OK I am writing this mainly because I am in a great mood for writing, but I also thought it is nice to share a few ideas with you. Maybe you never heard some of these before, and discover something new, mind blowing, and use it to your benefit. And for what purpose you may ask. One, to gain more visibility for your vacation rental. Two, to increase your bookings. Three to increase your social media footprint, stepping into social selling (the next ‘big thing’) and be ready and mature for it when it becomes mainstream. And four, to make more money; not only out of every reservation that you service. But also out of your email replies. This post may…hmm…well, upset some people; the truth is those who know the tricks of the trade use all these tricks for some time now, so there is little or no point in hiding behind our finger anymore is there? Off we go then.
One: SEO (Search Engine Optimization) with a twist
You probably have listings for your rentals all over the place, like in the big vacation rental sites. So your rental property or properties list on one or more pages there, having their own link, under the name of the rental site. The way you benefit so far from listings on those sites is from prospects who enter the site, search in your area, and contact you for a booking based on your rates and availability for their dates of interest. But you can also increase your visibility and promote this page ‘sideways’; you can get more people to visit your page by finding it on top of search results for keywords related to your rental. The truth is, that these rental sites already do this for you in the best possible way, but there is so much competition sometimes, you feel you don’t stand a chance in there. What you may not be aware of, is that because of their size (i.e. the total number of pages they have) these sites have enormous ranking power and page authority; all you need to do, is just promote your page a little bit, and you rise on search results. It is what you may know as ‘SEO’ but not on your web sites’ pages; you do SEO on your rental listing page. There is a huge difference: this page already has unbelievable page authority and all you have to do is just push it gently and ethically to help it rise on search results for one or two of the keywords you are after. Ethically means to promote your rental page in a conservative and natural manner: add this page link on the signature you use in forums; or maybe add it to a Press Release you send out for your rental-that will do it. The good news is that your rental will shoot up on the search results for the keyword(s) you are after, for difficult keywords, that are impossible to reach with your own site; so you will be getting people visiting your rental page not from the inside of the site, but also by finding it on the search results. And for very competitive keywords. After this point, it is a statistics game, and depends on how your rental property will convert views to bookings – the usual game as we know it. The bad news is that long-term, some simple site changes may affect this, like, for instance, if the site decides to make a change to the format of the link-change the link in other words. There are also software tools called ‘disavow tools’ that these sites may deploy from time to time and check the reference links on their sites’ pages, neutralizing all these links you may have ‘built’ to point to your rental listing page overtime. So if for example you use this method and spam the hell out of your rental listing page to shoot to no 1 for the impossible dream keyword ‘orlando villas’, you may get away with it for a few weeks, but as your action of sending 1 billion referral links to your rental listing page will affect the overall ranking status of the whole rental site-at least to some point- they will probably cut all your links off and your page will drop like a stone on the search results in a few days. But if you think long-term, use it mildly and ethically, you may benefit from the increased visibility without being provocative, and the rental site may even love you for it. Just don’t put all your eggs in one basket and remember: the page is not your own, you are just renting it out to display your property.
The interesting thing is that you don’t have to confine yourself on your rental listing page with this method. You can take it a step or two further and apply it (may I have your attention please) on every site that has huge authority. So, if you are after, say, 10 keywords and you wish to reach a point in the first page of the results, you can use other pages. Do you have a Facebook page for your property? do you have a Google+ page? maybe a Linkedin page? Break down your keywords among these pages. Any of these pages will shoot to the first page, possibly to top 3 for your target keywords in a 3-4 weeks (depends on many factors, but you have excellent chances should you play your cards right) if you promote them this way, especially if your page is a bit old, like 6 months old or more. But remember: same conditions apply with these sites as mentioned earlier with rental listing sites.
Two: the social you
Do you have any luck with social media in terms of reservations? If you tried but failed, or if you even didn’t try at all, maybe you should start giving some serious thought about social. Everyone is in some kind of social activity through web and mobile devices and you just can’t let this go without getting some benefit out of it for your rental. One thing you can do with social sites is ‘fish’ new clients by ‘listening’ to their social conversations. You can try it for your rental using tools like ‘socialmention’ and ‘tweetreach’; you can use these tools to see conversations taking place on twitter for specific subjects like #orlandovilla. If someone tweets ‘desperately looking 4 3br villa orlando nr Disney, no luck so far everything booked 4our dates HELP!’ and you happen to be vacant and watch a tweet like that passing in front of your eyes, you can nail that person on the spot and tell him about your rental. There are more serious tools we use, allowing us to listen to multiple social media sites, multiple streams for specific subjects and geographic areas, all in one screen. ‘Hootsuite’ and ‘Sprout social’ are two of the top social media marketing platforms for doing things like that. The former also has a free option.
Another thing you can do is use theses platforms to promote your property by increasing your reach. For instance: you can promote your facebook page to a specific group of people with specific demographic characteristics, and pay something like 2 Euro per day for 10-20 daily ‘likes’. If you let this for a few months, with 100 Euros you will get 2500-3000 likes from people that match your type of ideal client. But the important thing is that these 2500-3000 people have friends and you can reach those too. One killer post about your rental (a coupon, a fantastic quality picture or a video of your property) posted onto your page and if people like it you reach an unbelievable number of people. Just make sure you post relevant stuff and don’t overdo it because people will start to shut you off. Once every three months should be more than enough, and try not to overkill your rental property by over-advertising it. You can do this for all major social media sites: Facebook, Twitter, LinkedIn, Pintrest and with a relatively small budget.
Three: forgot to update your Calendar? good!
