How To Generate Direct Bookings

How to Generate More Direct Bookings for your Vacation Rental website

By Vanessa Humes

Recently HomeAway has let their customers know that they will be changing the way that leads communicate with companies and owners that list their properties on HomeAway.

As one of the last Online Travel Agencies (OTAs) to email leads and allow direct communication with guests before booking, many Vacation Rental Managers are concerned that they are going to lose valuable lead information.

To many owners / vacation rental companies, they view these leads as part of their marketing plan by integrating follow-up and promotion in their marketing mix.

I think back to hotels in the early to mid-2000s. They often used the OTA’s (Online Travel Agencies) like Expedia, Travelocity, and Priceline to move inventory. However, they found that they were training their guests to go to these sites for the best deals. (Sound familiar?).

To add insult to injury, the amount of commissions that were getting paid to OTAs made it a struggle to keep their operations budgets in the positive. And I think, in a lot of ways, it drove down the rental rates as the OTA’s insisted on rate parity and getting the lowest bargains to promote on their websites.  Now, these OTAs have a big presence in the vacation rental industry.

To be completely honest with you, there is no perfect solution. But, it’s not all doom and gloom.  If you are a new company, you probably rely heavily on Online Travel Agencies (OTA’s) to help you fill your inventory.

But I tell you this, you have to have a strong digital marketing presence, look at the cost per acquisition (CPA) of both guests on your website and on OTA’s, and focus on the lifetime value of that guest — with extensive marketing post-booking to ensure repeat guests.

It’s really all about developing your own digital footprint with your guests.

9 Opportunities & Marketing Strategies to Generate Direct Bookings

  1. Property Brand Optimization

    It may seem really obvious, but make sure the Name of the rental and the Address of the rental are Optimized in the Search Results (or SERPsSearch Engine Result Pages) to send traffic to your website.

    Also, be sure to optimize any features that are unique to that rental. For example, we stayed in a home in the Outer Banks that had the pool table from the movie The Hustler.

    When I couldn’t remember the rental company, I was able to Google the "Vacation Rental OBX with pool table from the Hustler," and it came up in the results.

    Same with the name of your property. Say the rental’s name is "Paradise at Penn Cove," make sure you are Dominating the Search Engines for the name and addresses of each property. Having a good URL structure with the name included will help increase those results.

    Vacation Rental Property Brand Optimization showing SERPs

  2. Mine and inform past leads from OTA’s

    If you are like many of my clients, you probably have a Large Database of leads from HomeAway, VRBO, Flipkey, etc. Harvest your leads and store them in an outside database. This can be an export in Excel if you don’t have a CRM.

    Use these databases to enhance your marketing. Make sure you inform your customers that they will save the booking fees (up to 15%) by booking direct on your website. Let them know, for this particular unit, they will get the best deal on your site – guaranteed. Think about using repeat guest specials. What’s their incentive to book with you again?

  3. Invest in an Email Marketing program that allows you to mine your data

    We have a great program that can tap into your historical booking data, help you mine data from previous stays, and help you reach out to people and remarket through PPC and Social Media, your past guests. The message is again, Book Direct and Save, but also Branding.

  4. Make sure you are Generating Leads from your Website

    Request More Information for Vacation Rental PropertyThere are many key points of gathering leads. But the most popular we find on our sites are the "Request More Information" from the property detail page, as well as Send to a Friend.

    Remember, vacation rental guests generally want more information, ask questions, and engage with the company they are going to rent through.

    Vacation rentals have a history of being a little more "high maintenance" than booking a hotel room. People may do a search to find your website to talk with you more, verify rates and best deals, and search out specials.

    Make sure you have all of this information readily available on your site.

  5. Use Remarketing

    Social media and paid advertising (PPC) allow you to stay in front of people who visit your website. You can put tracking on your website (in the code) that stores the pages that a visitor goes to you. Based on the activity, you can serve up ads on Social Media and Display ads through Google’s Ad Network. Use this to increase brand awareness, stay in front of visitors who haven’t converted, and promote deals and sales that can turn a "looker" into a "booker."

    Vacation Rental PPC example in SERPs

  6. Bid on your Brand in PPC

    If you haven’t noticed yet, you will soon find out that not only are OTA’s dominating Organic Search, no longer linking out to your site or promoting your brand on their site, but they are also GOING AFTER YOUR BRANDED SEARCH PHRASES IN PAID SEARCH.

    WHAT?! Sorry, I get a little worked up about this.

    As if your organic search results aren’t pushed down far enough, now we HAVE to bid on our brand names. And we are competing with mega budgets.

    The good news is, if you are that company, you are going to generally pay a lower Cost per click (CPC) than your competitors because you will have a higher Quality Score.

