Vacation Rental Marketing Blog
Shares

SEO For Vacation Rentals: The Secrets “They” Don’t Want You To Know

I conducted a survey among my several thousand subscribers at the beginning of this year, and one of the most popular themes of interest was SEO or Search Engine Optimization: the science of making your rental page pop up in Google searches for any traveler searching a relevant phrase.

When you have good SEO, travelers find your vacation rental organically (and for free). It’s perhaps the most natural and powerful method of online marketing today.

But it is also the most controversial, most evolving, and least understood topics of them all.

And because of this, vacation rental owners/managers are at the mercy of experts: desperate to get the knowledge, but unable to pay for the advice.

Fortunately for us, I am pretty good at it.

SEO makes up about 75% of my rentals’ bookings and it is mostly on autopilot (which is to say, I don’t maintain it too much anymore). When people type in any relevant phrase, my website pops up and travelers make inquiries about my rentals.

Now, this is not to say that SEO doesn’t take lots of work to get set up…

In fact, in our recent jam-packed Q&A session, several SEO questions were very poignantly posed!

But in this primer, I’m going to distill the millions of crazy SEO articles on the web down into 3 essential and fundamental points that every vacation rental professional needs to know. Before you hire any expensive SEO expert or try to make this journey on your own, read and understand the following.

I beg you.

Since we’re all busy, I’ll be skipping anything too complicated, irrelevant, or detailed that doesn’t directly impact your results.

1. The Technical Foundation

To have your listing page or website “optimized” is to be technologically organized and relevant enough for the moment when Google’s robots come to analyze what your pages have to offer. You see, Google’s ‘bots’ will visit your page (unbeknownst to you) and determine whether or not it’s worth showing to interested searchers. The way I see it, the “organization” and “relevance” that Google is looking for here can be broken down into three pretty simply categories…

A) Keyword Focus: Everyone should be familiar with the Keyword Selector Tool, which allows us to identify the exact phrases that users search surrounding our rental property. The phrase “Aspen vacation rental” might be searched 100x more than the phrase “Aspen’s best vacation rental,” which is why it’s important to know this tool very well. Precise details are everything in SEO.

The perfect phrases to target are the ones with low competition, high search volume, and (most importantly) tremendous relevance to your property. If you think about it, ranking #1 for the phrase “Aspen rentals” might be far less profitable than ranking #1 for the phrase “Aspen vacation rentals” seeing as the former covers a gamut of rentals (car rentals, ski rentals, snowmobile rentals…etc.) and the latter is like a laser beam of interest.

Identify and implement the right phrases keenly on your page (sprinkle them in the text and use them in your meta tags – below) and you’ve fulfilled the keyword element of a strong SEO foundation.

B) Meta Tags: What might seem like Latin to the newcomer is actually really simple stuff. You’ll want to make sure every single page has a unique Title Tag and a Description Tag, known collectively as “Meta tags.”

Found typically in the back-end of most custom website platforms (sorry, listing site users don’t apply here), these are the identifiers that allow you to dictate to Google what each individual page on your site is all about (beyond just the text and images visible on the front end).

google-serp

(Note: To see what these tags look like, they are the blue headline and the following 1- or 2-line description for any given result on any given Google search like the one above.)

Forget to create these relevant tags — most often just fields to fill out in the backend of your website — and you’ve forgotten to communicate your page’s theme with the biggest search engine in the world. It’s like showing up at a convention without a nametag or business cards!

C) User-friendliness: Aimed again mostly at individual website owners, Google’s ultimately aiming its SEO standards in the direction of the user, which is to say, if you are ever in doubt of how to structure your website, put yourself in the shoes of your potential guest and make sure your site is laid out in a methodical and accessible way.

This short article explains hierarchy and layout concisely. In short, if you put the user first when designing the layout of your site (think of your website layout like grocery store aisles so everything is easy to find) you are on the right track. Try to make any sneaky or overly-creative shortcuts and you’ll likely be hurting your SEO potential.

2. Building Links

We’re all beginners here. So forget all the hubbub around alt tags and Page Ranks and Webmaster tools…

Because in my opinion, what search engine optimization is really about is credentials or online social proof. You must demonstrate to Google that your vacation rental page is authoritative: that you are among the best in your niche at what you do.

And the way you do this online is not unlike the way an expert does this in real life: testimonials or getting others to tout your wares.

That’s right: you’ll want as many people online conveying your prominence as possible.

If you have your own website, GREAT. If you are using a listing site only (shame on you), this tactic works as well.

Of course, just mentioning your property (like, let’s say in a blog post or on Facebook) is one thing, but actually inserting the live link to your property is what really matters. These live link plugs are referred to as “backlinks” and in short, you want lots.

