Case Study: Email Collection Turns In $517,436 In Bookings

email-marketing-case-study-graphic

As email marketing professionals, we know the value of a great active list to send to. After all, if you’re not collecting new email addresses, then how are you growing your email database over time?

At ICND, we’ve spent lots of time working on the tactical part of email marketing messages: what’s the best time to send, what segment do we send the message to and what do we include to generate the most clicks? But, at the end of the day, email lists with more members get more clicks.

In short, bigger (lists) are always better (for your traffic and bookings).

With that in mind, we set out to help a client reach their email marketing goals — encourage more bookings, drive action and get more traffic to their website. At first, we added our typical email strategy: tracking capture points, optimizing copy and CTAs and creating urgency to sign up for this client’s newsletter.

It worked — we were gaining new email addresses but sadly also losing email addresses too. For every few emails we added to the list, one may unsubscribe during the next marketing message we sent.

Let me be honest — the list growth for this client was fairly stagnant.

Armed with this information, we set out to help grow their list with a plan designed to garner more attention, signups and results.

Enter The Email Popup Modal

If you’ve been on any e-commerce website or blog over the past few years, you’ve probably seen the trend of email popups dominating your screen. Large, in your face modals are all the rage. As we’ve learned, there is a good reason for that: They work.

In Spring of 2015, we added a popup modal for our client located in a popular beach destination along the South Carolina coast. The popup modal didn’t just come up on first page load but instead had a careful set of rules set before it would show to the potential guest.

  • The modal only shows after the guest has viewed three pages
  • A discount is shown if you sign up — $25 off your next booking
  • If closed, the modal does not return for 30 days
  • Just after the email, the promo code is sent to the guest to confirm it’s a real email address

Reviewing their 2015-2016 Google Analytics revenue reports lead us to pull the stats: the email modal was a smashing success.

The email modal added 4,656 new emails, generated $517,436 in bookings and lead to the biggest email database the client has ever had: 26,000 and growing. 

Why $25?

Working with other email marketing clients, this question keeps coming up: why the dollar discount? Ideally we’d offer a percentage discount so that we’re not giving alternate discounts to each rental. Some rentals are $1,800 per week while others are $3,200 or more: why the flat number?

It all came down to testing.

When we first added the popup, we tested the impact of signups on offering a 5% discount versus a $25 discount. In all cases, 5% is a much larger discount in terms of dollars compared to 5%. Yet, the dollar amount won every test we ran.

Simple = Works

Having to do the math on a 5% discount versus the simple idea behind $25 proved to be too complicated: guests preferred the easy version.

Common Question: Do I Have To Discount?

Nope. We’ve added popup modals for many other clients without discounts: but they don’t convert nearly at the same percentage.

Should You Add A Popup Modal?

Put simply, yes. We’ve seen stellar results from adding these popup modals to our clients websites, but discounts lead to the best results. If you want to get started, contact us today and we’ll get you setup with more emails. 

SEO For Your Property Pages Explained

As you’re probably aware, SEO is a critical marketing channel if you want your vacation rental website to grow and book more stays in 2016 and beyond. Typically, clients want to rank for highly competitive keywords like “Myrtle Beach rentals” or whichever area you’re working with. While this is possible, it’s a long path to success and requires a long investment period in terms of time and money to see it through.

However, there are other low volume, low competition keywords that you should want to rank well for within Google and Bing. Those keywords being: Your Property Name.

If you brand your properties with short, easy to remember names, you’ll want to make sure you capture anyone who’s looking for that rental in Google. For example, the Flamingo House in Holden Beach is rented by Brunswickland Realty. This house is unique in its design and color and generates a fair amount of people looking specifically to stay in it during the busy booking season.

When searching in Google for this, your guest may use the house name followed by the area like so: “Flamingo House Holden Beach”. Here, Brunswickland Realty is doing a great job! The URL for the property ranks at the top of the page with organic search, Google has generated a Knowledge Graph snippet for the query and is showing reviews and business information.

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How To Outrank The Big Listing Sites

The primary reason that you want your property pages to rank well in Google Search is to not bleed branded traffic into the big listing websites. If a guest is searching for your homes, don’t let them get distracted! If you’re not careful, you can find your searches for rental properties that you manage falling into the large web traffic bucket that is VRBO/HomeAway/Flipkey/Airbnb.

