VRS476 – ChatGPT, Predictive Hospitality and The Impact on Short-Term Rental Websites


This episode of the Vacation Rental Success Podcast is sponsored by OwnerRez
The World's Most Powerful Vacation Rental Management Platform That Homeowners And PMs Rely On


ChatGPT hit the public domain in December and more people are discovering uses for artificial intelligence and machine learning within the vacation rental business.  From local research to blog posts, keyword analysis for SEO, listings, and automated emails, to writing code for Chatbots, the possibilities are numerous.

This kicked off the discussion with Evan Dolgow and Braeden Flaherty of Aidaptive.com, and it moves on to explore the key factors that will influence the success of a direct book website, and how we can use Google Analytics most effectively.

Technology is moving so fast that ignoring the growth in ai could leave you behind.

In this episode you’ll hear:

  • Uses and limitations of ai and machine learning
  • Definition of predictive hospitality and what it means for our business
  • Examples of the key pages for a website
  • The metrics that drive a business forward
  • How to do exactly what the OTAs are doing to attract guests
  • Why do you need to migrate to GA4
  • The most important metric you need to focus on
  • How GA data can pinpoint customers who are more likely to book

Links mentioned:

Aidaptive.com

VRS470 – eCommerce, Google Analytics and how Hidden Data can Boost an STR Business, with Evan Dolgow

Andrea Bayer

Welcome to this episode of the Vacation Rental Success Podcast. This episode is brought to you by the kind sponsorship from OwnerRez. Providing a powerful and flexible system for managing vacation rental properties, OwnerRez provides booking and maintenance management, payment scheduling and collection, as well as insightful reporting. OwnerRez will provide you with a long-term booking foundation that is scalable for your vacation rental business, while fully managing your channel listings but still focusing on your brand, your website, and your way of doing things. Listen in to the mid-episode break where you will hear more about this internationally recognized leader in vacation rental software. For more information about OwnerRez, click the link in the description of this episode on your smart device. Let's get started; here is your host, Heather Bayer.

Heather Bayer

Today I'm doing Part 2 of my little podcast series about data, machine learning, and metrics. I started Part 1 with Evan Dolgow a few weeks ago, and today I'm being joined by Evan once again, as well as Braeden Flaherty from Adaiptive.com. With machine learning so much in the public domain now, this is a really interesting conversation, so don't miss it.

Heather Bayer

Well, hello and welcome to another episode of the Vacation Rental Success Podcast. This is your host, Heather Bayer, and as ever, I'm super delighted to be back with you once again from the sunny shores of Gulf Shores, Alabama, which is sunny and beautiful and very, very lovely. I'm not going to say any more than that because I know I do have some listeners from Canada who probably don't like it every time I rub their noses in it, that I'm down here in the sunshine while they're sitting up there in the cold and the snow.

Heather Bayer

However, that is what it is. So today I'm so excited to be talking to Evan Dolgow again and he is bringing along Braeden Flaherty from Aidaptive to talk a little bit more about what we started with in Part 1 of this short series on data, machine learning, and metrics. It flummoxes me, actually, because I never thought I'd be really as interested in all this as I am, but I recently discovered ChatGPT.  If you haven't gone into ‘chat.openai.com' and asked ChatGPT a question, you need to do it.  Make sure you listen to this first before you jump on over there, but it is fascinating.

Heather Bayer

I wrote a newsletter a week or two weeks ago, and at the beginning of the newsletter was a story. I always like to do a story, something that's happened in the vacation rental world or something metaphorical that I've picked up after experiencing something in my day-to-day business down here. But I wanted in that newsletter to deliver something I got from artificial intelligence, and all I did was feed in “Tell me a story about an alligator and short-term rental”.

Heather Bayer

So if you didn't get to read that newsletter, if you don't subscribe to my newsletter, which you should because it's going to be coming very upgraded very shortly. But if you don't, I included that story that was delivered to me by artificial intelligence within 10 seconds of me asking the question. I'm also going to include that in the Show Notes, so make sure you go there and take a look; I was blown away. And then, of course, from then, I went into all sorts of things, like, “Write me a listing for a cottage rental on such-and-such a lake in Ontario, and was pretty much blown away by what it came back with for that. My husband asked it to write an essay on “The Future of the Royal Air Force”, which it did – very concisely.

Heather Bayer

So it's really interesting where this is all going, because I followed up ChatGPT by finding something called Tome AI that Evan Dolgow shared with me, and it's something we're going to be talking about in this conversation. And that's using artificial intelligence to write pitches and presentations and other types of illustrative documents that you could add-in pictures and then put in a few phrases and it will give you all the bullet points. You've got to try that one too.  Anyway, I'm not going to explain this anymore. I'm going to turn this over to the people who do this for a living, and this is Evan Dolgow and Braeden Flaherty from Adaiptive.com, so listen in.