There are a million ways to go about this process of acquiring links (read Guest Blogging and How To Use Press Releases and 5 Ways To Generate Bookings While You Sleep) but the general gist is this: the more (quality) links you can get, the better. If some backlink offer sounds too good to be true (“Pay Just $25 To Get 1,000 Backlinks!!!”) it most probably is.

Now, besides just sending wonderful traffic to your site, backlinks act as online street cred. Google analyzes which pages/sites have the most street cred and organically places them higher in the search results: a fantastically advanced way of providing the most useful information possible to its users.

Advanced Note: When you are out acquiring these backlinks, it’s always preferable to have them in the form of link text (such as this Vacation Rental Marketing Blog) than in long-form (such as http://www.vacationrentalmarketingblog.com). This often takes some finagling with the partnering website owner. But relevant link text links is about the best “word of mouth” online marketing credentials you can get.

3. New & Original Content

I say it all the time: that owners and managers need to become authorities in their destinations in order to draw true loyalty. And so it’s no secret that new and original information is one of Google’s most relevant factors in determining who gets priority placement in the stream of results.

The good news is that those of us who work hard to Help, Not Sell are rewarded by Google handsomely. They know the legwork required to share our expertise takes time and energy. You can take a look at my rentals’ blog – a very powerful SEO example – here (http://www.loscuatrotulipanes.com/index.php/casco-viejo/).

The bad news is that you can’t fake or fast-forward this process. Just like solid vacation rental marketing as a whole, being consistent with new and original content about your area takes patience. It’s a long play. Not for overnight success.

That means that you can’t copy or paste any pre-existing content and call it yours (you’ll get penalized for what they call “duplicate content.”). You also won’t be rewarded for publishing garbage that doesn’t help people.

Perhaps bigger than the individual components of SEO that you can be enlisting, please understand that SEO is more of a sum of the parts: it is a culture, a process. It is not done over night.

As with almost everything in online marketing, the theme is this: don’t try to take shortcuts because you’ll be penalized. Do things diligently and the right way, and you’ll be in good shape.

If you are interested in more SEO info, I highly recommend you read www.SEOMoz.com. It’s as authoritative as they come.

And if you’re feeling a little restricted because you only have a listing site membership (and not your own website to invest in SEO) then you know you’ve got a lot of work to do!

[/wpsharely]

See?

I promised that wouldn’t hurt too much…

If you don’t study or research ANY other information about SEO, embrace these three fundamentals.

I have spent years piecing through the hubris and have come to master many more tricks of the trade. But as I tell anyone who will listen, without these three main understandings, the rest of the stuff is practically useless.

Of course, this article should not be interpreted as a bible by any means. But after having read it, you’ll know what — in my humble opinion — are the most important factors of a solid vacation rental SEO effort.

And with that, I’d like to invite any providers out there who offer SEO-related services to vacation rental owners and managers to use the comments section below for a brief marketing plug…

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)

  • Jay William

    SEO is a super powerful tool as you know Matt but very few owners understand how it works and even fewer understand the true benefits of SEO. In order for owners to get off their seat and do something about their marketing they need to know what’s in it for them. This is why I recorded a short video about called Why SEO http://www.villamarketers.com/community/why-seo/

  • Jay William

    SEO is a super powerful tool as you know Matt but very few owners understand how it works and even fewer understand the true benefits of SEO. In order for owners to get off their seat and do something about their marketing they need to know what’s in it for them. This is why I recorded a short video about SEO called “Why SEO” http://www.villamarketers.com/

  • Naveen

    Matt’s first point on keyword focus and meta tags (also known as on-page optimization) is a powerful element of SEO. The great thing here is that it is quite easy to control with immediate results. Our Lodgify Website Builder allows you to edit title, meta tags, URL structure, etc. of your vacation rental website (see http://lodgify.com/vacation-rental-website-marketing). This puts you in full control on how your site is displayed in search engines and helps your users to navigate your site.

  • The key to get started is being able to easily provide relevant content for both users and search engines (the strategy should really be the same!). Beyond that, SEO can seem scary — but being able to take action on the advice from industry experts like Matt is paramount. Whether its setting up meta descriptions, tagging photos, optimizing H1 (headers), or refreshing your website with a new featured property or updated homepage — a vacation rental marketing manager should be able to easily manage and update all their content on the website. The added benefit of being able to easily update website content is that it keeps visitors engaged which increases online bookings — so you can capitalize on all that new SEO traffic! http://www.vacationstorebuilder.com/

  • Lester Kang

    I LOVE how Matt summarizes SEO pointers for VR owner/managers. If you are not familiar with SEO tactics, one can get lost on the thousands of variables. Link building is 80% of SEO and always focus on high quality ones.

