11 Rules for Vacation Rental Website Design

So What’s So Special About Vacation Rental Website Design?

Vacation RentalsWhy write a whole section about it? Isn’t it just a case of building a website and adding some photos of your property?

Not really. There are some special things about vacation rental websites that make them different to other websites…

You’re selling something valuable. OK, there are lots of websites out there that sell stuff, but not so many where individuals sell something that’s quite so valuable. Your property probably costs you a lot to own and run and hopefully customers pay you a lot to rent it!

Customers spend a lot of money on their vacations, and hopefully your property too, so they are really going to care about getting something that’s good and that they can trust. It’s not just money either – people commit a lot of time on the research and also the vacation itself. They want to get good value for this.

Pictures tell the story – your site will hopefully make heavy use of pictures to show visitors how great your place is.

Competition can be very high, particularly in popular areas such as Orlando, so you’ve got to use all your available design tools to make a site that’s unique.

It’s your online brochure so you’ll probably be sending people to it to view your pictures, check out your facilities, and so on

1. Don’t Buy a Clone

I saw a recent advert for “100′s of clone vacation rental websites required”.

Why would you want a site that’s the same as 100′s of others? Wouldn’t you prefer something that was unique and memorable?

Don’t forget there’s a lot of competition out there so you need a website that people are going to notice and remember in a week’s time when they are still trying to decide where to stay.

It’s a good idea to think about what makes your property unique and then to capture this in the design of your site.

How are people going to remember your site? Maybe with a unique style, or stunning photos, or a quirky name?

2. What’s Your site For?

This might seem like a strange question with a pretty obvious answer but bear with me.

Your website forms part of your vacation rental business and you need to be clear what role it plays. Is your site there to:

  • Gather leads?
  • Showcase your property?
  • Connect with renters?
  • Earn advertising revenue via Google AdSense?

Or even:

  • Do everything including making the booking and collecting payment?

These are all possible, but that’s not the point. The key is to make sure you’ve defined what your website is intended to do and then design it with this goal in mind.

Here’s another way to put this – if your site is intended to gather leads, then don’t distract visitors by filling the pages with adverts – you’ll probably end up with a site that does two jobs poorly instead of one job really well.

3. Build a Great Structure

Once you’ve set the goal of your vacation rental website it’s time to develop a site structure that helps your visitors and leads them towards that vital final step.

To do this it’s a good idea to work backwards from your goal. What steps should visitors go through before they complete the goal? If you want them to contact you via an inquiry form then you probably want them to look at your photos and read some useful descriptions of your property first (you don’t just want them to fire off an inquiry without looking at your stuff, otherwise they may forget who you are and which site they found you on).

It’s good to make sure the site is completely focused towards your goal. Every part of your site should be designed to lead visitors forward. It should be easy to navigate around and it should be clear what all the various sections are for.

The best websites truly help visitors to solve their problems and have a sensible flow from one section to the next. It’s good to avoid the trap of linking every page to every other. It’s tempting to do but it can confuse your visitors and the search engines.

4. Do Your Keyword Research

Before you launch into writing your website you’ll need to spend some time researching keywords. It’s important to get these right if you are planning to promote your site with search engine optimization (SEO) or even with paid advertising such as Google AdWords (both common ways to promote vacation rental sites).

The reason for choosing keywords is that you need to ‘guide’ the search engines so that they can understand what subjects your site pages are about. If you don’t focus on particular keywords then it’s likely that you won’t be ranked very highly for search engines.

A great place to start here is to read my posts about keywords. The key points are that the keywords that you choose need to be highly relevant to your pages, have a low level of competition and also lead to inquiries from your visitors.

5. Write Your Pages

OK – so you’ve chosen your keywords so it’s time to get going writing some pages. Make sure you use your keywords while you are writing!

Watch out for people who say they will ‘SEO Your Site’ – unless they work very closely with you and understand the goals for each of your pages, you might just be paying good money for a few extra tags on your pages. Good SEO is all about writing good content that’s focused around your keywords (and yes, you do need to get your tags right too)

6. Pictures Tell a Thousand Words

As we saw at the start, your vacation rental website will probably make a lot of use of pictures to show off your property.

It’s really, really important to make these look as good as possible. There are so many sites out there where owners put up pictures that are small, fuzzy or dark (or all three).

Here are some simple tips to make your images as good as possible:

  • Make them as large as possible on the web pages, but,
  • Scale them so you’re not expending an image that’s too small, or squashing an image that’s too big
  • Buy a decent camera – the best you can afford
  • Choose good angles and lighting
  • Crop your images with your favorite photo tool (PhotoShop, flickr, etc)
  • Make the widths or the heights of your images the same (there are artistic ways to combine different widths or heights but this requires a good eye)

7. Get the Right Style

Unless you are a graphic designer or very experienced on the web you may be a little intimidated by trying to choose a style for your vacation rental site. Don’t worry though, there are some simple rules that you can use to select something that looks good and is memorable.

