Vacation Rental Marketing Do’s and Dont’s

With so many SEO tools floating around the internet, it can be hard to understand what to believe. Raven, SEMRush, Moz and other similar tools have site audit features that crawl your website and spit out a list of items that are hindering your site’s performance.

With so many different issues highlighted by just one of the many site audit tools out there, getting your website optimized can seem like a daunting task. To help you better understand how to optimize your site and not waste time blindly following a third-party audit tool, we created a list of Do’s and Don’ts of Digital Marketing.

Digital Marketing Don’ts:

DON’T get caught up with the “perfect score”
Using a third-party site audit can be great start when looking for ways to improve your website. They can be provide valuable insight about issues and opportunities related to your site, but they should never be used as the be-all and end-all resource for site optimization. Good SEO always starts with good on-site content and a good user experience.

SEO and how to utilize the 80/20 rule in your digital marketingDON’T spend time on social media just promoting yourself (80/20 rule)
Social media is made to be just that- social. It’s not a platform to purely promote your rentals or specials, and should be used to create and monitor social interactions regarding your brand. The best way to balance this is by making 80% of your posts fun and engaging, while the other 20% can be promotional.

DON’T think you can manage your PPC campaign yourself without experience
There are so many ins-and-outs of PPC that it takes years of daily use to master. Without knowing which tools to use inside Google or Bing ads, you could be setting yourself up for a huge spend without a good return on investment. It’s best to leave stuff like this to the PPC experts.

DON’T buy links to your site or participate in linking farms
It’s not enough to just get as many links as you can to your website. Google also takes the quality of your referring domains into account when determining how you rank. Have too many questionable backlinks, and you might not even rank at all! Luckily, there are plenty of tools out there that will hunt down toxic backlinks for you so that you can disavow them in Google Search Console.

DON’T upload photos or images straight from their source (camera, stock site, etc.)
The files needs to be compressed, sized appropriately and be given an appropriate meta description and file name. This affects many different aspects of SEO, and could be something that you’re missing out on.

DON’T use Headings (<h1>, <h2>, etc.) for their appearance
HTML is for content and headings help search engines easily understand page structure. If you’re looking to change the appearance of something on a page, your best bet is to utilize CSS, a styling language. Using HTML headings to change the appearance of a page element will massively impact how Google and other search engines see your page.

Digital Marketing Do’s:

DO spend time on your own website & look at competitors’ sites
Take a look at the functionality of your website from a user’s perspective. How useful is the site? How easy is the booking process? Now take a look at some of your competitors’ sites, how does your site stack up?

The power of visual content in SEO and digital marketing
source: coolerinsights.com/2015/02/visual-content-marketing-asian-insights/

DO spend time creating quality content
Creating quality content is a great way to build your brand and get a potential customer’s attention. It’s important to keep in mind that this content should be relevant to your business, deliver value to the consumer (entertainment, good information, etc…) and be more than just blocks of text. This means videos, photos, maps, illustrations, and other visual & interactive elements should all be part of your content strategy.

DO use Google My Business
And update it often! Google My Business has been around for years, but Google has recently put some serious time and effort into boosting its functionality. Make sure you take the time to completely fill out your profile with accurate information, photos, and create posts from time to time. Finally, encourage your customers to leave honest reviews on your GMB profile and reply to them. This will help your local SEO and even get you included in the local map pack.

SEO long-tail keywords, search volume, and conversion rates.DO target long tail keywords – it’s easier than you think
Sure, everyone wants to rank #1 for “<location> rentals.” However, spending time on a few lower-volume long tail keywords such as “<location> oceanfront home rentals” can bring in a ton of good traffic. Furthermore, if you have good quality content for a few long tail keywords, it boosts your ability to rank for “<location> rentals” because you are becoming an authority for all the different types of rentals in the area.

DO make sure your site is optimized for mobile
Back in July of 2018 Google announced that mobile page speed is now a ranking factor in mobile searches. See how your site performs on mobile, and learn what you can do about it.

DO make sure your website is HTTPS
Would you want to give your information to a non secure (HTTP) page? Google knows it’s not a good idea, and, as of July 2018, warns users if they’re visiting a site that isn’t secure. Oh, and it’s a ranking factor. Enough said.

DO establish the N.A.P. of your organization & standardize It
Having a million citations doesn’t do your company much good if your business name (N), address (A), and phone number (P) aren’t the same across the board. There’s plenty of great services out there that will monitor this for you.

