Vacation Rental Marketing

How to Drive Bookings with Great (Visual) Content

September 29, 2020

Pop quiz: While browsing online travel sites, consumers choose to view some properties and skip past others. Why is that? 

A. It’s because of the headlines.
B. It’s because of the visual content.
C. It’s because everything is random, and Earth is just hurtling through space while humans search frantically for order in the chaos. 

Umm, B. 

The answer is B. It’s right there in the title!

According to research, visual content is the top reason travelers opt to check out certain properties while browsing online. It’s also the top reason they opt not to check out certain properties, which makes things pretty cut-and-dry: either your visual content is helping to drive bookings, or it’s flat out preventing them.

Seeing truly is believing, and travelers want to visually engage with your property before they commit any further. In other words, they eat with their eyes first.

And they eat a lot

Studies show that within a 30-day shopping window, travelers scroll through an average of more than 400 photos while browsing online. To that end, nearly 85% of travelers believe photos are helpful, and more than 25% believe photos are the most important factor when it comes time to click that “Book” button. 

Visual content builds trust. That’s really what it boils down to, and fortunately, there’s plenty of wiggle room within that framework for homeowners to figure out what works best for them and their property. Ultimately, if you’re going to drive bookings with great visual content, you’ll have to ace yet another pop quiz: What do travelers want? 

Travelers Want Answers

All of the content in your listing is meaningful, including your property description and amenities. Not all content is created equal, though. Visuals help travelers answer any questions they might have about your rental: they look for imagery of bedrooms, kitchens, and living areas, and they draw conclusions based on what you put in front of them.

It’s your job, then, to strike a balance. Show travelers what they want (and need) to see, and at the same time, use your visual content to paint a broader picture. If your rental is a ski cabin, what does it look like when there’s snow on the ground? If it’s a cottage in Maine, what does it look like surrounded by autumn leaves? In essence, you have to think like a traveler—ask yourself what you would want to know about a property, and lean on your visual content to fill in all the necessary gaps. 

Pictures, Pictures, Pictures

To effectively fill in those gaps, you first and foremost have to provide travelers with a carefully curated set of photos. It starts with your “Hero” image, or “Thumbnail” image, which quite literally is an invitation for travelers to click on your property—or breeze right past it as they look for something more appealing. 

If this were a game of baseball, the hero image would be your leadoff hitter because it sets the tone for your entire listing. Here are a few ways to take advantage of its prominence:

  • Highlight what makes your property unique: If you claim your home has an *Amazing View!* in the headline, you should back that up with visual evidence. And what better place than the hero image? Indeed, exterior photos are eye-catching—from the street, of the pool, or on the patio—but interior photos can be impressive, too. If your rental has an incredible kitchen, show it off. 
  • Avoid cluttered areas: Really, clutter has no place in any of your listing’s photos, and that’s doubly true for the hero image. That picture needs to speak for itself, so it should not require context. Similarly, refrain from featuring things travelers won’t care about, such as bathrooms and pets—sorry doggies!

  • Experiment with different pictures: If you have a few shots that are worthy of “Hero” status, be sure to rotate them in and out. That way, you can determine which ones draw the most traffic and which ones travelers tend to bypass. 

All told, your listing should have 20–30 photos. The proof is in the data: roughly 88% of travelers report higher trust in properties with at least 20 photos, and listings with 25+ images enjoy 40% more page views—and 30% more bookings. 

The best part? You don’t need to be some kind of expert or professional in order to stack your listing with awesome visual content. Photography tips for vacation rentals are readily available, meaning you can snap a compelling set of pictures all on your own. Just remember: resolution matters!

Videos & Virtual Tours

Here’s where things get a bit interesting. Because while photos remain the unrivaled captain of Team Visual Content, videos and virtual tours are gaining ground on the online travel sites that support them (such as Vrbo). And it’s easy to understand why: they’re interactive, they’re colorful, and more than anything, they’re a lot of fun! 

Like with photos, videos and virtual tours are backed by encouraging data points:

  • When a video is included in a listing’s content gallery, about 20% of travelers click “Play.” That may not seem substantial, but it’s actually excellent engagement—especially if you consider that…

  • Travelers who opt to click “Play” on a video generally spend 90 seconds watching that video, which essentially grants you 90 additional seconds to show them what sets your property apart from the rest. The real crazy part is…

  • Those numbers jump even higher with virtual tours, which appeal to both groups: highly motivated shoppers and casual browsers. Additional research shows that 9 in 10 travelers are at least interested in virtual tours, so if you decide to include one with your listing, you know for certain it will make a positive impact.

Again, the name of the game here is making your property stand out, because that’s what draws attention and drives bookings. Videos and virtual tours are simply additional tools in your visual content arsenal—they aren’t as necessary as photos, but they absolutely help. 

And believe it or not, you can do these on your own, too!

Grab your smartphone and record a detailed walkthrough of your property and the surrounding neighborhood. Or, if you want to go the extra mile, download a virtual-tour app such as Matterport Capture and lead potential guests through your home that way.

No matter what you do, though, rest assured: the time and effort you dedicate to producing premium visual content will be evident in your booking calendar—and in your rental revenue.

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