Ever notice how some websites always seem to be on the first page of Google’s search results? That’s because marketers write articles in such a way that search engines (Google, Yahoo) will consistently put them on the first page. It’s a term called Search Engine Optimization (SEO). What does SEO have to do with the vacation rental industry? Well, if you think about it, Airbnb, VRBO, and HomeAway are search engines. We just don’t think of them as such as hosts. But just like Google, it’s Airbnb’s goal to match a guest’s search with the property. Also just like Google, there’s a way to optimize your listing so that it has more odds of being shown first. Why does being first in the Airbnb search results matter? More potential guests that visit your listing translates to more bookings, and ultimately more money in your pockets. So let’s look at how the Airbnb search engine works and what you can do with your listing to consistently rank first.
How does the Airbnb search engine work?Airbnb’s search engine isn’t open source. In other words, only the employees who designed the search engine know exactly how to appear first in Airbnb. That said, Airbnb has been kind and gave us great insights into what helps rank. These insights, combined with experiments run by curious hosts, give us valuable information that can be used to rank higher in Airbnb.
FYI there are Airbnb SEO variables hosts can’t controlBefore we dive into what it takes to rank first in Airbnb search results, there’s a reality all hosts need to know. Here it is: sometimes your properties just won’t rank, and it’s not your fault! According to Airbnb, the following search factors are used to determine what gets shown first. They’re guest-dependent, which means you can’t optimize your listing for them:
- Previous guest trips: if a guest has a history of booking certain types of properties or searched with specific keywords. In other words, Airbnb likely won’t show an eco-tourism hobby farm to an urban fashionista.
- Guest behavior: your property may not rank in Airbnb depending on how the guest’s trip intentions. Examples; what the guest added to the wishlist, where they’re visiting from, and what they previously clicked on. A guest that’s browsed for entire homes 20 times probably won’t be shown the studio properties.
- Trip details: Airbnb identified variables such as; the number of guests, if a price range was set, the trip duration, and how far ahead the trip will be as factors for its search engine. Nothing you can do about this either.
What variables Airbnb uses to rank a property first (and how to optimize for them)Ok, so the list above showed variables that hosts can’t optimize their listings for. But there are a few things that can be done to ensure your listing shows up first in Airbnb (at least, for some guests). These are:
Overall star-ratingAirbnb wants to offer its clients the best experience. It makes sense they’d show the highest-rated properties first. Bear in mind that Airbnb will take into account the price range selected by the guest. So even if your flat which rents for $1,000/night is a 5-star factory, a budget traveler probably won’t see it. What you can do: Getting 5-star reviews isn’t always under the host’s control. But there are few things you can do to turn the odds in your favor.
- Offer a great guest experience. If you’re not sure where to start, make sure your fundamentals are solid. That means a clean property, a helpful digital guidebook, a smooth check-in, and a great gift basket.
- Do everything you can to get guests to leave a review
- Target one type of vacation rental guests and optimize your property for them
Host response timeAlso in line with the guest experience, Airbnb will display vacation rentals that show high host engagement. An objective metric for Airbnb to monitor is the time between when a guest sends a message and when the host responds. Hosts that respond quickly show Airbnb that a property is actively managed. And that means it’ll be more likely to deliver a great guest experience. What you can do: This is a reasonably easy variable to “hack.” Just be fast to respond! If you rent your property only on Airbnb, turn on notifications for the Airbnb app on your smartphone. You’ll get the alert and can react quickly. For hosts or property managers that run multiple vacation rentals on more than one platform, using notifications can become cumbersome. So to boost the odds of ranking first on Airbnb, consider paying for a Property Management Platform (PMP) like Hostfully. It has a built-in messaging feature that spans all vacation rental platforms and makes it easy to manage messages. PMPs also come with a bunch of other great features that make operating multiple vacation rentals a breeze! Also, Daniel Rusteen from Optimize My BNB has the following to say about the benefits of response time:
Additional messaging for guests is meant to eliminate confusion about cancellation policies and, ultimately, to encourage more bookings—especially for more flexible listings. — Daniel Rusteen
A complete listing and host profileAs you go down this list, you’ll notice that many of the variables Airbnb uses to rank properties first relate to the guest experience. So it only makes sense that the basics like a properly-filled out listing and a complete host profile are Airbnb SEO factors. A host that hasn’t taken time to enter this information probably doesn’t put in the same amount of care and attention in the property. What you can do: Don’t look at writing a great listing just as an Airbnb SEO hack. A well-crafted property description will also help you fill gaps in your vacancy rates. If you need inspiration, check out this great article on re-optimizing your Airbnb listing. As for the host profile, well, you just need to get in there and thoroughly fill everything out. 15 minutes of work and it’s done, so there’s no excuse.
