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HomeAway Insights - News from the Birdhouse
6

You may start noticing some changes to the order in which listings are displayed in the sort and search results on HomeAway.com and VRBO.com.  As of today, we have made these changes to the way we display search results based on direct traveler feedback on what is most appealing to them when searching for a vacation rental.

 

Please watch a short video we have put together which highlights some of the specific feedback we received from travelers about listing quality, and why it is so important:

 

 

 

The placement of your listing in search results first depends on your subscription level.  Within each subscription level, listing quality is the most important factor that determines your search position within those results.  Based on feedback, we know the most important factors families and groups look for when renting a property include high quality photos, reviews from past guests, quotable rates, online booking capabilities, online payments acceptance, updated calendars, an accurate map pin placement and your listing’s tenure.

 

The Listing Quality Scorecard within your owner dashboard is a quick and easy tool that provides recommendations for how you can improve the quality of your listings and your position within search results.  For example, if you accept online payments and provide quotable rates, provide 24 photos, etc.  You can learn more about the Listing Quality Scorecard from this previous blog from our Product Marketing Team: http://community.homeaway.com/groups/product-updates/blog/2013/10/02/new-listing-scorecard--more-insight-to-improve-your-listing.

 

If you have noticed a change in your search position, we recommend you go to the Listing Quality Scorecard in your dashboard and follow the customized recommendations. Improving your listing quality scores can improve your search position.  You can also visit the Listing Quality portion of the HomeAway Owner Toolkit for a step-by-step instruction on how to improve your listing: http://www.homeaway.com/info/owner-toolkit/listing-quality.

 

Our goals align the desires of our travelers to ensure our sites have the highest quality listings possible—and bring as many travelers to your vacation rental as possible.  Now more than ever, your listing quality will have a significant impact on where your listing falls in the sort order.

 

We want to help you get the most out of the valuable time you commit to the marketing and management of your vacation rental.  It is with this in mind that we hope to continue to work with you closely to determine how best to keep your properties filled with guests!

 

Thank you,

 

Brian Sharples

Co-founder & CEO

2

Introducing Insider Guides

Posted by thale Apr 25, 2013

Today, we’re very happy to announce the immediate availability of Insider Guides. Launched in partnership with Gogobot, this new, free product enables vacation rental owners and managers to create custom online guides that enable authentic, local experiences for travelers.

 

Most of us are familiar with the binder of “things to do, nearby restaurants, and helpful information” found in almost every vacation rental in the world.  Because owners and managers are familiar with the property and the area, they can save travelers time, point them at the best restaurants, and highlight hard to find “off-the-beaten-path” experiences that really make a vacation rental stay special.

 

However, the binder approach does have a few drawbacks. They take a lot of work to assemble, usually involving printouts, or menus, or handwritten notes and maps. They are hard to keep up-to-date as new restaurants and attractions open (or close).  Your guests can’t see it before they arrive or access it on a smartphone because the guides are not online.

 

Insider Guides make it easy to build a visually compelling, online guide that is rich with information (like addresses and locations) and enhanced with reviews submitted by one of the most passionate travel communities on the planet:  the 2.5 million-strong Gogobot community.

 

What is an Insider Guide? 

There are two key elements to an Insider Guide: The first is a list of points of interest (POI) on your VRBO.com or HomeAway.com listing. These POIs have thumbnail photos, distance to your property, and your star ratings and reviews. All POIs are displayed on your map creating a quick and easy way for you to market your property and the activities, attractions, and restaurants around it. This is designed to entice travelers with exciting and fun attractions and search engines with SEO-friendly reviews. See the screenshot below to see how POIs appear on your listing or visit a listing on VRBO.com or HomeAway.com.

 

The second is the Insider Guide itself. On this page, there is more information about each place (the address, for example), larger photos, and more interactive and social features. This guide is designed for the traveler to use when planning their stay or while they are on vacation.

 

Travelers can view the Insider Guide on a mobile device, tablet or PC, or download it into the Gogobot iOSor Androidsmartphone app. There are map views, a print view (very handy for your binder!), and options for travelers to create their own trip plan or share it with friends or fellow travelers.


