Listing Optimization and Its Importance in Today’s Vacation Rental Market
The Cape and Islands vacation rental market has enjoyed tremendous success since the beginning of the pandemic two years ago. Rental homeowners have experienced record rental seasons, and vacationers are booking earlier and for longer than ever before. And our expectations are that the demand for STRs (short-term rentals) will continue to remain higher than the pre-pandemic years.
Despite this optimism, however, we caution homeowners to avoid being complacent and assuming that every year from now on will be easy. Here are some reasons why:
Your competition is growing. More listings are being added to our site every day. Some homeowners are new to the market and want to take advantage of the benefits of STRs, and some are returning to the market after having taken the previous seasons off due to the lodging tax and/or the pandemic. As travel finally opens up again, many who have been fully booked the past couple of years may lose some of their repeats, and demand in general is likely to soften.
How can you provide a listing that survives the vicissitudes of supply and demand in the future?
One answer is to find simple ways to enhance your rental home, the way you manage it, and the quality of your listing.
The Customer Experience (CX)
While our main job at WeNeedaVacation is to provide the marketing platform to connect vacationers to your rentals, we also focus on a number of other important aspects to help fill your homes.
One of our top priorities is the quality of vacationers’ experience when using our site. What is their journey like from start to finish while interacting with WNAV? What is their impression of the WNAV brand?
Here are our top 3 goals:
1) The User Experience (UX)
Providing a good UX keeps vacationers on our site longer and returning often. So, we focus on:
- How do vacationers use our website?
- Can they use the site easily and find what they are looking for?
- What are their pain points?
- On homeowners’ listings, is the information clear, attractive, and complete?
Do vacationers trust what they see on a listing? Are the pictures accurate? Are there hidden fees not included on the listing? Is the calendar up-to-date?
Of course, trust goes both ways, which is why we rely heavily on the direct communication between parties. Good communication leads to a good customer experience.
At the end of the day, are vacationers satisfied with the entire process? From their initial inquiries, to the booking process, and through their stay in the homes, the process should be a positive one, allowing them to be excited about their vacation without doubts or worries.
Does the vacationer’s first impression of the rental home meet their expectations? In addition to viewing an accurate listing, having positive, helpful communication with the homeowners is vital to ensuring their satisfaction. And the results of satisfied guests are positive reviews and repeat guests.
Great selection of rental homes on your site. By far the best. I tell all of my friends to use you for the Cape and Islands.
While we all want the Repeat Renter, not every guest becomes one. But if a vacationer’s takeaway is a positive experience overall, they are likely to return to our site to find a rental home.
Word-of-mouth recommendations can’t be beat.
In a recent survey of over 2,000 vacationers, close to 90% of vacationers said they would be very likely to, or definitely would, recommend our WNAV site to family and friends.
Unfortunately, however, some vacationers have had negative experiences. Here’s a quote from the same survey:
I stopped using your site because I would inquire about a house that was supposedly available only to find out – sometimes three days later – that it was not. It was very disheartening. – Vacationer in 2020
In our flagship Webinar session, we talked about the huge influx of NEW vacationers – both to our site and to vacation rentals (versus hotels and inns). It’s imperative that their first experience with us be positive and that they return for years to come.
How your listing impacts the User Experience
Inquiry Response Rates and Times
Right from the outset, your initial response to vacationer inquiries has a huge impact on their experience: how quickly you respond and how often. And that’s why we have made a tremendous effort recently to help homeowners improve their Response Times and Rates.
During the first few months of 2021, the average Response Rate among our homeowners was 82%. That was already well below what it should be, 100%, as every inquiry deserves a response of some kind. But from mid-July to mid-October, that rate actually decreased to only 77%.
What we noticed is that some owners selectively responded to inquiries, e.g., if a vacationer asked to bring a pet or for a date that was already booked, they wouldn’t bother responding.
But it’s imperative to still respond, even if it’s a rejection response or a simple request for more information.
Using templates can expedite the response process and standardize it for you, too.
Almost as important as responding to every inquiry is how quickly you respond. The majority of our homeowners (72%) respond within 24 hours. But that means that 28% respond in over a day!
If you called a hotel for availability, would you wait for their response in 2 days, or move on and keep searching? Especially if demand was high for the dates you were inquiring, wouldn’t you be anxious for a response? Some homeowners may not see an issue with response time, but vacationers do!
All-important Guest Reviews
In an online world, consumers rely on third-party reviews, which are reliable and trustworthy. Vacationers look for insights from guests who have actually stayed there. While it’s not make-or-break, lack of reviews or recent reviews can give vacationers pause.
We received an email from a vacationer who said:
I am interested in a home in Wellfleet listed by an owner who has been renting for 13 years, but there are no reviews. Is there a reason for that? Is that a red flag?
13 years and NO reviews. The home may be perfectly beautiful, just as advertised, but obviously the homeowner has not made guest reviews a priority. You have to ASK for reviews. Make an effort to establish a relationship with your guests, communicate well, and try to get at least 2-3 reviews a season. And if you are new to listing with us, there is a way to transfer any guest reviews from another site onto your listing with us.
