We all keep hearing how important a vacation rental website is, but why exactly is it important and what makes a good one?
First let’s consider the following scenario: imagine you have completely redesigned your current Airbnb or vacation rental property – you have gorgeous white sheets, the right decorative pillows, just the right shade of white on the walls, several pieces of furniture and art that impact your rooms – and the property literally takes people’s breath away.
You have a perfect 10 in design.
Let’s also say you’ve hired a professional photographer to shoot the home and every room looks amazing.
Perfect 10 in photography.
So far, you are crushing it. Your bookings are stellar on the big listing sites, your inquiries are plentiful and your guest reviews are gushing.
What’s not to love?
Well, what about your website?
Oh, yeah. That.
Showcasing a gorgeously bookable property on a mediocre or lousy website is a bit like deciding to go to the best white-tie event of the year with a drop-dead gorgeous dress, stunning jewelry, and perfectly styled hair while sporting ugly shoes.
Think flat, brown kind of ugly.
Suddenly the get-up doesn’t work anymore.
No matter how great your property looks, if your website doesn’t match the greatness, there’s something sorely amiss. People might still book your place, but they’ll hesitate a little in the process.
I’m an interior designer, not a website designer, so I asked Jess Ashworth who is the content marketer of Lodgify for an interview. She agreed to give us the skinny on what makes a great vacation rental website.
MB: Jess, thanks for agreeing to our interview. I’m excited about featuring you on 1 Chic Retreat. Tell us, why should people have vacation rental websites?
JA: The vacation rental business has become incredibly competitive. Having your own website allows you freedom from the big booking sites and fewer fees. You would be surprised at how many people look for short-term rentals using Google, and when they do you want your property at the top of the search.
Additionally, a website allows you to brand yourself and look more professional making it stand out from competing properties. Experts are predicting the industry to be worth over a whopping $190 billion in a few years’ time, so whether owners realize it or not, they are in a booming business that’s increasingly professionalized.
Basically, prospective guests take you less seriously if you lack a professional vacation rental website. It’s one of the biggest mistakes owners can make.
MB: It’s very similar to interior design then, right?
JA: Absolutely! You wrote an article that featured a property with a hideous pink granny bedspread. I remember thinking you’d have to be pretty desperate to book that place, and I laughed because I think a bad website is the same. It’s going to stop people in their tracks from booking an otherwise great property!
MB: When you say a bad website deters people, are you speaking of design or how the search engines categorize your property?
JA: Both. Long gone are the days when having any old website will do. With search engines now being smarter than ever and most people researching travel using mobile devices, there are lots of web design elements your website must take into account to get noticed online.
MB: When you say, “any old website,” would that include generic website templates you find online? Some of those look great.
JA: They may look pretty, but as a general rule, you want to have a website that is designed specifically for vacation rentals. Most free templates are a one-size-fits-all kind of deal and aren’t optimized for this industry.
You’re going to get left behind as the industry advances if your website isn’t specifically addressing the short-term rental market.
MB: So what specific features must a vacation rental website have?
JA: I think there are five critical web design features that bring your business page into the present day and help you take more vacation rental online bookings.
MB: Tell us about them and provide us with some illustrations so we see what you’re talking about.
JA: More and more users, in every generational category, are booking travel on handheld devices every day. In fact, some people don’t even have computers anymore.
So that means vacation rental owners and property managers really can’t afford to have an unresponsive website.
MB: By unresponsive you mean that the website is meant to be seen on a big computer screen and if a person is on a smartphone or tablet, they have to keep moving the image side to side and up and down to interact with the website, right? I’m shocked at how often I encounter that still.
JA: Yes, that’s exactly what I mean and yes, I agree, it’s still a common occurrence to encounter unresponsive websites.
There’s no excuse for it either; nowadays, you don’t even need to have any knowledge of web design to make a website responsive. There are plenty of mobile-friendly templates and vacation rental software solutions available, which will automatically adapt your site to whichever size screen it’s being viewed on.
Furthermore, mobile-friendliness is essential in order to avoid being penalized by Google. Search engine optimization is what it’s all about and almost any template you use will already be optimized for Google’s standards across multiple devices.
