The vacation rental marketplace is more competitive than it’s ever been. And as the market becomes even more crowded, it’s becoming more and more important to effectively market your properties online. We’ve put together this Vacation Rental Marketing Guide to help you make your property stand out online and get more bookings.
Whether you plan to list on Airbnb, VRBO, or your own website, you’ll want attractive photos of your property that are equal parts accurate and compelling.
Tips for Taking Better Listing Photography
If you’re taking your listing photos yourself, there are a few things you can do to get the best results possible. Check out this video produced by Airbnb, featuring some tips from pro photographers on how to take great listing photos.
Tidy up before your photoshoot. Your property should look sparkly clean and organized in your photos. Declutter, wipe down surfaces, sweep, vacuum, make your beds with clean sheets, open the shower curtain, clean the bathroom mirror, fold your towels—anything you can do to make your property the best version of itself.
Do some staging and decorating. Are your walls completely bare? Consider buying some wall art or house plants. Is your interior all one color? Consider buying some colorful pillows, or putting out a bowl of fruit, or anything that can give some life to your property. Feel completely unqualified to decorate or stage a photograph? Find some properties you like on Pinterest, Instagram or Houzz, and try to get inspiration or mimic a style you like. Or you might consider hiring an interior designer. You can find them on sites like Thumbtack and Houzz.
Use natural light. Shoot during the day, and open any curtains or blinds. Natural sunlight is your friend and can dramatically improve the quality of your photos.
A stark example of the difference good photography with natural lighting can make.
Take plenty of photos. Properties with 5 or fewer photos get substantially fewer bookings. You should have at least 15 – 20 photos of your property. This includes having a good mix of interior and exterior (both of the property and the neighborhood/ surroundings). Again, you don’t want your guests to be surprised. If you have a stunning interior but the exterior looks like an abandoned house, you might consider what you can do to spruce up the outside. But at the very least, you must include a nice, but accurate photo of the exterior. We recommend 2 photos per living area, and 1 photo per room and bathroom, plus a few close-up detail shots to show the personality of your property. Also, make sure to highlight amenitiesties your guests will enjoy, like a pool or hot tub, game room, or anything else that makes your property unique.
Put your photos in an order that makes sense. It’s important that your photos flow in a logical way. In your listing, your website, and anywhere you use your photos, order them in a way that flows naturally. Group the photos of the same room together. Scrolling through your photos should feel like a tour of your property, not like an incoherent jumble of unrelated photos.
Pay attention to the angle you shoot from. A good rule of thumb is to take photos from approximately waist level and to keep the walls straight.
Use a quality camera. Cameras in newer smartphone models are actually pretty good these days. If you have access to a DSLR camera like a Canon or Nikon, that’s even better. Using a tripod can help you avoid dark and blurry photos.
Edit your photos. If you know your way around Adobe Photoshop or Lightroom, that is a great way to edit your photos. If not, you can try using a mobile app like VSCO or Adobe Lightroom to add filters to your photos. Lean towards filters that make your photos look more natural rather than heavily edited, and strive for consistency across all your photos.
Your photos ultimately reflects on you as a host. If your photos are bad, some guests may think you don’t know what you’re doing or that you don’t care that much about your property. We recommend hiring a professional, or taking DIY photography seriously to create the best possible photography for your property.
The Importance of Good Photography
Put simply, if your photos aren’t great, you will lose out on bookings. Start by taking a look at your photos and asking yourself if you think they’re good. Ask your friends for their honest opinions. Would they book your place just based on the photos?
Your photos should look professional. If you aren’t sure what makes a photo look professional, do a quick search for ‘Airbnb Plus’ listings (like the photo below), and see how your photos compare to the professional photos in those listings. If you already have an Airbnb Plus listing (or photos just as good), you can probably skip ahead.
This means your photos also need to be accurate. You want your guests to arrive with no questions, no surprises (other than nice ones), and without feeling like their expectations were too high. Otherwise you’re likely to get negative reviews and lose out on repeat guests.
Your photos are also an indicator to your guests that you care about your property and your guests experience. If your photos are dark, blurry, or messy, it doesn’t inspire confidence that you take pride in your property. Whether you plan to list on Airbnb, VRBO, or your own website, you’ll want attractive photos of your property that are equal parts accurate and compelling.
Hiring a Professional Photographer
If your budget allows, hiring a professional photographer is absolutely worth the investment.
