In the early days of personal computing, new users thought they had to learn computer programming, usually by mastering BASIC. In our roles as computer columnists and book authors, we said, “No, no, no! The most important computer-related skill to have is touch-typing. Programming has nothing to do with being able to make productive use of a personal computer.” Though we doubt many of today’s texting demons are using classic QWERTY touch-typing skills on their laptops and smartphones, the overwhelming popularity of texting bears us out.
A similar situation exists today in the vacation-rental (VR) industry. Many new, inexperienced VR owners assume that the best way to market their properties is to create their own website. After all, it’s really inexpensive, right? Right. It’s cheap in dollars to create a simple site and pay the annual web hosting fees. So why not start your vacation-rental advertising program with a website that features your property?
There are at least two reasons why this is a bad idea:
- Building and maintaining a website—and doing the job right—can cost you a great deal of time. And if the site you create for your property is poorly designed or leaves out some critical piece of information or isn’t regularly updated, it’s going to hinder rather than help your marketing efforts.
- It’s next to impossible to get your single website noticed. We don’t care what the SEO (Search Engine Optimization) consultants say in their pitches. No matter how hard you try, it’s highly unlikely that a link to your VR website will ever appear on the first page of a typical vacationer’s search results.
How To Start Your VR-Advertising Program
So if creating your own website isn’t the best way to launch your VR-advertising program, what do we suggest as an alternative? What’s the secret to getting your place noticed, so that you can start generating inquiries and bookings for your property?
We recommend that you make it a three-step process:
- Step 1. Start by creating listings on VRBO.com and HomeAway.com, two of the biggest and best-known VR-advertising sites. Concentrate on making your listings on these two sites the best they can possibly be. Make them stand out from the competition with an attention-grabbing headline, top-quality photos, a well-written and information-packed property description, great guest reviews, clearly stated rates and rental policies, an up-to-date availability calendar, and contact information. For more specifics on creating a VR listing that will really help sell your property, take a look at this article: 10 Ways to Quickly Improve your Vacation Rental Listing.
- Step 2. If you feel you need more exposure, think local! Expand your advertising program to include a site that specializes in the specific geographic region where your property is located. Regional vacation-rental sites are typically run by VR-savvy entrepreneurs who really know and love the area and do a great job of promoting it. We joined our local visitors bureau, VisitBucksCounty.com, some years ago and have found it to be well worth the $150 annual membership fee, which includes a listing in their online lodging directory and printed visitors guide. Most of the people who discover our cottage this way are brand new to vacation rentals and thus would never have thought to look for overnight accommodations on sites like VRBO.com or HomeAway.com. They’re delighted to find that they can book an entire little house for much less than they would have paid for a week in a cramped hotel room.
- Step 3. Sign up with one or more niche sites that will help you reach your target audience. There are all sorts of possibilities: sites that specialize in pet-friendly properties, families traveling with children, couples looking for a romantic getaway, beach lovers, golfers, and so on. We have two target audiences: romantic-getaway couples and families with one or two small children. The niche sites we’re currently using include PennsylvaniaRomanticGetaways.com and GreatFamilyRentals.com. We’ve tailored the headline and wording for our listings to emphasize what makes our cottage the perfect choice for each audience. On GreatFamilyRentals.com, for example, we use the headline “Charming Bucks County Cottage near Sesame Place” to draw attention to our property’s proximity to the world’s only Sesame Street theme park.
Focus on Quality Not Quantity
The goal for your VR-advertising program should be to maximize your bookings while minimizing the number of listings that you have to create and maintain. Resist the temptation to sign up with dozens of “free” sites that will most likely turn out to be worth exactly what you paid for them.
Focus your initial advertising efforts on creating really boffo listings on VRBO.com and HomeAway.com. If you find that you need additional exposure, then expand to two or three regional and special-interest sites that make sense for your property. Sites like these are purpose-built to present vacation-rental properties. And the sheer number of listings each one offers gives them a search-engine footprint that no single website you create on your own can match.
Alfred and Emily Glossbrenner
This is the first article in a three-part series. In the next post, we’ll show you how to implement what we call “the cocktail party quick handle” for your VR property. Meantime, if you’ve discovered a really neat regional or special-interest VR advertising site—one that’s working well for you and worth sharing with other VR owners—you can tell us about it here.
Alfred and Emily Glossbrenner are the authors of the book/CD package How to Make Your Vacation Property Work for You! and the founders of FullyBookedRentals (www.fullybookedrentals.com), a website focused on helping new and experienced VR owners advertise, market, manage, and make money from their second homes.