    A quality score is generated by Google by taking a look at the Click Thru Rate (CTR), content of the ad, and content of the Landing Page. You should always be monitoring and optimizing your quality score to ensure you are showing the highest for the lowest possible amount. So those who have a lower quality score, will have a higher CPC and have to bid more than you.

  7. There is still Google Local

    By Google Local, I mean what is known as the "map pack". For many area searches like "Panama City Beach vacation rentals" the map pack will be included below the paid ads, but above the organic search listings.

    There is a science to showing and maintaining rank in the map pack which includes Not hiring a company that does any Black Hat SEO tactics for short term results.

    The best way to get up there (and stay up there) is to have your profile completely filled out and utilize Schema markup in the code of your site. Schema markup is code (semantic vocabulary) that you put on your website to help the search engines return more informative results for users.

    Vacation Rental Customer Satisfaction Survey and Google Reviews link

    You should also focus on Getting Reviews. Ask your happy customers for reviews. We also have a great survey program that helps push satisfied guests to Google to write you a positive review.  The first three stars link to a guest satisfaction survey.  The last two link to Google.

  8. Market Moderation

    What does your doctor tell you? "Too much of anything is bad for you" and "Everything in moderation."

    The same with a good marketing mix.

    Sure, if you are a new company, you are going to rely heavily on getting your inventory rented on OTAs. But, that’s not a long-term marketing strategy. You’ll have a tough time keeping owners if all you are doing is renting through OTA’s. They will think they can do it on their own (even if they are wrong).

    Start with the Basics – an optimized website, email marketing, paid advertising, and social media engagement. As your budget allows, start doing more social media advertising, adding remarketing, and hire a professional company to help you out.

    Our clients that don’t rely on OTAs have historically had better return on investments from their digital marketing. Their customers are trained to…Book Direct!

  9. Think Brand

    Don’t forget the power of a great brand and how you can impact that brand on your guests to come back and stay with you. Think of things like giving swag to stay with them after the trip. Also, think about who your brand is and what your brand messaging is.

    Does your guest know this message when they leave and is it something they can relate with?

    Airbnb does a great job of branding to the millennials which a few years ago, we were told were the most un-loyal generation, ever. Today, we see them embrace a cult-like following to brands like Apple and Airbnb. Think of what you want your company brand to be and embrace it.

There is no doubt, the vacation rental industry is evolving into something it wasn’t as soon as a few years ago. Our messages and marketing need to be strong, more precise, and engaging more than ever before. Long gone are the days of mass-mailing brochures and filling up peak-seasons.

Today, each vacation rental has more opportunity and threats than ever before. However, ICND is ready to help guide you through with a strong digital presence in both your website and your marketing.

Gaining Real Estate With Your AdWords

Gaining real estate in your AdWords


Looking to boost your Google AdWords presence? It doesn’t always have to come down to boosting your ad spend. Ad extensions are a great tool that can help draw in the attention of a potential customer by taking up more ad space than your competitors.

Continue reading “Gaining Real Estate With Your AdWords”

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


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.

Continue reading “Beware The Poor Landing Page – Tips & Tricks On More Conversions With Paid Advertising”

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.

The Pragmatic Approach for Targeting Vacationer Demographics

The vacation rental industry is an 85 billion dollar industry with virtually every demographic planning a dream vacation, year after year. A majority of vacation rental managers often realize too late about vacant inventory. Focused solely on families (or vice versa) this late realization leads to last minute price slashing with mixed results. Wouldn’t it be nice each year to be ahead of the curve and guarantee a larger percentage of bookings?

Studies have shown (Framingham Heart Study) that men who regularly vacation are 32% less likely to die of heart related illnesses compared to men who do not take a regular vacation. What’s worse is that women who don’t vacation twice a year are 8 times MORE likely to suffer from a heart related illness. These studies reinforce the notion that happier, healthier people across the board, know that rest and relaxation are vital to their health.

The question is: are you capturing every demographic the correct way? 


Today’s marketing tools make it easier than ever to target specific demographics:

Facebook Targeted Ads– Facebook ads have come a long way in terms of targeting. Users of Facebook today are revealing more and more information within their own profiles that Facebook has tactfully gained access to who each user is. If one bedroom condos are a large part of your inventory still in stock, the ability to create an ad specifically toward those in relationships with less than 2 children as well as including the unmarried and married with less than 2 children, ensures that those in your target segment are the only ones who are viewing such an ad.

Facebook Post Targeting– Did you know you can cater a post to specific demographics? Much like Facebook ads, specific post targeting allows you to display certain posts to current fans that you wish to capture. Suppose there are a number of units you’d like to see booked for an upcoming weekend. Depending on your vacation rental price points, wouldn’t it make sense to target to those solely within a day’s drive? Creating a targeted post highlighting this facet has the potential to yield higher results.


