All vacation rental owners are aiming for the same goal: to take bookings for their home and make a successful business out of their rental.
In recent years, in light of high commissions charged by online travel agencies and given the changing nature of how travelers book their accommodation, online marketing can really help owners to stand out from the crowd and generate more direct bookings.
But what use is online marketing if you’re not sure what to do with it?
Though we recognize there are certain limitations to creating an eBook to outline the very basics of online marketing, we’re confident it will provide actionable tips for those just starting out in the industry with their own hospitality business website. If you’re looking for advice on listing your rental on online travel agencies, you won’t find it here. Instead, this eBook will focus on helping owners to get more direct bookings coming in from their own professional website.
First off, expect to learn just exactly what online marketing for vacation rentals is. We’ll then walk you through the main advantages of using online marketing for your vacation rental website, before diving into what the best methods are for increasing your direct bookings and how you can put these into practice. Let’s get started!
What is Online Marketing for Vacation Rentals?
Online marketing refers to any strategy, tool or method you use – on the internet – to get your vacation rental brand name out in the world. As a general rule, these efforts together will help to generate inquiries and drive direct bookings on your website.
Online marketing is by no means limited to one action. Rather, it encompasses a whole range of different elements such as: social media marketing; email marketing; content marketing and search engine marketing (to name a few). If you’re not sure what any of these terms mean yet – don’t fret – we’re here to help.
Using a combination of these different online marketing strategies is by far the best way to gain traction for your vacation rental, because they’ll help increase the traffic that arrives on your website in the first place! Let us show you how.
Why Do Vacation Rental Owners Need Online Marketing?
It’s all good and well advertising your vacation rental property on listing sites like HomeAway and Airbnb to reach big audiences and generate more inquiries, but when you’re sick of paying fees or you have loyal, returning guests who want to book direct – what do you do?
In order to boost your bookings, become more self-sufficient and take control over your vacation rental business, you’re going to need your own website. And not just any website, either! You need a beautiful and optimized vacation rental website which has the features and functionality needed to take direct bookings, manage reservations and synchronize all your other channels for complete ease.
That’s where online marketing comes in. The very nature of having your own website calls for the need to carry out some online marketing. Online marketing is what will ensure you get traffic flowing to your website, and bring you visitors who will make bookings.
Let’s take a look at the top five reasons why all owners should use online marketing for their vacation rental website:
1. Take direct bookings
One of the most important reasons you’ll want to do online marketing for your vacation rental website is so that you can take bookings directly. That means no extra host or traveler fees – great news for you and your guests!
Research on hotel booking preferences has revealed that 65% of guests prefer to book directly with the provider rather than using OTAs like Booking.com, and that’s especially true for return visitors. So what’s to say these figures are any different for vacation rental bookings?
A lot of specialized vacation rental website templates like Lodgify will already have this functionality, but even if you choose to create your website with a more general provider, there are plenty of widgets out there that will allow you to add booking capability to your site.
2. Create online credibility
Nowadays, every reputable business has its own website. If it doesn’t, doesn’t something seem wrong? This same mentality should apply to your lodging business.
Yes – other platforms with the specific purpose of helping you advertise your business do exist, but what if potential guests try looking for your home elsewhere on the internet and come up short? It might even dissuade them from booking with you in the first place.
It’s no secret that guests love to window shop on OTAs, then Google the property brands from their shortlist to check out their reputation and credibility. So, name-drop your brand on OTA portals, and you’ll find that users who love to cross-reference everything on the internet can make sure your listings are consistent and verifiable. Savvy guests wanting to avoid booking fees will also hunt around for a better deal on prices – that’s where your website comes into play.
Think of your website as your business card: if someone is interested in your property, what URL will you give them? Do you really want to send them to a third-party OTA listing? The short answer is no, and that’s why a website is an absolute essential for any serious vacation rental business owner looking to create online credibility.
3. Build up your brand
Having your own website is the best starting point for building a solid brand presence online. You want people to know about your vacation rental? You’d better have a branded website.
Establishing your vacation rental brand, however, isn’t a matter of black and white – though colors are certainly involved in the process! It’s about creating consistency across your website and any external listings, always referring to your business by its brand name and, having a good logo to accompany all your marketing efforts both on and offline.
