March 9, 2015

Refining The Strategy: A Paid Search Case Study

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(Photo: “Skyscrapers downtown Calgary,” by flickr user davebloggs007 via Attribution 2.0 License)

One of Delucchi Plus’ clients, an apartment building in southwest Washington D.C., opened at the beginning of 2014. Among other responsibilities, we were tasked with managing their paid search campaign to deliver as many leads as possible. The budget was set up to be very high for the first three months of the year to accompany the grand opening of the building and the launch of its new website, but in April, the monthly budget would be cut to about half of what we spent from January through March.


The performance of the campaign through the first few months of the year wasn’t bad, but we thought there was room for improvement. Furthermore, the apartment wasn’t leasing up nearly as fast as the client was hoping, and they really needed to do better. They couldn’t afford a drop-off in performance with the impending reduced budget. So, we made a number of edits to their campaign with the intent of attracting better quality website visitors. Focusing on quality over quantity, we launched their newly restructured paid search campaign in April 2014.

Competition for apartment-related search terms is high in Washington D.C., and there are so many different neighborhoods and styles of apartments throughout the city. Just because someone is searching for an apartment in DC, doesn’t necessarily mean that your particular apartment can meet their needs, or is even worthy of their consideration.

This seems like common sense, but it meant we had to stop bidding on broader ‘DC + Apartment’ search terms. If someone searches for ‘Washington DC Apartments,” we no longer even try to show up on the search results page. Instead, we began bidding on only those searches that included an additional qualifier keyword (southwest dc, waterfront, high-rise, luxury, pet-friendly). If someone searched for ‘southwest dc apartment,” THAT was the search we wanted to be there for. A more specific search like that means the user has already put some thought into what type of apartment they would like, and if we’re bidding on it, it means that we are that type of apartment.

In addition to adapting the philosophy of our paid search campaign, we also needed to do a better job of weeding out irrelevant traffic. To do this, we switched from using broad to broad modifier keywords to get more specific in the searches we were targeting. We then added negative keywords throughout our campaign, such as competitor names and other qualifiers that we didn’t feel accurately described the client (affordable housing, cheap, etc). Finally, we changed the geo-targeting of our campaign from all of the U.S., to just the D.C., Maryland and Virginia region. People searching in the Washington D.C. area are more likely to actually make a move within the area, and they have a better idea of what type of apartment they’re looking for.

After restructuring the campaign to focus on quality over quantity, we refreshed the ad copy as well. In an attempt to speed up the leasing process, the client began offering one and a half months of free rent to new tenants. So, we incorporated that offer into our ads and coupled it with overall stronger call-to-actions (“apply online!”) in an effort to grab the attention of users and inspire them to click through to the website.

Needless to say, our new, more finely-targeted campaign greatly outperformed the old one. We saw the click-through rate of our ads rise from 2.29% to 15.91%, up 595% as they appealed to a much larger percentage of the people we were showing them to. As a result, the cost-per-click of the campaign fell 24%, allowing us to get more bang for our buck. On-site, the visitors we drove to the website were more likely to be interested in our client and to engage with them. The bounce rate of paid search traffic improved by 14%, while their average length of visit increased by 34%.

Ultimately, the new paid search campaign has been a more efficient way of driving better quality traffic to the website. We defined conversions as phone calls and email sign-ups for this particular client. The conversion rate of the traffic from our paid search efforts has improved by 61% with the new campaigns, while the cost-per-conversion has decreased from $67.10 to $31.91 (-52%). By the end of 2014, we had spent about 17% more on the new campaign, but we had driven 170% more email sign-ups and 134% more phone calls.

Conversion Rate



How were these results reflected in the overall success of the client? Their leasing problem went away. By August they were 80% leased, and by October 2014, they were reducing their paid search budget by an additional 70% due to lack of availability at the property.