It's no secret that the Internet will be THE way to reach renters in the coming year. Just listen to this: In 2007, nearly 51 percent of AvalonBay Communities' leases came from online sources, up from 24 percent in 2003. But what you may not know is how to milk your site for all its worth.
It all comes down to the details. “A lot of Web sites are built for aesthetics, not functionality,” says Kevin Thompson, senior director of marketing at Alexandria, Va.-based AvalonBay Communities. “But it's not just what the consumer sees. It's what the spider or search engine sees. You can have the most attractive Web site out there with great community photos, but if the site has not been optimized appropriately, the organic search engine may never notice it because it's not relevant to key word searches.”
In addition to search engine optimization, Thompson suggests exploring pay-per-click, or PPC, advertising management. That's where developers purchase key words and phrases relative to the company or properties and when a Net user searches that word or phrase, a sponsor link or ad pops up, typically on the top or right side of the page. The developer pays each time someone clicks on the sponsored ad.
“It's still unchartered waters for much of the multifamily industry,” Thompson says. “The companies who are doing it well are some of the larger national REITs and apartment Internet listing services. You have to pay to play; it's not the cheapest media you will find out there on a gross level.” Still, Thompson predicts the strategy, which has proven effective at AvalonBay, will gain traction in 2008 and beyond. Also, expect to see more companies enhance their sites with interactive features, which include everything from online leasing to side-by-side apartment comparison shopping. And they're not stopping there—13 percent of the 2008 Strategies Survey respondents say they plan to test out Web 2.0 outlets such as MySpace and YouTube in the coming year.
While paperless campaigns are also a rising force next year, don't expect print components to completely disappear—at least not yet. Select firms are attempting 100 percent electronic marketing campaigns, but the vast majority will still rely on print materials, especially the ever-popular guidebooks.
“We are trying to attract more people to the Web, but we think paper-based advertising [is] another way to really drive traffic to the Web,” says Martha Carlin, executive vice president of property operations at Richmond, Va.-based UDR. Developer Opus Northwest agrees. The Minnetonka, Minn.-based firm ran a quarter-page ad in the Seattle Times for a property under construction. In just three weeks, the ad generated 7,000 hits to the property's Web site.