Choosing Your ILS Partners. Making the Most of Your Online Advertising Budget

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1 TM Choosing Your ILS Partners Making the Most of Your Online Advertising Budget

2 Choosing Your ILS Partners Making the Most of Your Online Advertising Budget CONTENT Traffic and Leads... 1 User Experience... 2 Demographics... 3 Pricing... 3 Media... 4 Reviews... 4 Marketing Mix... 5 Investing in Your Success... 5 Ownership & History... 6 As a multifamily professional, one of your biggest challenges is bringing more qualified renters into your leasing office and getting those renters to move into your community. One powerful marketing tool to help you reach these goals is an Internet Listing Service, often referred to as an ILS. Whether you re a national property management company or a small apartment community, an ILS can help you successfully reach your occupancy goals. But there are dozens of ILSs out there. And as budgets continue to be stretched thin, few if any apartment communities have the marketing dollars to use all of them. So the question remains: which ILS should you partner with? Spoiler alert: there s no one answer for everyone. The best ILS partner for you is one that helps you save time, money and energy and provides the best return on your marketing investment. In order to determine which ILS is the best fit for your needs and budget, you ll have to do your homework. This guide will help you evaluate and compare your options. ILS Scorecard... 7 Contributors... 8

3 Pro Tip 1: Consider traffic and leads together to get a complete picture of the ROI you ll experience by advertising on an ILS. For example, if a site has high traffic but delivers few average leads, the site is attracting more visitors but that doesn t mean you ll get leads from that site. Likewise, an ILS may send your property a high number of leads but their conversion to a lease is lower, which means your staff will spend more time to get a lease. Pro Tip 2: Consider doing a search for Apartments in [your city]. Which ILSs come up in your search results? These are ILSs that you ll want to consider partnering with. Traffic and Leads Ask how many unique visitors the ILS receives each month and how many leads an average property receives. After you get the numbers, take a look at the fine print and ask questions to make sure you re comparing apples to apples. Here are some things to consider: What s included in those traffic numbers? Is the ILS providing you with monthly unique visitors to just their site, or their family of sites? If it s their family of sites, take a second look. Make sure: Your listing is on all of the sites. If it s not, their stats aren t relevant to you. The sites driving visits to you are focused on renting rather than owning. Those researching owning options may be more likely to be short-term renters. What s considered a lead? Different ILSs have different definitions of what s considered a lead. For example, Apartments.com only counts s and phone calls as leads. Everything else is considered an interaction. Some other ILSs have a broader definition of leads, so be sure to ask. Quality over quantity! When it comes to leads, quality is more important than quantity. You ll want to partner with an ILS that drives leads that convert to leases. While this can be difficult to measure, the time of your leasing staff is precious, valuable and often very limited. You want them to spend their time with leads most interested in your community. Ensuring accurate tracking of the source of your leads is critical for this assessment. 1

4 2 User Experience Across All Devices It s no secret that people are addicted to their smartphones and tablets. They re using them for practically everything, from checking their bank account balance, seeing what their friends are up to on social media, and doing research before making a major purchase. According to the 2014 Mobile Path to Purchase study from xad, up to 60% of consumers exclusively used a mobile device to make a purchase decision.1 Consumers are turning to their mobile devices to hunt for their next apartment, too. In fact, nearly half (46%) of visits to Apartments.com are attributed to mobile!2 The lesson here? Make sure your ILS partners are providing website visitors with an optimal viewing experience, regardless of the device they choose to use. There are two primary ways a company can optimize their websites for mobile devices: Responsive Web Design: Just as it sounds, if a website has a responsive design, it will respond to the browser width of the user s device so that the user is always seeing an optimized view of the web page they are visiting. With responsive design, a renter can start their apartment search on their desktop computer at work, continue on their mobile device during the evening commute, and finish searching on their tablet at home all while having a consistent experience on each device. In addition, having one website is preferred by Google and helps the ILS maintain its search engine authority. How can you tell if a website uses responsive web design? Try resizing your browser window. The content may shuffle and the images and text may change sizes, but the overall experience and content generally stays the same. Mobile Site: Some companies create and maintain two separate websites a mobile version and a desktop version (the URL of the mobile version is often prefaced with a m. such as m.google. com ). In many cases, a mobile version of a website has limited functionality and doesn t include all of the content and features of the desktop version of the site. What about apps? Some renters prefer using mobile apps instead of the web browser on their mobile devices. Do your ILS partners offer user-friendly mobile apps to reach those renters? If so, be sure to download the apps and put yourself in your renters shoes. Are the apps easy to use, or do you get frustrated finding what you need? Also, check out reviews on the App Store and Google Play to see what kind of feedback renters are providing. Finally, find out how often the ILSs apps are updated. Does the ILS take a once and done approach, or do they make enhancements often? It may seem obvious, but it s preferable to work with an ILS that is constantly enhancing its website and apps to drive more renters to your community. 1. xad, Mobile Path to Purchase, Apartments.com Internal Reporting, 2014.

