What makes some short-term rental listings perform really well on listing sites like Vrbo, Airbnb, and TripAdvisor, while others sink to the 16th page of results?
It turns out there’s a formula listing sites use to rank property listings. They have an algorithm that looks for specific features in each listing and uses those features to determine how they rank in related searches.
A listing that ticks the boxes for all those features does well. A listing that does an excellent job of ticking all the boxes does even better.
We’ve worked with thousands of homeowners across the country over the past seven years. By studying our results, we’ve fine-tuned the process of creating listings and identified the ingredients you need to perform well on listing sites, have maximum traveler appeal, and most importantly – convert travelers into bookings.
1. A Skimmable and Searchable Headline
The headline is the first thing travelers see when searching for accommodations, so it has to pack a punch in just a few words.
The stronger the headline, the better your chances of getting a traveler to click and view your listing page. Getting page views is the first step in converting lookers to bookers.
When you’re writing your headline, it helps to think like a traveler. What information do you need to know to find the property you’re looking for?
We’ve seen that listings perform better when they contain basic search terms, like the location and property type. Then, if we have characters left over, we’ll add other searchable details, such as:
- Nearby attractions
- Other marketable features (the number of the bedrooms, views)
2. Stunning Photos
Listings perform better with attractive photos. It’s a fact. Through our research, we’ve seen that properties with professional photos are twice as likely to be booked as those without them.
Compared to smartphone or point-and-shoot pictures, professional photos are clear, well-lit, and composed in an attractive way to show how rooms flow together. This is important because guests are spending hundreds or thousands of dollars to stay in your property and need to know what to expect.
To rank well on Airbnb, HomeAway, and Vrbo, you need at least 24 high-quality images.
Of that set, your primary image and the first three feature images are the make-or-break pictures for travelers. When we’re going through photos of our owners’ homes, we decide which images to feature by considering:
- Composition (will the thumbnail stand out in search results against competitors?)
- The profit-driving amenities for the market
- The headline (Does the primary image support the headline without being redundant?)
3. Attractive Prices
Your prices are listed right in search results, alongside the images of your property and the headline.
If you’re priced outside the normal range for your market, travelers are going to skip past your listing without clicking through to see why your property justifies that rate. They’re just going to look for the next property that fits their needs and budget.
That’s why competitive pricing is a critical ingredient in what makes a listing convert well. When we determine prices, we assess a number of factors, including:
- Competitive rates (what nearby properties of the same size with similar amenities charge)
- Occupancy rates
- Events and attractions
It’s a proven formula for assessing objective prices that accurately reflect what the market will bear, rather than pricing for subjective factors that travelers may not be willing to pay.
4. A High Star Rating and Positive Reviews
Travelers want to book a place they can trust, and the ratings and reviews let them know if a property is a good place to stay. A strong star rating (4 or 5 stars) and positive reviews can impact your performance in search results and actually help get bookings.
Depending on the listing site, your star rating may be displayed:
- Directly in search results (Airbnb)
- Shown on your property’s listing (HomeAway and Vrbo).
Both placements are important and you’ll need to do some work to establish a positive track record.
If your listing has been live for a while and you still don’t have reviews, you can reach out to guests after checkout to ask for some feedback. Read more review strategies here.
5. Key Property Details
Before making the final decision to book, travelers need to confirm that your property truly fits their needs. It helps to include key property details in the intro of your listing description, including:
- Bedroom count
- Bathroom count
- Number of people it sleeps
- Maximum occupancy
- Pet policy
Put these important details right upfront so travelers know the most important facts about your property from the start. They can then recognize that your home is the ideal accommodation and click the ‘Book’ button without a second thought.
6. A Detailed Description
Pictures do a lot of the heavy lifting for your listing, and key details provide a solid framework, but the description fills in the blanks.
Your description is where you can paint a picture for guests about what it’s like to stay in your property and answer any questions they may have about:
- Sleeping arrangements
- Key residence features (game room and features, entertainment options, kitchen appliances, bathroom features)
- Policies (check-in, check-out, quiet hours)
This is also the place to hook travelers with all of the things that make your home more special than the rest:
- You can watch sunsets on the balcony
- You can enjoy a complimentary bag of coffee from the local roaster
- You can sleep soundly in rooms with black-out curtains
7. A Precise Property Map
A property map shows guests exactly where they’ll be staying while they’re at your home, eliminating all fears about unpleasant surprises. Once they look over your listing, they’ll know whether the property is actually on the beach or a few blocks away.
Most listing sites come with these built into your listing and populate your location once you enter your address. Make sure it’s as accurate as possible to increase your conversion rate.
If this information is missing or imprecise, it can give guests a reason not to move forward with the booking. Because they’re not sure if it’s on the beach, across a busy highway, or in a safe neighborhood, travelers might fear it’s advertised deceptively and look for another option where they feel confident spending their hard-earned dollars.
8. A Complete Amenities List
A complete list of all the amenities in your home is a huge draw for guests because it details exactly what they’ll find in your home. While skimming through listings online, it makes it easy for travelers to see whether you have everything they need for their trip, such as:
- Washing machine and dryer
- Beach towels
Whether you have a hairdryer, towels, and toiletries can make or break a booking. Failing to provide a thorough list can cost you bookings. Whereas letting travelers know what they’re getting makes it easy for them to finalize their reservation at your home and can bump up your conversion rate!
These ingredients are simple enough.
Pictures, listing descriptions, maps, and a complete amenities list are all pretty standard in the vacation rental world. A novice can throw together a listing and put it on Airbnb. It just might not stand out and get a lot of hits if it isn’t done with a high degree of precision, effort, and investment.
That’s the difference between people who see average results with vacation rental and those who rise through the ranks to become Premier Partners and top-performers.
To get more views, more bookings, and ultimately earn more rental income, you also need to do an excellent job of ticking all the boxes to create a listing any traveler would be excited to book. Evolve has put in the work to identify the ingredients and perfect the formula for a high-converting listing, and we’re in a position to share the benefits of that expertise with owners.
We’re A+ students in vacation rental marketing. Find out why 10,000 owners have trusted us with their ranking on Airbnb, Vrbo, HomeAway, TripAdvisor, and Flipkey.