VRS011 – Words that Sell – Travel Copywriting with Erin Raub

I’ve been searching through online listings in the Bahamas recently because we are considering buying a property there and renting it out.  As part of the research I was looking at rental rates, occupancy levels and reviews, to see what works for owners, and what doesn’t.  This is totally unscientific and a statistician would no doubt slam my results as naïve, but it’s clear to me.  When a property has great photos, a beautiful description and a ton of 5 star reviews, it also appears to be booked solid.

This is not rocket science I hear you say and of course, these are the elements of a successful listing.  But still I see the majority of listings with poorly written headlines, a first paragraph telling me how many bedrooms and bathrooms the place has, and the first photo – the one that creates the thumbnail – the same as everyone else's.

Travel_Copywriter_Erin_Raub_sm So, when I came across Erin Raub’s site The Travel Copywriter, I was intrigued to find out what owners could do better to ‘sell’ their property.  How could they weave magic with their words to draw visitors into the listing, and get them to book – even in an area with a lot of competition? Erin shares what copywriters, and specifically travel copywriters, do to create that magic and tells us:

  • The key to creating a magnetic headline
  • Ways to stand out from the competition in a crowded market – think Disney fireworks!
  • How one small purchase and a little creativity  boosted interest and bookings for the owner of a beachfront Hawaii property
  • Why it’s important to create a persona  for your ideal rental guest
  • How to make your sale in the first paragrah of your listing
  • Her five tips for improving your listing today
  • The three social media sites that travellers go to, and where you should be too
  • Why using professional photography will make a difference

We also have a magnificent offer for commenters on this podcast episode! (See note below)

If you comment on this post within 10 days of publication, telling us what you enjoyed most about the podcast, and what changes you’ve made to your listing based on Erin’s tips, your name will go into a draw for a great prize. Erin will review one of your listings and will write an alternative – including a headline.  This is golden!  A top copywriter would normally charge hundreds of dollars for this service and Erin is offering it this one time to our podcast listeners.  Don’t forget, we need to know what you liked most and what you’d like to change.

This competition is now closed and we would like to announce that Debi H has won the listing makeover from Erin. We will be sure to do a before and after blog post for our listeners to highlight the changes and we will keep in touch with Debi to see what the results are.

Mentioned in the episode:

26 Inspiring Ideas for Evergreen Travel Blog Content

4  Tired Travel Cliches and What to Say Instead

Erin’s Pinterest Boards

Debi H

Thank you Heather and Erin! I was inspired to rewrite the heading and description for one of my properties. I have a few more to go. Putting myself in the headspace of our renters helps to inspire the feeling behind the words. Re-reading guest comments helps to remind me what they love about our places. Your tips really help!


What a great podcast! The tips about consciously defining your property’s marketing persona are fantastic. Lots of great ideas. Thank you!

Peter Torres

LIke many Vacation Rental owners, we were “hands on” creating the website for our rental properties. Took all of our own pics, wrote all of our own copy…. fortunately our efforts paid off and our properties got to the top of Google generic searches for our niche. Our apartments became very successful & our occupancy rates were good. After a couple of years our website did begin to look a little tired, so we had professionals photograph everything again. Wow, immediately visitors to our website were staying longer on the site, clicking more pages to look at & inquiry rates increased 16% in the first month (seasonally adjusted) and have now peaked 24% above the last 2 years moving average! Ok, so now we are addressing the text and copy of our site, as you can imagine this is more complex than just updating pics! We have listened to the podcast a few times, visited Erin’s site and (other copywriter’s sites too) we will begin the task of rewriting, new layouts etc. My wife and I are divided if we should contract a copywriter or tackle it ourselves!…. of course the obvious solution is just to handball the whole process to the copywriter, but there are considerations… would they “Get” what we are trying to communicate to potential guests, what are the costs involved for a 13 page website. One thing is for sure, we need to do it, to keep current & up to date with how our site appears. Best wishes, Peter & Jhoie.

Peter Torres

PS, I forgot in my last post to say thanks Heather! Thanks for your continuous stream of information and thanks too for the warmth & sincerity that comes through your posts.

Ski Jacobs

Great Tips!

