Search Engines Hijacked by Rental Directories
By William May
Published: 06/03/05 Topics: Comments: 0
Long time vacation rental managers and owners have watched the Internet ebb and flow.
What began as a strong new tool has recently lost its way in the ever changing commercialization of the web. What started out as a wonderful and effective service has fallen victim to the large companies who have insights and tools that allow them to hijack the search engines causing them to loose effectiveness due to the ever changing nature of the beast.
At first the web was a wonderful new tool that allowed guests, for the first time, to search out wonderfully unique lodging. Why rent a basic, bland hotel room when it was possible to inspect, price and reserve that perfect vacation spot?
Along the way, the use of handy digital cameras, 360 virtual tours, long and complete descriptions and on-line references afforded prospective visitors the confidence required to lay down big bucks on a rental hundreds or thousands of miles away.
Quickly, web based directories of homes in locations worldwide served to direct guests to those hard to find locations. Most of these sites were rudimentary in their technology and yet, they were prolific in their spider-like covering of the web.
FIRST IS ALWAYS BETTER
I can't figure out why the older, less intuitive and (frankly) uglier sites still dominate the Vacation Rental Listing category. The only thing I can think of -harking back to my advertising/marketing school 30 years ago - is the fact that there is no better marketing feature than being first.
Today's business climate is often still dominated by those who came first or were, at least, the first visible.
Even Microsoft is honest enough to never flaunt itself as the best and the brightest. They let a new idea start and then they pounce on it with all their might - sometimes taking over the category entirely.
In recent years there have been failures in some areas, especially in internet searching, but what they have going for themselves - mostly - is that they were the first at being the biggest.
Before Microsoft, brand names have been dominated by those who came first, Xerox and IBM come to mind.
NOTE: My apology to members for missing a number of newsletters. We are currently redeveloping the (VROA.org)VROA.org website in order to activate the (VROA.com)VROA.com owners directory. We promise to have that done soon and to get the newsletters back on schedule. We are a volunteer organization and always welcome offers to help.
In the vacation rental search engine arena, the early entrants like (CyberRentals.com)CyberRentals.com, (A1Vacations.com)A1Vacations.com, (VRBO.com)VRBO.com and (GreatRentals.com)GreatRentals.com seem to own the market - not because they are offer a better product, but because they are not innovative. They stick with the tried and true rather than advance the cause of their customers with better products, design and customer service.
These services have a better product. Now if the consumers will just agree by flocking to those sites then vacation rental owners, managers and yes guests will all benefit. Let's hope.
By the way if you market leaders are reading, please do your customers a favor and upgrade the look and feel of your sites. Its fine to take our money but we'd like to see continuing improvements along the way. Hey, even Detroit shines up the cars every year. I'd love nothing better than to see the industry stabilize around a few ever growing sites but that's going to require you to become the best - not just the first.
YOUR OWN SITE
In the past its been my constant mantra to owners that every house should have its own website. Listing your home only on a few of the listing directories is simply not enough.
Should your listing be yanked (yes this happens) or the directory change its prioritization of homes or geographic areas all your nice leads could dry up in an instant. (Yes this happens too).
Plus you gotta remember that sending guests to your page on a web directory as your primary website is helping to promote your competition.
After seeing your property they will undoubtedly find your next-door competitor. You don't see Chevy advertising Ford products do you? If your house is anything less than the nicest home at the cheapest price you are promoting the web directory and your competitors are your loss.
Plus indicating a website for your property such as (BigVacationRentals.com)BigVacationRentals.com/WA/986587.html informs guests you may not be technically competent and that might mean you are not competent in other facets of rentals as well. I know that's a stretch but web customers today expect to see good domain names and info.
The only safe way to advertise is to put up your own site with your own domain name. Today, having a custom site isn't that difficult or costly, you can buy a program like FrontPage, or use one of the automated systems (RentalAvenue.com)RentalAvenue.com, (WebSiteGeneration.com)WebSiteGeneration.com and (RentOneOnline.com)RentOneOnline.com look good) or find a local designer to do it.
