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One Weird Copywriting Trick That Converts Pageviews Into Inquiries (AKA The Goldfish Trick)

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Screen Shot 2014-05-05 at 9.44.28 AMIn 2013, the average attention span of a human was 8 seconds, one second less than that of a goldfish (fact).

This is relevant (as it relates to your vacation rental) because we all suffer from a little glitch when it comes to listing sites…

We hook prospective guests with our gorgeous featured images and compelling titles.

But just seconds into this process, they land on your page and something terrible happens:

They lose attention and transform into a skimmer (not a reader).

If you really think about it, most “pageviews” don’t stay more than a few seconds (and thus, basically aren’t views at all!)

But don’t fret!

If you realize that with some small adjustments, you can increase the time (from seconds to minutes) and squeeze all those existing page views into MORE inquiries, I have a time-tested copywriting technique that might very well change your statistics forever…

 

Vacation Rental Listings Are Meant To Be Skimmed

 

attention spansJust because there is no word limit to a webpage doesn’t mean that any prospective guest wants to read hundreds and hundreds of words about your vacation rental.

In fact, I’d argue that the shorter, more succinct, and most properly spaced your listing or website copy is, the better chance you have of sealing the inquiry.

[NOTE: when I review listings like this one, I slide down the attention slope (right)]

So assuming you’ve honed your compelling and descriptive words down to 200 or 300 words…

You’ve broken your paragraphs up into short sentences….

You’ve used bullets effectively…

Now is the time to use the weird but supremely effective art of sub-headers to encourage the prospective guest to keep reading!

 

3 Components Of Great Sub-Headers

 

Good sub-headers are not just mini-headlines.

They keep attention!

Looky here…in this article, I’ve used the following sub-headers:

Screen Shot 2014-05-05 at 9.40.23 AM> Vacation Rental Listings Are Meant To Be Skimmed

> 3 Components Of Great Sub-Headers

> Realize The ENORMOUS Potential Here

> Here’s What To Do Next

What do they do for you, the reader?

1) They Provide Breaks: Considering your description is probably more than 300 words long, sub-headers work as nice little rests – water breaks during the race – to keep your prospective guest reading to the very end.

2) They Make Your Text Less Intimidating: Ever been searching for a vacation rental or receive an email response that is like 500 words and it’s all in one or two paragraphs? How do you feel when that happens?

The beauty of a sub-header is that it makes your description much more approachable and pleasing on the eye: it baits the guest into reading more and more about the wonders of your property. (I would argue that all of us could sell a prospective guest if we had unlimited time.)

3) They Reinforce Your Benefits: By now, you should know that the best listings push benefits, not features. So when scanned (assuming that’s all a prospective guest does), the sub-headers should keep plugging away at your complete sales message.

If you’ve listened to my podcast with Jessica Vozel, you’ll understand the power of these kinds of copywriting techniques.

 

Realize The ENORMOUS Potential Here

 

I didn’t realize the power of sub-headers until I started using them only about a year ago.

I had long posts, long descriptions, long owner bios…etc.

But the moment I started taking some copywriting classes and learning that online attention spans are short (ESPECIALLY when it comes to travelers looking at a million similar properties) I made some changes…

These changes resulted in a tangible uptick in engagement: both with my rentals AND with my blog readers.

Having seen the difference sub-headers make, I look back on my old writing the same way I look back on my class photos from high school, as if to say, What in the world was I thinking?!?

 

Here’s What To Do Next

 

This process is something that every owner or manager can do literally right now, within about 5 minutes:

First, break up your text into short paragraphs. Keep each paragraph to one or two sentences max. Eliminate anything that doesn’t absolutely positively need to be in there.

Second, create and inject a small series of sub-headers (if the listing site allows it, make them big and bold or CAPS).

When read alone, these sub-headers should look like the outline of your sales pitch. Provide breaks. Be less intimidating. Reinforce your benefits.

Last, use this reverse-engineering methodology for all your vacation rental writing from now on.

About the Author Matt Landau

Matt Landau is the Founder of the Vacation Rental Marketing Blog and the Inner Circle, two online resources dedicated to helping vacation rental owners and managers generate more bookings. Google+ | More Posts (230)

  • Great tips, Matt. That fickle attention span is also a compelling argument for really paring down to uncover the “essence” of your rental, and what it uniquely offers your guests that they can’t find elsewhere. (Whether that’s its location or an interesting backstory or quirky antiques or on-site hens who lay fresh eggs, etc. etc.) A lot of rentals have flatscreen TVs these days–no need to waste words on it.