Lucie Nolette

Excellent podcast Heather and Erin, Thank you. What I liked the most is the #1 tip; knowing your persona. For sure, I do have to sit down and write all the details. I want to change my description for sure, it needs to be done on my web site & listings also. A few years ago, we only had a handful of similar competitor properties on the big web sites, now way too many so we need to differentiate ourselves! Thanks for the great tips


Another great podcast with terrific advice owners and managers can put into practice to improve their brand. I especially like Erin’s advice that we must understand the different persona who make up our customer base and address their unique pain points. I am going through the exercise to personify our guests, giving them “names” and scanning past inquiries to identify their questions. Armed with a better understanding of their anxieties & worries, I will highlight the solutions (how we ease their concerns) in our content marketing. Thanks for the gentle reminder. “Know thy Customer” is a marketing 101 lesson we cannot gloss over, nor can we make sweeping generalizations that we cater to “any and every one” who vacation in our destination”. Our guests are actually different from those who choose other properties and its time we focus on and celebrate our niche.

Heather Bayer

This was my favourite tip too Lucie – I have started defining personas for owner clients for our rental agency. It will better define how we approach them and create our marketing materials.

Heather Bayer

Glad you enjoyed it!

Heather Bayer

Much appreciated Peter – thank you for the feedback

Heather Bayer

Would love to see your sites. I think a good copywriter would work closely with you to understand what your goals are and to ensure your message gets across. As far as cost is concerned, if it gets results as in increased bookings, and generates more inquiries, then the one-time investment may be well worth it.

Heather Bayer

Hi Debi – I’d love to see your before and after headlines. You are right about rereading the guest comments – there is so much information there about what they really like about a place.

Heather Bayer

That was my biggest learning point too Glenn. Thanks for your feedback.

Heather Bayer

Good points Paula. I liked Erin’s tip about getting to know your guests ‘pain points’ and showing how you can alleviate them.

Debi H

We moved from “Award Winner! Ocean View Sanctuary w/Hot Tub” to “Enjoy unobstructed ocean views and the steamy, secluded hot tub.” The people who rent our property are honeymooners, anniversary celebrants, and those who are looking for the right place to “pop the question”. It’s private, secluded and intimate. We also periodically get the family on vacation with children, and some couples traveling together, but it’s the romantic couples that we cater to. It is our vrbo listing that I changed. If you want to see it, it is #214861.

It is odd, that when it comes to changing our personal website, I am feeling ambivalent about making that kind of change. I feel that although I want to appeal to the senses, I also want to make sure that our potential guests understand the facts. I have to play with it some more. and view it from different perspectives. I’m certainly open to feedback!


What a great motivator to readdress my VR’s copy! I’ve taken many of the ideas to heart and can’t wait to start…or now as a result of the points made…restart.

Erin Raub

Good question, DrDonna. Your Facebook page is the perfect medium for getting renter feedback and developing your personas. Keep in mind that inventing a persona is never something to pull out of nothing; you should always base it on real, live visitors who love your rental.

After you have some good feedback, you can essentially categorize your different renter types (e.g. parents of toddlers, active couples who love to ski, etc.) – your personas. Give each persona a name and some background details (e.g. Jake & Joanne, the mid-30s DINK couple who spend their disposable income on ski trips, wine tasting, and European vacations), so as you develop different aspects of your marketing, you can remind yourself: What do Jake & Joanne care about?

Erin Raub

Great points, Paula! You’re so right: it all comes back to “know thy customer.” The better you know your guests, the better you can market your rental to the people for whom it is best suited.

Erin Raub

So glad you found it useful, Lucie!

Erin Raub

Thanks, I’m glad you found the podcast useful!

Erin Raub

I love your photography example, Peter! It’s amazing what clear, well lit, and illustrative images can do for a property.

Regarding your copy, I know it’s a big (sometimes overwhelming) task. Take your time. Writers like to say that a website is never done; it’s always in progress. 🙂 I find it helpful to tackle one page at a time, as one page feels so much more manageable than 13. And as you go, you’ll get into the swing of your new style and copy, and writing will probably get easier.

If you do consider hiring a copywriter, make sure to look for someone who offers a free consultation (before you pay a dime) and sends a creative brief. A creative brief is a kind of client questionnaire that targets everything you asked above: who are your guests, what do you want to communicate, what makes your property unique, etc.? Remember, this type of writing is a copywriter’s job and a good one will know exactly how to capture your voice and “get” your message.

Erin Raub

Thanks, Glenn! Happy to hear your enjoyed it.

Erin Raub

Thank you, Debi! I’m glad you found the tips useful. I love that you’ve already identified your primary guest persona, and are working on how to incorporate that into your marketing.

