Makeover Session 2.6: How To Get Your Website Ranking In Organic Google Searches


Note: This post is part of the VR Marketing Makeover. You can see all posts in this category by clicking here.

It’s the dream of owners like Holly and Alanna to put themselves in the shoes of potential guests, to search Google for vacation rental options in the area – using phrases such as “Yosemite vacation rental” or “Kauai vacation rental” – and have their website appear at the top of the organic results.

This is when you really know you’ve made it!

But there are a few very important things you need to know about a) desiring such an SEO feat from your website and b) how to actually go about achieving it.

FIRST: Choosing The Perfect Keyword

The term “keyword” should really be called keyphrase because it means any word or group of words that are typed into a search browser.

For a new website I always recommend choosing ONE keyword to focus on. Because putting all your effort into one smart keyword is far more impactful than trying to compete for several (to start at least). When you do “win” or start ranking for that one keyword, you can begin to expand your work and rank for more popular terms.

So in choosing the right keyword, put yourself in the shoes of your potential guests and think about what they might be searching with the final outcome in mind.

Beforehand, please keep the following mistakes, which I see frequently, in mind:

1) Keyword is far too vague

In Holly’s case, someone searching the phrase “Yosemite National Park” could be looking for any vast variety of information online. They could be doing a high school report, for all we care. Drilling down a bit further, a phrase like “Yosemite rentals” could mean car rentals, boat rentals, scooter rentals, tent rentals…etc. So when selecting your keyword, specificity always trumps ambiguity. In this example, a phrase like “Yosemite cabin rentals” would be much more specific.

2) Keyword does not have any search volume

On the other hand, don’t get so specific that nobody searches the darn phrase! For instance, Alanna would be smart to notice that the phrase “vacation rental in Princeville Kauai available with 2 bedrooms” probably receives little to no search volume. The beauty of online marketing is that you can see precisely how many people are actually searching your relevant keywords. And now that you’ve set up Google Analytics, you can track all of your results. Use Google’s Keyword Planner Tool to start jotting down ideas. And while you’re not looking for tens of thousands of searches, you’d be wasting your time aiming to rank for a keyword that doesn’t generate any traffic (500-1000 searches is a good goal).

3) Keyword has far too much competition

Your keyword is specific and it’s got search volume. But as new website owners, it’s overly ambitious to try and rank for a phrase that already has too much competition. So use a tool like the Keyword Planner (above) and SEMRush to evaluate the competition levels. Your ideal keyword has a small but substantial bit of search volume and Low-Medium search competition. In Holly’s case (as in the case of most major destinations), the keyword “Yosemite vacation rental” is being dominated by large websites. And so it’s smarter for her to look at a variation that’s got less competition such as “Yosemite vacation rental home.”

4) Keyword is not relevant enough

Great! You’ve found one without too much competition! Like in Alanna’s case, the keyword “Kauai beaches” has high search volume and low competition…but it’s not relevant enough to her product (these searchers could be looking for information about global warming for all we know). Please note how I did not use the word “irrelevant” because “Kauai beaches” are indeed semi-relevant to her vacation rental. But they’re not nearly as relevant as “Kauai beach vacation rental.”

In the end, there’s no right or wrong keyword to choose for your homepage. And your variables really vary based on your location: a more developed destination is bound to have competition challenges whereas an unknown destination is bound to have prohibitively low search volumes.

For beginners, I like to recommend “long tail keywords” or phrases that are so specific they are less-often searched…an example of this would be “Panama rentals” (bad) versus “Panama City Panama vacation rentals” (good). While “long tail” isn’t always synonymous with easy, it is a way to pick out niches in competitive keyword landscapes.

SECOND: How To Get Your Site To Rank For Keywords

When integrated properly on your homepage, the right keyword allows Google to read the relevance of your site as it relates to searches. Without this implementation, Google is in the dark and therefore unlike to include you high in the organic results.

The actual process of integrating a keyword to your homepage (note: we’re addressing merely the homepage during this session, please stay tuned for more elaborate whole-site SEO) has several different pillars:

> Usage of keyword in text: this one is pretty self-explanatory: basically you want to sprinkle the keyword in the text. Don’t make it annoyingly obvious. Just include it a few times.

