Optimizing your vacation rental website for search engines can do wonders for maximizing your occupancy rates and rental revenue. But how do you get started with vacation rental SEO? The topic of SEO, or search engine optimization, can seem overwhelming and intimidating, especially if it’s not something you’ve ever worked with before. But, while it will take some time to learn and perfect your optimization skills, the good news is that your efforts will be well worth it. The top four organic listings in Google search results get the lion’s share of clicks. So, if you’re able to improve your search results ranking even to the first page of results, increased website traffic is all but guaranteed. In order to make it easier for you to take on vacation rental SEO, we’ve put together this guide that details all of the information you should know to get your website in front of as many people as possible.
What is SEO?
Essentially, SEO is the process of ensuring that your vacation rental website follows all of the search engine guidelines. While engines used to focus solely on keywords and how often they were used, their algorithms have now evolved to rank sites based on a number of factors. These factors include, but aren’t limited to keywords, quality content, backlinks, social media presence, and the user interface. There are two types of optimization that you need to pay attention to: on-page and off-page. As you might expect, on-page optimization refers to items that are on your website and off-page refers to things that are not.
With on-page optimization, the focus is on optimizing the content and HTML code of each of your web pages. If you’re currently using a content management system (CMS), you’ll find that there won’t be too much, if any, coding work you’ll need to do. Many of these systems make it very easy to optimize your sites. Some even have plugins or other tools that can help you with your optimization efforts. In the event that you need to tackle HTML coding, there are lots of resources online – we particularly like W3Schools as they have lots of easy to use tutorials.
If you don’t already have a website, your first step will be picking a great domain name. With a domain name, you make your vacation rental its own brand. Your rental can go from just being a house in the mountains to the Mountaintop Chalet. For a great domain name, you’ll want to keep it as short as possible, avoid using hyphens, and make sure it’s both pronounceable and memorable.
Tags & Attributes
Meta tags are snippets of information that describe different elements of a web page’s content. The title tag is essentially the title of the page. It should be unique for each page on your website. It’s best to keep page titles to a length of 50 to 60 characters so that the entire title shows up in search results. The meta description provides a summary of the page’s content. This is what appears in search results and what will persuade someone to click on your link. Descriptions should be about 160 characters in length.
Alt tags or alt attributes provide alternative text for images should a user be unable to see the images or if they use a screen reader. These tags should accurately describe what the image is. They make it more likely that search engines will show your image in search results.
Finally, there are heading tags. These establish the structure of your web page and there are six different heading tags, from H1 to H6. You can think of the H1 tag as the headline or subject of your page. It’s the most important heading tag and you should only use it once for each page. The H2 and below tags serve to identify other subsections of your web page. They’re like an outline for search engines and as such, you should always keep them in order. For example, an H4 tag should only follow an H3 tag, an H5 tag should only follow an H4 tag, etc. Unless you have a very in-depth web page, it’s not very likely that you’ll need to use any tag beyond an H3 tag. Your H1 tags, much like your title tags, should be unique from page to page on your website.
Keywords should be a part of your page titles, descriptions, alt attributes, and heading tags to the extent that they make sense and serve to accurately reflect the content of the page. Page titles that have keywords as close as possible to the beginning tend to rank higher than those that don’t. Any time you use keywords, it should feel natural and not forced. Avoid repeating these words excessively (this is known as keyword stuffing) and use variations of them. Again, while these words and phrases help search engines know what your website and its pages are about, your ultimate goal is to provide your site users with a good experience.
Your page URLs matter! Not only should they be readable, but they should include the keywords you’re targeting. When your site comes up in results, users will look at the URL when deciding which link to click. When someone looks for “pet-friendly cabins in Georgia,” they’re more likely to click on www.coolcabins.com/pet-friendly-cabins-georgia than www.coolcabins.com/12345.html. The URL gives users an idea of what to expect when they click on the link.
Aim for shorter URLs rather than longer ones as the shorter ones are easier to read. Try to stay under 100 characters. In addition, using hyphens as word separators helps to improve a URL’s readability. And finally, avoid using special characters.
We’ve already gone into a little bit of detail regarding keywords. As we mentioned, while they’re not the only factor that search engines use for ranking, they’re still very important. To make sure you’re targeting the right phrases and words, it’s important to do your research. Take some time to look at your competitors and see how their websites come up in search results.
As you approach this project, think logically – if you were looking for a vacation rental like yours, how would you search for it? Enter those terms into a search engine and see what comes up. It’s also helpful to take a look at the related search terms at the bottom of the page to get an idea of what other words/phrases might be useful.
You’ll likely want to focus on long tail keywords that reflect the location, the type of property (home, condo, etc.), and amenities. Long tail keywords are three- to four-word phrases that are very specific. These serve to bring in a highly targeted audience. Someone who searches for a pet-friendly cabin in northern Georgia knows exactly what they’re looking for, which makes it more likely that they’re closer to booking than those who use more generic search terms.
Keyword research tools can provide you with valuable information with regard to finding similar keywords as well as how competitive the keywords are. The more competitive a word or phrase is, the more difficult it can be to rank for it. Google has a free Keyword Planner tool (although you must have an AdWords account). SEMrush provides some free keyword research information and they offer paid plans as well.
Internal and external links also factor into your website’s SEO. Each page on your site should have internal links to other pages on your site. These links should make sense and be relevant. It makes sense to have your page describing your pet-friendly cabin link to the page that covers your pet policy. However, it may not make sense for it to link to your travel insurance page. Internal links also help to ensure that all of your pages get crawled and ranked by search engines.
