Guest blog post by Daniel Weisman
The question on everyone’s mind these days is, “how can I use SEO to get more rental bookings?”
The idea of Search Engine Optimization is that ranking highly in search results will lead to increased traffic and sales. While reaching the top of the Google search results seems to require black magic, keep in mind that it’s magic you already know: promotion. Doing SEO for vacation rentals and real estate mainly requires applying the promotional skills you already have to the tools available on the web.
1. Define Your Goals
As with any marketing campaign, SEO requires clear goals in order for you to work at it effectively, assess your results, and develop your strategy. Remember: Your ultimate goal is to book more rentals and increase your bottom line; NOT to be number one on Google.
The value of the #1 is intangible, but ROI is a reliable metric of success. Keep track of the time and money you spend on your SEO efforts, and you will be able to calculate the return on the campaign based on increased bookings.
Good SEO Goals:
- More bookings from search results
- Increased site traffic
- Lower bounce rate
2. Build a Website
You can’t have SEO if you don’t have a website! If you’re starting online marketing from scratch, then the first thing that you’re going to want to do is build a website. For vacation rental owners and property managers, Web Chalet, a new company, provides hosting and industry-specific site templates. Their product provides a quick and easy way to get all of your important information on a website with your own domain name and branding. For those who want more customization, wordpress.org offers a free solution for building robust websites.
Think of a website like a shop. You want a great location (domain name), an attractive façade (design), and a great product. Choose an address that’s easy for people and search engines to find. For example, if Paul owns a vacation property in Lake George, then he will be better off with a domain name like LakeGeorgeVacationRental.com rather than PaulsPlace.com. Be obvious and descriptive, and make it clear exactly what your site has to offer.
In addition to making your shop easy to find, you also want to make it inviting and pleasant. Make your site easy for people to navigate and you will be rewarded with love from the search engines and bookings. In their webmaster guidelines, Google esplains, “Create a useful, information-rich site, and write pages that clearly and accurately describe your content.” Keep things simple with clear content and easy navigation.
While we’re on the subject of building sites, we should talk about keywords. Keywords are the phrases that people search to find your site. Before you create any content for your site, think about the keywords that potential customers would use to find you. If I were searching for a rental in Lake George, than I would probably enter “Lake George vacation rentals,” or “Lake George cabins.” These keyword phrases are much narrower than a term like, “vacation rentals,” and they target more relevant traffic. You can do keyword research on Google by using the wonder wheel and related searches tools.
3. Provide Valuable Content
Search engines try to provide users with the best inforamtion, so make sure your site contains highly relevant, up-to-date content. Be sure to include a well-written description of your rental, high-quality photos, an availability calendar, guest testimonials, area information, pricing, and contact information. It’s also a good idea to keep a blog on your site with regular updates about the property, changes and improvements, area news, and special offers. The search engines like to see that a site is actively maintained.
If you already list your vacation rental on sites like FlipKey, then you may not need to create and update entirely new content for your site. FlipKey provides owners with widgets that display the booking calendar and guest reviews, among other tools. You can easily install these widgets on your site and keep all of your information up to date just by managing your FlipKey account.
4. Promote Yourself and Your Site
Even the best shop can fail if no one knows about it. You need to go out and do the legwork to get other websites talking about your site. Most of all, you want to get other websites to link to you. The search engines see these links back to your site and have an easier time finding your content. How do you get people talking?
Most listing sites, like FlipKey, will provide you with a link to your personal website. You want to list on some of these sites anyway, so make sure that you take advantage of their authority and provide them with a link to your site.
Chambers of Commerce
Chamber of Commerce sites are good places to get noticed on the web. Join your local Chamber and make sure that they include a link to your website in their accommodations section.
Destination Marketing Organizations
Find the local destination marketing or visitor and convention bureau website and see what the options are for getting your site listed. Sometimes all you have to do is ask. You may also find local travel guide sites and directories – if they are ranked highly in search results, then it’s worth talking to them about getting a link to your site.
Bloggers are a tougher community to crack, but also a valuable community to be a part of. Think of blogs as your shop’s neighbors. Many of your customers are going to have lunch at the restaurant next door and then ask for a recommendation for a place to shop in the afternoon. If you’re friends with the maître d’, then he’ll recommend your store and not your competitor’s. Get to know the bloggers who write about your area and they will be happy to recommend you to their readers.
As I wrote in my article on Social Media for Vacation Rental marketing, Facebook and Twitter are great platforms for promoting your property. As with bloggers, these sites are all about being social and not about hard-selling. Claim a Twitter handle and a Facebook page and get involved in conversations that interest you. You’ll meet some interesting people and find some great supporters to spread the word about your awesome rental.
5. Track Your Progress and Adapt
Finally, make sure you’re tracking your progress. There are plenty of tools available for keeping track of website traffic, but the industry gold standard is Google Analytics. You can create a free account and install Analytics on your website just by following Google’s instructions.
Once you have Analytics up and running, it’s easy to get carried away with the numbers. If you want to see how your SEO efforts are doing, then you will want to pay attention to the Search Engine traffic, which you can find under “traffic sources.” There’s a lot of information to take in here, but if you see the traffic generally trending upwards, you’re on the right track!
About the author: Daniel Weisman is a Social Media Specialist at FlipKey.com, which features more than 100,000 vacation rental properties around the world. You can read more of his writing on The FlipKey Blog and connect with him on Twitter @flipkey.