You won’t find much if you do a Google search for ‘Vacation Rental Photographers,’ but you should be able to find plenty of ‘Real Estate Photographers’ in your area. The goal can often be different for these types of photos though. In real estate, potential buyers will absolutely be visiting the home in person before buying. In a vacation rental situation, potential guests will absolutely not be visiting in person before staying. So again, it’s important that your photos accurately represent your property.
You can hire a photographer on a marketplace site like Thumbtack (search for ‘Real Estate Photographers’). This might be stating the obvious, but do not hire a photographer without seeing (and liking) their portfolio first. You should only hire a photographer once you have seen that the work they produce is consistent with the style and type of photos you want for your own property.
Airbnb offers a professional photography service.
If you are listed on Airbnb, you can even use Airbnb’s professional photography service. They’ll send a professional photographer, and automatically deduct the cost of your photoshoot from future bookings.
Online Booking Platforms
Popular platforms like Airbnb and VRBO are currently one of the best ways to get exposure and bookings for your property. With great photography and a solid idea of your unique selling proposition, you’re well on your way to creating a listing that stands out on these sites.
Your Property Title and Description
Before writing your property title and description, take some time to identify what specifically makes your property unique and marketable—also known as your unique selling proposition. Here are a few ideas to help you identify your unique selling proposition.
Make a list of the features or benefits that are unique about your property. This might be your amenities, size or quality of your rental, your location. Are you close to downtown? The beach? Does your place have a large backyard? A pool or a hot tub? Is your property thoughtfully designed with a modern interior? Is it an artsy studio? Identify the most important and unique features of your property. What do you yourself love about it?
Identify characteristics about your typical guest. Do your guests tend to have similar reasons for booking with you? Create a guest ‘persona’ or a couple different personas, to capture what your typical guest is like. Maybe you have a large property that’s great for retreats and family reunions? Or maybe most of your guests are visiting on business? If you can identify your typical guest, you can highlight features of your property that are specifically important to them.
Keep in mind relevant events and seasons in your area. Are you close to a convention center, ski resort, national park, or any other place that has an influx of visitors at different times of the year? Maybe there’s a large conference at the convention center near your property in a few months? It is a good idea to be aware of these events and seasons, and update your headline and description in the weeks and months before to capitalize on guests looking for a convenient place to stay during their trip.
Once you’ve identified your unique selling proposition, use it to inform what to include in your property title and description, to make your property stand out as specifically relevant to your potential guests.
In your writing, you want to come across as helpful and approachable. Include lots of useful information about the area, like tips about where to go and what to do. You want your guests to feel like you are a good host who cares about their guests—someone who is determined to help them have an enjoyable stay. Your writing should get to the point, but avoid being stiff and dry, and consider incorporating humor or something personal where appropriate.
How to Improve Your Search Ranking
Good reviews. Focus on getting good reviews. Good reviews are essential to performing well in Airbnb search rankings. However, a small number of negative or missed reviews from guests won’t necessarily have a substantial negative impact. Things as simple as having good towels in your Airbnb can help you get better reviews.
Competitive pricing. Price is obviously one of the biggest factors that guests consider when choosing a place to stay. However you decide to price your property, keep in mind that the more competitively priced your property, the more likely it is to show up in Airbnb search rankings.
Superhost status. Every 3 months, Airbnb checks to see if you’ve met the following criteria: 4.8 or higher overall rating; 10+ stays in the last year; less than 1% cancellation rate (from you, not your guests); 90% response rate. If you have, you’re given Superhost status, which improves your search ranking.
Responsiveness. Your response rate and average response time both affect your search ranking. You should respond to guests and potential guests within 24 hours, and much sooner if possible.
Rejections and Instant Book. Airbnb also takes into account how often you reject bookings, and if you’ve turned on their Instant Book feature. It’s up to you what you decide to do, but keep in mind these factor into your search ranking.
Number of clicks in search results. Your search ranking is also influenced by the percentage of people who see your listing click on it. This means you want a good photograph and an attention- grabbing headline. Remember to highlight your unique selling proposition, and consider updating your headline around different local events or seasons.
Number of requests to book. This is the percentage of people who click on your listing end up requesting to book. Now they’re on your listing, and if you have good photography and a good description, and your price, location, and other features match what they’re looking for, then hopefully you just got a new booking.
Read more about improving your Airbnb search ranking in our post on Airbnb SEO.
Other (Niche) Online Booking Sites
Aside from the big listing sites like Airbnb and VRBO, you might also consider whether your property is appropriate for some niche listing sites. The benefit here is with fewer properties, you have a better chance of standing out and dominating your niche.