On online travel agencies, yours is just a commodity – a needle in a haystack, one listing out of thousands. And in many cases, guests will see the OTA as the brand, rather than the host themselves.
Your brand will help you stand out from your competitors, and your guests will begin to identify with your brand as something more than just another vacation rental. This is even more true if you have your own stunning vacation rental website!
4. Become listing site independent
There are now more hosts than ever on Airbnb, and this number looks unlikely to decline any time soon.
History has shown that as OTAs become more powerful, they take more and more value away by charging higher commissions to travelers and owners alike. Having your own website is the first step in taking back this control that you are losing to OTAs and taking your business into your own hands, without your business being at the mercy of some large corporate travel agencies.
Having your own website adds another channel into your marketing mix where you can reach guests you couldn’t reach before. Your own website is a way to stand out from the crowd and run your hospitality business according to your own rules, not the rules of whichever OTAs you’re listing with.
5. Enjoy complete freedom
There is no denying that having your own vacation rental website allows you to be 100% in control of the content that is published on it.
Want more photos on the homepage? You can make it happen. Want your headline text a bit bigger so it stands out more? That’s on you, too!
No matter what you want to put on your site, there are no restrictions which will limit your decision making.
Listing sites and OTAs tend to censor hosts by imposing character limits and maximum number of photos, which can leave users feeling frustrated. With your own site, however, you are the only person in charge of the rules.
That means you can add as many reviews, local tips, blog posts, details about add-on services like bike rental, and special promotions (etc.) as you like, without any limitations.
Step-by-Step: How to Use Online Marketing To Increase Your Bookings
There are many different strands of online marketing which work to complement one another as part of your overall marketing strategy. For those just starting out, it can be difficult to know where to begin.
Many owners make the mistake of jumping the gun and trying to create a website or do some online marketing with no brand in place.
That’s why we can’t stress enough that the very first step you need to take is make this really important decision and name your rental something memorable. Once you have a name in place, you can start thinking about building your rental brand and website, and kick off your online marketing efforts.
Read on for a step-by-step rundown of some of the most effective online marketing actions vacation rental owners can take.
“We have found that there are two really important and oft-overlooked steps to getting started with vacation rental marketing. The first is simply acknowledging your success thus far: so many independent owners and managers forget that they’ve done something pretty remarkable (launched a vacation rental business) without any help from professionals or formal education. Recognizing one’s accomplishments is instrumental in vacation rental growth.
The second is remembering to take things step by step: avoid trying to do more than one marketing project at a time. Independents build momentum by creating concrete, actionable three-month goals. For example, instead of trying to build a complete web presence, focus first on getting version 1.0 of your website up and running. Instead of trying to generate hordes of repeat guests with a newsletter, focus first on choosing an email marketing platform and uploading your former guests into the database.”
Matt Landau, VRMB
Step 1: Create Your Own Website
With more than 3.5 billion internet users worldwide, it’s no surprise that having your own website should form the very basis of your vacation rental marketing plan. It’s your strongest marketing tool, and often the first (and best) place potential guests can get all the information they need about your rental before booking. So use it to your advantage!
You don’t need to be an expert coder to make a great website, either. There are plenty of templates and providers out there who already have the measures in place to help you. You’ll just need to make sure it’s functioning well and has all the capabilities that a modern vacation rental website needs. That means features like a mobile-responsive design, an intuitive easy-to-navigate layout and a slick booking engine for accepting online reservations and payments.
With so many listing sites popping up (most of which charging both host and guest fees), the most effective way to get the best deal for your guests (and not lose any of the booking income yourself) is by setting up your own vacation rental website.
Having a vacation rental website will help you on your quest for listing site independence, bring you more word-of-mouth referrals and keep you in control of your reservations.
What is the most basic action I need to take?
If you haven’t got one already (or the one you have is very outdated), you’ll need to create a bookable website for your vacation rental.
We recommend using a vacation rental software provider like Lodgify to keep things super simple and to make sure it’s bookable. We advise using software over hiring someone to build your website from scratch for many reasons. One of which is the fact you’ll get an instant result. Not only do these drag-and-drop software solutions make website design a breeze – you could have your site up and running in less than one day – but they are also suitable for users of all capabilities.
