6 Excellent Questions from the Vacation Rental Success Summit

Did you miss the first-ever Vacation Rental Success Summit? Be sure to pre-order your video recordings of the workshops and keynotes here. Guest Hook’s workshop taught owners and managers how to develop a “brand voice” and use it across all their copy and content to reach their ideal guests. Check it out!

Now, onto a few of our favorite copy-related questions from the VRSS:

 1. What’s the deal with keywords?

The role of keywords has shifted entirely since the days of “keyword stuffing” – that is, jamming the same search terms into your webpage, over and over, in hopes of boosting your Google ranking for those same words. It used to work like a charm…but not anymore. (Thank goodness.)

Here’s the familiar stilted language of “keyword stuffing” in action:

“Are you looking for vacation rentals on Anna Maria Island? If so, you have many Anna Maria Island vacation rentals to choose from, but our Anna Maria Island vacation rentals are the best option for you.”

If you pay someone to write your copy, and this is what you get back, demand a refund!

Here’s why.

Problem #1: This copy won’t convince anyone to buy what you’re selling.

Marketing copy is meant to trigger an action; to push your ideal guest from “Hmm, this looks like a nice place” to “Holy cow! Let’s book this baby now before the reservation calendar fills up!”

Guests want to know specifics about what sets you apart from other rentals. Why they should book with you. The type of travelers who love your place.

Who cares how many people Google drops on your doorstep; what matters is how many step over the threshold and contact you for a booking! Strong copy can nudge them along.

That’s not to say that you can’t weave keywords into your copy in a natural way. You should. But think of them as house numbers instead of road signs: The goal is not to navigate people to your house, but to let them know they’ve found the right place when they arrive.

If a guest is searching for beach houses on Anna Maria Island, they’ll want to know within the first few seconds if you are, in fact, offering a beach house for rent on Anna Maria Island. So include those words in your first sentence of landing page copy – again, not for SEO purposes, but for the sake of letting potential guests know they’ve found what they’re looking for.

Problem #2: Focusing on keywords takes attention away from more important optimization strategies.

Don’t get too caught up in keywords for SEO, because it’s certainly not all there is to it. What matters more than keywords? Plenty!

  • Rich, helpful content that engages your potential guests. This is where a clearly defined brand and voice is important in identifying who you are and what you have to offer.
  • Your authority. That is, how many sites are linking back to you? Are you a go-to source of information on your area?
  • Clear title tags, meta-descriptions, and well organized content. (Read this post to learn more!)

Focus on these elements and you’ll find greater success than you can find from keyword stuffing alone.

Want to delve a little deeper into SEO success factors? Have a look at this “Periodic Table of SEO Success Factors” – a wonderfully simple overview.

Search Engine Land Periodic Table of SEO Success Factors

2. Who do I target if I have two distinct types of guests?

One conference attendee, Alex, shared an interesting issue with us: His property attracts both business travelers and professional couples in equal measure.

Meanwhile, marketers (like us) keep telling him “Target your guests! Consider their unique needs and speak directly to them!”

How does Alex reach two dissimilar groups who each make up a significant part of his business?

  • Parse out what the two groups have in common. Maybe they’re not as different as you think. For example, both business travelers and professional couples will value fast WiFi and the desk area with a printer and scanner. Both have high standards for their accommodations. And both are looking to unwind at the end of the day – whether they spend it in meetings at the conference center…or exploring the city hand-in-hand.
  • Think beyond the listing sites. Check out David Angotti’s recent VRMB post on Persona-Based Marketing and use his brilliant strategy to reach different types of guests in your inquiry response templates, newsletters, and other marketing materials. It sounds like a lot of work, but it really isn’t; much of the time, you only have to write these pieces once, and then use them to target guests for years to come.

If you have your own your website, for example, create one page titled “For Business” and    another titled “For Pleasure,” with tips, rental highlights, and suggestions relevant to each type of guest. Direct business travelers to sleek restaurants meant for making business deals, and point couples toward the most romantic dinner spot in town.

3. How do I write about my four-season property?

Some VRSS conference attendees are lucky enough to have properties that attract guests year-round. They wondered: How can we leverage that advantage in our copy and content?

Marketing vacation rentals across four seasons

  • Create four different listing descriptions – one for each season – and rotate. This is especially effective if you can target a particular time of year when guests book a seasonal vacation. For example, many vacationers book their summer family reunion trips when they’re all together over the winter holidays. So come November, mention the warm summer breezes and sparkling swimming pools that will welcome guests in July.
  • Structure and reference your listing descriptions so that all seasons are mentioned. This is useful if a seasonal rotation isn’t practicable. If your most important season is during the winter ski months, then focus the description on that, but mention early on that there is information for spring and summer visitors at the end. Readers can then skip past the ski specific information.
  • Once again, think beyond the listing sites (can you tell that “Beyond the Listing Sites” was a theme at the VRSS?). Create travel guides for each season, then send them to your potential guests after they inquire. Write seasonal blog posts like ”Our Favorite Autumn Hikes” or “Drool-Worthy Ice Cream Shops in Anna Maria” and share widely. 

