Getting your first direct booking is a significant milestone for every vacation rental owner. But closing the deal on your first reservation usually takes time and focus. With hundreds of channels and ways to market your vacation rental business, choosing the ones that make the most sense for your business and produce fruitful results can be challenging.
It’s easy to fall into the trap of constantly tweaking your website or listing in search of excellence, rather than putting the energy in the most important task: bringing direct bookings.
Try this challenge: get vacation rental software that comes with a vacation rental website builder (and preferably, a channel manager) and invest time in the next 30 days on getting targeted traffic to your website to get your first booking.
Targeted traffic refers to the users that visit a website to satisfy a specific need. This may be a response to a query or a solution to a problem through your services.
The main difference between targeted traffic and regular traffic is that targeted visitors already have a goal in mind, while regular users are just browsing through. In other words, targeted traffic refers to all of the potential guests that are visiting your website with the intention of booking a stay with you.
For example, people who google “book vacation rental in Florida” are more likely to convert (i.e. book their stay) than people who randomly find your website because they’re just daydreaming about traveling or want to see if you’ve got any offers.
Why targeted traffic is important for your vacation rental website
As a vacation rental owner or property manager, it’s easy to get caught up in the minor details as you build a business behind closed doors; deciding what brand colors to use, choosing between one font or the other, uploading different kinds of pictures or second-guessing your pricing.
But you can’t really know whether your vacation rental brand, website or listing is good enough until you expose it to the world. You can’t improve unless you establish a quantifiable benchmark. That’s why it’s so important to have traffic.
You won’t know if your rental properties are appealing, if your prices are too high or if your brand resonates with your target audience if you don’t drive traffic.
That’s why we’d like to propose the following challenge: Whatever stage your business is in, spend the next 30 days focusing on driving targeted traffic to your website above anything else.
But don’t fret. We’ve listed down below the most widely applicable marketing tactics you can use to achieve this goal. We’ll start with free, easy traffic sources and move on to more highly targeted tactics that require more time and financial resources.
What to know before you begin
You don’t have to execute all of the tactics listed below and if one of them doesn’t apply to your business, skip it. If you’ve got a small marketing budget, for example, Influencers won’t be your first pick.
Before anything, make sure you’ve published your vacation rental website and have got a channel manager to sync all of your listings. Remember to submit your sitemap to Google, verify ownership of your website on Google Search Console and set up your Google Analytics account so you can keep track of traffic as you implement each marketing tactic. Not everything’s going to work right away but this will hopefully help you find what works best for your business.
Not everything’s going to work. With that said, get ready to test and learn quickly the next 30 days while you strive towards your first direct booking.
1. Ask your inner circle to share your website
There’s nothing wrong with promoting your business with your connections. Share your properties on your social accounts like Facebook, Twitter, Instagram and LinkedIn and let everyone know that you’re open for business!
Consider emailing your closest connections to get the word out. Ask them explicitly to share your website — they don’t have to book from you to show you their support.
Although reservations you get in this manner would not be as rewarding as earning the trust and getting a booking from a total stranger, this is a great way to request early feedback and reviews.
But if you don’t get any reservations from this tactic, don’t get too frustrated as this is the least-qualified traffic source on this list.
Recommended for: Anyone and everyone since we all have friends/family/coworkers, but especially for those that are active online or have a large following on social media.
2. Join online communities
Don’t underestimate the value of placing your website URL in the right place. Join Facebook groups, post on Airbnb or listing site forums and find online niche communities within your industry. Each of these channels represents an opportunity to reach people who may be interested in your properties.
Look for Facebook groups around your area and share your website. “For sale” groups are a great place to start. For example, if your business is located in Florida, some groups you could consider joining to share your promotions or content are:
Don’t just share your link everywhere and spam everyone with it. Instead, look to provide value and make authentic connections.
Recommended for: Vacation rental businesses that target specific target audiences (i.e. domestic travelers). But anyone can take advantage of support groups to get feedback from other professionals.
3. Paid advertising
If you want to get targeted traffic quickly, you can do it through paid advertising. It sounds very expensive but there are a lot of channels that allow you to pay per click and in some cases, you can start with a budget as low as $10.
Every advertising platform is different and you should invest in those where your target audience can be found. For example, if you’re targeting millennials, you may want to consider investing exclusively on Instagram ads. If you’re targeting specific countries, you might even want to check out which social networks are popular in certain markets.
But if you’re going to invest in social media paid ads, make sure to populate your profiles with organic posts so users don’t think it’s a scam when they click on your profile.
