Airbnb Marketing Strategy: How To Maximize Your Bookings

It’s difficult to overstate the meteoric rise of Airbnb over the years. We remember when Airbnb was the new kid on the block in 2014. Back then, vacation rental industry pros speculated whether listing on the platform was even worth it. Now, its name is nearly synonymous with short-term rentals. 

Plus, since their IPO in December 2020, we’ve learned more about Airbnb’s financials and how their platform has grown… and the numbers are truly staggering. 

Even in the middle of a global pandemic in 2020, Airbnb pulled in 2.52 billion of top-line revenue—and 2021 will be even better. Granted, other companies in the short-term rental space like Tripadvisors’ Flipkey and Expedia’s Vrbo have seen growth this year, too, but not quite like Airbnb.

Airbnb’s own marketing strategy is a topic for another post. But their focus on design, brand messaging and community identification for hosts (and guests) has catapulted its brand awareness among not just vacation rental brands, or travel brands, but all brands.

Co-founder Brian Chesky has talked about the symbiotic business model of Airbnb many times: they need hosts, and hosts need Airbnb. Memorable taglines like “Belong Anywhere”, “Live Like A Local” and “Live There” create a sense that Airbnb is much more than just an e-commerce site or OTA.

That’s great for Airbnb, right? Lots of demand, huge brand recognition, and more inventory than ever. But as a host or property manager, you have to wonder: how can I get my share of all those bookings?! 

In this guide, we’ll focus on creating a winning Airbnb marketing strategy for your properties so you can grow your attention, traffic and conversions on Airbnb.

Leverage The 5/5/55 Rule: Reviews On Airbnb

It’s no surprise that great reviews from guests are a difference-maker for your business’s success. Hence, the 5/5/55 rule, which is: aim to get five 5-star reviews within the first 55 days of opening your doors to guests.  

We’ve developed this concept after a recent study by short-term rental industry data aggregator Transparent, the 5/5/55 rule recognizes the importance of those early reviews. In fact, Airbnb doesn’t even show your star rating on your listing until you’ve collected your first three reviews. 

But, importantly, 5/5/55 is not over-reaching, either. It’s a reasonable goal. 

These days, review automation has turned into something like “review farming,” or focusing on getting as many reviews as possible—whether by offering incentives for reviews (not allowed, technically) or by reminding your guests about it until they relent.  

The problem is, the reviews you get when using these aggressive methods may not be as good as they could be. The real secret is offering a five-star worthy experience that guests want to rave about. Do that by communicating in a friendly helpful way to each of the first 15 bookings in each property and word as hard as you can to earn those 5-star reviews. 

Pricing Your Listing For Success

Of course, every host wants to get the highest nightly rate possible. It makes sense, with all the hard work that goes into setting up and running a short-term rental. 

However, depending on how new your listing listing is (and where you’re located), conceding a bit on rates may be the smartest marketing strategy you’ve got in a crowded market. 

At least, that is, until you have enough Airbnb business and five-star reviews to justify a higher rate.

Take a look around at your competition—specifically the properties that are getting top-of-the-market rents. Then take a look at the number of reviews and stays at those places, whether they’re a Superhost, etc. 

Likely, those top performers not brand new but have rather done their due diligence to work up to that rate. 

The good news is, once you’ve hit a certain level, your success builds on itself and you can sustain those higher rates… yep, even during a pandemic. If you work on improving the customer experience, creating professional marketing (more on that later) and cultivating word-of-mouth referrals, you’ll soon be able to charge a nightly rate you can feel great about. 

A note on pricing software. Tools like Beyond and Airbnb’s pricing tool can take the guesswork out of setting your nightly price. These tools use algorithms to determine best-performing rates, and they vary across seasons and take into account supply/demand. 

Our clients have had mixed reviews using Airbnb’s pricing tool, which sometimes suggests rates that are much too low. Those clients that went higher than Airbnb’s suggested rates (and believed in their offering) were often able to get those higher rates, especially once they hit that 5/5/55 number mentioned above! 

Simple Ways to Grow Awareness for Your Airbnb Listing

When you’re just starting out, it makes sense to pour most of your energy into the listing sites. Might as well leverage all that heavy lifting that Airbnb has already done on marketing! 

It’s what Matt Landau famously called “giving it a go“: earning as much as you can from the top listing sites (like Airbnb) before you jump whole-hog into your own marketing strategy. (That advanced strategy includes things like your own website, email marketing, social media and so on. We’ll touch on that below.) 