Segmented E-mails– Does your company use departure questionnaires? If not, it might be time to consider implementing them. Gathering as much information on former clients can help determine location, time of year and frequency of their vacation habits.

PPC– Google, the mother ship of all things related to targeting. It should be of no surprise that Google knows everything about you. Whether you use their browser, (Chrome) or simply use Google searches on a daily basis, the fact remains that they are keeping tabs on your search history and figuring out with great detail, who you are. The power of this information is outstanding. One of the tools marketers have at their hands is Pay Per Click Ads. Incorporating a well-timed and concentrated PPC campaign not only increases views but can also show you in a variety of facets where you may be failing in converting actual sales.

Demographic information is one of the most vital aspects to understanding your business. With comprehensive research within your own buyers’ history as well as carefully executed targeting measures, the ability to capture and retain audiences has never been stronger. Utilization of these targeting tools can propel your company’s overall performance.

ICND Spring 2013 Online Marketing Workshop Success!

If you didn’t go to our Spring 2013 Online Marketing Workshop in Myrtle Beach, SC, you missed out on a great time! The workshop was held at the ITT Technical Institute of Myrtle Beach where we found the space plentiful and staff very helpful. A big thanks to Courtney DePaul for her support of our workshop. We opened up the event with friendly registration by Summer Adams as she gave everyone an itinerary and USB key of all the presentations to take home.

Before entering the room, we invited our guests to participate in a fun photo booth prepared by our designer and photographer, Chris Campbell. Team ICND had fun with the photo booth as well. For more photos and fun check out our Facebook album and be sure to “Like Us”. As the sessions took place, we had great one-on-one interaction with our guests and speakers. It was a collaborative effort of presentations and Q&A. We hope to do more follow-up on the topics: SEO, PPC, Social Media, Email Marketing, and Responsive Web Design with additional whitepapers for download on our website. For more information, please visit our website or contact your Account Manager. by: Vanessa Humes

Clarion Hotel Pairs Up With ICND for Internet Marketing Campaign

When it comes to online marketing, having a strategy is key. However, if you’re not an internet marketing specialist it can be an overwhelming task. InterCoastal Net Designs is excited to announce their new partnership with the Clarion Hotel of Myrtle Beach. We recently launched not just one campaign for this well-reknowned hotel, but three! Clarion chose Pay Per Click, Social Media Marketing and a kick-off social media contest to stay at the top of mind of their client base.

We often tell our clients, if you want quick results, then PPC is the way to go! Our PPC specialists are experienced in managing accounts that result in ROI and high quality scores, and in the long run a projected lower Cost Per Click.

And if you’re still in the dark on social media, it’s safe to say your company is dropping the ball! We are excited to take over Clarion’s social media marketing and foster brand awareness and client engagement for our new client! ICND is also handling the ins and outs of a social media contest for Clarion. We recently saw one of our client’s company pages grow from around 1,500 fans to 40,000 in the span of a week! With Facebook’s current algorithm in place, this kind of growth ensures that your brand will be all over the Facebook newsfeeds of your potential clients. When it comes to the vacation rental industry, fans are engaged with scenic photographs and the promise of the perfect getaway and Facebook is the place to start dreaming! We can’t wait to see the results of the Clarion Myrtle Beach contest.

If you feel like your company isn’t getting the online attention it deserves, it’s time to nail down an online marketing strategy. Any combination of our services from SEO to social media will increase the visibility of your brand and the combination of campaigns is sure to bring home the bacon.

Thanks Clarion, ICND is thrilled to start this partnership which is sure to be a success!

ICND Attends CCAR Affiliate Expo

Thanks to all who stopped by booth #105 at the Fall Affiliate Expo for CCAR.  ICND has been servicing real estate clients for more than 10 years along the coast of North and South Carolina and as far as the West-Indies.

Today's expo was a fun way to meet with real estate agents and find out what they were looking for in a website, how the market was doing, and the struggles they were having with online marketing.  ICND was able to tell them about our Octoberfest Starter Website that new client can sign on with us for one low price and get a discount on their monthly hosting if they sign on with us before October 31st.  Contact Emily Hardesty at or 1-910-575-6095 x 4.

Some Samples of our work:

In addition, ICND talked about with the amount of competition out there, it's more important than ever to have a custom website that appeals to your target market, brands your company, and brings a social and interactive aspect like pictures, videos and MLS IDX.

Speaking of MLS integrations, ICND has just pre-released it's MLS 3.0 and we're offering demos to clients.  Our first site to display the system should be ready within the next month.  It offers a more user-friendly, interactive approach taking all the good things of MLS 2.0 and adding some new.  Contact us for your own personal demo.

