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Unlocking Success: How to Get Leads for Apartments

The Strategic Importance of Lead Generation

When the leads flow, revenue can grow. 

Without leads your leasing team can’t magically drum up new tenants, and without new tenants in the pipeline, churn will rock your world. But fortunately, that won’t happen, because you’ve got the latest strategies from Lease Engine to keep you informed and agile in the new apartment marketing world. 

In this article, we’re here to talk through some of the most impactful strategies we use to generate thousands of leads for our clients – and many of them can be implemented pretty easily. 

(*Note – this article is written for portfolios with over 100 units in management, but some of the tips are applicable for all portfolios, no matter the size.) 

For context: we break "Apartment Lead Generation" into three categories: 

  • Infrastructure: the base assets and marketing materials used to describe and communicate your apartment.
  • Promotion: the tools and tactics used to get your apartment in front of eyeballs.
  • Analytics and Optimization: the process of looking at historic performance to adjust for future success.

Let's get started.

Understanding the Apartment Market

Current Market Trends and Challenges (Updated Feb 2024) 

Staying abreast of market trends is essential for making informed decisions. Recent data from Yardi Matrix shows that rent was flat in 2023 – with just a .3% increase in rent rates throughout the year. Further, in 2024 we’re expecting a record year for new supply coming online. Today’s unique environment has one constant reminding us of any other year – real estate is a local game. Some markets are growing, but others have contracted. Industry challenges such as these, especially in overbuilt or overserved markets underscore the need for strategic planning and good marketing. 

Let’s be honest, when things are uncertain, cash flow is king. In Multifamily, cash flow comes from tenants. 

Over the past few years, market forces and tools like Zillow and Apartments.com have kept many apartments at healthy occupancy levels without much work on the marketing front, but players in some markets have ridden the wave, while others have had to learn to swim against the current.

The adage “Marketing is the first thing to get cut in a downturn”, isn’t necessarily true in multifamily. Our biggest books of business are in over-supplied markets, where rents have declined, concessions are high, and tenants are hard to come by. These are markets where Zillow and Apartments.com just won’t cut it anymore. (And our clients aren’t getting hit like the rest of their neighbors.) 

But regardless of your current market, applying lead gen tactics will take your business to the next level.

Self-Evaluation for Apartment Positioning

Conducting a thorough self-assessment helps management leaders identify strengths and areas for improvement. Understanding your market, along with how you are positioned in your market will help you craft an approach that can drive the most impact, attract tenants with similar interests, and build thriving communities.  

If you’re already established, look to your strengths and unique offerings as an apartment when crafting your message. Things like location, amenities, price, interior materials, and history can be a great starting point. 

If you’re in the strategy phase, look to your competitors and your market. What do they do that seems to wow potential renters? What do you hope to do differently? Deciding how to position your apartment can be a powerful value add for tenant retention and marketing effectiveness. 

Keep in mind that some market positioning choices come with major management implications. For example, Student Housing comes with high turnover but higher potential rents, and senior living is accompanied by all kinds of support and staffing decisions. 

Apartment Marketing Infrastructure: Building a Strong Online Presence

ILS Apartment Listings – Zillow and Apartments.com 

Your property management system likely has a marketing tool that ties directly into Zillow, Apartment.com, and other ILS (Internet Listing Service) tools. 

These tools are the easiest way to attract tenants – and if you are running marketing for a smaller portfolio (under 75 units), they will likely be the only serious marketing investment you need to make. 

Designing Attention-Grabbing Listings

Creating compelling ILS listings is essential for standing out. That means compelling copy, accurate descriptions, and stellar photography. 

While some paid contracts with ILS systems come with professional photography, regardless of the tier you are on, you’ll want to ensure the photography you are using is sharp and flattering. Tools like Bark, Thumbtack, or Find A Photographer can help you find, negotiate with, and source local photographers near you. 

We’ve seen ILS performance triple, even quadruple after a good photography and messaging investment. Apartments.com and Zillow both offer photography services if your promotion level hits a certain threshold on their platforms. 

Today, virtual staging is also playing a much bigger role in apartment marketing. Tools like PadStyler and Virtual Staging AI make virtual staging a breeze, and can really transform your listings. 

Paid Promotion on Your ILS: 

While Zillow and Apartments.com offer free plans, they only get you so far. For expanded reach (and more leads) Zillow and Apartments.com both offer varying levels of promotional packages. Most multifamily marketing Contracts with Zillow and Apartments.com are typically locked in at a certain rate for a fixed number of months. (Don’t tell them we said this, but as portfolios get larger, these rates can often be negotiated 🤫). While the platforms play a pivotal role in apartment marketing, one of the common complaints is that the contracts can be pretty rigid, making it difficult to scale up when you need more volume or scale down when you’re at capacity. 