    At PandaBed, an Asian-focused VR website that sells thousands of VR, homes apartment and villas, SEO our key strategy to ensure that our host properties appears in organic searches for our clients. Check us out at: http://www.PandaBed.com

  • Andy Parr

    Matt, Little point going for a link via your promo in these comments because you’ve cleverly put ‘nofollow’ on the links. I appreciate what you say in relation to understanding three elements of SEO and ‘80%’ of SEO being links (from Lester). BUT and this is a big, big but, you cannot simplify SEO into three elements and you cannot say 80% is simple linkbuilding.

    It is just as easy to do serious harm to your website by getting SEO wrong as it is doing it right.

    To try and distill such a wide and detailed topic into such a short blog post is disappointing, especially to see you do it.

    This industry does have lots of charlatans who will take your money and run, can link you to the wrong networks or worse build you a website that is so poorly aligned to the search engines you’re not going to recover no matter what you do. Trust me I have made these mistakes previously. There is no better teacher than learning by your own mistakes. The subject is detailed simply because if it wasn’t it would be very easy to game the engines to get to the top. Of course it still is in some respects but Google is getting better and better at catching the cheaters and what you do and how you do it has to be aligned to future proofing your site.

    I’ve written many, many posts on SEO. I don’t class myself as anywhere near an expert but I do know my way around the subject. And I can say it isn’t as simple as a single blog post for anyone who wants to achieve success in this field.

    Sorry!

    Andy
    Netamatixblog

    • loscuatrotulipanes

      Hi Andy,

      Always respect your comments.

      While I’m no guru in SEO either, I wanted to give owners/managers something to grasp. If I’m at a dinner party or in an elevator and someone asks me “what SEO is?” or “how to get your website to pop up first?” these are pretty much the 3 concise fundamentals I suggest.

      Of course, it’s impossible to go through everything (thus my “disclaimer” above). And I actually wholeheartedly disagree that trying to distill such a topic into a short blog post is a bad thing. Not all owners/managers have the time or brainpower to fully grasp the theme as a whole. Transparency (or at least the tiny glimpse of it that I try to offer above) is an positive thing.

      Anyways, since your company offers SEO services, when someone asks “How do I get my rental page to pop up first in a Google search?” I would love to hear your most concise and summarily reply (and hopefully not “It’s too complicated.”)

  • Rex Brown

    SEO is one of those things that you must do very well or not at all.

    It works well if you are operating in a narrow market with not so savvy competitors. Indeed for about 8 years I profitably dominated my small market using SEO. However, over time, more competitors invested in SEO, and it requires a formidable investment in expertise to keep at the cutting edge. I no longer dominate my market.

    For small vacation rental owners, there are several questions:
    – am I in a small enough niche that I can compete in?
    – can I find great help at a reasonable price that will get me great results?
    – or do I have the time and interest to learn to become personally effective at SEO?

    If there is a great SEO provider identified in your column Matt, it is a great service to your readers.

    The large listing sites can afford to have experts. Indeed a local listing site that dominates my market has powerful back-links driven from a major online news portal that it owns (pagerank of 8!). With resources like that there is no way a small player can compete easily.

    The rules of the SEO game are complex and constantly changing. At a meeting of SEO experts I attended recently, the subject was a change in Google algorithm. An expert spoke about how he had had to dismantle hundreds of back-links of a type that Google declared to be bad. A year earlier those same back-links were best practice and had propelled his websites way ahead of competitors. Even the experts can struggle!

  • Johan

    I agree. I have more than 30000 people on my google+ profile. I have a reasonable twitter following. I get 99% of my traffic to my vacation rental site via SEO.

  • Alain Chazot

    I’m french, sorry for my very bad english.
    I found your article very interesting ans usefull.
    I will work on my website for vacation rental in La Rochelle with your advices.
    Thanks a lot

    PS : if you want to visite my site, and tell me what you think abour it, here’s a link to my site

    Gîte en Charente maritime
    (17)Les Dimeries, chez Claude et Alain

  • Bex

    Well…wish i could read it. Bad user experience, however. The “tweet” prompt that is supposed to unlock the content did not work. And now I’m frustrated and no smarter on the SEO secrets “they” don’t want me to know. Have I been duped into tweeting? Was this supposed to work? Might want to fix…

  • Tyrin Aono

    i am in the process of learning this whole SEO ordeal being that marketing is very expensive. i appreciate all these pieces, articles, and blogs you post Matt Landau. For a reader with very little understanding with SEO, your tips do help me greatly (not to mention a few hands at google when reading unfamiliar terms). Basically, thank you!

    http://www.kohalaluxuryrentals.com

    • Matt Landau

      My pleasure, Tyrin. Thanks for the comment, and keep up the great work!