How to Outrank Apartment Listing Sites & Get More Renters

Alex Middel
October 12, 2016

When you look at the search results for terms like “apartments in [city name]” you’ve probably noticed a common trend. Sites like, Zillow and dominate the first page.

 Apartment Listing Sites First Page of Google

When you’re a local multifamily community without the advertising dollars of companies like Zillow or, the thought of trying to crack into the first page seems crazy. But believe it or not, it’s possible. In this guide, we’re going to show you exactly how to outrank apartment listing sites and get more renters.

You’ll learn:

  • Why Google favors apartment listing sites
  • How you’re actually helping apartment listing sites rank
  • What you’re doing wrong with your on-page SEO
  • The big advantage you have over sites like Trulia and

Why Apartment Listing Sites Outrank Local Businesses

In order to figure out how to outrank apartment listing sites, the first step is understanding out what they’re doing right. It really boils down to two things:

  1. Google’s search algorithm
  2. Authority

Unfortunately, there isn’t much you can do about the first one. For many local searches, Google favors directory sites because it interprets the intent for “apartments in New York” to mean someone’s looking for a list of apartments. Therefore it shows results of lists/directories.

 New York Apartments Search

The second reason apartment listing sites dominate the search results is something you have a bit more control over—-Authority.

Since these sites are so huge, have thousands of backlinks and have been around for so long, they’ve earned a ton of authority in the apartment search category. But authority is something any business can earn.

While you may not be able to build up the same number of backlinks as Hotpads or Craigslist, there are some steps you can take to boost your authority and compete with the big dogs.

How to Outrank Apartment Listing Sites

It's difficult, but if you follow these tips and best practices, you'll have an extra edge on apartment listing sites.

Target Neighborhoods, Not Cities

One of the easiest ways to start outranking apartment listing sites is to dominate neighborhood searches.

Take a look at the search results for “apartments Chicago IL”

 Chicago Apartments Search Results

Notice how it’s filled with huge apartment listing sites that would be extremely difficult to outrank in such a large and competitive city.

But now look at the results for neighborhood specific searches like “north loop Chicago apartments.”

 Local Apartment Finder Sites

You see a lot more local companies, even though some are apartment broker services.

Large apartment directories have their eyes set on areas with the highest search volume, which means they tend to overlook neighborhood level searches. Therefore there’s a lot of opportunity for you to capture those more targeted searches which also tend to convert better.

ReThink Your On-Page Optimization

In the example above with the Chicago Loop search, we pointed out that many of the local businesses ranking were apartment broker companies. Their websites have apartment listings from multiple communities, which means they function similar to apartment listing sites.

When you look at the content on one of these broker sites, it even looks like something you’d see on the big directory sites.

 Apartment Broker Site

This is a sign that Google favors certain on-page elements when determining how it ranks sites for apartment related searches. Here are some changes you should consider making to make your site more relevant in the eyes of Google:

1. Use a directory-style layout: Instead of listing your floor plans or available apartments in the standard format like this:

 Standard Flooplan Listing

Switch to more of a directory eel with images like brokers and apartment listing sites. If you’re a company that owns multiple communities, this will be even easier.

2. Optimize your titles: If your meta titles just list the name of your community, you need to change it ASAP. We’ve talked about on-page optimization in our article about spying on your competitors. Use titles that indicate you have multiple apartment listings like “Apartments For Rent in Wicker Park Chicago IL” or “Find Apartments in Wicker Park Chicago IL.”

3. Update your listings: Look at these two examples:

 Updating Apartment Listings 1

And this one:

 Updating Apartment Listings 2

Notice how both have clear indicators that they’re being updated regularly. For apartment listing sites, Google has made it clear that “freshness” is important. They don’t want to include sites that have outdated information because it creates a poor experience for searchers.

To fix this, don’t just list every unit in your community and force people to have to call you to check your availability. List how many units you currently have available or have a timestamp like the Hubbard Place example.

4. Optimize your URLs: This tip is particularly important for companies with multiple properties. The structure of your URLs is an often overlooked aspect of SEO. A lot of multifamily sites have generic URLs like They aren’t descriptive and are huge missed opportunities to easily improve your SEO.

Apartment Guide’s URLs are much more ideal: 

Notice the city, state and community name are all in the URL. But even this URL can be improved. Try using this structure instead:

If you only have one property, you could use a structure like this:

Both of these will have to be customized to fit your needs. For instance, if you have properties in several states, you’d want to include the state in the URL before the city. The key is to make your URLs as descriptive as possible to make it easy for Google’s bots to navigate.

No-Follow Your Links to Them

A quick search of Trulia’s backlinks shows that a lot of the links pointing to them are from apartment community sites, realtors, and property management companies.

 Trulia Backlinks

This has allowed them to get a lot of backlinks from local sites, which are generally pretty difficult to get. Most apartment listing sites give you badges or widgets to add to your site that point back to them, which is where a majority of these backlinks come from.

The appeal of adding these widgets to your site is to make it easy for clients to leave reviews, and for prospects to read the reviews. Since Trulia is such an authority, it helps to build trust, which improves your conversion rate.

Unfortunately, linking to a site you’re competing with isn’t the best for SEO. But instead of removing the link, you can simply add a no-follow tag to the URL. This tells Google that you don’t want to pass any SEO value from your site to theirs. So you’re linking to them without improving their SEO.

Here’s a short guide on how to add no-follow tags to links. Alternatively, you could just not link to them at all.

And here’s a popular infographic that goes into more detail on how companies used this tactic in the real estate industry.

 Predatory Backlinking Infographic

Build Local Links

We know that backlinks are one of the most important ranking factors for Google. But it’s not just about the quantity of the links pointing to your site. It’s about the quality and relevance of the sites linking to you.

When it comes to local based searches (i.e. apartments in Los Angeles), links from local sites are highly relevant. Therefore, you should focus on getting as many of these links as possible.

One of the easiest ways to get backlinks from local sites is to reach out to other local businesses. If you’re a member of a BNI group, Chamber of Commerce or similar organizations, reach out to the other members and offer to do a guest post or see if they have a page on their site that links to local businesses.

It doesn’t take hundreds of backlinks from local sites to see results. Start out with a goal of getting links from 10 sites this month, then keep progressing from there.

Become The Local Authority

Apartment listing sites don’t tend to have a lot of local content. If you look at their blogs they’re typically filled with content targeting apartment hunters in general, not in any specific locations. This is where you have an advantage.

In our guide, 7 Types Of Blog Posts That Will Attract Apartment Hunters, we gave you a ton of ideas for locally targeted content you can add to your blog.

This approach to content and blogging does two things:

  1. Pulls in potential apartment hunters by targeting related searches.
  2. Improves your site’s authority and relevancy for your city and nearby neighborhoods.

Apartment listing sites would have to create thousands of articles in order to scale this tactic. It’s much easier for local businesses to do it because you only have to create content for a handful of cities at the most.

If you need help getting started, check out our blogging services for apartments.

If You Can’t Beat Them…

There’s going to be some instances when no matter what you do, you just won’t be able to outrank huge apartment listing sites for certain searches. That’s why it’s important to make sure you’re listed on them, and optimize your listings.

You may not be able to reach the number one spot on Google, but if you can get featured on a page that does, it’s the next best thing. This is another reason to check out our guide on how to spy on your competitors. It has some great tips on how to optimize your apartment listings.

It’s Not Impossible

Despite how difficult it may seem, you can outrank apartment listing sites. Focus on your local area, play to your strengths and make the changes to your on-page SEO we mentioned above.

For help with generating more apartment leads through content marketing and social media, contact us today!

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