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Backpack Executive

I'm JV. I work in the wild west of student housing. Here I write about news, technology trends, and the less-noted views related to the student housing industry...But don't quote me on it.
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5 Tips on how to choose the best ILS for your advertising efforts

5 Tips on how to choose the best ILS for your advertising efforts

With so many online ad sources to choose from, how can you be sure which is best for you? Below I offer 5 tips for choosing a great ILS. Enjoy!

Does their traffic measure up?

Most Internet Listing Services (ILS) will happily provide you with their web statistics. Take the time to thoroughly review any report offered to you before you sign on the dotted line. Some smaller sites will even provide you with a copy of their Google Analytics, if you ask. Keep in mind, while most sales reps are honest, no one in their right mind will give you unfavorable traffic statistics. Alexa.com is a great, free website that allows you to get a general overview of any website’s traffic as far back as 2 years. Benchmark against other popular ILS sites for perspective. 

Check whether they’re popular in your city

Simply because an ILS is nationwide, doesn’t necessarily mean they have high web traffic in your city. A simple way to gauge an ILS’s regional market penetration is to google the keywords – apartments in city name, and then scroll through the search results until you see their site. Don’t just search using the city you are located in; type other city names that your prospects move from.  

If the ILS isn’t on the front page of Google, you may want to find an alternative ad source. Studies have consistently shown the majority of renters look for their apartment using search engines. 

Before you run a Google search: If you are signed into any Google account, logout. Also, consider clearing you search history. Both steps are important to do before running the search because Google ‘remembers’ your previous searches, which could skew the results.

Don’t fund their market penetration efforts

What if your ILS rep. assures you that her boss is pushing for more exposure in the city(s) you are interested in as soon as more apartment communities sign up? While it may be good that a popular ILS wants to expands to your city, it shouldn’t mean you have to front them the dough to do it.

Before you commit your ad dollars to an ILS, make sure they are committed to you. For $49/month SEMRush will show you where websites rank for various keywords and whether they are spending money on Google Adwords. You could also simply run the google search described above, and check if the ILS has ads at the top and right side of the page.

If the ILS has a flat monthly fee, you will get a better return on investment if you wait until there is evidence of 3 solid months of marketing efforts from them. Alternatively, if you want to get in early, ask for a significant discount and no longer than a 90 day contract; terminate at will.

Don’t let them keep all the SEO-goodness.

Most ILS sites have a bad habit of blocking potential SEO (Search Engine Optimization) benefits that come from listing with them. If an ILS does not display your website link somewhere on your listing, don’t bother. Furthermore, if they do link back, find out if they use no-follow links. In short, a no-follow link has a special tag in the hyperlink that tells Google not to count it for any SEO purposes. This is an ugly practice that we, in the multifamily industry, need to put an end to, together. Make it a contingency to you advertising with an ILS that they will not use no-follow links when linking back to your website. And get it in writing.

Don’t ask around.

What? You don’t want me to ask other colleagues if the site is worth the money? Unfortunately many professionals have an emotional view on comparing one ILS to another. If a community manager has a long-lasting relationship with an ILS rep, their opinion may not be as objective as one would like. Stick to the data and try to keep emotions and folk-wisdom out of your decision. That being said, if you know someone that has valuable traffic data for an ILS of interest, go for it!

I hope these tips help you maximize your return on investment. Did I leave out something? Please share with us!

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  • Great point about website traffic. I work for PRIMEDIA and I can attest to the fact that we are extremely proud of the monthly comScore results for our Apartment Guide/Rentals network. In most major markets and nationwide we seem to compete with Apartments.com for the top unique visitor ranking among the major ILS's. It's funny how that information changes depending on who is providing it. For Rent Media Solutions touts its position as the #1 comScore rated ILS for unique visitors.

    My point here is not that we're misrepresenting our results because that's absolutely not the case. Each company has its own way of gathering information. My company combines ApartmentGuide.com & Rentals.com to report total unique visitors. In other words, if I visit Rentals.com and then visit ApartmentGuide.com I will only be counted once for their ranking purposes even though I visited both sites individually. I feel like that's pretty fair, but if we split out each site their rank would be lower than both combined. I'm not sure how FRMS comes up with their number, but I'm sure they've selected whichever way brings them the most benefit (just like all the other companies, mine included). Personally, I don't think there's anything wrong with that, however if site traffic is important to you it's important to ask questions and do some research. I really like Jason's suggestions of asking for Google Analytics or checking Alexa.

    While we're talking about traffic, be sure to ask about mobile users. We've recently added a special comScore mobile beacon to track mobile visits so we can show them separately. Before that mobile users were counted as regular traffic and I'm sure most ILS's still report total traffic, regardless of device. Again, be sure to ask your rep for more information.

    One thing that Jason didn't mention, but I think might be most important (and eye opening) is what they consider a "lead." All ILS's have great reporting systems and love to talk about how many leads they send you. Well, what's a lead? Apartment Guide only considers a connected phone call or an email as a lead. Other companies count things like missed calls, driving directions, click-throughs to your website, and if the prospect printed a brochure as leads (among many other things). We still track most of those actions and provide that data to our clients. It's just not what we consider to be an actual lead. How do you follow-up with someone who clicked through to your management company's website?? ;)

  • Mike B.

    The SEO component to this article is off point. Google frowns upon a scenario in which links are being bought or sold for SEO purposes, so if the relationship is one in which a management company is paying for the services of an ILS, if that ILS were to include a follow link, both parties are walking a thin line with Google's stance on "paid links".

    I agree with the due diligence aspect of this article, but asking an ILS to boost your own SEO not only goes against the grain of what Google considers "in bounds" practices, but does not make much sense for the ILS considering their SEM initiatives to drive traffic to their own respective sites.

