This guest post is by Conrad O'Connell, a digital marketing consultant with a focus on SEO, PPC, and email marketing. Conrad's post was created to answer the ever-popular question about whether SEO should be important to your vacation rental business?
Here's the good news: Google can send your website thousands (or tens of thousands) of potential guests to your website. These potential guests are likely to book (intent = high). They’re researchers. They love content.
Now for some less-good news: ranking in Google isn’t fast, easy, simple or constant. The competition is high. Google changes the rules frequently. There’s a lot of technical pieces that go into a website. AdWords are pushing organic results down the page more and more.
As I work with more and more vacation rental managers, it’s easy to see why the question of organic rankings comes up frequently. The rules seem to change constantly, Google is rarely transparent about the nature of each ranking factor in search, and it takes time to see results. VRMs know that ranking well organically in Google will yield huge returns, but clarifying the path to success is difficult to do.
As Matt as talked about before in the Inner Circle, SEO is not for every property manager out there. Many don’t have the means (single property owners in competitive destinations), the budget (smaller property managers), or the timeline (need bookings today) to make SEO the best marketing channel for them.
However, the benefits to ranking well in organic search are monumental. If SEO is a marketing channel that fits your vacation rental business, it can be a transformative element to your rental business success. Boosting your rankings is a process — let’s dig into just how to make the first steps in that process. At the end of this post, you’ll have a framework and plenty of reading material for answer the age-old question “Will I Ever Rank For My Keywords?”
Part 1. Determining Whether You Can Actually Rank Or Not
In college, I had to take so many different math classes. Statistics, Business Algebra, Calculus. It was not my strength.
During one of those I learned about logarithmic scales. Today, you’ll have to brush up (just a bit) on your knowledge of logarithmic scales as we discuss how websites rank in Google.
Back in 2001, a young company founder named Larry Page patented PageRank[1. PageRank is an algorithm used by Google Search to rank websites in their search engine results. PageRank was named after Larry Page, one of the founders of Google. PageRank is a way of measuring the importance of website pages]. Today, PageRank still powers Google’s search ranking that determines how websites rank in search results. Unlike the Google of old, the exact PageRank of any particular page isn’t updated any longer. So, to help professional search marketers and website owners, third parties have tried to “fill the gap” of this information. In short, the higher the PageRank of a page, the more valuable it is in terms of SEO benefit and the more likely that page ranks highly in search.
One such company helping to fill the information gap of PageRank information is Moz. Moz created a tool called Open Site Explorer[2. Open Site Explorer crawls the web and creates public metrics that mimic the ranking systems behind Google's Page Rank] which crawls the web and tries to create public metrics that mimics the ranking systems behind Google’s PageRank. Given the relative difficulty of pulling off such a technical feat, I’d say that Moz’s Domain Authority is a pretty good approximation of Google’s data.
How does this impact your website?
The realty is that content alone won’t let your website rank well in search results. You need links or “votes” for your website from other websites.
Writing 1,000 blog posts won’t promise you top of page rankings. Installing 100 SEO plugins won’t make one difference if you don’t have the domain authority to compete with other domains in the search results. You’ll need links to show off your website authority. High quality links.
Good links only come from websites that have lots of high-quality links themselves, so finding those and making sure they’re going to link to, or “vote for” your website is a major element to getting your website to rank in search.
Hopefully at this point I’ve convinced you that you’ll need to focus on this area of your marketing to help with your SEO efforts. Now let’s review some data on how long it takes for a website to rank better in search:
- On average, it can take around 10 weeks for your website to see the benefit of high-quality links[3. How Long Does Link Building Take To Influence Rankings, MozBlog] and better rankings
- This 10 weeks can depend on a lot of different factors like quality of search results, linking websites and anchor text
- For each link you gain to your website (the right way), the faster this process will be
Let’s dig into how this can work for you.
Part 2. Real-Time Examples
I’ve performed a search in Google for the query:
Cape Cod vacation rentals with the MozBar turned on. Now, the MozBar is a freemium tool from Moz (mentioned above) that pulls in a key metric that’s helpful to see how you can rank: Domain Authority.
Authority is a fun word — it implies that some entity is powerful. In the world of SEO, powerful means that you can creating keyword-targeted landing pages on your website and see those pages rank well in search. The story here is quite simple: domains with high authority typically rank very high in the search results.
The top ranking result on our Cape Cod area vacation rental search has a Domain Authority ranking score of 48. Remembering back to our scale above, we know that 48 is far along on the curve of Domain Authority. In fact, the website We Need A Vacation (I have no affiliation with any of these sites) has over 1,100 websites linking to or “voting” for them. That’s a lot for a targeted local vacation rental website.