NicheEscapes.com – Multiple Niches
BringFido.com – Pet-friendly
MisterBandB.com – LGBT-friendly
RentLikeAChampion.com – Sporting Events
CorporateHousingbyOwner.com – Business Travel
Botique-Homes.com – Luxury Rentals
There are many more sites like this, so look around the internet for more niche vacation rental listing sites like these, and see if you find any that are a good fit for you and your property.
Your Own Website
A website is the backbone of an effective marketing strategy—it’s what ties your entire online presence together.
Take Direct Bookings
While listing on sites like Airbnb and VRBO is a great way to get exposure and bookings, being completely dependent on these sites for bookings has its drawbacks as well. You are at the mercy of their fee structure (like Airbnb’s 13% guest fee), and they determine your ranking in their search results.
Also, any traffic you send to your listing, through your own marketing efforts, will be shown a list of recommended alternatives to your property, which appear at the bottom of your Airbnb or VRBO listing.
With your own direct booking website, you can eliminate your dependency on online booking platforms. This means you can remove booking fees (and offer a discounted price for direct booking) or keep the fees for yourself.
With repeat guests, friends and family, and guests you find through your own marketing, you may be surprised how many direct bookings you can start to get. And this number will increase over time as you continue to market your property, provide a positive experience for your guests, and benefit from even more repeat guests and word-of-mouth marketing.
Before you start taking direct bookings, there are a few things to keep in mind.
Insurance. If you are renting your property outside of platforms like Airbnb and VRBO, then you will need to make sure you have your own insurance coverage. In fact, it is a good idea to have your own insurance either way. Check out our list of vacation rental insurance options.
Contracts. You should have a legal contract or Terms & Conditions that your guests must agree to when booking. In some areas this is legally required, but either way, it’s a good idea to protect yourself and your property. If you create a Floorspace website, you will have the option to require guests to check a box indicating that they agree to your Terms & Conditions.
Taxes. Online booking platforms usually collect the required taxes. Taking direct bookings mean you will be responsible for collecting and submitting taxes. You can find a list of taxes collected by Airbnb to get an idea of what taxes you should be collecting and reporting on your own.
With Floorspace, you can easily create a website that handles direct bookings, online payments, and syncs with your Airbnb, VRBO, or other online booking calendar. So you can start to take direct bookings while continuing to use other online booking platforms. A website is the backbone of an effective marketing strategy—it’s what ties your entire online presence together.
Your Website as a Marketing Tool
Even if you don’t plan to take direct bookings for now, there are other benefits to having your own website.
First, having a website helps to establish your credibility as a host—it indicates a certain level of commitment, and communicates to your guests that you take your property and their experience seriously.
And perhaps most importantly, having a website with relevant content means you can start to show up in search results on search engines like Google.
Getting Started with SEO
Having your own website means your vacation rental can start to show up in search engines. Search Engine Optimization (SEO), put simply, is how you go about making your website show up higher and get more clicks in search engine results.
To understand how to improve your ranking in search engines like Google, we need to understand their goals.
Google has one primary goal: to identify the web pages that are the most relevant to their users’ search queries. There are lots of ways they try to do this, but two fundamental pieces to their algorithm puzzle are keywords (do the words on your page match the words the user searched for) and backlinks (the number and quality of web pages that link back to your website and page).
Keeping in mind Google’s primary goal, two basic SEO terms to know are keywords and backlinks.
Keywords. In terms of SEO, keywords are the words and phrases that searchers enter into search engines to find what they are looking for.
Backlinks. Backlinks are incoming links to your website. When a webpage links to any other page, it’s called a backlink. A link to your website from another website represents a “vote of confidence,” so to speak, which signals to search engines that your website is worth showing.
By creating relevant, keyword-specific content, and getting other websites to link back to that content, you can start to get targeted traffic to your website through search engines and through clicks on websites that link back to yours.
If you’re interested in learning more about the basics of SEO, we recommend you check out this SEO basics guide from Moz.
How to Find the Right Keywords
As you write content for your website, take some time to think about what your guests are searching for—these are the keywords you want to focus on. If it’s something like “Lake Tahoe Rental Cabins” or “Beach Houses for Rent in San Diego” then each of those words should show up on your website multiple times.
Here are some basic keywords to make sure you include on your website.
Your location. Include the name of your city, state, province, and/or region (and neighboring cities and areas).
Any nearby attractions. Mention any National Parks, mountains, forests, lakes, or other popular destinations in your area.