Google Local Search Update Now Includes Posts From Google My Business

Your Google My Business posts will now be featured in local search results- if you have any.

New Google My Business Posts feature on a mobile local business SERP

As more and more users are choosing to use their phones for basic browsing instead of a traditional computer, mobile SERPs (search engine result pages) are more important than ever. That’s why so many successful businesses hire a digital marketing company that understands Google’s ever-changing ranking algorithm.

Google My Business allows business owners to determine how, or if, their business is displayed in Google Maps, Knowledge Graphs and Organic Search. There’s also an option for business owners to create posts and share information about their business.

The four main types of posts are:

  1. What’s new posts A post regarding general information about your company that can include a photo/video link and a CTA button.
  2. Event posts – These posts require a title as well as a start/end date and time. These posts can also include a photo/video, CTA button, and other information.
  3. Offer posts – Allow business owners to share deals or promotions offered by their business. These posts automatically have a “view offer” CTA button added to them, but may also include a photo/video, terms and conditions, coupon codes, links and more.
  4. Product posts – Share details about a specific product offered by your business. These posts must include a title and photo/video, but can also include a CTA button and other information.

Pro tip: Posts can be up to 1,500 characters, but Google says that the ideal length is 150-300 characters. So keep it simple!

For more information about Google My Business Posts, check out the official Google guide.

It’s important to note that the Post tab only displays on mobile searches at the time of writing this post. Here is the desktop result for the same search as above:

Google My Business update and how Posts display on a desktop SERP

Will creating Posts help me rank better?

It’s tough to know for sure. According to a Search Engine Land case study from 2017, Google My Business Posts are “low-impact, low-effort tasks” that are best utilized when combined “with other tasks to help improve Local SEO for a small business.”

The same study showed that Google My Business Posts had a “mild” impact on rankings. Now that Google is putting more attention on Posts, they could play a larger role in the future.

So if the Posts feature has been around for a while, what’s the big deal?

This is the second major update to the Posts feature in just three weeks, meaning that Google is either planning or testing something. The first major update came on July 31st when Google announced a big change to their Post Insights dashboard.

For now though, it’s hard to say exactly where Google is going with this. If you already publish posts to your Google My Business profile, head over to the Insights tab and see if they are yielding any beneficial results. If you haven’t published any posts yet, it could be something that’s worth looking into- if Google is giving it this much attention, there could be something big on the horizon.

Are you looking for Search Engine Optimization and other digital marketing services to help your business outshine the competition? We would love to be in touch.

Conference Travel Ahead: Q&A with Director of Fun, April Burns

ICND will soon be jet-setting for conference travel and we’re excited to say the least. In September we’re attending Streamline Summit and Rezfest, with VRMA International on the horizon in October. In preparation for September travel, we sat down with resident travel expert, April Burns. Come see us on the road!

On Conference Travel:

Q: What’s your favorite part about gearing up for conference travel? 

AB: It is an exciting time of the year when conference season approaches.  The energy in the office goes up as we work on new campaigns, swag and new products to showcase.

Q: What do you most enjoy while at the conferences?

AB: During a conference it is great to explore a new town and get to see the local sites, but in the end it is the opportunity to see current clients and meet new friends.  There is a core group of vendors that travel to these events and become your second family while you are on the road.  They are there to help in times of need and for a good laugh. We also have our usual attendees that come to each event.  Some of them may be your client, but some become friends that you get to see and catch up with each year.

Q: Tell us a bit about ICND’s conference theme for Fall travel.

AB:  Each season we love to come up with new theme and play off them for our swag and booth.  We have many VRM’s looking forward to our t-shirts every year and this year will not disappoint.  I think that might be all I can really say…but have you ever seen Better Call Saul(s)??

Q: What are your tips for keeping the conference energy in forward motion after returning to the office/daily routine?

AB: It is important for your team feel the energy when you return to the office. They enjoy hearing about the trip, the people and a little swag for them definitely helps!  I have also found that if you take time to make a list on your return trip it will help you stay focused and energized

There is a core group of vendors that travel to these events and become your second family while you are on the road.

-April Burns, Account Executive

On Streamline Summit:

Q: Is this your first Streamline Summit?

AB: This will be ICND’s second Streamline Summit and I have been fortunate to attend both of them.   

Q: What is unique about Streamline Summit?

