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.

SEO For Your Property Pages Explained

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

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

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

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

hb-flamingo-house

How To Outrank The Big Listing Sites

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

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

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

Best Practices For URLs

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

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

Create SEO-Friendly Title Tags

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

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

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

Letting Bots Crawl Your Property Pages

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

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

Going The Extra Mile With Schema.org Markup

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

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

How To Depersonalize Google Search Results

It’s the worst email we get.

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

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

I carefully craft an email with a harrowing punchline:

“You’ve been personalized.”

Continue reading “How To Depersonalize Google Search Results”

6 Tactical Link Building Ideas That Work

cover

 

When it comes to scoring big with Google, link building needs to be one of your most frequently used strategies. Optimizing your website for search engine results that put you on page one can be as basic as having high quality websites linking back to your site. Sounds simple enough, right? It can be if you take the right measures and consistently work at it. It’s truly an ongoing journey. Using these link building ideas and tactics can yield huge results.

Continue reading “6 Tactical Link Building Ideas That Work”

10 SEO Mistakes Managers Make When Redesigning a Website

10-SEO-Mistakes

Is your website looking a little dated lately and in need of a fresh, up-to-date look? Before embarking on a website redesign project, here are 10 mistakes to avoid that will have an impact on the SEO of your site:

Continue reading “10 SEO Mistakes Managers Make When Redesigning a Website”

Local SEO Tips: Updates & Changes Afoot

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

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

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

 

How to Survive in a 'Not Provided' World

If you are using Google Analytics (and who isn’t, right?), you have been noticing for quite some time now, an increase in the dreaded ‘not provided’ term. Google has been on a mission to encrypt all search data and if the trend continues we very well may see keyword data 100% ‘not provided’.

Google Analytics Not Provided

This decision has left a lot of website owners furious – and with good reason. Keyword data can provide you with valuable information, especially informing you of the organic keywords that are driving traffic to your website.

We know, it stinks! Well, we are here to tell you it isn’t as bad as you think. In fact, we want to pass along a few tips to you that could help you survive in this ‘not provided’ world.

Using Goal Tracking in Analytics

Whether Google provides organic keyword data again in the future, or not, website owners should be focused on other metrics. Keyword data is/was valuable for providing you the terms with which users reached your site, but what were these users’ actions once they found your site?

As a website owner, you should know what action you want users visiting your site to take. Is it a sale, a download, a form completion, or to view a certain page on your site? Most all actions a user performs on your website can be tracked within Google Analytics. At the end of the day, tracking these actions are a much better tool for measuring your site’s success than traffic from keyword terms.

Inside the Administration panel of your Analytics account, you will find Goals. Once inside Goals, you will create a New Goal – and with a little coding you can track most anything.

Google Analytics Goals

Once you start collecting data from your goals, you will become much better equipped with information on how to improve your website than keyword data ever provided you.

Use Filters

Logging into Analytics and seeing that 79% of your keyword data is being shown as ‘not provided’ is never a good feeling. We have a little tip for you that can help make that data a little more useful.

Analytics also has a Filter feature in their Administration panel. Once in there, add this to a New Filter. Over time, this will show you the landing pages for each of the ‘not provided’ referrals. This will not provide you with the exact keyword that brought the traffic to your site, but if your content is well optimized, as well as your URLs, you will have a very good idea of what terms the users were using to find your site.

Google Analytics Filters

New Filters in Google Analytics

Google Webmaster Tools

Most website owners are aware of Google Analytics, but not as many are using Google Webmaster Tools. Now is a great time to jump on board!

You will find some valuable keyword data related to your website in Webmaster Tools. Just go to Search Traffic > Search Queries.

This data only goes back a limited time, but you can also use some of their filter options to see things like web vs. mobile. Also, this data is very valuable because it will show you impressions, clicks, CTR and Average Position.

Join the PPC side

I know, I know — the last thing you want to do is hand Google over some of your own money after they’ve stripped away your keyword data. I get that! The fact is, paid advertising space on search result pages is increasing. If Google is paying more attention to it, chances are you should too!