Heather Bayer

Okay, so I'm super excited to have with me today again, Evan Dolgow from Adaiptive, and also coming along today is Braeden Flaherty from Adaiptive as well. So, good day gentlemen, thank you so much for joining me.  Evan, it was such great fun talking to you last time, and I said then I needed to do a second go because it was so interesting. I did say in the introduction that I never thought I would find myself as fascinated with machine learning and artificial intelligence as I am, and I've just gone right into it and reading as much as I possibly can about it now. So I'm thinking if I'm that interested, then other people have got to be interested as well. So thanks for joining me again. Evan, can you give us a little bit of a brief recap on your background and then we'll ask Braeden to introduce himself as well?

Evan Dolgow

Sure Heather, absolutely, and thanks for having us. I really enjoyed it last time. A lot of people reached out and said the same thing – I didn't realize that data and technology could be that much fun. So I'm with you.

Evan Dolgow

I'm Evan Dolgow. I'm head of hospitality at Adaiptive. My background is in sustainable real estate development and technology, as well as hospitality. And I'm out there bridging the gap. Like you said, AI is there front and center. Technology is there front and center and that's because it's now accessible. And thankfully for the position I'm in, I get to bridge that gap and allow every average-day person to see the power behind using that sophisticated technology.

Heather Bayer

That's great. Braeden, you're at Adaiptive now, you haven't always been there. You were front and center at another very well-known company for a while.

Braeden Flaherty

I was. First off, thanks for having me, thrilled to be here. But yeah, I began my hospitality career a long time ago working as a bellman at a high-end hotel in Aspen. For the last 15 years though, I've been in hospitality technology, various roles over at Bluetent. Most recently I was the chief product officer there. And then for the last four years or so, I've been with their parent organization Inhabit IQ and left there to join Adaiptive just about three months ago.

Heather Bayer

Well, it's great to have you on here as well. As I'm sure Evans told you, we had a really great discussion about data and stuff, as I said, that I never thought I'd find so interesting. So I'm super excited to have you on today, because now we're going to dive a little bit deeper into some really practical stuff on what people can do with their websites and how to make them more effective, basically. But I really want to kick off with talking about what seems to be on everybody's radar now and that's OpenAI's ChatGPT. I'd like one of you to explain that in little bit more detail to anybody that might have had their head under a rock for the last six weeks and has not heard about it.

Braeden Flaherty

Yeah, I don't know if my news feeds and social feeds are just full of this  because I work for an artificial intelligence company, but I think it's just seeped into the popular culture, especially over the last few months here. I think the OpenAI ChatGPT release has been eye-opening.  Before then, we saw a lot of really exciting things start to break through into popular culture and that's a lot of the maybe more artistic things coming out of programs like TensorFlow and all these technologies fall under what we call ‘generative AI'. And I think that's really caught people's attention.  Because it's really tangible, we can understand it. It's output that we can relate to as humans. These are things that we're used to spending time on. These aren't things that are happening in the back-end of a computer system. They're artistic or they're communicative, so they're easy to relate to. And we can see all of a sudden something that went from being this really academic niche technology to being really relatable with practical applications that you can see right in front of you. Certainly ChatGPT-3 and OpenAI's Chat are really high on that list.

Braeden Flaherty

When GPT-4 comes out this year, a lot of people anticipate that that's going to be an order of magnitude even more powerful and more impressive. So, yeah, absolutely exciting, and I love it because it just calls more attention to what we're doing. But certainly the technology we use is a little bit different than ChatGPT, but there's a lot of overlap there too.

Heather Bayer

Okay, yes. Evan, you sent me to another one called Tome. Just describe that as well.

Evan Dolgow

So, what we're going to see going forward is the accessibility to use AI, whether it's image generation, whether it's content copywriting, you name it. There's enough power behind the AI that we have now to essentially make the output as if there were 100 humans behind the computer executing the task that you've given them. So Tome, for example, is you write a prompt, let's say we wanted to talk about AI on the Vacation Rental Success podcast. We would write that into Tome and then it would generate an entire deck with images and content tailored to exactly what I'm talking about, even though it's never even seen it. But the point of Tome and ChatGPT, and how I find it interesting, is that in 2023, we are now at this transformative point where AI is accessible. For the last 20 years, it's only been accessible to Big Technology like Google, Facebook, Amazon, only the ones that can afford it, with billions of dollars of R&D, but now it's available to the average person. So that's what's going to be really interesting about this year going forward.

Heather Bayer

Yes, absolutely. And we mentioned this when we were talking at the outset that this is not something that's going to go away, this is with us forever and it can only become more sophisticated.  I tried to explain it to my sister, in fact, who's somewhat older than I am. She said, “I just can't take this in”. So, I mean, there's a generation that probably is'nt going to be able to manage this or cope with this as much as my grandkids who are coming on 7/11 now. It will be a part of their lives…..

Braeden Flaherty

…..And I think beyond just generations, we're talking about industries and businesses and pillars of society may have trouble coping with some of these changes. It's literally that scope of an impact where you could potentially put it on par with something like the dawn of the information age, or even an industrial revolution, where this technology is going to change how humans act in their day-to-day lives from this point onward. We were just talking about the New York City school system, outlawing GPT and OpenAI's Chat, both in school and for any take home assignments, and that sort of resistance is probably not going to be able to hold itself up over the long-term. So how do we adapt to making this a tool that we can use to make ourselves more productive and make society better?

