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Backpack Executive

I'm Jason. I've spent most of my career developing marketing strategies for student housing communities. Now, I own Pixel Riot - We help your website send the right signals to land the right visitors. Need Google Ad management? I'm your guy. I have 14 years of experience in digital advertising for Multifamily.

After 1.3 Million Pages of (Mostly) Negative Reviews, ApartmentsRatings.com Turns Over a New Leaf

If you haven’t made your rounds in the PR circuit the last couple weeks, you may have missed the announced partnership between ApartmentRatings.com [AR] and RentAdvisor [RA].

Unfortunately, the details surrounding the new found friendship are a bit lacking. Based on the [search result-dominating] press release issued by the pair, AR and RA are teaming up in an effort to improve our communities’ online image by soliciting positive online reviews from our residents.

Their respective roles are succinctly outlined by Wade Hewitt, VP of ApartmentRatings.com:

“Our new partnership with RentAdvisor works in conjunction with our Verified Resident Program and offers properties multiple solutions to solicit solid ratings and reviews, which in turn will be displayed on ApartmentRatings.com.”

I was a bit taken back by how a single sentence could pack my mind with so many questions and red flags. Let’s start with the most obvious, shall we?

Either the copy writer needs a copy writer or I just read a published work with the words “Verified Resident” and “ApartmentRatings.com” working together to complete a sentence.

Can we be honest for a second? AR doesn't care about validity. It cares about exploiting free content. This is the site that takes any mixture of letters, numbers, and punctuation, as long as it means it can create another page to shove a dozen text ads into. I mean, can I get a little website with my AdSense? Geez. More on that in a bit.

The second and, maybe most audacious of my observations surrounding this pitbull-in-a-chihuahua’s-body of a sentence is it appears as if RentAdvisor will expect us to pay them a shipping & handling fee of sorts for these positive resident reviews.

I won’t get into how this model could quickly turn into implied extortion but, if you find yourself with some downtime, skim through my post about Yelp.

I will, however, walk you through why this is a crummy deal at any price -

Deep Breath...

So, RentAdvisor provides a service (presumably for a fee) that harvests massive amounts of free user-generated content right out your backyard.

RentAdvisor then converts this content into valuable consumer behavior data to use for its benefit (Which at this point is now globally, perpetually, and irrevocablowned by RentAdvisor and its affiliates.) while simultaneously dishing off hundreds of thousands of pages worth of free, hot-off-the-press content to a website that didn't even think enough of you to throw a hyperlink your way when it allowed the entire world wide web to run through your reputation like a cheap date.

Gasp.

And in a final act of bitter irony, the very same user-content you happily provided in exchange for a few months of not-horrible reviews will inevitably be used against you through sketchy SEO tactics and low-quality, duplicate content with the sole purpose of cramming more Google Adsense ads (that we pay for, by the way) into pages already spilling at the rim with your community's information.

Does that just about sum up the service? Feel free to use that in your sales pitch.

PS - I'm looking forward to the Verified Resident Program. Truly, I am.

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Resident verified program... Sounds like a future lawsuit if you ask me..[img][/img]

  td
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This sounds exciting! I have had more and more people in just the last 2 months telling me they came to my community because we were highly recommended. They had been on ApartmentRatings.com.

I know for a fact there have been disgruntled employees posting negative remarks in my market area. This is unacceptable for a site that has as much impact on our business as it seems to have and is increasing.

Perhaps they have decided to seek integrity. Even though I am 100% recommended, I don't 100% recommend anyone use this site to choose a home due to the unverifiable comments.

  Sandy Martin
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One of the biggest complaints about Apartment Ratings are the anonymous posts, and here they are announcing some sort of verification process, so I'm not sure as to why this is a bad thing, at least without more details. Apartment Ratings has a long legacy of being antagonistic with the multifamily industry. But that said, with new ownership they have begun to get involved in the industry like never before. Wade Hewitt participated at AIM and actually lent some guidance on our own Apartment Ratings webinar. I'm not saying they will be some sort of saint now, but it does seem clear that they are making efforts in this direction, and I think that is a positive thing for the industry. I guess I'm just at the point of giving some slack and seeing where it all goes before making any judgments.

  Brent Williams
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Brent! Appreciate the feedback. While no positive changes have actually been implemented, it does appear they are organizing a new approach. My question is why now?

I'm confused by your mention of new ownership? Did Internet Brands sell AR?

