For sales and marketing managers within the assisted living industry, placement websites have established a tollbooth between you and your potential residents. The sole purpose of these websites–sometimes referred to as “Senior Living Referral Sites”–is to intercept your customers before they find any detailed information regarding your community. In the paragraphs that follow, we’ll give you some additional understanding about how these sites work and what you can do to beat them at their own game.
Let’s start with a scenario that you’re likely familiar with. An adult child, usually the daughter or daughter-in-law of an aging individual, sits down at their computer to find out some more information regarding senior living in their area. They have questions about pricing and availability. So, they open Google and begin searching for assisted living communities in their area. As a marketing manager, your only hope is that word has spread about how great your community is and this individual already has you in mind.
This scenario plays out hundreds of thousands of times every month. And the sad truth is that most independent living, assisted living, and memory care marketing managers don’t do a good enough job of engaging their potential customers online to capture those leads. Because of that, there is plenty of room for what I like to call the tollbooth websites.
Every industry has a tollbooth (someone that sets up shop between you and your customers). For senior living, it's referral websites like A Place for Mom and Caring.com. These websites run very targeted ads against your community name, and do you know what they usually use as bait? Your pricing.
If you search for your senior living community on Google, more than likely you will see an ad that looks something like this:
YOUR COMMUNITY NAME - $3000/MO Starting Cost - Caring.com
This is the most effective method for intercepting your customer before they ever find your actual website. Now, your next question should be, "If they don't even offer the services the resident is looking for, how do they collect so many leads?" Well, the real answer is that they exchange your community information (primarily pricing) for the resident's contact information. That contact information is then blasted out to a large radius of communities (often 20+ miles). The resident is then bombarded by a title wave of phone calls and emails vying for their business. On the off chance the resident actually comes in for a tour of your community, or even more, moves into your community, the tollbooth returns with their hand open and charges you a hefty premium when in reality, you’ve done all of the work. Not to mention, some of these referrals were searching for your community to begin with.
IMAGE QUOTE: “Placement websites have established a tollbooth between you and your potential residents.”
Please do not confuse these websites as being an advocate for your company or community. They don’t further your brand, they don’t bring you returning customers, they don’t even bring you qualified leads or real referrals like you would get from a care advisor, a previous resident, a friend, or a family member.
Now, let’s pretend for a moment that you’re paying search engines for ads and impressions; being an army of one, you can never outspend the referral sites, you just don’t have the budget. What’s more, because their entire business model depends on capturing those search results, they have driven up the ad costs on every senior living keyword.
So what’s to be done? How can you as the marketing manager of a single community survive without them?
There are a few bits of advice we can share to help, but the best answer is to bring in an expert on digital marketing and have them help you block and tackle. We love the folks at Digital Strike and Zinnius because they know and understand the industry and the referral website wall you’re up against. In fact, they know it so well that Digital Strike has created some referral websites of their own to counteract the foothold A Place for Mom and Caring.com have in the industry.
We pulled this from a LinkedIn post regarding A Place for Mom and Caring.com shared by Christ Westmeyer a few months back:
“Did you know that A Place for Mom (APFM) actually owns or is affiliated with (i.e. they pass leads on to APFM for a commission) 36% of the websites? Caring.com owns or is affiliated with 23% of the websites. Between them both they control almost 60% of the senior living lead generation websites. That is one reason why it is so hard to get away from their services. Their costs seem to keep increasing while the service levels decrease. When they charge communities 100% - 150% of the first month's rent from a new resident this cost must get absorbed by the community, which can result in deferred maintenance of the facilities, reduction in staffing, reduction in services/activities available and much more. This is not a win - win situation for the lead generators and the communities.”
Don’t join them, beat them. The way you beat a tollbooth is by taking away their bait. Start by adding pricing to your website! If you do only one thing, do this. The referral sites already have your pricing information. And it's precisely your pricing that seniors and their family members are handing over personal information to see. So beat them to the punch! Put it up front and make it easy to find. In fact, I would update my Google ads or run new ads with my pricing listed.
Next, make it easier for your customers to learn about you and your services online. Definitely, implement real-time chat. And definitely, use a calendaring tool to make scheduling a tour easier. Check out Drift and Calendly (no affiliation) to get started for free.
Next, go all-in on social media. Search engine ads can be pricey for acquiring residents if you don’t know what you are doing. Not to mention that every ad looks the same (i.e. it's not as good for conveying a visual brand). If it were me on my own, I would minimize my search engine advertising and move a lot of the budget to Facebook and Instagram. I would post organic content about my building, my community and senior living in general, and then pay a little money to boost that content so more people see it. Now before you tell me that your target customers aren't on Facebook, realize that as of July 2016, 56% of Americans age 65 or older have a Facebook account.
Finally, share what's working for you. If no one uses the referral websites, the tollbooth will be eliminated. Stop paying a toll for your own customers. Do it for yourself!
*As of January 24, 2022, A Place for Mom has raised an additional $175 million in funding for their company.