External links are those on your site that point to other sites. While you don’t want to have to have an excessive number of external links on your site, it’s still good to have some here and there. When you do link to other sites, only link to those that are quality, high authority sites. These links help to convey to search engines that your site’s content is relevant. As with internal links, external ones should also make sense and pertain to the topic at hand. Make sure that your external links open in a new tab or window to help keep visitors on your site. This option is usually available through your CMS’ visual editor.
The anchor text you use for both internal and external links also matters. Anchor text is the clickable text in a hyperlink, frequently shown in blue, underlined font. It should be relevant to the page to which it points. Avoid using phrases like “Click here” as your anchor text and instead use natural phrasing, like “Our Pet Policy covers…”
Is your website responsive? Or in other words, is it mobile-friendly? If your site isn’t mobile-friendly, it will impact how it ranks in search results. If you use a platform like WordPress, then it’s very likely that your site is responsive as most, if not all, of their themes are. You can do a quick check on your phone to see how your site looks or you can use Google’s Mobile-Friendly Test.
With your website, you need to focus on providing the best possible user experience in order to maximize your vacation rental’s SEO. Tools like live availability calendars and the ability to book online are very important to many potential guests. You should go through your website and double check that all your pages and links are functioning properly. Are your navigation options straightforward and easy to understand? Can you quickly find the information that you think your guests would be interested in? Take an objective and critical look at your website in order to identify any issues that may impact a user’s opinion of your site and, by extension, your brand.
Quality content plays a huge part in your vacation rental website’s search ranking. Not only does it help to improve the experience users have on your site, but it helps to organically attract more visitors to your site. This serves to increase brand recognition and reputation. Focus on providing visitors with the information they want. Popular activities and events are good topics for content as are things like frequently asked questions and need-to-know-information.
When you come up with topics, do a quick internet search prior to starting writing. This will help you to gauge interest in the topic, see how others have covered it, and see if there’s important information that hasn’t been addressed yet. In addition to blog posts, create a variety of different types of content. Infographics make it easy to convey information in a visually appealing way. Videos are also incredibly popular forms of content. It’s estimated that video makes up almost 75% of online traffic, so it’s a type of content that’s definitely worth looking into.
When adding images to your website, file names matter. Give your picture a relevant name (cabin-living-room.jpg instead of IMG-1234.jpg) and use hyphens as word separators. To see how your site is performing with certain keywords or how often it’s showing up in search results, Google Analytics and Search Console, as well as Bing Webmaster Tools, provide helpful and in-depth information.
Off-Page Search Engine Optimization
Off-page optimization refers to a variety of techniques and strategies that you can employ off your website to improve its search results ranking. These approaches help search engines determine that your site is trustworthy and reliable. Essentially, off-page SEO efforts tell Google and Bing just how popular your website is. The more popular it is, the higher it will rank.
Social Media Presence & Engagement
If you haven’t already created social media accounts for your vacation rental brand, now’s the time. Facebook, Twitter, Pinterest, Instagram, YouTube, and Google+ are just a few of the many options out there. These sites help you to build your online reputation. However, with social media accounts, you will need to take the time to be engaged and responsive. This works to increase brand loyalty and the chances that your online followers and friends will book with you. You’ll want to make sure that you post all of your content on your social media sites in order to get as many eyes on it as possible.
When your vacation rental website has a lot of quality backlinks (links pointing from someone else’s site to yours), this tells search engines that your site is popular and important. Getting these types of links can be difficult and time-consuming, though. One way to get started on your link building strategy is by checking to see where your competitors get their backlinks. Moz and SEO Review Tools offer both free and paid options for backlink checkers. If your competition ranks well for the keywords that you’re targeting, pursuing the same backlinks can help to improve your own ranking.
Chances are your destination has a Chamber of Commerce or Tourism Board. If so, find out what it takes to get your vacation rental listed with them. Other good choices for local options include Google Maps, Bing Places, Apple Maps, Yahoo Local, and the Yellow Pages. Local directories make it easier for you to reach a highly targeted audience – namely those people who are looking for lodging specifically in your area.
Reach out to local restaurants and shops and find out whether a partnership might be a possibility. Not only will these partnerships enable you to provide added value to your guests in the form of things like discounted gear or food, but they’ll help to get your brand’s name out there. In addition, you may want to consider sponsoring or volunteering at local events, which can also increase your vacation rental’s visibility online.
Forums, Groups & Guest Posts
When you join forums and groups, you can easily lend your expertise on your area. Sites like TripAdvisor have forums where you can answer visitor questions and offer your own insights. Many forums and groups give you the opportunity to include a link back to your website. This help to increase brand awareness and recognition. A great interaction with a potential visitor to the area increases the likelihood that he or she will remember you and book with you when the time comes. Guest blog posts are another good way to get your name out there while sharing your knowledge of the destination in question. Again, all of these work together to bolster your vacation rental’s online presence. The more online presence you have, the more credible you are to search engines.
Getting Your Vacation Rental SEO Plan Together
It will take some time to get all the moving parts of your SEO plan up and running. But with a little planning and effort, you’ll be surprised at the grand strides you’re able to take. If you’re looking for even more information, take a look at our Link Building page to learn about our process and the benefits of link building. You can also check out our Content Marketing page to get more information on why it’s such an important strategy. If all this seems overwhelming, feel free to give us a call at (720) 336-3939 or fill out our Get Started Form to get set up with a free consultation. We look forward to speaking with you!