We have recently come across several conversations online about the value of an Internet Listing Service (ILS), like Apartments.com. While trying to decide the best way to approach this question, I thought of a popular saying; “you never really know what you had until it’s gone.” So, that made me think, what would a world be like without ILS’s…?
Let’s say that, for whatever reason, tomorrow all ILSs ceased to exist and no longer appeared in Google’s search results. Consumers using “long-tail” search terms – i.e. “two bedroom apartments in Chicago” – would probably do alright, because they’d at least get back property websites or Google Place listings for communities in Chicago, even if the quality of the experience varies widely from there. Consumers using more general terms, like “apartments for rent” (there are about 2.25 million of those per month on Google) would have a harder time, having to go through several individual property management company sites to find a handful of listings that might suit their needs. It would be frustrating and arduous experience, and only the management companies with the very largest national footprint would have any success in that world.
Therein lays the value of aggregators like ILSs, at least from a consumer experience. Even in the long-tail example, someone searching for two-bedroom apartments in Chicago will get over 250 properties to choose from on Apartments.com. From there, they have the option to refine their search by rent range, amenities and more.
But back to our ILS-less world…
Now there are hundreds, maybe thousands, of property sites vying for the top spot in the Google search results, and this is when Google has you right where they want you. Google, obviously, is not a non-profit company. The idea that Google likes to provide traffic for “free” is naïve. Be it your Google Place page or your property website, Google stands to make a lot more money in the long run selling keywords to hundreds/thousands of individual property management companies at a very high costs-per-click than they will from a handful of ILSs paying, because of the scale they’re able to achieve, a relatively low CPC. Instead of an ILS rep calling you, it’ll be a Google rep, and instead of playing one ILS against another, he/she will be playing properties against each other. “Cats and dogs living together! Complete chaos!”
OK, maybe not that bad. Already you see ILSs broadening the range of services we provide, from helping with your social media campaigns to making posting on Craigslist that much easier, because we know the landscape is changing. In the meantime, we can hopefully continue to deliver lots of high quality leads, and perhaps help shoulder some of the burden of managing all your marketing channels.
The world we just imagined wasn’t too far from being true. Google’s recent “Panda” release, which was intended to penalize poor-quality or shady-tactic-using sites by pushing them way down in the search results, ended up impacting some ILSs and other aggregators. The fact that most of us were not, in fact, dinged by this update (and based on recent organic traffic trends, might have even benefitted from it) is perhaps Google’s way of saying ILSs provide a good, valuable consumer experience.
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