How to get a direct booking website without paying for it.
May 7, 2020
A recent CNBC article highlights how more and more vacation rental companies are building direct-booking websites in defiance of new guidelines being introduced by OTAs such as Airbnb, Vrbo, HomeAway and Booking.com.
With so many flocking to stake out on their own, in a post-pandemic world, how do you ensure you can stay competitive - especially if you have limited financial resources? You get someone else to do it for you, for free! While that might seem far-fetched, you actually can get your business a direct-booking website and it may not cost you anything more than time. But before you rush to add a direct-booking capability to your short-term rental business, be sure to take these 5 steps into account on your journey.
Step 1: Embrace technology.
Not embrace it, as in use Google (though we’ll talk about that later), use technology to drive your short-term rental business. A solid Property Management System (PMS) provider will offer you a direct-booking website. Some even offer to provide you with one free-of-charge with your subscription...
Step 2: Don’t accept any old website out of a box.
Do your homework. You need a site but that doesn’t mean you should accept any site. A poor site design makes the difference between enticing and keeping potential bookings. Additionally, a poor technical design means that you may struggle to be found by search engines, such as Google, who place user experience, speed and responsiveness very high on the criteria list for what makes a site relevant to a search.
Step 3: Ensure your site is ready for users on the move.
A recent global study by Statista, on web traffic, shows that since 2017, 52% of website traffic is from a mobile device. Perhaps even more relevant: our data suggests over 60% of last minute bookings are made on mobile devices. When evaluating your direct-booking website, you need to ensure that your site meets criteria such as:
Mobile layout: Your site should not just look like a mini version of its desktop equivalent. Evaluate if the layout will change, text will become larger and navigation will become suited to touchscreens - out of the way and hidden in a hamburger menu (the three little horizontal lines seen at the top of most mobile experiences).
Speed: Ensure images will load quickly and adapt their sizes to a smaller screen. Speed is critical to ranking but, more importantly, to your user. Website visitors, on average, grant less than 15 seconds of their time, for your site to hold their attention. In a competitive market, you can’t afford to waste 4 seconds of it, loading images. The goal here is less than 1 second of load time.
Reachability: While we know mobile devices don’t just mean phones, your site should take into account that users, on smaller screens, will likely be using their thumb to browse your site. So, bigger buttons and more space between clickable items.
If your mobile site cannot meet at least these three criteria, it is not truly mobile-responsive, and you may want to re-evaluate before going out to compete against better-equipped sites.
Step 4: Remember: If content is king, SEO is the crown.
Keywords are important to ensuring your users can find what they’re looking for in a search. However, so is security, site speed, links, mobile responsiveness and several other factors. Mastering every single one of those would be extremely difficult on your own, especially if you have limited knowledge around those areas. However, ensure your direct-booking website is SEO-compliant - meaning it is built with those areas already in mind. For instance, a site with an https in front of it will automatically outrank a site with an http, sounds like basic security but it’s already a step in the right direction. A site that loads quickly and is designed to adapt to different screen sizes makes the search engine’s job easier, therefore rewarding your site by serving it to more people.
When it comes to keywords, just be yourself. Write like a human being and try not to get too clever. Search engines adapt to the way we speak, so you don’t need to stuff keywords in at every turn, it can take your users out of their booking mindset. How many people do you think are expecting to get excited about a “house with optimal lighting for indoor leisure activities” on a listing? But a “Games room, where the family can spend time together on rainy days and make memories,” that sounds more enticing.
Step 5: Don’t get too bogged down in making it your own.
If you have a brand that you’ve been building up over years and a solid customer base, then you should absolutely consider having a site that reflects the elements that your customers have grown to know and love. However, if you are starting out or have not been regularly advertising, avoid the pitfalls of slowing yourself down and focusing on things such as custom fonts, fancy animations and a dog in sunnies in the corner of every image (though that does sound kinda cool). You can add all of those things as you grow.
A direct-booking website that is ready-to-go and takes into account the above elements, while allowing you to add your logo, address, images and listings is all you need to get going in this brave new world.
If you need help getting started or are struggling to find a partner to help you, Lavanda can offer you the perfect direct-booking website solution today.
Lavanda is a next generation property management system (PMS) for urban and rural short-term rental operators. Our SaaS platform is designed to unlock scale and profitability, whilst accelerating growth through industry partnerships. We're backed by leading venture capital investors, and have so far invested $10m+ into short-term rental technology and innovation.
Our award-winning technology is different because it has been honed through our first-hand experience of managing a short-term rental portfolio at scale. Operational efficiency is what we strive for, so we set about creating the missing toolkit. We're here to change your game.