Photos that capture the best your vacation rental has to offer are critical when it comes to attracting attention — but they’re not the only thing that matters. In fact, they may not even be the most important thing.

Without the “1-2 punch” from great photos and an effective description, travelers who come across your listing may move on to someone who does a better job of showing and telling what their property has to offer.

What earns an inquiry is a rental that captures the imagination or meets the needs of a particular traveler. Your description’s goal is to relay the key features of your property as effectively as possible.

1. Have a great intro

You first sentence helps shape first impressions and hooks people into reading more.

Starting with the basics, like “This three-bedroom house is in a quiet neighborhood that’s walking-distance to downtown,” is a simple way to begin.

However, an opening like this misses a great opportunity for two reasons:

  1. Your headline should already capture key adjectives, like “waterfront” or “cottage”, so listing them again in your first sentence is repetitive.
  2. Most people will find your listing through the site’s search results, which means they’ll already know the number of bedrooms and max occupancy, location, and rates as well as the details included in your headline.

Instead, make your first sentence count by highlighting something unique to your property. Maybe your house has a storied past that reaches back more than 100 years, or perhaps guests say they never forget the simple pleasure of the gardens you’ve cultivated.

Set the stage with something that sets you apart from other rentals in your area — then you can dig into the details.

2. Be descriptive

Go beyond the cold details and describe the features your guests will appreciate — both within your vacation rental and the nearby community.

Try not to think about what you want to tell people, but what they want to know. Why would people want to stay with you? What has stood out to your previous guests?

Talk about the neighborhood, especially if it’s an area that draws guests, but make sure that’s not all you talk about. There are a lot of options when it comes to accommodation, and your goal is to tell people why they should rent from you instead of “the other guys”.

If your property is perfect for a particular group of people, tell them about it. Do you welcome pets? Do you have a playset set up in the backyard for kids? Highlighting these things waves a flag that lets these these travelers know that your vacation property is a good fit for what they need. It’s also important to include the keywords that travelers might be searching for within the description to help your property get found in searches.

3. Longer is better

You don’t want to write a novel, but listing site FlipKey has found that longer descriptions bring more bookings. Aiming for 1,000 characters is good, and 2,000 characters or more (300-400 words) is even better. Trying to keep it short and sweet — under 500 characters — can actually put you at a disadvantage.

4. Match your writing with your photos

Have you ever seen a property described as “luxurious” or “presidential”, only to find that you can’t tell whether the property is or not because the photos are poorly lit or blurry?

Not only is this another argument for professional photos, it’s also about syncing what you say with what you show: The photos you use should reflect what you’ve written in living color.

5. Make it easy to read

For all the effort you’ll spend writing a thoughtful description, the truth is that people don’t really read online — they skim. The best thing you can do is make skimming as easy as possible.

  • Use brief paragraphs with just one or two sentences, and one topic, in each.
  • If possible, use bullet points for lists. (Note: Some sites will not allow this.)
  • Use bold formatting or italics to highlight key words or phrases — but use them sparingly or they lose their impact. (Note: Some sites will not allow this)

Just how much do words matter?

Matt Landau of the Vacation Rental Marketing Blog ran his own experiment last year using Craigslist ads: One had a well-written description and the other — using the same photo — was what Landau describes as “average”.

The results? The well-written ad attracted twice as many views, and three times as many actual inquiries. Read more of Matt Landau’s blog here.

Has reworking your property description made a difference for you?