I remember attending a vrbo seminar in Houstin, TX hosted by best-selling author, Christine Hrib Karpinski, back around 2010 or so. During the seminar a question came up from the audience. “How can I rank higher on VRBO and Homeaway?”. Christine began answering the question by encouraging the owners to write better titles, write more lengthly and meaningful property descriptions, fill out property features forms more completely, etc. A few minutes into the explanation the classroom had a small eruption with a handful of attendees speaking out of turn with things like,
~”Hey, wait a minute. I pay you. Shouldn’t you be making sure my listing gets views?”
~”You’re absolutely out of your mind if you think I’m going to seo VRBO’s website for them. Only my website gets my seo attention.”
~”So let me get this straight. I pay for my property to be displayed on your site, but I have to do all the work? No thank you.”
I remember thinking to myself, “Dude, yes, it is VRBO’s responsibility to get views to your listing, but can’t you at least participate in the listing process? What do you want, a personal assistant?”. For the most part I accepted Christine Hrib Karpeinski’s answers at face value with the exception of a few things she was saying about seo.
Fast forward to 2018. My, my, my. How times have changed. I would do anything to go back to the time where property owners’ biggest complaint was having to write their own content. Just this morning I got the following email from vrbo:
The picture above it horrifying to me. What it tells me is that the treadmill continues to go faster. I’ve been saying a long time that VRBO’s business model looks almost exactly like Amazon’s. VRBO have got owners on a treadmill, making them run faster and faster.
What’s changed on VRBO in the past 10 years? VRBO and Homeaway have completely transformed the culture of their sites to where it is the owners’ responsiblity to rank high and get bookings. Almost weekly I get emails from VRBO telling me what I can do to rank higher on VRBO, not what VRBO can do to rank me higher on their site and get more bookings.
So how do you rank higher on VRBO and HomeAway? Just to run through the drill again:
- write good titles
- write good descriptions
- upload lots of good pictures
- answer inquiries quickly
- respond to reservation requests quickly (and approve them)
- keep your calendar up to date
- don’t warn guests of the VRBO service fee (or your listing will be removed from the site)
- be forced into allowing guests to pay online through vrbo instead of you
- allow vrbo to accept guests immediately without alloiwing you the opportunity to vet the guests (instant booking)
- get lots of positive feedback from guests
The list above is pretty much the VRBO treadmill I’m talking about. VRBO is making owners comply with more and more things they do not agree with. VRBO is doing less and less, while owners are doing more and more. Owners are being forced to run faster and faster on this treadmill with usually little to no meaningful increase in business, while VRBO makes more and more money through the owners’ efforts.
Now that I have told you how to rank higher on VRBO and HomeAway, let me tell you some things that YOU should be doing for YOU. Everything written above this paragraph is building VRBO’s legacy. You need to build your legacy if you plan on staying in this vacation rental industry for the long run. Below is how your vacation rental can rank higher for a much larger audience, not just on VRBO!
- Get a website with a blog. If you know little or nothing about websites I recommend you or someone publishing a wordpress website for you. WordPress websites are about the easiest thing to learn and use that isn’t total junk. Learn yourself, engage a friend who can help you, or hire someone. Having a website for your vacation rental is important, and I disagree with anyone who would tell you otherwise. Make sure you actually use your blog on your website by posting something interesting every now and then. You have to be interested in your vacation rental if you expect your potential guests to be interested. Each vacation rental website that gets posted on the internet is a small amount of traffic that VRBO (and AirBnb) doesn’t get to have. Can you imagine what VRBO would do if millions of owner-operated vacation rental websites popped up everywhere? This is why you never see VRBO saying that building your own website would be good for you. Millions of vacation rental owners having their own websites is a nightmare to VRBO. To me, this nightmare needs to happen to VRBO.
- Engage your past customers. If you lost their contact info, find it. I cannot begin to tell you that one of the strongest marketing tools you have is past guests who have stayed at your place. Make a list of your past guests and email them, or snail mail them. If there are some rotten apples on your list, just remove them. You have credibility with past guests, and they will be more likely to listen to what you have to say.
- Use social media. Make social pages about your vacation rental on Instagram, Facebook, Tumblr, Twitter, Linkedin, Pinterest, and Youtube. I have had engagement from every single one of these social platforms. As of the date of this article I have had bookings originate from all of these social platforms with the exception of Twitter and Tumblr. You may think, “Wow, I don’t have time to post to all of those social platforms.” Well, you don’t. Use Instagram as your social networking tool. Instagram posts can be sent to Facebook, Tumbler, and Twitter. Your website blog can be set up to retreive instagram posts that can be posted to your blog, then sent to Linkedin and Pinterest. One Instagram post will populate content Facebook, Tumblr, Twitter, Linedin, Pinterest, and your website’s blog. Use YouTube for walk-throughs of your property and short how-to videos of how to operate things like the television remove and hot tub.
- Use other listing aggregator sites – As fancy as VRBO may seem, at the end of the day they are nothing more than just a listings aggregator who ranks well in search engines and has a bit of branding. Without search engines, branding, and your listing VRBO would be nothing. So why not take advantage of other listing aggregator websites like Ebay and Craigslist? As of the date of this writing I’ve booked 125 reservations through ebay. I can’t tell you how many I’ve done from Craigslist because I didn’t keep count. I’m hoping that Etsy will open its site to vacation rental listings in the near future. Each listing aggregator site you list on has its own audience.
I hope you have found this article interesting, and you will use it to grow you legacy in 2018. If you have something to add that will help with this article please say it in the comments below. I am only one owner with one set of ideas. I would love to see comments about how an owner can grow his vacation rental that I have not covered here!