Why is this a big deal? Well, while the big listing sites can drive you a lot of traffic and bookings, they also aren’t always looking out for your best interests. Getting a potential guest onto VRBO.com for your area means that you’re now competing with dozens of other properties, managers and price points. Simply put, it is also easy for your guests to leave the property listing and get distracted and book elsewhere. With changes coming in 2016, your guest isn’t served well either (traveler fee, anyone?).

To best outrank big listing website, keep the following tips in mind when designing your website layout:

Best Practices For URLs

Ideally, you want short URLs that show the name of the property in the “slug” portion of the URL. Let’s look at a few examples. In some recent website launches, we’ve also tweaked some of our URLs to include the area, view or neighborhood in the URL as well. On larger websites (think: 250+ properties), this is a solid option to organize your property pages in a logical fashion.

We include the property name in each URL.
We include the property name in each URL.
Even with long URLs, Google will show the keyword searched.
Even with long URLs, Google will show the keyword searched.

Create SEO-Friendly Title Tags

Next up is the most important on-page SEO factor: title tags. Simply put, title tags are the most important element that we can work on from the SEO end to help improve rankings for these property pages.

Typically all of our title tags for property pages are generated based on the name of the rental business, the format the client wants to see in search results and the property name. It’s usually a formula of all three elements that allows for us to setup this title tag templates.

Resort Rentals of HHI uses SEO-optimized title tags.
Resort Rentals of HHI uses SEO-optimized title tags.

Letting Bots Crawl Your Property Pages

Before Google or Bing can do a good job of indexing and showing your property page URLs, they need to be able to crawl the pages. Put simply, crawling is the act of connecting together all of the many billions of documents (pages) on the web. Use Google’s robots.txt testing tool to make sure that Google can see your property pages in search. Double-check the cached version of your property pages using a site: command and make sure both the rendered version and text-only cache are readable.

Search the cached version of each URL. Source: Joe Lamb Jr.
Search the cached version of each URL. Source: Joe Lamb Jr.

Going The Extra Mile With Schema.org Markup

HomeAway has added Schema.org markup.
HomeAway has added Schema.org markup.

Coming soon to our latest vacation rental websites is Schema.org markup. Schema.org is the standard language of the rich-snippet future of search engines. Recently, large listing websites VRBO and HomeAway have integrated Schema.org review markup into their listings results pages, earning the star markup from Google for this change. To make a great solution, we’re working through some great updates to our booking engine website code that’ll allow this markup for new websites. Making your website look great in search is an ever-evolving process. If you have any questions, feel free to reach out on Twitter.

VRMA Annual 2015 Wrap Up

Team InterCoastal Net Designs is back from New Orleans for VRMA Annual 2015 and it was a blast!

For three days, we took the stage, vendor showcase (and some bars too) to have the most fun and education possible. I think it’s safe to say that everything we set out to do was accomplished.

Representing our team at VRMA was President Brandon Sauls, Sales Director Vanessa Humes, Sales Rep April Burns and yours truly (Conrad O’Connell, Director Of Digital Marketing). Arriving on Saturday, we were able to carve out some time to get our booth setup dialed in before the rush.

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Mobile Bookings Are On The Rise [20+ Sites Data]

Mobilebookingblog2

Let’s face it, there’s one word we’re all sick and tired of hearing:

Mobile, mobile, mobile.

It’s a topic we haven’t been able to get away from since responsive web design came back in vogue a few years ago.

Well, today I’m here to tell you that responsive design is great — but it’s a foregone conclusion nowadays that your website is mobile-friendly. As your guests become increasingly mobile-savvy, they’re booking more and more with their mobile phones – making the following studies incredibly pertinent to your business, now and into the future.

Let’s dig into the data.

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How Guests Actually Book Vacation Rentals Online

Get More Bookings

 

Online bookings.

They’re wonderful, aren’t they? You just sit back and relax, while guests enter their credit card information into a checkout page, giving you money.

If you’ve invested into a industry-leading vacation rental website design, you’ll start to increase your online booking percentage by a healthy margin. And, if you’re like us, you want to see how your marketing investment is going to pay off in the long-term.