    • loscuatrotulipanes

      Thanks Jessica! Agree 100%

  • Jamaicavilla

    Great article Matt, Its important to have your USP upfront. Does bullet points work best?
    http://www.jamaicaoceanviewvilla.com

    • loscuatrotulipanes

      Cavel, bullet points and lists definitely simplify and thwart text burnout. But I believe sub-headers do a better job of moving the story along. A rolling stone gathers no moss 🙂

    • In my experience, bullets actually aren’t as effective as you’d imagine. There’s no OOMPH in a bulleted list of amenities, and everything is given equal weight in that format…nothing to distinguish a DVD player from an infinity pool. And no room for imagination and selling the potential experience your guest will have while enjoying those features. Just my two cents. 🙂

      • loscuatrotulipanes

        What’s a OOMPH? Makes me think of an oompa loompa…

        • Haha. Yes, exactly, Matt–the ever-elusive VRBO Listing Oompa Loompa, who shows up to coax guests to visit rentals he deems worthy.

  • More great tips, thanks Matt! I will get to work on editing my listings! Here is one of mine…any feedback is greatly appreciated!! http://www.vrbo.com/409851

    • Cheryl,

      Love the exterior photo of your cabin! It sounds like a lovely place to stay!

      This is JUST ME. I was walking through a parking lot in a National Park and suddenly was in the middle of a buffalo stampede. You made the loose buffalo your major attraction in your description. I wouldn’t rent because I’d be a little scared…

      I’m no exert here but my eyes glazed over when I got to your paragraph about “fun things to do”. I’m a chemist… I’d rather see a short bulleted list.

      I would take out the keyword list.

      • Teena,
        Thanks for much for the feedback, I greatly appreciate it! I will definitely make the changes & make sure readers know that the buffalo are completely fenced in & not a threat at all:).

  • Thanks Matt.

    We try harder!

    http://www.rogercummiskey.com/holidays/

    Comments invited.

    Roger

  • Jane

    Thanks, Matt. Would love feedback on improving one of my listings: http://www.vrbo.com/480645

    • loscuatrotulipanes

      Jane, no sub-headers at all. Please get back to us when they’re in so the community can give their thoughts?

      • Jane

        Gotcha! I worked on our personal rental home instead (see my later post above). Looking forward to feedback as it may be too many bullet points (?!) http://www.vrbo.com/289955

  • I regularly revise my web page but always feel that there is room for improvement. I respect the more experts than I!

  • Jay

    Hi from Slovakia. Thank you Matt for your blogs, piece of art !
    We kind of feel that what you are describing is exactly the description of our apartment , too long, and we will appreciate your advice how to make it look better.
    http://www.tripadvisor.com/VacationRentalReview-g274924-d3700070-Blue_Apt_in_the_heart_of_Old_Town_Bratislava-Bratislava_Bratislava_Region.html
    Thanks again!

    • loscuatrotulipanes

      Hey Jay, don’t see any sub-headers here so I can’t really advise. Please get back to us when they’re installed…

  • Troy Stevens

    As always, thanks for the valuable information.
    http://www.vrbo.com/3750411ha

    • loscuatrotulipanes

      Troy, don’t see any sub-headers here so can’t really advise on them. P.S. your description seems relatively short and quickly-put together, no?

  • Blamona

    Hi Matt, tried my best, critic welcome!

    http://www.vrbo.com/377589

    • loscuatrotulipanes

      Blamona, lookin good!

      Some tips:

      1) Try making your inquisitive sub-headers (such as WHY BAREFOOT PALMS IS THE VILLA) into more catchy questions like “Wanna Know Why Barefoot Palms Is The Best Villa?” or “5 Reasons Barefoot Palms Is Turks & Caicos’ #1 Villa.” This can be applied to a few of your sub-headers.

      2) I’d drop out the destination info as people searching this category have likely already decided this part.

      3) Do me a favor: right here, tell me three things…what makes your rental unique compared to the others down the street, what feature or comment guests repeat most in testimonials, what is your price compared to nearby hotels.

      • Blamona

        Hello Matt, love #1, will change. #2 I find we get inquiries from persons debating destinations, considering Caymans and Virgin Islands too– does this change leaving or deleting?
        3 things–killer back yard with tropical tiki bar, 2 blocks from beach saves 60% or more for luxury villa, colorful and “beachy” decor. (love our fully stocked kitchen, no counting/washing plates the whole time) “feels like home away from home”
        Price compared to resorts (in TCI resorts are condos, so most having kitchens, etc) peak season we are about 1/2 to 2/3s savings over resort. Non peak (May-November) resorts give it away, so we have similar price points.
        PS thank you!
        PSS I’m having a 3D floor plan being made, thanks again!

