For vacation rental managers (VRMs), the internet is the great equalizer. It doesn’t matter whether your VR offers hundreds of properties or dozens: a potential guest expects a simple, clear, easy-to-follow experience with a VR website. Like water, a guest’s dollar will follow the path of least resistance. Moreover, it’s critical that a website or email program must be as easy for a potential guest or property owner to use on a small mobile device as on a standard-screen computer.
Sand ‘N Sea Properties in Galveston, Texas, began working with Intercoastal Net Design, or ICND, based in Ocean Isle Beach, North Carolina, two years ago to revamp its online presence and marketing strategy. “To be honest, we were behind in redoing our website,” says Claire Resiwerg, one of the owners of the family-owned VR. “Things had changed. Now, these days, marketing is technology. Everything we do has to be found in the online clutter.”
Tuesday Sloan, Sand ‘N Sea’s director of marketing and technology, worked with ICND to create a website that was not just responsive, but also a vital tool for marketing and outreach. Often, VR websites are a combination billboard and reservation desk. Sand ‘N Sea wanted something more.
“There’s a lot of noise online in the vacation rental market space. Everything we do is to ensure we rank as high as possible in search results,” she says. “We use a number of tactics — and they are changing all the time — from keyword usage, blogs and website content to expert articles published online, repurposing content on many channels (but never the exact copy, of course) and reworking our company descriptions on every website that links to Sand `N Sea. We get many ideas from ICND and from our research, and we work on search engine optimization, or SEO, constantly.”
“SEO is everything today,” Claire adds. “Finding your way to the top of searches is the difference between getting the business or losing it. Basically, you have to think like a search engine, and you have to know that when you start SEO work, you’re in it for the long haul.”
Sand ‘N Sea keeps a sharp eye on online trends and what words put the VR at the top of searches. In turn, these observations drive marketing decisions. “For instance, we pay a lot of attention to our social media and how to best use each platform effectively,” explains Tuesday. “We spend a great deal of time thinking about and maximizing the reach into new markets, audiences, and specific interests and the impact of our Facebook ad campaigns and direct email marketing efforts. We know that 80 percent of emails are read on mobile devices, so all of our email communications with guests and homeowners are mobile friendly and responsive. We also work with local resources in our target markets to expand our brand awareness — our CVB, local newspapers, pet interest magazines and websites, and so on.”
Claire says 18 months ago, Sand ‘N Sea got aggressive with email marketing — with email segmentation specifically. What that means, describes Tuesday, is isolating specific interest groups and clusters and pitching directly to those interests with very specific approaches. “I can break out all sorts of details — previous summer guests, guests that traveled with their pets and only rent beachfront, guests that come only for fishing, seasonal or event guests, guests that love a particular beach house — you name it and I can find it,” she says. “Last year after Hurricane Harvey, I was careful to segment our mailing lists by area — we were able to send separate emails to guests in areas impacted by the storm and those outside the impacted areas — each list received a different message. My favorite segmented email is sent to previous guests of a specific home that has been remodeled or refurbished, and these emails have great open and click-through rates.”
ICND helped Sand ‘N Sea find answers to three key questions:
- What is Sand ‘N Sea doing online?
- Where is Sand ‘N Sea going?
- How will the progress be measured?
Building a new, responsive website that was easy to use on mobile devices as well as laptops and desktops was central to the project. Tuesday says the results were evident almost from the moment the new site went live. “We saw an immediate uptick in online bookings and mobile interaction on our site. Already, 65 percent of our 2018 reservations have been made online.”
Both Claire and Tuesday use the same word to describe the fundamental element of Sand ‘N Sea’s relationship with ICND. “The most important thing is trust,” comments Tuesday. “We trust ICND to keep us apprised of industry trends and how they might impact Sand `N Sea, and what we need to do to adjust our marketing efforts. We recently incorporated the term ‘page authority’ into our thinking, and we have been working hard to improve our organic content.”
“You’ve got to trust who you’re working with,” adds Claire. “We’re very happy with them.”