By Vanessa Humes, Paul Hanak, and Brandon Sauls
Modern technology has changed the face of marketing in the vacation rental industry. Today, we have access to far more in-depth data than ever before, doing away with the need for the “spray & pray” marketing strategies of decades past. Rather than spending loads of money sending brochures and simply hoping customers will call to book, modern marketers can do so much better.
Today, “data-driven” marketers are able to pinpoint not only their specific target customer, but also where they tend to hang out online — and this is only the beginning.
What Kind of Data Can You Collect?
Let’s start with the type of data that can be collected today. Here are a few of our favorites:
Guest History Data:
Your property management software has a ton of information that you can use to personalize and target your key audience. It costs a lot less to reach your current guests to turn them into repeat guests than to try to get new visitors to your website. Many companies provide tools to help you mine this data. Things you want to be able to pull to use are email addresses, dates of stays, date of booking and the property in which they stayed. To increase your reach, you want to make sure you not only get the person who booked with you, but also the person(s) that stayed with the booker to re-target for future reservations. Having a database that pulls all of this into one that you can tap into for email and paid advertising campaigns will make it easy to access and streamline your marketing campaigns.
Repeat or new visitors to your website can show you a plethora of insights on what people are searching for, who they are, and where they are from. Here’s many of the website insights that help us tailor our campaigns and how to use it.
- Popular Site Searches: Does your website have a box that people can quickly type in a keyword phrase and query your site for pages that return those results? This is called a site search. Visitors will use this tool if they want to jump to a particular property name or if they are looking exclusively for a particular complex or community.
- By storing and analyzing this information you can quickly find out what “keyword phrases” are most popular in your site search; this can help you segment your quick links for popular types of properties, find opportunities for growth in a particular complex or community and help funnel your traffic quickly to enhance conversions. One way to ensure you are funneling this traffic is by creating content that matches these long-tailed searches and will help you drive more traffic from the search engines.
- Most Search for Dates: Everyday, there are countless searches performed on your website. Oftentimes, these searches include dates of arrival and departure, which allow you identify peak periods that people are searching and booking.
- Once you start collecting and storing this information, you can go back and compare that to your PMS data and see trends for how many days in advance certain periods book. For instance, you may find that your peak periods for past guests book well in advance, but many of your shoulder season dates are booked within 14 days. You can use this information to compare your current availability to past years. So, if you were 40 percent full for July last year by March 1, and you are 50 percent full this year for July, it may indicate that you can increase rates. Conversely, vice versa may indicate that you need to do a guest history blast for guests staying in July who had booked by the date to send a targeted e-blast and remarketing ads.
- By tying the dates searched to a particular lead, you can mine your data for leads that were searching for particular dates (and take those out that already booked). For example, the first two weeks in June are a struggle for many destinations that are family friendly because many schools are still in session. By having a database of visitors to your website that searched for these particular dates allows you to target display ads and email marketing directly with a persuasive offer to help incentivize them to convert.
- Frequently Searched for Amenities and Number of Bedrooms: In addition to dates, many visitors will have a particular number of bedrooms or number of people to sleep, as well as, specific amenities they would like the rental to include.
- By examining the amenities and number of bedrooms searched most, you are able to ensure that your inventory is matching up to what people are using your search tools to find. You can also add conversion tracking to these reports to ensure that the inventory, and the manner in which you are displaying these results, is converting these searches to bookings.
- Another great idea is to take all of these popular search criteria and create quick links on your website for easy access to specific content for which people are searching (see Figure 1). It’s also great content for the search engines to index your site for long-tailed keyword phrases.
- Popular Properties: By popular properties, we mean those properties that are viewed the most on your website and book the fastest. Are you aware that you can drill down your Google Analytics to tell you which property detail pages get the most views? By using the right technology, you can also tell which leads were interested in what properties and use that to your advantage.
- Use this information as a sales tool while talking to potential owners. By showing them the number of views of a property just like theirs gets during a time period, potential owners are able to see the demand being driven by marketing. Be sure to breakdown location, amenities and number of bedrooms as we mentioned above and show that data as well.
