Making Your Vacation Rental Listing Standout: An Experiment

Oftentimes I get the same question worded in various ways: “What can I do to make my rental stand out from the others in my region?” More often …

Oftentimes I get the same question worded in various ways: “What can I do to make my rental stand out from the others in my region?” More often than not, these owners are referring to sites like VRBO or HomeAway or FlipKey where their property is a mere needle in the haystack of other similarly-priced, equally beautiful list of nearby alternatives.

The answer to this question is typically, “you can write more persuasive copy” or “you can offer seasonal discounts” or “you can give away a bottle of wine.” But these are all pretty common and mundane improvements. I came up with something totally crazy (yet totally simple). And I did one of my classic A/B experiments to test just how effective it might be.

I was thinking: what if not all cover photos were created equally? What if an owner’s main featured image – their best foot forward – actually offered the guest more information that just a lovely view? What if an owner’s cover photo was able to get the guest on the phone (statistically, the best way to seal a vacation rental booking is over the phone) instantaneously?!?

Part 1: The Control

I created a page on my website that was accessible only by directly clicking a link (which is to say, no one would be wandering to this page) using a super simple (almost overly simple) layout: Main image, short description, thumbnail images, link to booking engine. For the main image, I used a professional photograph of our living room. Here is that photograph below.

I then went out and spent $100 on Google Adwords. If you’re not familiar with Adwords, they allow owners to purchase web traffic on a “click-by-click” basis using little advertisements sprinkled all over the Google network. The goal of this campaign was to see how many reservations I could generate sending potential guests to this particular landing page. And the response was typically good, but not incredible.

Clicks: 63
Average time on page: 1:01
Bounce rate: 68.23%
Inquiries: 7
Actual nights booked: 3

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During this testing period, I was able to generate 7 inquiries or people interested in renting the apartment. From those inquiries, we booked 2 actual reservations (for a total of 3 nights or roughly $375 in revenue).

Part 2: The Variable

I made one edit (and one edit only) to the landing page and that was the large, featured image. I took that original image and added the face of our manager along with a little caption, “Hi! I’m Evan! Need to know more about our rental? Gimme a call for details…1-425-320-4718.” As you can see, this is no graphic design magic. Just a friendly face and a phone number to call. The remainder of the page stayed exactly the same (copy, additional photos, links…etc).

As with most of my experiments, I then went out and spent a duplicate $100 on Adwords using the exact same ad variations, keywords, extensions…etc. This would determine, when pinning the traditional featured image up against a featured image with a Call To Action, which would get the best results.

Clicks: 60
Average time on page: 0:51
Bounce rate: 61.75%
Inquiries: 9
Actual nights booked: 12

You’ll notice that not much about this data changes except the actual nights booked. And why is this? It’s because of those 9 inquiries, 7 of them were phone calls directly to the designated phone number. (The first test saw 7 inquiries — all email — in total.) This amounted to roughly $1500 of income.

When my team gets a phone call, we get excited because we know people buy from people. We know, once on the phone, we can explain the neighborhood, offer up some restaurant and tour ideas, give them some additional travel advice…etc. It is not unusual for us to convert upwards of 75% of the phone calls we get simply because we are good salespeople!

Note: If you want to see the really straightforward layout of the landing page I now use on regular basis, you can see it here.

Conclusion: What did I learn from this experiment?

First I was reminded that getting guests on the phone should be the goal of any owner looking to increase his or her bookings.

Second, I learned that using a featured image that not only is beautiful, but that offers a call to action (such as a phone call) can be a simple adjustment that represents a 300% improvement in nights booked!

Lastly, I learned that I should probably get serious and have a professional designer mock up a few ideas for feature cover image for my listings on sites like VRBO, HomeAway…etc. I have not tried this yet, but I have to think that it would work especially well when paired up against other non-text images. (Warning: It is possible that they won’t allow “banners” in which case it would be best to use the tactic on personal sites.)

As an owner, if you can (1) attract attention with a beautiful photos, (2) generate interest with some message or offer, and (3) provide an immediate call to action such as a phone call, all within your featured image for your rental, you will probably start to see results just like me.


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