        • loscuatrotulipanes

          OK I think you may have just outlined your new VRBO listing framework!

          – Sub-Header1: 3 Reasons Barefoot Palms Is Turks & Caicos’ #1 Villa (list those 3 things you mention above)
          – Sub-Header2: Here Are Our Most Beloved Features (your stocked kitchen and “feels like home” quote)
          – Sub-Header3: Maybe You’re Not Sold Yet? (give the price comparisons)

          Obviously you can fuse some of your existing text with this framework, but I think it really nicely encompasses your strengths.

          • Blamona

            So awesome! Thanks again, we repost this afternoon with changes

  • Vaughan

    I’m off to work subtitling away! Will post the finished product here: http://www.vrbo.com/56320. By the way what do you think of the new vacation rental site arbnb? (Not sure I have that right!). Where the guests rate the owners and viva versa.

  • Susan Harrison

    I have supported you on FB, twitter and g+1 but the instructions have not appeared, what am I doing wrong please?
    TIA

  • Feedback! Yes please! http://www.vrbo.com/301861 I sent feedback and called Customer Service twice to fix the lower case i to an upper case I in the title. Seems it’s tough for them to correct the little stuff!

    I have a wonderful copywriter rewriting my ad as we speak (Jessica Vozel).

    If anyone has any thoughts about my website I’d be just as grateful! http://www.FourSeasonsLodge.com

    Thank YOU Matt!
    Teena from the beautiful state of NH

    • loscuatrotulipanes

      Teena, this is EXACTLY what I was looking for. Really great job! Your sub-headers really guide the user along and even make the technical bit (the part about renting safe) a feature of the pitch. Love the handicapped and gay friendly bit as well. Can’t really critique this at all, other than maybe a call to action at the end:

      Ready To Reserve Your Nights?
      Call me at 00000 or email me using the yellow email owner button to the right and expect a reply from me within an hour…etc.

      • Will get on it later! Thank you Matt!

  • Barbara

    Would love some feedback for my listing: http://www.vrbo.com/3613876ha

    • Hi Barbara! I’m a travel copywriter with many clients in the vacation rental industry, and I have some suggestions for your copy to help bring it to the level of those sharp, professional photos!

      I’d recommend cutting that list of amenities at the start, and instead beginning with “WHY SHOULD YOU STAY AT WOLF’S DEN?”–that’s what people are most interested in knowing, anyway. Plus, beginning with rules like NO SMOKING is a bit distancing–you want your tone to be friendly and welcoming to potential guests.

      I love this line…” So gather up your pack of wolves and come join us…” It shows a bit of playfulness, fun, and personality.

      I’m also wondering about the wolf decor and the new interior design that you mention. You might consider giving some specifics about what makes the decor new/stand out from other cabins in the area. Is there new furniture? Original art? Warm wood accents?

      Hope this helps!

      • loscuatrotulipanes

        Like!

      • Barbara

        hi Jessica,
        thanks for your advice. I will implement the changes. Appreciate your comments.

  • loscuatrotulipanes

    Guys, the idea of this review is not a free/full VRBO listing review. Rather, it’s for the sub-header project that has been explained above. Please stick to implementing the sub-headers before you post and I’ll be happy to start giving feedback…

  • Looking forward to the critiques
    http://www.searanchabalonebay.com/about-us.html

    • Is it better to leave photos in/out among the headers?

      • loscuatrotulipanes

        I’d align them to the right of the text (leaving the sub-headers 100% clear) just like I have in this particular blog post.

        • Also helps also to have website that allows for text wrap. This one (as far as I’ve discovered) is basically text box and image box.

    • loscuatrotulipanes

      Donna, great job!

      I would personally align the photos to the right (like I have in this blog post). In fact, maybe even reduce the number of photos (or make a slideshow so they don’t break up the text quite so much?). In general you have done a really wonderful job of using sub-headers. Maybe just try to make each one a little more compelling?

      “Our Home Is Perfect For” could become “5 Types Of Vacationers Ideal For Our Home” or “What You’ll Love” could become “Here’s What Makes Our Home So Unique.” I dunno, just some ideas.

