The #BookDirect Movement
History of #BookDirect Day For Vacation Rentals
For the past three years, starting in 2018, the first Wednesday in February has become #BookDirect Guest Education Day for the vacation rental industry. Unlike hotels, where brands enjoy high levels of consumer awareness, most rental management companies are unknown especially on a national or international level. In this article, we will cover 5 ways to increase direct bookings for vacation rentals, and show how you can take part in this growing #BookDirect movement.
For better or worse, while Airbnb has helped spur explosive growth in the short-term rental industry, Airbnb’s brand has supplanted those of the professional rental management companies. Most vacation rental guests remark that they “booked an Airbnb,” and they usually have little or no awareness of the management company brand that actually dictates their experience.
The purpose of #BookDirect Day is to raise awareness that booking direct is available for vacation rentals just as it is for hotels, and that travelers can benefit from bypassing third-party channels (the OTAs) when they book directly with vacation rental management companies.
On the first #BookDirect Day in 2018, over 3 million travelers received emails about the advantages of booking vacation rentals directly. In 2019, that reach grew to over 24 million emails and 61 million impressions on social media.
As awareness among travelers about the advantages of booking direct grows, accepting and promoting direct booking is becoming essential for any successful vacation rental management company.
Here are five ways to boost your direct bookings and build your independent vacation rental brand.
1. Accept Direct Bookings On Your Website
Many vacation rental companies have websites, but they lack the capability to accept direct bookings or inquiries on their site. In 2020, consumers expect frictionless transactions online across all device types, including mobile and tablet. Building a website with these features on your own is a costly endeavor, and thankfully, there are plenty of out-of-the-box solutions to easily launch your own branded booking site.
Most of these solutions are part of a larger vacation rental property management system (PMS), so your inventory, pricing, photos, availability etc. are already synced across channels when you launch your direct booking site.
Selecting a PMS can be overwhelming as there are many choices out in the marketplace. Thankfully, most include some kind of #bookdirect capability. To help with picking a PMS, if you don’t already have one, the folks at rented.com have put together the gold standard of Property Management Guides called The Ultimate Guide to Property Management Software.
If you are just starting out and are looking for a simple way to launch a great looking website, we love the simplicity and modern feel of Lodgify’s website templates. Lodgify is a PMS that puts an emphasis on direct booking along with the connections to third party bookings sites.
Here is an example of one of their direct booking templates. Not only does this template include a great direct booking experience, it also comes with easy to use templates for blogs, about pages, property details etc. that will help create a site that ranks well in organic Google search.
If you want more information about selecting vacation rental software, check out our article on the best sources for vacation software reviews.
2. Search Engine Optimization (SEO) For Vacation Rentals
Search Engine Optimization (SEO) is the practice of increasing traffic to your website from organic search results, primary Google. SEO is a long-term investment, and it takes time to improve your rankings in organic search. In the vacation rental space, the large OTAs dominate search traffic; however, there are independent brands that have broken through.
In Savannah for instance, googling “Savannah Vacation Rentals,” two of the top five organic results are local vacation rental property management companies, Southern Belle Vacation Rentals and Lucky Savannah. Appearing high in google search is the #1 way you can increase direct bookings for your vacation rentals because you are acquiring web traffic with high-intent to travel to your destination.
Today, there are plenty of free tools you can use to improve your site’s Google rankings. Here at StayFi and VRM Insider, we use SEMrush and Google’s Search Console. These are 5 easy steps to improve your vacation rental site’s SEO.
1. Set Up Google Search Console
Google Search Console is Google’s free service that allows you to check that Google is indexing your website correctly and measures how is your site is performing in Google Search.
If you have Google Analytics set up on your website, then set up takes a matter of seconds, otherwise you will have to insert a snippet of code into your website’s code (although you should be using Google Analytics).
2. Audit Your Vacation Rental Site's SEO With SEMrush
SEMrush’s Free SEO Audit will give you a list of actionable items to improve your website’s SEO and fix any technical SEO issues on your pages.
The issues are grouped into Critical Errors, Warnings, and Notices with instructions on how to resolve every issue:
3. How To Increase Backlinks For Vacation Rental Sites
SEMrush Audit will also audit backlinks to your website. High-quality backlinks are when websites with authority in the relevant space and a good amount of traffic link to your site. Publishing content that links to your site on these websites improves your site’s SEO and will improve google search results.