4. How do I write an eye-catching headline?

Here are a few of our favorite tried-and-true tips:

  • Write them last. They’re the most important piece of the listing site puzzle, so save them for after you’ve written the body of your description. By that point, you’ll be comfortable with talking about your rental and will have identified the features that set it apart.
  • Scope the competition. Step into the shoes of a guest searching VRBO/HomeAway/Airbnb/etc. for a rental of your same size in your location. Scan the results. You’d be surprised how even a headline you thought was totally unique in fact looks like every other one in the search results!
  • Don’t let creativity trump good info about your selling points. Avoid being too “cute” in your headline – “We’re Beachy Keen, Come and Sea Us!” – especially if it dilutes the message or comes at the expense of words that will actually inform guests of your unique offering. Your selling points should feature first and foremost.
  • Be specific about your location. Include location specifics, taking into account what your target guest might prioritize.

Here’s an example I gave during the conference:

My friends and I are headed to Hershey Park, Pennsylvania this summer for a girlfriend getaway. As millennials on a budget, we turned first to Airbnb. My #1 criteria as I scrolled through the search results was, simply, the word “Hershey.”

Few rentals that popped up were actually in proximity to the park – most were 20 miles or more. I found a slew of headlines with the words “Quiet and Secluded.” Great for some travelers, but not for us. A place within a mile of the park was a huge selling point in our case. A mention of “Hershey” in the headline, I reasoned, would increase the likelihood that the park was nearby.

At our VRSS workshop, one attendee had a brilliant headline suggestion for fictional property owners boasting proximity to the park: “Smell the Hershey’s Chocolate – You’re That Close!”

What a great example of personality, creativity, and useful information.

What about Airbnb headlines, specifically, which force us to fit headlines into a scant 35 characters?

It’s true that, sadly, the above headline exceeds the character limit Airbnb has in place.

Our advice? Start with the longer headline, like the “Smell the Hershey’s” example above. Then try to shrink it down to its essential parts. Assuming the distance to the park is the most important unique selling point, play around with the language a bit:

Home to Hershey in 2 Minutes Flat!

Hershey Heaven in Your Backyard

Smell the Hershey’s from Home

5. What is the ideal length of a listing description?

Ah, yes. The age-old question.

HomeAway’s recently released Listing Quality Guidelines says 200-word listing descriptions are the most effective – and we trust their research.

That said, we’ve always aimed for 300 – 500 words, depending on property size and target audience. If people really like your property, and your listing is well-written, free of overselling and meaningless market lingo (“By far the most luxurious rental on the Atlantic Ocean”) and you paint a lovely picture of vacation life, they just might read every single word.

And while we hesitate to say that 200 words is a magic bullet, we do agree that focus, clarity, and brevity are all really important characteristics of your listing site descriptions.

Challenge yourself to write a listing description that’s less 200 words, and then see how your target audience reacts. Does it make a difference in your bookings? Are you able to now more clearly and accurately represent your property?

What about people who read on mobile?

A related, thought-provoking question: “More travelers are researching vacations on mobile. What appears as a digestible amount of content on a laptop looks like an off-putting, giant wall of text on a smartphone. What do we do?”

Lately, we’re getting used to reading content on our devices. Many of us read thousands of words on mobile every day. If we have good reason to do so. But your content better be great. Be sure to break up your paragraphs into short sentences and use sub-headers to increase readability.

6. How often should I send out my newsletter?

Smart owners and managers know that their guests and potential guests simply do not want to receive emails every day. Or even every week. So, they ask, how frequently should they be sending newsletters?

How often should I send my newsletter?


Let’s shift focus a bit. Or to quote Matt Landau’s VRSS keynote speech: “Ask a different question.”

Ask not “How often should I send my newsletter?” But “What content can I put out there that people will look forward to reading?”

If you foster relationships and have rich content that people find helpful, rewarding, and relevant, then you can send out as much as you want…for as long as people are clicking and engaging with what you have to say.

So, what should you include in your newsletter? Here are some ideas (out of many possibilities):

  • Special offers.
  • Links to blog posts – written by you and posted to your website – that speak to the type of guests you attract. (These posts don’t have to be specific to your destination; write wide-reaching content about letting kids plan the family vacation, tips for traveling with pets, or questions to ask vacation rental owners before booking.)
  • Guest stories.
  • Slice-of-life pieces. Interview locals or write about charming, little-known festivals unique to your town.
  • Case studies. People love to look at proof or learn something new. For example, do an informal case study on your guests and write a post about the changing profile of vacation rental travelers.

Conclusions and Takeaways

It’s clear that the VRSS attracted a seriously forward thinking group of owners. Our Q&A session was thought-provoking and even had us occasionally scratching our heads (in a good way)! Do you have a copy-related question you meant to ask at the VRSS but didn’t get the chance? Ask away in the comments below. Or if you didn’t attend, go ahead and give us your head-scratcher – we’d love to hear from you!

2016-12-17T09:38:32+00:00 By |Uncategorized|3 Comments
  • Great post!

    Wow! 200 word descriptions? I guess I better pare down my ad.

    This got me thinking about the Four Season dilemma. I’m going to write copy with an intro, summer, fall, winter and spring descriptions. It’s hard right now to determine how successful our edits will be because of all the new changes on the ad sites.

    Thanks so much for the recap,
    Teena from beautiful NH!

    • Thanks Teena! 200 words is certainly tough! We’d usually aim for around 400. The challenge we were laying down was to try and convey everything in 200 words as a way to focus. Then go back and layer in some extra details / anecdotes as a way to liven it up. Good luck and would love to see what you come up with!

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