ILS Summary

The ILS systems, for most apartments, do a pretty good job at apartment lead generation. An ILS is typically the easiest system to get set up, and the main platforms tend to drive enough leads to keep smaller operations at a healthy occupancy level. Many operations under 100 units that aren’t undergoing a lease-up can handle all of their marketing with just ILS promotion. This varies from market to market, and case to case, so if you are already investing in an ILS and aren’t seeing the results you need, read on for other marketing tips to help you boost occupancy levels. 

Educate and Sell With a High-Converting Website

Potential renters don’t just look in one place for your apartment and decide to move in. They will SCOUR the internet to find everything they can about your property before they schedule a tour. A compelling, polished website optimized for a seamless visitor experience is crucial for educating, attracting, and retaining leads. Even if you don’t intend to run ads, a website gives you the ability to craft your narrative, showcase your unique brand, and set expectations for your community on your own playing field. 

A good website will show off your photography, win people over with copy, and share important location details – Long story short, your website is an incredible tool for leasing. Our research shows that leads who come from a property’s website vs an ILS are over 50% more likely to convert into a tenant. While a website alone won’t get leads without a good promotional strategy in place (you’ll need people to see the website, first), it’s an investment that is a critical part of all marketing efforts beyond the ILS. 

"According to a sampling of Lease Engine ad data, our website leads are over 50% more likely to convert into tenants than ILS leads – we think this is because someone on Apartments.com (or similar) is likely to submit their information to multiple properties at once, whereas website leads aren’t contacting multiple apartments at the same time."
Matthew Starrett
Principal, Lease Engine

While websites come in all forms, the basic content pieces we like to showcase are high-quality photography (staging preferred), compelling unit descriptions, pricing, and an inquiry form. You should show off any leasing specials, and offer any additional details to tenants that can help seal the deal.

Today, there are lots of DIY website-building tools like SquareSpace, which are great options for small businesses that are short on time and resources. Smaller apartment complexes or management firms might also opt to use tools like Freelancer.com, Upwork, or 99 Designs to have a basic website built. 

Strategic firms who are looking to use their website as a branding piece, and demand attention to detail, sharp copy, and next-level design may want to look to an agency like Lease Engine for website design and development. There are many considerations when investing in a website, and our experts are here to help walk you through the best options for your firm or property. 

Implementing Lead Magnets and Incentives to Your Website

Lead magnets are promotions or promises offered to a customer in exchange for their contact information. This may be a move-in special, waived fees, or something like 6 months of complimentary cleaning services if a visitor applies before a deadline.

Creating compelling lead magnets can streamline the capture of contact information. It’s all in the offer, as in – what they get for what they give. As Alex Hormozi says, you want to “Make offers so good people will feel stupid saying no.” (okay, that might be a stretch, but you do want to communicate any incentives, deals, discounts, or more up-front). 

Fully lease your property
Apartment marketing that's judged on leases, not likes.

Paid and Unpaid Apartment Promotion

Marketing Outside of the ILS Systems 

There are two main types of search engine marketing: organic, and paid. Organic search placement refers to unpaid rankings on the search engine results page. Paid placements, as the name implies, are paid for in a bidding process on platforms such as Google Ads and Bing Ads. 

Today, it’s hard to compete with Zillow or Apartments.com organically for terms like “Apartments for rent near me” in most major cities. However, we’ve seen that there is still a ton of opportunity to arbitrage Google ads to rank for relevant apartment leasing terms without spending a ton of money. 

Google Ads and PPC

At Lease Engine, Google Ads is one of the number one methods we use to help drive the cost of lead generation down for our clients, we’re typically able to get clicks for $1.00 - $2.70 each, and our leads average about $20.00-35.00 each. 

If you are serious about driving more high-quality leads to your leasing team, apartment ppc should be at the top of your list. For quick and easy setup, proven campaign strategies, and a dedicated management team, look no further than Lease Engine to run your campaign for you. 

Social Media

While Social Media is often a better tenant engagement tool, it can be a powerful lead-generating channel if used properly. At Lease Engine, we often leverage Social Media for retargeting – that is, we’ll show ads to people who’ve already been to our website so they are reminded of our apartments when they’re scrolling the feed. 

Maintaining an active presence on social media can give you the ability to connect with current residents and reach new potential renters. We’ve found that social media is particularly effective at promoting amenity-forward apartment communities. High-quality photography is again a must, if you plan to run Social Media Ads for apartments.

Online Display Advertising Campaigns

Strategic display advertising campaigns  (the ads in all the nooks and crannies of a website)  can help you drastically improve your awareness and reach. One of the more common types of targeting for apartment advertising is Geofencing. Geofencing is the practice of drawing a digital fence around an area to an audience of people within the “fence”. Often, display advertising partners will be able to zero in on a neighborhood, a college campus, or even get as narrow as a competitor building. 

Display ads are most commonly formatted as banner ads that show on the top, sides, and bottoms of web articles, games, and apps. While they are incredibly effective at reaching lots of people frequently, the downside is that many people are sick of this type of ad, and click-through rates can be very low. 

