Year after year, marketing teams strive to keep pace with Google’s changes to and new iterations of its algorithm. The tech giant’s enhancements have progressed to the point that Google no longer wants users to filter through several results for an online query – it wants to be the result.
That’s becoming increasingly apparent with free features within Google My Business (GMB) listings such as search, maps and knowledge panels, which are serving a wide variety of consumer needs. That includes those of prospective residents, who are regularly searching through GMB listings rather than organic listings. In fact, a recent Entrata study found that 63 percent of Google clicks are happening apart from the organic, or blue link, listings.
The knowledge panel within Google My Business is particularly beneficial for the rental housing industry, as it pulls in ratings and reviews and has recently added a question-and-answer feature. Perhaps most useful is that GMB listings allow apartment communities to fill in a description and add photos.
The apartment industry is doing the heavy lifting for Google by filling out its content, but it’s mutually beneficial. It’s a free way to deliver information to prospects in an area that they are regularly searching, and the knowledge panel is self-sufficient in that it acts as a mini-brochure for the apartment community. In addition to pulling in map-based searches, ratings and reviews and imagery, it allows teams to add posts, specials, temporary tags on maps and other items that provide a short-term marketing boost.
Now that mobile is so prolific and the knowledge panel is dominating search results, it’s not surprising that blue links aren’t the focus anymore. The knowledge panel and other GMB features are predicted to monopolize search activity in the future.
GMB in Action
The Princeton Properties team did an A/B test on two similar properties. These two communities are both based in Lowell, Mass., and are the same age, same price point and share the same ZIP code. On one, Princeton Park, our team used the “post” section of GMB by posting short-term specials with photos and brief conversation points. We left the other property, Princeton Belvidere, alone. As with anywhere, we had filled out the GMB descriptions for Belvidere but weren’t utilizing posts.
In the one-month snapshot of tracking the behavior of each, we almost quadrupled the actions that were happening at Park. While we had significant increase in views and traffic, most compelling was the amount of “actions.” Prospects were interacting with the site and regularly clicked to call or to go to the website.
That A/B test forced us to incorporate this practice into our regular strategy. Posting into GMB pages is now a normal tactic for us just like pay-per-click (PPC), search-engine optimization (SEO) or social-strategy posting.
Future of ILS
GMB listings are changing the role and prominence of traditional Internet Listing Services (ILS). Now, teams are starting to first utilize Google products to their fullest extent before layering strategies that include the ILS.
ILSs are still a large player in the industry because they employ powerful word buying strategies. If Google continues down the path of being the result of the search rather than just sorting the search, the industry might start trending down its ILS usage.
This is similar to a trend from five to seven years ago, when the industry was getting more strategic with hyper-local SEO word buying and keyword density on the website. The ILSs were able to compete with this trend because they had deeper pockets than the local players. ILSs could find themselves in a similar situation if Google provides a knowledge panel that can self-sustain.
These GMB features are setting the stage for the apartment industry to mimic the new paths taken by hotels and restaurants, in which prospects can reserve a tour or look at a floor plan and see real-time pricing from the knowledge panel. If this occurs, the traditional ILS will have to adjust to keep pace.
Efficient Ways to Utilize GMB
Google is so progressive and, for many, it’s entertaining to watch it evolve. While many Google products are free to the rental housing industry, dedicating the manpower to manage these products can be a challenge. That especially applies to smaller companies with manpower constraints.
While it might eventually morph to individual properties, most of the maintenance is now handled at the corporate level. Some companies are starting to reallocate advertising dollars to employ a full-time team member that handles Google updates. That could be the industry business model in three years.
Apartment operators are only doing themselves a favor by filling out every section of Google to the fullest. If it gives you the option to add photos, add photos. If it gives you the opportunity to add a paragraph of description, do it.
Keeping pace with Google’s changes is vitally important. Those who grew up with the SEO/SEM part of the industry are better equipped to keep pace with Google’s ever-evolving algorithm. And those who follow Google’s trends and behaviors will be ahead of the industry curve.