> Usage of keywords in tagged images: when you upload an image or a logo to your website, you have the opportunity to give it a title, a description, and what’s called “alt text” – these are just little legends that Google uses to read your images. Simply go through and ‘optimize’ your images and logos using your designated keyword. Just paste the keyword in there alone. That’s it!

> Title/Description Tags: You’ll want to focus these two tags — the technical backend of your website — around said keyword. Check below for Conrad’s foolproof way to implement.

> Backlinks: Assuming you’ve read Makeover Session 2.5 and you know the value and origin of the most valuable metric in the SEO game, you can begin integrating your keyword into backlink acquisition. Having a great backlink is one thing. But having a backlink that actually uses your keyword as the link text is even better. For Google, the text of the actual link that appears on other websites is hype-relevant to your site. So if I linked to Holly’s website like this – A home to stay in the park – it wouldn’t be nearly as powerful (with regards to your organic SEO rankings) as if I linked to it like this – Yosemite vacation rental home.

Whether you are using or WebChalet or your own WordPress site, implementing the items above is pretty straightforward.

It’s important to note that as a new website, you’re kinda in the “doghouse” until you’ve proven that you produce regular content and are an authority in your niche. For this reason, I don’t like people to get too excited about ranking for phrases off the bat. But if you’ve selected a reasonably ‘win-able’ keyword, in as little as a few months you should be able to start seeing the fruits of your labor.

Consider using this SEO Grader from Hubspot or this one by Quicksprout to evaluate your progress as well as your Google Analytics reports to gauge traffic from new sites.

THIRD: Here’s What It Looks Like When Finished

All of this mumbo-jumbo would be useless if we didn’t give you some real life examples.

So I called Conrad O’Connell, the Search Engine Marketing Director at InterCoastal Net Designs, to ask for his Midas touch.

Using all the criteria above, here are the keywords he chose for Alanna and Holly, along with the title and description tags we came up with together. I’m asking that individuals share this post using a button below to help compensate for our research…a tiny “price to pay” considering Conrad’s simple yet innovative Title Tag formula ( Keyword | Brand Name Of Your Vacation Rental ) can be replicated by pretty much anyone.

About the Author Matt Landau

Matt Landau is the Founder of the Vacation Rental Marketing Blog and the Inner Circle, two online resources dedicated to helping vacation rental owners and managers generate more bookings. Google+ | More Posts (230)

  • Thanks for the shoutout, Matt.

    Happy to help here with the secret bonus keyword ideas!

    • You’re the best Conrad! I’ll be in touch soon….

  • Jane Probst Moore
    • Jane Probst Moore

      And thanks, Conrad!!!

    • Jane, you’re up first.

      costa rica villa rentals — search volume 140
      costa rica rental homes — search volume 320
      costa rica luxury villas — search volume 110.

      These all fit well with your theme and have a good combo of competition/volume.

      • Jane Probst Moore

        awesome! Will try them!! Currently revamping my site so will work on this pronto! Thanks, again, Conrad!

  • Marilyn

    I would definitely appreciate your assistance, Conrad. My website was created through Webchalet and you can find it at Thank you!

    • Marilyn,

      Thanks for dropping by.

      maggie valley nc cabin rentals — search volume 480
      cabin rentals in maggie valley nc — search volume 210
      maggie valley cabin rentals — search volume 1,300

      By the way, Everview is amazing!

      • Marilyn Butler

        Well, now that you have my website address, let me know when you’re ready to make a reservation 🙂 !


    Need all the SEO help I can get. Great to follow these makeovers, getting great tips and advice, thanks so much!


    • Hey Amy!

      I hope you’re doing well today.

      This one was a bit tricky — it really seems like more people are searching for resorts over true vacation rentals. Here’s what I found:

      mt shasta vacation rentals — search volume 260
      mount shasta lodging — search volume 170
      lake shasta cabins — search volume 170

  • David Jenn

    Conrad, thanks for the offer. I’m interested in discussing an SEO project with you for my new site: I’m actually still in the final stages of implementing my design, making everything responsive, and populating the content… but I’d still love your thoughts.

    David Jenn

    • Hey David,

      Thanks for dropping by.

