The person on the other end of the line was beside herself. She’d listed her second home on literally dozens of vacation rental advertising sites and she was getting hardly any bookings. What’s more, when she tried to offer a “special” to encourage vacationers to consider her place, it took her half a day to enter the information at all of those sites.
“Are these free sites?” we asked. “Yes,” she said, and then hesitated, “…most of them.”
We were gentle and kind as we always are, but our caller had clearly made two classic beginner’s mistakes. First, she had created listings for her property on every VR site she could find. Second, she had been taken in by the extravagant and unsubstantiated claims of many free and fee-based VR advertising sites regarding their web traffic numbers and their search rankings.
We eventually got her to understand, we hope, that if you’re a VR owner, you want to spend your advertising dollars and your time wisely. This was not her fault. She just didn’t know.
Quality Not Quantity
The fact is if you own a vacation rental, your goal should be to create listings on as few sites as possible to get all the bookings you need. And you shouldn’t mind paying a reasonable fee to list your property on sites that do a good job for you. The reason so many VR advertising sites offer “free” listings is that their owners are trying to build their inventory of properties in hopes that one day they can start charging an annual fee.
This came as a revelation to our caller. Being a bright woman, however, and knowing that we’ve been following the vacation rental field for over a decade, she asked our opinion on how to pare down her list of sites to a manageable number. What key features should she look for when deciding which sites to keep and which to get rid of?
Here, in compressed form, is what we told her.
Essential Things to Look for in a VR Advertising Site
1. Overall Look and Feel. Is the website attractive and easy to use, for both vacation rental owners and for travelers? Pay particular attention to the listing format and the number of photos displayed. Spend a few minutes looking at sample listings and testing the site’s search features. Pretend you’re planning a trip. Does the site make it easy for you to find the perfect property in the location you want to visit?
2. Number of Listings. How many listings does the site have for properties in your area? More is better. It’s a sign that other owners have found the site to be a good source of bookings. Also, travelers like to have multiple properties to choose from when they’re planning a vacation. While it might seem counterintuitive, you want to advertise on sites where you’ll have some competition.
3. Site Traffic. How does the website’s monthly traffic compare to other sites you’re considering? You can use a free web analytics tool like Compete (www.compete.com) to compare sites based on the number of unique monthly visitors. If you’re trying to decide between, say, two sites that cater to travelers with pets, go with the one that gets more traffic.
4. Cost. What’s the annual cost of a basic listing, and how many photos do you get for that price? Less expensive isn’t necessarily better, and free sites can be a real time-waster. Expect to pay about $150 to $350 per year, a bargain when you consider that if your property rents for $1,000 a week, a single booking will pay for your listing several times over.
5. Link Policy. Will the site let you include a link to your own website or to an online photo album with more pictures of your property and the surrounding area? Many long-time vacation rental owners consider this to be so important that they refuse to list with any site that won’t allow it.
6. Customer Service. The best VR advertising sites will have gone to the trouble of creating a “Help” or “Frequently Asked Questions” (FAQ) page with answers to most of the questions you may have about how the site works. They also make it easy for you to contact a real person via email and/or phone if you can’t find the answer you’re looking for in the online help.
7. Reputation. Is this a company you want to do business with? Read the site’s “About Us” page to get a sense of the people behind the company and their commitment to promoting “best practices” in the vacation rental industry. How long have been in business? Do they seem to understand the issues that are important to VR owners and travelers?
You’ll have to devote some time and effort to finding the most productive set of VR advertising sites for your property. And you should review your advertising program once a year and get rid of the sites that aren’t performing for you. The good news is that your efforts will pay off in the greatest number of bookings for the least amount of time, effort and money.
Alfred and Emily Glossbrenner
P.S. For an annotated, regularly updated list of recommended vacation rental advertising sites, visit FullyBookedRentals (www.fullybookedrentals.com) and click on the link for our free VR Resources Guide.
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.