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Is Voice the New Way to Attract Residents?

voice search

By Barbara Ballinger

While voice search offers promise, there are some things you need to know. Here are three things to remember before jumping in.

Anyone who has tried communicating with Siri, Google’s Home or Amazon’s Alexa understands the value of a voice assistant – namely speed. Whether it’s a request to “Please turn on the oven” or “Switch off the lights,” you save time and effort by not having to get up and walk to the range or light controls.

These technological helpers are now doing metaphorical legwork by allowing you to ask for the perfect dwelling. Instead of scrolling through online listings or touring open houses, you might inquire: “What’s available in North Dallas for under $800 per month?” (Not much, it might respond.)

Apartment owners and managers are beginning to adopt the technology. Michaels Student Living, part of The Michaels Organization based in Marlton, N.J., has become an early advocate of incorporating voice search in its marketing strategy, says Barrie Nichols, Vice President, Leasing and Marketing. “Video content is still king and creates the most engagement with our student demographic. Our digital partners are encouraging and supporting our SEO efforts in voice search. Students like the idea of hands-free voice search and want an immediate response,” Nichols says.

For example, the company uses it to attract students to its off-campus, pet-friendly, smart housing property, The 505 on Walnut, near Syracuse University. The voice response not only gives the name of the property but its address and any Yelp reviews when a virtual assistant is asked, “What is the best off-campus student housing building in Syracuse, N.Y.,” says general manager Marybeth Riscica. 

"We demonstrate the smart home technology each time we give a property tour. Residents are also able to voice-search the web for anything they want after they move in) such as local restaurants, concerts, sporting events, as well as just listen to their favorite music station," Riscica says, adding, “The smart technology we provide here is one of our biggest selling features that sets us apart from our competitors, and we were one of the first in the area to use it."  

However, pundits debate how big a role these new technologies will play. By 2020, half of the online searches are projected to be this way, according to Andrew Ng, Chief Scientist at Baidu, who cited that number in an interview with Fast Company magazine in 2014. That number may be a tad high, according to Rebecca Sentence in an online article last year, “The Future of Voice Search: 2020 and Beyond” in Ecoconsultancy. 

For now, the more important takeaway isn’t how pervasive it will be but that it’s available and expected to grow. Savvy property owners and managers looking for another edge might work with their digital partners to include it in their online strategies, along with written website content and videos. “We’ve been advised not to leave it out,” Nichols says.

But because it’s far from a slam-dunk, know what’s key and consider these three points: 

Optimize SEO to attract searches.

To be able to promote a community, digital experts must incorporate the right SEO optimization words in the response so its name, address, and phone rank high in what’s delivered verbally. 

However, one hurdle is that those asking for help won’t want just one answer, says Andy Medley, CEO and Co-founder of PERQ, an Indianapolis-based marketing technology company that helps increase engagement of existing website traffic through artificial intelligence.

“Today search technology is predicated on the fact consumers want to make a fast and easy decision—for example, ‘play Pearl Jam (Radio) station’ or ‘order laundry detergent.’ If asking, ‘Where should I live in Manhattan?’ the technology is limited in how it can accommodate that search, and the consumer will have plenty of questions after, let alone the fact to see these places,” he says. “The technology now gives only one answer, and it may not be the right place. The search technology is simply not yet at the level to handle complicated, multi-layered searches like trying to find an apartment,” Medley says. 

Another hurdle is the same with any voice recognition search, which is different from what’s used for a written website. “How we talk is different from how we read and write,” says KP Reddy, founder of Shadow Ventures, an Atlanta-based venture capital firm focused on investing in startups in the underserved AEC (architecture, engineering and construction) and CRE tech markets. 

Fortunately, Google has improved its word recognition accuracy to more than 90 percent, Nichols says. But mistakes are still made, which also frustrates users, Medley says. 

Encourage questions that connect with a property’s SEO.

Users need to know how to engage the technology to get satisfactory answers. “Most voice content is posed in the form of a question, so users need to ask using the right words,” Nichols says. “If they have a pet, they might put that in their search from the start such as ‘What’s the best apartment near Boise State University that accepts pets?’” she says. “The SEO has to take all possibilities into consideration.”

Prioritize marketing dollars.

Medley believes voice will take its place as one solution in the future, but not the only one. But he has no doubt search technology will accommodate these types of searches in the future. However, he says, there are more fruitful priorities for property management companies to focus on today to engage the consumer online, starting with their website experience.