Vacation Rental Website Marketing Makeover – From Paul Montreal
A Guest Post From Paul Montreal over at turnaroundtuesday.org
About the author
Paul Montreal runs Turnaround Tuesday. A weekly, website makeover clinic. For Entrepreneurs who have a website and a dream, but aren’t getting the results they expected. Anyone can apply for a free marketing makeover at http://turnaroundtuesday.org/apply/
I’m doing a mash-up marketing makeover this week, based on several websites submitted by the fine readers and listeners of Cottage Blogger. (I’m listening to Glenn Gould play Bach while I work)…
The Verona Palms Florida presents their property on a page called “Our Home”. And on that page they use the word “our” 10 times. “Stay in our…home”, “our townhome is located”, “the prime location of our townhome”, “ample parking….in front of our home” and on and on.
Here’s the thing –no one wants to rent YOUR home!
No one wants to sleep in YOUR bed. No one wants to use YOUR bathroom. No one cares about YOU. Humans are highly territorial and you are a total stranger.
Your customers care about themselves and their family. They like their own home. They like their own bed. They like their own bathroom. If and when they have to travel, they want as few reminders as possible that they are sleeping in someone else’s bed, and using someone else’s bathroom.
Your property is not your home when you’re renting it to someone else. You have to neutralise it. So they can make it THEIR home. In this case that neutralising starts with the language you’re using to describe it.
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Another site, the Jamaica Villa demonstrates this principle well. They have a similar page, but it’s called “Your own villa”. And their tagline is “Rented exclusively to one lucky group at a time…YOURS”. They use the word “your” 12 times on their page. For example: “your own personal staff”, “Relaxing or therapeutic, whatever your definition”, “the perfect complement to your villa ”, “do whatever your heart desires”.
Action: Go through all your copy. Look for every instance of the words “our”, “we” and “I”. Now see how many of those sentences you can rewrite, to switch the emphasis from you, to your customer. At the very least, each time you have to use “I”, “we” or “our”, you should balance it by explaining how something you do benefits “them”.
2. Model the Professionals.
I appreciate that a lot of vacation rental owners are trying to market their properties on a limited budget. (And sometimes I would question that decision). But even if you really are strapped for cash, that doesn’t mean you can’t learn from the best. Don’t try to be overly creative in how you present your property. It’s not difficult to do a little research to see how professionals have done the job. Then, simply break it down step by step. This is particularly relevant to staging your rooms, taking photographs and creating videos.
There’s a lot you can learn from the video that Verona Palms Florida are using to guide visitors around their property.
Here’s what I like about it:
It orients the user in space. You start outside, zoomed out. You move in through the front door and progress through the building. It’s easy to imagine that journey in your head. Far too many sites present snapshots in a random, disorienting order.
There are multiple perspectives on each room. Humans are afraid of the unknown, we are hard wired to avoid going into spaces when we aren’t sure what we’re going to find. We avoid dark caves, shady corners. So you really can’t go wrong by making your property as visible as possible from all angles.
The voice-over explains the simple benefits of each feature in the house. They don’t just show you a picture of a table, they paint a picture of an activity. “The dining area is the ideal place to ENTERTAIN and seats up to six guests in comfort”.
They also tell the story visually. The dining table is fully set for that entertaining, complete with candles and bottles of wine. You’re already imagining the fun times you’re going to share with family and friends around that table.
Each room is neutral but has signs of life. (It isn’t sterile). Burning candles. Bowls full of fruit. The set table. A jar of pasta in the kitchen. Books on the table. Lamps lit in the bedrooms. Dried flowers on the stairway. Art on the wall. Freshly laid out towels. Potted plants.
Action: Do your own research into popular rental websites. Make a list of things that appeal to you. What ideas can you incorporate into your own site? How can you neutralise your property whilst not making it sterile? How can you hint at life and make it inviting with the subtle use of living props like food, flowers, candles and place settings?
3. Make it easy for people to make decisions. (Our brains hurt when you make us think).
Let’s look at Serenity Vacation Rentals. On the surface, this looks like a pretty simple page. I see this scenario a lot. An owner has more than one property and they create a central page leading to each property.
What I like about this, is the owner has been smart enough to create two completely separate sites for each property. But if this page is to be of any use, it needs to give me more information, so I can choose which sub-website is most likely to suit my needs.
People don’t behave rationally or logically when researching properties. They are more likely to fall in love with a place. So, help them fall in love with the most suitable option quickly. Don’t expect them to methodically weigh all the alternatives.
