I’ve been intrigued by the dynamics of the online audiences in the primary markets that we serve at NCI. In the past, I’ve written about the surprisingly low overlap among the visitors to the leading online apartment aggregators (termed ILS’s in the multi-family industry.)

We’re finishing up some interesting research on the different ways that consumers use media across multiple channels when they are shopping for a home or apartment. Not surprisingly, people will consumer information wherever they can get it, in print or online. The key driver of usage is availability: Can the consumer easily find it and use it?

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Some of the research results got me wondering again about the attributes of the online audience. I went back to Comscore/Media Metrix and did an analysis of the cross visits among four of the leading rental sites. The performance of the three integrated media players was of particular interest, since we all have substantial advantages in terms of promoting our internet brands in our print publications. Apartments.com is a joint venture of a consortium of newspaper companies and also enjoys some of this advantage.

The results for September were interesting. First, and in a pleasant surprise, ApartmentFinder.com had the lowest instance of cross visits among the group of four, despite being at the bottom in terms of overall traffic. What does that mean? First, we have to acknowledge some margin of error, given the sample size within Media Metrix’ panel. But, the results suggest that ApartmentFinder.com has the same size unique audience as its three peers.

Why do we have a lower instance of overlap? Our theory is that our strategy of focusing on longer search terms helps to drive a different type of apartment shopper. If you search the key shopping terms, like “Apartments for Rent,” our competitors have a larger share of voice than we do. (They also spend substantially more on search marketing dollars than we do.) Search longer terms, like “garden apartment for rent someplace specific in a specific state” and ApartmentFinder.com is more likely to come up as one of the first options in organic search.

Some more research showed me that while this conclusion was generally true, our traffic has also been driven by our social media marketing strategy. Compete! shows that Facebook was the largest referrer of ApartmentFinder.com traffic in September by a factor of 2 over Google.

I suspect that helps to create a unique audience in the apartment space. As my colleague Todd Dubner has pointed out, the relatively low audience overlap among the leading internet service providers in the apartment space argues for broad distribution by apartment communities of their basic listings, in order to create the largest digital footprint to draw prospects from.