Find Out About the ILS Division of 4 Walls!

Meet 4 Walls ILS! The company’s flagship site, 4Walls.us, is an Internet listing service that markets apartment communities throughout the United States. Depending on their advertising needs, customers can choose between a monthly subscription plan and a Pay Per Prospect option that allows them to pay only when they receive qualified email or phone leads.

Do Your ILS Perceptions Jive With Reality?

We all cope with aging in different ways. In my case, I have always taken solace in the fact that I don't quite look my age.

But this week, I got a rude awakening. I had a few headshots taken for a speaking engagement, and in one of them, I look ten years older. The photo captured every wrinkle and every uneven spot in my complexion. I look in the mirror every day, so to me, my appearance doesn’t seem to change. But seeing the truth captured in print was a wake up call that my perception was not in alignment with reality.

This same type of shift—a slow erosion that's unnoticeable month to month but adds up over the course of a year—is happening in the online advertising space. During the past year, it's likely that a combination of the economy, a proliferation of new sites, and your own improvements to your website and internal web marketing have reduced the number of leads you are getting from paid advertising sources (although not all sources are experiencing declines). Renters are being more careful than ever, which is also decreasing the average closing ratio.

But has this shift changed your thinking about the standards by which you measure your ILSs? Some marketing managers are very realistic, but many are still expecting to pay less than $10 per lead. In most submarkets, you'll be cutting off your nose to spite your face. Sure, you’ll still get some leads, but if you cut all advertising that doesn't meet this standard, you'll lower your cost per lead but you won't have enough leads to work with.

Although it's tricky to measure where leases come from, it's not difficult to look at year over year changes in aggregate data. Take a look at your lead data for the past three years to make sure that your expectations are not outdated. You can also ask ILS vendors to identify overall trends.

Like me, you might not like the year over year picture. But the best decisions can only be made if you are armed with the facts, so it's best to just take a deep breath and take a closer look.

3 Types of Social Media Sites You Love Now, but You're Going to Hate Later

One of the pre-conference workshops at the NMHC Tech Conference I recently attended featured a panel of leaders from the leading Internet Listing Service players.

One of the questions was about the impact of social media on their businesses. I think we ran out of time before we got to the juicy stuff, so here is what I would have said if I were on the panel: you're ambivalent about us, but you're really going to hate it when social media puts some of us out of business. And I'm not talking about Facebook and Twitter.

1.  Video sites –  Search for your property on YouTube.com and chances are you'll find more than one video that has been placed by you or an ILS on your behalf. You'll see tracking numbers in many of the ads. YouTube videos are starting to appear in the search engine rankings. Some users will click through to your website, but others will just pick up the phone and call you. There's not enough information in these videos for prospects to properly qualify themselves. You're going to hate the drop in lead quality you'll experience as traffic from YouTube grows.

2.  Review sites –  You already hate apartmentratings.com, but that is only the tip of the iceberg. Today, you also need to contend with apartmentreviews.net, shouldirentit.com, ratemyapartments.com, 247apartments.com – and that's just what I found on the first page of Google results for my search for apartment ratings and review sites. Google favors sites where content changes frequently. What better way to achieve this than to tap into free labor provided by disgruntled renters? We're already seeing these sites appear more frequently on the top two pages of search results. And by the way, if you are taking advantage of “free” listings that appear on these sites or use Google Content ads, you are indirectly supporting these sites!

3. Internet directories –  Sites like Yelp, everyapartmentmapped.com and dozens of others are also beginning to displace top tier ILS sites from top placement in the search engines, and it's only going to get worse. You'll get traffic from these sources, but you're not going to have the same control over your listings. Sites like Yelp do a better job of giving property managers a voice to respond with reviews, but you will still need to contend with the negative ones. Sites like everyapartmentsmapped.com get their content from aggregators who syndicate their content there (e.g. ILS vendors) and so you are removed from the conversation. In addition to losing control, it will make it even harder to know where your leads came from, because the prospect will say one thing, and the tracking number will say another. This is already a big problem with Craigslist tracking.

The genie is out of the social media bottle. While social media offers a lot of opportunities, it complicates our ability to track where leads come from and decreases control over ad content and ad placement.  In some cases, it even decreases lead quality.  When you view it this way, the ILS vendors don't look so bad after all.