Your website doesn’t need to be perfect on the first attempt, but as long as you have the basics like photos, an updated calendar, contact information and booking capability in place, you can work on fine tuning the rest later!
“With so many web pages on the internet, very few stand out. Constraints of the big online booking sites have taken control away from the owners, while constantly changing “terms of service” and increasing fees. The consumer is looking for more personal connections with owners while saving money. Great marketing and a beautiful booking experience puts the joy of vacation back in the hands of travelers and owners.”
Craig Bassignani, eSonomaCounty.com
Step 2: Get on Social Media
Do you already have a personal Facebook account to connect with your friends and share what you’re up to? If so, you’ll probably know just how popular the social network site is and how quickly and easily news can travel.
Facebook isn’t the only social network, either. Other sites like Twitter, Instagram, LinkedIn, Pinterest, Google+ and YouTube are all hugely popular and a great way to get a bit of extra attention and direct more traffic to your vacation rental website. Depending on which channels you decide to use, there are different types of updates you can post which will send visitors onwards to your site.
Social media marketing is all about using these networks to reach and engage with your potential new guests and past guests in order to bring more bookings. As well as more website visits, social media marketing can help vacation rental owners to improve booking conversions, raise brand awareness and strengthen brand identity.
Furthermore, integrating social media with your website can allow you to use them as a real-time communication tool to speak with your potential guests and reply to inquiries.
What is the most basic action I need to take?
Given Facebook is currently the world’s most-used social network and travel is its most talked about subject; we recommend you test the waters by creating a Facebook Page first.
Posting on your business Facebook Page shouldn’t be any harder than it is on your personal one. Got a great photo of the sunset from your vacation rental? Share it with your audience. Come across an inspirational travel quote recently? Type it out and update your status. Posting little and often is the key to building your business Facebook Page and creating more online visibility for your rental. And if your posts can direct readers through to your site, even better!
Once you’re confident with posting on Facebook, then you’ll be able to try your hand at other social media.
For the complete low-down and an in-depth tutorial of Facebook marketing for vacation rental rentals, download the FREE owner’s guide.
Step 3: Stay in Touch with Your Guests
Many hosts make the mistake of thinking the correspondence ends once a guest checks out – but it shouldn’t! One of your best resources for marketing your property is actually the contact pool you already have – your former guests.
As well as keeping in touch before, during and directly after a guest’s stay, you can use your database of your past guests’ email addresses so you can follow up weeks, months or even years after they’ve visited your vacation rental.
Email is a powerful tool which still sees a huge return on investment in the present day. The best thing about sending emails to past guests to generate more bookings is that it’s so easy! You can personalize them without any extra effort (you already have their name and contact details); you can mention something that they loved about their stay last time (you received their great review); you can even go an extra step further and mention a detail that will surprise them and, at the same time, remind them what a great host you are (“I noticed your birthday is coming up…”).
For vacation rental owners, email marketing can be the key to subtly convincing past guests to return to your home, as receiving your email will plant the vacation seed in any former guest’s mind – even if they weren’t thinking about going away. Though it doesn’t stop there – emails can also be the persuasive push that helps a new guest to choose your home over another.
What is the most basic action I need to take?
More than anything, you need to start embracing the world of email! However, you can’t do that without an organized database or email list in place.
So before sending any emails, take some time to go over the contact details of each of your past, potential and future guests, making sure they’re all recorded in one place – either in your website’s correspondence system or by using an outside email provider.
Remember your emails will go directly to your guests’ inboxes, so bear in mind the most successful emails you can send will always show a good value exchange. What can you offer your contacts that other rentals can’t? Whether it’s a special offer or promotional discount, some news or updates about your home, or simply a seasonal greeting at certain times of the year, email marketing best practice should always aim to enhance the relationships you have (or are trying to establish) with your guests.
What’s more, measuring success like email open rates and click-throughs is usually very straightforward using almost any email provider, and it’s also a pretty low-cost way to get guests’ attention.
Advice from a successful owner:
“We have all heard that one of the keys to success in any endeavor in life, is simply showing up. I believe the same holds true for the vacation rental business when it comes to inquiries.
