In a world of vanity metrics, TikTok, and Instagram Likes that are determined by which filter you use, it’s easy to get caught up in the dangerous “style over substance” trap.
As such, the majority of websites in the short-term rental industry claim to be “direct booking websites”; but when you take a closer look, it quickly comes to fruition that the website itself is just a bunch of attractive photos and words squished together.
This does not make for an intelligent direct booking strategy.
A website that has the core responsibility of attracting more direct bookings and finally helping you cut that cord from OTAs like Airbnb, relies on a lot more than just aesthetics. And while it’s important to have a good-looking website to represent your short-term rental brand, don’t forget the UX (user experience), page flow, CTA buttons, optimized copy, property listings, and trust marketing signals are absolutely paramount, too.
We’ve spent months working on the new Luke Stays website, where we host short-term rental properties across the UK, Europe, Dubai, and soon – the USA. After a lot of testing and tweaking, the website went live officially just a few weeks ago.
And within just the first few days, we realised that our hard work had paid off.
As website conversions shot up by 20%! (In just a matter of days!).
Find out how we achieved this as a team, and how you can learn from our experiences for your own direct bookings website.
Page Speed and User Experience
Nobody wants to sit around waiting for a website page to load – no matter how interactive the graphics are. Consumers are becoming increasingly impatient, and if a potential guest lands on your website and the search result takes its sweet-ass time to appear, then presume that you’ve already lost that direct booking.
Not only is slow page speed an inconvenience, it reflects poorly on your short-term rental brand. The website user will be of the impression that you simply don’t value attention to detail; and this is an especially dangerous reputation in the hospitality industry.
While it might seem like a costly investment, if you’re not going to work with professional web developers for your direct bookings website, you may as well not build one at all. Loading times and page speed is the absolute pinnacle of UX on a website, and your website should be aiming for a 0.4 load time for the best conversion rates (according to a 2019 study by Portent).
It’s also vital to consider how your website works and presents itself on a mobile device. According to research from Statista around 44% of guests book holidays directly from their smartphones, and an even higher percentage use their phones only for browsing and comparing short-term rental options.
If your website’s mobile responsiveness is slow or lackluster, it’s definitely going to cost you money and show your brand up as being tech-lazy.
Don’t forget the general “ease of use” of your direct bookings website as well. What is the page flow like? Are the titles on the search navigation bar clear and easy to use? Can the website user see within the first 10 seconds of landing on your website, how to book a stay with you and where to click if they need to find out more?
You’ll notice that we’ve considered all these details on the Luke Stays website and even highlighted “Featured Cities” where guests can easily select their location of choice and swiftly move along with their direct booking.
This is the most overlooked detail by short-term rental operators when they’re building their own direct bookings website, and is rarely offered (nor even considered) by other website building agencies.
This is utterly shocking because this is the one thing that will differentiate you from the likes of Airbnb, Booking.Com, and VRBO.
The reason why OTAs have been dominating the short-term rental market for years is because guests trust them. They’ve invested in their marketing, PR, and retelling guests the same story over and over again (that they’re the best platforms to book with), meaning they’ve influenced consumer behaviour completely.
The good news is, you can easily reclaim this trust back, by presenting clear trust signals across your website, as we have with Luke Stays. This is a fundamental part of our success.
Our trust signals – that aren’t available on Airbnb – include:
> I-PRAC Accreditation logo on the homepage (and repeated mentions of I-PRAC Approval) while also explaining what this means for guests, and how it guarantees 100% trust and payment protection
> A designated Trust Page, which is more visited than our About Page
> Free StayCover feature, which isn’t available on Airbnb and guarantees guests full payment protection, safety, and other perks.
> Legitimate positive reviews from other happy guests
> Well-written copy that is centered around the guests’ needs, rather than our own achievements and inflated sense of self-worth
Platforms like Airbnb and Amazon (not a short-term rental brand, but still a great example) have the transactional part of the customer’s journey nailed.
When looking at website bounce rates, which determine how long a website user stays on a website page before leaving, we’ve found that the highest bounce rates are actually on the booking page of direct booking websites. Meaning, potential guests scroll through the properties and read about the respective short-term rental company, but have second thoughts when it comes to actually part with their money.
If you do a good job of presenting the right trust signals on your website then your bounce rates should generally remain lower (between 26% and 40% according to the experts); however, to really ensure that they follow through with that direct booking, the “bookability” on your website needs to be top-notch.
This means a quick and seamless payment process that is fully secured and doesn’t feel “jumpy” at any point. Trailing and testing is super important here, and this was something we perhaps returned to the most when working with our web developers for the Luke Stays website.
Website Copy that Converts
There’s a skill required for website copywriting. Just because you feel you’re a good writer because you send lovely emails to your peers and colleagues, does not necessarily mean that you should be writing the copy for your own direct bookings website.
We certainly recommend investing in a professional here, specifically one who specializes in the short-term rental industry and understands guests’ needs and pain points.
Your website copy should be wholly focused on the guest – and not yourself – which is the most common mistake that STR brands make (nobody cares about which year you were established in, please don’t include this on your homepage). The words on your website should also be easily scannable and written so that it’s possible for a seven-year-old to understand it, without seeming condescending in any way.
Think shorter paragraphs, less industry jargon, and clean, precise statements – rather than descriptions that are largely subjective (for example, a “beautiful lodge” can mean something completely different to one guest, than it would to another).
One of our favorite things about the Luke Stays website is that even our “About Page” is about our guests and we have referred to our own achievements and accolades, only when it’s relevant to the benefit of our consumers.
Optimising your direct bookings website is web-speak for making your website easy to find and use, and essentially, more fit-for-purpose.
Investing in SEO and SEO professionals who will continue to analyze the performance of your website and search rankings is vital to getting ahead of the OTAs. While these three letters frighten the living daylights out of many short-term rental hosts, it doesn’t have to be as complicated as the so-called gurus make out.
Simply ensure that you’re working with the right professionals to do the following for your website:
> High-quality photography (reduce the number of stock imagery you use, as much as possible and try to include photos of people, too!)
> Place strong keywords in page titles and distribute them across your website
> Descriptive listings that are easy to read and include the things that your guests are searching for, such as key amenities, check-in policies, and location
> Updated content: This includes your listings and your blog, try and keep your website as current as possible
> Strong, simple CTAs
Branding and Personalisation
Platforms like Airbnb are incapable of offering guests a personalised brand experience. At best, they offer consumers a shopping list of short-term rental properties with prices attached to them – so, this is another opportunity for you to really get ahead of the game.
Determine what your brand stands for, who your guest avatar(s) is and how you can put this across in your website copy, the colours on your website, and your brand values. This all comes under the umbrella of emotional marketing, and research suggests that 80% of Gen Z and Millennial consumers are more likely to spend money with a brand if they feel emotionally connected to it.
The “About Page” on the Luke Stays website where we’ve outlined our bespoke TIC Values is a great example of this.
For more inspiration on what makes an excellent direct bookings website, check out www.lukestays.com (where we’ve even included a cool timer against all bookings, so when guests book a stay with us with a certain time window, they’re treated to two special freebies!).