What’s the best marketing strategy for your vacation rental business?
The question may be straightforward, but the answer is… well, not. Your strategy depends on the size of your business, your potential guests, and your goals for the future. Some vacation rentalists are perfectly happy to put their marketing energy toward creating the best listing possible for platforms like Airbnb and Vrbo. Others have their sights set on being more self-reliant with a search-engine-friendly website, social media, email marketing, advertising campaigns and automated messaging.
In this post we’ll give you a 10,000 foot view on vacation rental marketing, covering both the main pillars of a successful Airbnb/Vrbo listing and the basics of developing your own off-platform marketing strategy.
Creating a Successful Vacation Rental Listing
Step one: make your rental photo-worthy. Step two: hire a pro photographer to accurately capture its “wow factor. ” Not all real estate photographers are great at vacation rental photography! These two marketing steps are non-negotiable in the current vacation rental marketing landscape. Without high-quality photos, it will be difficult to find success on the listing sites, where options are plentiful in most markets.
- Be prepared to pay a little bit more for a skilled photographer, preferably one with real estate/architectural experience and an online portfolio that shows you what they can do.
- Before the photographer arrives, do a bit of staging: set the table, drape a comfy blanket over the sofa, arrange fresh flowers, etc.
- When crafting your listing, be sure to use the photo captions to further enhance the photos. After all, photos can’t show if the pool is heated or if the mattress is memory foam!
- Your feature photo is important—this is what will pull in potential guests. Take a look at the feature photos of comparable properties in your market.
Cream of the Crop Reviews
It won’t shock you to know that reviews are hugely influential to a guest’s booking decision. A 5-star average can be a difference-maker—that’s even more true if guests rave about their experience in the text of their review.
Frequent guests will be good at reading between the lines of wishy-washy reviews. “The house was pretty nice and met our needs” just isn’t going to cut it.
- Offer a 5-star experience, without telling guests that you offer a 5-star experience. In short, you want to find a sweet spot in your marketing that gives guests high expectations—but not too high. There’s magic in giving them room to be pleasantly surprised (and it’ll show in your reviews!).
- Offer ample opportunity for guests to reach out to you with questions, concerns, and complaints. Frustratingly, some guests are reluctant to complain… but then use their review to let you (and everyone else) know what went wrong. Proactively ask guests to let you know of any issues.
- Take a breath before responding to a negative review in the heat of the moment. Your response will say as much about the quality of the guest experience as the review itself!
- The listing sites will automatically ask guests to submit reviews. But if you have guests who rave to you privately about their experience, it doesn’t hurt to encourage them to say it publicly in a review.
Now we’re getting to Guest Hook’s core area of expertise. As pro copywriters, we know that the headline is the handshake—along with your feature photo—and helps to entice the click. The headline moves them to read the first line of your description, the first line moves them to the second line, etc.
- Focus on your unique selling points. Emphasis on “unique!” Again, scope out the competition. See what others are using as headlines for their property listings, and make sure yours stands out.
- We recommend against shorthand and abbreviations, i.e., “Dntwn Villa w/ 4BR/3BA, Pvt Pool.” It may give you room to pack more info into the headline, but it’s just… not that enticing. Plus, the listing sites already include bed/bath counts just below your headline. “Sunset Villa: A Downtown Paradise with Private Pool” works better.
- Include the name of your property in the headline, if you have one. This way, savvy guests can find you again via a Google search. Plus, if and when you develop your own website, even savvier guests can search the name and find your website to save on booking fees. (This happens more often than you might think!)
“But guests don’t read!” Or so we hear from many rentalists. Our response? Some don’t, sure. But some do. Especially if you make the description worth reading. After all, some guests are super-planners and really want to learn as much as possible about a property before booking.
We’ve lost count of how many people have told us over the years that they read every word of a description before booking their vacation. Those are the guests you should have in mind when you write your description.
- Pack your first sentence with all your unique selling points, so you capture those who don’t read (or skim) past the first line.
- Save the house rules for later in your listing. Nothing turns off potential guests like ALL CAPS shouting about the rules of your roost right off the bat. Remember, right now the goal is to sell the experience. Sure, you may weed out problem guests… but you will likely weed out good ones, too.
- Keep it to 400 words or less, if you can.
- Use shorter sentences and paragraphs to help with readability. And don’t be afraid of bullet points—they can help convey a lot of info quickly (it’s why we’re using them in this post!).
- Hire the pros. When in doubt, talk to Guest Hook! One of our professional travel copywriters can write your description for you, based on your unique selling points and target guests.
Pillars for Your Own Branding/Marketing
Now let’s talk about Phase 2… branching out from the listing sites and creating your own vacation rental marketing. This is the leap that turns a hobbyist into a professional.
Keep in mind that this is a 10,000 foot view. Marketing for vacation rentals is a complex topic, and it takes years to master. And by the time you do, the landscape has changed, thanks to the pace of change in our digital world… But here are some core ideas to get you started.
Develop Your Brand
The first thing you’ll want to do is make your vacation rental business memorable. The most surefire way to do this is to craft a brand.
The idea of a “brand” is actually a bit tricky to define. But in short: it’s how guests perceive your property (and/or your vacation rental business). They are going to brand you regardless, because that’s what humans do—we categorize things to make sense of the world. Quirky, luxury, laidback, chic, shabby, classic, snobby, etc.
The key is for YOU to take control of that perception, and cultivate the right one. Intentionally.