I am amazed at the lack of responsiveness by many vacation villa owners. I always ask my guests why they chose Villa Beachcliff for their vacation accommodation. Most tell me that when they inquired, I responded immediately and thoroughly. I have been told that some of the responses from other villa owners were received two weeks after their inquiry!
Not only do I respond to my email inquiries quickly, but I also make it my mission to speak to them live as soon as possible, either by phone or by Skype/FaceTime. In my first email response (which includes a quote), I ask for the opportunity to speak with them live, “to answer any questions they may have about Grenada, Villa Beachcliff, or to confirm their reservation”. Connecting the name to a real person is extremely important. People want to do business with a person, not a website listing, so the sooner you connect live, the better your chances are of confirming the reservation. Many of my conversations are about why my wife Karen and I left our jobs in Canada to open our business in the Caribbean. My booking rate is over 90% once I speak live to a potential guest!
Many listing sites do not provide a phone contact, so I always ask for the opportunity to call: “What is the best time(s) and number to reach you at. Let’s schedule a call”.
In the event that I am given the phone number with the initial inquiry, I will call immediately to follow up my quote.
Set yourself apart by striking while the iron is hot.”
Rick Feld, www.grenadavillabeachcliff.com
Step 4: Start a Blog
Though websites can and do survive quite easily without a blog, having a blog gives your business that extra something. That’s because it is one of the most simple ways to push more traffic to your website.
Ideally, when you create blog content for any website, readers will already be trawling the internet for the answers that you can uniquely give them.
So when you deliver information that makes any potential guests more informed or more aware of a topic that they are interested in learning about, it not only positions you – the owner – as an expert, but it also makes your vacation rental brand trustworthy.
This strategic approach referring to the process of creating worthwhile, relevant content which will capture and retain a target audience, all the while publicizing your brand itself, is what is known as content marketing. The aim of content marketing is to drive profitable customer actions, in this case, vacation rental bookings.
Writing frequent blog posts is an easy way to get more traffic flowing to your vacation rental website, and can even help position your site Google search results when you use certain keywords.
What is the most basic action I need to take?
The first thing you can do is join a blogging site which you can integrate to your website. There are plenty of free blog providers out there, so do a bit of research before you commit to one site or another.
Once you’ve set up your blog, you can get to writing some great content.
Start by brainstorming all of the topics that can (and will) draw readers to your vacation rental website. But remember: your blog posts don’t necessarily have to be related to your vacation rental or its management.
We’re talking: “top 10 steakhouses in the San Francisco Bay area”; “5 must-visit rooftops to see the sunset in Madrid”; “7 most authentic pizzerias in Rome”.
Use your expertise to your advantage here – you know what to do/eat/see/visit better than anyone!
In addition to helping you rank on Google results for specific search terms, writing content about, for example, your area will be super easy (as you already know loads about it) and it will help guests see you, the owner, as someone with reliable, insider knowledge.
Your posts will be exactly what potential guests are searching for, and are bound to bring you much more site visits – and hopefully bookings!
The aim of having a blog is to get a higher volume of traffic coming to your site – whether or not they’re interested in finding a vacation rental is another matter completely. The very fact of having more users land on your page and reading something valuable you’ve written can easily lead them to take a further snoop around to see what else your site offers – sending them quite smoothly through the rest of the marketing funnel.
“In a hugely competitive environment you just have to stand out from the competition and a listing is no longer enough to get that high visibility. An entertaining, informative and insightful blog is the way to do it and can propel you into ‘local expert’ status in your visitors’ eyes. If your blog is part of a well-designed website, your site visitors will feel compelled to explore more, so getting them to convert that interest into a booking becomes much easier.
Post articles on local events, attractions, places to eat, family activities… in fact, anything that your guests could do when they come to stay at your place. Give away some of your insider secrets and share your favorite things to do. Then use social media to link back to your blog posts. Voilà! You have traffic.”
Heather Bayer, CottageBlogger
Step 5: Optimize Your Site for SEO
Even without realizing it, it’s possible that in creating your website in the first place, you’ll have already done some work which gives your SEO (search engine optimization) a helping hand.
So what exactly is SEO? Well, it’s the name given to all the things you can do in order to help your vacation rental site to show up first in Google, Yahoo! or Bing search engine results organically (in other words – without paying).