Evan Dolgow

If I can add to that, I would say that it's already been adopted and we don't even realize it. And that's been the level of sophistication that Big Tech has been at, where they've essentially been rolling out AI for the last several years, and we haven't even realized it, to the point that it's now become an expectation when we're on the Internet. And an example I gave in the last podcast was Amazon. We all use it. We're all addicted to it. They have such an incredible experience. Same with social media. Both of those platforms, they serve us exactly what we want to see, because for the last several years, they've been learning about what we click on, what we buy, what are our behaviors, and then that feedback goes back to the engine, so that way it can learn and improve the recommendations. And now Amazon and social media understands us better than we know ourselves. So I would say that it's already being adopted and we don't even realize it.  Now it's just the expectation. The bar has been set.

Heather Bayer

Yes, and I know that. I did an Amazon order this morning and ordered three things I didn't know I needed until Amazon told me I needed them.

Heather Bayer

Okay. Right. I want to talk more about this practical application of all this in our websites. And Evan, you were at the Book Direct Show in Miami. So there were a lot of owners and managers there who are so interested in direct booking and coming away from leaving it to the OTAs to bring them their business, because it's not going to be that easy anymore. So they're looking at setting up their own very first direct book sites. And I've had this question from them, “Will they work? How do we get this new website to work?” So I'm throwing that one open to you just to give a sort of overview of what makes a new website successful. I think we all know it doesn't happen overnight, but what should they be looking at when they start out?

Evan Dolgow

Yeah, so I've gotten on stage in several countries and states, and I've been on several podcasts trying to lay out what goes into a great direct booking website. But my partner here, Braeden, is a humble guy. He's seen thousands of websites as Chief Product Officer at Bluetent, so I think this will be more valuable coming from him. So, Braeden, tell us, what do you think a beginner direct booking site should look like?

Braeden Flaherty

I think the first thing is that there's no need to be intimidated by it. There are tools and software and agencies these days that have made building or just purchasing a direct booking website easier than it's ever been. So if you're a fledgling brand-new member to the vacation rental community, maybe just marketing your own property or you're a new start-up vacation rental manager, there's no reason not to pursue your own direct booking channel. It's never too early to get started on that. Start building your own channel, own the guest relationships that come through that.

Braeden Flaherty

So I think number one is don't be intimidated to get started. This can be very easy in terms of what works well. We can borrow a lot from E-commerce. Ultimately this is not drastically different from any other transaction they make online. People are going to go through a research phase, they're going to be making purchasing decisions and we want to just empathize with the information they need to complete that decision making process and reduce any friction for them making that purchase. And so high level items, things that I think for any experienced property manager (or table stakes) at this point, high quality images, right?

Braeden Flaherty

Let's make sure you're not limited on the number of photos you can add. You probably don't need to waste any more ink on using high quality photos. If you're not in at this point, you might be in trouble. But let's start with high quality images. I think the other big part here, we're seeing almost a standardization of booking processes. If you look at a typical search result set for vacation rentals, and then that booking flow of, a search result, to a property detail page, to a checkout process, more and more that's becoming standardized.   So if you're working with any established provider, that again is kind of table stakes. So what are you looking forward to? Take it to the next step? I think the most important piece in where individual property managers can leverage their competitive advantage is their localization, is making sure that you have the ability to manage content at will on that site. You need the ability to keep up with events, with recommendations, with highly specific – from a local's perspective – information that's going to help customers.  And that's going to establish you as an expert.  That's going to get you traffic from organic sources like Google.

Braeden Flaherty

Because as people are in that research phase, the advantage an individual property manager has over a multinational brand is, you can go really deep on your local area. And even with the emergence of automated text generation tools and GPT-3, where they could potentially do that, they're not going to be able to keep up with current events, recent events. And just having a real human opinion on these things and understanding what your niche is and who your guests are in catering that content to them, you're serving a more specific audience, more likely than somebody like a Booking.com or an Airbnb, will be so lean into that.  Understand your audience. Make sure that your website supports content so that you can speak directly to their concerns. So I think that's maybe the most important thing. And then from there, site performance. Make sure we're uploading optimized images, make sure things are fast, that they work well on mobile devices.  Again, more and more of the major providers in the space have largely solved this for you. So if you're working with any established reputable brand, you should expect a reasonably fast site. You should expect mobile friendliness.

Braeden Flaherty

A secure booking process is extremely important, so put yourself in the guest's shoes and walk through that process. Is there anything confusing? And make this easy and reduce friction. Big “BUY NOW” buttons never hurt; you can't make things ‘TOO' obvious.

