Vacation rental listing sites like VRBO/Homeaway, Airbnb , Trip Advisor, Booking.com etc. are used by 95% or more of the vacation rental travelers and we specialize in distributing your property onto all major sites to maximize exposure. Vacation rental listing sites have existed since the 90s. The concept was simple and much like the yellow pages. You just paid for a listing and and inquiries began coming in. But in the last 5 years, major money has moved into the industry and they have transformed listing sites into vacation rental search engines. These sites now take a piece of every booking made and they reward those who play by their rules and punish those who do not. It also should be noted that the rules are changing and are updated often! Just like how a business has experts who keep them well ranked on google, our team is constantly working to stay on top of the factors that keep our properties competitive and well ranked on these vacation rental search engines as these search engines drive the 90%+ of the bookings in our industry. It’s important to understand how these search engines work and how a traveler uses them to book a home. The following will outline that process and the factors in our control that are vital to understand each step of the way.
Goal One - show up in search results. The first thing a traveler does on a vacation rental search engine is put in the location, dates and number of travelers. This screens out any properties that don’t conform to the guest inquiry. Learn the factors that can get you screened out.
Factor 1 - Location.
Many of us have already made this decision, so we can’t change it. However, if someone is considering buying a vacation rental location is huge. Most people don’t just search a large general region like New York City, they look for neighborhoods that are close to the things they want to see or do and then look for properties that are in those neighborhoods. Most searches focus on an area about 2-5 miles in radius around the attraction that has brought the people to the area and the closer you are to the attraction compared to the others, the better. While changing location of a home may not always be possible, it is a vital criteria for success. A knowledgeable local realtor and one of our advisors can make a powerful team for anyone looking for a home.
Factor 2 - Max guest count.
This is the most common factor owners screw up. Let’s say a guest has 9 people but the 9th person is a 3-month-old. You put your max guest at 8, they don’t see you. You lose them from the start. This is the number one deal-killing thing owners do. For instance, if you have a 4-bedroom home and set your max guests at 8 you will not show up for 70%+ of searches. Meaning, you will have a 70% lower occupancy compared to the average. This is because 70% of groups that want 4 bedroom homes have groups with more than 8 people. The number 1 factor you can alter to increase occupancy is to allow as many people as possible. I know owners worry about wear and tear and that is understandable but just keep in mind that the tighter your max guest count is, the lower your occupancy is. Here is a graph that will help you see what size of groups are inquiring about your size home.
Factor 3 - Minimum night stays.
The other thing that gets you screened out is if a person inquired for 4 nights but you have a minimum of 5 nights. Minimum night stays are advisable for peak seasons but be aware that a high min night stay can be harmful. The key is to be competitive. Your agent can evaluate local competition and help you make adjustments accordingly.
Goal Two - Be well ranked in results. Just because you show up in a list of 300 units in the area does not mean you will get traffic. 70% or more of the traffic ends up clicking the first 6 listings that show up in a given search. So getting ranked well is vital and there are many factors that affect ranking, but here are the most important.
Factor 4 - Response efficiency and conversion.
Sites now track response rates (how many inquiries get responded to), response time, and conversion rates (what percent of people who inquire actually end up booking). Because the listing site makes money on every booking, they give priority to those who are most likely to respond quickly and close deals. Rejecting inquiries and turning down guests hurt you but the ultimate sin is canceling a guest’s reservation who has already booked. Avoid this at all costs.
Factor 5 - Instant booking turned on.
Turning on this feature will boost your ranking power and allows for us and listing sites to distribute your property onto more websites that require the instant book ability.
Factor 6 - Photo pixel count and number of photos.
High pixel photos are a factor in ranking because listing sites rightly understand that good photos increase the probability a traveler will book. Photos should be more than 1080p.
Goal Three - Get someone to click on your listing. So you now showed up in the results are ranking well but there still are several options in front of the traveler as they look at the website. What factors determine who they choose to click on?
Factor 7 - Amazing cover photo.
having a great main photo is vital. Exterior photos are usually best especially if they show the proximity of the property to something a guest might be interested. If the exterior is not great then a picture of the most beautiful and staged room in the home will do. However do not commit the cardinal sin of using a photo of a nearby attraction instead of the home (people actually do this).
Factor 8 - Competitive average rate
After seeing the photo they look at the nightly rate next to the main photo to see how it compared with the competition. The traveler will evaluate the value of each home based on how nice the home looks compared to the rate and compared to the other units in the search results.
Factor 9 - Reviews
The other factor they see when comparing multiple units side by side in the search results are the reviews. Even just a few good reviews make a big difference. The more the better. Bad reviews can kill your listing. The best way to avoid a bad review is to be sure the home is clean and ready for a guest arrival.
Goal Four - Get the inquiry or instant book. So you showed up in the search, ranked well and they clicked on your listing! Now it’s time to get them to inquire or instant book. But what are the main factors that drive them to do this?
Factor 10 - Amazing Photos that tell a story.
People form their opinion about a home after looking at the first 5 photos. Make those first 5 your best. Use captions to sell the home’s best features and to convey how the guest will feel staying in the property (focus on feelings and emotions). Also take pictures of any stand out amenities and include them. Put less appealing photos at the back of the photo order. DON’T make photos of nearby attractions the focus. People are booking the home and most likely the nearby attractions are available to them if they book any other home in the area they are considering so it does nothing to help encourage them to book YOUR property. Focus on what makes your property unique.
Factor 11 - Stand out amenities.
You may think your fancy tile is awesome but guests are much more interested in kayaks, bikes, paddle boards, pack n plays etc. Think of things guest can use when staying there. Below is a complete list of items we always hear guests ask about.
Factor 12 - Total info and well designed description. The reason a guest will inquire instead of instant book is almost always because they have questions. Try and answer all common questions on the listing. However keep it brief. Make lists in the descriptions not lengthy novels. Create an FAQ in the description. Breakdown in a list the bed in each bedroom and tv in each bedroom and the layout of each bath and where it is located. List all amenities, then add a little special sauce and salesmanship to top it off and you will have a great listing.
Goal 5 - Close the deal. So a person wants to inquires. How do you close the deal?
Factor 13- Quick Response.
A person usually sends inquiries for multiple properties and the one who wins is the one who first engages the traveler effectively. Speed to lead is vital.
Factor 14- All the answers in one interaction.
People inquire because they have questions. Ask them how you can help and then ask “Do you have any other questions?” over and over until you are sure every question has been answered. This is usually best done by phone or text if possible.
Factor 15- Salesmanship. After answering all the questions give them your personal feelings about the property, the things you think set it apart from others, and the main value the property has. No need to get too crazy but a personal voucher for your unit is always an extra help. In addition, be sure they know that it’s first come first serve and we get a lot of inquiries. It also can be helpful if they are booking far in advance and can get a full refund if they cancel, invite them to put down a deposit so we can hold the property while they decide. They have nothing to lose and normally once a person puts money down they don’t cancel and stop looking at other properties.
Summary: As you can see, successfully marketing your rental is not as simple as just putting up a listing. It all about maximizing performance in the factors above. The game has changed and being aggressive is vital as the market becomes more and more competitive. Gone are the days of the causal vacation rental owner. This process is our world and our job is to stay on top of the changes for our owners so they can enjoy a steady flow of bookings and income without having to deal with the constant pressure this competitive landscape entails.