As a small business owner and vacation rental professional, you have your fair share to worry about on a daily basis. There is a constant shift in how search engines operate, an ever-growing number of mobile device users, and a daily increase in the number of vacation rental properties. This shifting landscape can be overwhelming.
As you start to increase your property portfolio, many vacation rental managers decide to develop their own website. This is a great choice not only because it increases your brand credibility, but it gives vacationers proof that you are a professional and legitimate vacation rental company. The question then becomes, what are the best practices in vacation rental website design?
We at Hostfully canvassed experts in the field to bring you the top tips and pitfalls to avoid when creating your vacation rental website. Let’s get started.
Registering your vacation rental website
Establish a relevant domain and professional logo
Your domain name and logo should be a powerful extension of your brand. Choosing the wrong domain name can affect the volume of your bookings if it’s too long, too short or too hard to spell. As a tip, use a domain that includes your brand name or a keyword. This can simply be “yourcompany’sname.com,” or something similar that includes your market like “city’svacationrental.com
Likewise, choosing a creative logo that reflects your brand helps your business become more identifiable. If you don’t already have a logo, you can hire a freelancer or someone you know who is good at graphic design. Once you have your visual brand package and domain established, then you can move on to getting your website up and running.
Pick a well-known website builder and domain
There are several website builders to choose from. All website builders offer a range of themes, but see if you can find one that is vacation rental specific. Some familiar website builders are:
Another option is to pay someone to customize your website from scratch if you want more complex elements added to your vacation rental web design. You can hire a vacation rental website designer on Upwork or Freelancer.com for a few hundred dollars.
Choose a reputable hosting service
One thing most people get confused about is hosting versus domain registration. Just because you purchased a domain on GoDaddy, doesn’t mean they’ll be hosting your site. Now, GoDaddy does do hosting, so we suggest when setting up your vacation rental website to register your domain with the same service that will host it.
Although it may seem less expensive, it’s better to pay for website hosting (roughly $100-$125) than having your provider’s ads posted on your site.
Building your vacation rental website
Mobile-friendly vacation rental website design
It’s crucial to build a mobile-friendly vacation rental website design that delivers availability, rates, holiday updates, etc., since more and more bookings are done on mobile devices. In fact, 85 percent of travelers conduct research and book using their mobile devices.
When building your vacation rental website design, you have to keep mobile at the top of your mind. Most website builders will automatically make their website templates mobile-friendly, but be sure to test out your website on multiple mobile devices to ensure the experience is seamless.
One of Google’s recent modifications is to only list sites that can be easily viewed on a mobile device. So, creating a vacation rental website design that offers optimized viewing across multiple devices is critical for your business.
Use only high-quality photographs
Photo marketing is the primary tool for getting your vacation rental booked. Include stunning, high-quality, panoramic photos taken, preferably, by a professional. Make sure that your photos are optimized for your website and mobile devices.
You likely already have high-quality photos for your listing on Airbnb, VRBO, Homeaway, etc., so if these are good enough then include them in your newly created vacation rental website.
Melissa Levis, an owner of nine vacation rental properties in Manchester, Vermont, notes that her top tip for those creating a vacation rental website is including floorplans so that prospective renters can see the track layout of the property. Secondly, Melissa urges vacation rental professionals designing a website to include a photograph of every bedroom and bathroom as well as common spaces. This ensures there are no surprises to renters when they arrive.
Include local recommendations
Mark Bursiel, the owner of Texas Hill Country Reservations, has the following advice when it comes to local recommendations:
“Consider that the website visitor and prospective guest does not know your area. Some may be visiting for a conference or a wedding and did not choose the location based on prior information. Tell them what there is to do. Include links to the attraction’s website but open the links in a new browser window.”
Likewise, Melissa Levis also reports the importance of a vacation rental website having a thorough document of activities in the area. Local experience details provides renters with an overview of what they can experience in the neighborhood, and can then start planning their outings.
Embed a booking engine
An element that should be embedded in your vacation rental website design is direct bookings. A direct booking engine is a reservation software that allows you to manage reservations, deposit details, and more, to avoid a marketing platform fee.
Typically, if you receive a booking from another platform you will pay a fee. If you have a well-designed vacation rental website and travelers can book through it, why not allow them? Depending on the website builder you chose, there may be plugins or add-ons that can facilitate bookings. Contact customer support to ask if you are stuck.
Your vacation rental website design needs key pages
Create a site that includes rich text (300-500 words) for your Home Page, Property Descriptions, Video & Photo Galleries, FAQs, Blog, and About Us. We say this because Google will crawl your website to try and understand what it’s all about. If you have no text, then Google is not likely to rank you in their search results. If, however, you explain that you are based in X city, and you specialize in Y type of rental, and attract Z type travelers, then Google will have a much better idea about your vacation rental business.
Wouldn’t it be nice to rank #1 in Google for the search term “vacation rentals in [insert city name]”?