  Jason Velazquez
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No, I meant new ownership by IB. After talking with them, it seems as though they were just feeling out the waters for a couple of years without any major changes, and have since started making shifts. These shifts appear to be happening, and not just lip service, which is why I'm more inclined to give them the benefit of the doubt.

  Brent Williams
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Just read Jason’s post regarding the AR/RA announced partnership. As the actual copy writer of the announcement (me) who apparently “needs a copy writer,” allow me to expand and provide some more copy around this announcement:

Regardless of your personal feelings about ApartmentRatings.com, they are in fact the most viewed and most sourced of all Internet sites that carry apartment listings and reviews. We know this because RentAdvisor has worked directly with thousands of renters in the last year-and-a-half in helping them find the right place. We send information off to the renter, and they in turn immediately go out to review sites to check the comments and ratings. Guess which site these renters source 90% of the time? You got it…ApartmentRatings.com.

Here’s the kicker – we couldn’t get the renter to go visit the property when the property had bad reviews even if we KNEW THE PROPERTY WAS PERFECT FOR THEM! We realized if we’re having this problem getting renters to go to certain properties, the property is having the same issue…but they probably are completely unaware of it because they only hear from the renters that DID pick up the phone or walk in. They never heard from the renters that opted not to visit!

So, using Jason’s points as a reference, let me respond to a couple of the most egregious comments:

Jason: “Can we be honest for a second? AR doesn't care about validity.”
RentAdvisor: That may have been absolutely true in the past, but times change and so do businesses. ApartmentRatings.com created a program specifically to address this issue and it’s called “Verified Resident Program (VRP).” The goal is to…yep…verify that it’s actually a current or former resident of that property. Problem = Solution = VRP.

Jason: “…it appears as if RentAdvisor will expect us to pay them a shipping & handling fee of sorts for these positive resident reviews.”
RentAdvisor: Jason’s statement makes a rather big and inaccurate assumption; these reviews will not...

Just read Jason’s post regarding the AR/RA announced partnership. As the actual copy writer of the announcement (me) who apparently “needs a copy writer,” allow me to expand and provide some more copy around this announcement:

Regardless of your personal feelings about ApartmentRatings.com, they are in fact the most viewed and most sourced of all Internet sites that carry apartment listings and reviews. We know this because RentAdvisor has worked directly with thousands of renters in the last year-and-a-half in helping them find the right place. We send information off to the renter, and they in turn immediately go out to review sites to check the comments and ratings. Guess which site these renters source 90% of the time? You got it…ApartmentRatings.com.

Here’s the kicker – we couldn’t get the renter to go visit the property when the property had bad reviews even if we KNEW THE PROPERTY WAS PERFECT FOR THEM! We realized if we’re having this problem getting renters to go to certain properties, the property is having the same issue…but they probably are completely unaware of it because they only hear from the renters that DID pick up the phone or walk in. They never heard from the renters that opted not to visit!

So, using Jason’s points as a reference, let me respond to a couple of the most egregious comments:

Jason: “Can we be honest for a second? AR doesn't care about validity.”
RentAdvisor: That may have been absolutely true in the past, but times change and so do businesses. ApartmentRatings.com created a program specifically to address this issue and it’s called “Verified Resident Program (VRP).” The goal is to…yep…verify that it’s actually a current or former resident of that property. Problem = Solution = VRP.

Jason: “…it appears as if RentAdvisor will expect us to pay them a shipping & handling fee of sorts for these positive resident reviews.”
RentAdvisor: Jason’s statement makes a rather big and inaccurate assumption; these reviews will not be all positive and RentAdvisor is not asking to be paid for them. And, these reviews might be “free,” but “harvesting” them is not! It takes an enormous of amount of work to put together customized-can-spam-compliant-fully-authenticated email campaigns, manage the data, the response and alerts, and build out super-granular reporting to manage the process. But RentAdvisor provides much more than that. In an effort to cast a wide net to attract more of these balanced reviews, RentAdvisor also provides a Facebook app to solicit and host reviews on the client’s Facebook pages, provides a widget that allows clients to solicit and host reviews on their own website pages, and sends out tweets with bit.lys to direct them to review landing pages. Why? Because these are the places better reviews are generally posted and the client would rather keep the renter on their pages with balanced reviews then defect to other ratings sites.

