Back in May 2020, I was invited as a guest on the Hosting With Heart podcast to talk about SEO for short term holiday rental properties.
I’ve been in marketing for nearly 20 years now and I’ve always seemed to have gravitated to roles in property whether that be in hotels, shopping centres or residential developments and obviously now my own short term rental property!
And from the very beginning there was always a digital element to my role but that has become more and more of a focus over the years as the opportunities for brands to market their products online have evolved.
More recently over the past 5 years, I’ve been freelancing solely in search marketing… So that’s basically improving the presence of my clients website in the search engines whether that be through Google Ads, which are the paid listings at the top of the search results in Google or SEO which is what we’re all here to talk about today.
What is SEO?
SEO stands for search engine optimisation. It’s basically the things you can do to your website and to your online presence off your website that will increase your rankings in the search results for a particular search query. So for example, I’m looking for a holiday rental in Macedon Ranges I’ll type into Google… ‘accommodation macedon ranges’ or ‘holiday house macedon ranges’ or I might be looking for ‘weekends away regional victoria’ and up comes pages and pages of websites that are ranking for these search terms.
The businesses listed on the first page are most likely are going to those who are putting the most resources into SEO.
And when you are on the first page of Google, this is marketing gold this is free traffic coming to your site so the return on investment is huge, even with taking into account the cost of SEO if that’s anything. Search engines are hands down the most cost effective platform to be marketing your business through because you are reaching people when and where they are searching for your product.
Now we have to be realistic because we all know there are large companies like AirBNB and HomeAway that have huge SEO budgets and they’re all vying for the top three positions in the search engines for these search queries.
So we need to look where the opportunities lie for smaller players and I’ve put together a bit of an action plan that will hopefully help you seek out these sweet spots.
Before we go into that I want to also explain how Google works.
And when I’m referring to Google, I’m actually talking about all search engines. Google is king of the search engines with about 90% of the market share in Australia. If you optimise for Google, you’re basically optimising for the others too as their algorithms are all fairly similar.
So search engines work on algorithms which are basically a set of instructions.
The algorithms send out bots (also known as crawlers or spiders) which crawl from site to site collecting information that the algorithms use to determine how worthy of ranking a website is. Sounds a bit creepy I know but we want these crawlers to be our friends.
There are actually hundreds of ranking factors that search engines use so I really just want to focus on the 8 most impactful things you can do yourself.
Step 1: Set up a Google Analytics account and add the tracking ID to your website
I’m not going to go into too much detail here as I don’t want to scare listeners off within the first few minutes. But I do want to stress that if you have a website and you are trying to drive visitors to that site, you need to how they’re getting there and how they are behaving once they’re on your site.
Analytics provides really easy to understand reports that tells you things like how many people are coming to your site in any given time frame, where they are coming from, how long they are spending on each page, how many pages they’re viewing when they visit, whether people are visiting you on mobile or desktop. It give you really useful information.
There’s a free Google Analytics app that you can download onto your smart phone so once you’ve set it up you can open the app and have instant access to this data.
I’m happy to answer any questions on this but there are also lots of free tutorials on YouTube that will show you the process.
The information that Analytics can give you should drive your decision making when it comes to making any changes on your website or putting any resources into digital marketing.
I also strongly recommend that you get conversion tracking set up by someone who knows what they are doing – your web developer if you have one should be able to help. You will then be able to tell what actions people are taking on your website to book or enquire with you… so whether they’re calling you from a particular page, emailing, submitting an enquiry form or online booking.
Also, don’t let anyone convince you that you need to pay for a superior reporting system. Google Analytics is the only reporting system you need. Its free, its comprehensive and it integrates with just about any other system.
You can set up a free account by googling ‘Google Analytics’. Once you’ve gone through the process, go to the Admin menu and under Property you’ll see a tracking ID. This just needs to be copy and pasted into a section in the backend of your website. As I said, there are lots of articles and videos about this online.
Step 2: Find your keywords
Keywords are at the core of how search engines work. And this is where the biggest opportunity lies for you is to circumvent the bigger players in the market.
When I talk about keywords I’m actually referring to a phrase of words. So, a keyword can have 1 word or it can be 6 words.
