Running a Rental Business

Should You Offer Direct Booking for Your Vacation Rental?

While Airbnb, Vrbo, and other channels increasingly dominate bookings, the momentum for short-term rental hosts to fight back is finally picking up. This article will cover the top strategies hosts are using to successfully drive more direct bookings and how they can invest more effectively in their direct booking business.

By Stephanie Kidd

Last updated: August 04, 2022

The Benefits of Booking Direct

As Amy Hinote, the Founder of VRM Intel, has frequently pointed out, many vacation rental owners are not even aware of why they should invest in their direct booking business. Outside of just paying fewer fees to online travel agencies (OTAs), there are clear statistics on why direct booking drives more value for short-term rental businesses.

According to data from Key Data, direct online bookings have had a consistently higher value, higher average daily rates (ADR), and higher length of stays over the past several years.

Outside of the immediate monetary benefit, there are additional benefits to establishing a direct connection with guests outside of booking platforms. These include being able to set and manage guest expectations, present any upsell opportunities beforehand, communicate directly, and control cancellations, refunds, and any booking changes.

Direct Booking Websites

In 2022, consumers expect frictionless transactions online across all device types, including mobile and tablet. The direct booking website is the core vehicle to express the brand of any vacation rental business and is the first and most important tool for driving bookings.

It used to be that building a website with these features with a professional brand and feel was a costly endeavor. However, today there are plenty of out-of-the-box solutions and qualified consultants who can help to launch a high-quality branded booking site.

woman using a laptop computer at a wooden desk

Building a website starts with the property management software (PMS), so that inventory, pricing, photos, and availability are synced correctly across all channels, including the direct booking website.

Most property management systems include some kind of direct booking capability, providing hosts with easy-to-use direct booking website templates. These templates make it easy to customize and manage the booking experience. They also allow hosts to add blogs, “About Us” pages, and more.

If you are looking for professional help launching a direct bookings website, or if your PMS template is not measuring up, there are several consultants and agencies that specialize in building short-term rental websites.

These companies and consultants include Boostly, ICND, and Signal. They’ll integrate with your PMS and build top-performing websites that rank in search and can convert traffic into bookers.

Search Engine Optimization (SEO) for Vacation Rentals

The purpose of the content you add to your direct booking website should be to help create a site that ranks well in organic Google searches.

Search engine optimization (SEO) is the practice of increasing traffic to your website from organic search results, primarily 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, when googling “Savannah Vacation Rentals,” two of the top five organic results are local vacation rental property management companies.

Appearing high in Google search results pages is the number one way to increase direct bookings for your vacation rental. This is 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. Below, find five easy steps to improve your vacation rental site’s SEO.

1. Set Up Google Search Console

Google Search Console is a free service that allows you to check whether Google is indexing your website correctly. It also measures how your site is performing in Google searches.

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

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. Increase High-Quality Backlinks

The Semrush tool mentioned above will also audit backlinks to your website. You can earn high-quality backlinks when authoritative and relevant websites with a good amount of traffic link to your site.

Some of the ways that hosts can generate quality backlinks 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.
  • Work with local bloggers and publications to get reviewed on their site or to exchange guest posts.
  • Ask to get listed or featured on your software company’s site.
Clean desk with computers.

4. Generate Frequent Content

Search engines also favor sites that consistently 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. Many PMS direct booking website builders have the capabilities to allow any guest to leave a review for a listing.
  • Start a blog or newsletter and update it at least once a week.

Semrush also has 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 a Semrush audit and don’t know how to fix some of the issues on your website, or if 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 recommend using Fiverr to find high-quality freelance talent. There are tons of SEO and content experts out there that can help implement a direct booking SEO strategy.

Collecting Guest Emails for Marketing

A robust email list is one of the most valuable assets you can leverage to increase direct bookings for your vacation rentals.

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.

Unfortunately, many OTAs make it difficult for property owners 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.

StayFi offers a unique and seamless solution to collect contact information from all your guests during their stay — even guests who book on third-party channels. To access the WIFI, guests will have to input their name and email address on a branded WIFI splash page, allowing hosts to collect emails without lifting a finger.

This solution not only solves the issue of collecting emails. It’s also an easy way to increase your brand awareness to guests whenever they log on to the WiFi in your home. You can also redirect all guests to your direct booking website after logging in to further boost their brand awareness and recognition.

You can also generate additional revenue through your emails using affiliate marketing and selling tours.

Email Marketing for Short-Term Rentals

While you may hear “email is dead,” you have to remember your personal preferences when it comes to receiving marketing messages is not necessarily representative of the market as a whole.

Hubspot reports that email generates $42 for every $1 spent, which is an astounding 4,200% ROI. This makes it one of the most effective options available.

One of the best ways to get started in email marketing for short-term rentals is with marketing automation.

Marketing automation is industry jargon for having a series of automated messages sent without human intervention. It enables busy short-term rental operators to set up email templates one time and have them sent to every email subscriber.

The most basic type of short-term rental email marketing automation campaign is a “welcome series.” This includes a series of messages 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 when logging into WIFI, you can set up a “welcome series” email campaign with the following logic:

  • Immediately: Send a welcome email with the 10% discount code and a brief introduction to your brand.
  • After 7 days: Thank the guests for visiting and provide information on how to book again directly.
  • After 30 days: Send an email with the top three reasons to visit your destination.
  • Every 30 days: Send an email about your home, destination, or brand that reminds the email subscriber about their 10% discount code.

The more you can personalize and customize these messages based on how and when you collected the email address, the better results you will achieve.

Grow Your Airbnb Business With Direct Booking

Despite the current trend away from direct bookings, the barriers for vacation rental companies to generate and accept direct bookings are lower than ever.

Nearly every PMS includes a basic direct booking website template, and guest engagement tools have made it even easier to market to and ensure brand awareness for potential guests.

To increase the effectiveness of your direct booking website, try your hand at SEO and email marketing. A successful vacation rental website and SEO strategy will become crucial as you continue to grow your business.

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