Want to Increase Your SEO and Cut Your Advertising Dollars???

I have been saving this post for a long time.  I’ve tried to figure out a way to “monetize” it and earn some revenue from it, but it’s more of a concept than a product or service.  The bottom line is I can’t really keep it to myself anymore and it’s time to burst.  So here it is….

LIST YOUR COMPETITORS ON YOUR OWN WEBSITE!

If you are an apartment community and you advertise on apartments.com, rent.com or  For Rent or Apartment Guide’s websites, you’re already paying thousands of dollars a year to list your information side by side with your competition.  So why not add them all to your own website, increase your content exponentially and get the Google juice as a result?!  The bigger the company, the better the results should be.  Allow your prospects to shop and compare your communities with your competition on your own site.  Make it even easier for them than the websites you pay to advertise with and create a shop and compare chart with  all the amenities and services you offer right next to what your competition offers.

This will work for almost any website really.  Do you own a hair salon?  List your competitors, their services and rates and compare them with your own.  Run a local coffee shop with a few locations?  List your competitors and their menus and pricing.  Own a landscaping service?  List your competitors and tell the consumer why you are better.

DO NOT:  List their phone numbers.

DO:  Put photos of your competition.

DO NOT:  Bad mouth your competition.

DO:  Share reviews about yourself and your competition.

DO:  Add as many competitors as possible.  The average consumer will find it anyway.

DO NOT:  Be afraid!  The average consumer already knows your competition anyway!  If they don’t then don’t listen to me.

I’m not going to tell you every little detail of this concept and how to make it really work.  If you want a great plan of execution then you’ll find me.  I’ve given you enough information to be dangerous.  If you really are better than your competition, offer complete transparency and crush your competition online and in your bottom line.

Follow Up Discusson on Apartment Review Websites

(This is a continuation of a discussion that has taken place.  Links to the other blogs discussing this topic can be found at the end of this post.)

I think the fact that we are talking about it is a great sign that we don’t want to bury our heads in the sand any longer. The information above is very compelling and shows an obvious trend in transparency. I agree that it will only progress further and our industry needs to get on board in some fashion.

However, I am still conflicted about coming up with a way to embrace these websites and promote them to prospects or integrate it into our customer satisfaction process.  They simply lack credibility.   Here are some questions and my initial answers I’d like to throw out that could result in possible solutions that work towards equitable transparency:

1.  Can the local apartment associations form a partnership with a customer satisfaction organization to come up with a solution that would benefit the prospect and portray the apartment communities in an accurate manner?

I think this could be a possibility and could actually lead to stronger apartment associations. They are already driving traffic to our communities which is great. Why not add reviews for current residents? The associations could become the JD Power of our industry. Sure there are possible conflicts of interest, but with a third party administrator and the right format there could be a great deal of integrity. Disclosure would be key for transparency to be achieved.

2.  Have any owners/managers had the moxie to post ALL of the results (good or bad) of their CEL or other satisfaction surveys on their community sites?

If you have a 500 unit property and 30% of residents respond, would it be smart to post all 150 responses online? Talk about transparency. This would also take away from some of the credibility of the current formats.

3.  Why not post the number of resident referrals your community receives on their websites or the number of residents who have chosen to renew their lease?

Run a counter at the top of the page that gets updated on a regular basis and have it link to a page dedicated to your resident referral program and the statement that it makes about your community. Residents don’t refer people to a community where they no longer wish to live themselves. Do something similar with a repeat customers page. Most consumers don’t give repeat business to a company with poor products and services. I sure don’t. Talk about that! Let your prospects know how many people have not renewed due to issues that do not reflect customer satisfaction such as home purchases and move outs. These are all things that we have access to that these so called consumer advocate or consumer review websites do not have, which come to think of it diminishes their ability to provide true transparency.

In spite of our desire to believe that the company we work for has the secret recipe, there are not really many proprietary secrets in our industry. With employee turnover at every level our business practices have become homogeneous. Twitter and blogs have increased that exponentially in the last few years. We thought we were in the information age years ago, but that was just the beginning.

We need to become the authority on transparency and push each other to no longer “fall short” on customer service and resident retention. Fight fire with fire ladies and gentlemen. Don’t waste time being held hostage by a website that knows nothing about our industry and who’s business model is to capitalize on content being the driving force of hits on the internet. Information is power and we have more information than we know what to do with. Put it to use and fight their candle with your flame thrower!