Last but not least, if you have a website or don't, sign up for a basic SEO package and get 3 FREE months.  Offer ends Oct. 31st and is valid on new customers only.  For more information about SEO or other online marketing services or ideas, please contact us today and we'll schedule a meeting.

Thanks again to all who attended!

ICND Scores 92% on Google Adwords Professional Test

A team member from ICND scored a 92% on their Google Adwords Professional exam.  With one more person passing the exam we become Google Certified.




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ICND is not only experienced with the Google Adwords, but we have also satisfied the requirements of Google and obtained the status as a "Qualified Individual of the Google Advertising Professionals Program".

The exam consisted of 120 multiple choice question pertaining from everything from MCC to search and content campaign setups.  To pass you must score above 85%.  We scored well above with 92%.  Through this education and experience, we have demonstrated that ICND has a high level of understanding of Google Adwords.

This certification means that ICND is capable of optimizing your Google Adwords campaign using different techniques.  Let ICND help you with your Adwords Goals:

    * Set marketing goals and objectives
    * Create conversion metrics and campaign tracking
    * Create or Optimize landing pages for better conversion
    * Improve Quality Score
    * Lower CPC while increasing ranking at the same time
    * Decrease waste by geo-targeting your audience
    * Test your campaign and optimize for best results
    * Increase your ROI!

To get started today, contact a Google Adwords Qualified Professional at ICND now!

How to Improve Your PPC Campaign

How do you Improve your PPC Campaign – Top Ways to Improve your Quality Score

The days of setting your bid, making some ads, and selecting your keywords and calling it a Pay-Per-Click (PPC) campaign are long gone.  You can thank those that bid on keywords and their landing pages really had nothing to do with them.  Google now has a whole formula that takes the keywords in your ad group and analyzes them against the landing page you are directing them to.

What’s the Quality Score do?  Well, for one the higher the Quality Score the better you rank, for less.  So it’s something you want to pay attention to and work on.  Whether it means tweaking your ads, segmenting your keyword list better, or creating new landing pages.  If you need help with this, call ICND now for a free consultation.

Google will rank your Quality Score based on a number of factors.  Here’s a few we’ve we’ve put together for you:

•    Your Click Thru Rate – The days where it was easy enough to just have a great, relevant ad that people liked to click on are long gone, but it still matters, a lot.  Make sure your ad pertains to your keywords and gives people a reason to want to click on it.  This will help higher your quality score.

•    Your Entire Account – Your entire accounts click thru rate is a factor in the way Google calculates your Quality Score.  If you’ve added a lot of keywords that haven’t had clicks in months, go in and delete those keywords.  You can always add more, but deleting these keywords with low click thru rates will increase your overall click thru rate, thus improving your Quality Score.

•    Your Display URL – Google keeps record of your display URL along with your click thru rate for the entire length of time of your account.  If you are new to adwords and want to practice, experts advise using a practice URL as to not to put low CTR on your main URL.

•    Your Focus and Relevancy to Keywords – It’s better to be very granular with your adgroups than to bundle a bunch of different keywords into one adgroup with a generic ad.  Say you’re trying to get Myrtle Beach keyword terms, separate each bundle of terms pertaining like north myrtle beach generic term, south myrtle beach generic terms, then Myrtle hotel keywords, North Myrtle Beach keywords and so forth.

What you’ll end up with is a bunch of adgroups with 10-25 keyword phrases per adgroup.  It may seem like a bunch of work to manage, but making it any larger will hurt your relevancy to the display ad.

•    Your Relevancy to the Search Query – In real time, Google with caluculat yoru Quality score based on how well your ad and keywords fit what people are searching for.  It won’t affect how much you pay, but how well your rank.

•    Your Geographical Performance – Google will also calculate your Quality Score based on how well you perform in certain geographical areas.  If you perform better in Charlotte, NC than you do in Roanoke, VA you’ll rank better for Charlotte.
Your landing’s page content and relevancy – This is where you will affect how much you pay, but not where you rank.  Your page should be built out for SEO, with authoritative domain name, inbound links, relevant content, original content, quick loading, and include credibility indicators such as a link to about us, contact us, etc.  A page that already ranks well in the search engines will also help.

•    Don’t use excessive opt-in or registration tactics without offering a lot of relevant, useful information. But, you do need to make it easy and quick for customers to purchase whatever it is was featured on the ad or you are trying to sell.

Remember, the best way to improve your quality score by increasing relevancy throughout your keywords, adgroup, text ad, and landing page.  Make sure they all connect and pertain to each other.  ICND is here to help.  Give us a call today for a free consultation.