The screenshots below show the various views of the Insider Guide or see an example of one here <link>

 

List View:

3.png

 

Map View:

8.png

 

Mobile Version:

4.png

 

Creating a Guide

Creating a guide is simple. As an owner or a manager, you simply head to the listing editor in your dashboard to get started.

 

Dashboard View:

 

5.png

 

Once you’ve named your guide and uploaded a photo, you can quickly add places from Gogobot’s extensive database, write your own review, provide your own ratings, or upload photos.  Only your ratings and reviews will show up on your listing - so make sure you take the time to add your personal and local knowledge. Gogobot built this part of the product, and it’s really slick because they provide you with suggestions that can really get your creative juices going.

 

Since there is no one who knows your property quite as well as you do - each guide is as unique and special as you make it. Some owners and managers will curate a list of popular attractions, while others will add “off the beaten path” attractions like the blueberry patch, flea market, coffee shop, or hike. These unique and special attractions are what unlock the deep local knowledge that will make for truly delightful and relevant experiences - which in turn will result in great reviews, happy travelers, and more bookings.

 

How can you take advantage of an Insider Guide?

Once you’ve created your guide, it’s up to you to determine when to share it with your guests.  Some of you will include it in all of your communications from your first inquiry response onward. Others will want to provide the link to travelers only after booking. We’ve provided a helpful “shortcut link” to make it easy to embed the link into your inquiry or ReservationManagerresponse templates or any email you send to your guests.

 

Not only does an Insider Guide allow you to market your property, but it also reduces the time you have to spend answering those frequent questions guests always ask: where is the nearest grocery store? What activities do you recommend? What are the best restaurants? With an Insider Guide, the answer is simple: check the link!

 

How do I get started?

You can get started building your guide right now. Many owners and managers have already started (see below for some examples) so don’t delay.  Here are a few tips: Make sure you add reviews and ratings! Use the photos that Gogobot provides, or add your own for that personal touch. Send it to your friends who live in the area to get them to comment. And best of all, since you have a VRBO.com or HomeAway.com listing, Insider Guides are included free of charge.  

 

Here are some resources to help you create a great Insider Guide:

 

http://help.homeaway.com/articles/en_US/Solution/Insiders-Guide-FAQs?knowledgeHome

 

And here are some examples to inspire you:

 

 

Enjoy creating your Insider Guide, and make sure you send us your thoughts and feedback!

 
Tom Hale

Chief Product Officer

4

I have to say I am REALLY excited about our new ad campaign that launches on January 15th during the 69th Annual Golden Globes!  Kudos to our advertising team and new agency of record, GSD&M, for really nailing the essence of HomeAway’s business with the new tagline, “Let’s Stay Together.” 

 

This time I feel like we’ve really got it RIGHT!  Truth be told, we’ve resorted to some pretty gimmicky stuff in the past couple of years, preying on the hotel industry and trying hard to stand out in the pack of Super Bowl ads with something shocking and memorable. 

 

Two years ago it was the Griswolds, an award-winning campaign starring the one and only Chevy Chase.  It received a ton of buzz and even won an EFFIE (for most effective ad campaign), and we sure had fun making it!  But for the most part that ad was a way to simply introduce the brand and poke fun at hotels versus vacation rentals.  And with only 30 seconds at the Super Bowl, we had little time to really highlight the positive benefits of renting a home. 

 

Last year we stayed with the “Why hotel when you can HomeAway” theme and introduced the “Minister of Detourism” as a character tasked with saving family vacations.  In the process, we made a major faux pas when a (fake) baby was flung into a window during the ad. That caused quite a stir, and in retrospect rightly so. We quickly pulled the ad and apologized.

 

This year is very different!  We’ve decided to skip the Super Bowl – it forces you to try and be provocative to stand out.  Rather, we have a much longer and broader campaign, and have really taken the time to focus on what our business is really about – promoting togetherness with families and groups. 

So this year it is all goodness, togetherness, and happiness – and emphasizing where you stay is as important as where you go while on vacation. As an added bonus, we got Al Green to agree to license his classic song “Let’s Stay Together” for our campaign.  The end result is a beautiful and artistic scrapbook montage of families and friends having the time of their lives while on vacation, and of course staying in rental homes!  

 

Most importantly, this campaign is as much about the industry as it is about HomeAway.  If we can simply get people to associate vacation rentals with better togetherness, then we will have succeeded with the campaign.  I think it is going to be a real winner for our industry; I hope you enjoy it too.

