More than 7 in 10 travelers do their travel planning online according to Google, and if someone is looking for a vacation rental in your neighborhood, you want your property to show up at the top of the list.

Getting to page one of search results takes ongoing, dedicated work — and in travel hotspots, competition for those top places is fierce. Some of this work, called search engine optimization (SEO), is out of your hands. For example, attracting links from reputable websites indicates to search engines that your website is trustworthy, too; getting those links takes time and effort, with no guarantee that they will ever come.

Improving your search results doesn’t exclusively rely on other people, however. There are things you can do to make your website more search engine friendly — called on-page optimization — that are straightforward and completely within your control.

Starting with keywords

Last fall, we shared a primer on keyword research for your vacation rental that introduced you to

  • Broad keywords: Top-level keywords like “vacation rental” or “vacation rental home”. Because they’re so broad, there are literally millions of websites to compete with in these search results.
  • Long-tail keywords: More specific to your particular property, like “Smoky Mountain cabin rental” or “Utah ski country vacation rental”. Because they’re more specific, the pool of websites you’re competing with is smaller.

Once you have a short list of targeted keywords (we recommend choosing 10 medium-competition keywords to start with) you can start optimizing your website for them.

On-Page Optimization

On-page optimization is anything you can do within your own website to improve your search engine rank.

Create good content

SEO changes all the time, but good content lasts forever! If you provide information that’s valuable to real humans, it will remain valuable regardless of any algorithm a search engine might tweak. That’s why we talk a lot about things like creating a local guide, and keeping your website up-to-date about the things that make your property and community great. Good content is an investment, but it does pay off.

Learn about the geeky details

Once you have good content, there are things you can do from a slightly more technical point of view that will more easily attract the computers that do all the legwork for search engines like Google, Bing and Yahoo.

Online marketing company Moz (which used to be called SEOmoz) offers this list of things to pay attention to:

  • The title tag, or the actual title you give your content. For example, calling a post “Making your vacation rental website search engine friendly” versus “Will anybody ever find you?”
  • The URL. Some systems will create a URL using your title, so if you use your keywords well in your title, your URL will be a good fit, too. Most systems will also let you edit the URL on your own.
  • Your content. While you don’t want your content to seem awkward with too much repetition, including your keywords occasionally within the content is important. Also, think of different synonyms you can use so you’re not always using the same words; using the same keyword too many times on one page, what’s called keyword density, is seen by search engines as “spammy”.
  • Add alt text for any images. Alt text is a written description of any images you use. If your image doesn’t load, for example, the alt text will show up in its place. Plus, people who are seeing impaired use screen reading software that will read the alt text as part of its scan. Alt text is particularly important if you’ve used an image that contains important information.
  • Use “breadcrumbs” in your website design (see image below for an example from MyVR). As people go through your website, breadcrumbs show where they are and link back to previous sections. This makes it easier for people to keep track of where they are on your site, and it also makes it easier for search engine crawlers to navigate.

breadcrumbs SEO example

What to avoid

While they might look cool, keep in mind that things like JavaScript, Macromedia Flash and dynamic HTML aren’t visible to search engines. Avoiding them will also be a bit easier on your marketing budget!