Heather Bayer

Yes, I love what you said just there about get in the guest's shoes and imagine if you're a guest and walk through what you like. I mean, it wasn't so long ago that my own company, we revamped our website and probably, I think it must have been in 2020. So it wasn't that long ago, we did it in the middle of the pandemic, maybe 2019, I don't know. But I do remember the research that went into creating that website. I mean, we worked with one of the top website design companies in the vacation rental space. And I remember my office at the time, the wall was just covered in post-it notes. I I had the big post-it notes at the top, which meant main navigation, and then all the post-it notes that came down from it to create the pages of the main navigation. I can't remember who suggested that to me. I might have just found it online, but it was certainly a terrific way for me to do it. But it was certainly in the conversations that we had with the web designer and the web development people that that research was so important.  Find the sites that you like and that you can navigate through as a guest, putting yourself in those guest shoes. So that's the way I did it and I'm guessing that's probably one of the things I did right.

Braeden Flaherty

Yes. Information architecture is a step that's super easy to gloss over. You have to make this stuff easy to find. I think there's another aspect of that though that's changing a little bit, and that's the improvement of search in general on most websites. And that's something that I would specifically look for if I was shopping for a website in 2023. Here is a platform that has a very intelligent search functionality and not just a property search or a listing search, but something that allows you to search through that entire site. We're seeing great improvements there, that are partially driven by AI and just better indexing technology, but that can alleviate some of the challenges and finding content that's deep in your site. But there's another benefit from this to the site manager and that's great intelligence about your guests, what are they looking for? And I think that if you do have a site search installed on your site, that is a tool as much for you as a manager as it is for your guests. Because you can go in and analyze what folks are looking for, making sure that you have content that's tailored to answer those questions.

Braeden Flaherty

If you see themes coming up, you can build a content strategy about that and get ahead of those guest concerns, make that easier to find. You're going to see improvements in finding new keywords that you're going to rank for. You're going to find guests that are going to be able to find content more easily on your site. You become more of a trusted resource again. So highly recommend something with a refined search tool that allows you to actually see what keywords and how people are interacting with that so you can take action on it.

Evan Dolgow

Yes, real quickly, if I could just add and sort of sum up what Braeden was alluding to when he was talking about what goes into a quality website. Bottom line, let's not reinvent the wheel. Let's do exactly what the OTAs are doing. They're the highest converting sites. They're advanced E-commerce companies, go understand how their websites work. You're going to see they're not going to have a large text box on their home page, because no one reads anymore. Everyone is just used to clicking, and the more you click, the more you research, the more you learn and eventually you press ‘BUY'. So that would be my piece of advice, let's not reinvent the wheel. Have as many things to click with great images as Braeden said, and the guests will naturally find their way to the end zone.

Braeden Flaherty

That's a place I've seen a lot of, especially companies that pride themselves on being technology forward make some missteps where they'll try to get a little bit cute or unique for the sake of unique when they go through their search and book process. And I think that humans are beings that recognize patterns and work off pattern recognition. And a lot of times we take action on almost autopilot. So if you're going to break from that traditional search interface, you really need to have a good reason to do it or you're just going to frustrate your users, and I think that that's not a place to differentiate yourself without good reason.

Heather Bayer

Very good. So just on a very practical level, when we're building a website, I remember doing a podcast probably about eight or nine years ago and talking to somebody about the twelve essential pages you must have on your website. Do we do that anymore? Do we say you must have, I mean, we know that we have listing pages, but must you have an About Us page? You have the rates, page availability, etc. Is that the way to do it still.

Braeden Flaherty

I think that I step away a little bit from ‘you must have these items as pages in your site', but there are definitely some key pieces of content you want to check off, certainly if you're an independent vacation rental manager, property manager, or homeowner.  An About Us page is a great way to bring your personality and your team's personality to the forefront of your brand. So I certainly look for that when I'm booking, especially if I'm booking direct. I want to know that the company I'm looking for is reputable. I want to know who these folks are. Is this just a re-skinned national chain, or is this somebody who's actually local and ‘on the ground'? So I think that can be a real advantage and I think that gets into a broader category that we need to pay attention to, and that's trust signals and social proof and whether you do that through an About Us page or other mechanisms, that's a really important aspect when you're building a website. So there's a lot of ways you can convey trust, certainly About Us and put your name to it. That's step one or a possible step.

Braeden Flaherty

But implementing professional design, let's make sure your website actually looks like it was built by a professional and represents your brand. An intuitive UX [user experience], as we talked about content that's been recently updated. It doesn't even matter what kind of content, these can be photos in a gallery, these can be blog posts, these can be events. But if you communicate to the guests, just through time-stamped content, that you are actively managing the site, that can convey trust. Then of course testimonials, reviews, all these things engender trust and help that customer, who's probably weighing against booking with you directly or with a national competitor like, let's say, Airbnb, who has enormous amounts of brand equity and trust. And so anything you can do to build that up is going to be a benefit. Other pages and other types of content that are super important social proof, again testimonials and reviews – user generated content – is great. I don't know if it's a necessity if it's early-on, but it's something that's really effective in convincing folks making a purchasing decision that they're making a good one.  If they can have somebody, have either influencers, or folks related to them and their social networks, who have generated content and they see on that site.

