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Knowing where to advertise your rental used to be simple. Landlords just used the local classifieds, and they could be sure that’s where most renters went in search of housing.

These days, most people start online when they look for a place to live. But there are dozens and dozens of rental sites you could advertise on. How do you choose?

The best way to answer that question, in my opinion, is to ask another question: which of these sites get the most traffic from prospective renters? It’s one of the fundamentals of marketing: you want to advertise where the maximum number of people will see it. (That’s why Superbowl ads cost so much, after all.) The 90/10 rule applies here: 10% of the sites get 90% of the traffic.

So how do you know which sites get the most traffic? They don’t just give that information out. The best place to start is to think like a renter.

Most people don’t pay attention to rental sites on a regular basis. They are interested once every few years when they want to move. So where do you start when you don’t know what’s out there? Your favorite search engine. For this exercise I recommend Google because it has the largest market share and therefore more of your target market will be using it. But you’re welcome to use something else like Yahoo or Bing instead.

So pretend you’re looking for a place to rent. What will you search for? “Apartment for rent”? “House rentals in Pittsburgh”? “New York luxury condos”? Try a few of these out. If you have a two-bedroom house in Houston try “two bedroom house in Houston”, “houses for rent”, “Houston rentals”, etc. See which websites come up. It’s also important to note what order they come up in. More people will click on the #1 result than the #2 result, and so on down the line.

There’s a great tool at which you can use to give you ideas on what search terms to use. If you enter “apartment for rent” it will give you a list of related keywords to try. And here’s the really great part: it will tell you how popular the search terms are. (The results are most accurate if you set the “Match Type” to Exact). For example, virtually nobody uses “two-bedroom house in Houston” but a fair number use “houses for rent Houston”.

If this sounds pretty complicated, well, it is. There are a lot of search terms and sites to consider, but if you try a few you can get a rough idea of what rental websites might work best for you. If you’d prefer to save a few hours of your valuable time and get some more detailed results, you might want to check out I’ve written a software system that gathers the results for thousands of search terms - not only on Google, but on the other major search engines as well. It considers how popular each search term is, what sites come up in the search results, and what order they are in. It analyzes all this raw data and shows you the sites that get the most traffic for a particular city.

Strong marketing is a critical aspect of real estate investing that is often overlooked. The landlord who complains about a $300 repair bill but lets a unit sit vacant for two months (and loses $1500 in potential revenue) needs to rethink his priorities! A key component of good marketing is knowing where to advertise, and to know that you need to know where your audience is. Hopefully this article has given you a starting point to find out.

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