When you take it slow and focus on just your online listing (view more on the best way to improve your listing here), you can learn a LOT about your target guest profile. Meanwhile, you can continually hone the guest experience and your offering. 

But that doesn’t mean you should act like a casual fisherman who drops a line in the water (throws up a listing) and then expects hungry fish (potential guests) to chomp down.

The top performing hosts don’t just wait around; they find ways to get their Airbnb listing in front of as many people as possible. And stand out from the crowd. 

Simple ways to do that include: 

  • Network with other local businesses. Like your favorite coffee shop, for example. You recommend them to guests for their morning espresso; they leave out a postcard with your property and Airbnb link (or give you a shoutout on social media).  
  • Word-of-mouth referrals. If you offer a great experience, your guests will be more likely to recommend your place to family and friends. 
  • Speaking of family and friends: Share your listing far and wide with your own network. Remember: booking an Airbnb can feel like a risky proposition for newbies—and there are still a surprising number of vacation rental newbies these days! They’re more likely to trust you, as a friend (or friend of a friend) to take the leap and try Airbnb.
  • Local media. Have a contact at a local magazine, newspaper, or other media outlet? See if they’d be willing to give you a shoutout. This works particularly well if your rental has a “hook,” like a unique architectural feature or interesting history. 

Digital Marketing: SEO, Social Media & Email Campaigns

Now we’re getting to the big guns. 

One of the most common next steps for more experienced Airbnb hosts is to create your own website that is capable of taking bookings off-platform. 

This allows you to “leave the nest,” so to speak, and begin to take greater control of your vacation rental business. However, it also opens up a whole new world of content marketing, influencer campaigns, SEO, paid search, retargeting, etc. that would overwhelm even experienced marketers. 

We recommend focusing on high-leverage but low-cost marketing solutions at first, to further drive awareness for your Airbnb listing. 

These include: 

  • Start using email campaigns. Collecting and marketing to a qualified email list is a great next step for your marketing strategy. You can do this with or without your own website. Unfortunately, Airbnb does not allow you to gather and make use of your guests’ email addresses (Vrbo, on the other hand, does). So you’ll have to get creative.
  • Collect emails in your property using StayFi. This software puts up a WiFi “gate” that asks guests to enter their email address before they can sign on to the WiFi. This allows you to keep in touch with not just the host, but every guest who signs on to the WiFi (which, as you might imagine, will be most of them). 
  • Old-fashioned signups. Entice guests into signing up with a physical sheet at the property, a signup option on your booking form, or a social media post. These should share the benefits of your mailing list (discounts, special perks, travel tips, etc.), so guests know you won’t be spamming their inboxes. 
  • Leverage the search engines. Even if you don’t have you own website, you can use search engines to your advantage. First, give your property a memorable name (not shared by any other rental—anywhere). This not only allows guests to easily share with friends/family, who can then find you on Airbnb via a Google search, you can also run an ad to your Airbnb listing with exact-match searches of your property name. 
  • Social media.  Using social media marketing is another post topic in itself! At the very least, at this stage you should set up accounts for your property on Facebook and Instagram, and share your handle with guests. 

In Short: The Best Performing Airbnb Hosts Don’t Just Rely On Airbnb

Airbnb might have you thinking that once you’ve achieved Superhost status on their platform, you never need to look anywhere else for bookings. We disagree with that premise. 

The Airbnb experience can be great for hosts and guests, but a lot can go wrong if you decide to build your entire business on the platform. Your listing could earn bad reviews. Airbnb may remove you from the platform—sometimes with no explanation (we’ve seen it happen!). Or, now that they’re public and beholden to stakeholders, they may raise fees to such a level that it won’t be profitable enough for you. 

Regardless of the reason, it’s worth moving some of your eggs from the Airbnb basket! 

It is true that the Airbnb algorithm does favor hosts who earn lots of bookings through their platform. Which means that if you’re getting bookings from multiple sources like Vrbo, Booking.com, your own website, etc., you may not be as highly visible on Airbnb. 

But, once you’re well established and out of the “give it a go” phase, it’s important to develop a strategy that extends beyond the platform to ensure the sustainability of your business.

Building Your Airbnb Marketing Strategy

Do you need help building a strategy and plan to promote your properties? Get in touch with us to build a plan.