Braeden Flaherty

If you can relate to happy customers, you put yourself in their shoes, you're more likely to complete that purchase because you see yourself in that happy person. So I think that's a really important part of it. I love seeing that on homepage hero images a lot of times, these beautiful professional shots of a property or of an area. But I think even better is if we can put a human aspect to that and show people enjoying an experience and let me relate to that experience and draw me into the site through that, rather than just saying you have a nice portfolio of homes.

Heather Bayer

Yes, that is great information. I am going to come back in a few moments and I want to talk about metrics. It's okay having a great website, but how do we know if it's working? Before that I'm going to take a short break now, and we're going to talk to Paul Waldschmidt of OwnerRez, and ask him another question about the product. And this time we're going to be talking about support.

Heather Bayer

Well, welcome back, Paul. The quality of support is a hot topic for owners and managers. What stands you apart from the competition when it comes to resolving customer issues?

Paul Waldschmidt

Thhat's a great question and I'm glad you asked it, because support is something we obviously take very, very seriously, something that we kind of broadcast everywhere we go. The quality of our support, and I do think there are a couple of things we do differently, first, everyone in the entire company, from people who are in onboarding and traditional support, all the way to engineers and testers, are involved in support, including Chris and I, including middle managers. Our team leaders, everyone touches some aspect of support every week. Our team members do as well, but they also lead by example. So Chris and I and others here that are in leadership, we're part of training. We're part of support on the phone. We talk to customers every week. These are not through other people in the company. We directly talk to them. We're involved in webinars. Of course, we go to conferences and things like that. But we really try, from top to bottom, side to side, make sure that support is something every person touches and that everyone here follows the same playbook when it comes to making a connection and discussing the humility and the empathy that we bring to those conversations.

Paul Waldschmidt

And there are other aspects as well, but I believe that really kind of building it into the company DNA from one end to the other and like I said, top to bottom as well, really shows both our customers and our internal team how much we value support.

Heather Bayer

Okay, thank you for that, Paul.

Heather Bayer

So we're back now with Evan Dolgaw and Braeden Flaherty from Adaiptive. And we've been talking about about machine learning. We've been talking about websites and how we can create great websites that will be successful. Now, I want to move on and talk about metrics and using metrics to understand what we are doing and whether it's working, is it working effectively and what can those metrics tell us? So, over to you. What metrics are actually important? And I'm assuming that everybody that is listening to this is using Google Analytics (GA), because if you're not, you should be. Evan talked about this last time we talked about the Google Academy. I'm not sure what they're calling it now, but it's a free course. You can go and do that course and learn the basics of Google Analytics. So why is this so important?

Braeden Flaherty

Yes.  You can't improve what you don't measure, right? So I think that there's not much more important than having some steady set of metrics you're revisiting on a regular basis. A lot of what I want to talk about today is going to be in the context of GA4 [Google Analytics v4]. And I think as you mentioned, Google Analytics is pretty ubiquitous. But I think the first thing I would say on this front is, if you haven't yet migrated to GA4, the new version, you're a little bit behind, and it's time to get going on that. The current version of Google Analytics (Universal Analytics), is going to be deprecated or end-of-life as of, I believe, June or July of next year. And the key part of that is the real deadline then to make those metrics valuable was actually this past summer, because when that moves over, you risk losing all of your year over year comparisons. So if you've not yet migrated to GA4, it's definitely time to do so. So a lot of the terms and reports that I'm going to of run through today are in the context of GA4.  Some of them have analogs in Universal Analytics [UA], but it's too late to be educating anybody on UA anyway; it's time to move to GA4.

Braeden Flaherty

So I think, like any website, probably the first top level metric you want to be aware of is your traffic. And in GA4, this has actually changed a little bit from Universal Analytics. The new primary user metric is Active Users, and that's an improvement over how they used to measure things. It used to just be total users who come in, and then you could look at your bounce rate and remove folks who had come to your site and not engaged with anything and immediately left, and you could calculate your actual Active Users. GA4 actually does that for you, in that all of their reports are centered on Active Users. If somebody comes to the site and bounces, then they're not being considered in your overall conversion metrics, and they've actually changed how they measure bounces. So another thing to be aware of is – we are looking at metrics. If you are moving from Universal Analytics to GA4, you're going to see some differences in some of those long held KPIs [Key Performance Indicators] that you've had.

Braeden Flaherty

User measurement has changed. Conversion measurement has changed, and so don't be surprised if you see lower user counts than you're used to seeing when you move over. We're no longer counting a bounce if somebody stays on a page for more than 10 seconds, because it's very likely they've actually successfully completed whatever journey they were on when they came to your site. Maybe I just came there to look up your phone number. I don't need to engage with that. That can be a successful conversion if I was able to find that quickly and so a much better measurement of top level engagement. So I would say that's the first one and that's something you want to see growing on a year-over-year basis over time. That's a great measure of just your overall marketing impact. Your growth in organic traffic, your growth in direct traffic, your growth in any of your paid traffic. So that's a starting point. Let's just understand who's using the site. Really critical though, if you have a direct booking website that you take the time to configure E-commerce and you take the time to configure the purchase measurement and what that will unlock is some really powerful things.