Now, your end goal here is to come up with a list of 10 target keywords that each have 3-5or more words in them. Actually, lets aim for 4 or more words. These are known as longtail keywords. And longtail keywords have much lower search volumes but also generally lower competition and because they are more descriptive and specific have a much higher chance of reaching people who are most likely going to book or at least enquire with you.
To find these 10 keywords, we’re going to start by writing three lists. And I like using Excel for this. The first list is going to be made up of location names that are relevant to your property. So Jen, take your Fox House in Kyneton for example. I would include in my list Kyneton, Macedon Ranges, regional Victoria and any nearby locations that might attract more visitors. You may think that people searching for accommodation in Woodend, Daylesford or Trentham may be swayed to stay in Kyneton instead. So add them in if you think that is right.
The second list is going to have descriptor words in it. So yes I would start with accommodation. I’d also include holiday house, holiday rental, holiday accommodation, vacation rental, Airbnb, stayz, short term rental, holiday letting, pet friendly accommodation, kid friendly accommodation, concert accommodation, groups accommodation. Anything that describes what your offering.
The more thorough you are with these first two lists the more confident that you can be that you’re targeting the right keywords.
The third list, you are going to merge the first two columns and come up with various combinations of each of these keywords. So you’ll start with accommodation Kyneton, accommodation regional Victoria, accommodation macedon ranges etc. then you’ll move on to holiday house variations so holiday house Kyneton, holiday house regional Victoria, holiday house macedon ranges etc.
Don’t worry about the order of the words, just the combination of words.
Once you have the third list in Excel. Create a Google Ads account. This is quick and you don’t need to get to the stage where you enter your billing details. As soon as you see the Tools and Settings option in the top right corner (before you have to enter billing details or anything like that) click on the icon and under Planning you’ll see Keyword Planner.
Go to the keyword planner and choose Get Search Volume and Forecasts. A box will be displayed where you can copy and paste in the words from your third column. Then click Get Started.
In here you want to see the ‘Historical metrics’ and this will show you the search volumes of your keywords over the past year as well as the level of competition. You can download this report into Excel to be able to manipulate the data and save if you want.
Don’t necessarily choose the highest search volume keywords. Choose keywords with a decent search volume but low competition. And the ones that are most relevant for your business. I say 3 or more words before
Another way you can find new keywords is entering a website address into tools like Ubersuggest and they will suggest keywords for you with search volumes and competition.
So you can enter in your website address or other properties in your market. I just find this method a bit messier as it opens up a whole other realm of irrelevant keywords that you then have to sort through.
You can also just type in a search query into Google and up comes a box at the bottom of the search results labelled ‘Searches related to accommodation kyneton’
Step 3: Plan your navigation and site structure
This is really important if planning a new website but also should be considered if you have an existing site.
Firstly, Google wants to see a healthy amount of content that explains your offering and makes it easy for people to book. Create pages with a clear purpose, don’t create content for the sake of just having another page.
I would say between 5 and 10 pages is a healthy amount for a holiday rental. On the Warialda site I have 6 pages in the main navigation but a few others that are linked in other ways.
Stay away from one page websites. They will really limit your opportunities when it comes to SEO and I don’t think they add much value to the user experience.
You want a home page, an about us page and a contact us page to start off with.
You then need what I call category pages. This will vary greatly depend on your offering. Some hosts may just offer accommodation but three types of accommodation that can all be rented separately. Other hosts might offer accommodation, weddings, events, photo shoots etc. Others may prefer to have accommodation, then break it down into Group Accommodation, Romantic Weekends, Pet Friendly Accommodation and theme like that on separate pages. There is no one size fits all approach here. You just need to think about your specific offering and how your visitors will be browsing your site.
I also recommend creating at least one page on the local area.
There are lots of really beautiful websites out there I would suggest having a look around and taking from each what you think works best for you.
Google wants to see a hierarchy so its easy to determine what are the main pages that should be ranking so consider this when planning your site structure.