AB: Streamline really rolls out the red carpet for their clients and vendors.  Each year they have a unique theme and provide great events.

Q: Tips for Scottsdale, AZ?

AB: I have never been to Scottsdale, AZ, so I am very excited to explore this town. I have heard so many positive things about Scottsdale.

On Rezfest:

Q: Is this your first Rezfest?

AB: No, this will be my 3rd time attending RezFest.

Q: What is unique about Rezfest?

AB: RezFest gives us the chance to connect with our current Homeaway clients, while meeting new people.  It also gives us the chance learn about the next exciting steps with Homeaway. RezFest offers a great conference experience while allowing time to really mingle with the attendees and getting to enjoy the area.

Q: Tips for Marco Island.

AB: Marco Island is a gorgeous beach town, so take time and get out to explore.  We get to travel to some gorgeous locations so make sure you take time to get outside and see what they have to offer.

Travel Tips from April:

Q: You’re an experienced traveler, how many countries have you been to?

AB: I have been fortunate to go to over 30 countries.

Q: What was your most recent trip?

AB: My most recent international trip was to Australia for RezFest Australia.

Q: Tell us your tips for the novice traveler.

AB: Great question!  I have a few key items that I always do when traveling internationally

Tip #1 –   I try to travel with a carry-on, as I have had my luggage delayed in the past, but when I do have to check my bag, it is important to place a card with your name, phone and where you are traveling to (including airline details) inside your checked luggage – baggage tags can be ripped off and this will give them the chance to locate you and reconnect you with your bag.

 Tip #2 – Make a copy of everything – may passport and travel itinerary, and keep it in a separate location, in the event I lost my documents.

Tip #3 – Be a good ambassador for your country – prepare for long flights, research the location you are going to ahead of time and pack your patience! A smile and a good southern hospitality go a long way!

Be on the look out for April when she hits the road for our September conference schedule. April wears many hats here at ICND, but she’s widely known among our crew as the Director of Fun. However, after reading her travel tips we may have to add another title, Director of Travel! We’re excited to see you on the road!

ICND & Key Data Partnership: Visualizing Vacation Rental Data

InterCoastal Net Designs is excited to officially announce our partnership with Key Data Dashboard. Key Data Dashboard’s products are a natural fit for our vacation rental client base. Their software integrates seamlessly with your Property Management Software to provide real-time insights focusing on the health of your business.

What Can You Expect from Utilizing Key Data?

Key Data Dashboard’s software provides three integral ways to plug into your metrics – performance, benchmark & pacing.

  1. Performance: visualize vacation rental data, instantly! Regarding performance, Key Data provides an instant look at your revenue sources and can get targeted insights per property. Additionally, the software provides a unique geo-targeted heatmap. See exactly where your guests are coming from!
  2. Benchmark:  Keep a pulse on your competition. Key Data’s benchmarking allows you to easily compare how your metrics stack up within your particular market. For instance, did you book more nights than your market competition?
  3. Pacing: Examine future performance as of today vs. last year’s performance as of the same date. Pacing allows you to visualize your revenue and insights in readily available charts.

Demand Data with ICND:

ICND & Key Data’s partnership provides a unique opportunity to enhance the product with Demand Data. ICND will provide Key Data with insight search analytics on a per client basis. We will be able to provide Key Data with unique data such as dates and amenities a guest searches for on the site. Previously Key Data did not have access to this information, however, the partnership with ICND provides a full look at your site’s data and analytics. This allows Key Data Dashboard to provide our clients with a comprehensive view of your site’s performance and how best to market towards your clientele.

What does this partnership mean for ICND Clients?

Key Data Dashboard’s products eliminate hours of reporting and analyzing your data. Our partnership with Key Data presents a very unique offer for our current clientele, making the adoption of their product suite a no-brainer.

Starting August 1, 2018 – all ICND clients can receive Key Data Dashboard for FREE lasting through July 31st, 2019. There’s no reason not to try this software that is sure to be an integral part of your business moving forward.

Contact us today to get started for FREE with Key Data Dashboard. You can also connect with your account representative directly or call 910-575-6095 and reference this offer.

We’re excited to partner with industry leaders and provide this unique opportunity for our client base, and look forward to this successful partnership with Key Data Dashboard.

 

Google RankBrain: Google’s Third Most Important Ranking Signal

In the not so distant past, Google announced their new algorithm  “RankBrain”, making it more apparent that user-focused websites are now more important than ever when it comes to SEO for vacation rental websites.