      Here’s what I’ve got (good looking site, too!)

      resorts in destin florida — search volume 880
      destin florida beachfront rentals — search volume 480
      destin condos for rent — search volume 390

  • Conrad… Thank you SO much! My quest to be FREE of HA and the rest is in view! 🙂 Thank you Matt!

    • Teena,

      Hope you’re doing well! I remember talking on the phone.

      Here’s what I was thinking:

      new hampshire vacation rentals — search volume 590
      nh cabin rental — search volume 210
      north conway vacation rentals — search volume 170

      • Conrad… I am SO sorry! I was away on business for an extended period of time and did not see this information.
        Thank you so much for taking the time to review my info and for making your suggestions. I’m going to apply them today!
        Happy spring and look forward to working with you in the future,

  • Darla
    Conrad, Always interested in SEO advice, I am tired of being dependent on Homeaway.
    Matt, love watching the makeovers!

    • Darla,

      Here to help!

      Here’s what I was able to dig through:

      branson cabin rentals — search volume 1,000
      branson missouri cabins — search volume 880
      cabin rentals in branson mo — search volume 480

      • Darla

        I appreciate the insight.
        Thank you so much!

  • Don Aamodt

    • Don,

      Your site in particular could definitely use some of the on-page tips from the last post (check your title tag). Here’s the keywords I found:

      strawberry cabins — search volume 170
      cabins at strawberry — search volume 140
      cabins in strawberry ca — search volume 40

      • Don Aamodt

        Thank you Conrad for your efforts – it is appreciated. What ‘last post’ are you referencing regarding ‘on-page tips?’ Since I’m a novice at interpreting the search volume numbers are they too high, low or about right? Since our Strawberry Lake Cabin is in Minnesota, the last search volume number in CA is unfortunate.
        Have a brilliant day!

        • Hey Don,

          That post — the section on On-Page SEO markup will help.

          Ah, didn’t pick that up on the CA part — feel free to ditch that one & work in the “Strawberry Cabins” keyword.

  • Cal Hoagland
    • Hey Cal,

      Sadly, there’s not much we can on the VRBO side to really move the needle in organic search. I’d take a look at doing your own website first, then jumping back into the SEO world after!

  • Cal Hoagland

    Thanks Matt and Conrad!

  • Thanks so much Conrad! That is really thoughtful of you. My website is on WebChalet and can be found at the following website address

    • Khaled,

      Here’s what I dug up (and what a property!)

      kauai oceanfront condo rentals — search volume 20
      kauai oceanfront condos — search volume 30
      condo rentals kauai — search volume 110

      • Wonderful! I am going to give these a shot. Thanks again for taking the time to help me out! I am very excited about this 🙂

  • johngoing

    Thanks, Conrad and Matt! My domain is

    • John,

      Thanks for dropping in a message here. These are all pretty similar — didn’t see a lot of different keywords in my research to be honest. But, they’re all solid options:

      charlottesville vacation rentals — search volume 90
      vacation rentals charlottesville va — search volume 90
      charlottesville va vacation rentals — search volume 90

      • johngoing

        Thanks, Conrad. Appreciate your professional insights!

  • John Phillips
    Thanks very much! I’m interested to see what comes. I am also interested in capturing corporate rentals as there is great demand in Toronto

    • Hey John — a bit hard to tell intent for business travelers, but here’s what I was thinking.

      short term rentals toronto — search volume 70
      homes for rent in toronto — search volume 90
      houses for rent in toronto canada — search volume 80

  • Elaine Clarke

    Hi Conrad. Thanks for the great offer – we definitely need some help. Our website is Thanks Matt – as always!

    • Elaine,

      Beautiful photography there! Here’s what I found —

      Koh Samui rentals — search volume 20 (Google US)
      koh samui villa rentals — search volume 90 (Google US)
      koh samui vacation rentals — search volume 110 (Google US)


    thanks for any insight!

    • Ralph,

      Nice site & photos — I dig it.

      Here’s what I found —

      apartments for rent in paris france — search volume — 720
      paris vacation apartments — search volume 590
      paris apartments for rent — search volume 690

      • Conrad: thanks for kind comments – website is still in meta-state and needs lots of filling via WordPress [working with Jessica Vozel on this – we have the text just needs inputting but we had a WP crash that cause lots of grief and still not sure why]. These key word ideas are great and we also can [I assume} use the same for our Nice apartment – probably less competition vs Paris. Thanks again – I am studying your blog for lots of great idea.