SEO Strategies for Improved Ranking

While we mentioned earlier that SEO is a tough strategy for apartments these days, it’s still important to pay attention to this tool. At the bare minimum, you want your website to rank for your apartment name, your address, and if possible, neighborhood-level searches. While SEO is a deep topic, influencers like Neil Patel provide a wealth of information on how to improve your site's SEO. 

Creative Marketing Solutions

Innovative marketing solutions, such as pop-up taco truck appearances, coffee carts, or artist partnerships for mural work (or even chalk art on the street outside your building) can all lead to social media buzz, goodwill, and introductions to new potential tenants. 

Schedule a Call With An Apartment Marketing Expert

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Content Marketing for Apartment Leads

Compelling Blog Posts for SEO and Audience Connection

Blogging is a powerful content marketing tool, and in many markets where there is potential to climb the ranks on organic search, blogging can be the main way to reach the top. 

Beyond just SEO, blogging can be a great engagement tool when combined with Social Media or Email Newsletters.  

Informative and Visual Infographics and Brochures

Printed infographics and brochures stand out – especially in a day and age where everything is digital. Don’t sleep on this often-overlooked marketing tool. To do your own brochures, use tools like Canva to design a snap. When you’re ready to print, GotPrint or VistaPrint can help you print what you need for a very reasonable price. 

Leveraging Video Content for Property Showcasing

Video content has become increasingly popular in the real estate industry. Beyond just virtual tours, well-made videos demand attention and are awesome assets for social media. In August 2020, Meta decided to pivot Instagram to a video-sharing platform. If you’re active on social media, video needs to be part of your strategy. 

Reviews. Reviews. Reviews. 

Positive tenant reviews add authenticity to your marketing efforts. When they are good, it does wonders for your apartment. When they are not, it can freeze up your entire leasing pipeline. Don’t overlook the importance of your reputation as an apartment, and seek to build a culture that fosters a positive renter experience – this is the bedrock of positive apartment reviews. 

Partnering with Local Businesses and Influencers

Building Strategic Community Partnerships

Collaborating with local businesses expands reach. Talk to the people behind the counter at local coffee shops, restaurants, and local meetups. You’d be surprised what can come from a simple conversation. 

If you have an event space, open it up to local groups who represent your target demographic. Use tools like Meetup.com to find relevant events in the area and contact the event admin to offer your space up. 

If you are near coffee shops, offer to sponsor coffee sleeves or napkins. 

Ask about media sharing opportunities, or “Post for a Post” social media shout-outs. 

Influencer Collaboration for Increased Visibility

Bringing on an ambassador team can be a huge boon for your apartment. Especially when your target demo trends young, for example, in housing aimed at students or entry-level workers, partner up with someone who believes in your vision and your apartment, and back them up with some budget, lots of swag to give away, and content.  

Referral Programs for Word-of-Mouth Marketing

Implementing referral programs encourages word-of-mouth marketing. The best part about this type of marketing is that the leads are very likely to convert, as much of the convincing has likely already been taken care of. 

Analytics and Measurement

Tracking Website and Lead Generation Performance

Tracking and analyzing website engagement and lead generation performance are the building blocks of informed decisions. Utilizing analytics tools like Google Analytics can help you understand user behavior, conversion rates, and overall campaign effectiveness.

At Lease Engine, we like to look at a couple of critical metrics that give us a solid indication of website advertising health. These are: 

  • Clicks 
  • Cost per click 
  • Leads (also known as Applications or Guest Cards)
  • Click to lead ratio 
  • Cost per lead 
  • Leases signed 
  • Lead to lease conversion 
  • Cost per lease 

These metrics allow us to objectively look at any campaign to measure what is working and pinpoint anything that isn’t. 

Evaluating Lead Generation Strategies and Making Data-Driven Decisions 

Evaluating the success of different lead generation strategies can be done by comparing the critical metrics (shown above) across different channels and campaigns. Part of what makes us so successful as a marketing agency is that we’re always testing across and within our campaigns. 

As we identify winners, we’re able to focus our budget on it. As we see losers, we can question why, or dump the channel altogether.  

Identifying and addressing obstacles in your apartment lead generation engine is crucial for sustained success. 

Fully lease your property
Apartment marketing that's judged on leases, not likes.
Get in Touch

Learning from Failures – Getting Back on The Horse

Not every marketing campaign will be a winner. Some tests will fall flat on their face, and some will barely break even, however, a handful of channels and tests will pay off immensely.  Learning from failures, pivoting your marketing strategy, and moving forward is the drumbeat for the march of a successful marketing campaign. 

In summary… 

By understanding market dynamics, utilizing a mix of different marketing strategies, and embracing data-driven decision-making, apartment complexes can maximize their lead-generation efforts, without compromising on lead quality. 

The apartment lead generation landscape is ever-evolving, and success requires ongoing adaptation and improvement. By staying informed, embracing innovation, and continuously optimizing strategies, apartment management companies can unlock sustained success in their lead generation efforts.

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