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.

Digital Marketing Myth 1 of 4: Your Google Analytics Data is CORRECT

Myth #1: Analytics is always correct!

As a digital marketing agency we hear a lot of wives tales when it comes to vacation rental marketing. Many of these myths exist in the Vacation Rental Industry when it comes to marketing and can really cause confusion when it comes to measuring results. We are all about the truth, and nothing but the truth, which is why we are going to bust a very common myth for you today: Your Google Analytics Data Is Accurate. Yes, that is a bold statement, but we didn’t say it’s not accurate, just that it isn’t always accurate.

Wait a second, you’re telling me that Google Analytics data isn’t correct? Well, let’s just say sometimes the numbers can be misleading and sometimes requires some digging the find the real data. One great example of this is how revenue is attributed to a user. But first let’s talk about how that process works.

How Google Analytics Works for a Potential Rental Guest

When a user visits your website Google Analytics sets a cookie for 2 years and this is called the first touch source path. Let’s say they visit your website a second and third time, but on different devices each time, those are different touch source paths with the same user. Finally, they book on the fourth session to your website and the revenue is then attributed to that last source.

Now, this is IF that person uses the same device, such as their home computer, through this entire process.  In the vacation rental industry, we KNOW that’s not the case. They will visit your site 3-7 times before booking!

The following graphic is a bit more accurate for the life cycle of a rental guest.

In this instance above, analytics will attribute the BOOKING to the Home Computer, as a direct visit.

So Where Are My Guests Really Coming From?

So what about the four previous sessions? Especially if the first session originated from a social channel or a PPC campaign, it would be really great to know that those things are actually pulling their weight! But instead you see that the booking came from a direct search because by the time they booked, they knew exactly who you were and what they wanted. Sometimes the data can be misleading if you don’t do some digging.

In this picture you can see the differences in Last Interaction compared to First Interaction for Organic Search and Paid Search. Those numbers are completely different and it is important to note that the First Interaction will not be attributed to the revenue generated by a user. Ok, so this is all good information… well, we think so. But how do you start tracking these users to show that what your doing is making a difference when it comes to what matters most, Revenue?

Start using different attribution models and multi-channel funnels to monitor PPC, email and social media. This will allow you to see where the correct attribution lies in regards to specific channels.

 

Customers Using Different Devices Mess Up Your Data Too

Another aspect of this data is the fact that people tend to search on one device and book on another. For example, most people tend to begin exploring on their phone because of the convenience and ease of use and then later on will book on a desktop computer. Maybe people still don’t feel secure purchasing their family vacation on the phone or maybe mom wanted to get everyone’s opinion before she put money down on the rental, we really don’t know but we do know that there is a split in the data.

Why is this important you may ask? Well, Google Analytics is not basic and therefore the data it provides should not be interpreted as basic. What we are trying to do is paint a picture of what our audience is doing and what is really working so we can do more of that.

Everything in the sales process matters but finding what sparked the interest of your buyer can mean the difference between you just doing marketing and you truly knowing what really works and what doesn’t.

Chances are, your PPC campaign you didn’t think “was working”, probably is. Start looking at your 

different attribution models. They can be found in Analytics here on the left:

 

#BookDirect Day Is Almost Here | February 7th

What is #BookDirect day? We know it, you know it, but most consumers don’t know that there are some major benefits when you book direct with a vacation rental company. Well, February 7th is our day to educate the public about all the advantages of booking direct with your company. We think it is so important that people understand that they can still reach out to vacation rental companies and still have a unique, personal and positive interaction.

#BookDirect day isn’t a day to bash Online Travel Agencies and that isn’t the goal for February 7th, but it is a day to show people that there are some amazing, unique brands out there that can offer some great prices and amenities when they book directly with the company. Let’s all use this day for a positive impact on our industry.