  • Mark Kimball

    Thanks Conrad! Looking forward to your help!

    • Hey Mark,

      Here we are:

      rosarito rentals — search volume 260
      rosarito vacation rentals — search volume 140
      rosarito house rentals — search volume 110

  • Thanks for the offer Conrad, always good to learn from a SEO expert.

    • Hey Linda!

      Found these:

      curacao vacations — 110 search volume
      caribbean villas apartments — 110 search volume
      curacao vacation rentals — 110 search volume

      Lots of bunched up volume here — nothing really pokes out too much on the volume side.

      • Thanks Conrad! Already use “curaçao vacation” and “curaçao vacation rentals”, but did not know about “caribbean villas apartments”. I will try it out. Thanks o much for your help on this!

  • Tom – – SandyRidgeVillas Thanks Conrad! Tom

    • Tom,

      You’re welcome.

      Here we are:

      davenport house rentals — volume 20
      davenport fl house rentals — volume 50
      davenport fl villa rentals — volume 40

  • Glen Robinson
    • Glen,

      Let’s go!

      vacation rentals in oahu — 260
      hawaii vacation rentals oahu — search volume 210
      villa for rent oahu — search volume 390

  • Yonete Gottfried

    Hi Conrad and Matt. Thank you for the great offer. We definitely need to work more on our SEO. Our website is

    • Hey Yonete,

      I wasn’t able to do great research here as (US) — not much volume was showing up in English! Sorry about that.

  • Roger Thanks Conrad.

    • Roger,

      Let’s do this

      lake havasu rentals — search volume 1,000
      lake havasu vacation rentals — search volume 720
      vacation rentals lake havasu city az — search volume 170

  • Sarah Elder

    Great offer, thanks Conrad & Matt

    • Hey there (Sarah, right?),

      Here’s what I’ve got

      creek indian home rentals — search volume 140

      creek indian houses for rent — search volume 70

      indian creek rentals — search volume 30

      These are the ones that seem a bit more attainable as that area is hyper-competitive!

      • Thanks very much for the suggestions, much appreciated.

  • Ashley Katz De Jong

    What an awesome offer. Gracias! Casa SoCo is Pulling together a new site that will include our house in East Downtown Austin, Casa Roja.

    thanks for the offer, we would love your help.

  • Duncan Harding

    Many thanks Conrad & Matt ; really appreciated ;

    • Duncan,

      Hello from up the road a bit.

      Only found one really solid one — sea pines vacation home rentals search volume 20.

  • Juliana R

    Thank you!!!

  • Suzie Perry

    Thanks, I appreciate any help I can get!

  • SHalford

    Thanks Conrad – any suggestions would be very welcome!

  • Conrad… I am in! Looking forward to my magic keywords!

  • Oscar
  • John Cummings

    Awesome – Thank you so much!

  • Welshwitch Thanks, Matt and Conrad!

  • Michelle Williams

    Thanks Conrad and Matt! What a great opportunity.

    • Hey Michelle,

      Thanks for dropping by.

      I looked at the site and I’m happy to give you some suggestions. But, given that you have a lot of properties, 3 isn’t really enough to get you started where you really need to be content-wise.

      So, here’s my teaser for you! 🙂

      cape ann vacation rentals — 40
      gloucester house rentals — 550
      gloucester ma rentals — 90

      • Michelle Williams

        Thank you so much!


    Big Mahalos Matt & Conrad!

  • Patricia

    From the Capitol of the World! BLESS YOU BOTH!

  • Lorenzo Caimari

    Grettings from the sunny Punta Cana !!!

  • alex

    A long way from finished but any suggestions greatly appreciated. Many thanks Conrad and as always Matt!

  • Brenda

    Really appreciate all the help I can get. My website is starting to be found independent of vrbo, but don’t think we’re at the top of the list my any means.

  • Debi

    Would love some help

  • Sophie
    Can’t believe it! Merci guys! Would be great help.