 

You may read the press release and view the 60-second ad here: http://www.homeaway.com/info/media-center/press-releases/2012/lets-stay-together

 

I look forward to reading your comments.

 

Best,

Brian

3

We are pleased to announce the addition of a new social publishing tool on the owner dashboard for HomeAway.com™ and VRBO.com, which makes it easier than ever to share an update about your rental and create an enticing slideshow of your vacation rental on your Facebook® Profile or Fan Page. Those who click on your wall post and slideshow are directed back to your listing and can find more information about your rental.

 

Additionally, we also integrated the option to Like a property on Facebook or share the property on Google+ via the +1 button for HomeAway.com and VRBO.com. We encourage owners to ask their friends, family and past guests to share their property with their social network by utilizing these buttons. By increasing the number of social shares that occur on their properties, owners are providing themselves additional opportunities to increase inquiries through the expanded reach provided through their social circles. 

 

Below are some things to consider as you begin testing this new social tool, and I highly encourage you to read Jennifer Stafford’s blog post on Social Media Marketing (part 3) for additional tips.

 

Social Publishing

 

Facebook recently reported that it now has over 750 million accounts around the globe, and nearly 3/4 of users visit their accounts daily, even while traveling.   Travel is one of the topics people comment about most often, especially when searching for where to go, and when sharing details and photos during and just after their trip. 

 

Our new publishing tool is an ideal way to make your rental part of the conversation.   A simple piece of news is all you need. Here are some examples to think about:

•    a new restaurant has opened nearby, and it’s really good

•    one of your guests had a unique wildlife sighting

•    a local festival is coming up soon

•    you just finished re-staining the deck and are enjoying a cool drink in the shade

•    all the wildflowers are currently in bloom

•    recent thunder showers have made the mountain view crystal clear

 

It doesn’t have to be anything fancy, just something that might make someone else think how nice it would be if they were there right now.

 

“Marketing” to Friends

 

One of the best reasons to use this new tool is the ability to keep the people you know casually aware you have a rental available.  Sharing your own – or your guests – enjoyment helps keep your place in mind in a way that’s not pushy or salesy.  Even better, when someone in Facebook piles on with a comment, your original post becomes even more interesting and gets shared on their wall for all their friends to see as well.

 

If you want to use Facebook, but want to present more of a business identity as a property owner or manager, you can use the tool to publish to a Facebook Page instead.  This way messages that are posted will be shown only to “fans” of the page – those who clicked the like button on the page – and not all of your friends.  This is a good way to engage with past (and future) guests without having to make everyone Facebook friends. 

 

And the good news is, with our social publishing tool, you can share updates with both audiences if you choose.  Just write one post for friends, then switch your target page, and write another one for fans.  It’s easy.

 

How to get started

 

Visit your dashboard and look for the tab labeled “Get more referrals: Publish a slideshow to Facebook.”  There you’ll see a view that looks something like this:

Screen shot 2011-07-26 at 4.32.20 PM.png

All you have to do is add your comment, then click “Post Slideshow.”  If this is the first time you’ve used the tool, you’ll be asked to connect and grant permission to connect to your Facebook account.  You’ll also be able to choose whether you want to publish to your friends via your Facebook profile page, or fans via a Facebook Page.

 

As soon as you do that, your post will be live in Facebook, and anyone that clicks the play button will see your post expand to an attractive and automatic slideshow, featuring all your property photos that look something like this:

 

Screen shot 2011-07-26 at 4.34.03 PM.png

 

Clicking the photos or on the links in the post brings a reader directly to your listing’s property page.  Each post you make is also captured on the dashboard where you can keep track of what you said before, when you said it, and see which of your posts drove the most visits.

 

Try it today!

 

Screen shot 2011-07-26 at 4.34.18 PM.png

0

In the first two posts I’ve discussed goal setting and determining which social networks will help you achieve your goals, as being the first steps to take when marketing your vacation rental using social media.  Today I’ll cover how to decide on types of content that you could publish.

 

 

Step 3: Decide on the types of content that you want to publish on social networks

First, let’s define content; in this context we are talking about any information, photos, videos, links to websites, etc that you have available and want to share. Different types of content work better for different social networks.  If you’re time constrained you need to think about content that is readily available to you, and easy to publish, but if you have more free time then you can be more creative with what you publish.  Be imaginative with information that you can share and create content that encourages engagement.

