The internet is awash with hosts who are furious about Airbnb’s new design and search algorithm. There are also countless articles telling you how you can optimise your listings. But what do you do when you are already doing everything suggested and your views are still down and bookings are not coming in?
I have been there.
One of my properties generates over $180k per year in bookings, of which Airbnb contributed about 48%. With the advent of the May 2022 redesign my views went, from what Airbnb’s insights tells me averaged 28% above other listings, to less than ½ of my normal views.
And I had my basics well and truly covered – See cover the basics below.
So I did what everyone would do and freaked out. Then I pulled myself together and did stuff (also known as OTA SEO).
The result: a 3.5x increase in views and booking volumes increased to near record levels.
The purpose of this article is to give you some helpful tips and tricks so hopefully you too can benefit from Airbnb’s new redesign.
Before we get into what I did lets quickly cover off on what Online Travel Agent Search Engine Optimisation is and why it’s important?
WHAT IS OTA SEO?
An OTA is an Online Travel Agency ie Airbnb, booking.com, VRBO etc etc… all OTAs make money by charging a commission on bookings.
Important: An OTAs customer is the person who pays them: The traveller. This is a really critical point to understand, you are not their customer, you are their supplier, this doesn’t mean Airbnb or VRBO don’t value you, far from it, but it does provide great clarity into why these business makes the decisions they do.
What properties are displayed by search is driven by a computer algorithm. This algorithm obviously considers, location showing properties ‘roughly’ where the traveller searches, availability ie only showing ones they can book, the right number of rooms etc all the basic stuff. However when it comes to the order the listings are shown in this is where all the OTAs algorithm’s vary. However, the key fundamental of why they show what properties remains the same. All OTAs display first the listings the computer believes will more likely result in a booking and therefore make the OTA money. They also will preference listings where they believe it is likely that the traveller will have a positive experience and therefore come back to the OTA to book again.
So what is SEO? it is doing ‘STUFF’ with your listing that makes the algorithm want to display your listing to more travellers. For the purposes of this article we are interested in Airbnb and in particular Airbnb post May 2022.
Tip before starting any SEO: Take a look at where your listings appear in search using devices the OTA doesn’t associate with you, or use a Google Incognito Search to mask your identity and use a number of devices ie Mobile and Desktop. Most OTAs will show your listing early in the search results if they know it is you!!!
OK FIRST LET’S COVER THE BASICS.
This is a super-fast run down of the basics, but don’t worry I am going to write articles on each of these points, message meContact Us if there is one you would prefer I cover first.
What is going to make people book?
Airbnb wants to make sure people who search on Airbnb and look at properties book them, makes sense right? So here is what they tell us their algorithm looks for:
- Photos: Airbnb’s redesign focuses on photos and has Artificial Intelligence designed to understand your properties via your photos. So if your photo’s are not AMAZING. There is no point reading on. Go get some new amazing photos. Sorry your iPhone is unlikely to cut it.
- Categories: Airbnb are trying to put properties into categories. The idea here is that travellers are looking for experiences not just locations ie if you really want a pool you may be prepared to drive another 5 mins to have it. This makes sense to me. So to benefit from this you really need to understand your customers, what they are looking for and why and how your property fits this. Marketing speak for what is your USP (Unique Selling Proposition). Airbnb will put you into these categories… eventually… but keep reading to see what I did in relation to categories.
- Value: The traveller wants to book the best place they can for the least amount of money, so the OTA is going to show them properties where this value concept is clearest. A lot of Airbnb’s redesign seems to be Airbnb focussing on a more premium market, I assume to make more per booking, however given Airbnb’s history I would still imagine the value concept would be strongly built into their DNA, perhaps even more than other OTAs (I have no evidence to support this, it is just a theory).
- Ease of booking: Airbnb wants to get paid (don’t we all) so if you mess with that you are going to suffer. What you do seriously impacts how many “lookers convert to bookers” and as such Airbnb wants:
- Instant book – if you don’t offer instant book that is putting human risk in between looking and booking and it will hurt your ranking, probably more than any other factor.
