This guest post is by Conrad O'Connell of Buildup Bookings, a digital marketing consultant with a focus on SEO, PPC, and email marketing. Conrad's post below is for anyone who wants to stay updated on their SEO without going nuts.
“200 Ranking Factors That Impact Your Ability To Rank In Google!”
It’s a fun headline. If my timeline on Twitter is any indication, headlines like this one get a lot of traffic when posted on popular marketing blogs.
The perceived complexity of SEO drives up the level of interest for many business owners.
Today I’d like to advocate for something different: making your approach to search marketing simpler. Instead of using thousands of research papers from Google and Stanford to explain how SEO works, I’d like to break down the often confusing jargon of how to do SEO into three primary pillars.
These key areas all have a key relevance to how any website ranks well in Google and best of all they’re fairly future proof. Websites using these concepts in 2010 would be ranking well.
Website using these concepts today will rank. And, I am confident websites using these tactics in 2025 will be ranking too.
Before we take a look at the first pillar of the framework, I’d like to take a moment to discuss something important to your success.
Simple doesn’t mean easy. And, while the concepts in the framework are simple, they’re not “easy work”. This isn’t something you can knock out in a weekend or even a month. It takes consistent effort over time.
Amazon aims to deliver millions of packages in 2 days (often less) to their Prime customers. Why? They’ve found that customers love when their packages arrive quickly.
A simple concept: packages delivered quickly. But one that’s very hard to execute.
While we are not shipping packages today, instead we are talking about executing on a marketing campaign against companies with million-dollar budgets.
They’ll likely be able to “outspend” and “outrank” you in many cases.
However, that doesn’t actually mean that you can’t be successful. Your bar for success is vastly different in terms of traffic and conversions compared to, say, HomeAway. (Sidebar: HomeAway isn’t doing so good lately either…see my latest post).
Let’s say that you start to earn 2,500 visitors a month from Google organically. If you’re reading this it’s incredibly likely that you don’t need to scale and drive 25,000 visitors per month to turn those views into leads and bookings. You need to fill your own pipeline with interested leads and book them into your rentals with a smaller amount of traffic that converts. That’s the goal.
To summarize: this is going to take work. It’s also going to take time (both in terms of effort and in terms of patience). But, done properly, you will see success. My ultimate goal with sharing this framework with you is to cut out the long learning curve and get right down to the things that’ll prove to drive more organic search traffic.
That doesn’t mean you rank #1 overnight. It doesn’t mean that you get more traffic than a big listing site. It does mean that you get leads and direct bookings from your own website.
Over the past 5 years, I’ve had the great pleasure to work with over 60 different vacation rental managers and professionals. You can imagine the amount of data that you can sift through once you gain access to nearly 100 Google Analytics profiles for vacation rental businesses!
Analyzing that data has lead me to a very straightforward conclusion: search marketing (specifically organic search traffic) often has the highest conversion rate and the highest volume of potential guests that convert into bookings. Nearly all of the most successful vacation rental professionals & managers get the majority of traffic to their websites (and therefore direct bookings) through organic search traffic.
Although there may be 200 (or 2,000) ways to get traffic to your website, there’s one that sticks out above the rest: a guest clicking to your website from an organic search on Google.com.
Don’t just take my word for it: the big listing sites know this too.
Check out the SimilarWeb data for HomeAway[1. SimilarWeb data for HomeAway, May 2018 Overview] and VRBO[2. SimilarWeb data for VRBO, May 2018]: the highest portion of their non-direct website traffic is through organic search traffic. Every listing site spends millions if not tens of millions of dollars with Google AdWords each month too. Do you think they would do that if that traffic from Google wasn’t highly valuable?
The same holds for Airbnb, TripAdvisor and almost every listing site that’s generating meaningful traffic.
You can see the path now: if you want to attack this area of your marketing to drive more bookings, you need to get organic search traffic. Now let's dig into the TLC Framework:
Let’s start with T: technical.
The technical part of the TLC Framework describes how our website is understood for both people and search engines.
A beautifully designed website that Google’s bots can’t see isn’t going to drive much traffic. Before we dig too much into the fun technical stuff, let’s bust some myths about technical SEO:
Now that we’ve helped by busting a few myths, we can break down the technical makeup of any website into a few specific subcategories.
These subcategories are critical to seeing success: consider them the foundation of the framework and key to start with to see success.
While analyzing each of these items in great detail may be beyond the scope of this post, the good news is that there’s a myriad of useful tools that can help you understand if your website is technically sound. You don’t need to be a technical wizard to make sure your website is following technical SEO best practices.
To nail down the first pillar in the framework, the underlying base of your website needs to be solid.
My personal favorite tool to use for analyzing a website’s technical SEO soundness is Screaming Frog. Screaming Frog will “crawl” your website in the same way that Google does and generate reports based on technical errors like incorrect page titles, missing meta descriptions, broken internal links, too-large images that slow down the load time and a ton more.
