A variety of tools exist for apartment owners to market their properties. Most are aware of Internet options but may not have jumped on that bandwagon just yet. And if owners and managers are already marketing apartment communities online, they may not be maximizing their money or efforts.

Here are some tips on how to increase your online presence and how to get prospective tenants to your property’s Web site.

“It’s become a mark of legitimacy for properties to have a Web site,” said Mike Mockus, managing partner of ReactionWeb, a Centennial, Colo.- based Web site and multimedia design firm for the commercial real estate industry.

“But now you’ve got to have a good-looking site that is also useful for people. The key elements owners need to consider as they tackle how they want their property’s Web site to look or how they might change it are: How do they get people to that Web site and how to keep them there. Keeping them there means they visit long enough to fill out a form for someone to contact them,” he said.

Mockus sang the praises of various online classified sites.

One of the most popular classified sites is Craigslist.com. Mockus mentioned that in one recent online survey, Craigslist was the seventh most popular site on the Web. (It recorded the seventh-most hits.) Compare that to the family of Web sites under the umbrella of Time Warner—which includes the CNN and AmericaOnline sites—which recorded the second-most hits of any firm on the Internet.

Hit the classifieds

“This shows what a powerful tool Craigslist is,” Mockus said. “It ranks up there with eBay, Disney, Yahoo, Google. If you happen to be one of the few apartment owners on there, that’s an audience you are talking to that your competitors aren’t.”

It helps to place apartment ads on other classified sites too like Kijiji, which is run on eBay (Kijiji is the Swahili word for village), Windows Live Expo, LiveDeal, Oodle, Google Base, and others.

On these classified sites, apartment operators can include a link to their property’s Web site. They can also include pictures and more description about the community if they wish. On postlets.com, apartment owners can make professionallooking ads with colored backgrounds and pictures of the community. The site will send the ad to several search engines. For $5, users can upgrade to a multi-page format, embed maps of the local area, and more. Most classified sites are free. It just takes a little bit of time to get information uploaded and to keep it current.

“These are great options for owners who don’t have a big budget,” said Jennifer Eschbaugh, account executive for Columbus, Ohio-based Signature Worldwide, a training and business solution company serving the multifamily industry. “People looking for an apartment online are looking for instant gratification. They want to click on a link that will show them what properties have to offer.”

Pay to play

Another way to drive traffic to your property’s Web site is to sign up for paid listings on search engines like Google, Microsoft, and Yahoo. These sites allow you to bid on the terms you wish to appear for. You agree to pay a certain amount each time someone clicks on your listing. You don’t pay until someone searches for your specific keywords.

Say you select “Austin Texas apartments” and you bid 50 cents for these keywords. You have a competitor in the market who also chooses the same keywords but is willing to spend 75 cents. Your competitor’s listing will appear higher than yours on the search engine.

These “pay-per-click” services allow you to refine your keywords if necessary. You may want to be more specific or more general in your keywords.

If you are an apartment operator in the Austin suburb of Rollingwood and discover that the keywords “Austin Texas apartments” are resulting in several hits, you may not want to change to the more specific terms “Rollingwood Texas apartments,” which would likely result in fewer hits. So you would be paying more because there are many more competitors bidding with these keywords. It may be worth the money if you are getting plenty of traffic to your Web site.

Once prospective residents get to your Web site, you must have current information, good photos, and a way to get residents to contact your leasing office. Don’t make the mistake of asking for too much information in the electronic forms. Give them a reason to reach out to you. For example, list a range of rents for units and ask only a couple of open-ended questions like how many bedrooms the person is looking for and when they are looking to move. You don’t want to discourage your prospect by asking if they have pets, if they smoke, if they play musical instruments, and so on.

“Too many owners go off the deep end with questions,” said Mockus. “You can always have a leasing agent call them back and ask more questions.”