      As a side note, that photo about half way down the page of your home (looks similar to the one as the featured image on your homepage) is stunning!

  • Jane

    OK. Doing our personal condo rental instead of the other… http://www.vrbo.com/289955 Though after looking at Teena’s, wondering if it works better with more “conversation” rather than bullet points….

    • loscuatrotulipanes

      Jane, first comment (totally unrelated to sub-headers) is OMG your featured photo is unbelievable. Maybe the nicest featured image of any vacation rental I have ever seen. EVER. I really want to visit.

      As for the sub-headings, I think you’ve done a really really nice job.

      Some ideas to build on your great work:

      – Change the WHO WOULD LIKE TO STAY AT PENINSULA PAPGAYO FOR A FRACTION OF THE HOTEL COST AND ENJOY MORE PRIVACY AND SPACE? to “Is Our Home Really 1/3 The Cost Of A Hotel?” or something similar. (Also, you mispelled Papagayo 🙂
      – WHY DID WE CHOOSE THIS CONDO? could become “Here’s Why We Bought This Condo In The First Place”
      – WHAT DO YOU HAVE ACCESS TO? could become “3 Amenities Included In Our Rates”
      – Maybe add a call-to-action sub-header like I mention with Teena above?

      I think it should be clear to others what a description that took time to create truly looks like. If anyone is doubting their own description and doesn’t want to use a professional copywriter, I’d recommend starting over and following Jane’s lead.

      • Jane

        Thanks for taking the time to critique and suggest! I really appreciate it and the great suggestions! I will be implementing immediately! Now on to the properties that I manage and haven’t actually stayed in (much more difficult, but the effort should be worth it!!)

      • Wow–great looking listing, Jane! Your featured photo is so beautiful its surreal.

        My favorite sub-header: LIKE THE IDEA OF YOUR OWN PERSONAL ART GALLERY? It paints (no pun intended) a really compelling and specific image, plus identifies a unique selling point for your rental. Your guests are completely surrounded by beauty–both manmade and natural!

        Nice work! (From a travel copywriter.) 🙂

        • Jane

          Thanks, Jessica! I very much appreciate it!

    • Blamona

      Jane, Agree with everyone, your pictures are WOW! Love how you did the subheaders, hope you don’t mind I’m getting ideas from it. I’m incorporating wordings as losquatrotulipanes has help with. If I make it back to Costa Rica I know where I’m staying!

  • How do you get around the sites that do not allow for text formatting. It all gets smushed together even though when typed in to their text box I use the formatting items such as paragraph, headers, bullets?
    (…and I suppose the answer is to that is to make the description no more than one paragraph)

    • loscuatrotulipanes

      Hey Donna, this is one of those real downers about relying on third party sites. You may be able to use some simple html code (the code for instance indicates a new paragraph). But in general, I can’t suggest too much in this dilemma…

  • Hi Matt. After chewing the pencil this is what I got http://www.vrbo.com/479556

    I have to update my site http://www.legacydisneycondo.com using these ideas as well.

    As always, your comments will be greatly appreciated.

    Thank you!

    • loscuatrotulipanes

      Jorge, please answer these 2 questions:

      1. What do you offer that other Disney area condos do not? What do you do differently?
      2. What are your guest’s biggest questions/concerns before they book?

      • 1. Now is the personal attention.. going more than “2 bedroom, 2 bathroom”. I know I have to find THE difference still, but working on it.
        2. Talking about demographics… from the snowbirds to families with children, with babies… I bet no other place in the world has so many different groups of people, each one with different concerns and questions. Common things? I think they appreciate dealing with the real owner and that the whole process is managed professionally, questions answered, booking process with no hassle, electronic documents, CC payment, etc.
        Got the point… I will try to exploit that (and reduce the list of “goods”… now I realize they smell of “2 bedrooms, 2 bathrooms”)
        Thanks! I not only learn from your answers, but from your questions as well!

        • loscuatrotulipanes

          It’s hard to believe you’re the only one who gives personalized attention so I think it’s really important to find your angle for #1.

          For #2, I’m guessing the questions would revolve around cost/benefits of staying at a condo vs. the Disney resort. It might be a good idea to lay out the Pros and Cons of each transparently?

          Super important to identify these kinds of things because I think they’ll help you craft your description and sub-headers immensely.