The algorithm studies the satisfaction of users who land on your website, and promotes sites with higher favorable outcomes for an end user. The actual design and functionality of your website has always mattered, but this information proves that it also boosts your search engine rankings.

So, all in all, an easy-to-use website that is rewarding to the user carry’s ranking weight more than ever!

How Can Your Website Satisfy Users?

First thing’s first, organic click-through-rates are crucial. The first step to analyzing whether traffic is pleased with a website can be based on whether or not the website is clicked often for key search terms. Simply put – high volume of clicks = strong website. A low volume of organic clicks signifies that your website didn’t satisfy the search term entered.

The second portion of RankBrain is the more revelatory piece – the RankBrain algorithm places a high focus on overall user experience. A user leaves your site in less than 3 seconds? Google RankBrain signifies this as an unsatisfactory experience. The content on your website didn’t keep users engaged. Not a good sign. Bounce rate, dwell time and pogo-sticking are key factors that RankBrain analyzes. Bounce rate & dwell time are commonly used terms. However, pogo-sticking is used to describe the process where a user clicks the #1 ranked site and backs out, clicks the #2 ranked site and backs out, finally lands on site #3 and spends time browsing. RankBrain would detect that site #3 provided the visitor with information they liked or needed (and subsequently, may move it up in the rankings.)

On the flip side – if bounce rate, dwell time and pogo-sticking is low (or less prevalent) on your website, Google recognizes that the user had a pleasant experience and ranks your website higher. These measurements are known as user experience (UX) factors.

What Does This Mean for My Website?

Every portion of your website’s development matters. Ranking doesn’t begin and end with blogging, linking and keywords. Your website needs to include the following (to name a few!):

  • Aesthetically pleasing and functional design
  • Seamless programming for user-friendly experience
  • Innovative website tools and fresh features
  • Pertinent and engaging content

At ICND, we think this is pretty cool stuff! It means to us that every member of our team, whether they’re a digital marketing guru, graphic designer or project manager, plays a key role in our client’s marketing success.  It’s not just an “SEO team” thing anymore to rank! Everyone plays a role.

Want to learn more from the experts? Contact us directly!

Sanibel Island Success Story

Blind Pass Condominium: Case Study

 

Client: Blind Pass Condominiums

Location: Sanibel Island, Florida

Property Type: Condominiums & Townhouses

Amenities Offered:

  • Heated Pool
  • Sundeck
  • Poolside Tiki Huts
  • Tennis Courts
  • Complimentary Kayaks & Canoes
  • Private Beach Walkway

Primary Issues:

  • Outdated website, lacking usability
  • Inability to search & filter rentals easily
  • Website wasn’t mobile friendly
  • Website analytics were decreasing in overall users, new users and session duration, with continual decrease
  • High user bounce rate

ICND Solutions:

  • Website redesign with focus on user-friendly features
  • Implemented SEO & PPC campaign
  • Launch mobile-friendly site
  • Blog redesign & management

Customer Results:

Drastic increase in bookings (1125%)

Overall increase in traffic up 18.45%, when compared with bookings increase these statistics prove that the website redesign is a key factor in conversions

Total Revenue increased 1275.45%

Digital Marketing Results (April 2018 compared to April 2017)

Successful Partnership:

Here at ICND, successful partnerships are the reason we’re excited to work for our customers everyday. Many thanks to Blind Pass for allowing us this opportunity and partnering in this case study.

“Great news Team ICND – So glad to see the increased online bookings and some early successes from Adwords.  Thanks for all your hard work on this!”  -Blind Pass Condominium

If your Vacation Rental team isn’t experiencing similar conversions and results from your marketing campaign, please contact us today.

What’s Next for GDPR and Your Website?

On May 25th the European Union officially implemented GDPR (General Data Protection Regulation.) The web design industry has been abuzz with this news for quite some time. At ICND we’ve put in the research and developed tactics necessary to assist our customers with this transition.

There are many moving parts to GDPR, but the three main points are listed below:

Users must consent to the processing of their personal data and companies must explain how data is collected and the intention for utilizing data.

Users have the right for their personal data to be deleted/forgotten.

If a website experiences a data breach, it must be reported within 72 hours.

