Gables Residential vice president of marketing Lynette Hegeman often says she thinks of the leasing process as a funnel in which prospects spend, on average, 46 days searching for a new apartment home, using approximately five to eight resources to narrow their search. The new website at Gables.com is designed not only to assist in this process by making the desired information easily available to prospects, but also to help the Atlanta-based company continue to refine its product offerings by identifying the tools prospects are using most frequently, what kinds of prospects are being driven to the community pages, where they're coming from, and the conversion rates for all of the multiple steps, from initial inquiry to move-in. “Instead of looking at the quantity of traffic, it’s about the quality,” Hegeman says. “At the end of the day, we believe we’re going to be attracting a better-qualified prospect because of the way we’re efficiently providing the most valuable information and presenting it in a manner that enables renters to easily find it.”
Gables’ new website, created with Atlanta-based agency Digital Scientists, comes with search and mapping tools as well as hyper-local community content that allows prospective residents to type in a location or a point of interest and find the closest Gables community. The site also lets visitors narrow their search based on floor plan, amenities, availability, pet policy, green features, and price, and compare floor plans to find an apartment home.
Hegeman took some time this week to speak with MFE about Gables’ new website:
MFE: What were the drivers behind the development of this site?
LH: A big focus was strengthening the SEO [search engine optimization]. Basically, when prospects go to search for a community, the site dynamically determines the user’s main locational point of interest [with Google’s help] and shows communities in that area. We set a 15-mile radius from the point of interest and pull up any Gables property that falls within the geographic area. The site also suggests common neighborhoods and regions to the users as they start searching. Communities in these regions have been submitted to Google to help with SEO.
We have also linked property location to the community pages and to the region search pages. This helps Google find the region search pages and prioritize them in its index, which further helps increase the search results for Gables.com.
We make all of the unit pages available on the site (and to Google), not just the available floor plan pages. If a particular unit is unavailable, the link demonstrates all of the floor plans. We’ve tagged the community information with the “schema” data format;
this helps Google understand the address and phone number associated with the location.
MFE: Was SEO strengthening the only driver?
LH: We also added Smart Search and Smart Filtering so that prospects can more easily search for communities within specific neighborhoods or within cities to find the ideal apartment home. Smart Filtering allows users to search using various filters. Prospects can look for floor plans based on availability. They can also query by beds, baths, rents, community amenities, and if they’re pet friendly or offer green features. The site can provide them with a host of options to consider and adjust their search accordingly.
Another important element is social-media integration. We’ve added Walkscore, community blogs, Facebook, Twitter, and Google+ for selected communities. We are continuing to engage both prospects and residents with a variety of social-media tools.
In addition, there’s dynamic availability, which is powered by VaultWare. Three times a day, we update rents and availability so that prospective residents can see the most current information.
MFE: How big of a driver were Google searches in the creation of this site?
LH: It’s not just what’s important to Google, but what’s important to our prospect. It’s really helping them to have a great experience when searching for an apartment and to give them the information and tools to be able to go from looking to wanting and needing our community to ultimately leasing with Gables. Prospects can conduct in-depth research, reserve specific apartment homes, complete an online application, and finalize the lease—basically conduct each step from start to finish.
MFE: How can residents use the site to compare apartments?
LH: The site offers a comparison feature that allows you to compare one unit with another, or one Gables apartment community with another Gables apartment community. For example, you can pull up units 1A, 1B, and 1C and find the difference in square footage and the difference in bedrooms, bathrooms, and apartment features. I think this can be a valuable tool in helping a prospect make an informed decision.
MFE: How does the site help Gables?
LH: We have designed the site to deliver the metrics and analytics that help us make better marketing decisions. By having better information, we'll be able to make smarter decisions on our marketing spend and be focused on what is working effectively. Our goal is not to have a bucket of marketing initiatives and call ourselves great marketers; rather, we strive to be smart marketers who know exactly what we're spending as well as what we hope to achieve. It really boils down to understanding each step of the funnel, conversion rates, and, ultimately, each initiative that you're using. Knowledge truly is power.