  • Wonderful thanks Matt and Conrad- and just in the nick of time as I am relaunching my updated website by the end of this week.

  • Tanya Loveless

    Thanks Conrad and Matt!

    • Tanya,

      You’re welcome.

      southern illinois cabin rentals — 170

      southern illinois cabin rental — 40

      cabin rentals in southern illinois — 110

  • Kristen C.

    Great offer! Thanks the offer to help!

    • Hey Kristen,

      Sadly there’s not much we can do here on the VRBO end — to really make an impact you’ll need your own website to work on.

  • What an amazing offer. Will save this article to read tomorrow when my brain is fresh! Thank you!!

  • Renata Mazur Gozdziak

    Thanks for the help Conrad – my website is

  • What a wonderful offer Conrad! Matt, doesn’t Conrad deserve a yellow vest for help above and beyond the call of duty??

    Looking forward to your magic words Conrad. Many thanks from The Houses on Manzanita Beach, unique oceanfront vacation rental houses in Manzanita, Oregon (and Kim).

    • Hey Kim,

      Vest on.

      SEO mode engaged.

      Site is minimal — perhaps too minimal? Not quite enough content on there to rank well, IMO.

      But, here’s my thoughts —

      manzanita vacation rentals — 320
      manzanita oregon rentals — 260
      manzanita oregon lodging — 210

      • Thanks Conrad. Finished website being worked on. When finished, these will help. FYI, changed my website name awhile ago at suggestion of Matt to (manzanita vacation rentals not available) so it looks like we were on the right track!

  • Aleksandra Bogunovic
    • Hey Aleksandra,

      Was unable to dig out anything in Google US (English) on this one — I’m afraid my language abilities are hurting me here!

      • Aleksandra Bogunovic

        Hello Conrad,

        I don’t know why you have problem, whole site is in English.

        I will check with my web designer and let you know.

        Thank you for your help and assistance, it means a lot to me.


  • Maesywerngoch

    Thanks for the help, very generous of you.

  • John! Thanks!

    I’m running vacationrentalgalena dot com on wordpress V4.1.1; using Thesis V2.1.9 (Classic Responsive Skin) with WordPress SEO (Yoast) V 1.7.4.

    In the past 72 hours I dumped Thesis (backed up beforehand …Thank God!) and went to Genesis. Well, I didn’t like Genesis so I went back to Thesis. I tell you this because the changes messed with a ton of stuff I’ve done before so now I’m treading water in the wake of that boat.

    On Yahoo and Bing and, (maybe) DuckDuckGo for the keyword: “Vacation Rental Galena” I’m on the first page. On Google I’m on page five (I’ve been creeping up: 10 days ago: page 30 +/-; seven days ago: page 10; five days ago page five.) I say “maybe” on DDG because I have my URL saved in my Bookmarks on Firefox and I think DDG is incorporating the bookmark in to my SERP???

    I need to get a better understanding of how Thesis and Yoast are working with each other. Neither has very good documentation but I’m slowly figuring it out.

    So there you go. Probably TMI but WTH!

    I’m totally open to ideas so what are your thoughts with respect to my keyword? Also, can you lend your guidance on SEO for images please?


    • looking forward to seeing the keywords – thanks guys

    • Terry,

      You win longest comment — which is great 😉

      Let me knock these out for you.

      Personally, I’m rocking Genesis for nearly all of my WordPress sites lately — and like it, but Thesis is fine as well. Yoast is a good plugin to help guide along your on-page SEO efforts, but it’s merely a tool that’ll get you going in the right direction — sadly it doesn’t have any magical ranking powers in and of itself.

      On that note, Yahoo & Bing are a little more sensitive than Google today with keyword-rich domains. If I’m trying to rank for ‘red widgets’, Bing will rank a little quicker than Google given all other factors are equal.

      If you’re checking rankings, I’d recommend depersonalizing search results [read: with Google Chrome & incognito mode.

      Now, keywords.

      I’m thinking this:

      galena rentals — 210
      galena vacation rentals — 190
      galena cabins — 140

  • Thanks Conrad & Matt! I greatly appreciate it!