Instant booking is onMany new hosts turn off the instant booking feature. And it’s normal! You’re renting out your place and want some control over who stays there. Unfortunately, it also affects whether Airbnb lists your vacation first. Why? You guessed it: the guest’s experience. Overall, Instant Booking is also essential to get more listing views. Consider that many veteran and high-quality guests search with Instant Booking as a filter. These types of guests don’t want to go through the process of chatting with you. They just want to book and move on planning their trip. By turning Instant Booking off, you’re missing out on a segment of potential high-quality guests. What you can do: It’s not because Instant Booking is turned on that anyone can stay in your vacation rental. You can still set parameters that screen visitors. To turn Instant Bookings on, just go to your listing and follow these 4 easy steps.
One-night bookingsIt’s unclear just how much influence one-night bookings have on getting the #1 spot in Airbnb’s search results. But looking at the other variables, allowing one-night rentals seems like it could help meet some of Airbnb’s clientele. It therefore makes sense that it’d be a ranking factor. What you can do: Turning on one-night bookings isn’t an obvious Airbnb SEO hack. You have to weigh the pros and cons and whether it’ll affect your property’s occupancy rate. If you charge a hefty cleaning fee, one night bookings may also affect your listing views-to-booking ratio. You don’t want Airbnb to see that guests look at your property and move on as that may negatively affect your position in the search rankings.
Airbnb’s guidebook featureDid you know Airbnb has a guidebook feature? It’s not as customizable as our own versions of digital guidebooks, and guests rarely use the function. Nonetheless, you should still create one since it’s another variable that could improve the guest experience – and therefore your ranking in the Airbnb search results. What you can do: Just fill out the major tourist destinations in your area and some of the most popular restaurants. Google the top tourist spots in your area for inspiration. Luckily there are alternatives to the Airbnb guidebook. So once you’ve created one with the same enthusiasm as you did your high-school essays, create a custom digital guidebook with a service like our own. It’s a great way to boost the guest experience, brand your vacation rental, and get that 5-star review. It’s free, and you can even use it to upsell products and services to your guests.
Social media exposureA listing that attracts visitors from social media is a strong indication to Airbnb that the property should be featured first in the search results. After all, there’s a reason those visitors left social media to go to Airbnb. What you can do: Social media for vacation rentals doesn’t have to be overly complicated, especially if done through Instagram. Start by creating an account and posting pictures of your place regularly. Don’t forget the hashtags! In your Instagram page, include the link to your property
Cancelation rateDaniel Rusteen, former Airbnb employee and owner of OptimizeMyBnb.com, recommends a flexible cancellation policy for all Airbnb listings. He believes it positively affects your search rank because it positively affects the guests’overall experience with the platform. Here’s what Airbnb had to say about the cancelation policy updates in 2019: “Additional messaging for guests is meant to eliminate confusion about cancellation policies and, ultimately, to encourage more bookings—especially for more flexible listings.” What you can do: A cancelation once in a while won’t drastically affect your listing’s ranking. If your property is well-maintained and you use a PMP to automatically adjust your calendar across multiple platforms like Airbnb and VRBO, cancelations shouldn’t be an issue.
The golden rule to rank first in AirbnbWe just looked at 8 variables you can manipulate to increase the odds your property shows on the first page of results. There’s one last thing you can do to boost your odds of being first: convert visitors to your listing into guests. How often your listing converts sends a clear signal to Airbnb’s search algorithm. It shows that your property meets the guest expectations the search algorithm predicted. So what can you do to increase conversions? It’s a combination of all the points we covered above and includes a few other vacation rental fundamentals such as:
- Write a listing suitable for the type of guests your property attracts
- Take amazing pictures. If your property qualifies for it, take advantage of Airbnb’s free professional photographer service.
- Be price-competitive. You can do this by checking your competitors or using algorithms within our PMP.
- Refuse as little booking requests as (if Instant Booking is off)