Every property manager and real estate professional understands the importance of attracting and retaining quality tenants. But, not everyone knows how to do it. In this post we are going to explore the digital marketing channels that will help you generate leads and reduce rental vacancies. In no particular order:
Responsive Website: your website is viewable on desktop, tablet and mobile devices. Today, close to 50% of mobile search is performed with local intent. This means that if you own a website that is not viewable on mobile and tablet devices you are missing out on a ton of online traffic, and conversions. There are two options for building a mobile web presence.
1. Build a single responsive website.
2. Build a dedicated mobile website.
For most property managers and real estate professionals I would recommend building a single responsive website. It is cheaper, and can be done relatively quickly (by a developer) using a responsive web template from a site such as Themeforest.
Search Engine Optimization (SEO): This is the process of optimizing your website to rank high in search engines for targeted keywords. This is a critical element of any digital marketing strategy. Ranking highly for targeted keywords such as “[location] house rentals” and “[location] apartment rentals” will ensure that your website is receiving a steady stream of targeted online traffic – filling the top of the sales funnel. Today’s major search engines (Google, Bing and Yahoo) are using over two hundred on-page and off-site ranking factors in its search algorithms. As a result, it is recommended that property management and real estate professionals consult with a SEO professional.
YouTube: is now the second largest search engine in the world, and is a must for marketing rental properties. Property managers should have a branded YouTube channel set up, and be using video content on rental listing pages to provide virtual tours to prospective tenants. This will increase online conversion rates.
Pinterest/Instagram: visual content is now king. The photo-sharing platform has over 70 million active monthly users. The site allows users to post and re-pin content to topic boards. Property managers can post pictures of rental properties and embed a source link. This way, if a user sees a property they are interested in and clicks on it, they will be taken to the website. Pinterest users are highly engaged, so this is a good channel for generating inbound traffic (leads) to your site.
Google Plus: is now the fastest growing social platform, and critical for local SEO performance. Google is using Google Local Business Listing information to generate its highly coveted “seven pack” of local search results, as seen below:
Further, user engagement (+1’s, mentions, number of people adding you to their circles) on the social channel is now one of the leading ranking factors for local SEO. In fact, if a person adds you to one of their circles on Google Plus they will see your website ranking high in search for targeted search terms. This is known as Google Search Plus Your World (SPYW). I will be dedicating a post to this topic shortly.
Facebook: with over one billion users, it’s impossible to look past facebook. This property is crucial for building a brand and managing the tenant relationship. Property managers should provide engaging content to users, such as rental tips and how-to’s, showcase new rental listings, provide valuable local industry information, run contest, giveaways and referral campaigns, demonstrate community involvement, answer questions and keep tenants updated. You can also leverage facebook ads and promoted post to increase reach and content engagement. We’ll dive deeper in a future post.
Pay Per Click (PPC): Reaching the first page of Google is a long term strategy, sometimes taking months, if not years to outrank competitors for highly competitive keywords. As a result, integrating PPC into your digital marketing strategy is recommended. PPC is a great way to generate an immediate presence on the first page of Google for targeted search terms, building brand awareness and increasing inbound leads to your site. When setting up a PPC campaign you will have two ad options:
1. Text ads – these are the ads that you see at the top and side of the search results pages, as seen below.
2. Display ads – these are ran through Google’s content network, and usually include images with text overlay. These ads can be placed on targeted sites that are Google partner sites. For example, you could create an ad with a picture of a 2 bedroom apartment rental that is only shown to people living in New York City on the Zillow website, searching for “New York City apartment rentals”. This ensures you are reaching a very targeted audience, increasing CTR and conversions.
Internet Listing Sites: posting rental properties on sites such as Zillow and Trulia is an effective way to get your rentals in front of a large audience.
Craigslist: even with the launch of Craiglist’s new rules, the site is still a great free resource for generating leads.
Email Marketing: Collecting email addresses is a great way to nurture leads. For example, each month we send out an email to current and prospective tenants showcasing new rental listings. If a tenant is close to lease renewal or is actively looking for a rental property we are often able to showcase our properties right when they are ready to convert. Even if they are not actively looking at the time, they might know someone who is, and can share the email with them.
Online Reviews: Encourage residents and landlords to leave reviews on sites such as Yelp, Google Plus (50%) and Bing Local. The quantity, velocity and frequency of online reviews are now a top five local SEO ranking factor. Also, having at least five online Google Plus reviews will make your site eligible to receive rating markup in the seven pack as seen below. This can increase click-through rate in the search engines by as much as 30%. It’s a great way to stand out from your competition. In fact, 70% of consumers consult online reviews before deciding with local business to choose.