A Picture Is Worth a Thousand Words
In our quest to provide vacationers the most “frictionless process” possible, your listing should provide them with an adequate number of pictures to convey a full and accurate assessment of your home and its suitability to them. If they have to ask you for more pictures, it’s more work for them. And other vacationers may not even take the time to ask.
Vacationers browsing through listings will quickly swipe through photos to determine if they want to pursue the property further. Photos are simply THE most influential aspect of your marketing efforts.
Also, keep in mind that small pictures (which are often old, too) cannot be re-used for WNAV marketing on our social media channels, which would be a great opportunity to further promote your home.
Ask owners to keep their calendars up to date! Frustrating to find a house that matches dates, only to have the dates actually not be available after all.
Out of date calendars are a major pain point for vacationers. It’s a LET DOWN. They find an amazing rental, get all excited, only for the owner to say – just kidding, it’s booked.
It wastes your time as well as theirs when you have to respond to inquiries needlessly.
Homeowners on our site are required to update their calendars at least every 30 days, preferably every couple of weeks during the prime booking season.
Enter Our New Listing Rating Feature – based on the Listing Quality Audit
The Listing Rating feature and Listing Quality Audit provide guidelines and recommendations to help you present a listing that’s accurate, up-to-date, and as attractive as possible to vacationers – one that will succeed in bringing you the maximum number of bookings you’re looking for and at a competitive price.
All those issues that can cause frustration for vacationers when viewing and inquiring about your listing hurt your chances of converting them into guests in your home. They also hurt our ability to retain them on our site going forward.
Therefore, we provide you with a Listing Quality Audit, which points out to you which areas of your listing might need attention or improvement.
And more recently, we created a new Listing Rating system, which rewards listings that are high quality and disadvantages those that are not.
What is the new Listing Rating?
It’s a tool to provide guidelines for enhancing the quality, consistency, and accuracy of our rental listings.
Every homeowner has the ability to improve their Listing Rating – and without paying anything at all to do so. The Rating is based on items that are all in your control, ones that you can manage and update very quickly and easily.
The actual Listing Rating is kept secret from vacationers, but it does impact where your listing appears to them in the listing sort order of search results.
What the Listing Rating is NOT
The Listing Rating is not a method for paying-to-the-top, which some sites allow.
Nor is it a competition to reward the owner who responds the fastest to inquiries, creating unnecessary stress for you. All that matters is that you respond to inquiries within a day, so there’s no difference between within 5 minutes or within 10 hours. But do keep in mind that the early bird catches the worm, as vacationers often inquire about several listings at the same time.
And finally, no preference is given to homes that receive more views or inquiries and might thus be deemed “more popular.”
What are the most important factors impacting the Listing Rating?
Although the Listing Quality Audit provides feedback to you about 13 areas, the most heavily weighted for the Listing Rating are: Response Time and Rate, the calendar date stamp, pictures, and guest reviews.
An actual number score is not provided to you, but the Listing Quality Audit indicates the quality of your listing from Very Poor to Excellent using different expressions on a face. So, how happy is your listing?
Listing Quality Quick View
As you can see from the examples above, each item indicates whether or not it needs attention. And on the example on the right, you can see how, even with a couple items highlighted for attention, you can still have an excellent overall listing rating.
From this image of the Audit Details, you can see that each category can be expanded to display comments/recommendations pertaining to each subject. And the subjects are displayed in order of importance (i.e., how heavily they are weighted in the Listing Rating). Booking Management, for example, is an optional feature and has no impact on a listing’s Rating.
Learn more about the Listing Rating.
New: Search Results Sort Order
Previously, the default order in which vacationers were shown their search results was simply by price, from high priced homes to low. In other words, the listings were presented to them with the most expensive one on the top. But most vacationers aren’t looking for $24,000/week homes, which they might see if they don’t enter a price cap into their search! They could, of course, opt for a new sort order of either low-to-high price or when the listing’s calendar was last updated. But the default order was by price, high-to-low.
Now, however, the default sort order is based on the Listing Quality. If a listing’s Quality Rating is high – because the owner responds quickly and to every inquiry, their calendar is up-to-date, they have adequate pictures and recent guest reviews – it will benefit from higher placement in the search order. And if a listing’s Rating is low, it will appear below all the other better listings.
Vacationers can still opt to override the default search order and choose Price High-to-low, Price Low-to-high, or Calendar last updated. But the vast majority simply use the default Listing Quality.
We urge you to take a look at your Listing Quality Audit (you’ll see a link to it in your Homeowner Center). See what your overall Listing Rating is. If it’s less than Excellent, take a look at which items that need attention.
Most issues are easily remedied and not ones that have to be maintained multiple times a year.
If your Response Time or Rate is low, perhaps you are simply not responding properly and we are being notified when you do respond. (Learn more about how best to respond to email inquiries and keep your Response Time and Rate high.)
You are always welcome to contact us if you’d like help to improve the quality of your listing. If you don’t succeed in marketing your home, we won’t succeed as a business. So, let us know if we can help you.