According to Pew Research, Facebook is one of the most popular social networks with the most diverse user base in terms of age, income, gender and ethnicity. There are many targeting options to reach your ideal customers including age, gender, job title, location and interest. Pages people liked on Facebook can be used as the basis for building the audiences who your ads reach.
Recommended for: Owners or property managers that know who their ideal guests are and what they like.
Although Instagram is mostly known for its visual formats and for its predominantly millennial audience, according to Smart Insights, it also has one of the most engaged user bases among all the other social networks. You can also post organically and reach a good number of people with relevant hashtags.
Recommended for: Vacation rental businesses that have high-quality and enticing photos and want to market to millennials.
Whenever users want to look anything up, they usually search on Google. So by investing in Google Ads, previously Google AdWords, you’ll have the opportunity to appear at the top of the page as users search for relevant keywords.
Recommended for: Anyone can invest in Google Ads, however, we recommend it in locations that don’t have too much competition because it can get a bit expensive to compete with big listing sites.
4. Connect with existing audiences
Promoting your vacation rental business isn’t going to be very effective if it comes only from you. Fortunately, the internet has enabled anyone to build a platform, and as a result, you can partner with them.
Through each successful collaboration, you can pull two weeds with one yank by creating content and driving traffic at the same time.
Reach out to bloggers
Here’s a not-so-kept secret about online marketing: bloggers are constantly trying to share fresh ideas. Look for travel bloggers and hospitality publications that fit with your niche so you can pitch your vacation rental business to them.
You will theoretically earn a spot on a forum or website that your target consumers read with a strong presentation focused on a positive article, or an exciting product. Look for publications that overlap with your niche, and try to pitch your brand around them.
Here are a few ideas for how you can partner up:
Ask them if you could write a guest post on their blog, share your expertise about a topic (e.g. local recommendations) and use your author bio to link to your business.
Request for reviews. In exchange for a review (on their website, social accounts, as well as on your website), let them stay at your vacation rental for free.
Pitch a news story. Offer an interview-style piece by pitching your compelling origin story or unique property as the hook.
Whatever you choose to do, remember that your business, your potential partner and audiences need to be interested in your pitch. Consider the right “fit” publications first, and look at the size of their readership second.
Work with influencers
Big brands aren’t the only ones that can work with online influencers to market your properties. You can also work with travel influencers to tap into their existing fanbase for traffic and get high-quality content created about your vacation rentals at the same time.
Influencers aren’t just selling your vacation rental property, they’re also sharing the experiences that you offer to all of your guests.
There are influencers on every social media platform from Instagram to Youtube. You can reach out to micro-influencers directly or use influencer marketplaces that connect creators with all kinds of brands like Crowdtap, Famebit or Grapevine.
Guests want to know how it truly is to stay in your vacation rental, and influencers can provide them with that information. An influencer can showcase what guests will feel and enjoy if they book your property, whether it is through an Instagram story or video, or photos posted on Facebook.
Recommended for: Owners and property managers with backstories, unique properties that bloggers would be interested in or those that have expertise in their niche or local area.
5. Analyze and optimize
Hopefully, by this point, you’ve tried enough tactics to see a jump in traffic and have even seen a spike in bookings. This challenge is meant to be a feedback loop exercise, where you expose your vacation rental website to traffic, set a benchmark for its performance, and then work to improve it.
With this benchmark, you can dive into your Google Analytics dashboard and see what pages people spend the most time on, what keywords they’ve used to find your website (with Google Search Console) and where your users are coming from (e.g. email, social media, etc).
There are a variety of reasons why users aren’t booking your vacation rentals from your website and you can make informed guesses based on how your traffic performs:
If you have a high bounce rate, when users leave your website immediately after visiting it, you might be targeting low-quality traffic or your website is taking too long to load.
If none of your visitors use your search box, you may have to make sure it’s fully visible, working properly and have an open calendar.
If none of your website users visited your checkout page, you may have to consider your booking policies and/or pricing.
Based on the data you gather, you can start making changes to your website (and possibly, your business) to adapt to your target audience.
Get out there to grow
Driving traffic is all about connecting the dots between your brand and your potential guests in an ever-growing world of opportunities. That’s partly what makes marketing so overwhelming — the fact that there are so many tactics out there.
There is no one-size-fits-all approach to all vacation rental businesses. The only way to know what works for you is to explore, try, fail and improve. So get your website out there, because it’s the only way to grow your direct bookings.
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