- Response times – whilst lots of travellers look and then instantly book, many of them do have questions – Can I check in early, can I bring my dog do you have a wok in your kitchen. The faster you respond the more likely you will convert the booking and the happier Airbnb will be.
- Cancellation rate – if you receive a booking then cancel it, no body wins. The Traveller is very annoyed, and may not trust Airbnb again, Airbnb doesn’t get paid, neither do you. It only stands to reason that if you cancel travellers, it will hurt your rankings.
- Flexible cancellation policies – customers are more likely to book if they can more easily cancel, again makes sense. Note Airbnb don’t want cancellations either as they won’t get paid. Note: I still have my cancellation policy as strict.
- Calendar availability – Airbnb want you to allow one night stays. I don’t allow single night stays in any of my properties because of cleaning, and statistically in my locations these guests have been more problematic. But this does impact my SEO. If you only allow 3 nights or more, or one week, or one month, or so on you will go further and further down the rankings.
Who is going to deliver Airbnb another booking?
The next thing Airbnb is going to want is the traveller that books your place goes on and books someone else’s, maybe not immediately but certainly for their next travel. IE a repeat customer. They have built this idea into their redesign with the option for travellers to split their stays (two experiences are better than one). So how do you show Airbnb that you are a great host, and that they should trust you with their travellers.
- Reviews: If you have hosted for a while there is little chance you are still 5 star. We have a 4.96 star reviews because a small number of 4 star reviews including one that was so annoying they said “Amazing can’t wait to be back” (4 STARS)… insert my pain… But assuming Airbnb understands a few 4 star reviews the quantity and quality of your reviews is understandably very important to Airbnb.
- Repeat bookings (through Airbnb): There is no better way of showing Airbnb that sending you travellers will result in them getting more bookings than proving it to them with a repeat booking or two. For full disclosure I strongly recommend having a direct booking engine, but how you use it, can impact your OTA SEO so you need to consider this.
- Listing content and accuracy: In a similar way to how you think about your Unique Selling Proposition, you should think about how your content directly correlates with your uniqueness, this includes your property headline. The more accurate and focused your listing is the more likely people will be to get what they want and therefore lead to positive experiences, reviews and repeat booking.
NOW LET’S HACK THE NEW ALGORITHM:
This is me, so I’m good, if I do say so myself ;-).
- 96 star reviews
- Dynamic pricing updating every day
- 0% cancellation
- Automated responses so my response rate is lighting fast, like a jungle cat
- Premium photos by award winning photographer
But my views still reduced by more than half and I needed to do something. So this is what I did. Exactly:
- Categories: I analysed the categories I wanted to be associated with. Beaches, Design, Amazing Views, Chef’s Kitchen, Beachfront. Note: don’t just assume you should be in a certain category take a look at what Airbnb means by their category by looking at what type of properties rank in those. I assumed I would be Luxe until I saw the mega mansions renting for 10x my nightly rate.
- Photos: Airbnb’s press release tells us their new algorithm analyses photos, so I wanted to encourage it to look at my listing again. I added 4 new photo’s (these were ones that I had not included from my professional shoot for one reason or another). I also changed my hero image over to show more change. I also updated all my photo tags to again try and get Airbnb to look at my listing again and include me in the categories I thought I should be in.
- Listing content: I used my categories research to re write sections of my listing to take into consideration the categories I thought I should be in and added proof / justification of why.
- Listing accuracy: I went on a click frenzy to make sure I had ticked as many “do you have” or “tell us more about your TV” prompts as possible.
- Price: I had some openings in my calendar, so I ran some promotions to get these filled.
- Traffic to Airbnb: I wanted to again stimulate my listing so I shared my listing across my social media accounts and linked to the promotion I was running. I also emailed my past Airbnb guests with the Airbnb promotion I was running to encourage repeat listing views and bookings.
This took me quite a few hours however you can see the impact on my views in the below graph. This was a 3.5x increase in views, back to well over the market average and my historic levels. This also translated to over $14k in new Airbnb bookings.
IMPACT ON LISTING VIEWS
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