But, if you haven’t invested in upgrading your vacation rental website lately, you may wonder what you’re missing out on. After all, it’s easy to rely on the crutch of a large listing site sending you leads instead of investing into your own website’s platform first.

At InterCoastal Net Designs, we’ve spent years refining the vacation rental booking steps, processes,flow, and layout. Across the past year, we’ve seen amazing leaps in conversion rates, online booking revenue and overall website performance. We’ve been relentlessly trying to measure and evaluate every single step of a vacation rental website booking – all with a single goal of providing more online bookings.

But, showing off these results isn’t always easy – because website conversions are messy. Simply put, guests rarely book the same way, during the same visit with the same steps. Every conversion ends a little bit differently – just like your rentals!

Do you want to better understand and learn how your guests actually book on your website? Read on.

Step 1: Measuring Accurately

 

goals-in-google-analytics

 

First up, before you can even think about digging into your website and evaluating its performance, you need to make sure you’re measuring your web analytics properly.

You should have the following elements already setup (at minimum):

  • Google Analytics on every page
  • E-commerce tracking firing on the checkout confirm page
  • Google Analytics goals active for every lead point
  • Tracking submissions of general contact forms
  • Measuring lead generation forms or property question forms
  • Counting the number of searches that happen on your website

 

This base set of measurements will help you check your website performance later on. It’s easy to get caught up in the stats and numbers. But, if you have all of these pieces being measured correctly, then you’ll be off on the right foot. If you’re looking for more resources, check out your Google Analytics reports under the “Goals” and “E-commerce” sections for a better idea of the interactions that are happening on your website.

Step 2: Nailing Down The Basics

 

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After you’ve tested and made sure you’re tracking everything correctly, the next step is to make sure your basics are covered.

For our vacation rental websites, this means that we’ve got all of our lead-capture forms working and they’re being tracked. Next, we’re making sure that the base (foundation) of the booking process is sound.

Questions to keep in mind as you work through the usability of the website and booking process:

  • Does the homepage have an easy to use quick search box?
  • Can I quickly filter my results?
  • Do I have to constantly click lots of forms, or it easy and simple to filter my results?
  • On the results page, is there an urgency component that makes me want to book this rental?
  • How does the photography look – can I see the quality of the rental easily?
  • When viewing a property detail page, does it show me critical information like reviews, availability,  location (quick map) and rates?
  • What are the property amenities and description like? Can I use this data to solve most questions before they clog up my inbox?
  •  What about reviews? They should be up to date, easy to find and have names attached.

Your guests are going to evaluate every single element of your website design – they’re looking for all of the information they could possibly need– plus a bit more too!

If any one of these foundation checkpoints (above checklist) isn’t addressed clearly, many guests will just leave and not bother to book with you. Your professionalism and competency as a vacation rental company often comes down to first impressions – and your website is that first impression for your brand.

Making sure that the basics are nailed in your vacation website is critical.  If it’s too hard for a guest to book online, then your chances of conversion fall even more.

Elegantly executing on the basics leads to a fantastic user experience. As you’ll learn in this next section, guests don’t book on their first visit. To keep them around and happy, you’ll have to exceed their expectations.

 

instant-filter-vacation-rental-booking-engine

Step 3: Digging In Deeper

 

diggin-in

 

The next step, after confirming you’re working with a solid foundation, is to dig into your analytics package and really measure guest flows and booking tendencies.

By far, the most common report I look at to show the fungible nature of the booking process with our clients is the conversion path report in Google Analytics.

Viewing this report is truly eye-opening and captures how guests actually interact with your website. Instead of clicking on your website in Google, doing a date search and booking, you’ll instead see the real path they took to convert. For many of our clients, we’ll see that 3-5 interactions with the website is very common. This can reach into 10 or even 20 or more interactions with a website before booking.

Guests browse, leave your website, check prices elsewhere, ask their Mom about the rental and who knows what else before confirming their booking.

Check out the report below.

 

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For this particular client, guests often book after visiting the website twice. But, a very common conversion path (one that I see constantly with our SEO clients) is the Organic Search > Direct path. This one is usually from ranking high on Google for major keywords, then the guest will browse around, leave the website and consider the rental, then come back later directly to the website and book.

In a normal Google Analytics revenue report, this conversion will show as direct. But, if you think about it, the guest would have never found the website if not for the traffic from Google search. In my mind, the Organic search traffic drove the lead much more than the last-click booking channel (in this case, direct).