MB: I get it. When I search for properties, I almost always use my phone and I wouldn’t generally bother with a property that didn’t fit my screen. It’s annoying. So what’s the second critical design feature?
2. High-Quality Photographs
JA: If you can’t attract guests to your rental using images, how will you ever secure bookings? We’ve all heard the saying, “don’t judge a book by its cover”, but in the vacation rental industry, first impressions are everything. If your pictures don’t speak for themselves about how fabulous your rental is, guests will move onto the next option until they find the perfect accommodation.
MB: I absolutely agree. In fact, the most gorgeously designed properties, when photographed badly, just don’t look good. It’s confounding. There’s a translation that must happen.
JA: I recommended hiring a professional photographer, especially if you’re just starting out. Think of it as an investment – stunning photos are the key feature of your website that sells your rental to potential guests for years to come.
3. Clear Call to Action
JA: Don’t make it difficult for your guests to make a reservation. You want them to book? Stick a big neon sign in front of their faces with a call-to-action like “Book now!” (of course, we didn’t mean an actual neon sign…).
MB: I learned that in online marketing seminars. You have to get people to take action or they literally won’t take action. It’s psychology.
JA: You are spot on. Tap into the psychology of online marketing here and evoke that immediate gut reaction in your viewers. A button like this will make it much easier for guests to make an online booking if they’re at the right stage of their vacation-planning journey.
But, be careful to make sure your call to action (CTA) doesn’t clash with your color scheme, either!
4. Identifiable Branding – Memorable Domain and Logo
JA: Before creating your vacation rental website, you’ll probably have (or at least, should have) had a good thought about your brand and what you want it to represent. Branding is key in creating guest trust and setting you apart from the other vacation rentals in your area.
MB: I relate. I teach the same thing to readers with regard to the overall “look” or design concept of their vacation rental. A cohesive design, from decoration to logos to website design, is key!
JA: It absolutely goes together. On the same note, your domain name should also be a reflection of your brand. It can be a difficult choice for owners to make – as it can’t be too long or too short, and it needs to be easy to spell – but choosing the right domain will have a huge impact on your business and its bookings.
Similarly, your logo is going to appear everywhere, not solely on your website. From your business cards to your guest book and any other third party site on the web, your logo will be one of the features that guests interact with time and time again – so make it count!
MB: And logos aren’t expensive either. I see graphic designers on Etsy creating beautiful logos for which 5 years ago, you’d have to haul over a lot of money.
5. Direct Booking Engine
JA: The last crucial aspect of a great vacation rental website is accepting direct bookings. Whether you’re interested in accepting instant bookings or manually approving each request that comes in, your website design needs to have a booking engine fully embedded from the first day.
The booking engine is the portal that connects you with your guests. No longer should it be a laborious process, which involves back-and-forth emails until the reservation is confirmed. Guests are looking for a seamless booking experience that’s secure and free of frustrations, just as they would on any website like Airbnb or Booking.com – so don’t ruin it for them and drive the booking away!
MB: And that plays into the mission of making your business professional as well. I take a property more seriously if I can instantly book a house.
JA: You are like most people, you want a fast and convenient experience. This is where a template specifically geared to vacation rentals comes into play. An integrated booking engine is your best bet for ensuring your website is designed to take online bookings.
MB: That sums it up for the 5 most important features, but before we wrap it up, I want to ask you, how do you think the relationship of interior design and good website design comes into play? And how do the two mediums differ?
JA: Good question. I would say web design is just as important as interior design when it comes to vacation rentals. It’s likely your website will be the first touch point guests interact with before deciding whether or not to book your home. And because good website design enhances good interior design, they go hand and hand.
However, here’s a key difference: interior design may have taken weeks, months or even years to perfect; on the other hand, you can create a professional, optimized vacation rental website and publish it in just minutes using Lodgify’s software.
MB: True! I’m jealous of how instantaneous good web design is. Thank you, Jess, for enlightening us on these critical aspects of a website. Now that I know them, they seem obvious, but it’s nice to have it spelled out.
About the Author: Jess Ashworth is Content Marketer at Lodgify, an all-in-one vacation rental software solution for owners and managers. Easily create your own website with a “Book Now” button, accept online bookings and manage all reservations from one place.
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