5 Demographics It s the job of your ILS partner to get your community in front of more potential renters. Ask your ILS for site demographics to make sure you re reaching the audience you want to reach. For example, if you manage a senior apartment community, it doesn t do you much good if the ILS primarily reaches college students and young adults. In addition to the obvious demographics, make sure you re also reaching folks with the intent of renting rather than owning. Some ILSs offer homes for sale in addition to apartments for rent, which appeals to renters with the intention to buy. In other words, these people are renting for now, but they plan to purchase as soon as they can, and are unlikely to renew their leases, leaving a potential gap in occupancy. Make sure the ILS you use isn t driving higher churn in the long run. Pricing Money matters! Take a close look at the cost for the ILS you are considering, making sure it fits your budget. Here are some questions to consider so you can better compare prices: What advertising packages are available? What features and products are included in each package price? Which features and products come at an additional cost? Is traffic from all devices (including mobile, tablet and app traffic) included in your package? Are all sites in the family of sites included? Are all syndicated sites included? Are there options to increase exposure for shorter, specific situations like lease-ups? Some other pricing considerations include: Under what circumstances will the prices increase? How much notice do I have to give if I decide to cancel? Also, consider the pricing model used by the ILS. The two most common ILS pricing models are subscription and pay-per-lease. There are pros and cons of each model. Subscription Model: Properties pay a flat fee each month in order to advertise on the ILS. Pros: It s easier to budget for this type of ad package because you know upfront how much you ll pay each month. In addition, there is generally no cap on the traffic and leads you receive. Cons: Since lease volume seasonally fluctuates throughout the year, your cost per lease will vary from month to month. It will naturally go up in slower months and down during your peak summer months. 3

6 4 Pay-Per-Lease Model: Properties pay a fee each time a renter uses the site to find an apartment and signs a lease. Sometimes, a renter who says they used one of these sites receives a reward of some sort, such as a gift card or check. Pros: This may appear to be free or risk-free since you only pay a fee each time a renter finds your apartment on the ILS and signs a lease. Cons: This option is difficult to plan for and may deplete your entire marketing budget for the month or quarter when you have other commitments for those marketing dollars. Most people use multiple sites to look for an apartment. In fact, 73% of consumers indicate that they use multiple sources for their apartment research and on average, renters use three sources. 3 Renters may say that they found you through a pay-per-lease ILS because they know they will receive a reward. But there s no surefire way of knowing if it was the only source the person used to find your apartments. The amount of your staff s time used to audit the results to validate the charges is hidden and can be significant. Media Photos and video allow customers to take a virtual tour of your apartment community before they even set foot in your leasing office. Providing quality, accurate content allows potential renters to research and helps you attract more interested and qualified renters to your properties. While this might reduce your total leads, it will increase the quality of the leads you do receive and help to maximize your leasing staff s time. Make sure the photos and videos on your ILS listings portray your community in its best light and are authentic. Here are some questions to ask your ILS partners about media: What video and photography products and packages are available? Is photography and video included in my advertising package? Are there set-up fees or one time charges? Are there recurring hosting charges? What is the quality of the videos and images? Reviews People are turning to reviews when they re shopping for just about anything. Apartment shopping is certainly no exception. In fact, according to research funded by Apartments.com, 80% of renters used property reviews as part of their apartment search, and 99% of renters ranked having reviews as important. 4 Does the ILS you re considering have reviews directly on their site? 3. Renter Survey, Karen Courtright, The Importance of Online Reviews to Renters, Blackstone Group, 2012

