Maximizing ILS Sites to Turn Leads Into Leases

Why internet listing services need to be a key tool in your multifamily marketing arsenal.

If you’re like most apartment owners or managers, you use a variety of channels to market your communities. Property websites, social media, Google campaigns and Facebook or Instagram ads are all necessary tools to attract qualified prospects, who then, hopefully, can be converted to residents.

RentCafe ILS

Internet listing services, such as this one from RentCafe.com, should include detailed property information to drive quality leads. Image courtesy of RentCafe.com

But internet listing services, such as Apartments.com, RentCafe.com and ApartmentList, should also be an integral part of your marketing budget. That’s because 73 percent of the more than 221,000 renters who participated in the 2022 NMHC/Grace Hill Renter Preferences Survey said they visited a rental listing site when searching for their most recent home.

“Our website gets robust traffic, but it’s the internet listing services that get us the most traffic and conversions,” said Michael Zaransky, managing principal of MZ Capital Partners in Northbrook, Ill. “They are essential.”

But there are a multitude of ILS sites, offering a variety of packages at different price points. So how can you get the best bang for your marketing buck and effectively convert those leads into leases?

Your Mileage May Vary

ILSs drive traffic; that’s what they’re designed to do. But each one works differently, and some may work better for your communities than others.

“Choose your ILS based on its popularity in your city,” said Nadia Balint, marketing manager for RentCafe.com, who suggests running test searches to see which perform best.

If you own an apartment community in Denver, for example, search online for “apartments in Denver” or “studio apartments in Denver” to see which ILS sites come up in the results on the first page of Google. “Those are the ILSs that prospective renters in your city will visit,” Balint said. “So that’s where you will want to be listed.”

Adding an ILS resulted in five new leases within a single week at Alton Westshore in Tampa. 
Image courtesy of Alton Westshore

Adding an ILS resulted in five new leases within a single week at Alton Westshore in Tampa, Fla.
Image courtesy of Alton Westshore

Test, Test and Test Some More

Like any type of marketing, continual testing is essential to ensure that the ILS is working to drive qualified leads. If it’s not, you’re wasting money.

Meg Evans, marketing coordinator for Bristol Development Group in Franklin, Tenn., said that to improve conversion rates, she constantly monitors the analytics of each ILS site she uses.

“I audit the sites,” she said. “I go onto each one to make sure what is listed is correct—the pricing, floor plans, etc.”

Evans also does what she calls mystery shopping. She pretends to be a prospective renter to see how the leasing team reacts and how quickly they respond. “That way we can train our team to respond quicker or in a different way to convert those leads to leases,” she said.

Remember the Basics

For an ILS site to perform properly, it needs to be updated in real time so that the available apartments, pricing, floor plans and photographs are all current and provide accurate information to prospective renters. Most property management platforms integrate with ILS sites, but Nofel Molai, director of marketing for Cottonwood Residential in Salt Lake City, said there might be a lag in getting information out to your prospects.

“Whatever changes you  make today won’t go into effect for two weeks, when it really saturates the market,” he said. “If I have a special, I’m going to put up (on an ILS) tomorrow, I know that special won’t really get into my consumer’s eyes for a week or a week and a half because it has to saturate the market and hit all channels.”

Make sure the quality of your ILS listings is top-notch, just like your community website. It should be comprehensive, with floor plans, professional photographs of the units and amenities, pricing, virtual tours and neighborhood information. Remember that viewers may not be local and may be want information about the schools, shopping, entertainment and recreational options. But don’t go overboard. Molai suggests capping the number of photographs at 25 to avoid overwhelming prospects.

Main + Clay is a 271-unit apartment community in Louisville by Bristol Development Group that uses ILS to fill a lot of their vacancies. Image by John Albani

Main + Clay is a 271-unit apartment community in Louisville by Bristol Development Group that uses ILS to fill a lot of their vacancies. Image by John Albani

Boost When Necessary

 Many ILS sites allow you to reach more prospective renters by “boosting” your ad for an additional price, helping it rank at the top of listing search results and making the property easier to discover online.

After Cottonwood’s Alton Westshore community in Tampa had some struggles with occupancy, the company added Zillow to the marketing campaign, as well as Zillow Boost, a premium service. The company signed five leases within one week as a result of Zillow Boost, Molai said.

Consider Alternatives

Despite the success of Internet Listing Services and the reliance on them by apartment marketers, many industry experts say that alternatives like social media ads or Pay Per Click (PPC) may perform better for certain properties.

Image by KucherAV/iStockphoto.com

Image by KucherAV/iStockphoto.com

“Oftentimes, clients come to us to implement their own lead generation—taking more control with Google, Facebook and Instagram because they’re not getting qualified leads from the ILSs,” said Tammy Casserly, senior vice president of growth and brand development for Resident360, a multifamily branding and marketing agency. “We just had a client in New Jersey move their portfolio of 21 communities to us for lead generation, implementing Google Ads, because they were spending way too much money with ILSs and not seeing the return.”

Molai said that PPC offers marketers more control, from the keywords they focus on to the amount of money for their marketing spend. He said he can more easily target a prospect using PPC. One example: Cottonwood Broadway in Salt Lake City, which will open in April 2023. The community is close to the University of Utah campus, so Cottonwood is promoting it to students, who are more likely to discover the property on social media or Google rather than on an ILS. “We’re using channels they use on a daily basis,” he said.

Still, most apartment markets swear by Internet Listing Services. “You cannot exist in this business without them,” Zaransky said. “There’s no substitute for the value of the leads and the conversions they send you in keeping a property occupied. The cost of a vacant apartment is so high that it’s well worth the investment.”

Read the March 2023 issue of MHN.

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