in advance of their open date. So take the time to tell your story wherever you can—on a blog on your website or your social media accounts—and solicit good press by writing press releases showcasing updates, milestones, charitable initiatives, and more newsworthy events.
Build Media Relations
While writing your own story is part of the puzzle, the other part is getting others to share it. That’s where networking becomes important. You can write all the press releases and media pitches you want, but if you don’t know who to direct them to and how, you’re merely shouting into the void, and wasting your energy in the process.
Become familiar with the journalists, bloggers, influencers, and thought leaders on real estate in your area. Understand how you can work with them toward mutual benefit. Don’t assume you can count on them for help without first understanding what you can offer in return. In other words, try to offer content that is genuinely newsworthy, that speaks to their audience, or that offers insight on an industry trend.
With these simple PR guidelines, you’ll expand your positive media coverage, control your story, and highlight the best features of your real estate brand. For most brands, this is enough to generate buzz and avoid snafus.
If you could use help with a more robust PR strategy within a complex market, or need help responding to a crisis, enlisting the help of a professional is often the right call. If you want that help to come from an agency with extensive experience in your real estate market, Threshold is always here to help. Learn more about our PR and Crisis Communications services to determine if they’re right for you.
Before signing a lease with you, your prospects are going to research your community’s online reputation on sites like Google, Yelp, Facebook, Apartments.com, and ApartmentRatings.com. It’s important that what they find inspires their confidence. Incorporating a reputation management strategy in your real estate marketing plan is key, because a poor online reputation means fewer prospects make it to your website, choose to schedule a tour, or take the plunge and sign a lease with you. In fact, Harvard Business School recently published a study showing that a one-star increase in your ratings can result in up to a 9% increase in your overall revenue.
So how can you avoid the trials and tribulations of negative property reviews (and worse, fumbled review responses) and ensure that your reputation works for you and not against you? We’ve been around this block a time or two, and here’s what has always worked for us.
Ask for Honest Reviews
Having no reviews at all can sometimes be just as damaging as having a low average star rating. But you don’t have to just wait around hoping someone will share their experience online. Your average visitor or resident won’t be motivated enough to write a review on their own, but asking politely for a review can turn some of those people into your best advocates.
As long as you don’t ask too often, current residents or leads you’ve been nurturing usually won’t mind you asking for their honest review on sites like Google, Yelp, and ApartmentRatings.com. You legally can’t (and shouldn’t) incentivize review-writing, but you also don’t have to. Providing a great customer service experience such as a well-executed tour, a prompt email response, or well-maintained amenities is usually enough to earn a few minutes of a reviewer’s time. Just don’t be pushy; a simple, “If you’re able, we’d love to hear your review of our service on Google or Yelp” will suffice.
It’s going to happen. Sometimes it’s genuinely your fault and sometimes it may not be. But no one trusts a brand that can’t accept an honest critique without trying to brush it under the rug or rattling off a defensive response. Consumers trust a brand that learns from its mistakes and seeks to right wrongs for the good of the consumers that they serve. Speaking of which…
Learn From Your Mistakes
Negative reviews can become positive growth if you treat them the right way. Many of the common complaints real estate brands see can provide invaluable insight into how to create a better user experience for prospects and current residents alike.
For example, when a prospect arrives for a tour but feels neglected, it may be an opportunity to discuss new strategies with on-site staff (or reinforce existing ones). When a resident complains about a lack of communication from property staff, you may need to rethink your existing processes around mass resident communications or direct follow-up emails from office staff. Nine times out of ten, even a belligerent review that may feel unfair presents some valuable kernel to learn from.
Respond Promptly & Honestly
When you get an online review, especially a negative one, it’s important that it doesn’t go unanswered. As often as possible, craft a personalized response to the reviewer’s specific concerns. Express that you’re sorry you’ve contributed to their negative experience and you intend to do better in the future or to rectify the situation if possible. If necessary to expedite review responses, draft a few templates for responding to common issues so that your staff has a head start on the response content (this way they’re also sure to stay on-script with PR-friendly strategies).
If the reviewer is a current resident, let them know you’ll call or email them to follow up on their concerns (and then actually do it). If your customer service response is truly top quality, they may even update their review to indicate that your team resolved this issue for them, and these kinds of review updates can inspire even more trust for those who read them than a handful of non-specific 5-star reviews.
These guidelines should help you make the most of your online reviews and even allow you to turn challenges into triumphs. If you’re looking for professional help with a particularly challenging situation or you just want to free up your staff’s time for property management needs, there’s always the option of hiring a real estate marketing agency like Threshold to help you out. Our team is here to chat if you’re interested.