Introduction: How Your Vacation Rental OTA Listing Can Help You Get More Direct Bookings
One of the major benefits to listing on a third-party booking platform is the built-in demand and traffic. Guests from all over the world visit OTAs in search of properties just like yours. Even so, guests are starting to learn that by booking directly they can avoid platform service fees and benefit from significant cost savings. Optimizing your listings on third-party booking platforms will not only increase your total booked nights, but specific tweaks can signal to guests that you are a professional vacation rental operator with a direct booking website.
The first step in growing your direct bookings is leveraging the traffic and high intent travelers from these OTAs so that your listings are first in the search results for your area on these platforms. No matter how optimized your OTA listings are for direct bookings, it won’t matter if no one finds them. That’s why the first step is to optimize your OTA listing in general. This is called OTA SEO (Search Engine Optimization).
Easy Ways to Optimize Your Airbnb Listings
Airbnb’s search algorithm takes into consideration many factors. However, they prioritize three key areas - quality, popularity and price. Based on a recent interview with Bloomberg, Brian Chesky said “The more affordable Airbnbs are, the more bookings we get.” This most likely points to pricing being potentially one of the most important factors in their algorithm.
Airbnb defines these three areas in the following way:
- Quality - The algorithm assesses many characteristics to evaluate quality, including the listing photos, reviews of the listing, and listing characteristics. Higher quality listings tend to rank higher in search.
- Popularity - The algorithm evaluates the popularity of a listing using a wide range of information, including how guests engage with the listing and how often the listing gets booked. Examples of guest engagement with a listing include how often guests save a listing to their wish list, how often guests book, and how often guests message the Host. More popular listings tend to rank higher in search.
- Price - To determine how attractive the price of a listing is, the algorithm considers a variety of price data, including how the price compares to similar listings in the area for the given dates. Listings that are priced below other comparable listings—other listings in the area with similar guest capacity and amenities—tend to rank higher in search.
With this in mind, here are some ways you can try to increase your Airbnb SEO.
- Make sure you have professional or at least high quality photos for your listings. Airbnb has a Pro Photo Program for you to book a photographer in your area that tends to be fairly affordable and you can also use these photos for your direct booking website. Make sure to add captions, detailing what’s in the photos.
- Don’t want to hire a professional? There are free AI real estate photo editor tools out there (e.g. Fotor) that will help you make simple edits like lighting.
- Fill out all the amenities your listing offers - the more complete and appealing to a guest your listing is, the more you’ll show up when they’re searching for specific criteria
- Make sure your listing description is detailed and complete, anticipating questions that guests may have about your listing. Adding a guidebook increases your chance of getting bookings, which in turn can increase your ranking.
- In your title description, include the attractions you’re close to that people are searching for so you appear higher for specific searches (e.g. 1 bed Parisian apt near Eiffel Tower with AC)
- Ask guests to like and save your listings once they book so that your popularity score goes up. Ask your friends and family to save as well.
- Respond within an hour to any inquiries. The faster your response time, the higher you appear in search results. If you’re using a PMS, you can set up auto response messages so that your response time is always immediate. If you don’t have a PMS, use the ‘Saved Messages’ feature to copy templates that you can use at a click of a button for faster responses to common questions.
- Turn on instant book because not only does this greatly increase the chances of your listing getting booked, which in turn increases your listing popularity so that your listing ranks higher, Airbnb also prioritizes listings with instant book because they do lead to higher bookings.
- Set lower minimum night stays so that you can capture more bookings. You’ll have to assess whether the increased turnover is something that you can manage but with a short minimum night stay, especially in the busy season, you can often capture last minute bookers who may only need a short stay.
- Set your cancellation policy to flexible or moderate so that guests are more likely to book with you, increasing your popularity score.
- With Airbnb’s recent focus on trying to lower prices for guests, this is likely an important factor in your search rankings, especially compared to other listings in your area.
- One way to potentially adjust for this is depending on your target customer and other areas in your listing, you could offer longer term stays on a week long or month long stay. For example, if listings in your area aren’t well suited for long term stays, you could have your nightly price higher but your long term stay discount higher so that your listing ends up being more attractive specifically to people looking for longer stays.
Easy Ways to Optimize Your Booking.com Listings
Many of the same strategies that will help you improve your search ranking on Airbnb also apply to Booking.com. However there are a few unique programs that Booking.com offers that can help boost your listing ranking.
The Genius Programme is a marketing programme to help partners get extra visibility through special tagging, ranking boosts and various marketing investments from Booking.com. Booking.com claims that for partners who join Genius, on average, they see an increase of 70% in search result views, 45% in bookings and 40% in revenue with the cost of the discount accounted for.
