For many apartment marketers developing an ILS strategy is a lot like sports betting (or palm reading depending on who you’re speaking with). You review the matchups, do some some quick research, tap your instincts and make your ‘best bet’ (aka ‘set & forget’). More often than not this approach seems to work, or at least is accepted within the industry. Part of the issue is that many of the dominant ILS providers (Co-Star, and company) effectively disable any potential for strategy by locking their clients into annual agreements, and refusing to allow 3rd party tracking. It's unfortunate, because I for one, believe they would actually acquire WAY more business if they adopted a similar business model to a company called Google. A bidding environment like Google Ads would enable far more account flexibility, let market demand determine rates, and deliver invaluable consumer trends back to marketers. We’ll bring it back from fantasy to reality, and share some tips that you can actually leverage today that should elevate your ILS strategy moving forward . . .
Before you decide on an ILS ALWAYS review Page 1 of Google for your top keywords (i.e. luxury apartments in Atlanta). This is a simple but incredibly effective way to flesh out which ILS’ are performing in any given market. If you know anything about Google search results, you know that organic rank is heavily based on user engagement and relevance. If you don’t see your ILS appearing above the fold on Google, you might want to reconsider keeping it on the buy.
Another important but less utilized data point for ILS strategy is your property’s SOV (Share of Voice). Digital marketers outside the multifamily industry regularly ask/or require a SOV estimate from publishers before they place a buy. The reason they do this is to protect against saturation = limited exposure and recall. A good rule of thumb is to aim for 10% or higher SOV. Anything less usually translates to an inflated CPL = poor ROI.
Diversify as much as possible. Yes, there is a ton of syndication in the industry, but you should still do your due diligence and make sure that the partners they are promoting are relevant. A good best practice (budget permitting) would be to place buys or ‘prosumer listings’ on every ILS that sits above the fold on Page 1 of Google. That may sound delusional, at first, but you might be surprised how effective vanilla sponsorships/ or even basic listings can be when you consider renter click streams on the ILS (more to come on that topic)
Develop a warehouse. Most apartment marketers manage 15 to 40 (maybe more) properties in the same region. Even if you aren’t an Excel guru or consider yourself analytical by nature, there is enormous value in developing your own ILS data warehouse. It will yield valuable insights related to seasonality, ROI, sponsorship levels, competitive advantages, etc.
Optimize- when you can. As we acknowledged beforehand, many of the dominant ILS networks make it difficult if not impossible to optimize your listings based on performance or predictive analysis. However, don’t let that deflate you or affect your ILS strategy at large. There are still several ILS networks (i.e. Zumper, Apartmentlist, etc) that enable listing optimization for their clients. Finding the time is a whole other issue, so you might start with just quarterly adjustments.
Be the User. If you haven’t been reading or hearing about ‘click-stream data’ we would highly encourage that you get acquainted with the term. It’s the most raw and honest picture of how consumers actually behave online- a click by click map of the renter journey. Early learnings from ILS click-stream data suggests that users overwhelmingly move directly into the advance filtering tools before they even begin to shop or compare properties. Consequently, you may want to rethink some of the platinum (page 1) sponsorships, when you realize that 9 out of 10 renters blow right by them.
Get serious about your call tracking. It’s not enough anymore just to add call tracking/reporting to your ILS campaigns. Unfortunately, there are still significant limitations (keyword categorization, intent, location, etc) to the AI driving those platforms, not to mention how a lead is actually being defined. Being confident and leveraging your call analytics is critical toward achieving a smarter, more efficient ILS strategy. After all, nothing is worse than falsely celebrating a huge uptick in leads only to find out they were poor quality- ugh!
Well, that’s it for now, but stay tuned for more on the ILS empire as we examine predictive analytics, click-stream data, rate negotiations and much more!