- When you own your website and do not employ any full-time developers, as is the case with apartment communities that own their site, then you have a fairly static product that you won't be able to update when you need to.
- Websites deprecciate in value at an incredibly fast rate due to the rapid rate of web technology changes. Generally your website will be obsolete in about two years, but if you are unlucky and roll something out that uses technology that unexpectedly becomes obsolete much sooner, then you're looking at an even shorter lifespan for the site. (For instance, if you rolled out a Flash-based site in early 2009 right before Apple went to war with Flash... well, that wouldn't be much fun for you.)
- Websites tend to take much longer to build than non-experts would normally expect. Between figuring out the design, the marketing copy, the rest of the content (photos, graphics, etc), and then making revisions after the site is done, it's a very lengthy process. Hiring a developer to do it as a one-off project is therefore almost certainly going to leave you holding the bag at some point, as you'll have what you deem an incomplete project but which technically speaking fulfills the terms of the contract.
For all these reasons, it's far better to have a long-term marketing partner you work with who handles your web design issues. You won't get caught out with a worthless website, you'll get your updates, and the work will continue until it's done.
Domain Names are Different from Websites
That said, domain names do not work the same way as a website. Your domain name, simply put, is the URL that people use to navigate to your website. So, for example, www.rentpingmedia.com is a domain name that we own and use as home base for our company website. (We do rent our website, if you were wondering.)
Your domain names won't deprecciate in the same as a website for the simple reason that the domain name isn't going to be affected by technological changes in the same way. Domain names aren't affected by Google changing something or by Flash dying or by a new web design trend emerging. The domain name stays the same.
In fact, for people who own their domain and manage it well, the domain name's value will grow over time as search engines learn to recognize it as being authoritative in its given field. So, for example, today www.moz.com is an incredibly value domain name because search engines know that Moz, the company behind the domain, is one of the best marketing and SEO companies out there and that they regularly provide some of the best, most useful content in their field. So anything published on that domain is automatically given a certain amount of value from an SEO perspective with search engines.
This, then, brings us to apartment community domain names.
What we have often seen in multifamily is a community either doesn't own their branded domain names or they do, but they redirect traffic to a domain name owned by someone else.
In the first case, they don't own the domain name and just send people to an ILS listing or to a site they host on someone else's domain. This is bad because the value they are building up with search engines is not going toward their domain. Search engines aren't looking at that domain and saying, "Hey, this domain seems to be a good authority on x, y, and z." Rather, the search engines are seeing the ILS site or whatever domain they're using as the authority. This is a problem not only because their domain isn't developing authority, but also because it makes them extremely dependent on whoever owns the domain that is authoritative. So if they are sending everyone to their For Rent listing and one day decide to leave For Rent, they'll have a long slog to recover their standing on search engines.
The second problem we see, when a community does own their domain but does a 301 or 302 redirect to some other domain, is similar with the added problem being that they're paying a modest fee for a domain that they aren't leveraging in any real way.
Own your domain. Use sound SEO practices. Reap the rewards.
The best practice is to own your domain and have a website exclusively for your community hosted on it. That way you'll be able to in time experience the many benefits of building your authority online and having your own domain name become the recognized online hub for your community, rather than the domain that some other entity controls.