As you drill down into this report, you’ll learn a lot about the consideration path that a guest takes before booking. Many guests will visit your website 5 or 6 times before booking. Some will open 7 different promotional emails and then book.

You can dig through this report for hours – and you’ll get a lot of out it. I highly recommend reviewing this report and looking for patterns – do your guests look at dozens of properties before booking? This could be a bad signal as they are not finding what they’re looking for. Is your time on page very low with a high bounce rate? Perhaps your pay per click targeting is off-topic.

This data doesn’t really tell you what to do — but it does provide a framework for allowing you to succeed by letting you dig into the stats that matter.

Step 4: Asking For Feedback

After you’ve analyzed the site the way you think about your website, it’s time to enlist the help of others.

Utilizing feedback tools like Hotjar, we’ve recently been adding surveys and net promoter score surveys (Question: “How likely are you to book with the rental company?”) to our clients websites. The data that we’ve gathered just from people writing in their feedback has been invaluable to learning more about what guests are looking for.

Here are a few responses from a recent poll on a marketing client’s website:

Do you have rentals in Peninsula Hotel?

These properties show the weekly rate. If Im only staying 2 nights, do I just divide the weekly rate by 7 to get the rate per night?

Are there any special rates for students or AAA members?

The safety deposit will be completely refunded if there are no damages, correct?

All of these responses are highly informative – and they tell us a story about what guests are looking for on the website. In these cases, we’ve already added different copy throughout several pages of the site to give the guest more information about the rental polices and procedures.

Screen Shot 2015-07-30 at 2.39.01 PM

Step 5: Testing & Measuring Results

Finally, the last step is to evaluate and measure the results of your website marketing efforts. Now you can see how users go through your properties, book rentals, visit the site and what questions they may have.

The next step is to take it to the next level – you can utilize A/B testing on homepage layouts, form copy and more to evaluate the results you’re getting from your website a boost revenue and performance.

And of course, the ultimate goal remains in focus – get more bookings. With the help of InterCoastal Net Designs, you’ll get more bookings, leads and top-notch tools that make your vacation rental business better.

How To Depersonalize Google Search Results

It’s the worst email we get.

“I’m ranking very high in Google for keyword here!”

I’m squeamish to check — and sadly, some of time, my worst fear is realized.

I carefully craft an email with a harrowing punchline:

“You’ve been personalized.”

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Beware The Poor Landing Page – Tips & Tricks On More Conversions With Paid Advertising

better-landing-pages

I can’t tell you how many times I’ve heard it.

A client is not interested in pay per click ads as a potential advertising channel. They’ll say:

But I’ve tried it before — the return was awful.

Of course, most of the time, the ad account did a poor job with:

  • Match types
  • Keyword grouping
  • Negative keywords
  • Poor quality score and ad placement

Along with a host of other problems.

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Local SEO Tips: Updates & Changes Afoot

Recently, Google has taken to updating the local search algorithm to include new changes to their search results. A recent speaking engagement with the Brunswick County Chamber left us scratching our heads! After only a few weeks, a presentation that I’d prepared about local SEO had to be regenerated with brand new screenshots, updated changes and more. It goes to show you that search engine updates are always around the corner and you never know which elements are going to change.

Recently, I gave the local SEO presentation again at the Myrtle Beach Chamber on local search engine optimization. In a competitive market like Myrtle Beach, local SEO is really important. Hotels and resorts like Sandy Beach Resort and other in the Myrtle Beach area rely on local search. I’m happy to report that I’ve updated the slides to include certain elements of the Pigeon update and how it may affect your local search.

Check out the full presentation below and let me know if you have any questions about the local search algorithm and how the updates may have changed your organic traffic.

 

Find A Proven Solution When Choosing Your Next Property Management Software

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Things To Consider When Choosing A PMS

Choosing a property management software is an important choice for any vacation rental company. The property management software is the “engine” for your booking process. Choosing the right engine is critical to the success of your rental company, and like car engines, they are expensive and difficult to swap and move around. If you are reading this and planning a switch, you’ll want to choose the right property management software. “Right” is a relative term; you’ll want to consider the number of properties, your website needs, features and cost as part of this choice. The best choice for you may not be perfect for another vacation rental company.

