The average traveler will visit between 3-5 vacation rental websites, and inquire about 7 different properties, according to data from FlipKey. To make the shortlist, you need to do one critical thing: Get their attention!
That doesn’t mean SCREAM AND SHOUT at travelers with all caps, use lots of exclamation marks!! or even post photos of cute little kitties to make them swoon. It means putting together a great listing that speaks directly to your target traveler.
The real competition starts with the search results. If you’re updating an existing listing, take a minute to search for yours and see what kind of “first” impression it makes. If you’re feeling too biased, show a friend and see what they think.
Just yesterday I was asked to look at a great vacation rental in Maui. Their listing title said “true beachfront property” which was compelling to me as a traveler. One time I stayed at a hotel that said “beachfront” only to find a busy, 2-lane street intersecting my room and the beach. But, with their title in place, the first shot that appeared in the search results was a photo of the bedroom. Not exactly the beachfront I was envisioning.
All of the items that typically appear in the search results are pulled from your listing (you can’t customize them separately), so be sure to keep these in mind when creating your listing.
- A small photo of the property (approx 1.5” wide x 1” tall)
- The headline
- Basic details (i.e. number of rooms, max occupancy, rates)
- The number of reviews received, maybe including star rating
- A very brief summary (i.e. the first sentence of your description)
How do you write a headline people will click on? As outlined in this answer, there are five things that make that little snippet of information more clickable:
- Choose words that convey a unique aspect of your home
- Clearly define the type of property it is: villa, cabin, apartment, etc.
- Highlight some of its special amenities, e.g., hot tub, deck, WiFi
- Describe what type of travelers it’s best suited for, i.e., family-friendly or pet-friendly
- Specify proximity to featured attractions like ski slopes, beach access, etc.
Avoid using abbreviations — people may not understand what you mean — but try to keep your headline short, or it may get cut off!
Description and overview
Good photos are important, but you need a thoughtful and effective description to match. You need a description that:
- Starts with a great introduction that highlights something unique about your rental
- Goes beyond the cold basics and be descriptive
- Is ideally 2,000 characters (300-400 words) or more
- Matches the photos you use to promote your property
- Is easy to skim, with short paragraphs and formatting (where possible)
Review our 5 Tips for an Inquiry-Worthy Vacation Rental Description for help getting started.
Think about the search page: On some sites, search results will extract a bit of information from your description as a teaser. For example, FlipKey will show first 95 characters (i.e. letters and spaces) from your description in search results.
Use this introduction to your description to draw people in with something special you couldn’t highlight elsewhere. Maybe it’s the floor-to-ceiling windows that put nature at your fingertips, or the way it feels to walk straight from the bedroom to dip your feet in the ocean. Perhaps it’s the vibrant market just steps from the front door.
The more photos you have, the better; listings with 20 or more photos tend to get more bookings. But they need to be good photos!
If you haven’t pulled together photos of your vacation rental yet:
- Review this list of must-have photos to include with your listing.
- Avoid stock photos (professional photos available for sale to the public). People want to see photos of your vacation rental, not the same thing they’ll find on other tourism sites. Plus, these images come at a cost; you’ll get more value from investing in photos of your own property.
- Hire a professional photographer.
(For a real-life look at the difference between do-it-yourself and professional photography, check out these before and after shots from the Vacation Rental Marketing Blog.)
Think about the search page: The photo that will show up in search results will be very small. To make the most of this itty-bitty space, choose a main photo that:
- is wide rather than tall. Images used with search results tend to favor wide (horizontal) photos.
- has good contrast, like a photo of your house against a clear blue sky or a well-lit interior photo. A photo that’s more subtle — a cottage tucked away among the trees, for example — may be too small to recognize.
- doesn’t have a lot of detail. Like contrast, a photo that has a lot going on — your incredible games room, for example, or the cobblestone street your apartment opens onto — will likely be too small to appreciate.
When listing the amenities available, it can be easy to dismiss some as being too basic to list. However, people often don’t know what to expect from a vacation rental and a detailed list can work in your favor; listings that note more amenities generate more bookings. I for one want to know if there is going to be a hairdryer or if I need to bring my own. Some items you may want to highlight include:
- A fully-equipped kitchen
- Sheets and towels provided
- Wireless Internet
- Soaker tub
- Big-screen TV
- En-suite bathroom
Do you have to list your rates? Some people simply say “contact owner for rates” — which allows more flexibility than locking into published amounts. However, there are a few good reasons to include them:
- **Higher Rankings: **Many of the listing sites include updated rates as part of their ranking factors, meaning that your listing will show up higher in the search results when you’ve published and regularly updated your rates.
- Missed Inquiries: Travelers generally need accommodations that fit their particular budget; if you want to be contacted, but other listings make rates readily available, it’s easier for the person looking to simply inquire with those he or she knows are within budget.
- Less Management Headache: Even if you post your rates, people will still contact you with questions about them. But, forcing people to contact you, just to get your rate information, isn’t just an extra step for your guests — it’s more work for you that’s likely not necessary.
Think about the search page: Another reason to include rates is that some sites, like HomeAway, allow people to search using different criteria including minimum and maximum rates. Make sure you’ve done your homework and know how your rates compare to other vacation rentals in your area.
If you have the option to show people where your property is on a map, include that information. By showing people directly where your vacation rental is located, they can decide more easily whether your location meets their needs. It’s also another ranking factor for some listings sites.
Keeping a reservation calendar up-to-date takes time, but it’s worth the effort.
- It can improve your search ranking on listing sites. FlipKey, for example, says calendar accuracy is one of the things its search tool considers.
- It can help cut back on the time you spend responding to inquiries.
- It makes it easy for travelers to see at a glance whether your availability matches their timeline.
This kind of transparency may cut down on direct inquiries. However, the number that matters is the inquiries that actually convert to bookings; insisting people contact you to inquire about basic information like your availability adds unnecessary frustration and time to the process.
With a new listing, you won’t have any reviews; instead, you need to prioritize accumulating reviews from this point onward. Sites that allow reviews highlight the number in search results, and a vacation rental with a high number of good reviews stands out in a crowd. Encourage people to share their experiences by leaving feedback either directly with you (which you may be able to use on your website, with permission) or through listing sites.
photo credit: Brianne
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