In this article, we explore all you need to know about SEO optimisation for vacation rental online travel agency listings, with a focus on Airbnb, Vrbo (part of Expedia Group), Booking.com and Tripadvisor Rentals.
1. What is SEO?
SEO is an acronym for Search Engine Optimisation. You may have heard the term in relation to helping a website rank higher on Google, or you may have sought to optimise your own vacation rental website for the same purpose.
In the context of online travel agencies (OTAs), we use the term SEO to refer to the act of optimising your listing to help it appear higher up in an OTA website’s search results every time a prospective traveller looks for accommodation in your area.
The higher your ranking on a given OTA’s website, the more likely you are to be seen by potential bookers; after all, who scrolls past page 2 or 3 on any website! In a nutshell, the more eyes on your listing, the more bookings you can expect in your calendar.
So, let’s dive into all the different factors that help you climb up an OTA’s ranking and maximise your bookings.
2. Ranking Metrics
First, let’s explain some terminology that will help you understand how OTA algorithms work.
- Your click-through rate (CTR). Expressed as a percentage, this is the number of times people actually click on your property listing compared to the number of times it is returned in searches.
- Your conversion rate. This is the percentage of people that actually go on to book your accommodation compared to the number who click through to your listing.
Although these are not entirely in your control, we are going to discuss how you can influence your CTR and conversion rate, as well as share some useful tips of other ways to make OTA algorithms work in your favour.
3. Your Listing
Your chance to climb to the top of the search results for your location on any OTA starts with having a solid listing. This is your shop window to the world! (To learn how to create a great listing on Airbnb, we explore this topic further here.)
It’s the photos!
You may be tired of hearing this, but it’s true – photos, photos, photos! It really is a key factor in creating a high-ranking listing.
Vrbo, Airbnb, Booking.com, Tripadvisor Rentals, in fact ALL OTAs, promote the importance of having a high number of high quality photos. Because the number of clicks your listing gets after appearing on an OTA’s search results page influences your ranking in their algorithm, think about having a stunning main photo as the biggest click magnet. Your main photo is what sets your listing apart amongst hundreds of others!
When it comes to photos for your listing, you have to showcase your property in a way that you, yourself, would be inspired to book.
Dark, blurry and cluttered photos don’t scream holiday spirit! Guests make a decision in under 3 seconds on the basis of a good photo, so if you don’t grab their attention instantly, you’ve completely missed your chance of convincing them to book with you.
Remember to include photos of every room and facility, as listing something without photographic evidence can raise questions or suspicions.
Most OTAs recommend a minimum of 3 pictures for every room in your listing, which should always include a photo of the room’s bathroom facilities. Then add a minimum of 3 property level photos that show off your external views and any common areas and amenities.
If you want to find out how to achieve stunning vacation rental photography, we explore that topic in detail here.
Fill in the gaps…
Every field on an OTA listing has a reason to be there. Remember, the OTAs are the masters of converting lookers to bookers, and they know what guests are looking for. So complete everything, don’t leave a blank space!
Booking.com offer their Property Page Score, which evaluates the content of your listing to ensure it performs well in their algorithm. They state that ‘properties with a 100% property page score get up to 18% more bookings than properties with incomplete content’.
At the end of the day, every item of information in your listing serves the ultimate purpose of quickly informing a prospective guest of whether your accommodation meets their requirements.
Think of it as a dating profile! You have to set out expectations in order to find your perfect match.
So, to create a bulletproof listing:
- Remember to add all of your amenities and extras.
- State your house rules. Vrbo have recently released an update with a more expansive list of house rules. Ensure you update yours.
- Write an eye-catching listing title, one that makes you stand out. Airbnb believe the title of your listing and first image are what convince guests to click on your property.
- Include an accurate, informative description that sells your accommodation without being misleading.
- Include keywords that travellers who would be interested in your property might be searching for, such as a nearby landmark.
4. Accuracy and Keeping Your Listing Up-to-Date
Keeping your listing up-to-date is crucial for maximising your visibility on OTAs. Advertising inaccurate information will come back and bite you! If guest expectations are not met, they will complain either directly to you or to the OTAs, which will impact your ranking. And even more detrimental will be the poor reviews, one of the biggest guest deterrents. So always be accurate.
Guests are always searching for new facilities or amenities; who would have thought that ‘Covid hygiene standards’ would one day be so important in any guest search? So as well as being accurate, be relevant. Keep your eyes on the OTAs’ websites so you can keep abreast of any changing search criteria and make sure to update any new fields.
Avoid unnecessary stress later on by constantly updating your information!
A good quality channel manager can save you a lot of time when it comes to nailing your OTA listings. eviivo Suite, for example, enables you to supply to any OTA all the data you need in order to thrive on their website, and with its fully automated connections, all of your information (including rates, availability, photos, descriptions, policies, taxes, extras and cleaning fees) is automatically synced across any travel agencies you choose to connect to.
This way, not only do you ensure you have a top listing each and every time, but you also avoid the hassle of constantly updating your information on every OTA you list on.
Instead, all you have to do is make changes to your information once in eviivo Suite, and watch it instantly update across all your connected channels!
Even with the best looking listing on an OTA website, competitive pricing is still a must when it comes to getting attention among hundreds of other listings. Of course, you want to maximise your vacation rental revenue, but your price can’t be too much higher than what your direct competitors are asking.
To figure out where you stand in the market, put yourself in the shoes of a potential guest. Go to an OTA’s website and use the search and filters to find properties in your area. Remember, a direct competitor may not necessarily look exactly like you, but if they come up in the same searches, potential guests will see them alongside your property and may be tempted to click their listing, and not yours.
Browse the different listings, pay attention to what they’re offering and at what cost, and see how you fit into the picture.