Here’s the #1 rule: unless you are very confident, it’s best to go for something very simple and straightforward. In other words a simple color scheme, standard fonts and a straightforward layout: let your writing provide the unique content.

A great tip for choosing a color scheme is to look at your site photos and choose colors that work well with them.

If you don’t have a logo yet, this can be a great way to make yourself unique and memorable – you can get one designed very easily at 99designs. You may even be able to base your entire site style on your logo for a professional look. Your logo should help to convey something unique about you and your website.

8. Get Yourself a Blog

Instead of wasting time worrying about whether you should start a blog, just get started!!

A blog is a great way to let people know that you are the expert on your vacation rental. You don’t have to limit yourself to writing about your property here. You can talk about the local area, tourist attractions, restaurant reviews, recommendations for days out – even the weather!

Blogs are really good for connecting with readers and customers and for showing that there’s a real person behind your website. If you open up the blog and allow comments, you can even get your readers to contribute to the discussion.

If you’ve decided you want to start a blog there are a couple of different options available…

You can grab a free blog on blogger.com and start blogging with 5 minutes. This is really easy and you can do some basic customization of the layout.

If you are concerned about branding or want to create a blog that’s integrated into your site then wordpress is a great platform. You can completely customize the theme of your blog and make it part of your website.

One final word on blogs – it is important to keep updating your blog by regularly adding posts, so that your readers keep returning to view the new content.

9. Speaking of Content…

We’ve already talked about the importance of writing great content for your vacation rental website. The very best sites grow continually and have new pages of content added on a regular basis.

One of the best decisions that you can make about your site is to set yourself up so it’s easy for you to add new pages yourself. If you are efficient at HTML and CSS then this may be easy for you to do, but this still isn’t the quickest way to add new pages. A content management system (CMS) such as Joomla can really help here. WordPress is also very useful as a mini-CMS.

10. Try an Availability Calendar

Many people choose to provide online availability calendars on their vacation rental sites. This is a great way to quickly show whether your property is available for the dates when your visitors want to book their vacation.

There are a couple of things to watch out for though…

You’ll need to choose a calendar carefully so that it fits in with the style of your site and looks professional. It’s easy to find a number of online calendar providers out there but watch out for how they fit in to your site.

Another thing to think about is whether you really want to show your availability to the general public. This may seem like a strange point, but here’s why:

  • If your place already booked on the days that your visitor is interested in, you may still want them to contact you anyway. Perhaps you’d like to start talking to them anyway about future bookings, or finding an alternative place for them.
  • Also if your property isn’t booked very often, this will show on your calendar, which may give the impression that you’re not very popular or successful

11. Measure, Improve and Repeat

So that’s it. We’ve covered everything you need to know to complete your vacation rental website design. There’s one more area to talk about though.

Remember we said that the best websites grow and improve over time? This is also true for your vacation rental site. If you’re going to start making some improvements to your site then you need to make sure you can measure exactly how it’s doing, for visitors, traffic sources, page popularity and so on.

One of the best site analytics tools is Google Analytics and this is the one that I use for all of my sites.

You should set it up and register the goal that we set at the start of this discussion (contact form, etc). Do make sure you can measure your goal.

Once you start to measure traffic patterns on your site you can start to find areas that are working and do more of these. Which pages are popular? Which sites send you the most useful traffic?

Also, you should look for things that don’t work. Are pages being ignored? Why? Can you fix them? Are people reading your pages and moving further through the site towards your goal?

This should be a continuous process. Measure. Modify. Measure again. Repeat until bookings start to improve!

Remember that your vacation rental website is never static and that you are in control!

Share this:
  • Facebook
  • del.icio.us
  • Print
  • Twitter
  • StumbleUpon
  • Technorati
  • Digg
  • Suggest to Techmeme via Twitter
  • Google Bookmarks
  • email

Related posts:

  1. Welcome Back to My Vacation Rental Website
  2. The Cheapest Way to Market Your Vacation Rental?
  3. The Long Tail of Your Vacation Rental
  4. Squeeze Guide for Vacation Rental Websites
  5. The Perfect Vacation Rental Website

You can share a copy of this post on your own website provided you include a link back to the original. Happy reading!

You can follow any responses to this entry through the RSS 2.0 feed. Both comments and pings are currently closed.

2 Responses to “11 Rules for Vacation Rental Website Design”

  1. [...] been thinking about ways to keep my customers returning to my vacation rental websites. I’m 99% sure you’d agree this is a good thing to do. If people are returning to my [...]

  2. [...] do you measure success in your email marketing campaign for your vacation rental website? Do you measure it with your unsubscribe rate? If you do, you may not be as successful as you think [...]