To join the Genius Programme, your property needs to meet three eligibility criteria:
- It’s open and bookable on our platform
- It’s received at least three guest reviews
- It has a review score of at least 7.5 (we may make an exception if the average review score in your area/city is lower than 7.5 and your property’s review score is above that average)
Preferred Partner Programme
The Preferred Partner Programme is an exclusive programme that gives greater visibility to the top 30% of our partners. However, it’s not open for anyone to join and you must meet a set of criteria first to be eligible to join. Those who are eligible to join must pay a small increase in commission in return for receiving:
- Greater visibility in search results
- A special ‘thumbs up’ seal of approval on your property page
- You also get advanced product insights about how your property and promotions are performing
- Preferred partners also receive up to 65% more page views and on average 20% more booking
To join the Preferred Partner Programme, your property needs to meet all of these eligibility criteria:
- Performance score – a combination of your expected annual bookings and traveller demand for your property. You’ll need a score of at least 70%.
- Review score – this is how guests rate your property out of 10 after they’ve checked out. A score of at least 7 is necessary.
- External prices – this is their measurement of how competitive your prices are on their platform, compared to on other websites. You’ll need to be ‘competitive’ to be able to join the programme.
The visibility booster is a way to boost the visibility and rankings of your listings for a short period. They recommend using it for certain high-demand dates, or during periods where you’re experiencing low sales or high cancellations. You will pay a higher commission to use the Visibility Booster. This is meant more as a short term strategy but they recommend using the Preferred Partner Programme or Genius Programme.
These are some of the ways you can leverage paid strategies to increase your Booking.com listing. However, we recommend investing in some of the organic strategies for boosting your search ranking before spending money on the paid strategies so you can maximize any monetary investments you make.
Easy Ways to Optimize Your VRBO Listings
Although VRBO also has guidelines on what factors they consider for ranking, it’s fairly generic and very similar to other OTAs. One difference between VRBO and the other platforms is that they target more families and so highlighting specific amenities or features in your listing aimed specifically at families could help you get more bookings.
Like Booking.com, VRBO has some programs that hosts and property managers can leverage to increase their rankings for their properties.
Premier Host Program
The Premier Host Program is very similar to Airbnb’s Superhost Status. Premier Host is a free, invite-only program that recognizes owners and managers who consistently deliver great traveler experiences. As soon as you meet the eligibility criteria, you’re automatically added to the program. Premier Hosts are identified by the badge displayed on their listing. The name of the Premier Host will not be displayed along the Contact host tab.
To achieve Premier Host status, all listings in your account must achieve the following:
- An average review rating of 4.4 or higher.
- A booking acceptance rate of 95% or higher.
- An owner-initiated cancellation rate of 1% or lower.
- Have 3 or more Vrbo reviews.
- Have at least 5 bookings or 60 booked nights.
The VRBO Boost feature is similar to Booking.com’s Genius Programme. It lets you earn and apply “power-ups” on certain dates to improve your visibility in search. However, unlike Booking.com’s program, hosts and property managers can earn Boosts on bookings and completed stays. When eligible listings are booked and paid for, you’ll earn a power-up for every dollar charged in service fees and/or commission. With each booking acceptance, you’ll earn more power-ups.
How to Optimize Your OTA Listings for Direct Bookings
Currently, OTAs don’t prevent you from adding your brand name to your listings or to your profile. This is a grey area as it may technically be against their content policy. However, almost all professional property managers do this on the OTAs and the OTAs seem to turn a blind eye to it. This is the best way for your potential guests to discover your direct booking website because many guests now are savvy and know to do a quick Google search with a property manager’s name or a listing’s brand name to try and find a direct booking website.
1. Add Your Brand Name to Your Listings
At the end of your listing title, add your brand name. For example, “2 Bed Cabin w/Sauna - Berry Mountain View Stays”. You’ll need to make sure you keep within the 50 character title limit on Airbnb, 80 character limit on VRBO and 255 character limit on Booking.com.
2. Add Your Brand Name to Your Profile
In your profile, clearly state who you are and the name of your company within the first three lines (e.g. “Welcome to Berry Mountainview Stays by Fiona Berry. I'm the owner of Berry Mountainview Stays Inc. and have been a professional host for over 12 years.”). This immediately tells prospective guests your company name so they can find your direct booking website and that you’re a professional.
3. Add Your Logo to Your Profile
Use your business logo as your profile photo. Savvy travelers will know how to use your logo and look for it on the internet to try and find your direct booking website. It also ensures that if they do find your direct booking website, they know it’s the same because of the logo. It also builds credibility that you’re a professional and they can trust booking with you directly.
Your OTA listing is an important part of your overall direct booking strategy and optimizing it can lead to more OTA bookings as well as direct bookings. By ensuring that guests see your listings first when searching for destinations on OTAs, you also increase your chances that they’ll also try to find your direct booking website. There are common strategies that you can employ across all the OTAs that will increase your search rankings and ways to help travelers find your brand name and direct booking website. Investing the time in these strategies will help you grow your direct bookings over time.