Some OTAs offer you tools to suggest appropriate prices or to see how you’re performing against your competitors. For example, Airbnb offer a property value calculator which helps you set an appropriate price based on your property, amenities and location. Vrbo provide you with insights on your performance versus your direct competition.
You can use these insights as a guide and make what changes are needed to earn yourself a high ranking spot on their website.
Here’s an important point! Always use the same rates on each OTA you list on. If you are found offering lower rates on one OTA compared to another, you risk negatively impacting your relationship with that OTA and tanking your listing’s ranking. Expedia and Booking.com are transparent about the fact that offering higher rates on a different OTA negatively impacts your rank in their algorithm.
Instead, you should use the same rates on all travel agencies and let them fight it out amongst themselves to make your listing more competitive on their platform.
Alternatively, consider using property management system (PMS) software with a dynamic pricing tool. eviivo Suite can automatically adjust your rates, ensuring you always offer the best price in order to both maximise your revenue during your high season and keep your vacation rental occupied during your low season.
Your optimised rates are automatically synced across all your connected OTAs, allowing you to focus on being an excellent host!
Some people love to get their holiday plans sorted far in advance, to grab the best choice of places to stay and to start looking forward to their time away. Catch the early birds by ensuring you are always bookable as far ahead as possible. This way, even for those planning their next getaway early, your listing is guaranteed to crop up in their searches.
Booking.com recommend having your property readily available for bookings at least one year ahead, which in turn boosts your visibility by appearing in searches more often and securing more bookings. Others recommend 18 months or even 2 years!
Each OTA supports different bookable periods, and by using a channel manager that supports setting your rates as far as possible in advance, you can always be sure your listing is available to be booked by those well-organised travellers!
7. Staying Active
OTAs track how active you are on their platform. They will look at:
How Often You Update Your Calendar
This means that you have to either remember to log in to your calendar regularly, or you can simply utilise a channel manager that automatically updates your calendar and does the work for you.
Your Response Rate
You may have already noticed that your ‘response time’ to guests is one of the factors that these OTAs keep track of. And it’s true: your response rate to guests impacts your visibility on OTA websites.
Typically, OTAs urge you to respond to messages and booking requests within a 24-hour window. Respond any later than that and it is classified as a ‘late response’.
Vrbo offer a tool called ‘Ranking Metrics’, which helps you understand what factors influence your visibility on their platform and how well you are performing against each parameter. Airbnb’s Host Dashboard has the same purpose
As long as you remember to keep checking your messages and booking enquiries where applicable, you shouldn’t have a problem with keeping your response rate high, and consequently, boosting your visibility on these platforms.
8. Providing a Smooth Booking Journey
Online travel agencies prioritise showcasing listings that simplify the guest booking journey as much as possible. On their side, the easier it is for a guest to book, the less likely they’ll get distracted and go elsewhere. This is why they have created booking pages that focus on ease of booking for guests rather than focus on collecting every detail about the guest for hosts!
To ensure you’re one of the top players, pay attention to the below.
If an OTA provides instant booking functionality, as opposed to booking enquiries, the algorithm prefers you to have this feature switched on. This is so you can provide a seamless booking experience.
If you do not have instant booking switched on, try to not reject booking enquiries too often, as Airbnb’s algorithm, for example, tracks how many enquiries you have rejected.
Always be visible…
The more available you are, the higher you will rank on an OTA’s website. But this isn’t always just about having an available room. Often, it is your other policies that impact your real availability and often you may not realise why you are not visible.
Here is why you need to think about your policies carefully…..
A potential guest doesn’t always just search for their exact stay. When browsing, they may not think about their exact dates but could instead be trying to get an indication of what is available. As such they may filter by a ‘flexible cancellation policy’ only or they may just search for 1 night, as this is often the default setting on OTA searches.
So what happens if you do not offer a flexible cancellation policy, or you only offer a minimum stay of 3 nights? You simply won’t appear in their search results!
Getting a balance between offering flexibility but protecting against last minute cancellations or expensive short stays is difficult. But considering setting both a flexible and non-flexible cancellation policy and offering a more expensive one-night stay versus a cheaper price for longer stays is a good starting point.
This way your visibility improves, as does your ranking, and ultimately your bookings.
Most OTAs offer some kind of accreditation to distinguish excellent hosts. Being recognised as an excellent host builds your business reputation and inspires traveller trust.
Each OTA’s host accreditation scheme differs in practice and in how much it impacts your ranking position. And don’t forget that in reality, all come with a price, in terms of the need for you to offer specific discounts. But it is always worth weighing up the cost versus the benefits of obtaining such host accreditation from each OTA you list on, as it certainly boosts the value of your listing and influences a prospective traveller’s perception of your business.
Always strive to be recognised as an excellent host on each OTA site you list on!
10. Driving 5-Star Reviews
Airbnb and Vrbo are open about the fact that receiving 5-star reviews pushes your listing higher up in their search results. For them it’s about a high volume of reviews with a high proportion of top scores. They also accept that a few bad reviews won’t necessarily have a negative impact on your visibility, especially if you respond to them.
So it pays to encourage all your guests to leave a review.
Encouraging your guests to leave a review can be automatic and effortless. If you have a property management system (PMS) like eviivo Suite, you can send automated post-checkout emails asking your guests to leave a review of their stay.
Of course, to receive these top scoring reviews in the first place, you have to focus on being an all-around top, 5-star host yourself. Respond promptly to your guest messages, keep your property squeaky clean, provide a smooth check-in and check-out experience and be prepared to go the extra mile.
To learn more about becoming a 5-star host, have a browse through our free Trade Secrets, where our industry experts walk you through every step of running a successful vacation rental business.