Your property type. Your guests might search for a specific type of rental, such as a cabin, house, A-frame, beach house, apartment, loft, etc.
Vacation rental keywords. Make sure to include general keywords like vacation, vacation rental, rental home, trip, rent, etc.
How to Get More Backlinks
Backlinks, again, are just links to your website from other websites. Google assumes that the more websites that link to your website, the more credible and relevant your content is. So your goal is to increase the number and quality of websites that link back to your content.
Here are a few ideas on how to get more backlinks.
Link to your website on social media. This is an easy one. Create a Facebook page, Instagram account, Twitter account, whatever social accounts you use. Then add a link to your website in your profile and in your posts.
Use Quora. Quora is a platform where people can ask and answer questions. You might consider seeing if there are questions being asked about your area that you can answer. This not only establishes your credibility as a local expert, but you can add a valuable link back to your website.
Write guest blog posts. Another way to get links to your site is to offer to write guest blog posts. Is there a popular blog that covers topics or events related to your area? Offer to write a guest post for them, and include a link to your site in your bio and in the article, if it’s relevant.
Participate in forums and comment on blogs. Find forums, subreddits, or blog posts where you can make comments and post a link to your website or blog post. Make sure you read any forum participation rules to make sure submitting links is allowed.
Network with local businesses. Is there a wedding venue or other local businesses that need to offer places to stay? Contact them and see if they will put a link to your website on theirs. Links like these are invaluable, since they not only give you backlinks, which improves how search engines view your site, but they can also result in actual clicks and real, targeted traffic to your site.
If your website is full of keyword rich content, and you are getting links on other websites around the web back to your site, you have a better chance of showing up in Google search results. If your content is relevant and interesting, you have a better chance of keeping your website traffic on your website long enough to look around, trust you, and book with you.
Content to Include on Your Website
In writing your website content, aside from including relevant keywords, your focus should be on giving your guests all the information they need to feel confident planning their trip and booking with you.
You should include all the relevant details about your property—the number of guests, rooms, beds, and bathrooms, as well as amenities, house rules and policies, and anything else your guests should know before booking.
An FAQ page is a great way to cover anything else that comes up. Have answers to questions that your guests ask all the time? Organize them into a Q&A formatted page, and add it to your website’s navigation menu.
You might also consider creating a page that includes helpful information about the area—attractions, restaurants, your favorite spots. Anything the locals know that tourists don’t. Content like this positions you as a friendly, local expert and builds your credibility and trust. It also means your website visitors may come back to your site in the future to read your content, even if they don’t book with you right then.
How to Use Your Blog Effectively
We cannot overemphasize the benefits of a well-managed blog. A blog is an excellent tool for SEO, and it can also be a way for your guests to connect with you on a more personal level.
In writing your blog posts, try to focus on ‘long-tail’ keywords—these are longer, more specific keywords. You have a better chance of ranking for ‘Things to Do in Mission Beach Without Spending Money’ than for just ‘Things to Do in San Diego.’
There’s less search volume for long-tail keywords, but also fewer websites with relevant content. That means you have a better chance of competing against fewer relevant posts, and showing up in the results.
Here are a few example blog posts to consider:
Updates and photos of your property. Are you remodeling or working on the yard? Document the process on your blog. If you can take a video of the process and post the YouTube video to your blog, that’s even better.
Local events. Is your property near Sundance resort? It’s a good idea to post articles about the Sundance Film Festival in the weeks and months leading up to the event, and make sure to include a plug for your property.
Things to do in the area. Is there great hiking nearby? A national park? Try being more specific in your posts, with ‘long-tail’ keywords like “Top 10 Hikes Under 5 Miles in Scottsdale, Arizona” or “Our 5 Favorite Authentic Mexican Restaurants in Imperial Beach.”
Make a list of blog post ideas, and then commit to a schedule. If you decide to post weekly, maybe you take an afternoon and write out 4 blog posts and schedule them in advance, for a month’s worth of blog posts.
The best advice we can give for social media marketing is to find a platform you like working with and be consistent. You can use a program like Later or Buffer to schedule posts in advance, so you keep on a schedule.
Whichever platform (or platforms) you choose, you should highlight it on your Airbnb/VRBO listing, on your website, and anywhere else you might interact with guests.
An active social media presence can help you to come across as approachable and responsive. Which will give your guests confidence that you’ll be attentive to their needs if they book with you. If guests find your Instagram and see that you haven’t posted in over a year, they might get the impression that you aren’t very involved, or question your commitment. Consistency is key.
