You've decided that it's time to branch out from the online travel agencies (OTAs), and to start incorporating more marketing tactics into your strategy, but where do you start?
Is it social media?
There are a lot of options out there, and it can get pretty overwhelming, pretty quickly.
As a Digital Marketing Strategist for 12 years, I know first-hand all of the decisions that you have to make when you decide that it's time to build your own marketing plan. I also know all too well that there's a lot of misguided information out there.
The digital marketing landscape is large and complex, but when I think about what makes sense most for the vacation rental industry, these are the five areas that you would want to focus, and in order of priority.
Area #1: Website
The very first thing that you'll want to consider, of course, is your website.
This will be the hub, and it's where you will really ultimately direct all of your traffic because this is where bookings will take place.
You're likely moving from the OTAs to your own marketing plan because you want to be able to accept more direct bookings. You want to make sure that your website is going to be able to do this for you.
If you have multiple properties, then likely you are choosing a property management system, or a PMS. Many of these have website components with them, so they go hand in hand. You will do your research here, and decide what makes most sense for your business.
Now if you are smaller, maybe you have one property, a DIY website like Wix or Squarespace, might make sense. Then, you would take payments through something that's integrated through those sites, like Stripe or PayPal.
Again, you'll have to make the decision based on what's best for what your business looks like, but consider what property management system needs you have, and then also you will want to consider will you be doing a blog.
Now normally, I would talk about blog in the social media category, but it's important to know while you are selecting your website and designing your website, if a blog will also be a part of your plans because the blog will change how your website is designed, and you want to make sure that you have all of the capabilities that you're looking for when you choose your web provider. Keep that in mind for this first piece. It is the most important, and then it is what everything else you do will really drive traffic to your website for direct bookings.
Area #2: Email Marketing
Email marketing tends to get a bad rap. It's maybe not as exciting as some of the other digital marketing tactics, but I love it, and I have put it as number two for a reason, it works.
It is so effective, and it is a fantastic way to keep in touch with your guests all year round so that they remember you, they get to know you better, and you are top of mind. When they're re-booking their next vacation, they are thinking about you and remembering who you are, and it makes it a little bit of a no-brainer to make that booking again with you.
A great starting point here is to do a nice monthly newsletter. It's a really easy way to get started with email marketing, and you can just provide a little bit of information about maybe some of your guests, or what you've been up to, maybe what updates you've made, something new about the area.
There are so many fantastic ideas here that you can do to stay connected to your past guests and drive those re-bookings, but then it's also a great way to really help convert someone that is maybe just at the beginning stages of planning their trip.
Maybe they found your website and they get connected to you via email, but they haven't booked with you yet. This is a great way to build that know, like, and trust factor, and really help them convert from just being on the fence to booking a stay.
Some email providers that you might want to look at to get started would be MailChimp is probably the most popular for businesses that are just starting with email. Then there's also Constant Contact, and a smaller, new site that I've really been liking is Robly.
Area #3: Search Engine Optimization
Search engine optimization (SEO) is the process of gaining visibility in the organic or the free results on websites like Google.
There are a number of factors that go into how your website is ranked, and search engine optimization helps you rank for the key terms that people are looking for you.
For example, if you have a vacation home in Jackson Hole, someone might be searching, "Jackson Hole vacation rental." This is a keyword that you would want your website to be optimized with, and that will help your website appear for those types of searches.
SEO is so important because if you're going to have a website, then you certainly want your website to be found. When you are getting started building your website, make sure that if you're working with a web developer, they are incorporating SEO.
If you're doing it on your own, make sure you know what keywords your potential guests are searching for so that you can incorporate that into your website, and you're writing your meta tags and meta descriptions to really align with these keywords.
Area #4: Social Media
This one's a heavy because this is where there is a lot of misguided information out there. You hear everyone say, "You have to go do social media," and so I see business owners jump straight into social media thinking, "Oh, this is great. It's free. Look, I have a couple hundred followers, so I must be talking to 400 followers for free every single time." But that is not the case.
Social media platforms these days have about a 3% to 6% organic reach, so even when you do go post, you're not reaching most of your audience because these platforms are now a pay-to-play.
They want you to put advertising dollars behind these posts so that you can get your message seen. I want you to know that before diving right into social media. I do think that there is a place for social media for vacation rental homes. I think it can be fantastic, but there is an order to it.
The reason I place it as number four is because I think that you should work on your website, your email, and your SEO first before diving into social media.
Once you do get there, I would say probably look into Instagram. That's probably one of the best outlets you can be on right now for a vacation rental. Be sure to do your homework on your Instagram, hashtag strategy, so that you can really get found and seen when someone is planning a trip.
Area #5: Advertising
I touched on this a little bit with social media because if you're on social media, you then also have the ability to do some social media advertising.
You can boost your posts to get those posts seen a little bit more, but then you can also turn on the Facebook advertising to really reach a broader audience.
You can do some really awesome targeting where they can take your current audience and then go find more people that look just like them. It's called a look-alike audience, and you can get in front of more potential guests that way.
Then the other great option you have is pay-per-click, or PPC. I talked all about search engine optimization, and how you get your website ranked for free in Google, but you can also use Google Ads to get your website seen in the search results with a pay-per-click (PPC) ad. These are great options to consider for additional visibility once you have done the previous four steps.
If you're ready to rely less on the OTAs, these are the 5 areas of digital marketing I recommend utilizing, in order of priority.
If you own multiple vacation rentals and you're looking for additional support to help you get started with your digital marketing plan, reach out to us at fullybookedconsulting.com/contact.
On the other hand, if you are just getting started and you're still really concentrating on getting the OTAs mastered, then I've got the perfect resource for you.
Be sure to check out my free online training. It's called Four Steps to Create a Profitable Vacation Rental, and I'll dive deep into the key areas you need to focus on to get your listing seen and booked!
Let me know in the comments below, what does your current marketing plan look like, and do you have any questions?