An Internet Listing Service Could Cost Your Real Estate Brand More Than It’s Worth

Internet Listing Services (ILSs) have long been a major part of the marketing strategies of real estate brands, and it’s not hard to see why. These online listing sites like, Apartment Finder, and Zillow help real estate brands ensure their properties show up in Google search results, driving clicks and conversions while freeing up the property management to focus on concerns beyond digital marketing strategy.

However, ILSs may not be the best marketing option for real estate brands today, and a shift away from these services is already beginning within the real estate industry. There are a few key reasons for this, which we’ll discuss, but the main takeaway is this: internet listing services simply aren’t worth the money real estate brands spend on them—at least, not when relied on as heavily as they traditionally have been.

So what should real estate brands be doing instead? Well, the answer is complex, and we’ll get into it, but the short version is that these brands should be diversifying their digital marketing mix. Let’s talk about why and how.

Internet Listing Services Are Easy But Not Efficient

We’ve already touched on why real estate brands have been putting their marketing dollars into ILSs: it makes things simple. It is a truth universally acknowledged that most property managers have enough on their plate without worrying about how to optimize their digital marketing strategy. Many real estate brands choose to let ILSs worry about that stuff for them, knowing they can benefit from the strong SEO and SEM of established ILSs that prospects already recognize and use.

However, real estate brands are beginning to understand that they’re not getting as much bang for their buck this way. While ILSs do bring in leads, brands are likely to pay a much higher cost per lead than they would on other digital marketing strategies like paid search or retargeting ads. Not only that, but ILSs could be delivering less qualified leads, resulting in fewer lead conversions, which brings us to our next point….

Internet Listing Services Can’t Verify Conversions

In other words, ILSs can’t prove their worth or provide you with analytics that help you make smart decisions about your marketing spend. That’s because when a user lands on an ILS after searching for housing, your property appears along with competing properties in the area, and users often click through several listings as they peruse their options. That means that ILSs attempting to track conversion rates by either a first-click or last-click attribution model can easily provide an inaccurate or incomplete report of your conversions from their site.

So, unless these prospects take a tour, start an application, or otherwise reach out to property staff, you may never get a chance to verify where that lead came from and how much value ILSs are really adding to your marketing strategy. And with unclear analytics, you miss out on the opportunity to evaluate and optimize your strategy along the way.

Relying Solely on ILSs Means Missing A Big Opportunity for Growth

In addition to missing out on the opportunity for continuous optimization, relying solely on an ILS for your digital marketing means limiting your brand’s marketing potential in other ways.

One of the shortcomings of ILSs is that they don’t do a good job of making your property stand out from the competition. Instead, they lump you in with your competitors and provide easy opportunities for your prospects to shift their attention to properties other than your own as they search. Other digital marketing strategies like PPC ads and SEO give you more opportunity to stand out from your competition and make a strong first (or second, or third) impression.

Speaking of making more than one impression, another shortcoming of ILSs is that they only allow you to intervene at one step of your audience’s buyer journey. Every prospect goes through a number of different stages as they search for housing, and using an ILS tends to be one of the earlier stages in the digital buyer journey. Being able to reach your audience early in their journey is great, but reaching them more than once is better. If you limit your digital marketing to just ILSs, you’ll miss out on opportunities to stay top-of-mind and catch your prospects at later stages of their journey when they might be more likely to convert.

Another way ILSs fall short is that they tend not to create strongly qualified leads when used alone. Again, that’s because the ILS user experience places your property alongside your competitors’ and limits your opportunity to wow your audience. Spending your marketing dollars to instead create a website experience that is both conversion- and search-optimized allows you the opportunity to connect with your prospects through compelling branding, provide your audience with reasons to trust, and deliver all the information a prospect needs to convert.

So What’s the Answer?

We actually don’t recommend that you stop using ILSs entirely. ILSs are currently a useful way to reach prospects at a key part of their housing search. However, there’s a lot more you could be doing.

That’s why we recommend diversifying your marketing mix. Keep ILSs in that mix if they’re helping you, but consider allocating some of the spend you’d normally put toward an ILS to other digital strategies that are cost-effective and provide more opportunities to reach your prospects and stand out from the competition.

Creating a conversion-optimized website with strong SEO is a fantastic start. Consider also launching search ads through Google Ads as well as retargeting display ads that help you stay top-of-mind for prospects who have already encountered your property through their online housing search. 

If this is sounding like a lot, we get it. You can’t become a digital marketing expert overnight, and many folks in the real estate world simply don’t have the time to devote to it. Still, there’s a cost-effective way to incorporate better marketing strategies into your budget. Can you guess what we’re going to say?

If you guessed, “work with a marketing agency,” you’d be correct. Better yet, work with Threshold! We specialize in the real estate industry and we have experience working within your budget to create great marketing results. Best of all, we’ve got a team of expert digital strategists who can help you launch effective marketing strategies and optimize them as you go, so you’re always getting the most effective marketing for your spend.

If you want to learn more about digital marketing with Threshold, chat with a team member today! We’d love to get you started.


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