We know GDPR can be confusing, but for our customers primarily operating and marketing within the United States, this is what GDPR means for you:

Updating Your Website Privacy Policy: We have created a new privacy policy that can be adopted by our customers. This revised privacy policy was specifically developed in response to GDPR, providing website users with more in-depth information on how their personal data may be collected and used.

Readily Available Contact & Data Controller Information: The updated privacy policy needs to include clear and concise contact information for website users. This will assist users wishing to request information your company has about them, correct any of that information or delete the information altogether.

Opt-Choice for Email Marketing: Upon completing a contact form on your website, users should have the ability to opt-in if they wish to receive further emails from your company.

 

Google Analytics Settings: Since personal data is one of the largest components of GDPR, you can choose the amount of time Google Analytics retains data prior to deleting the information. This will not affect standard analytics on your site. Google Analytics presents customers with the following time-frame options for retaining data: 14 months, 26 months, 38 months or 50 months. ICND Digital Marketing customers have already had this completed on their behalf. If you’re using your own Google Analytics platform, you were likely already prompted to decide on this time frame.

 

Please note that these suggestions are precautionary measures. While GDPR does not currently pertain to our customers only doing business in the United States, we feel these measures will keep your website current with industry standards.

Contact our team today to learn more about GDPR and get started on updating your website!

 

Blogging Tips For Vacation Rentals

What To Know About Blogging

Blogging is an extremely helpful tactic in many ways when it comes to marketing. It can add to various aspects of your overall marketing including SEO, Social Media and even Sales. But what makes blogging so powerful and furthermore, how do you write a good blog post? Let’s face it, everyone has a blog. Some are successful and some are not but those that are successful can really add value to your marketing channels.

Writing Is Half The Battle

Many people begin blogging and just expect some sort of magic to happen. It’s like the saying, “If you build it, they will come.” Well, that isn’t necessarily true in the case of blogging. Writing is half the battle, the other half is promoting. You really have to spend some time thinking about where your audience consumes the most content and come up with a strategy to promote it through those channels.

Picture Of Computer And Icons

For example, a popular blog promotion channel is social media. Social Media is a great way to distribute your content to an audience that has some sort of interest in you or what you are talking about. You can also recycle content through your social channels to stretch your content a little further. It is not uncommon to promote the same blog post twice in a month, most likely it’s going to be seen by different people anyways.

You can also look at other avenues of promoting your blog such as forums, message boards, email, etc…Reddit and Quora are two popular avenues worth looking at. Anywhere you can post it that is related to your audience group is an avenue of promotion.

Links Are Your Friend

If you are looking to improve the SEO value of your blog, then “Interlinking” is huge. You can do this by linking to other blog posts you have done, linking to search pages, or even important pages on your website. By making these links you are passing what is called “Link weight” and importance to these pages and basically telling the search engines, “Hey, these pages are important and matter.” Remember not to go overboard, you don’t need a link in every sentence. Three to five links in a blog post is all you need to be effective.

The same value goes for external linking or linking to other websites. The idea behind a blog is to benefit the reader, so providing them with links to extra information that is relevant and helpful is a great thing to do. By doing this, you are providing great content to your reader and becoming an authority.

Optimizing For SEO

It is very important that you start writing for Humans and not for Google. Forget about keyword density and using your keyword three times. Some of the best performing blog posts are the ones that are personable and easy to read. Remember, you have people reading your blog and the more they like it, the more search engines will like it. If you are looking to make your blog “SEO Friendly,” here are some things you can do:

  • If you are using WordPress which is a great blogging platform, try installing the Yoast Plugin. You can then check all the configuration settings to make sure all the information that needs to be on there for search engines is.
  • During the writing process, Yoast will give you suggestions on keyword density and “SEO Value.” It’s important to take note of these and use them when you can, just don’t force it.
  • Think outside of the box with your content. Photos, charts, videos, and infographics are all forms of content. Visual aids add a great value to the reader, diversifies the type of content you are producing, and breaks up blocks of text.

Hope Page Of Answer The Public

Looking For Writing Ideas

Sometimes it’s tough to start writing and finding a topic worth writing about. Luckily, there’s a tool for that and it’s fairly new! AnswerThePublic.com gives you blog post ideas based on popular searches people do in your area. For example, if you are in the Outer Banks you can type in “Outer Banks” and it will give you a list of keyword variations that can spark some great writing ideas. Who knows, you might even strike on some content gold!