Links:

Apartment Marketing Blog

Multifamily Pro

Aptly Spoken

Multifamily Insiders

Get Zing’d

padzing.com

padzing.com

I just received a personal tour of Padzing.com from Mike Mueller and my first impression is that Padzing.com is to market surveys as Wonder is to sliced bread.  If you are a numbers and data junkie, then you will definitely want to check this out.  Padzing is a compilation of data from Rent.com and Vaultware.  Simply put, the data has been gathered from communities advertising on Rent.com and the users of Vaultware.  “We developed it with the idea of going to one website to see what your peers are charging for their apartments,” says Mueller, CEO of Realty Data Trust.

A quick search on Padzing by zip code or city and state provides the user with current vacancy information, average rents, and average rent per square foot by Nationally or by, State, County and where available Zip Code.  It also breaks it down by unit type.   Graphs provide a snapshot of the history of those numbers so you can follow trends.  Mapping options allow you to gather the same date by radius.  Reports can be exported into MS Excel.  With all of these different options, the number of ways to review the data are countless.

If you decide to use this information you will have to take into account the number of properties that are being used to compile that data.  The great thing about it is they disclose that information on every page.  So if 5 properties in your Zip Code reporting data isn’t enough, then you can research the other 5 on your own, but your analysis is halfway complete.  If your top 3 competitors are listed on Padzing and your analysis is based on them, then a great deal of your information is collected for you already.

While this tool is truly in it’s infancy, with support and cooperation from the industry it can only get better. Enhancements are already being devoloped including a feature that will send an email or a text message if pricing is changed at a community you are following.  Take advantage of this tool while it’s still free!

“It’s where the industry is heading,” says Mueller.  “Padzing.com puts transparency into pricing.  It’s a poor man’s revenue management.”

Would Brad Pitt Respond to Apartmentratings.com?

Apartmentratings.com is the National Enquirer of the apartment industry.  It has given an anonymous voice to the general public to speak out against their apartment management and expose their dirty little secrets.  Actually, come to think of it, I would be doing the National Enquirer a huge disservice by comparing them to an organization that doesn’t make any effort whatsoever to check it’s facts.  Unless you are paying close attention to the information posted about your apartment communities, a great deal of misleading and inaccurate information may be posted about your community and, unfortunately, in some cases about your staff.   

One of the worst things that a celebrity can do is respond to attacks in the media.  As a celebrity, you know going into it that your character and personal life will be under scrutiny.  One of the most talked about celebrities of course is Brad Pitt.  There is almost always a headline about gossip from his personal life in the news.  What you rarely see from Brad Pitt and a lot of big name celebrities, is a reaction, written or verbal.  It’s very rare.  In the cases where you  do see a reaction, it tends to blow up in their face.  They are misquoted or it is found out later that they were lying to cover something up.

I have found this to be true when reacting to negative reviews on Apartmentratings.com.  When you respond to a review, the person who posted that review is immediately notified by email that a comment has been made.  They will typically respond  to your response and call you out as being associated with ownership in some way.  This immediately discredits your response.   

Another issue with Apartmentratings.com is that thier scoring and rating system is totally flawed.  I question if there is a system to it at all other than dividing the number of bad reviews by the number of total reviews and creating a score.  They do not account for the number of residents NOT complaining.  They do not account for time.  They do not account for the fact that an angry customer will tell more people about their experience than a happy customer will tell about theirs.  I dealt with a prospect who had read a review of a 1,500 unit property on Apartmentratings and that community had received 8 negative reviews in the last year.  That is just about one half of one percent of all residents.  This community had a score of 34% on Apartmentratings.  So, a community with upwards of 3,000 residents gets 8 complaints in one year and have a score of 34%.  Take it one step further and factor in an annual turnover ratio of 50% and an average of 1.5 occupants per unit,  you have an additional 1125 new residents eacy year.  Over a 5 year span, you actually have approximately 6,000 customers.  Hmmmm.  Seems a bit unfair considering less than .00016% of residents complained over the course of 5 years.  I’m not a mathmetician, so I don’t even know what you call this, but I do know it’s not a statistically significant number.  I’m not saying the community deserves a 99.5 percent rating, but a 34% is obviously inaccurate.  On the opposite side of that example, there is another community that has an overall rating of 98%, yet it hasn’t had a review since September of 2008 and only has 26 total reviews.  

