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For your vacation rental listing to stand out in today’s crowded short-term rental market, you need more than fabulous photos: you also need a great description. Whether you love to write or find it a chore, following a few simple steps will help you write a clear, compelling description that quickly conveys key information and gives travelers a sense of what your home is like.

Here are five top tips every owner can follow!

1. Write for the guest, not for yourself

You’re not writing for writing’s sake. You have a goal: to provide key information about your home and convey a sense of what it’s like to live there. Imagine having a phone conversation with someone who thinks the home might be right for them in terms of general location, size, and price.  What questions might the person have? What features would you point out? What do you love about spending time there?

2. Write a lively, informative headline

When you read a magazine or newspaper, you probably scan for stories that interest you before diving down into the details. The same happens to guests when browsing home listings. Good headlines help travelers spot homes that seem compatible with what they’re looking for.

Think about it: which of these examples would draw your eye?

House for Short-Term Rent This Spring,” or “Spacious, Fully Furnished Family Friendly 2+ bedroom Home with Stunning View for May and/or June.”

Obviously, the second example provides more useful information – it lets travelers know whether the home is big enough and available for their dates.  But it does more: carefully chosen words such as “spacious,” “completely furnished,” and “stunning view” offer a sense of what the home is like, and also implies that it has everything the guest might need.

Think about what guests might be looking for when they browse vacation rental listings in your area.  Then jot down some descriptive words to include in your headline. (For inspiration, browse some short-term rental listings yourself!)

Now draft a few headlines. Write quickly, and play with the words until you come up with some headlines that seem right. Try them out on family or friends. Once you settle on a headline to use, edit it to make sure that every word is specific, clear, and needs to be there.

3. Let the ideas flow

By now you have a pretty good idea of what your listing is “selling.” Make a rough content outline by listing all the points you might include in the description.  Don’t try to write complete sentences or put the points in order – and please, don’t worry about grammar, punctuation, or spelling!  Doing any of that is almost guaranteed to stop the flow of ideas. Just list your home’s most notable features as quickly as you can.

4. Write a quick first draft

Great descriptions speak directly to readers. So, imagine a guest asking, “What’s your home like?” Then write a quick first draft as if you were answering that question. Use active language to help them visualize the home and your area. Be specific and truthful. Tell them what you like about living there and why they’ll find it the perfect place to stay. Once again, don’t stop to edit your writing – you’ll clean it up later.

5. Improve the draft

Read through your draft and use these guidelines to improve it.

Be specific

Compelling writing is specific and concrete, not vague and general. If you wrote, “It’s a fabulous apartment,” would the reader know what you mean? A more useful description would be: “The apartment has picture windows that overlook the ocean, a fully equipped cook’s kitchen, and a firm, comfortable king-sized European Sleepworks bed”.

Use active language

Active language “talks” directly to readers. Restructure wordy, passive sentences such as, “Our fieldstone fireplace is greatly appreciated by visitors on evenings that are chilly,” to make them more active, direct, and concise: “You’ll appreciate the warmth of our fieldstone fireplace on chilly evenings”.

Be concise

Readers usually scan web content quickly to pick out the most interesting and relevant points. The best descriptions convey useful information in the fewest possible words. Use short sentences and short paragraphs, and avoid the common tendency to ramble, write wordy sentences, or include unnecessary details.

Use adjectives with care

Descriptive words such as “cozy,” “spacious,” “elegant,” and “comfortable” can quickly convey the feel of your home. But what a Londoner and or a New Yorker might consider a “spacious” apartment can seem little more than a closet to a traveler from Colorado. One person’s idea of “beautiful” or “elegant” might seem gaudy or overdone to someone else. Also, too many adjectives, capitalized words, and exclamation points will weaken – rather than strengthen – your description. Instead, use specific language that quickly and vividly describes the features of your home. 

Be truthful

Your description creates expectations, so it should closely match what guests will find in your home. If yours is a studio apartment with the bed tucked into a windowless alcove, call it a studio with alcove bed, not a 1-bedroom. If it’s a 7th-floor walk-up or the “kitchen” is a corner with a microwave and miniature fridge, say so. There’s not always the need to emphasize your home’s less desirable features, but fudging the truth or omitting important details may result in disappointed or even angry guests. Being honest from the outset will help you to prevent negative reviews.

Edit for a final draft

Before posting the description, reinforce your credibility by checking to make sure the punctuation, spelling and grammar are correct. When it is, you’re good to go!

What makes you find short-term rental descriptions compelling enough to continue reading? Have you found other strategies for writing great descriptions? Please share your thoughts with us in the comments!


About the Author

Janis Fisher Chan has taught professionals, academics, business owners, content developers and bloggers to write clearly for specific audiences. A published author and passionate traveler, she recently launched Travel on the House, an informational website with tips and advice for people who want to make travel affordable by swapping or renting their homes.

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5 Must-Dos for Writing Vacation Rental Descriptions
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