A friend once told me that doing a SEO review with Screaming Frog is the same thing as going to math class with a calculator: it’s very helpful!
Other SEO technical audit crawling options include: Ahrefs Site Audit, Sitebulb (I’ve been testing & am very pleased) and Semrush Audit Tool. Sitebulb in particular can use their hints feature to show you which issues are the highest priority as you review a list of issues.
The next leg of our journey starts with L: Links.
Links, despite Google’s long standing battle with those who seek to abuse the ranking algorithm, remain one of the best signals that they have to evaluate website quality. Think of (real, high-quality) links like coins in a video game: the more you have, the more power you can yield. Links let you move up the ladder and rank for more competitive search terms with your existing content and website.
There’s both good news and bad news as we talk more about links. Wearing the Mythbusters hat again, let’s bust some more myths!
As you think about your destination, understand that Google aims to show websites in the search results that are the best fit for users of their search engine. That’s what keeps people coming back and what makes Google money (while many clicks go to the “free” organic search results, Google knows that many users click on both organic and paid search results).
Being the best result is about doing the Technical (T) and Content (C) at a high level, no doubt. However Google can’t just base their rankings off of on-site factors.
They rely on mentions (a.k.a: links) of your website around the web to not just show that they think your website is good, but others do too!
Building the right types of links that help drive rankings isn’t actually that hard. You don’t need lots of expensive tools to do this for your own website. Look for:
Link building is absolutely an ongoing project: while you may not have the resources to get hundreds of mentions each and every week or month, you can grow your authority over time.
The best websites have been building their link profile and site authority over many, many years. This is where you can see compounding benefits from your efforts. A link you get today can often send referral traffic for years to come!
You should aim to always grow your link profile with legitimate efforts from real websites. Cheating the system with spam is a very quick way to burn your domain in the eyes of Google: it’s very risky and can lead to problems. Best to do it right - you’ll see better results and you don’t have to worry about your site traffic crashing and burning after the next Google algo update.
Let me tell you this from experience: you can’t rank in Google without content. A beautifully designed website without any words on it won’t rank for a thing. It’s the digital equivalent of a restaurant without a door.
The good news is that we can bust some myths about content to hopefully make your content-building process a lot easier.
While covering an entire content marketing strategy is also likely its own post, the truth is that in-depth content matters for ranking for specific topics that guests may research.
My favorite tip for filling your content calendar pipeline with lots of highly relevant pieces of information is to just use Google’s Autocomplete feature.
Go to Google.com and search for the name of your destination. Begin by just typing in 'AREA NAME things to do' and scroll to the bottom.
Searching for attractions and things to do will lead you down a nice click path. Search again with some refinement: the `beach activities in miami` keyword looks good to me and scroll again to the bottom.
In just two searches we’ve already found several topics we can cover on our website with a content plan:
Without paying for any high-end tools, you can likely nail down 30 - 50 topics in less than 30 minutes using this simple Google suggestions topic research.
However, if you’d like to analyze your topics with more detail, third-party tools can often speed up your workflow considerably.
Once you have a list of 20~ ideas, you can paste these ideas into the Ahrefs Keyword Explorer and review data like the monthly search volume for each term, the difficulty of ranking for that keyword and a ton more information.
Once you’ve narrowed down your content list, you can begin production of pieces that fit with your vacation rental ideal guests and brand. Content that ranks in Google tends to be:
While not every consideration above is a “ranking factor”, all of these pieces weave together to make your content more likely to get read and attract guests.
Once you’ve got a solid website and you’ve produced plenty of content, you need one more pillar to succeed…
Hopefully you’ve seen the path to SEO success doesn’t have to be littered with unread blog posts touting “938 Point Checklists” to rank.
These three pillars: Technical, Content, and Links can drive you to the top of Google with the right, consistent effort over time. It’s not easy or quick, but the rewards will help you drive more “ready to book” guests to your website through Google search.
I truly believe that focusing on the TLC areas of SEO is the best way to see success. I’ve refactored all of my current SEO strategies to fit into these three areas since the start of 2018. From now on, everything that I write on my site or as a VRMB Fellow in the IC will follow this framework.
Remember: while 200 ranking factors may be empirically true, it doesn’t help you build your traffic and bookings. The biggest problem I see with many vacation rental business owners approaching SEO is information overload. My goal is to solve the overwhelm and let you focus on what makes the biggest impact.
Questions? I’ll be in the comments to answer anything you have.
Conrad O'Connell of Buildup Bookings is a Digital Marketing Consultant specializing in the vacation rental industry. With a focus on creating campaigns spanning SEO, PPC, Email Marketing and more, Conrad strives to create winning campaigns that get results. Have a question? Email him conrad AT buildupbookings.com