Don’t Wait Any Longer

If you aren’t blogging then you’re missing out. When done right, it’s not only great content for your audience but can bring a lot of value to your overall marketing plan. Consumers are always looking for information on their purchases and a vacation is no exception to the rule. They want to know as much as they can about the area, food, culture, things to do, etc… So providing that content for them can give you happier consumers and help create bookings in the process. And if you get lost, we have been blogging and helping others blog for years. Now go start blogging!

Afternoon Delight With April & David | AKA The Nameless Podcast

 

We are so excited to launch our very own podcast where we will be talking about everything from Marketing Strategy to Vacation Rental News and everything in between! Alright, we will have a little fun with it too and there might be the occasional joke or two. We pride ourselves on staying ahead of the curve in the Vacation Rental Industry not only when it comes to Website Design and Marketing but also how the industry functions, right down to the consumers. What better way to share than just plain talking about it.

Episode Numero Uno, Getting To Know April

On our first episode we have April Burns, one of ICND’s Account Executives and David Thompson, our Social Media Director talking about where the industry is going as a whole, what the biggest buzz topic is right now, and what April’s favorite drink is. We hope you enjoy our podcast and have a couple laughs while we bring light to some major vacation rental topics that effect us every day.

Things To Come…

This podcast is also going to show you who we are as a team and as people. We want everyone in our industry to know that we aren’t a bunch of web developers that don’t like sunlight… ok some of us are; but we are also people just like you and we face many of the same struggles that Vacation Rental Professionals face every day. And we want to come up with solutions that makes all of our jobs a little easier and a little more fun.

How Can You Get Involved?

  • Start following us on Twitter, Facebook or LinkedIn. We will be publishing episodes every month and would love your feedback and encouragement.
  • If you have suggestions for the show, don’t be afraid to send them in! With such a mix of people, we have a lot professional diversity which gives us a unique perspective. You never know, we might just solve a problem for you.
  • If you think it’s funny and informational, share it. We want to make our industry better and I think we can all agree from the latest #BookDirect campaign that we can make an impact if we do it together.

We hope you enjoy our podcast and our “crazy” team. We certainly enjoy what we do, and the industry we get to serve. Laugh a little and join us for a informational roller coaster.

Only Dead Fish Go with the Flow

Are You Swimming Into or Against the Current?

I left a marketing position for resorts in 2009 to join ICND where our focus was on vacation rentals. I quickly learned that the vacation rental industry was similar to the hotel industry, but growing quickly and up against some of the same hurdles as the hotel industry as well as many different challenges.  Similarly, the hotels had already gotten comfortable with putting their inventory on the OTA’s only to learn that the OTAs then wanted rate parody, didn’t give the guests information, and were squeezing profit margins with their high commission fees.  The hotels had to learn how to get guests to come back and book direct through direct marketing channels such as email and direct mail.  They already understood the power of an email address and how important it was to get a guest to come back and #bookdirect.  

Differently, the vacation rental industry faces a large amount of legislation from having most of their inventory amongst full-time homeowners who are complaining about vacationing guests being too noisy and disruptive in their neighborhoods and complexes.  For hotels, they already were zoned for rentals.  However, with the introduction of Airbnb into many of their neighborhoods and causing more competition, they are busy fighting against vacation rentals in metropolitan areas such as New York City.

By 2009, hotels had already gone through the era of major brand franchising and acquisition of mom and pop run hotels. Even the “mom and pop” brands had grown so big, managing multiple resort properties they had already performed much like a corporation.  Meanwhile most of the vacation rental industry had historically been owned and operated by “mom and pops” successfully.  ResortQuest was acquired in October 2010 and entered one of the major travel brands world-wide.

Air Bed & Breakfast

In August 2008, a company called Air Bed and Breakfast entered the marketplace, bringing new ideas and business model.  The idea of shared accommodations entered into the playing field.  While the vacation rental industry was known for renting the whole house, cabin, or condo, the idea of being about to rent a room or apartment short-term was now a possibility and added, not only awareness to vacation rentals, but also additional legislative battles we are facing today as an industry.  By the time Expedia announced they would purchase HomeAway in late 2015, HomeAway was already living in the shadow of Airbnb as one of the most highly valued privately held companies.