    • Cheryl,

      Hello from Ocean Isle Beach, NC! Hard to tell exactly where these were, but I found a few good opportunities.

      bryson city vacation rentals — 50
      cabins in bryson city nc — 480

      cabin rentals in bryson city nc — 210

  • Marie-Louise

    Looking forward to the key phrases that work best for:
    Tack så mycket Conrad och Matt!


    • Marie-Louise,

      Good site!

      Here’s what I’m thinking

      anna maria island condo rentals — 210

      condo rentals anna maria island — 50

      anna maria beach rentals — 210

      • Marie-Louise

        Thanks Conrad,
        I really appreciate your work!
        Just have to ask a question.

        I presume that the search phrases with the highest number is the best for us?

  • Hope I’m not too late!

    • Kirsty,

      You’re not 😉

      cyprus villas — 40
      cyprus rentals — 20
      cyprus vacations — 20

  • Thanks for the offer:

    • Larry,

      Here we are sir:

      silver lake vacation rentals — 70

      silver lake house rentals — 70

      vacation rentals silver lake — 30

  • Sandra Hampton

    Conrad, thanks for the offer my website is

    • Sandra,

      Here’s what I’ve got for you —

      ponce inlet rentals — 170

      ponce inlet realty rentals — 50

      ponce inlet realty home rentals — 40

      • Sandra Hampton


  • Sandy

    Hi from New Zealand Conrad. Is it too late?

  • Hey everyone — I am going to continue working on this today (March 25, 2015) so if I haven’t got to you yet — don’t fret! I will look at the rest of the sites later on today and tomorrow.

  • Matt Landau

    IMPORTANT NOTE: This week, Conrad was generous enough
    to offer 50 Inner Circle members 3 free keyword suggestions below.
    While this deal was only available for a limited 24-hour period, you can
    browse the comments section to see examples of his craft.

    • Chiselfcatering

      Odd!! I have only just got your email! when did it actually come out then?! Gayle at Chichester Self catering, UK

      • Matt Landau

        Hi Gayle, this offer was available only to Inner Circle members for a period of 24 hours.

  • Chiselfcatering

    Chichester Self Catering, West Sussex self catering..???
    All help appreciated! Thank you Matt and Conrad

  • tdistinguishedg

    Thank you @conradoconnell:disqus I updated my SEO a few days ago. Your tips are much appreciated and so generous of you to share with with the group!

  • Have been traveling so am late to the party here. Great value you and Conrad are adding Matt. If not too late, would appreciate some SEO feedback. I’m very new to it and just getting a myVR site up and running – Thanks so much! If too late, I completely understand.

  • Penni Levine

    Hi Matt,
    I found your information very interested. We are a licensee of a national company that does short term rentals. On there main page of the website, we noticed it mentioned cabins in the title. They told us it is a good word for SEO. However we do not have any cabins to rent, they are condos, townhouses and houses. Don’t you think it would give our guest a different image when they read cabinets? We are not the only licensee they have used the word cabin. Thank you

    • Matt Landau

      Hi Penny, no I don’t think it would be too detrimental. Because after all, someone looking for a cabin may be completely satisfied by your condos/townhouses. Good question though. Perhaps someone else wants to chime in…

  • I used to pay someone to give me the keywords and phrases that get me more people. It is important to note that getting keywords with higher demand is not always the best choice, try to get long term phrases which are directly related to your listing, for example, the address + type of property + location
    But don’t make them too long. Follow all of Matt’s marketing makeover articles and he explains the reason why keywords are so important. I hope this helps, Happy Easter!

    • Well, I tried that but with long keywords you are just not shown. It doesn’t work at least for me and with usual ones we are competing with companies throwing a lot more money or considered by Google as more credible. I write here about a google adwords campaign. I read also that google is no more taking into account the keywords we introduce in our website. So getting a good ranking seems pretty difficult. Any additional idea will be more than welcome.

  • Thanks for the info x

  • Sarah Peabody

    I just re-read this article and I would like to use a service such as SEMrush so I can find keywords that aren’t too competitive. I did some quick searching for keyword planner services and it appears that I would have to pay to get the information I want. Does anyone know of a free service?

    • Matt Landau

      Sarah, Google’s Keyword planner is free. SEMrush and OpenSiteExplorer are the other two that I use. Most of the other ones have high fees.