Also, include each page with a menu bar at the top and an area that features social media links. The social links are important as travelers can easily share their positive experience with their followers.
Website design tips from a seasoned vacation rental owner
Mark Bursiel, owner of Texas Hill Country Reservations, a family-owned and run business with 140 properties had some critical advice for vacation rental owners designing their first website.
Load time – Each page should load in less than 2 seconds regardless of device or network. A slow loading website will cost you money in lost bookings. You can test your vacation rental website speed with Google’s Page Test.
Security – If you are collecting personal information on your website be sure to secure it with an SSL certificate. Site visitors look for the little green badge in the address bar before sharing credit card information.
Functionality – Your vacation rental website design should allow a visitor to make a reservation (or reservation request) directly from your site. Jumping to 3rd party sites – often poorly optimized for mobile browsers – can significantly impact your conversion (booking) rate.
Content – Property listing details are often overlooked on a reservation website. The worst ranges from a bulleted list (I’m guilty of this for newly listed properties) to descriptions that are far too long. The text should be accurate and evocative and create a realistic sense of the property without using flowery (or outright deceptive) descriptions. And it should be readily scannable.
What to expect – Consider including a full list of what guests might expect. What size are the beds? How many will the dining table seat? Are towels provided? Is there an iron? Microwave? Grill? Make a detailed inventory and try to answer any question a prospective guest may have.
Search Engine Optimization (SEO) – Search engine optimization (SEO) is not magic. It is also not automatic. Beware of anyone who promises to have your site rank on the front page of Google. If your site is on the front page for a term that no one searches it doesn’t do much good because no one will see it. Consider the search terms that are important for your area and your business. Something like “Santa Barbara vacation rentals” is specific. And “Santa Barbara vacation rentals” is an action-oriented phrase. Searchers are looking specifically for a vacation house to rent in Santa Barbara. Include this type of wording in your content to help ensure Google will rank you.
Images – The images of each property should be bright, clear, and visually describe what the guest will experience. Too often photos are too dark, out of focus, or just show the backyard. Make sure you take the time (or hire a professional) to take great photos. Remember: a picture is worth a thousand words.
Pricing – Clearly explain pricing on your website. Be sure to include rates for peak and off-peak seasons. Special rates for holidays, and any cleaning fees or deposits. Additional costs for using certain amenities (fireplace, hot tub, etc.) And how much you charge for extra guests, pets, etc. Clear, upfront pricing will minimize the number of uncomfortable phone calls you have to make.
Terms and Conditions – Be sure you have well-articulated terms and conditions of rental on your website. Cover booking deposits, when the final payment is due, the additional cost to use multiple credit cards, your cancellation policies and what your rights are in the event of guest default. Include a prominent link to the terms on the website. Consider making acceptance of Terms and Conditions requisite to create a booking request. Keep a record of the guest’s acceptance.
Contact information and hours of operation – Consider placing contact information (email and phone) at the top of every page above the navigation and logo and make them clickable. Folks on mobile phones appreciate easy-to-find links (especially if they are lost) and a phone number that can be clicked to place a call is much better than trying to remember the number when dialing.
Consider offering packages (upsells) – Often visitors are traveling for a special occasion such as an anniversary or birthday and are looking for items such as massages, flowers & gift baskets. Offering these little details can streamline the guest’s experience (and provide you with a little extra income).
Vacation rental website design mistakes to avoid
Mistakes within a website’s design can be detrimental to your online presence. What is the biggest vacation rental website design mistake to make? Showcasing a website that isn’t specifically designed for vacation rentals! Free templates typically aren’t optimized for the rental property industry and offer no marketing value for your business. It’s always good practice to pay a little extra for design templates and features that will make you stand out from the crowd.
Other vacation rental website design mistakes include:
- Listing amenities without offering features/creative descriptions
- Failing to offer information about your location/region
- Posting poor or tiny photos
- Not posting an ‘About Us’ page
- Posting vague, disorganized content that lacks key information
- Building a site with low or bad use of color and contrast – This is where a graphic designer can help you.
- Missing ‘Call to Action’ (e.g., “Click here to book now!”)
- Failing to establish credibility with travelers
- Posting pictures that have not been optimized for a website/mobile device
- Failing to explain that you process secure e-payments
Final thoughts on vacation rental website design
If all of this seems overwhelming, then you’re in good company as almost all vacation rental managers feel this way when first developing a website. Effective website design, particularly for vacation rental businesses, can be complex. For the majority of business owners out there, hiring a freelance web developer for a few hundred dollars will work wonders for your business and free up your time. Just give them a link to this article, and they’ll know exactly what web elements should be included in your vacation rental website.
Be sure to create your vacation rental website design in a simple, organized, visually appealing, and mobile-friendly way to provide your prospective customers with a user-friendly experience. In a highly competitive industry, having a vacation rental website that stands out will certainly improve your brand image, and ultimately your bottom line.