Today, Airbnb, Expedia, and Priceline (through Booking.com) continue to drive continued awareness (and traffic) to the vacation rental industry.  Still, most vacation rental companies continue to be owned and operated by sole proprietors in locations that are historically well-known for vacation rentals such as the Outer Banks, Gatlinburg, and Breckenridge.  As inventory in these areas doesn’t grow as much as the demand for vacation rentals allows vacation rental companies to increase rates, book more shoulder season stays, and increase their customer base.  

The original vacation rental companies that were founded 20, 30, and even 60 years ago were built on blood, sweat, and tears and often handed down leadership across generations. When we look back at the last two decades of the vacation rental industry, we realize we are in a time of big change with disruptions on many different levels of the business.

This disruption has led vacation rental company owners and managers to face many challenges like having to have a bigger presence in legislation and advocacy on a local, state, and federal level.  It’s made vacation rental companies have to compete not only on a local level, but against large brand sites across the search engines and other marketing mediums.  It’s caused changes in business models and using technology to streamline the company to perform as cost-effective and creative as possible.  It’s brought about mergers and acquisitions at a pace the industry has never seen before.  It’s caused increases in operational costs, marketing costs, and a decrease (many times) in commissions to manage properties.  Vacation rental managers feel like they are often squeezed by both ends.  But together, VRMs are doing amazing things against the rising tide.

The changes have also brought many positives, like a tremendous amount of awareness to the overall idea of vacationing in a house, cabin, condo, room that somebody else owns, as well as destinations that weren’t typical for vacation rentals.  It’s opened up the amount of inventory available to manage.  It’s help to show us that there is a huge amount of potential in delivering our message to millennials and they can, in fact, be very loyal to a brand.  Technology has allowed us to be more creative and cost effective with every facet of running a vacation rental company: management, operations, housekeeping, and marketing/communications.

But, in time with such attention to our industry, we are asking ourselves, how will we continue to compete?  How will you continue to strive?  With marketing, there seems to be two roads… distribution, or more direct bookings.  And even if you rely heavily on distribution, in the back of your mind, you know… you need more direct bookings.  It’s like the holy grail of vacation rentals, but also smart to maximize your exposure with bookings through distribution channels.

Here are the steps…

Step 1 is having a website that is easy to use, allows for you to market your properties, integrates with your software, and allows for you to communicate directly to guests.  A good website is built to be mobile friendly.  More than 50% of traffic, on average, comes from a mobile device and conversion rates are going up every year.  That means, a majority guests are still booking from a desktop, but more and more from mobile.

There are different tools out there like HotJar and Google Analytics that will tell you if your site converts well.  You should always be looking to improve your conversion rate.  Additional items that help you increase your conversion rate are quick user experience, offering search criteria that make it easy to find the right property, and offering all of the possibilities of linens, pet fees, add-ons, and travel insurance without having to call. In case you missed our last email, we gave you a checklist of items that help you convert more visitors into online bookings – Top 10 Marketing Power Moves.

Step 2 would be to make sure people can find your website in the search both organically (SEO) and through paying to cut through the clutter and be at the top through Pay-Per-Click (PPC).  It’s time to invest in your website and digital marketing.  What is your value proposition for search audiences that is going to make them book with you?  Do you have the largest inventory of vacation rentals in the area?  Do you offer a different guest experience?  Do you offer something for free?  You can always brag about the no traveler fees when you book on your site to help educate guests to come back and book with you direct.

Step 3 is to use social and email marketing to drive traffic to your website and to remarket to the visitors who have been on your website and haven’t converted.  Email addresses are essential to be collected from guests that have stayed with you before, no matter how they found you.  Emails should include: an offer, a reason to come (upcoming events or things to do), and call to action.

In conclusion!

Distribution is not out, but when you can market your properties on your own, these disruptions make a ripple rather than a wave.  Distribution can still be used for tougher to rent properties, or shoulder seasons.  Programs, like ICND’s Distribution partnership with MyBookingPal allows you to block out certain periods (like your peak periods) and only select those homes that need the boost to go out into the land of distribution.  That helps maximize your income from your top performing dates and properties.

To be honest, I’m excited about what I see in the industry trends: the amazing amount of growth, the influx of technology, and the amount of investment.  But we can’t just sit around waiting around to see what happens next, but make sure we are on top of our game. Don’t be a dead fish. We don’t have to go with the flow.  Even if the current feels strong, ICND is here to help.  Connect with us about your pain points and let us help you overcome your hurdles.  Our experience with building websites and marketing for a diverse portfolio of vacation rental companies across the world allows us to provide the expertise to help you succeed.