Answering Questions No One Asked: Audience Focused Content and You – Part 2

**Part 2 of a two-part series about bad content. This entry focuses on real estate and rental on page issues***

 

Welcome back and thanks for sticking with me through part one of our journey through the reasons why there’s so much garbage on the internet right now and what you can do about it. Now that we’ve discovered why there’s so much bad eCommerce content out there and how to fix it, let’s move on to another pet peeve of mine: bad Real Estate and Rentals content.

Let’s Rent an Apartment!

So imagine you’re Bob Wanttorentanapartment and you want to…rent an apartment. Well, in the old days (read: the 90s and before), you’d get yourself a newspaper or one of those fancy ‘apartment rental guides’ on those racks of free magazines no one takes near the door of every grocery store and head home for a night of exciting adventures in house hunting. Bob gets home, sits down in his favorite chair and opens the paper and the first ad he sees is the following:

“Lovely two bedroom apartment home in a desirable neighborhood within walking distance to schools, parks and shopping! AC, Heat, W/D Hookups & Cable Ready! Move-in specials available! Call now!”

That just sounds dandy, doesn’t it? Bob thinks so but he thinks he should probably take a look at a few other ads before he makes that call. You know, just to be a good comparison shopper and all that. Well, he looks down to the next ad on the page and he sees:

“Amazing two bedroom apartment home in a great neighborhood within walking distance to restaurants, parks and entertainment! AC, Heat, W/D Hookups & Cable Ready! Move-in specials available! Call now!”

Ok, so that ad is almost exactly the same as the first ad. Bob is a little weirded out but he figures maybe he’s just seeing things. So he looks to the third ad and there it is again. And the fourth. And fifth. All the way down the page, it’s a regular parade of ‘lovely apartment homes’ in ‘desirable neighborhoods’ that all have ‘move-in specials’. Bob is not happy and is beginning to question his sanity.

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Thank goodness Bob lives in the modern days of 2016! Instead of picking up a newspaper or an apartment guide, Bob just goes online, searches or ‘Apartment rentals’ and the first thing he sees is:

“Lovely two bedroom apartment home in a desirable neighborhood within walking distance to schools, parks and shopping! AC, Heat, W/D Hookups & Cable Ready! Move-in specials available! Call now!”

Everything is the Same!

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I’d like to say I was exaggerating the problem but I can’t. Full disclosure: before I got into the wonderful world of SEO and Content marketing, I used to work in the Classified ads department of a major newspaper company and part of that job was reviewing real estate and rental ads. If you ever needed an object lesson in redundancy, try doing that for a few years. I can tell you from personal experience that about 85% of all the ads that came in were almost the exact same thing, only the addresses change.

Everyone’s got ‘great’ apartments in ‘desirable’ neighborhood that are all somehow ‘convenient to the highway’. We get it. We’ve seen it all before. After the fifteenth ad those words begin to lose all meaning. The words ‘desirable neighborhood’ in a rental ad is like the word ‘synergy’: it’s what you say when you’ve got nothing to say.

Ok, but let’s cut them some slack! After all, when it comes to classified ads, you’re working with a limited amount of room on the page and you can’t really be too descriptive unless you want to shell out extra money per line of text and you have to pay to add a photo and that can start getting real expensive real quick! So I get that.

But then, I moved on to Real Estate and Apartment Rental SEO and guess what. I saw the same exact copy that I used to see in the newspaper ads but only this time, someone smacked it on a website and called it ‘content’. Just typing a bunch of buzzwords doesn’t help an apartment hunter and it doesn’t help you stand out from every other ad that’s just typing a bunch of buzzwords. Also, don’t think for a second it’s only the apartment rentals industry doing this. The Real Estate (home buying & selling) industry is infamous for this as well, so while I’m going to speak in terms of apartments, everything said is applicable to both areas.

So What Do I Do?

The main problem with content like this is that it’s flat out unhelpful. Think about it. If you’re trying to rent an apartment and every single ad is the same as the one before it, how are you supposed to know who to call? All those buzzwords that mean nothing aren’t going to drive clicks or calls and if you think you’re going to rank highly for search terms like ‘Apartments’ + ‘your city’ with generic content like that, think again – and that’s not even talking about in competitive markets like New York City where you’d better be an SEO wizard if you want to rank highly for rentals. If you’re in a major city and still using bland on page copy…honestly, I don’t know how you’re still in business.

So what do we do instead? It’s easy: Give people something to see, something to want and something to know. How do we do that? Glad you asked.

Something to See

Let’s talk about the photos on your site. Let’s be honest, most rental photos are low quality, grainy images of living rooms, dining rooms and bedrooms filled with furniture that most people can’t afford so any place will look great until you actually get there – and it’s getting to the point where all the pictures are starting to look the same. So your in-unit photos aren’t doing you any good as they are now.

You also have photos of the community grounds and common areas? So you’re telling me a picture of your business center’s fax machine, the same exercise bikes that literally every other apartment complex has and some random jungle gym sitting in a mound of dirt is going to close that deal, eh? Good luck with that.