 

            Think about:

    • What information do you have that’s “insider knowledge” for the location of your rental, or just some of your favorite things in that location? Do you know the best shop to go for coffee in the morning, know of great deals at local restaurants, or the perfect spot to see that amazing sunset? 
    • Photos of your rental or local events and attractions near your vacation home are easy ways to create new content and share relevant information with potential guests
    • Offering a deal or freebie that is exclusive to your fans on social networks
    • Sharing videos of your rental or the town where your rental is located. If you don’t have any video consider creating a few short tours of your rental or favorite attractions in the area. Adding a personal touch through video could make a potential guest feel more comfortable when considering renting your home.

 

Again, let’s go through the well known social sites and talk about content types that work best for them.  Keep in mind though, without engaging with the community, publishing content isn’t going to yield results.

  • Facebook
    • Updates about your rental business and events in your rental location
    • Links to local attractions, restaurants you enjoy, discounts being offered in the area, posts about “things to do” or “what you should know about X city”
    • Photos of your rental and the area including attractions and events
    • Video tours of your rental and the local area and/or local businesses you enjoy
    • Deals can be publicized or offered exclusively to your Facebook fans on your page. You can also utilize Facebook’s new Deals product which will allow you to create a deal that can be found on mobile applications and by subscription.
    • Poll your fans about your home or fun facts about the area with the Questions product on your page
    • Add your vacation rental as a location guests can “check in” to on Places and updates will be shared with their networks giving your business more exposure
    • There are also easy to use applications that allow you to create custom landing pages, or Welcome Tabs to greet visitors of your page. These applications, such as Pagemodo or Involver, are easy to set up and install on your page.

 

  • Twitter
    • Short snippets of information about your rental and the area such as:
      • Deals for your rental, calendar updates, reviews received, last minute vacancy dates, events and attractions in the area, deals being offered from nearby businesses or restaurants
    • Photos uploaded through a site or application like TwitPic or Instagram
    • Links to video tours you’ve posted on YouTube or your website

 

  • YouTube
    • Video tours of your rental
    • Videos of events or attractions in the location of your rental
    • Video of tips for things to do, places to eat, museums to visit, etc

 

  • Flickr
    • Photos of your rental, your local area, events and attractions

 

  • Yelp
    • Contribute reviews of your favorite restaurants and shops
    • Join conversations in the Talk and/or Events areas. The key here is to contribute to the conversation and not only talk about your rental. Look for conversations where it may be appropriate to join and talk about your rental though.

 

  • FourSquare/Gowalla
    • Deals if you offer them
    • Tips for what to do in the area

 

  • Forums
    • Contribute your expertise about the vacation rental industry, your business or your local knowledge
    • The important thing about Forums is to find something you’re interested in talking about and become a part of the community with conversation and not just marketing your rental
    • Local information can be a great conversation on destination based forums where you can add value with local knowledge

 

  • Blogs
    • Blog on your personal website about local information and features of your rental
      • Provides an opportunity to engage with travelers and potential customers through your blog
    • Find opportunities to guest blog on other sites that discuss topics where you could add value to the       blogger’s site
      • Often you will be able to include your bio with a link to your personal site or vacation rental listing so guest blogs aren’t overly “salesy”
      • Guest blogging can also help with search engine rankings by providing links to your personal website        or your vacation rental listing

     

     

    In Part 4 of ‘Social Marketing 101 for Your Vacation Rental’, we’ll discuss how to build fans and engagement on your profiles.

    0

    In the first blog I discussed goal setting as the first step to start marketing your vacation rental using social media sites.  Now we’ll cover how to determine which networks will help you accomplish those goals and the time needed for each.

     

    Step 2: Determine social networks that can meet your objectives and time commitments 

    As much as we’d all like to participate in all of the social networks, there are too many at this point to be able to utilize all of them effectively. You need to take your business objectives and availability and match them to the various social networks to see which is the best fit for you. Remember, just because the mainstream media is mentioning a social network everyday that doesn’t mean it makes sense for your business.