Consider the navigation as well. Google likes a user friendly website that is easy to get around. So have a think about what you want in your main navigation menu and also consider how you will create links on each page. So you can have images linking to other pages you can have links created using buttons or you can have anchor text links which are basically hyperlinks using the words in the copy.
On my homepage for example I have linked images to about the accommodation, a page about our gardens and the local area and I also have anchor text links.
Linking your pages from one to another isn’t just beneficial from a user experience point of view, it also makes it easier for the search engines to discover your content. The easier is it for Google to crawl your site the more content its likely to include in the search results.
The other thing to consider here is your URLs. It helps to have keywords in your URLs, separated by hyphens. Don’t change your URLs if your site has already been indexed by Google. It will wreak havoc by creating missing content and broken links. But if you are planning to add new pages or a new website that definitely keep this in mind.
Step 4: Apply your meta title and meta description
Behind the scenes in the code of every page on your site is a meta title and description. This is the title and description that Google usually displays in the search engine results.
These carry a lot of weight as a ranking factor and if you don’t enter them yourself, Google will determine what the meta title and description should be from the content that is on your page.
On all website platforms I’ve come across, when you are in the backend and go to edit a page, there is an SEO section on each page where you can enter the meta title and meta description. In WordPress, the best plugin is Yoast For SEO.
Once you’ve found your keywords in Step 1, you’ll be able to plan which keyword you want to focus on for each page. All pages should have a different meta title and description. So no duplicates.
The meta title needs to be fewer than 60 characters and should have the keywords at the beginning. The meta description should be less than 155 characters and should include the keywords but they don’t have to be at the beginning.
I have a template that I’m happy to give to you Jen for people to download. It’s just an Excel document I use to plan and keep track of the title and description. It has a character count formula in there so you don’t need to sit there and count the characters.
Step 5: Plan Your Content
Words are fundamental to SEO.. if you haven’t picked that up by now. Yes images are super important too but Google can’t take as much information from an image as it can from text.
Really take the time to plan your content. The most important thing here to remember is to write for your audience, don’t write for Google. Google’s algorithms see through this and may actually penalise your site if you have too many keywords in there that are just out of context. Its called keyword stuffing and it’s very much frowned upon and your website visitors just won’t engage. So you want to find a good level of density, which is you know the number of keywords used to the number of total words on a page.
Google has become very good at understanding semantics which is the meaning or intent behind the keywords. So use synonyms and different variations of the keyword.
You want to aim for about 200 words per page at least.
Don’t just have blocks of text though. Google likes to see this separated out by headings. They like to see the most important heading at the top of the page that will include the keywords for that page. You want to make this an H1 header. Don’t worry too much if you don’t know how to make this an H1 but if you see the option, then choose that.
The other headings on the page should be H2 and H3 headings. Less important but still containing keywords if you can. And less prominent so H2 and H3s will be smaller.
You also want to make it easy for someone to take action to enquire or book. In my world this is called a conversion. So you need to create something we call calls to action. Its basically a prompt for someone to book or enquire.
Don’t use duplicate content. This is another big no-no. Google does not want to see you copying content from another site and yes, they can tell who published first.
So once you have your content all right its time to look at your images so…
Step 6: Optimise your images
Optimising your images is super important because it can greatly impact page speed which is a big ranking factor. Page speed is basically the time it takes for a web page to load.
So before optimising your images, I would run a page speed test to see if your page speed is slow. If it’s not an issue and your page speed is fast then don’t worry too much about compressing and resizing images. Maybe just take this into consideration when uploading new images.
Two page speed testing tools I would recommend are Pingdom and GT Metrix. They’re free to use and I recommend these ones as you can choose to run the tests with Sydney servers so they show a more realistic result. The problem with Google’s pagespeed tool is that the servers are set overseas so Australian sites generally get worse results than what is actually the case.
So..if you do find that your page speed is slow then you need to resize the image to the right dimensions and reduce the resolution of your images. If an image only needs to be 10cm on a wide screen desktop then resize it to 10cm wide by however high at 72dpi. 72dpi is what is known as low resolution and that is all that’s needed for viewing on a screen. If you’re worried about jeopardising the quality of the image you can make it a bit bigger.