Up first, you’ll want to consider the cost of your booking engine.

Cost (pay per unit, pay per user)

When deciding to pick between the choices of booking engines, you’ll obviously have to look at the cost of your options. Many booking engines charge per user or also it’s very common to charge per unit that you’re renting out. Another pricing structure may take a percentage of every booking plus a setup fee. These will all vary depending on the options you’re looking at. It’s easy to do simple math for each option and find how much cost you’ll incur with each booking engine; so as you’re researching the various options, you’ll want to carefully note these costs and save them for review. What is cost effective for someone with 100 rental units may not be for you if you have 25. The fees can be a major choice when choosing a booking engine but don’t make your decision based on cost alone.
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Staggering Pay Per Click Results: A Vacation Rental Case Study

Pay Per Click Results

Here at ICND, we’re all about finding the path of least resistance for increasing profits. For some clients, that means that we’ll be working on content for their website, updating an old site with a fresh design or creating intelligent social media marketing campaigns.

It also means that we’re fans of well-spent paid advertising to produce a fantastic ROI. Today, I’m excited to share some pretty fantastic pay-per-click results we’re seeing with a client in the vacation rental industry.

Note: To protect our client’s privacy, we cannot share the location of the rentals.

This particular company has been running pay-per-click advertising for a few years, mostly with the intent of generating traffic to their website. With no revenue tracking in place, they weren’t sure what traffic was working the best. They came to us hoping for far better maximizing the spend on their AdWords dollars. The client had a basic understanding of how keyword bidding worked and an okay account structure, but was looking to maximize results.

Our first steps were analyzing the current AdWords setup with our comprehensive kickoff audit checklist. After this audit, we found a few glaring holes in the tracking and conversion departments. There was only goal-based tracking in place with no revenue tracking to truly nail down precise ROI on adspend. We fixed this immediately and began on improving the account structure, match types and ad copy through testing.

After adding conversion tracking we were able to find specific keywords that were generating fairly high click through rates and traffic, but no conversions. Sure, people were on the website and browsing around, but our ultimate goal is to get the best people who are likely to book with pay-per-click advertising. After dumping around 15-20 keywords that were sapping up a fair amount of adspend, we were better able to find keywords that convert into bookings. Finding these keywords has allowed us to spend time on keywords that convert and then breaking up those into separate ad groups for better quality scores. Given that in most of our accounts, we can only spend up to a certain fixed budget, dumping non-performing keywords can provide a huge lift to our ROI.

Our steps follow a similar pattern for most of our pay-per-click accounts in the vacation rental space.

  • Setup & run conversion tracking for Adwords to see campaign, ad group, ad copy and keyword level conversion data.
  • Create a really in depth negative keyword list for covering accidental impressions and wasted ad spend. We spend at least a few hours digging up negative keywords every month to add to our accounts to reduce waste.
  • Create a solid campaign & ad group structure that reflects the correct match types, topics, categories and landing pages for maximum quality score.
  • Constantly test elements like landing pages, ad copy and sitelinks to increase CTR.

After running through a few simple steps, we saw a fantastic ROI. During the month of March in 2014, we had the following stats:

  • Spend: $986.05
  • Impressions: 21,949
  • Clicks: 3,211
  • CTR: 14.63%
  • CPC: $0.31
  • Confirmed Bookings: 39
  • Online Revenue (total booking value): $31,349.91

    ROI: Over 30:1

During this month, for every dollar spent in PPC, over $31 was generated in total online booking revenue. Although we hope to implement call tracking soon, this doesn’t take into account bookings from calls as well. This particular client books about half their rentals online – so adding in phone tracking would likely yield another 30k or so in revenue. This does not take into account the portion that Vacation Rental Company gets due to differing agreements, but should shed light on the solid pay-per-click results we’re seeing in this particular market place.

Performing a solid pay-per-click campaign takes time and a solid knowledge of match types, quality score, great landing pages and a willingness to tweak, test and deploy quickly. But in many markets, the competition just does the bare minimum: they’ll create one-line ads straight to the homepage with zero sitelinks, location extensions and broad match their keywords. Taking time to do all the little things right in pay-per-click can yield huge results. While your competition is doing the minimum, you can surpass them.