Apartment search trends: What the data says about SEO & PPC shifts

Nov 16, 2023

Apartment search box over rainbow interior photo

Apartment search trends are always changing, and this year was no different. Here, we’ll summarize a recent presentation about the state of search by agency experts Kyle Jones and Jaqueline McGuan.

If you’re looking to optimize your property marketing websites to their maximum potential — or you’re just interested in some SEO industry news — this is the article for you.

Looking at website traffic patterns over time, we can see the seasonal impact of the apartment leasing cycle. Rather predictably, certain months have higher traffic than others. And, during those high-traffic months, location-based keywords are highly effective at driving traffic. Let’s take a look at the details.

Certain months have higher traffic than others

Reviewing data from the last few years, we can see that leasing sites get more traffic at particular times of the year. For instance, after the holidays, we see the month of January have a slight increase in traffic, with a later, more significant increase in March.

The primary peak leasing season with the most site traffic and conversions is between the months of April and July. Over these few months, traffic and conversions significantly increase over time and get even larger. Traditionally, these are the peak months of the year where people are searching for apartment homes and looking to lease.

From October to December is where we see our lowest point in traffic. At the end of the year, we find significantly less site traffic, conversions and leasing actions as a whole.

Why?

  • Holidays: People would rather stay put with their loved ones during the holidays than search for a new place to live.
  • Weather conditions: Some areas of the country, like the Midwest or East Coast, do not have desirable weather conditions to move, so we see less people searching for new homes.

Location-based keywords drive prospects during peak leasing seasons

For the past five years, we’ve also seen interest in the keyword “apartment homes in [city]” increase over time in Google Trends. This means that clients have been searching for these keywords on Google more and more, especially during the peak leasing months of April to July.

As a result, we highly encourage clients to prioritize the keyword, “apartment homes in [city]” throughout their site narratives. By incorporating highly searched location-based keywords, clients optimize their content for the Google algorithm, which ultimately draws more potential leads during peak leasing season.

Post-pandemic organic apartment search trends

Google Trends has revealed changing consumer behavior that diverges from traditional organic search trends, particularly since the pandemic in 2020.

Historically, more organic search traffic has meant more conversions and leases. But in 2020, there was lots of site traffic but fewer conversions than usual. Why?

The pandemic affected our online habits. People were most likely bored online, searching for “apartments for rent” and browsing through leasing sites. But due to financial, economic or other circumstances, they decided to not act on their searches. Therefore, we saw less conversions.

Then in 2021 and 2022, according to Google, there was a lot of traffic and conversions. Keyword searches for “apartment for rent” consistently remained between the 75th to 100th percentile for customers. This means that throughout almost the entire two years, “apartment for rent” was consistently searched by users at the highest rates possible. We did not see a dramatic or distinct leasing season during peak months, but rather saw success through the entire two years.

2023: The leasing season that was not

Looking at the above data, we may assume that 2023 would be another great year for high organic search trends and conversions, yet we found something different.

While a typical leasing season peaks around the months of April-July, 2023 data revealed a more unconventional season. Compared to past years, 2023 did not see a distinct leasing season at all.

As seen in Google Trends, the number of times people searched the keyword, “apartment for rent,” bumped slightly, but remained below the 75th percentile, never reaching the rates of years past. While previous years had a consistent traffic rate for specific keyword searches, we found that there was significantly less organic search volume for “apartment for rent” in 2023.

Because of this, we did not see any uptick in traffic or conversions during traditional leasing months. With little variance throughout the entire year, 2023 was simply a low-traffic year. It didn’t have a traditional leasing season at all, even though SEO continued to perform better than most marketing strategies.

Why?

  • COVID rent: In some cases, people are still paying the same rent rate they secured early in the pandemic, therefore they’re spending $200-$300 less than anything in the current market.
  • Economic uncertainty: Consumers are more aware of economic challenges, such as inflation, competition and potential recessions. This is likely why we’re seeing less organic variation in site traffic, and thus, actual conversions for the year.

In spite of this, we continued to see SEO deliver the most consistent leads at the lowest cost for our clients. And not just any SEO either. Data shows that professional SEO generates 67% more leases than DIY SEO.

The shifting nature of PPC

Similar to organic search trends in 2023, we also saw changes in PPC trends and behavior this year.

We compiled some holistic data from advertising benchmarks and discovered that all but two industries saw their click-through rate increase. This means that in most industries, the number of people who were seeing and clicking ads grew. From this, we would historically expect that more clicks equal more conversions.

However, 91% of industries that engaged in online advertising saw a decrease in their conversion rates, even though there was still an increase in click-through rates. While we saw cost per conversions going up, we saw conversion rates going down. The exact opposite of what we’d expect.

Of these industries, the real estate sector had the lowest average conversion rate in the entire study.

These PPC trends show that people are clicking PPC ads, but actually converting less. Typically, when consumers click on ads, we believe they are more conditioned to act and make a purchase. This year showed the opposite: While consumers did interact with and click on ads, they were not acting further and signing a lease. Let’s look at some reasons for why a shift like this would happen.

What are some explanations for changing apartment search behavior?

With organic search traffic and conversion rates at a historic low in 2023, we need to ask ourselves why. In order to create successful search and PPC campaigns in the new year, let’s review some potential explanations for these shifting trends.

Financial challenges: With inflation creeping up, increased competition and the prediction of potential recessions, we need to understand how our all of our search campaigns are performing. Both marketers and clients are aware of the financial choices they’re making in regard to new campaigns, therefore we need to approach our projects in 2024 with this in mind.

The customer’s search journey is changing: With financial and economic uncertainties, renters are now more aware of their consumer behavior online. Although users are clicking ads and showing interest, they have still maintained their conscious behavior from pandemic times, given the financial and economic circumstances. So, more conscious of the decisions they make online, they are also more wary when engaging with search engines and PPC ads.

The types of ads are constantly changing: With an uptick in click-through rates among almost all industries, we can understand how users respond to ads. With new responsive search ads, new ad assets and options available, we can consider these updates in our future search campaigns.

The takeaway

With these new search trend insights, it’s important to keep an eye out for future trends and see how they impact your apartment marketing strategies.

Kyle Jones highlights this major takeaway:

“With the absence of high traffic volume, it is more important than ever to focus on high quality traffic for both SEO and PPC campaigns. For marketing specialists, this means not only looking at leads and leases, but also the engagement metrics that are important both SEO and PPC.” 

It is still possible to create highly effective apartment marketing campaigns, if you know the market and how to best use the search marketing tools available to you.

REACH agency experts are here to help you navigate shifting apartment search trends and drive results that truly impact your bottom line.

For example, we recently partnered with a client on a PPC campaign that drove a 6% increase in rental income across their portfolio. If you don’t have your own REACH specialist yet, contact us to set up a time to chat.

Nina Breister

Nina Breister is a content intern with REACH by RentCafe at Yardi. She engages in SEO copywriting, content creation and social media management with the West Region Search Team. Nina is a student at the University of California, Santa Barbara, and originally from San Diego.

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