Photoshop is a great tool to save images in a web optimised format. But its expensive so if you’re not using it already there are other free tools that you can use. One that I can recommend is TinyPNG which you just need to upload the image – already resized – then TinyPNG will compress the image to the right resolution. There are loads of others you can use so just have a look online.
I prefer optimising the images before they have been uploaded to the site but if your images are already uploaded, many of the platforms i.e. Squarespace and Wix will compress the images. WordPress has loads of free plugins like Shortpixel, Optimole and WP Smush that will optimise the images once already loaded.
The other thing to do with images is to use a naming convention when saving your image files. Use relevant keywords in the filename i.e. accommodation-types-macedon-ranges.jpg. And separate the words using hyphens not underscores.
You should always apply an alt tag. Other than the filename the alt tag is the only way for Google to know what that image is about. So it shouldn’t be too long but you must incorporate some keywords in here. Its generally when you upload the image that you can set the alt tag so have a look in the section where your images are and there should be a box where you can enter one.
So the last two steps are things you should do regardless of whether you have a website or not.
Step 7: Google My Business
Google My Business is just as important if not more important than your website and it is a Google product that is here to stay. Google My Business or GMB is the business profile you might see for businesses on the right hand side of a search result. It also enables you to be included in the local search results which are on the map. Google is spending a lot of resources on developing Google My Business so make sure you take advantage of all that it offers.
If you don’t have a GMB profile, create a free Google account or log in to your existing account. Search for Google My Business and go through the process of setting up a new profile. You’ll be sent a postcard in the mail with a pin that you’ll need, to verify your listing.
Once you have your listing, fill it out completely. Business name, address, phone number website address 750-word description, services. Choose the holiday home category.
Add photos, videos everything. You can even submit your own questions and answers. Become really familiar with this product.
Really encourage people to leave reviews on Google and once you’re in your profile there is actually a short link you can send out to people to leave you a Google review.
Step 8: Link Building
Last but certainly not least is build backlinks to your site. Now I’m putting backlinks and citations in the same basket because they often go hand in hand.
Firstly I’ll explain the difference. Citations are mentions of your business’ name, address and phone number across the web. So this could be on your Google My Business listing, your website, an online directory or article for instance.
A backlink is a hyperlink on another website that directs back to a page on your website. There is usually an opportunity to add a link to your site when building citations It can be independent of any citation.
The reason why citations and backlinks are important is that Google will largely rank a page higher if they are considered to have authority on a topic. If they see lots of mentions of your name, address and phone number they are going to see that you have a certain level of integrity.
Consistency is key here. The name, address and phone on your website need to be consistent with the name address and phone number on your Google Mu Business listing and consistent will other citations that you create around the web.
The same as backlinks. If your site has a lot of links coming in to your site, Google will reach the conclusion that you have a site worth ranking. And also remember that this is how Google crawls from website to website.
However,… don’t just link to any site. It should be a quality site. I won’t go into how you find the authority score of a site but I think you’ll be able to make the call when it comes to the difference between a high quality site and a spammy or low quality site.
So how do you find these opportunities?
Firstly, I’m happy to send out a list of online directories that are good for you to list on.
Further to this though, you can find a lot of opportunities by searching in Google. I would start by looking for local directories such as local tourism or accommodation sites. You can search “tourism macedon ranges” or “tourism victoria” for example. Next look at your particular offering. If you are pet friendly ‘search pet friendly accommodation’ and loads of websites about
You can also search similar properties names to see what sites they are listed on.
The other way of getting links if by submitting guest posts or blogs on online travel blogs for example.
Now this can take a lot of time, so what I recommend is putting together a business information sheet (I can send through a template) that includes all the information that these sites will ask for. So you can just copy and paste from the Excel spreadsheet into
Don’t pay to be listed on a directory. Always go with the free listing option because in the very least you’ll get a citation (which is your name address and phone number listed).
Also don’t just get links from any site. Google knows the difference between a low quality and high quality site and they will reward or punish you accordingly.
Well that’s it! I hope I haven’t overwhelmed you. I promise these are things you can do yourself and as I said there are lots of online tutorials and you also know where to find me if you have any questions.