Braeden Flaherty

I would say if there's one metric a property manager should be focused on when they're measuring the performance of their website, it's going to be Revenue per User; that does a couple of things. That's going to measure how your success will scale as you ramp up paid marketing efforts, as you ramp up your advertising presence, you can better anticipate your return on ad spend and that also synthesizes both your conversion rate, which is one important metric, as well as your average order value. So that Revenue per User is a great single KPI that you want to see trending up over time to reflect either growing conversion and efficiency of your website, or increasing price and higher value purchases happening.  So that's really what we've trained folks to keep an eye on as a single point that you can measure over time and should be constantly improving.

Braeden Flaherty

There's some really fascinating stuff in GA4 though, I think something that I like, that's a good measure of how you can evaluate the quality of your products and the quality of your listings is the Purchase to View Rate. And this is brand new in GA4.  It's something that really hasn't existed before. You would have had to pull out your calculator and figure it out, but that lets you understand, based on a per-capita basis for how many page views on a property details page, how many of those folks turn into a converted guest. And so it might be that you've got a really flashy image that's driving a lot of traffic to a particular property, but maybe it's mis-priced, maybe it's missing some key amenities and it's just not converting, or maybe you failed to describe it really well.  So a great way to measure performance of individual properties within your portfolio is that Purchase to View Rate and that's a brand-new feature in GA4.

Heather Bayer

Yes, I'm just going back to when I was working with my property management company. We used to have these little sessions where we said, what is wrong with this listing? Why is it not converting? We've got some great pictures, we've got some great text. We just couldn'tunderstand why we weren't getting the sales on that particular property. And I have to say we were not using Google Analytics to do that type of analysis. But I'm guessing, perhaps from what you've just said, that that really wasn't available to the extent that it is now.

Braeden Flaherty

It's at our fingertips now. Exactly. It's much more accessible now. I think before it would be something where you might look at that seasonally or, even worse, you have an upset homeowner.  This allows you to spot that trend while it's occurring and not in retrospect. So that's a great one.

Braeden Flaherty

GA4 also offers Average Revenue per User, per active user. So that's literally measuring how your revenue will scale as you drive more traffic to it. You can get a revenue per user. You can look at all of your user acquisition campaigns and know pretty reliably if you start pumping energy or investment into those, that you're going to get a predictable return on that. These are things that had been available in GA360, which was a paid platform, or required a ton of manual number crunching, and now it's a dashboard you can just go in and look at in GA4. So really valuable there.

Evan Dolgow

Braeden, can I just add that a lot of the things you just mentioned may help a manager go back to a specific homeowner and have a difficult conversation. If you can prove that your website, your average revenue per visitor, and your click through rate, you can prove that these things are improving across the board except for their one property, there's likely a reason. So a lot of times these conversations happen out of just gut-feeling or they're reactionary. This may be good fuel for those conversations to be more actionable and tangible with using data. So another really good point of why it's useful for these managers to use Google Analytics to then bring it back to their homeowners.

Braeden Flaherty

That's a great point. Yes, it might be time to point out that it's time to rip out the shag carpet, time to update the furniture. We've exhausted the other resources there. If I had one other kind of exciting piece of news to share in the metric front, something I see really transforming the paid advertising space for vacation rental managers over the next few years is a new feature in GA4 called Predictive Audiences. And this resonates with us because it's right in line with the predictive hospitality marketing that we do for personalizing websites on the front end. And so, what Predictive Audiences allows you to do – Google is using machine learning, very similar technology to what we employ at Adaiptive – is to evaluate and profile visitors to your website and determine their likelihood of purchasing or returning to the site. And so you can create a segment of users right out of GA4 that are ‘high- intent' customers. So on a weekly basis you could go in there and say, who are my customers who are likely to purchase in the next 7-10 days? You can segment those and you can directly export them out of GA4 into the Google Advertising Ecosystem.

Braeden Flaherty

So that's going to go into Google Ads, Google Display Ads, their social and display networks. And so it's a fantastic way that's actionable for everybody right now to enable that Predictive Audiences feature, and you can literally build out cohorts of folks who would previously have been anonymous to you, because you're not getting email addresses from these folks, they're not logged in. But then this lets you identify them via a GA profile, migrate it into the Google Ads Ecosystem and then allow them to market to those folks on other channels. So it's a really powerful tool. It's brand new and I would say it's best suited for PMs on the larger side.  It's machine learning, so it does take some time, it takes significant site traffic for it to build those profiles. But if you find that's a successful tool for you, I just have to say that that probably also means that Adaiptive tools could be a good fit as well. Because you have statistically significant traffic, you have enough engagement for machine learning to provide some real benefit for personalizing the front end of your website.

Heather Bayer

I think that's a good moment to just go back onto the machine learning and just to clarify that you have to have enough information. There has to be enough information to allow it to make those decisions on what it's going to give back to you. That sounds really clumsy, probably because I'm not really understanding it and I'd like you to explain.