Here are a few tips on how to use the most popular social media platforms.
Instagram. Post photos of your property, the scenery or cityscape in your area, and interesting attractions in your area. Use relevant hashtags and tag your property’s location in your posts. Be active in Instagram stories. If you’re comfortable, get behind the camera and introduce yourself. Post your best stories on Instagram highlights. You can organize them into topics like FAQs, Local Restaurants, Hikes, Attractions, Property.
Facebook. Post links to your blog posts, including the featured photo. Post any of the same photos or content you would post to Instagram (your property, the area, etc.). Engage with local businesses, organizations, and events, and share their posts.
Twitter. Retweet local businesses, organizations, and events. Post updates about your property.
YouTube. Post videos of hikes, city walk throughs, whatever you can do to create interesting content. Create and post a walkthrough video of your property.
Again, we recommend picking 1 or 2 platforms that you enjoy using, find a strategy that works (or keep trying different ideas), and be consistent.
Email marketing is one of the most effective forms of online marketing. You can use it as a way to stay connected with previous guests and encourage them to book with you again, as well as a way to connect with new potential guests.
Rather than trying to manage an email list in your email contacts, we recommend using an email marketing platform like Mailchimp. They have a free plan for accounts with fewer than 2,000 subscribers.
How to Grow Your Email List
The easiest way to grow your email marketing list is to keep the emails of your previous guests. Send your previous guests an email thanking them for staying with you, and let them know you’ll be sending occasional email updates.
You can also start to collect emails from your website visitors and social media followers. On your website and social media, you can offer a free download in exchange for signing up for your email newsletter—something like ‘2019 Local Guide to the Best Restaurants in Tallahassee’ or ‘Our Favorite Beach Spots in St. Petersburg.’
This is known as a ‘lead magnet’ and it can be a very effective way to grow a list of emails that could become future guests. Plus it means you are capitalizing on otherwise lost website traffic.
Now that you have a growing email list, you want to decide how often you want to send out emails.
It’s a good idea to be consistent. You probably shouldn’t be writing an email every day or maybe even every week (unless you are writing some really good content), but if you go too long without sending an email, your subscribers may forget about you altogether.
Try to write something you yourself would want to read. Interesting, meaningful, and purposeful content will make your email subscribers happy to open and read your emails, and means they’ll stick around for your next email.
Think about what the purpose or theme of your newsletter is, and try to stick with it. Do you want to include information about the area? About updates to your home? If you are using your blog, you can send out email updates about posts.
Sending out a relevant, friendly email once a month or every few months will keep you in your guests’ (and future guests’) minds, making them more likely to book with you the next time they plan a trip to your area.
We’ve covered a lot of ground, and we hope you have a better understanding of how to market your vacation rental.
Let’s recap with a few key takeaways.
Take professional photos of your property. If you can afford a professional, it’s worth the investment. If you decide to DIY, the tips we provided will help you get better photos.
Identify your unique selling proposition. Figure out what makes your property unique, and focus on it in your description, title, and website content. Create a ‘persona’ of your typical guest, and figure out what specifically about your property will appeal to them.
Stand out on booking sites. Get more bookings on platforms like Airbnb, VRBO with great photography, a compelling title and description (that focuses on your unique selling proposition), and by focusing on improving your search ranking. Also consider finding some select niche booking sites to list on as well.
Fill your website with relevant, keyword-rich content. Focus on giving your guests all the information they need on your website, and also start to show up in Google searches.
Start blogging. Use your blog to write relevant posts (focusing on specific, long-tail keyword topics) that will help you show up in Google searches.
Improve your search ranking by getting more backlinks. Get links to your website around the web. Participate in forums, write guest blog posts, engage with local business websites, and add your link to your social media.
Be active and consistent on social media. Pick 1 or 2 social media platforms you enjoy using and post and engage with other accounts consistently.
Build an engaged email list. Use an email marketing software to grow your email list and send a consistent, interesting email newsletter.
If you’re running all of this yourself, this might seem a bit overwhelming. Figure out what works for your situation, schedule, and budget. Also consider what tasks you can outsource. You might consider hiring a professional photographer to take your photos, a copywriter to maintain your blog or write compelling website content, a virtual assistant to help manage your social media.
We hope you find this blog post helpful. If you have any questions or thoughts, email firstname.lastname@example.org or connect with us on Instagram. We’d be happy to clarify or elaborate on any of the suggestions in this ebook, or help you in anyway way we can!