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Vacation rental marketing, what do you need to know

According to a study made by TurnKey Vacation Rentals, 2020 will be the year that the vacation rental industry will surpass the hotel industry in bookings. It is still early in the year to take the reins and be part of this historic shift, but how can you achieve that? What can you do to increase your bookings in 2020?

We have your answer. We put together a list of tactics and marketing tips you can implement to be found by more potential guests and convert them into happy customers that will share their experience with other potential guests. Add these to your marketing strategy as you see fit and by the end of the year you’ll be celebrating with even more guests next year.

Tripadvisor and vacation rental listing sites

This part is so essential that you can hardly call it a “tip”. Research from Google shows that the vast majority of customers plan everything about their vacations after an online search. Your target audience isn’t only searching for places to go and where to stay, they are analysing everything about their trip. They will search for reviews, attractions close to your property, restaurants nearby, the weather, tweets of angry guests, everything.

And if that wasn’t enough, your competitors are all on these sites, and your potential guests are seeing all their photos as well as their 5-stars reviews. So, you need to be there and show them that your rental property has everything they want and more.

There are many sites dedicated to listing vacation rental properties, but when it comes to trips and vacations, Tripadvisor is your best bet. They are the biggest travel site in the world and receive millions of visitors every month searching for the best places to stay, food to eat, and experiences to enjoy. So it goes without saying that you should get listed in Tripadvisor as soon as possible. There are two ways to do that, you either do it yourself by clicking on the “Get listed now” button just below the search box, or you claim an existing listing made by a customer who left a review.

Once you have your listing, add high quality pictures, keep all the information updated, and answer all reviews. You can use this to identify trends and potential problems that you need to fix before they leave a mark on future reviews.

Tripadvisor isn’t the only site you should consider, when it comes to property listings there are many platforms and OTAs (online travel agencies) that can bring you the guests you want. An extremely popular example is Airbnb. With traffic increasing every year, it already surpassed the strongest competitors in its market. You can also try Homeaway, Airbnb, VRBO and Flipkey.

Competing against other properties once you get your listing is a topic that deserves its own article, but for now, let’s move to the next step!

Help them find you with search engine optimisation

Even when sites like Tripadvisor receive massive amounts of traffic and Airbnb is skyrocketing, there’s also a growing trend among travellers to prefer booking directly on the property’s website. This has a big advantage for you when it comes to increasing your margins, you don’t have to give a percentage to anyone and offer discounts to compete, but the problem is, how will renters find you?

The simple answer to this question is, Google. Everyone uses Google’s search engine to find anything, that includes properties to rent. This comes with another question, how do you appear among the search results when someone searches for a short-term rental in your area? The answer is SEO (search engine optimisation).

SEO includes all the things you can do to tell a search engine that your site is relevant to a specific search query or keyword. They want to show the best possible results to their users, so you need to prove that your website will answer all these questions and offer a good user experience. One of the first things you need to check is your site’s loading time. The faster the site, the higher it will rank. Once you optimise this, you can use a keyword search tool like Clearscope to find the exact terms your potential customers are using to find businesses like yours. Make a list of keywords that have low competition and high search volumes, and use these keywords in your titles, descriptions, copy and image alt text.

Be careful not to fill your website with keywords that don’t make it an easy read. Simply having keywords with no flow to the text might be good on grading for keywords, but it won’t be good for your actual website visitors. Keep your copy relevant, useful and easy to read. You don’t even have to use exact phrases. After years of improvements, Google learned to identify keywords in different orders and using synonyms, so you can keep your writing conversational without affecting your rankings.

The last step is telling search engines that your site is the best option to show to their users by earning links from websites with a good reputation. This part is a bit more tricky considering it is not completely in your control. Our suggestion is to leverage partnerships with local businesses or organisations, list your property on Google My Business and write content that can be linked from other sites (more on this later so keep reading!).

Increase your conversions with A/B testing

We have already talked about how customers may prefer booking on your own website and how search engines will take your customers there, but once you achieve that, you’ll find yourself asking another question. How can I increase the percentage of people that make a booking after visiting my website? Well, there is actually something you can do!

Conversion rate optimisation allows you to get more bookings by analysing what is causing your visitors to leave before booking. The main way to do this is by A/B testing different parts of your website to determine what changes cause an improvement. A/B testing consists of comparing two different versions of the same page. One is the base version and the other has a single difference. For example, a bigger button or a Call To Action in a different location. Both versions are shown to your visitors for a while and the one that gets more conversions can stay.

After some time doing this, the increments will pile up and you’ll enjoy more conversions without needing to increase traffic.

Give your customers a voice with social media

It is almost impossible to talk about digital marketing without mentioning social media. Your customers will use platforms like Facebook, Twitter and Instagram to share their experience with their friends. With every guest’s posts comes the chance to find more customers.