As we go down the list of Google’s results for this search, we find very similar Domain Authority stats in two classes.
Domain Authority Rankings On "Cape Cod vacation rentals" Google Search Results
- VRBO — 87
- TripAdvisor — 95
- Cape Cod Rentals - 29
- Vacation Home Rentals - 65
- Vacation Cape Cod — 23
- Kinling Rover — 36
- Cape Cod Vacation - 34
- Flipkey - 84
As you can see, the large listing sites are all in the 65-95 range while the local websites are anywhere from 23 - 48. If you are a vacation rental manager in Cape Cod, it’s a safe bet that you’ll need to have around a domain authority of at least 30 to crack the first page of Google for this popular keyword. This doesn’t guarantee this at all, but it gives your website enough authority to start to see these top rankings. We’ll cover below the other elements you’ll need (on-page SEO) to help perform.
Looking Through Different Competitive Lenses
Our example above of Cape Cod is a fairly competitive area. According to my research, there are over 6,500 rentals in the area. Let’s compare these stats with another area that’s far less competitive. Below are stats from Tybee Island, Georgia. Tybee Island has only 750 rentals on VRBO.com and may be a better representation of an average rental market in Google’s search results.
Domain Authority Rankings On "Tybee Island vacation rentals" Google Search Results
- VRBO - 87
- Tybee Vacation Rentals - 35
- Visit Tybee - 44
- TripAdvisor - 95
- Rent Tybee - 27
- Oceanfront Cottage Rentals - 33
- Tybee Island Rentals - 22
- Southern Belle - 26
On average, the authority needed to rank in Tybee Island is lower than Cape Cod. Starting a new website today in Tybee Island targeting the same keywords as entrenched competitors means you’d have less time invested in ranking well in the area.
As you build up your domain authority through getting high-quality press mentions and links to your website, you’ll see this metric rise over time. It’s refreshed only occasionally (so don’t bother checking but once a month), but there is a high correlation with rankings in Google compared to this metric time and time again.
A Few Disclaimers (And How To Think About Scaling Up)
Of course, domain authority isn’t at all the goal: high, sustainable rankings in Google are. You can easily go online and “fake” your domain authority by purchasing links from low-quality websites.
Warning: Do Not Attempt To Fake Domain Authority
Don’t do this — the score will be inauthentic and you won’t see one more visitor from Google. In fact, there’s a much more likely chance you’ll see your website penalized by Google for link-spam issues.
Domain Authority is just a tool for you to roughly benchmark the authority of your domain to that of similar websites that are looking to gain visibility in Google. It’s not anything you should ever obsess over, try to “game” the system or think it’s the only piece of SEO that matters.
There are over 200 ranking factors that Google looks at, links are just one of them and Domain Authority will always be slightly flawed as Moz can’t crawl every page on the web.
Part 3. The Framework For Improving Your SEO Rank
Hopefully you’re still with me. You know that your website needs two things to rank well in Google: votes from other high-quality websites in the form of links and great content that’s worth linking to. Now we can dig in a little on the framework and tactics you’ll want to base your SEO strategy on.
Keyword Research For Success
Great SEO matters when you’re targeting the right terms — that starts with keyword research. Simply put, you’ll want to know what search terms are:
- Getting the search terms with high-volume
- Finding low-competition terms that have less competitors
- Searching for content ideas
- Learning the seasonality of your rental search terms
To help get you started, you’ll want to read through several posts. Keyword research is an art: it’s not something you can do one time and call it good. Continually researching new keywords is key to your success. Below are some great resources to get you started.
Note: on “long-tail” keywords and the scores of misinformation about them on the web: Many people classify long-tail keywords as those that have 3 or more words and are low volume. This is generally a pretty poor way to classify longer-tail keywords as a means for “rankability”.
Just because a keyword has lower volume doesn’t mean it’s going to be easy to rank for.
Based on our example above, I did some research in Google’s Keyword Planner tool and found a keyword that highlights exactly what I am talking about:
Based on what you’ve heard about long-tail keywords this sounds like a good fit. But, take a closer look. When performing a search for this keyword in Google, very similar websites rank for the query as to our example above with Tybee Island vacation rentals. Despite the volume being much lower, the context is the same.
Finding long-tail keyword should instead center around topics, not just keywords that have a certain search volume number. Instead, look for topics that have not been covered well by other websites. A good example could be a new shopping center in your area, attraction or informational page.
On-Page Foundational SEO Matters
While SEO can get much more technical, it all starts with the on-page SEO markup. Including the HTML, meta tags and other elements like Schema.org markup is key to understand.