Are you a calendar maniac? I mean are you always after keeping your calendar up-to-date? Maybe you shouldn’t. The reason is simple and has to do with making some extra money by just being careless. If your calendar is outdated you may get repeat inquiries for dates you have already booked. So what would you normally do in cases like this? Reply back to the potential customer, saying something like “sorry we booked these dates; my apologies for not keeping my calendar up-to-date”. How about doing something else. Refer the prospective renter to another property similar to your property in terms of capacity, property facilities, features etc. but make money in the process? Most major rental sites have affiliate programs, so for every new booking you bring to them, you will get a revenue share from their booking commission, or they will pay you a fixed amount for every new inquiry that you generate for a vacation rental listed on their site. Home away will give you 1% out of their commission if you send them a booking. Trip advisor pays $2.50 for every new inquiry that you generate to them. Airbnb gives you travel credits: when your referee rents through Airbnb, you get $25. When your referee lists his/her own place on Airbnb, you get $75. So really all you have to do is reply to the prospective renter, ‘sorry we gave that slot’ providing him/her with the link to an alternative vacation rental-any- that is also listed on the same site with you. Now here is a super great thing: if that person clicks on the link, no matter which property decides to book in the end, you will get a commission from his booking. And because s/he came to you through this site, probability is that s/he will book the stay on this site too. So, if for example, you replied with a link that will point the prospective renter to your neighboring vacation rental (which happens to be available and the right fit for them) and they change their mind and book a villa in Rome, you get the commission. You just can’t loose. And it gets even better: you will still get your commission if the prospective renter leaves the site undecided without making a booking, and returns at a later date and makes the booking – again, to any property; not necessarily the property you suggested-any property in this site. All this I have just described, is known as ‘affiliate marketing’ and it really makes the web tick today in terms of sales. You can register to most rental listing sites through their listings on affiliate networks like Commission Junction; you must declare a web site (that of your rental property will do) and read the terms and conditions for each affiliate agreement carefully. But remember: nowadays, where rental listings are commission based there is a screening to what you write when you reply directly to potential renters, so if you get a renter coming through your site A listing for an inquiry, and you reply to him using a link to a property that happens to list on site B, you lose. Their filters will detect this as a means of trying to fool them to escape their commission, and will never get through. But if you reply to the renter with an affiliate link for a property or a set of properties within your area listing in the same site as you do (i.e. site A), you should scrape through fine (but who knows how long for). So here is an example: the rental site A will give you 1% commission out of their total commission (which is say 10%) for a booking that results through passing the affiliate link to the prospective renter. So in the end, the renter books for example 3 weeks in a villa in the Caribbean with a total cost of 8000 Euros; the site makes 800 Euros and you make 80 Euros. Just by referring. As for screening, if you pay for your listing through an annual subscription, normally there is no screening so replying with a link to a property that lists on the same site does not necessarily apply. You can send them to another site, but remember that they have chosen this site to inquire you so chances are they will book through this site. Ah, yes. The best part is that you can get referral fees out of your own listing. You just promote your rental using your affiliate link (but only if you can’t take bookings online on your own otherwise it is just plain silly) – just don’t use it on social media sites like Facebook etc. they are very strict on using them for affiliate promotion.
Four: Honk Honk!
In many cases renters who book on your vacation rental for a stay also need to rent a car. In a manner similar to referring to another rental property you can make money by referring to a car rental company. You can take this in a similar manner, or you can make an agreement with a local car rental office and pass your renters to them in exchange for a commission. If you do it using affiliate marketing it is good to register to multiple companies; affiliate commissions range between 3-5% for every completed rental contract but check conditions carefully. If you make an agreement with a local car rental, commissions may actually be much better (you can get 10-15%) but you need to find a way to double-check that you earn your commissions, so it gets a bit more complicated as you may have to sign contracts and double check with the renters. One surefire way to solve this is to offer car rental as a bundle with the property. Get a net price from the car rental office, add your commission and offer them as a ‘service’ that comes with renting your property. No ‘leaks’ as you handle the whole process; the car waits outside the door entrance or is delivered at the point of arrival by the car rental office. You handle the payments and pay the office minus your commission. You can replicate this model for yachts cruisers, fishing boats ,bicycles, snow bikes, surfing boards etc.
Have you noticed the amount of alcohol that is consumed throughout a stay? I don’t know about you but in some of the villas I get to manage their bookings or do their marketing, the amount of wine bottles the owners find after every checkout is unbelievable. Some of my clients have decided to work on this and installed wine fridges in every vacation rental. They made local agreements with wine producers and wholesalers and composed a ‘menu list’ with more than 20 different wine and spirit labels. The menu is sent by e-mail after a booking was made, showing what is available; the wine fridge gets a refill daily. It is also possible to make orders of specific bottles and choose to have a specific brand of wine or other spirit to wait for you on your arrival. It works. Only in wines, the properties get an average of 5 bottles per stay; a 5 Euro commission per bottle makes 25 Euros per stay. In this case, 50 stays per season brought an extra 1300 Euros. Not to mention champagnes, spirits etc. a total of almost 2000 Euros in one season. If you do this make sure you don’t need a license for alcohol, it is different per country.
I want to end this by adding a more personal note. I must say: I love working for Vacation Rentals and use the benefits of digital marketing, combine product marketing in the process, come up with new ideas and make the best out of work while helping others in the process. Without the advent of the Web, the boom on vacation rentals wouldn’t have happened. I am so glad I do this. Did I mention I also get free villa holidays? (Just kidding, I never stay at my clients’ vacation rentals as a matter of principle). But hey, what a great Industry to work and earn your living from.