Once you start using Adwords, Google will show you the keyword data coming from paid search. This will give you a solid idea on which high volume keywords are really converting for you. That will then give you the knowledge to use towards where you want to focus your website, specifically in the organic SEO world.

We have been aware for a while now that Google has been moving away from keyword data. We can either kick and scream, or jump on board. Its time to stop focusing on old school keyword data, and start focusing on providing our customers what they want when they visited our site in the first place. Use these tips above, but remember — provide your customers with the best user experience.

Ecommerce Tracking Shows Great Results

ICND is not only a website development and design firm, we also specialize in different avenues of online marketing. The below case study discusses one of ICND’s clients who increased their marketing efforts 6 months ago. It often takes more than 6 months to see drastic results, but this client chose to work with ICND on SEO, PPC, Social Media Marketing and Email Marketing. All of our efforts worked together to show fantastic results!  This is a vacation rental client, who we have set up on Ecommerce Tracking with Google Analytics. With Ecommerce tracking you can see down to the penny what properties were booked and produced revenue, and what outlet the leads came in from.

# Source Revenue % of Revenue
1 google/organic $231,439.78 40.21%
2 direct $154,584.87 26.86%
3 bing/organic $60,343.33 10.48%
4 google/cpc $57,470.53 9.98%
5 yahoo/organic $40,071.67 6.96%
6 facebook.com/referral $4,930.91 0.86%
7 blu172.mail.live.com / referral $4,624.80 0.80%
8 aol/organic $4,486.81 0.78%

If you add together Google, Bing, Yahoo and Aol, you will see $336,341.59 in revenue from ICND Organic SEO Efforts.

They have converted $57,470.53 from their Pay Per Click Campaign

They’ve converted $4,930.91 from their Facebook campaign 

They’ve converted $4,624.80 from their email marketing campagin

This is of course not counting phone calls, which is often attributed to marketing efforts as well. And many of those direct leads (source #2) could have been coming from Facebook or other marketing sources. Marketing isn’t about just about converting online, it’s about putting your name in the back of people’s minds so when they’re ready to book, they find YOU!

Unfortunately, this client did not have ecommerce tracking on their site prior to 6 months ago, so we cannot compare this year’s online revenue to last years. However, we can tell that their traffic is up 22.33% from this same time last year (comparing 1/1/13-3/3/13 to 1/1/14-3/3/14). They’ve had over 6,000 more visitors on their site this year than last!

Ecommerce Tracking

 

If you’re a current ICND client, talk to your account rep and make sure you are set up on Ecommerce Tracking or Goal Tracking. If you’re not an ICND client, contact us today for a free marketing analysis. This isn’t only for vacation rentals or retail sites. A “goal” can be as simple as someone filling out a contact form. If you don’t sell anything online, we still want to be able to track your leads and ecommerce and goal tracking are the perfect way to track this. Goal and Ecommerce tracking are a large part of ICND SEO efforts. It is important to not only see that you are getting traffic to your site, but also to see that the traffic is quality traffic that will convert to revenue.  Numbers don’t lie. With the right amount of time and revenue invested into your marketing plan, we can help you grow too!

One Year of SEO, Double the Traffic!

Ever wonder if SEO is worth while? ICND is here to show you how Search Engine Optimization can truly help your business grow! January 1 2014 marked the one year anniversary of one of our Wilmington, NC clients SEO plan with ICND. This client in particular is on a 12 hour per month plan. We compared their traffic from January 2013 to January 2014, and are very pleased with the results! Just as we expected, their traffic has drastically grown. In fact, it has near doubled what it was the prior year.  Please see below screen shot from Google Analytics showing traffic.

Search Engine Optimization

Our dedicated marketing team is hands on to help you and your company grow. If you’re interested in seeing similar results, contact your account rep or info@icoastalnet.com today to discuss our recommendations for you!

 

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? 

Demographics

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.

Demographics

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.