Kevin Riedel

Great podcast, Heather and Erin. I have worked in marketing for 15 years for a couple big Fortune 500 companies and have also worked in the ad agency world. The topics discussed in the podcast were completely spot on. Standing out from the rest of the crowd is so important these days. Vacation rentals in some popular areas are almost becoming commoditized. If you don’t do something to make yourself to be unique, you’re going to lose ground.

Think of any other situation where someone is going through piles of options. Take an HR manager looking at resumes… page after page of black and white text is common. As they shuffle through stacks of paper, when one comes across with color, different fonts, and a bit of design flair, the manager will stop and look.

You need to do the same.

I think it’s a common thing when running a business to try to be “safe” and do what your competition is doing. When thinking about your rental (business), don’t think about creating something that’s going to be like everyone else. Think about creating something that will jump out at and grab your target market by the face and shake them from side to side.

And don’t be afraid to be edgy with your writing either. Be conversational. Use words and language that feel uncomfortable… A new breakfast joint opened up in my town called “The Sloppy Waffle” and they use a funny cartoon waffle and bold colors on their signs. It gets my attention every time. On the flip side, when I drive by the the black and white sign of “Josie’s Diner” I just keep going.

Bold words and beautiful photography help you get noticed. It’s common sense… but for some reason, it’s easy to overlook when running a business. Bravo Heather and Erin on a great piece!! Keep the great content coming, Heather. And I’m happy to have been “introduced” to Erin… I’ll be checking out your page!


Hi Erin and Heather,
Recently I have been trying harder at my copy as well as updating many photos but I know I still struggle! http://www.chichesterselfcatering.co.uk Capturing the atmosmosphere etc in a few meaningful, catchy words is taxing! I am clear that my two properties have different guests / types but even so! At least I like challenges!
I have pages on FB., LInkedIn, Pinterest, Google+, Twitter so I am trying but….there is just me!
Thanks though. Gayle

Erin Raub

Thanks, Kevin, glad you enjoyed it!

I really like your metaphor of a recruiter looking at résumés; you’re right, the ones that stand out are the ones that get attention. Great photography goes a long way on a listing site, and photography + beautiful web design is the currency of success on your own website. Of course, after you’ve successfully gotten eyes on your property, it’s time for copy to do its thing – convert!

I also like your suggestions on being edgy or unconventional with your writing. With general copy, that’ll work better for some rentals than for others, but where it really works is in content marketing: email campaigns, blogging, etc. Those mediums are more casual by nature, so it’s easier to be conversational and even humorous. And it’s a great way to connect with your guests. So good points, all around. Thanks for your comments!

Erin Raub

I know what you mean, Gayle. Copywriting is a challenge, but thankfully it’s one you can approach piece by piece. When I’m feeling overwhelmed, I often find it helpful to start with a lower-level page – say, a room description instead of the general Accommodations page or eek!, the Home page. When you start on a lower-level page, there’s less pressure to get it “perfect” right off the bat; you can play around with your copy, edit and revise until you like it. You’ll slowly develop your style and voice, and by the time you get to those higher-level pages, you’ll find it’s much easier than if you had started with your Home page. Good luck, don’t stress and have fun with your copy!

Heather Bayer

Great advice Erin. I think we generally feel its important to start at the beginning on the home page and then move onto the secondary pages, but taking it the other way around seems a more logical way to do it.

Heather Bayer

So glad you enjoyed it Kevin. I got a lot of ideas from Erin that I’m going to apply.

Heather Bayer

Hi Debi. We would like to congratulate you and let you know that you won the listing makeover from our random draw. Erin will be in touch and we will do a before and after review on the blog to showcase the changes. Please contact me directly at heather@vacationrentalformula.com with your details.

Many thanks and again, congratulations.

Debi H

Woohoo! Thank you! I’m so excited!

Bob Garner

Heather, just wanted to thank you for all your excellent podcasts including this one which inspired me to look at my copy. I have listened to maybe half your podcasts over the past month and I have learnt something really valuable from most. I keep meaning to write to thank you for all your efforts so please take this as such! Keep it up. bob

Travel Copywriting & Tourism Marketing Roundup (February 20) - The Travel Copywriter

[…] Blogger’s Vacation Rental Success podcast. During the podcast, Heather and I chatted about words that sell travel, and specifically how to write a vacation rental listing that appeals to your target audience […]

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