Whenever you’re asking people to make a choice, you’re asking them to dip into a small, limited pool of cognitive energy. With each decision, we become more taxed. So give people as few options as possible.
Start by asking “What’s critical to this page and what can I remove?”. The less information a user has to process, the more likely they are to focus on what’s important.
Well, you don’t need a logo. That’s taking up the prime real estate on the page. You don’t need social media accounts at this point. The last thing you want on this page is to send them elsewhere. You don’t need a slow loading and distracting background image. You don’t need to meet the owners yet. They haven’t found a property they like yet, so they don’t care who owns them at this point. And likewise they have no need to contact you yet.
So, at this point, everything on the top 1/3 of the page is just a distraction from the 2 options you really want them to consider.
Your viewer has limited time and attention, but they need to make a decision, should they check out property A or property B?
The only information they have to make a decision are two images, taken from a strange mouse eye view. I’d change the perspective of those images. You want your renters to feel like the Kings and Queens of their new castle, not overwhelmed and intimidated.
You give us the addresses of each property, but that doesn’t tell us anything that allows us to make a decision. I’d lose all the other clutter from the page and include a couple of sentences on each property, highlighting the most important features and differences between the two.
Curtis Cottage: Situated on 3 acres, fronting the peaceful McTaggart Lake. Sleeps 10 and is an ideal vacation spot for families seeking to escape together. This incredible four season cottage boasts almost 2800 square feet of living space and has picturesque waterfront views from almost every room.
Birch Grove: The newly custom built “Birch Grove” cottage is situated on 11 acres of serene, private waterfront property and sleeps 12. With a beautiful 30ft kitchen, outdoor fire pit and deck overlooking the lake, this is the perfect location for entertaining.
Now, I don’t know the unique benefits of your properties, so it’s up to you to work out what it is that actually makes each property uniquely desirable. But the point is, sell me the highlights before asking me to invest any more time. Every page has to sell the next.
Action: Whenever you’re asking the user to make a decision, remove as much clutter as you possibly can. We hate having to think. When faced with options, we’ll unconsciously look for ways to avoid them, which often means leaving the page. Make sure you’re presenting the user with a condensed version of your most important selling points, so they can quickly make the decision and move forward.
4. How to write more persuasively.
Birch Grove is one of the sub sites from Serenity Rentals above. Let’s take a look at their copy, which accompanies a stunning looking modern cabin, and see if we can’t make it a little more persuasive.
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Here’s how they describe the property…
“The newly custom built “Birch Grove” cottage is situated on 11 acres of serene, private waterfront property and is an ideal vacation spot for families seeking to escape together. The attention to detail is obvious and you will be impressed by this four season bungalow. On the main floor you will find 3 bedrooms, a full luxurious bathroom and laundry separated by a pocket door for those who want to sleep in or nap! The other side of the pocket door has another bathroom, gorgeous big kitchen with granite counter tops, stainless steel appliances and large breakfast bar overlooking the living room. High ceilings, windows galore, shelves equipped with books, games and cards for your enjoyment. The large eat in kitchen area has ample seating with unbelievable views of the property. The lower level is fully finished with an additional 2 bedrooms, full bathroom and massive rec room with air hockey, foosball table and large sitting area loaded with TV, play station more games and movies! When you don’t feel like staying inside, there is a fire pit with rock seating, steps down to the dock with a row boat and peddle boat for you to explore the wonderful and serene McTaggart Lake. The lake is so perfect to peddle boat in, swim or fish. “
Let’s apply a few basic rules to make it more persuasive…
Know what your customers value most.
Make a list of all the features of your property. Everything from stainless steel fridge to being 20ft from the water. Now, go through all your previous testimonials and see which features people most mention. Better still, write to everyone who ever stayed with you and compile a questionnaire for future guests. Incentivise them to tell you what they most remember and value about your property.
The point is to know what’s most important to YOUR VISITORS, and make sure you’re highlighting that as a priority.
Don't try to be salesy. Just communicate real value.
The newly custom built “Birch Grove” cottage is situated on 11 acres of serene, private waterfront property and is an ideal vacation spot for families seeking to escape together.
This is pretty good so far. The only word that pops out to me is “ideal”. You haven’t quite linked the features “11 acres, private” with an outcome that makes it “ideal” yet.
If you added “families seeking to escape [the hustle and bustle of city life] together.” then the privacy and space you offer would indeed be “ideal”, and the sentence more persuasive.
