It was three weeks ago.

Well, maybe just two weeks—but it seems like an eternity.

No emails. No phone calls. Just a message from “Marie in NY” that was obviously a phishing attempt. Why haven’t the inquiries flooded in? How is it that a scammer found your property, but the legit folk seem to no longer be taking vacations?

Close-up of web analytics on a computer screen
Photo by Igor Ovsyannykov / Unsplash

After checking the number of views on the brand new listing, the realization hits: nobody is even clicking through to look at your property.

Take a deep breath. The travelers are there. They really, truly do want to find a vacation rental just like yours. But are you giving them a reason to click?

The first photo a traveler will see of your vacation rental is your listing thumbnail. That tiny thumbnail offers a little glimpse of your property—a mere sliver of a peek to convince a guest that your place is worth their time to look at. If they don’t like it, they will move on to the next one.

How do you make a traveler want to click?

1. Less is more
Less is best when it comes to your thumbnail. Inspire a traveler to want to learn more. Take a peek at this cabin in Colorado: Snow, trees, cabin, and a beautiful sky. Simple. Striking. The warm lights at dusk draw you into the photo—and into the listing itself.

Colorado vacation rental cabin. Photo used with permission.

By reducing the photo to as few elements as possible, a traveler will be able to better register the thumbnail in his brain.

Mokuleia vacation rental. Used with permission.

Another thumbnail with just a few elements: water, sand, trees, and sky. Additionally, using the compositional element of leading lines, the sand and waves begin in the foreground and lead you into the photo.

One weird trick to know if your thumbnail window is overloaded: make the photo blurry by squinting your eyes at it. If your photo is simple enough, the main elements will still stand out. If you have packed your thumbnail with too many elements, it will all blur together.

2. Match the photo to what the traveler wants
Are your guests looking to drink hot chocolate in a snow-covered lodge nestled in the woods after a day of skiing? This thumbnail immediately tells you that this is the perfect place to be.

Pocono vacation rental. Used with permission.

3. Invite guests to join in
By angling the perspective of this photo behind the beach chairs and looking towards the ocean, this beach thumbnail encourages a traveler to kick off her shoes and have a seat.

Manasota vacation rental. Used with permission.

4. Get up close and personal
If you have a unique feature—a detail that is very distinctive about your vacation rental—don’t be afraid to zoom in on it.

Black Bear Lodge, Branson. Used with permission.

This black bear is an exceptional characteristic, the mascot really, for the Black Bear Lodge in Branson, Missouri. And when the competition is fierce, it is the little details like this one that are many times the tipping point in a guest’s decision of choosing a property.

How these thumbnails could have more impact

1. Too much crammed into one small photo
This thumbnail is for a fabulous property in Hawaii: the beach is literally steps away from this bungalow—you can even see the ocean from the front porch.

Hawaii vacation rental. Used with permission.

But there is so much going on in such a tiny picture, travelers could easily miss the spacious lanai and beautifully landscaped yard as they scan past.

2. Leave bland for the competition, don’t feature it in your photo
Don’t mistakenly highlight a cinder block wall or other drab feature of your property.

Bisbee vacation rental. Used with permission.

This photo may have been chosen for the bright red umbrella at the top, but because the wall takes up a good portion of the photo, because the light is lackluster, and because there is an overwhelming amount of gray contributing to the lifelessness of the photo overall, it is easily passed over.

3. Highlighting uninteresting standard feature
Unless your condo living room is absolutely spectacular, don’t use it as the first peek into your vacation rental.

Hawaii vacation rental. Used with permission.

Hawaiian beach. Used with permission.
As a traveler myself, a fresh coat of ocean blue paint on the wall is not the first thing I am looking for. What I am looking for is the real ocean blue, and this property has it: a gorgeous beach framed by a silhouette of trees arched over the beach.

Unfortunately, the beach photo is hidden in the middle of the other listing photos.

4. Move the car
Have someone help you out with this one by standing guard if necessary. If the vehicle is a regular, politely ask the owner to give you five minutes of car-free zone.

Jersey Shore vacation rental. Used with permission.

If a car-free zone is still impossible, choose another lead photo. Consider the different reasons guests choose your vacation area.

Jersey Shore vacation rental. Used with permission.
In this case, for example, the Jersey Shore has a lot of eye candy to offer, like waves crashing on the beach and spectacular sunsets.

5. Leave your cell phone in your pocket
Out-of-focus and grainy photos are not your friend, and travelers are not fond of them (unless they have taken the photo themselves).

There is no reason to cram as much information as possible into the listing thumbnail, the window to your vacation rental property. Show a glimpse and create a desire to see more.

Screenshots from HomeAway, VRBO and VacationRentals.com. Photos used with permission from owners.