Lady doing research on laptop

 

You may be wondering, how can I make a difference? That is a great question and #BookDirect day is only impactful if we all do our part. Here are some things you can do to help spread the word and be heard:

  • Use the hashtag #BookDirect. We have the power to make this viral and if we are all talking about the same thing, it will be! Use the hashtag wherever you post, Facebook, Instagram, Twitter, Pinterest, etc… And remember, keep it positive.
  • Send out an eblast. Email is a great way to tell your audience about something specific and this is definitely a perfect time. You can highlight the fact that it is #BookDirect day and that there are advantages to booking directly with your company or any vacation rental company. Most importantly, tell people that you care about them as an individual and not as a number, no one wants to be treated like a number.
  • Blog about it. Use this opportunity to create some great content for your blog. It is a great way to tell everyone exactly what you think about #BookDirect day and it will also add to your site’s SEO.

The most important part about #BookDirect day to us is showing that the people booking are still people and not numbers and we need to show consumers that we still think that way. With the online changes in the vacation rental industry and such a huge push to fast, convenient booking, consumers get put into boxes and categorized like cattle. We think that every consumer is unique and should be treated that way.

As a Digital Marketing and Website Design company we do our very best to build products that treat consumers like people and not numbers. We also want your company to share it’s story and one of the ways to do that in today’s age is by great website design and digital marketing.

If you want to know more about #BookDirect day check out this article by VRMintel and find out how you can get involved. Let’s all do our part in making #BookDirect day a day of education and show our consumers that we care about them, their family, their friends and most importantly their vacation. Join the movement and spread the word on February 7th!

3 Mistakes You’re Making With Social Media

Social media has definitely earned it’s place in the ring with the big boys when it comes to vacation rental marketing. It has allowed us to engage with audiences on a very personal level and connect with people that were outside our grasp previously. However, there are some things that social media does not do and, in some cases, it tends to get a little too much credit in the grand scheme of the digital marketing plan. Today we are going to discuss 3 mistakes you’re probably making with social media.

Mistake #1: Wanting a definitive ROI

Where’s the ROI? So many people ask, “how can I track return on investment when it comes to social media?” Well the answer to that question is, stop making that your priority. Social media was never intended to make big conversions in the realm of digital marketing. Not to say it can’t, but don’t force it. Remember that people engage on social media to be social, not buy something. Constantly pushing products and promotions on someone will only make them disengage and eventually unfollow you.

Instead, use your social channels to promote your brand as a whole and let the consumer decide whether or not they want to purchase from you. This is a hard step for most marketers out there because we have to let the consumer decide, it would be easier if we could just make the decision for them! However, when you use your social channels as branding tools instead of sales tools, you begin to attract people that will relate to your brand and in turn, your products.

Mistake #2: All Eggs Go Into that Facebook Basket

Facebook isn’t everything. When I say social media most people think of Facebook. Just to be fair, Facebook does hold an extremely large audience when it comes to the Vacation Rental Industry and they have made it very simple to engage with that audience but don’t think that Facebook is the only thing out there. There are several other social channels that most people do not use that can be extremely valuable and require less upkeep than Facebook.

Pinterest is a great example. Also, you don’t have to worry about nasty comments with Pinterest because most people get on for ideas and, let’s face it, to waste a little time. The audience on Pinterest is about 85% women ranging from all ages which is perfect for VR. It also allows you to build a following and engage with others. Definitely worth checking out in our books!


Screenshot of Pinterest

Another great undiscovered gem is YouTube. Video has become one of the main sources of content in today’s world which is why you should be investing time and energy into YouTube. It is also a part of the Google family and can help with your organic SEO ranking. So basically you’re killing two birds with one stone.

Image of YouTube

These are just two examples of a very large list and once you start thinking about social media as branding, you will begin to see how you fit into virtually all social channels.

Mistake #3: Not Knowing Your Audience

Audience, audience, audience! Don’t forget who your audience is. I have seen so many social campaigns fail because the person behind the account forgot who their audience was. A tactic that can be useful is to create a persona. A persona is an outline of your perfect consumer and can be extremely helpful when you’re planning your next social campaign. Especially when you’re neck deep in graphics and statistics and you forget why you started the campaign in the first place, we have all been there, done that.

Everything you talk about and promote should in some way relate to that audience. Guaranteed, if you do this you will see a huge impact across your social channels.

Overall, don’t treat your followers like a number. Your fans want to be known as individuals and if you engage with them and show them that you care about their interests, it will have a tremendous impact on how they perceive you as a company. And if all this seems a little too much, ICND is here for you and we have years of experience managing social channels and would love to point you in the right direction.