It seems like a tiny detail, but we are highly attuned to marketing. Not necessarily consciously, but unconsciously. We all have a marketing BS meter because we see so much of it and we’ve been let down so often.
The attention to detail is obvious and you will be impressed by this four season bungalow.
We generally like to make our own minds up about whether we are impressed or not. You can impress us by showing us the attention to detail and why it matters, not telling us its obvious. Don’t talk down to your user. When you talk down to people, they go on the defensive and look for ways to prove you wrong.
Don't use words to draw maps.
On the main floor you will find 3 bedrooms, a full luxurious bathroom and laundry separated by a pocket door for those who want to sleep in or nap! The other side of the pocket door has another bathroom…
Try to avoid using copy to draw maps. It’s really hard for us to imagine the layout of rooms in our head and it offers very little value. No one dreams about the ideal floor plan, they dream about the ideal holiday.
Think about the benefits of every feature.
…gorgeous big kitchen with granite counter tops, stainless steel appliances and large breakfast bar overlooking the living room.
We aren’t persuaded by features. Features mean nothing until we give them meaning. For every feature there is a benefit to the user. And often a hidden benefit.
Once you know which features are most important (by doing your research), then you should write out what the BENEFIT of that feature really is.
What’s the BENEFIT of having “high ceilings and windows galore”?
What’s the BENEFIT of having a “massive rec room with air hockey, foosball table and large sitting area loaded with TV, play station more games and movies!”
What is the BENEFIT of a “fire pit with rock seating”?
Maybe “high ceilings and windows galore” means lots of light and stunning views of the surrounding forest and open lake?
Maybe the “massive rec room” keeps the kids quiet for hours?
Maybe the “fire pit with rock seating” lets you enjoy the campfire experience, roasting marshmallows and telling stories, within 20 yards of your cosy bed?
Go deeper. Find the benefits of the benefits.
Maybe all that natural light and those picturesque views of the forest help you get back in tune with nature and rebalance a stressed mind?
Maybe keeping the kids quiet for hours in the rec room gives you a chance to snuggle up with your partner and enjoy a quiet glass of wine together?
Maybe that fire-pit experience with the kids, who are growing up so quickly, creates precious memories that will last a lifetime?
Can you see how we’re moving away from the inanimate features of a building. And moving towards the deeper, emotional benefits that humans really value?
Paint pictures of a better future, tell stories of the possible.
Even a seemingly dull feature, a large breakfast bar, can be turned into an opportunity to spend precious time with the family. And may be the perfect opportunity to indulge a little. Chocolate croissants and bucks-fizz for breakfast? You are on holiday after all.
Experiences, shared moments, memories, altered states. These are the intangibles we seek when we travel. This is what you’re really selling. This is what people really want to buy. The utility is just a means to achieve the dream.
Show and tell.
Finally, use the deadly combination of show and tell. Don’t separate what you’re saying by giving the user a dense block of copy, then making them scroll the page, or go even further afield to see visible evidence of your claims.
Remember, nothing is obvious to them. And there is no reason for them to believe your claims. For each point you make, show us proof. Right there alongside, in context. Break your copy up and accompany it with the relevant proof. Show me the bucks fizz and chocolate croissants waiting for me on the breakfast table. Show me the marshmallows roasting over the fire. Show me the picnic laid out on the jetty as the sun sets over the lake.
Action: Avoid throwing cheap “hypey” words at your users like “ideal”, “impressed”, “unbelievable”, “wonderful”, “perfect”. Instead list every feature. Prioritise them in order of importance to your visitors. Then find the benefits and the hidden benefits of each. Use those benefits to paint a picture of a better life for your guests, combining words and pictures in “perfect” harmony 😉
Final thought: The counter top conundrum.
Having looked at hundreds of vacation rental sites over the past few weeks, I’m struck by how easily people will invest large quantities of money in things like granite counter tops. Whilst spending relatively little, or trying to DIY, their marketing efforts.
Maybe granite worktops are easier to quantify than hiring marketing professionals. Like a photographer who is skilled at telling visual stories. Or a web designer who has a high level of taste. Or a copywriter who knows how to use words to persuade.
But consider this, it’s those soft skills that target the emotional area of our brains. And your customers are using the emotional area of their brain to make their buying decisions.
So you can invest in a lump of polished stone if you really want to. But if your goal is to go from being just another option, to being the obvious choice, you might want to invest in a professional marketing team.