Some of the ways that vacation rental managers can generate quality links to their vacation rental site include:
- Partner with local events like marathons, conferences, and music festivals to get listed on their site as a provider of accommodations.
- Reach out to the local tourism authority to get listed on their site. For instance, visitsavannah.com has listings of local rental managers on their site.
- Work with local bloggers and publications to get reviewed on their site or to exchange guest posts.
4. Generate Frequent Vacation Rental Blog Content
In addition, search engines favor sites that constantly have new content added. Two of the best ways to keep adding fresh new content on your site are:
- Allow guest reviews on your site.
- Start a blog or newsletter and update it at least once a week.
SEMrush also also a content idea generation tool that will provide keywords for you to build blog content around.
5. Hire A Freelancer To Help With SEO
If you run the SEMrush audit and don’t know how to fix some of the issues on your website, or you don’t have time to write weekly or monthly content for a blog, there are plenty of affordable freelance options out there to fill these gaps.
We use fiverr to find high-quality freelance talent, and there are tons of SEO and content experts out there that can help implement a direct booking SEO strategy.
3. Build An Email Marketing List
A robust email list is one of the most valuable assets you can leverage to increase direct bookings for your vacation rentals. Unfortunately, many of the OTAs make it difficult for vacation rental managers to collect emails from the booker of their properties. Furthermore, getting access to the names and emails of the other guests in the home can be nearly impossible.
An easy first step to start collecting emails is to add email collection to your website. This can be especially effective if you provide a discount code in return for signing up for your email newsletters.
It is more challenging to collect emails from guests who book on third party channels. StayFi offers a unique and seamless solution to collect contact information from all your guests during their stay. StayFi sets up a branded WiFi splash page that guests use to access the WiFi system with their name and email.
This solution not only solves the issue of collecting emails, but also is an easy way to increase your brand awareness to guests whenever they log on to the WiFi in your homes.
Tip: You can also generate additional revenue through your emails using affiliate marketing and selling tours – see our article on Viator’s (by TripAdvisor’s) Affiliate Program.
4. Use Email Marketing Automation To Increase Direct Bookings For Your Vacation Rentals
“Marketing automation” is industry jargon for having a series of automated messages sent without human intervention. Marketing automation will enable you to send a series of emails to new subscribers without having to continuously produce new content.
With the right email service provider, setting up marketing automation is easier than ever. Providers like MailChimp and Constant Contact have tools to set up different types of automated campaigns without any special technical skills.
One of our favorite email providers that has great automation features is called ConvertKit. ConvertKit has a great visual builder for automations that makes it easy to see how and when your subscribers will receive emails.
The most basic type of campaign is a “welcome series” that sends out a series of emails spaced out over a set time-frame after an individual joins your email list. For instance, if someone joins your email list in exchange for a 10% discount, you can set up a “welcome series” email campaign with the following logic:
Immediately – Send a welcome email with the 10% discount code and brief introduction to your brand.
+2 Hours – If the previous email was not opened, send a similar one.
+14 Days – Send an email with the top three reasons to visit one of your destinations.
Every 30 Days – Send an email about your homes, destinations, or brand that reminds the email subscriber about their 10% discount code.
Tip: The more you can personalize and customize these emails based on how and when you collected the email, the better results you will achieve.
5. Brand Your Vacation Rentals On OTAs
It may seem like a simple idea, but you would be surprised about how many vacation rental managers aren’t doing it. Sites like Vrbo allow rental managers to list their brand under the property manager or host. Consumers like to comparison shop on the web and don’t be surprised if they google your company name once they see it on an OTA.
Every hotel brands their properties on OTAs, so you should be doing the same!
Below is an example of how Lucky Savannah includes their branding on a Vrbo Listing:
Once a potential guest sees your name and finds your site, make sure you offer them an incentive to engage with your brand. For instance, many brands offer a 5% or 10% discount for signing up for a mailing list on their site. ConvertKit makes it easy to create a modal on your website and trigger a discount to their email inbox. This way you can ensure that you capture this potential guest and that their first booking is direct.
Hopefully these tips will help increase direct bookings for your vacation rentals. Please leave comments with any of your feedback.