Getting started with proper on-page is much clearer once you have your keywords researched for each page. If you were to start working with on-page SEO without the right keywords to optimize for, then you’d have a hard time! Understanding on-page is simpler once you’ve read on the topic.
Building Authority Through Press And Links
As we discussed earlier, building (good) links is the surest way to grow your website’s ranking in search. However, it is critical that it’s done the right way. Using outreach, press coverage and great content makes link-building a lot easier.
Wanting to get started with link building doesn’t have to be overwhelming. Here are some ideas to get you started:
- Offering your testimonial to a vendor you work with
- Becoming a member of your local Chamber of Commerce
- Reaching out to local website owners you know
Marketing bloggers too have no shortage of link building resources if you’re stuck: check out the below links to get more information about this key SEO tactic.
Content Strategies That Work
As I’ve covered before, content promotion is very important to gain authority with your vacation rental website. But, developing a strategy isn’t easy. Coming up with new ideas and executing better than the other travel websites in your destinations isn’t easy.
With Google spending lots of time driving top-level traffic to their own platforms, it’s easy to see why you need to be more creative than ever before.
Coming up with great content ideas is easier once you’ve got some inspiration. Using platforms like Pinterest to see what’s popular in your area is a great start, as are some of the below articles.
Click To Reveal Content Marketing Resources
Part 4. Make Your Rankings Last A Long Time
SEO isn’t a one-time task or project that you can check off. You may hire an outside consultant or agency to perhaps audit or review your website, but a sustainable SEO campaign takes time. You will always be under the assault of other vacation rental mangers, listing sites and travel websites going after the same keywords.
Just because your website ranks well in Google today doesn’t mean it will next month or next year. Ranking dips occur and you’ll want to stay on top of the latest trends and think of organic search marketing as an ongoing process that’s never really complete.
The good news is that building your authority and search presence will mean increased benefits for your business and brand over the long term.
Important SEO alert for #vacationrentals via @conradoconnell
You’ll generate repeat visitors, see increased brand traffic and be able to more effectively market to past guests as you build your organic traffic. Make your rankings last, but know it’s a process that you’ll need to keep working at to see success.
Part 5. Fighting Through "The Dip" Of The Ranking Doldrums
We’ve brushed on the fact that great rankings in Google takes time but it’s important to know you’re making progress, right? It’s very rare that your site will quickly go up the search results even with stellar search marketing strategy.
You need to learn how to fight through The Dip. Knowing that the reward is lots of high-quality traffic coming from Google, you’ll want to make sure that you’re on the right track and not going off course. As you work on a organic marketing campaign, it’s important to track organic traffic and use tools like Google Search Console to track your results over time.
Are you seeing more impressions, clicks and a higher click-through-rate in your Search Console data? As you slide up the scale in rankings, these numbers should be showing the best graph: up and to the right.
Part 6. Wrapping Up And Your Next Steps
Like learning any form of online marketing, it takes a lot of reading and effort to understand SEO. But, you don’t need to be an expert or guru to rank a website high in search results. Becoming a very skilled marketer is as easy as committing to learning your craft and developing good habits.
Results come from action and as long as you’re following the right guidelines, you can make a few mistakes and still rise to the top.
Will I Ever Rank? Answering the headline of this post isn’t easy: it’s hard to know if you’re going to rank in Google for your target keywords. And, building a brand in Google search results isn’t something that can be done overnight. However, with the tactics in this post, you’ll be well on your way to higher authority and rankings.
If you’re a single property owner in a hyper-competitive destination like Orlando or Breckenridge, SEO probably won’t be a good way to spend your time. However, property managers in all types of locations can make Google organic work for them: you’ll need to put in the time and strategy in place to see solid results.
Now, go forth and optimize!
I’ll see you at the top.
Thanks Conrad for yet another ultra-comprehensive post. I plan to send this post to anyone who asks me that all-too-popular question, "Will I rank?" simply because the answer is so complex. Here are my big personal takeaways from the post:
- Like with most sustainable vacation rental marketing, shortcuts in SEO are dangerous.
- SEO is not something beginners should even consider investing their time or money in. First reference the 4 Stages of Listing Site Independence and then determine whether you should even be discussing this advanced subject.
- SEO strategy is a habit, not a goal. The most successful VR professionals are not focusing on ranking #1 for any given phrase: they focus on the virtues necessary to achieve a top ranking.
- Always ask Conrad. Conrad is super generous with his advice and even if you're not his paying client, he'd prefer to see you do it the right way.
Thanks again to Conrad for enlightening us all and I think I can speak on behalf of an entire industry in saying that we greatly look forward to your next post!