I’ve seen it more than I like. It eats at me. Annoys me. It even makes me internally “eye roll”. But yet, the dark cloud surrounding SEO triggers fear in website owners, especially when tools like SEM Rush or Moz spit out audit reports that have thousands of errors. These tools are NOT how you do vacation rental SEO. They are merely helpful guides.
It’s amazing how the vacation rental industry has become so dependent on online travel agencies. There’s nothing wrong with OTA’s but let’s face it, it results in extra fees for the guest. With the online travel agencies owning a large portion of the online advertising space, it can be difficult to find your place when it comes to digital marketing for vacation rentals. Particularly when your goal is to generate direct bookings!
One of the most common questions from companies in the vacation rental space I get asked time and time again is in regard to blogs. How should they be written? What’s standard practice? How many should I write? How long should they be? Do they help with SEO?
You can call us “techy”, or maybe even “nerdy” or “geeky”, but any way you slice it, we have digital marketing inside jokes that really only make sense to us marketers. I mean, let’s face it, SEO is a dark art. There are so many facets and changes that it’s not only hard to keep up with, but the learning curve takes YEARS to really master. Rather than just writing about SEO, SEM, Email and algorithm changes, lets bring out the funny!
Your Google My Business posts will now be featured in local search results- if you have any.
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:
- What’s new posts A post regarding general information about your company that can include a photo/video link and a CTA button.
- 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.
- 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.
- 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.
=&1=& 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:
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.
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.
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.
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.
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.
Letting Bots Crawl Your Property Pages
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.
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.
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
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
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.
Step 3: Digging In Deeper
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.
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.
Step 5: Testing & Measuring Results