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Well, you can keep doing…whatever that is…or you can try using photos that are actually good! How? Well, ideally, you’d hire an actual photographer with proper camera equipment instead of getting the maintenance man with his 10-year-old phone to take pictures. But, yes, photographers can be a bit expensive so if you’re doing it yourself, you can find a few tips around the web so I’ll cover some of ‘don’ts’ here that I’ve actually seen people do during my career:

  • If you’re taking a picture of a bathroom with a mirror in it. For the love of everything, do not use the flash on your camera so that the picture is a giant ball of light and a toilet. How anyone thinks that is helpful or something to show potential tenants is beyond me but I’ve seen people do it.
  • Think about what you’re taking a picture of before you take it. If you realize that the pictures you’re taking are of no help to anyone, do not take them. If you’re taking 10 pictures of a dog poop can, 2 pictures of your Apartment complex sign and 6 pictures of the business center literally no one ever uses, then you’re doing it wrong.
  • Don’t try to get creative with horrible pictures. Look, if you took a picture and it turns out that it’s the size of a postage stamp for whatever reason, do not try to ‘just photoshop it’ to make it bigger. No one needs to see your pixelated nightmare fever dreams.
  • If the only pictures you have your apartments or complex grounds are from when the place first opened fifteen years ago, do not use those. The place looked great when it was brand new? Great. Too bad the paint is peeling, the grounds haven’t been maintained, people leave dog poop all over the place and there are craters in the parking lot. If you use great photos from years ago to get people to come out and take a look at your complex….people have eyes when they get there. That’s just going to make a lot of people mad and feel cheated. Take new photos of your complex and units and be honest. Sure, dress them up a little and don’t take pictures of your parking lot potholes but don’t lie to people. Also, real talk: if your complex is crumbling like that, you need to renovate, forget about renting or you’re probably just going to hurt yourself with a ton of bad reviews on third party sites like apartment ratings…just sayin’

 

Also, once you have great images for your site, don’t forget to optimize them to maximize your SEO benefits! If you took the time to get your images right, don’t forget the basics here.

Something to Want

Ok, so we’ve covered the images on your site so let’s move on to your on page text. We’ve already discussed what not to do at length so let’s talk about what you should do. Simply put, give people something to want that they won’t get somewhere else. Yes, we know that a lot of complexes are the same and there are only so many ways to describe crown molding, but if you can’t tell people why they should rent from you instead of somewhere else, no one can.

Figure out who your key demographic is and market specifically to them. If your complex has mostly seniors, childless couples or singles there, they probably won’t care about your on-site playground. Same goes for your business center…you know what, almost no one cares about your business center. I’ve lived in apartments and I’ve done this job for years and I’ve not once heard anyone say ‘Thank God we advertised our business center! That brought us so many conversions!’

businesscenters

The point is to identify what your key audience wants and give it to them or identify what problems they are having in a community and to solve them. You also need to tell them exactly why they should rent from you specifically and you can do this once you have done a little audience research. Find out why your happy tenants are happy with you and why your upset ones are upset and use that. It doesn’t take very long to do and will go much further for you than trying to cram your copy full of ‘keywords’ or buzzwords that you think will make you ‘rank real high!’.

Something to Know

When I say ‘something to know’ I’m not talking about your marketing shtick. I’m talking about the area your complex is located in. This is where your local SEO techniques and skills come into play. This is where you do your keyword and area research and start working up a good on-page content strategy that targets your area and your position on the search engines. The best way to do this is by being helpful to readers.

The biggest mistake you can make during this phase is to start just cramming the ol’ ‘Apartment Complex Name + Your City’ keyword combination into every single page of your site. This is not useful, won’t help anyone and can even possibly get you dinged by Panda and now the new Possum Algorithm makes it even less important to cram those keywords in there.  Look, just don’t do that.

Instead, do some area research. Are you near any parks, schools, malls, stores or restaurants that your demographic would care about? If so, say so! And I don’t mean a sentence saying ‘great location near shopping!’ I mean saying exactly what you’re near and how far you are from it. Can I walk to the Target? Is the Walgreen’s a five-minute drive? Is there a really good Jazz club around the corner? Get specific! Use business names in your copy when you are able to (and you’re sure other businesses won’t mind, but honestly, it’s a free mention so they really shouldn’t) because guess what – people like knowing where things are in relation to where they’re going to live! It’s funny how that works, no?

Also, don’t forget to do things like add driving directions to your complex from major highways if feasible and you can even put a nice Google Maps driving directions code snippet on your ‘contact us’ page – you do have a contact us page, don’t you? Also, if you haven’t implemented call tracking, even though doing so can have some issues you need to watch out for, you should do so.

In summary, the solution to this is the same as the solution for eCommerce shops. Give people helpful, informative and localized content that answers their questions and tells them concrete details of why they should go to you and not to the next guy down the street.

Bottom Line

If you want to fill those units, you basically need to give people reasons why and looking and sounding like everyone else is not going to cut it. Be clear, be concise and give details at all times. As stated previously, if you can’t tell someone why your complex is better than the one across the street, you’re going to lose business to the one across the street. Know your audience, your competition and your local area and go from there on to Content Marketing and SEO victory.

And take about 95% less pictures of your business center. Nobody cares about your business center.

 

 

 

 

 

 

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