- Percentage of Visitors Signing Up for Your Newsletter: A low number here will let you know that you need to improve the user experience on your website regarding the newsletter signup form. Email marketing is a huge marketing channel in the vacation rental industry, so getting qualified subscribers should be a main goal. What’s a good email conversion metric? The simple answer is this: Better than yesterday. You always want to strive to collect more email addresses than you had in the past. Are there other places you collect email addresses on your website, but don’t ask leads to opt-in? Add an email subscribe to request more information forms, contact forms and send to a friend.
- Think about how you can get more visitors to sign up by using an email modal (pop-up) that is targeted to a time on the site when they are looking to buy. It is not recommended to have this on entry pages (pages people first land on when they get to your site such as your homepage or a landing page from a search result), but you can have it set where it appears after two or three property views. With targeting this behavior, we know there is some booking intent of the visitor with your site. By then serving them a modal with an incentive, such as “Save $25 now by entering your email,” allows you to give them something in return. A specific amount of money off their booking is the most effective offer we’ve seen to convert the collection of email addresses to bookings.
- Compare Properties: Having the ability for visitors to select their favorite listings, make comments and send properties to friends is useful because it deepens your reach to those involved in the decision making process. It also allows you to view and store the comments that visitors candidly share with their group of travelers. This tool can help you pinpoint the most compelling features of the unit that drive conversions. It could also help identify aspects of the home that need to better communicated. For example, the traveler may have commented, “Great location and room for the price, but no direct ocean views,” for a beach property one row back. Perhaps, that home has beautiful views that are demonstrated by the pictures or a roof top deck that’s not featured.
Having actual visitor feedback gives you more factual ammunition when talking with your owners about suggestions or upgrades that will help them drive more bookings for their home.
This also allows you to capture the email address of someone who may have never been to your site at all — which you can then use for non-aggressive marketing purposes (such as email ads and remarketing). You can’t add a user directly to an email list if they do not actually opt-in as it’s a violation of the CAN-SPAM Act. But, you can use those lists to build audiences in your PPC and social media campaigns. Did you know you can up your bids automatically in Google PPC if the audience member matches your list? Or target Gmail ads to a specific address? Once captured, you can take this email address and advertise to them on social media sites. This allows you to stay top of the mind to not only the booker, but also key decision makers and influencers that may convert on their own in the future.
- Request More Information: Along with capturing user data such as an email address, the Request More Information form on your Property Detail Pages will give you the most detailed information about who your potential customer is and what questions they may have. Use this information to, again, remarket ads to them to come back and convert and opt-in to your email marketing programs.
- Analytics Visitor Demographics: Google Analytics allows for you to enable your website to track visitor’s demographic and interests. From the reports column, check out the category of “Audience,” and then “Demographics” and “Interests.” It gives you age, gender, interests and geographical information. You can then take this information and build a custom audience in Facebook to target fans and visitors for paid advertising (see Figure 2).
Google derives the “Interests” information based on the tracking they do of the people that visited your site. They break down the interests into two types: In-Market and Affinity. In-Market means the visitor is in the market for their interest at the moment. For example, they are looking for a movie to watch at the moment (based on their search history), but they aren’t a movie buff. An Affinity category means that someone is really into the category — like a movie buff, versus someone who just wants to go see a movie (see Figure 3).
- Your Most Loyal Customers: Who are the people who stay with you the most? Do they stay with you in the same home year after year? Or do they stay in a unit multiple times a year? When you know who your most loyal customers are, you’re able to use them as a marketing persona (i.e., an imagined ideal customer who you can keep in mind when coming up with marketing strategies). Where do they come from? What is their age, sex and interests? Again, we’re thinking of tying these back to Facebook ads, but also Brand Ambassadors. Do you have the foundation of a guest loyalty program to not only reward them for their stay, but also for reviews, sending referrals to your business? Loyalty programs are not new to the travel industry. Hotels and other rewards clubs have been doing this for years and we see this as the next hot “out of the box” marketing idea to hit the vacation rental industry by storm.