Measure: this is the most important element of any digital marketing strategy. Connecting your site with a free tool such as Google Analytics will allow you to understand on-site user behavior and measure the ROI of your marketing efforts. You can also setup custom goals and tracking events to monitor how many people are viewing rental properties, versus how many actually applied. You can also look at site traffic, referral sources, device preference, conversion rates and a whole lot more.
Leveraging a variety of digital marketing channels is now more important than ever. Building a responsive website is the first step to increasing online traffic and local SEO performance. Incorporating a diverse content mix is also critical for building user engagement and making it easier for leads to convert. In the coming weeks we will be exploring each of these digital channels in greater depth.
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By Robbie Richards.
Holding commercial or residential real estate property includes assumed risk that must be managed effectively. Landlords can be subjected to many forms of litigation, ranging from personal injury to environmental contamination. Not to mention the inherent financial risk that comes with any form of investment (financial risk exposure typically remains the same with the exception of “non-recourse” loans). As a result, I recommend that every real estate investor sets up a separate business entity to hold their property portfolio. The entity best suited for real estate is an LLC, as corporations will be subjected to double taxation.
Why Choose an LLC?
An LLC will provide landlords personal liability protection for business debts and claims. This means that if a business cannot pay a creditor – such as a supplier or bank – the creditor can’t go after an LLC member’s house, car or other personal assets (this will be different for different states. Idaho residents have approximately 100k in protection on their personal residence, everything after that can be exposed. This has nothing to do with the LLC though. The purpose of the LLC is to isolate the risk. As I mentioned before, investors usually have to assume personal risk in order to borrow money. There are always exceptions to this rule as is the case with a “nonrecourse” loan). Therefore, LLC members only stand to lose the money they have invested in the separate LLC business entity.
There are some landlords out there that may be considering setting up a separate S or C corporation for their real estate portfolio. I would not recommend this. One of the main reasons real estate investors should avoid S and C corporations is double taxation.
Double Taxation: Corporations receive double taxation on dividends. The corporation pays corporate tax and the individual share-holders will pay taxes on the dividends. On the other hand, an LLC is a ‘pass-through’ taxation entity – the profits and losses pass through to the owners, who then record them on their personal tax statements. Each LLC member must make quarterly estimated tax payments to the IRS.
Limited Liability Exceptions
As with corporations and other business entities, LLC members are not given absolute protection. Members will not be protected under the following circumstances:
- Personally injures someone
- Personally guarantees a loan for a business in which the LLC defaults
- Fails to deposit employee taxes
- Reckless actions on behalf of the business
- Treats LLC as an extension of personal affairs. This is a big one as a court will likely conclude that the LLC doesn’t really exist and that members are conducting business as individuals and will be held personally liable for their actions.
Additionally, members can operate their business in a way that causes a “piercing of the corporate veil”. This means that members of the LLC are not performing the expected actions of an LLC – such as regular member meetings, creating a formal operating agreement, opening a separate business checking account, registering the LLC properly with the state, or obtaining a federal employer ID number. Piercing the corporate veil will bring personal liability risk. Make sure all official LLC registration requirements are fulfilled and that your internal operating agreement in no way violates LLC code.
Multiple LLCs for a Property Portfolio?
Many lawyers and accountants recommend that investors set up a separate LLC for each investment property. Multiple entities prevent liability from one property spilling over to another investment property. For example, a tenant sues you for $600,000 for a claim against house A, which is only worth $500,000. If a landlord was holding all of their properties under a single LLC entity then the additional $100,000 liability could be applied against house B, even if house B had nothing to do with the claim.
On the other hand, if the landlord has a separate LLC set up for each of its properties, the creditor could only go after house A. House B would be protected from any external liability (provided the corporate veil had not been pierced). The downside of this is several LLCs means taxes and bookkeeping become increasingly complicated.
Another good way to protect property against liabilities is to have comprehensive insurance coverage. This includes general liability insurance, physical assets, renter’s insurance, umbrella insurance, and even an adequate loss of income clause. Insurance can also protect personal assets in the event that the LLC’s protection is ignored.
All real estate investors should consider setting up a separate LLC business entity in order to protect themselves from personal liability. However, limited liability protection is not absolute. If members act in a way that pierces the corporate veil (as mentioned) then the LLC will dilute their limited liability protection. For those investors with multiple property holdings, it is recommended that they set up a separate LLC entity for each property. This will help prevent liability spilling over from one property to another. Finally, reinforce LLC protections with a comprehensive insurance plan that includes at least general liability, asset protection, and added umbrella insurance. It is highly recommended that you also require renter’s insurance for tenants as well as a loss of income clause that will keep you afloat in the event of unforeseen property damage.
Is there anything you’d like to add? Let us know.
By Robbie Richards.