     

    Let’s break down some of the basic uses for the more well-known social sites as well as the time commitment required to succeed on each:

     

    Facebook

        (HomeAway research has shown that Facebook is the most utilized social network among our travelers)

    Good for:

      • Connecting with past guests
      • Finding potential guests
      • Connecting with other owners and vacation rental-related businesses
      • Publishing a variety of content types (photos, links, videos, stories, etc) in one location
      • Using it as a website if you don’t currently have one
        • To get the most out of Facebook create a Page, not a profile for your business

    Time Commitment:

      • Initially low, if your page grows significantly and is very active then medium

     

    Twitter

    Good for:

      • Finding potential travelers
      • Connecting with local businesses and events organizations
      • Publishing short updates about your business and links to other sites

    Time Commitment:

      • Medium if you want to build an active and engaged network

     

    YouTube

    Good for:

      • Showcasing videos about your rental and the area where your rental is located

    Time Commitment:

      • Low to Medium depending on how intricate you want your videos to be and whether you’ll spend time filming and editing versus hiring someone

    Options for videos: Below are examples of owners and managers who’ve done well at showcasing their homes through a variety of different video setups.

           Slide Shows – Example 1, Example 2 Showcase home & attractions

           Video Tours –  Example 1Example 2 Showcase home, attractions and add personal touches

       

      Flickr

      Good for:

        • Showcasing photos of your vacation rental

      Time Commitment:

        • Low if you are only going to upload photos

       

      Yelp

      Good for:

        • Connecting with local businesses through the reviews system
        • Engaging with the community through Yelp Talk & Events (if available in your area)

      Time Commitment:

        • Low if you engage as you have time available

       

      FourSquare/Gowalla

      Good for:

        • Exposing your business to an audience in the area of your vacation rental
        • Promoting specials
        • Building loyalty with social savvy guests

      Time Commitment:

        • Low beyond setting up your location and updating with deals, if you offer them, or local destination tips

       

      Forums

      Good for:

        • Contributing to conversation on topics related to your business, events and/or attractions in your area
        • Connecting with others with similar interests, potentially finding new guests as well
        • Talking with other owners about best practices in vacation rentals

      Time Commitment:

        • Low to high depending on how much time you want to dedicate to the community

       

      In Part 3 of ‘Social Marketing 101 for Your Vacation Rental’, I’ll cover how to decide on the types of content that you’ll create for marketing your vacation rental via social media.

       

      Cheers,

       

      Jennifer Stafford

      HomeAway Social Media Manager

      0

      As I’m sure you’re aware, everyone is trying to market their products or services using social media.  If you’re just getting started with social media marketing, it can be difficult to decide where to start and how to most effectively use your time.  Some people think the “try a little bit of everything” approach is best, but if you have limited time and resources, you need to concentrate on networks that will be most effective for your goals.

       

      This series of posts will discuss the steps you should take to create an effective plan to market your vacation rental using social media. Over the next few days we will cover setting goals, determining networks to use, deciding what types of content to publish, building fans, monitoring the social web and measuring your effectiveness.

       

      Step 1: Set goals and realistic expectations for your social marketing

      To be successful with any type of marketing you need goals to determine what tactics you need to do to meet those goals.   Is your goal to reach new travelers or to communicate with returning guests? Do you want to try to market locally or nationally? Would you consider yourself a success if you are engaging with people who love your rental or do you need to drive inquiries to feel that social marketing is worth your time?

       

      Once you’ve answered those types of questions, you can decide how much time you have to allocate to social marketing. If you have a few hours a month, you need a social outlet that doesn’t require much commitment, such as a blog or forum participation. If you are able to be active daily or weekly, one of the mainstream social channels, like Facebook, Twitter or Yelp, could be a good choice for you.  The other thing to keep in mind is that you don’t want to participate just to be involved in a social network.  In order to be effective when you’re engaging on a social network you need to be adding value to a conversation, not just providing information, or else others won’t be receptive to your communication.

       

      After you’ve defined your goals and how much time you’re willing to devote to social marketing, it’s time to decide where to participate.  In Part Two of ‘Social Marketing 101 for Your Vacation Rental’, I’ll discuss how to determine social networks that can meet your objectives and time commitments needed.

       

      Cheers,

      Jennifer Stafford

       

      HomeAway Social Media Manager

      Find me on Twitter @HomeAway or @JennStafford