Braeden Flaherty

Yes, definitely. And I think it's absolutely true. Machine learning works on volume. It's called big data for a reason. It needs a significant amount of data for this to work. There's not a single number we can give. And the nice thing is that number is coming down. Our mission at Adaiptive is to democratize this technology and make it available to more and more folks. So as the technology improves and processing costs come down, it's going to become more accessible to the smaller and mid-size manager and business owner. But for the time being, we like to see for our technology at least 5,000 monthly visitors for our recommendation software. You need significant inventory for us to make those recommendations valuable. Because if you've got ten properties, it's not that hard for a person to understand which of those are a fit and evaluate them individually, so we like to see 100 plus properties. But I also think it's important to call out that the machine learning and artificial intelligence is a means to an end. Because you don't have that technology or access to that technology today doesn't mean you can't do the personalization that we get out of that.

Braeden Flaherty

The ML [machine learning] is not the value here, it's the personalization that we can do with it. And so I would say if there's a takeaway for rental managers today, don't wait for your ability to access artificial intelligence and machine learning. Focus on how you can use the tools you have to personalize the experience. Because that's where you're getting the increased conversion value. That's where you're getting more engagement from your guests. That's where you have a greater ability to upsell and increase cart value. And there is a lot of personalization we can do without heavy technology. Any web developer today can understand where a guest came from immediately before they came to your site. And so if somebody was referred from, let's say Instagram, you could serve them a message welcoming them from that platform, directing them to, if you have, influencers that you've engaged with.  You can direct them to that content on your site you could look at. If you know that they're coming in from a mobile device, you could maybe offer them a slight incentive to book immediately on their mobile device, and you don't have to serve that to your desktop guests.

Braeden Flaherty

Those are things you don't need artificial intelligence to do if a customer is a repeat visitor to your site. So, not a repeat guest, not somebody in your database, but somebody who's clearly in the research phase of their buyer's journey. I think the average guest visits something like 15 or 17 websites multiple times before they complete a purchase. So there's a lot of this bouncing around. If you're recognizing a guest has been to your site before, which you can do very easily today with what's called a cookie, and you can serve them again when they land on the site. “Hey, welcome back. We noticed you're returning, here's $50 off your stay if you book in the next 48 hours.”  Give them a discount code and help convert that. That level of personalization has an enormous impact and is near trivial to implement. And then if you've done those basic levels of personalization and you're seeing that return, then it's time maybe to look at how you can engage with more advanced tools and leverage, things like machine learning and artificial intelligence. But you can start the process without having to bring in the big guns.

Evan Dolgow

Just a quick story that Braeden and I experienced the other week. So shoulder season comes around, or let's say even super-busy season, and there's a few homes that need that boost, but you don't want to send those few homes to everyone in your directory, it's too many. And everyone wants to see the same homes. So for each home, how do you find the correct audience that wants that specific property and then send that specific audience that property? Maybe with a deal or a discount of some sort. That's how you start to fill in the voids in your booking history. And you start to use the Predictive Audiences to just boost your shoulder season, figure out how to ramp up your bookings, and I guess some of the low hanging fruit that you didn't have the opportunity to get to before.

Heather Bayer

So to do all this, this does require somebody working on your site that knows what they're doing; a web developer.  This is not your basic WordPress site that somebody's just put together themselves. This is, perhaps for some, it's beyond them. And I think it goes back to this question as to when you first start to build your website, how much is it worth going to spending more money on good web development than going the low cost route of doing it yourself and doing a GoDaddy site or something similar?

Braeden Flaherty

I think there's maybe a middle ground there for a lot of property managers. I think that largely in this day and age, it's likely inappropriate if you are not an experienced web developer, if you don't understand E-commerce, if you don't understand buyer's journeys. I would really encourage you to shy away from doing this yourself unless you're really strapped, it's early on in your organizational development. Something is better than nothing, certainly, but a hobbyist level website is going to come across as unprofessional and that's just the way it is. Tools are getting better. And if you don't need to take online transactions, if it's brochureware, yes, go with GoDaddy, go with  Wix or something like that. But if you expect people to give you their credit card or access to their bank account, you need to convey a minimum of professionalism that's going to be integrated online booking, that needs to be professional modern design, you need to have those trust signals through a checkout process that's intuitive. So if you intend to make it a serious channel for bookings, you need to be going with a professional. That doesn't mean you need to spend a lot on a custom website necessarily.

Braeden Flaherty

I think one nugget of learning from my time at Bluetent was that there's frankly sometimes an inverse relationship with how much people invest in customizing their website with how well it performs. Because a basic templated vacation rental website is built to do one thing really well and that's turn guests to your website into guests on property. And as you invest in widgets and social feeds and real estate and ancillary features that are not about that booking process, all you're doing is hurting your conversion rate in most cases. So unless you have a really unique business model that demands custom, I think there's a lot of off-the-shelf template style or configurable websites out in the market. But to your point, you do want to work with a company that has an ongoing commitment to service, because this is not a static space. A website today is going to age faster than websites have ever aged. Technology is changing very quickly and so make sure whether it's on a subscription model or an upfront model, when you're buying a website, you understand your access to improve that site over time. Make sure that you have a service plan.  Make sure that it's not a month long queue to get in if you need to make a minor change. I think that's where there's some real differentiation in the market, it's not in that initial product, but how they support it over time.