It makes sense for you to be there to participate in the conversation, answer tweets and make sure there are high quality pictures and videos of your property. Also, you can provide a space for your customers to express themselves and share their opinion, and you can be there to act fast on any online complaints.

Social media opens the door to contests, influencer marketing and you can even include it as part of your loyalty program to expand your reach to an even bigger audience of potential customers.

Email marketing to keep them engaged

Your customers can find you using search engines, and you improved your conversion rates using A/B testing. But, no matter how good your website is, some people just aren’t ready to make a booking when they visit your site. Sometimes people are just researching trip ideas or just looking at nice locations to dream. This doesn’t mean that you shouldn’t do something to capture this traffic, they might not be ready to book now, but here is where email marketing can help you.

Even if someone isn’t ready or interested in making a booking, they might be interested in receiving news, content or special offers from you. You can give them the option to subscribe to an email list to nurture the lead, keep them updated and send offers to eventually turn them into customers. For better chances of converting a visitor into a subscriber, offering them something in exchange for their email, checklists, guides and other forms of content they can download are great options.

You can use email marketing to increase your retention, keeping a list only for past guests to stay in their minds and turn them into loyal customers.

Paid advertising and retargeting

SEO, social media, and email marketing are effective to attract and convert customers, especially when used together, but they take time. You won’t rank in the first page overnight, it takes months of constant work. But you need more traffic now, and for that you can use paid advertising platforms. There are many platforms you can use to advertise your property on a pay per click basis. The most popular ones are Google Ads and Facebook, but you don’t have to limit yourself to these options.

You can consider using Instagram ads, or even Tripadvisor’s own ad platform to reach your target audience exactly when they are searching for a vacation rental. If you use Google’s platform, use keyword tools to search for the ones with higher volumes and lower cost per click. Keep your budget in mind to mark limits to your daily and monthly spending, and A/B testing your ads to increase your conversions since your returns will depend on getting more conversions with less clicks.

Keep in mind that the cost per click might change over time. Competition gets tighter and seasons influence search volumes, so don’t set it and forget it unless you want to waste your budget.

Retargeting is one of the wonders of online marketing. Sure, you can control the targeting settings of your ad campaign according to keywords, preferences, demographic data, etc., but on an individual level you don’t have control over who sees your ad. You don’t know if they have clicked before, and you can’t do anything for them to click again. This is when retargeting shows its main advantage. You can mark your website visitors with a special cookie and show ads specifically to those with that cookie. You know that they know you, you know that they’ve been searching for rental properties in your location, but for some reason they didn’t book or subscribe. Now you can keep nurturing them and get them to come back.

Even if they subscribed before, you can also use retargeting to recover cold leads from your email list, and use it to support other strategies.

Blog content to showcase your property

In the SEO section, we mentioned that you can write content that can be linked from relevant websites and attract visitors from search engines. Well, with a blog you can do this on a weekly basis while you also increase your website’s reputation and get subscribers. Use keyword research tools to find relevant topics (even if they aren’t necessarily commercial topics) that your target audience might be interested in. You could write about tourist attractions around your location one week, then about good restaurants the other. Keep your audience interests in mind when doing this. If you know your guests may be interested in outdoor activities, you can write about that trekking route not so far away from your property.

You can then reach out to other websites that would benefit from adding a link to your post, search for websites in similar areas that aren’t competing with you.

Airbnb’s strategy

As we said Airbnb has an entire decade of immense growth that has changed the online rental landscape in ways that no one expected. It has surpassed the biggest hotel chains and OTAs, and its growth hasn’t stopped. So we want to talk a bit about their marketing strategy and what we can learn from that.

The first thing we need to understand is that a difference between Airbnb and other listing sites is that users have a dynamic role in building the platform. Users aren’t limited to fixed positions as owners and renters, but they are both at the same time. Not only that, both interact on a personal level and trust becomes the force that drives the internal market of the site. After all, you are renting directly from people.

The opportunity of renting a room in your own house made it possible for a lot of people to turn their guest rooms into a successful rental business. In exchange, Airbnb received a vast amount of listings to offer to their renters all around the world for a fraction of the price of a hotel room, and the lower costs attracted the audience of travellers that didn’t want to spend their whole budget on accommodation.

To take this to the next level, Airbnb dedicated a lot of effort to conversion rate optimisation. Their site is carefully designed to increase conversions on all levels of their sales funnels.

Takeaways for vacation rental owners

The vacation rental industry is growing year by year. It has its own challenges when it comes to using digital marketing tactics, but knowing the resources you have at your disposal to stay on top of the competition and in front of your potential guests will help you to enjoy this growth. Paid ads, blogs, email marketing and good old SEO will increase your bookings and you will have more guests leaving great reviews about your property.

Just remember to be present where they search for properties to rent, whether that is Tripadvisor, Airbnb, your website or social media. Answering comments and reviews, testing ideas and comparing the results, you will see those numbers going up or at least you will find what exactly is keeping them from growing. And, if you need a hand, don’t hesitate to contact us!

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