  • Mike, in my opinion, the ILS's service goes so much farther than simply a paid link, that I would be shocked if that ever got penalized by Google. Google tries to wipe out payments for links, rather than payments for services that happen to have a link. That's just my opinion, of course.

  • Mike B.

    Brent I completely agree that an ILS service goes deeper than a paid link, in fact I work for a company (rentbits) that provides services on top of lead generation and we even provide a no-follow link back to the corporate/community website in an effort to help customers receive more traffic to their site. However, knowing what Google's position is on paid links, we would much rather play the cautious route and not compromise our business or that of our customers by providing a follow link since this can still be viewed as a paid link.

    Some may view this as a grey area but we have had multiple customers verify that the link we provide is a "no-follow" to ensure that we are all staying out of the penalty box.

    With the article stating that it is an ugly practice to not receive a follow link and is something the industry must put a stop to, in my opinion is not taking into consideration all of the components to how the SEO world works and some of the boundaries that are out there.

  • If we're speaking just about Google searches, it's important to keep in mind that "no-follow" is part of the PageRank algorithm. Google Panda is a separate algorithm and has a higher importance for search results than PageRank.

    Mike B. is correct that Google deems commercial websites as lower quality and would rank inlinks from them as similarly poor quality. As recently as February and March site owners were notified through Google Webmaster Tools if their site links had an unnaturally high link velocity. Unless rentBits was identified as such a site, I don't think links to property websites would be harmed.

  • Mike B.

    Here is a link from Google on what their official position is:

    http://support.google.com/webmasters/bin/answer.py?hl=en&answer=96569

    Rentbits was not identified as such a site that had an unnaturally high link velocity, and while I agree with David and Brent that offering these links should't effect the ILS or the property websites, I would recommend playing it safe - Direct traffic yes, link juice, not worth it.

  • What great tips and input! I thought the SEO tip in particular was a great point, and communities should not be missing out on opportunities to optimize their listings. Knowing the importance of SEO, my company (For Rent Media Solutions) even provides our customers with additional support and FAQ’s to help them develop their SEO efforts.

    With such tough competition right now between the ILS sites, communities can benefit more than ever from competitive pricing and an increased amount of options and products to best get their listings seen. The pressure is definitely on each company to continue evolving their products to be the best option out there—and we're excited to take on the challenge.

    At For Rent, we know that numbers can be misrepresented or questionably calculated, which is why we use the numbers provided in comScore's monthly report. As an unbiased third party, comScore is available for all ILS sites to reference should they choose to do so. This serves as an assurance to the public that the results are tallied equally and fairly--something that can get a bit sticky when companies solely provide their own numbers. We have never touted ourselves as number one for unique visitors; however, we are very proud of the fact that our year-to-year growth in unique visitors for 2012 thus far shows that we are on the right track. According to the comScore numbers, we have the highest year-to-year growth percentages for quarter one, and we were number two in monthly unique visitors for February and March--just behind Apartments.com.

    We agree on the importance of mobile traffic and have included the comScore mobile beacon to our site as well because it provides a way to now differentiate between mobile and website traffic. Since this new tracking beacon just came out of beta this week, we are waiting to report these numbers until we can verify that we are sharing the most accurate information with our customers.

  • jenny

    Thanks for such a great article here. I was searching for something like this for quite a long time and at last I’ve found it on your blog. It was definitely interesting for me to read about web applications and their market situation nowadays. thanks one more time and keep posting such nice ones in the nearest future too.
    :o

  • jenny

    What? You don’t want me to ask other colleagues if the site is worth the money? Unfortunately many professionals have an emotional view on comparing one:D

  • jenny

    My point here is not that we're misrepresenting our results because that's absolutely not the case. Each company has its own way of gathering information. My company combines ApartmentGuide.com & Rentals.com to report total unique visitors. In other words, if I visit Rentals.com and then visit ApartmentGuide.com I will only be counted once for their ranking purposes even though I visited both sites individually. I feel like that's pretty fair, but if we split out each site their rank would be lower than both combined. I'm not sure how FRMS comes up with their number, but I'm sure they've selected whichever way brings them the most benefit (just like all the other companies, mine included). Personally, I don't think there's anything wrong with that, however if site traffic is important to you it's important to ask questions and do some research. I really like Jason's suggestions of asking for Google Analytics or checking Alexa.
    ;)

  • James

    Very good article, Jason. Thanks for sharing. I agree with most of what you said. Presence online dramatically increases the amount of traffic a community gets; that's only going to increase in coming years. That can cause a lot of problems for a community if the traffic is of poor quality. Then the question isn't about traffic, but about the quality of traffic that comes to you. We all know Property Managers are living in a work environment that is incredibly hectic; meetings get pushed back, pop-up reports can change an entire week's plan. You pressed on something very important that many people don't take into account. Every ILS is different in each market. Where one is strong in Houston, it may be weak in Seattle.
    The only thing I would think needs more discussing is your tip about "SEO Goodness". While I agree, it does inhibit the traffic you may get to your actual website if a ILS does not allow a link to your website, think about difficult it would become to track where people are actually seeing you. If an ILS boasts its ability to track, and it's main selling point is it's ability to track (Pay per lease, pay per lead), it must be able to know how effective it's efforts are. If a listing has a link that can take you directly to a communities website, the odds of you tracking your results from that listing drop significantly. I know I'm unlikely to enter my email address, or remember where I saw a listing. Typically, I have five tabs up all of different ILS' to maximize the time I spend searching for a new home. Not having a link/actual phone number (most ILS' use a unique phone number for each listing) will maximize your ability to track where your leads/leases come from.

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