          • It takes me some time to go back on this because my wife and I spent some days at our condo improving and maintaining some items there. I took some new pictures for my website (not uploaded yet). One day I went to one of my favorite spots in the resort and sitting under a tree started to think what makes my place different from the other thousands of Orlando vacation rentals. I was there, watching the water from the fountain in the middle of the pond and hearing the birds’ songs, and then it hits me (not like Sir Issac, it wasn’t an apple tree). Is the tranquility of the place! What else you would like to have after a day at Disney World? Please take a look at http://www.vrbo.com/479556 now and let me know what you think. Thanks!

  • Joe Gatto

    Great idea, Matt! I just did this on my own site, and it is spread out over 2 pages http://www.mycostatrip.com/vacation-rental-in-santa-teresa-costa-rica/ & http://www.mycostatrip.com.
    Thanks for reminding me to do it on Flipkey too, http://www.flipkey.com/santa-teresa-vacation-rentals/p442489/.
    I think it looks better now, but I wish I could use bold, italics, better spacing, bullets, etc on the listing sites.

    • loscuatrotulipanes

      Joe, as opposed to just sections “Food&Drink, Activities…etc” what about making some more catchy sub-headers like “Our Favorite Ways To Eat In (And Out)” or “Here Are The Activities That Await.”

      • Joe Gatto

        Thanks, that sounds good!

      • Joe Gatto

        I thought of this, http://www.vrbo.com/440206, what do you think? I took a sentence from various reviews that’s related to the upcoming section & used it as a sub-head. I think it works.

        • loscuatrotulipanes

          Love this Joe! Testimonial sub-headers. Think you just invented a new trick!

          • Joe Gatto

            Cool thanks! But, do they read through well? Does it make a first time visitor want to keep reading, or is it a little confusing?

          • loscuatrotulipanes

            IMHO, it reads great.

  • Lorenzo Caimari

    Hi Matt , after 2 hours of hard work , this is what I got. Still working on my english. Gracias
    http://www.homeaway.com/vacation-rental/p377356

    • loscuatrotulipanes

      Lookin’ good Lorenzo! Although I’d be carefully putting all my eggs in one basket (10 reasons…). It might make sense to take Teena’s lead (above) with regards to a better, more balanced and comprehensive layout? Just an idea…

    • Hi Lorenzo! Great rental. One tip I’d offer for your listing: watch out for using too many exclamation points. They don’t really add anything to the listing, and in fact can hurt, because it can appear like an oversell. Let the rental and its lovely features speak for themselves.

  • Jon @ Hidden Gardens

    Hello! I’ve been watching and learning from the shadows here in SFL. -so this is my first post! Thanks so much for what you do Matt, its helped me tremendously. I’d love any feedback on my listings or website.

    http://www.HiddenGardensVP.com
    http://www.vrbo.com/411336
    and
    http://www.vrbo.com/411338

    • Jon @ Hidden Gardens

      …meant to add that I’m trying the subheaders on my vrbo listings and have left the website descriptions without them for comparison 🙂

      • loscuatrotulipanes

        Jon, break your paragraphs up better. They’re too long. Maybe use a list or bullet format for the last paragraph?

    • Hi Jon. Nice listing! I love how you zero in on the hidden gardens as your unique selling point–smart strategy!

      I would recommend playing around with your opening paragraph and spicing it up a bit. That short bit of content must capture the audience’s interest. What makes the triplex “unusual”? And wouldn’t guests expect a 1BR to be more spacious than a studio?

      One tactic might be to open by talking about the garden, instead.

      Also, you might consider a sub-header and section like “WHY WE’RE GREAT FOR LONG-TERM GUESTS, TOO” which will pull in that particular target audience.

      Good luck!

  • Rae

    I’m a great fan of yours Matt and love what you share! It makes for exciting reading! Please take a look at my now ‘adjusted’ websites after reading your post above: http://www.beachhousenoosa.com and http://www.balinesebeachhousenoosacom

  • Rae

    Matt something went horribly wrong with the WordPress spacing and the size of the lettering on the site once I posted. That is a whole other issue. It was not supposed to look like that! Suggestions anyone?

  • rentalspot

    Matt,

    In regards to user behavior, your post is spot on. At RentalSpot.com, we observe users completely skipping owner descriptions. The order of viewing is 1) images, 2) map location 3) rates 4) policies 5) maybe the description – roughly in that order.

    Potential renters are literally skimming the pages and hitting the highlights. This is not to say great descriptions aren’t needed, but using a little white space and keeping a description concise is so important.

    Keep up the great work!
    Sean
    RentalSpot.com

    • Matt Landau

      Great feedback Sean!