Michelle Roberts, Apartment Finder’s National Accounts Director, has been with Apartment Finder since 2003. She is in charge of the East Coast, from Boston to Miami, and she recently shared this valuable information on quality vs. quantity leads:
There’s no doubt leads are important – without leads, an apartment community won’t have any residents. It doesn’t matter whether those leads are generated by walk-ins, Internet Listing Services (ILSs) or the community’s website – the “how” of getting new clients to the door isn’t what matters, it’s what they do once they are there. Do they walk in, or do they walk away?
So what, exactly counts as a lead? In the multi-housing industry, we define a lead as a measurable inquiry from a prospective customer that may turn into a favorable business event. Leads come from everywhere – from social media pages, visits to the community’s website, walk-ins, email lead forms, chat sessions, phone calls, text or SMS interactions, and self-service leasing sites.
What matters more than the actual getting of leads is the quality of leads – are they coming at a reasonable cost and are these prospective renters emotionally and financially ready to lease an apartment within the next couple of months?
You don’t want more traffic – you want better, more qualified traffic. Leads cost money – don’t spend it if you can’t get a return on your investment. Some websites focus on the number of visitors they have when they really should be focused on how many “qualified” visitors they have – and who wouldn’t prefer fewer, but much more qualified, visitors to a bunch of unqualified visitors ?
There are free ways to drive traffic – Search Engine Optimization (SEO), drive-by, and referrals are types of non-paid lead generating sources. SEO determines how high your community’s website ranks on a search results page. Referrals come from word-of-mouth, social networking, and online ratings and reviews. Drive-by traffic comes from people literally driving by – they know where they want to live because it’s close to work, child care, or in a desired neighborhood or school district. When looking for an apartment, they will drive around until they find one that appeals to them.
Lead volume is a function of market demand – which, in our industry, is impacted by seasonality and various economic factors. It can often be like looking for a needle in a haystack. Yet, in the multi-family industry, lead generators are often incentivized to produce as many leads as possible. Therefore, in online lead generation, there almost always becomes an inverse relationship between lead quality and quantity. Many multi-housing advertisers stress quantity above all else. They feel they are best served with the largest possible number of leads, often without accurate measurement of quality.
The ideal solution balances quantity with quality. Your responsibility is to make sure you are spending your advertising dollars wisely with sources that are experts at this balance. An abundance of leads can keep you very busy, which means you need extra time in your day and a full staff at all times, ready every day to sort through all of those leads and qualify them.
Quality leads, on the other hand, take less time to sort through because they are pre-qualified. They are more cost-effective and easier to set appointments with. It is fair to say that quantity of leads is useless if the leads aren’t quality. Watch out for sales pitches full of smoke and mirrors – know what you are buying and make sure it makes sense to you.
Your lead generators, such as an ILS, have invested millions of dollars to develop online tools and strategies to ensure their sites are capable of generating a large sum of leads with as many pre-qualified as possible. Be sure you understand the strategy behind the approach – and ask yourself, does that approach drive the most qualified leads? Some ILSs claim large numbers of unique users compared to the competition – but often, these numbers are nationwide totals and have little relevance to you locally. Compare the local numbers (how they perform in your market) against the competition. By taking a more localized approach, you’ll generate more qualified leads for your community.
Watch out for lead sharing and lead phishing! If an ILS owns or partners with other rental-related sites, make sure they aren’t “phishing” or lead sharing. Phishing means browsing through their other owned sites (because an ILS usually owns more than one site serving up leads) and “fishing” out leads that match similar criteria they’ve been given by an end user on another site.
How can you determine if an Internet Listing Site is delivering a more qualified lead? Look for location-based search – where a device (such as your mobile phone) can identify your location and make recommendations near you. The majority of location-based searches – 70 percent – are conducted by prospective residents between the ages of 19-35, your target market.
Look for facet browsing – advanced sort features that allow prospects to further define the desired search parameters. The more specific a prospect is when checking off required amenities, the more qualified the lead becomes.
And finally, look for velocity scroll. The screen continues to populate listings, eliminating the need for a page 2, 3, 4, etc. This provides a more user-friendly experience without the appearance of less-ranked communities.
The most important thing to remember: focus on the basics! Virtual tours, floor plans, the ability to check availability, ratings and reviews, and a responsive site: Make sure the ILSs you do business with have multiple ways to share the most important information with visitors. Also, make sure the site is responsive so it will adapt to any tablet or mobile phone.
It’s also important to know and/or evaluate how you want to be contacted. Ask yourself the question, “What ways can I fully commit to responding to?” Is it email, chat, text, phone calls, or all four? Think about how you prefer to communicate with your friends. Use those same tools to communicate with prospective residents. Most ILSs should be able to accommodate you. If there’s a form of communication you don’t want to use – such as online chat or text — make sure they can turn it off.
And what about those times when you need a lead lift? Many ILSs offer tools with short terms and conditions, such as premium positioning, email marketing campaigns, higher rank in search results, etc. Make sure your lead generators have opportunities to bump up your spend for a bump in leads – but also make sure that doing so is still providing quality leads. For example, if a prospect is searching for an apartment in Newnan, Georgia, a community far south of Atlanta, it wouldn’t be relevant to end up with communities in Canton, a city far north of Atlanta. If you pay more for a premium position, make sure you are still getting qualified leads.
To make sure your ILS is working for you, know where to look! As a traffic aggregator, Apartment Finder can direct consumers to your community website, social sites, or leasing portal. It is important to look at click-thrus as a lead source. If you don’t, you could be eliminating the one source that is driving the most traffic to your community site. Be sure to check the analytics for your site’s traffic to know exactly where those visitors are coming from.
Finally, multi-channel marketing cultivates qualified leads. Apartment seekers will utilize a multitude of options when researching available apartments. Be sure you are marketing across all of these channels and utilizing research devices. You want a mix of organic search, paid search, print media, social media, review sites, your property website, Craig’s list, mobile, etc. These various channels work in concert to support your lead generation initiatives, and it’s important to have a good, across-the-board, integrated marketing strategy.