7 Online and Offline Marketing Mix An ILS with a strong marketing mix that includes both online and offline initiatives can help attract a diverse pool of renters that learn about your community through a variety of different channels. Online Marketing: According to emarketer, the average American adult spends 5 hours a day online. 5 That s more than 76 full days over the course of a year! What are your ILSs partners doing to attract these consumers to your listings? Are they using tools such as: Social media sites like Facebook, YouTube and Twitter. Blogs with useful information that keeps renters engaged throughout their entire rental journey. Display and remarketing banners that target specific markets and consumers to get them engaged before they visit the ILS and remarkets to them after they leave the site. Offline Marketing: There s no question that it s critical to reach renters online. But it s important to reach them offline, too. Ask what your ILS partners are doing to attract more renters to your listings. Some common offline channels that can increase traffic to the ILS and to your listings include: Billboards Transit ads Television commercials Print advertisements Community-focused sponsorships Radio/satellite advertising Sports marketing Local branding Investing in Your Success While quality traffic, leads and advertising products are clearly the most important aspects of choosing your ILS, you ll also want to choose an ILS partner that is investing in your success. Here are some questions you ll want to consider: Is the ILS knowledgeable of your markets and your challenges? Do they provide highly skilled advertising consultants who are able to advise your staff about online best practices? Does the ILS offer free training opportunities to help your staff succeed at online advertising, marketing and other important topics for multifamily professionals? Does the ILS perform high-quality research on a regular basis to ensure that they remain relevant to renters and provide you insights to help drive your business? Does the ILS support networking and education opportunities for your staff? 5. emarketer,

8 6 You can find the answers to most of these questions on the advertiser portion of the ILS s website. There, you should find white papers, webinars, industry events and other resources available to help you stay ahead of the industry trends. Ownership and History Experience matters! Does the ILS have several years of experience under its belt, or is it more of a new kid on the block? You can usually find out how long the ILS has been in operation by checking out the About Us section of their website or doing a quick search online. Also, find out who owns the ILS. Then, do some research on the owners. Ask what benefits the ownership can bring to you as a customer. What digital experience do they have? Is digital in their DNA or are they a company that was primarily focused on print marketing but forced to migrate to digital in order to survive? If the latter is the case, how are they doing with the transition? It s not always easy for a company to successfully make the switch!

9 ILS Scorecard Schedule time with the sales representatives or advertising consultants from the ILSs you are considering in order to determine if they have the skills and experience necessary to help you succeed online. Rate the different aspects of each ILS using a scale of 1 to 5, with 5 being the top. ILS Option 1 ILS Option 2 ILS Option 3 ILS Option 4 ILS Option 5 Name Traffic Leads Pricing Products & Packages Media Site usability Mobile apps Site demographics Online & offline marketing Ad consultants or sales representatives Additional resources for education, networking, and industry support (webinars, white papers, blog, etc.) How long in business? Owner Total Score Notes: 7

10 About Us Apartments.com Apartments.com is a national online resource for individuals looking for an apartment whether it is down the street or across the country. To simplify the process of finding a new place to live, Apartments.com offers renters one of the most comprehensive databases of millions of apartments around the country. By incorporating the most relevant products to reach renters, including personalized searches, walk-through video demonstrations, community reviews, a mobile website and apps for both iphone and Android phones, Apartments.com delivers a multimedia experience renters want while creating easy access to listings from any computer or mobile device. 8

11 (888) 658-RENT Apartments.com Manager +Apartmentscom Apartments.com Apartmentscom blog.apartments.com

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