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Google and ILSs: A Powerful One-Two Punch

Google and ILS
March 2019

Apartment marketers continue to leverage powerful online tools.

Apartment marketers are debating whether Google will eventually surpass ILSs in lead generation impact.

But to Holli Beckman, one thing is abundantly clear: Both channels are vitally important to a community’s marketing success – and that’s how things are going to remain in the future.

“ILSs will continue to play an indispensable role in apartment marketing, and the best plan of attack for marketers is to use both ILSs and Google to their advantage,” says Beckman, Vice President of Marketing and Leasing Operations, WC Smith. “The combination is an extremely powerful one.”

A Winning Combination

According to Beckman, marketing an apartment community in today’s environment has to involve a multi-pronged approach. “There is zero advantage to going all in on one platform,” she says.

That’s because apartment prospects incorporate a wide range of tools when looking for a new home. They use search engines and social media, and they ask friends and family for recommendations. They also rely heavily on ILSs. According to the NMHC Kingsley 2017 study, 70 percent of renters report using an ILS at some point during their search.

With the renter’s journey incorporating so many different touchpoints, making use of Google listings – such as those available through Google My Business knowledge graphs – and ILSs is mandatory, Beckman says.

“If you are all ILS, I have news for you: You’re not a marketer. You’re a media buyer,” she says. “If you’re all in on Google and skipping the ILSs, you’re missing out on leveraging the hundreds of thousands of dollars the listing sites throw at PPC and SEO. It also means you need to be prepared to invest in content and PPC to keep up with your competitors that are on the ILSs.

“Even if you are ILS heavy, that does not absolve you of your responsibility to have clear, accurate and consistent information on all of the Google platforms,” Beckman adds. “You have to make sure you are providing relevant information for all of the customer journey touchpoints – and you have to make sure you are providing the data in the best format, whether that be text, video or images.”

Google’s Rental Housing Future

There is growing discussion about what role Google may eventually play in apartment marketing and leasing.

Google has made major inroads into the air-travel and hotel segments by building enhanced functions that allow consumers to search efficiently for flights and hotel rooms and to book them quickly. Google’s focus on those industries has left many in the rental housing industry wondering if the search engine will someday make an aggressive push into the apartment world, one that might result in Google replacing ILSs.

John Thornton, Senior Director of Performance Marketing at RentPath and a former Account Executive at Google, doesn’t see that happening. The search engine’s current relationship with ILSs is too profitable, he says.

“At this point, Google makes hundreds of millions of dollars in PPC ad revenue from the ILS category,” Thornton says. “At the same time, the supporting team for these efforts is only about a dozen people, so Google is able to send hundreds of millions of dollars straight to its bottom line. The profit margin is close to 99 percent.

“So if you are deploying Google resources, why would you want to spend the time and money to aggregate property management companies and properties to make direct relationships, when you can simply collaborate with the ILSs to do it for you?” Thornton adds.

Just the First Step

With the ongoing industry focus on striking the right mixture of marketing channels, apartment operators can lose sight of what comes after lead capture, Beckman notes.

“I worry that some of us don't understand that lead capture is just the first step. Regardless of what mechanism you use to buy your leads (ILS, Google or other methods), it’s what you’re doing after they contact you that determines whether or not you get the lease,” she says.

“Do you have drip campaigns, live chat or chatbots, online tour scheduling, call centers, and well-trained leasing agents to usher the prospect the rest of the way down the buyer’s journey and covert the lead into a lease?” Beckman asks. “If you don’t have a boat or a net and you haven’t trained the fisherman, what’s the point of throwing bait in the water? It just becomes a giant waste of money.”

While marketers might be tempted to isolate their strategies to a single platform, doing so would seriously harm their lead generation and conversion efforts. By making use of both ILSs and Google, marketers can be sure they're maximizing the effectiveness of their campaigns.