NEW ORLEANS, LA - Successful multifamily marketing seems like a simple equation - understand the target audience, develop a clear and actionable message and deliver that message via as many channels as possible. As technology has improved this formula, so have the available strategies for owners to effectively market available units to meet the expectations of tech-savvy apartment searchers.
MultifamilyBiz.com recently sat down with Chris Herndon, co-founder and president of ApartmentList.com, the world’s fastest-growing apartment search engine, to discuss what’s been happening in the world of ILSs, what is coming down the pipeline and what strategies owners can engage in order to ensure their postings are successful.
MultifamilyBiz.com: Past, present and future – what were, are and will be the most effective marketing strategies for ILSs?
Chris Herndon: Search continues to be the dominant user acquisition channel for the ILS industry. For all of the recent emphasis on social media it continues to be an insignificant source of traffic and leads to the multifamily industry. Successful ILSs rank well in both the organic (aka free or algorithmic) and sponsored sections of the search engine results pages. Google continues to enjoy a dominant 70% market share, but the Yahoo/Bing alliance comprises most of the remaining search engine traffic with a combined 28%.
MultifamilyBiz.com: How has social media, mobile and rich-media impacted ILS practices and strategies? How can ILS leverage these real-time, fast moving marketing channels to improve reach?
Chris Herndon: Mobile is a huge trend in the space. Today, a third of Apartment List’s one million monthly users access the website through a mobile device. Successful ILSs have developed both mobile optimized versions of their websites along with native applications built specifically for smartphone platforms like iPhone and Android. While social has yet to emerge as a significant lead source in the traditional sense, it has proven to be successful at encouraging resident referrals. RealPage’s acquisition of RentMineOnline demonstrates the power of this marketing strategy.
MultifamilyBiz.com: With more ILSs entering the marketplace, how do you believe multifamily ILSs can combat these nationally recognized brands and maintain and/or build user base?
Chris Herndon: A lot of the new ILSs are focusing more on the single unit and small property segment than the large multi-unit space. This makes sense given the overlap with their existing user base of homebuyers. While these new ILSs are establishing a powerful brand name among homebuyers, it’s not clear that this brand is translating to renters. ILSs should continue to differentiate themselves by improving the depth of their content with professional high-resolution images, videos tours, 3-D floorplans as well as real-time availability and pricing.
MultifamilyBiz.com: How are the most successful ILSs in the marketplace continuing to evolve in order to deliver value to owners?
Chris Herndon: The most successful ILSs will provide owners with an integrated marketing solution that includes a mix of online and offline lead generation, social media tools, reputation management, CRM and desktop and mobile website solutions.
MultifamilyBiz.com: How have media rich maps and mapping applications affected how properties are marketed on ILSs?
Chris Herndon: The emergence of map-based search has empowered renters to precisely target rentals in their desired neighborhoods, reducing the ability of ILSs to aggressively promote featured properties in nearby locations. That said, the majority of online apartment shoppers (particularly those who enter ILSs through search engines) continue to discover rentals through a traditional list view.
MultifamilyBiz.com: How do SEO efforts among property managers and owners affect ILSs? Can ILSs assist in SEO or are those efforts mutually exclusive?
Chris Herndon: Recent algorithm changes by search engines have been intended to better rank pages with original content. The result has been that property websites, along with user-generated review sites like Yelp and Apartment Ratings, can outrank ILSs for community-specific search queries. To even better position their websites for search engine visibility, property managers should request backlinks from their ILSs and other relevant websites (e.g. the local chambers of commerce).
MultifamilyBiz.com: How have ILSs evolved their User Interface over the past 3 years?
Chris Herndon: ApartmentGuide.com has performed the most experiments (multivariate tests) in the industry. It has removed the majority of its display advertising and affiliate offers, has more prominently featured rich apartment images, launched a map-based search view and launched user-friendly native mobile apps across all platforms. ForRent.com has placed a major emphasis on social network integration and custom video content, which has enabled significantly more consumer engagement and visibility on the search engine results pages. In 2010, Apartments.com launched a major redesign, replacing its legacy menu-based navigation to a more contemporary free-form location search field. In 2012, it launched a property reviews and ratings on a small scale.
MultifamilyBiz.com: What ILSs have the highest lead to lease conversion rates?
Chris Herndon: The ILSs that have devoted the most extensive resources to reliably track lead-to-lease rates are Rent.com (by virtue of its renter rebate feedback loop mechanism) and MyNewPlace (through the OneSite rent roll). For most other ILSs, lead-to-lease conversion rate studies are either anecdotal or performed against limited sample sizes where reliable tracking is possible.
MultifamilyBiz.com: What is an apartment search engine and how does it differ from an ILS?
Chris Herndon: An apartment search engine (or meta-search engine, as it is often called) typically features apartments from multiple sites all on one interface. ApartmentList.com and HotPads.com are examples of meta-search engines. Unlike ILSs, whose business models rely upon paid inclusion, meta-search engines feature substantial unsponsored content to improve their overall inventory and user experience. The consequence is often more free visitors (through direct branded traffic and SEO) but weaker monetization per user.
MultifamilyBiz.com: What additional value does an apartment search engine provide to an online searcher of apartments that they can't get elsewhere (I.e. From Google or an ILS)?
Chris Herndon: Much like Kayak.com saves travelers significant time by consolidating all the flight and hotel options, apartment search engines streamline the rental shopping process by consolidating hundreds of websites’ apartments under one roof. The ability to discover, compare, contrast and contact under one common user interface is a compelling value proposition for many time-strapped renters.
ApartmentList.com is the world’s fastest-growing apartment search engine that is reinventing the rental market on a foundation of trust and transparency. Launched in September 2011 by John Kobs and Chris Herndon, former investment and financial professionals and current rental property owners, Apartment List produces a comprehensive set of apartment listings in one interface. Headquartered in San Francisco the company is built with a team of individuals from Google, Yelp, Yahoo, Amazon, You Tube and Boston Consulting Group and helps one million people every month in their housing search.