Once you have a vacation rental website, you also have a brand for your business. Your brand name is (and should be) visible in everything you do as an owner.
Having basic SEO knowledge is becoming more and more beneficial for vacation rental owners, especially as the industry is always growing more competitive and new websites pop up on the market daily.
Learning to practice good SEO across your website and your blog will help you in the quest to rank in first place for your own vacation rental brand, receive more traffic to your site and take more bookings. You can even hire specialists to help out with your SEO, though it’s not entirely necessary! There are plenty of beginner’s guides and tools available to help you out.
What is the most basic action I need to take?
You want your website to be the first result that comes up when somebody Googles your vacation rental brand name, right?
So to optimize your website and push it up search engine results pages, you’ll want to make sure you mention your brand in all the right places. That includes:
- In your website domain name
- In your website’s title and headings (e.g. title and H1 tags)
- In your logo
- In your photo gallery’s alt tags
- In your meta description and title.
By including your brand name in these different places across your site, you’ll start sending signals to Google and other search engines about your vacation rental brand which will help you to position in search engine results for your business’ name.
For more in-depth information, download the Local SEO Guide and get top Google rankings for your vacation rental website.
There are also many free tools available out there to check your keyword rankings, i.e. see at a glance where you website is positioning for your key search term.
One free, simple-to-use tool is the Small SEO Tools keyword position checker. Simply type in your website’s domain, the keywords you are aiming to rank for and it’ll generate your current position in Google.
It’s likely that once your website starts to position well for your keywords, you’ll start experiencing more traffic and take more direct bookings.
Step 6: Invest Some Money in Paid Online Advertising
How many times have you done a Google search for a specific product, service or anything else you can pay for, and been presented with a list of results that have a little green box saying “Ad” next to them? These are Google Ads and, for some owners, they are the future of vacation rental marketing.
Search engine marketing, or SEM, is the method of gaining website traffic by paying for ads on search engines on a pay-per-click (PPC) basis. Put simply, this means you only pay when your advert is clicked on by a user.
PPC tactics can also be used on Facebook, where you can really target guests directly with your display adverts. For example, if you have a house in the Bahamas and you realize most of your guests are coming from Florida, you can target specific demographics on Facebook, such as families living in Florida with an interest in travel.
Paid advertising isn’t for everyone and not all owners do it right, either. We simply want to let you know that forms of paid advertising exist, and some owners do like to use it because when it’s done correctly, it can lead to many more bookings.
What is the most basic action I need to take?
PPC is a powerful tool, but it is an advanced method of online marketing, so it’s not an essential step for all vacation rental owners to take.
Yet for those wishing to kick-start their SEM efforts, you can begin by using Google AdWords to bid on the keywords you define as most important for your vacation rental business. Quite often, your keywords will be your brand name, or your brand name plus location.
Using PPC tactics is one of the quickest ways to get to the top of search results pages. Consequently, paid ads can also help drive more traffic to your vacation rental website, generate new leads and take more direct bookings.
If you want to start using search engine marketing techniques but you aren’t entirely confident to do so, you can always hire freelance SEM specialists or read around the subject with beginner AdWords tutorials.
As far as paid methods go, PPC is a fairly economical way to get results. After all, you only pay once you receive click-throughs to your site. Keeping potential guests interested in your offerings once they’re on your website is up to you, though!
The biggest takeaway from this eBook is the importance of having your own vacation rental website. Though the first step is creating your website, that is just the beginning – so don’t expect to become an online success overnight.
Our parting note to owners is this: don’t be scared to get stuck in and take some of the things we’ve explained on board. The truth is, most of it is easy to do. But remember that once you have your own website, online marketing is a necessity to build your web presence.
You don’t need to be a seasoned expert to start working on your marketing strategy, nor do you have to implement all these ideas in one day. Just be sure to work on one step at a time, set yourself achievable goals, be patient and take each day as it comes!
We hope this guide has helped you understand the true value of having your own website and why online marketing is so beneficial for your vacation rental. We hope it’s got you thinking about the different ways you can help attract guests directly to your website using effective techniques such as social media, email marketing, content marketing, SEO and SEM.