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  Robert Kekoakalani Turnbull
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Jason: “RentAdvisor then converts this content into valuable consumer behavior data to use for its benefit (Which at this point is now globally, perpetually, and irrevocably owned by RentAdvisor and its affiliates.) while simultaneously dishing off hundreds of thousands of pages worth of free, hot-off-the-press content to a website that didn't even think enough of you to throw a hyperlink your way when it allowed the entire world wide web to run through your reputation like a cheap date. Gasp. And in a final act of bitter irony, the very same user-content you happily provided in exchange for a few months of not-horrible reviews will inevitably be used against you through sketchy SEO tactics and low-quality, duplicate content with the sole purpose of cramming more Google Adsense ads.”

RentAdvisor: GASP is right! Of all the assumptions made in this blog post, this is the most inaccurate assumption made and most grossly misrepresentative of them all. Hmmmm…where to start.

Jason: “RentAdvisor then converts this content into valuable consumer behavior data to use for its benefit.”
RentAdvisor: Wrong. This data is valuable, but it’s used for the client’s benefit on AR.com, their own site, their Facebook pages, Twitter tweets and feeds …not for RentAdvisor’s benefit.

Jason: “…while simultaneously dishing off hundreds of thousands of pages worth of free, hot-off-the-press content to a website that didn't even think enough of you to throw a hyperlink your way.”
RentAdvisor: Wrong again. Nearly EVERY link, tweet, review, phone number, url, post, email, update, etc., is directed to increase and improve the management company’s and property’s SEO. This is not duplicate content in the classic sense (read that as you DON’T get dinged for it). For specific details on how this works feel free to call me at: 770.617.8812 as I don’t want to bore the readers out there with technical jargon.

On a final note, I’d sincerely like to thank Jason for this post. I couldn’t have...

Jason: “RentAdvisor then converts this content into valuable consumer behavior data to use for its benefit (Which at this point is now globally, perpetually, and irrevocably owned by RentAdvisor and its affiliates.) while simultaneously dishing off hundreds of thousands of pages worth of free, hot-off-the-press content to a website that didn't even think enough of you to throw a hyperlink your way when it allowed the entire world wide web to run through your reputation like a cheap date. Gasp. And in a final act of bitter irony, the very same user-content you happily provided in exchange for a few months of not-horrible reviews will inevitably be used against you through sketchy SEO tactics and low-quality, duplicate content with the sole purpose of cramming more Google Adsense ads.”

RentAdvisor: GASP is right! Of all the assumptions made in this blog post, this is the most inaccurate assumption made and most grossly misrepresentative of them all. Hmmmm…where to start.

Jason: “RentAdvisor then converts this content into valuable consumer behavior data to use for its benefit.”
RentAdvisor: Wrong. This data is valuable, but it’s used for the client’s benefit on AR.com, their own site, their Facebook pages, Twitter tweets and feeds …not for RentAdvisor’s benefit.

Jason: “…while simultaneously dishing off hundreds of thousands of pages worth of free, hot-off-the-press content to a website that didn't even think enough of you to throw a hyperlink your way.”
RentAdvisor: Wrong again. Nearly EVERY link, tweet, review, phone number, url, post, email, update, etc., is directed to increase and improve the management company’s and property’s SEO. This is not duplicate content in the classic sense (read that as you DON’T get dinged for it). For specific details on how this works feel free to call me at: 770.617.8812 as I don’t want to bore the readers out there with technical jargon.

On a final note, I’d sincerely like to thank Jason for this post. I couldn’t have scripted a better means to illustrate the ratings/reviews issues all our collective businesses are facing, and how RentAdvisor is helping properties and management companies take back control and improve their online reputations by engaging…and then responding.

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  Robert Kekoakalani Turnbull
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Robert, Hello
It has been a while since we have chatted, hope all is well with you. Looks like this post fired you up a bit, lol! A quick question, how does Rent Adviser get paid? I know how the previous model worked with Rent Wiki, and I assume that the apartment community pays RA a fee of some sort to aggregate reviews, via an email campiagn similar to how the beta test we were involved with, ( which worked very well, in that whatever you did created a lot of reviews, some good, some not) I also assume that RA distributes this new content (sorted reviews) and pushes it out via social outreach?

Thanks in advance for the additional information,

  Eric Brown
This comment was minimized by the moderator on the site

Wow... what an article. Kudos to Robert Turnball for helping to clarify because that type of blog article sensationalism just isn't warranted (or accurate). Sorry Jason, while your intent was likely good (we should all take a step back and reflect on changes), it was full of so many fallacies that it felt like it belonged more for an op-ed piece in say, "The Onion" than on such a site like MFI where audiences take to heart what is being stated.

Now where's my popcorn...

  Carmen B.

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