The Anatomy of a Successful Vacation Rental Listing Part One- The Headline

the_anatomy_of_a_successful_vacation_rental_listing_the_headlineThe Source (formerly Radio Shack) in Canada has been running an ad for a couple of years with the ‘I Want That’ theme. A little weird, but it says where we are now in the crowded retail space – if something grabs our attention sufficiently, it’s usually enough to draw us in to finding out more, but you have to grab that attention with something a little out of the ordinary.

Take a look:

“We are in a new era of wanting instant gratification with online booking driving decision making and choices and if we don’t hook our potential guests with dramatic images and appealing text right from the get-go, they will just move onto the next property that does.” (Cottage Blogger Home Away Presentation)

I want you to take a critical look at your vacation rental listing and I mean REALLY really critical here. Take off your ‘owner’ hat and detach yourself from any emotional connection and ask yourself these questions:

  • If I was looking for a rental property and saw this listing would I say “I Want That”?
  • Does the title stand it out from the competition?
  • Does the feature photo have a ‘wow’ impact?
  • Would a visitor to the listing be just as wowed by the full listing?

How did your listing stand that test?

If you were able to bypass your owner filter and see the listing from a visitor perspective, it’s highly likely you’ve seen some shortcomings. It might be in the title, the feature photo, the text, the About US section, amenities….

….falling short on any of these could trigger a visitor to go to the next listing.

Paying for a premium listing doesn’t guarantee that someone will actually read it. In a hugely competitive environment, you need to do much more than just appear at the top of the page.

tweetA premium #vacationrental listing doesn’t guarantee someone will actually read it. Make sure your heading sells

A good vacation rental listing has a number of critical components that together can cement the ‘I Want That’ desire.

You have probably heard the phrase,

“The whole is greater that the sum of the parts”

A basic meaning of this is that the whole as a unit is better than the individual parts that make up the whole. For example: we can see all the parts of a car and know what they do, but the concept of “car” is quite different from the sum of the meaning of all the individual parts.

This can be applied to our listings too.

Great photos on their own are not enough to capture the attention of a site visitor, nor are a long list of five-star reviews, or even a very competitive rate. It would be like having a V8 engine in a car with crappy looking bodywork.

So, let’s get to work on this and create the parts that together create the desire.

Part One of this series focuses on the “I Want That” headline

When faced with hundreds of listings, sometimes with very little to choose between them, getting a site visitor to click on the link to see more of yours is the key. You are often down to the minimal text a listing site allows you to have in the headline.

A great headline has to be punchy, descriptive and very appealing which can be quite a tall order given the limits on word count.


This is not a great headline

Here’s a few more things that should not be in your headline:


Property name :  

osprey_signOsprey Cottage – A Great Place to Stay

It doesn’t matter how catchy or attractive your property name is, it’s not going to encourage any reader to look further. If you want to show off the name, include a photograph of the sign and explain in your description why you gave it the name.


Location :

Vacation home rental Fort Lauderdale

Wasting headline real estate by using the location name can cost dearly. Most visitors will know your location by the time they get to the listing so using the name in the title is a waste of space. Oh, and by the way, we know it’s a vacation home rental by this time too.


Number of bedrooms/bathrooms :


This type of headline is common and similar to the comments on location, it wastes the headline space. On most listing sites, the number of bedrooms and bathrooms are shown clearly on the thumbnail page, and immediately below the main photo on the listing.


Abbreviations :

Home Away From Home-100% guest appd

It’s natural to want to get all your features in the headline but once you begin using abbreviations, the impact is lost as it begins to look like a classified advertisement. Here’s some abbreviations to avoid: blk; br; ba; ht, but in general they should be left out altogether.


Superlatives :

Stunning villa with spectacular views

Words such as gorgeous, luxury, stunning, beautiful, magnificent, amazing, stunning and spectacular are generally overused and can lose their impact quickly.


Alternative and impactful headlines :

Instead of all this wasted text space aim for using keywords that fulfills your potential guests’ criteria. Use the language that is going to capture the interest of your target demographic. If your have identified your persona you will have a good grasp on the language that is going to grab their attention – such as:

‘pets welcome’; ‘family friendly’; ‘tranquillity’; ‘ocean views’ , ‘hiking trails’

Copywriting is an art, and specialists spend hours on something as simple as a five or six word headline, so what can you do to improve yours?

The headline should inlcude your unique selling point (USP) and should be paired with a photograph to double the impact.

Here’s some examples:


Watch Disney Fireworks From Your Private Balcony

The fireworks are a must-see part of the Disney experience and if they can be seen every night from your property, this could be your USP so make your primary photo one taken from the balcony to show what can actually be seen. If necessary, find a professional photographer to capture the image.


Dolphins, Sea Shells and Perfect Sunsets

There are so many beachfront locations, it can be challenging to make your headline stand out. Once again, think of your USP and select the photo that fits it the best. With this one, an image of dolphins, a collection of sea shells or a great sunset image would all be appropriate.


Walk Your Dog On The Beach – Miles of Sand

An image of a dog running on your pet-friendly beach together with this headline, could have your dog loving guests zeroing in on your listing. The pet owner market is huge and this type of image is a big attraction.


Hot Tub and a Heavenly Bed – A Recipe for Romance

If your place is made for romance and you have read Mercedes Brennan’s post on creating a sexy bedroom then this title could attract your demographic quicker than any other. Of course you pair that with a feature photo of the hot tub, or the beautiful bedroom.


Ski from the door – après ski in minutes – complimentary lift tickets

Attract your winter activity seekers with the best description to appeal to them.


Is your headline doing the job? Have you given it enough thought? Take some time today to check it over and make some improvements. Then share you headlines here to get some feedback. Don’t be shy – we’d love to see them.

Part Two of this series delves into the text and looks at structure, content and how to use hypnotic language to make booking your place almost impossible to resist.


Great post Heather. I’m not aware that they’ve re-branded Radio Shack in America yet, but it’s probably long overdue. The video clip ad shows three benefits of the product, shows you the price and how fast you can get it – all perfect for our consumer market today.

I looked at the 100+ listings on our Canandaigua Lake (Finger Lakes region of NY). Her’s the link:

The majority make the same mistakes you outlined. Although they are all beautiful places, when the headlines are so generic as to be useless even a perfect thumbnail photo may not cause me to click on it.

For our headline, I try to include 5 Unique Selling Propositions: Sunny Cottage, Lakeside Deck, Long Sunsets, Free Kayaks, and walk to Wegmans (an excellent grocery store famous in the northeastern US) & town.

Even though other folks pay more for a higher listing, I still rank high in the monthly page views, so I think a strong headline with a nice thumbnail photo help generate views. We screen carefully so that our great neighbors don’t get agitated, so having a lot of page views reassures us that we can always find the right guests for our short 7-8 week rental season.

Thanks for what you are doing to improve the vacation rental business – both for owners and guests!

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