 Do we really want to spend time as an industry giving credibility to a website that doesn’t seem to give us any?  I’m all for customer service and feedback and like the full disclosure approach, however I feel that this scoring system may be doing just as much harm to prospective renters as good.  

Here’s an example of how it could be harmful.  Let’s say a prospect has limited transportation and limited income.  They go to a property that is close to their work and public transportation and is the only one in the area they can afford.  After they tour, they go to Apartmentratings and see a 34% score and they begin to read through complaints (some of which were probably posted by the competition).  Now that prospect is second guessing living in the one community that truly best meets their needs because of a flawed scoring system.  

Apartmentratings.com needs to service the prospects better and needs to show up and take part in our industry.  By eliminating the scoring factor from their site and sticking with a message board and opinion/review approach, everyone would be better served.  In the mean time, my recommendation is to take the Brad Pitt approach and not react.  Instead, spend the time and resources you would battling with Apartmentratings.com on training your staff to follow up on service requests in a timely manner and properly handling customer service issues.  Even then, your scores on Apartmentratings.com may not increase, but your resident retention will.  😉

Now, the inevitable counterpoint to my opinion is to embrace Apartmentratings.com.  I’m sure some communities or management companies have tremendous success stories about their experiences and strategies on Apartmentratings.com.  I hope they will share them within the comments section of the blog.  If you do respond to negative or positive reviews you should never hide the fact that you represent the property.  Make it crystal clear who is responding and make sure you have an intellectual response.  Do not make excuses.  Do not blame the resident.  Do not undermine the resident’s complaint.  That could result in further retaliation.  You also have to commit to a high level of consistency.  Encourage your happy residents to write reviews.  Again, please feel free to share your success stories.

National Apartment Association Blog

The National Apartment Association has started a blog which will be a great resource for the Multi Family industry. I am pleased to be one of the contributing writers to this blog. Check it out!

I will continue to post to brainoblog on a regular basis. Please feel free to give me ideas of what you would like to read about and don’t be afraid to share your opinion or add to any of my posts by leaving your comments. Feedback is always welcome.

Twitter

So, I’m finally on Twitter and already have found great information.  Haven’t leased an apartment on it yet, but it’s only been 48 hours.  The application hasn’t even been processed yet.  

I did a search for apartments and discoverd something that simply verified one of my earlier posts.  Craigslist works.  I found a young lady in Richmond, VA who found “2 kick-ass apartments on craigslist and made appointments to see both tomorrow!”  See for yourself… http://twitter.com/RiverCityGal

So, what’ my point?  My point is that I used one form of social media to verify the validity of another, which inherntly verifies the validity of both for our industry.   In the words of RiverCityGal, “Kick-Ass”!

If You Haven’t Heard, Craigslist and Google Analytics are FREE!

Craigslist:  If you aren’t using Craigslist yet, start.  If you were using Craigslist and decided to stop, start over.  It’s a great resource, it’s easy to use and best of all it’s free.

For many of us, this is old news, but for those who aren’t on board the results speak for themselves.  Just make sure your ads are strategic and smart.  For example, if you are a high end community, don’t boast your lowest prices.  You will get unqualified prospects, especially given the current economy.  Advertise your standard and competitive rates.  Even people with money to spend are using Craigslist to find a deal!

If you are an economy community, make sure you are advertising your lowest rate for apartments that you have available.  Check your inventory.  If you only have one available, make sure you advertise that and create a sense of urgency.  If you rent that unit, pull the ad immediately.  You will continue to get calls and Craigslist users are savvy and penny pinchers.  They will demand you honor your ad.

Google Analytics:   This has to be the coolest free thing I have ever seen.  Even if you already have tracking software for your website, you should check out Google’s technology and compare.  The reports are in depth and will confirm how well your advertising sources are working in terms of hits to your website.  If used properly you can get as detailed as how many users are visiting your community pages, viewing rates and floorplans, and maps and directions.  This is excellent information.   I will post more about this in the future, but I just wanted to get it out there to anyone who isn’t using it currently.

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