Heather Bayer

That's such a great point. I know that from experience. Three times we went through the web design experience and support.  Doing it and planning it and ultimately putting it all together was a great experience, but having that support afterwards was the best.

Braeden Flaherty

Yes.  It's going to be puppies in green grass early on.  You're going to get told what you want to hear.  They can build anything, but what happens when it's December 20 and you need to get a message out on the site urgently? Let's make sure they can meet that. Those are the things you need to be probing for as you're evaluating vendors.

Heather Bayer

Gosh, thank you so much, both of you, for this great information.  Great discussion. I hope everybody comes away from this feeling really motivated at least to look at GA4, the Google Analytics and go to school, go learn something. And I am sure that if you've got any questions that Evan and Braeden would be happy to answer them. So the Adaiptive web address will be at the end of the Show Notes. Hopefully I can put a direct link into both Evan and Braeden as well – asking you right outright on this. So if anybody wants to get in touch with you, they can. You have talked a little bit about Adaiptive, but if one of you could just give us the ‘elevator pitch', that would be brilliant.  Just to sign off with.

Evan Dolgow

Braeden, go for it.

Braeden Flaherty

It's your job!  Nobody's better at this than Evan. But yeah, so at Adaiptive, we are passionate about bringing personalization to the vacation rental industry. We want to bring the personalization tools that are in place on every major commerce site as well as every major OTA and make those accessible to the vacation rental manager. We've got tools that will both increase cart value, increase conversion rate and help you be more efficient with your marketing spend overall. And if not even for marketing, this is hospitality. If hospitality is anything, it's understanding your guests and personalizing their experience, whether it's when they're on property and greeting them by name' let's provide that similar warm, welcoming personal experience throughout the booking journey and that's what Adaiptive can help with.

Heather Bayer

Wonderful. Thank you so much.

Braeden Flaherty

Nailed it.

Heather Bayer

Evan, you got anything to add?

Evan Dolgow

Yeah, the only thing I will add is that there is legitimately a sense of urgency between Google GA4 becoming the dominant platform for your web data, the regulation regarding data protection and privacy. The big tech companies just not sharing data as freely as they used to. All of those things by 2024 are going to amplify and compound. Essentially, you will not be able to have the same data access that you were able to have every year prior. So taking control by expanding your direct booking website and by expanding your direct booking processes, you will have that long-term autonomy. So I just want to create that sense of urgency because it is legitimately here, and I want to motivate everyone to just start learning about their Google Analytics with Google Academy. Go start diving deep, poke around, and you'll figure it out pretty quickly. It's not rocket science.

Heather Bayer

That's great. Thank you so much, both of you, for joining me. It's been a blast. And I'm going to start heading back down my rabbit hole on machine learning again. I think we should all be learning something new every day. This is my learning for the year.

Braeden Flaherty

I think there's never been more opportunity.

Heather Bayer

Yeah. Thank you.

Braeden Flaherty

Heather it was a pleasure. Thank you for having us.

Evan Dolgow

Thank you, Heather.

Heather Bayer

Well, thank you so much, Evan and Braeden, that was a super amount of information. I think it came across how confused I actually am. I get so excited about new stuff and quite often don't understand it for a considerable amount of time, but I think that's the same with most of us. And I know there's plenty of people out there who I'm sure have the whole thing about AI and machine learning off pat, and you're really happy with it. But I also know there are a lot of people that are listening to this who really have not much of a clue about it, like me. And I hope that conversation helped you out a little bit. I was talking afterwards to Evan, who was asking how best to get this information across about predictive hospitality, and what it is. And I was saying that just using those types of examples that Braeden was doing is probably the best way of doing it.  How practically we can understand how people come and use our sites and what we can do to encourage them, once they're on the site, to make that booking and actually send us some money.

Heather Bayer

So let me know what you think. Let me know how much you understand about it, or if you'd like to hear more about it, because I know the guys would love to spend more time talking about it, and I'm more than happy to bring them back on and do another session. So just let me know. You can email me at heather@vacationrentalformula.com. So that's it for another week. I'm heading out to enjoy a little bit of the sunshine and the Gulf of Mexico, which I'm finding particularly lovely at this time of year, and I hope that you are enjoying the weather, wherever you are.  So I look forward to being with you next week. Thank you as ever, for listening.

Andrea Bayer

This episode was brought to you by OwnerRez. For more information about this internationally recognized leader in Vacation Rental software, click the link in the description of this episode on your smart device, or head over to  to https://www.vacationrentalformula.com/virtual-vendor-showcase/ownerrez/ to find out more.

Heather Bayer

It's been a pleasure, as ever being with you. If there's anything you'd like to comment on, then join the conversation on the Show Notes for the episode at https://www.vacationrentalformula.com. we'd love to hear from you and I look forward to being with you again next week.