- Choose a name. If you don’t have one already, it’s time to name your property. Aim for something that bring an image to mind, and even more importantly, is unique. You want to be the only house with that name… if not nationally, at least in your area.
- Check domain hosting sites like GoDaddy to see if the URL (i.e. https://www.guesthook.com) of your property name is available.
- Create a logo (or hire someone to create it) that captures the perception you want guests to have of your property. As part of this, consider images, colors, fonts, and other visuals. If you’re not sure how to do this… it may be time to call the pros!
- Read your reviews and talk to guests (or friends and family). They may be able to give you helpful ideas about how your place is perceived.
Build Your Own Website
Creating your own website is an exciting (and at times overwhelming) step for vacation rentalists! Here is where you start to take greater agency over your vacation rental business and rely less on the listing sites.
- Purchase a URL that’s easy to type and remember. Ideally, this will match the name of your property, i.e. “marinercottage.com.” If you’ve already named your property and your domain isn’t available, you can try variations like “mariner-cottage.com” or “staymarinercottage.com.”
- Consider search engine optimization. You’re going to want to make sure guests can find you, so you’ll want to kick of your website-building with a keyword search that determines what people are looking for when they go to their favorite search engine (usually Google—sorry Bing!).
- It’s okay to start simple. A homepage, an “About Us” page, an “About the Property” page, and an “About the Area” page are all important — everything else is optional at the early stages.
- Make it image-heavy. Just like on the listing sites, the visuals are what will grab people. Repurpose those pro photos for your website! And use your favorite, showstopper photo as your “hero shot”—a.k.a., the focal point of your homepage.
- Need help building your website? Talk to us!
Get on Social Media
Love it or hate it, social media is where more and more purchasing decisions are made…and that definitely includes vacations. First things first: create your profiles, then you can dig into the world of PPC (pay-per-click) ads on sites like Instagram and Facebook (more on that in a second).
- Put your focus on the platforms where your guests hang out. Instagram is a younger crowd, though that’s changing. TikTok is even younger (you can safely skip this one for now!). LinkedIn is great if you attract a lot of business travelers. Pinterest is great if you attract lots of girls getaways and family trips. You get the idea!
- Use tools like HootSuite or MeetEdgar to automate your social media posts. Using software like this allows you to do a month’s worth of social media in one sitting. Set it and forget it!
- Posts are less effective than ads. But also keep in mind that these social media platforms are in it for the $, so they are going to prioritize those who pay up. Your posts will likely go unseen by many people unless you pay to boost them. More on that in a minute.
Email Marketing Strategy
Email is one of the most affordable marketing channels out there for vacation rentalists. It’s also a great middle-ground move away from marketing strictly on the listing sites, because you don’t need a website to do it.
It does, however, require more action from potential guests (first seeing, and then opening an email) compared to social media, which presents your ads mid-scroll. So keep that in mind when brainstorming your email marketing campaigns.
- Build a qualified list. By “qualified,” we mean, “people who will open and engage with your emails.” If your list is full of people who didn’t opt-in, you’re going to get a lot of unsubscribes (which is penalized by email marketing platforms like MailChimp) and unread messages…which don’t do you much good.
- Encourage guests to sign up for news, special events, and discounts.
- “Help don’t sell.” Your emails should not be all marketing, all the time (if you want guest to actually read them). Use them to inform, entertain, and offer perks.
- Send 1-2 emails per month, on average, to keep guests engaged but not overwhelmed. Campaigns where each email builds on the next (like a sequence for new sign-ups or people who just books their stays) can work well.
- Be targeted. Digital marketing is moving from “email bomb everyone” to targeted emails that reflect purchasing behaviors (like emails for past guests who visit your website or book a stay).
Organic Search Traffic
Organic traffic is traffic that comes to you without you having to pay a cent. If you manage to land on top of the heap when a guest searches certain terms, they may click through and begin to engage with your brand. Organic search traffic is usually among the highest converting!
- Create search-friendly content on your website. When researching keywords, look at not just keyword phrases like “vacation rentals in Rehoboth Beach” which is high competition, but also more targeted phrases like, “dog friendly vacation rentals in Rehoboth Beach” (if you welcome dogs, of course).
- Start a blog. Get even more targeted, organic search traffic with a dedicated blog that digs deeper into the content guests are interested in. To continue with the above example, you can create articles like, “Dog-friendly Restaurants in Rehoboth Beach” to further target your demographic.
- Make sure to move guests toward a booking. Make sure there are plenty of CTA (call to action) buttons that encourage guests to book.
Paid Search Traffic/PPC
In contrast to organic search, paid search is when you pay Google and other search engines to play you on the top of the heap of search results and/or share your ad on other websites.
This can often bring quite a big bang for your buck, depending on the keywords you choose and how they perform.
- Experiment! It may take a bit to find the right PPC keywords to bring traffic to you.
- A tip: you should target PPC results of $5 – $10 in bookings for every $1 that you spend with Google. No matter if you have a budget of $100, $1,000 or $100,000, producing an ROI is key to continuing to invest in new campaigns.
You can also pay to target guests who visit your website—and maybe even begin the booking process—and then drop off before solidifying their reservation. We’ve all experienced re-targeting in action; think about when you visited that site for a new pair of sunglasses, didn’t buy, but then started seeing those sunglasses everywhere… on social media, on different websites, in your email, etc. That’s retargeting.
Using this tool, you can stay top-of-mind for guests… and ideally, with a little time to marinate, they’ll go ahead and make that booking!