Using a designer is your best bet of getting an interesting site and prices are far less than they used to be (mostly because the designers are using programming tools to save time).
By having your own site you can utilize PPC advertising, paid print advertising and still put your information on the Web Vacation Rental Directories. All of those should allow our listing to link to your custom site. If they don't you should scream bloody murder because they are distancing you from your customers and that is never a good idea.
SEARCH ENGINE HIJACK
So now on to my biggest complaints of recent months.
First, I support PPC listings managed by (Google.com)Google.com, (Overture.com)Overture.com, (FindWhat.com)FindWhat.com all of which post paid listings conspicuously on their thousands of websites. They can be cost effective and, in general, usually disclose themselves as paid advertising.
But you may have noticed that the "Unsponsored" listings recently on (Google.com)Google.com, (MSN.com)MSN.com, (AOL.com)AOL.com and most of the other big portals have LOST their effectiveness for Vacation Rental Owners. Here is the proof:
Try typing in a keyword from your destination or any location you like to visit. In almost all cases the top dozen or more free listings will show URL's that always begin with the URL of a web directory followed by often unclear words, numbers or symbols.
Clicking on those listings will take you to the web directory and not always to a page for your state, town or even the home that was featured in the search engine listing.
This is a tragedy for the guest as well as the owner. It means the value of search to find what you want quickly and accurately has been destroyed.
It is true that some guests are looking for a long list of rentals in a given area. They are shopping for features and price. But perhaps the most physiologically interesting aspect of vacation rentals is that many, maybe most, guests are seeking something unique and unusual.
They love to stumble upon that perfect getaway or hidden home or even funky cabin. What makes a rental valuable to visitors is that it IS NOT a hotel. It is not a cookie cutter.
You may be wondering how the listing directories get such high placement in the search engines. The answer is that they spend full time trying to beat the system. It's an technical know-how game that most owners and management companies don't have the time to invest in. Worst of all, it is common in the free listings.
And while I'm at it, many members are telling me they are getting discontinued on Google, Overture Paid and other PPC sites because their click through rate is not high enough in relationship to the "impressions" (views) their keywords generate. Sometimes this is because the keyword is too generic, such as Hawaii or Florida. But if that's true how come the web directories don't get knocked off the PPC list?
Just as with the free listings, they often don't have even one home in the area for which they purchased the Keyword. That's not just dirty pool its misleading and - again - begins to destroy the value of the search to consumers.
You may have noticed a new feature on Google and a few other search engines that allow you to only search for businesses in a given area. The idea is that if you want to order a delivery pizza you don't want a list of pizza joints three states away. The idea is good but the execution is a mess.
Did you know that Google uses Yellow pages listings - of all crazy things - (and some other techniques) to try to determine what is local? That means if you aren't in the yellow pages (and most owners are not because they live far away) then their home may never show in Google Local. At the same time, Google is more than happy to post non-local Vacation Rental Directory PPC ads prominently on the local pages.
Again, the unique aspect of local merchants and rentals gets usurped by those companies sophisticated enough misuse the system.
The worst part is the fact that it is the guest who loses out on the chance to rent a unique, interesting and far more valuable home. I hope Google and others will get this kink worked out one day, but alas, technology has its limits. The way to find out if something is local is to get in the car and drive by the front door, something computers can't do and search engines can't afford.
TOO MANY MIDDLEMEN:
In the end, the story of misdirection, inaccurate free and PPC listings and the decline of search engine value to vacation rentals is really a problem of too many middlemen.
If search worked correctly, why should you have to advertise on a web directory in order to be found by a guest looking for a cool cabin, condo or home in your area?
What value does the directory serve when it has to bump local vendors out of the search engines in order to send them through their sites only to find the local guy they bumped. Seems like a catch-22 doesn't it?
And currently its getting worse and not better. Everytime you buy an ad on a directory that usurps your position in the search engines you give them more power to do it.
And what can you do about it? Probably very little. But I encourage you to send letters (not email) to the president of each search engine explaining the problem.
In the end, they are the ones who set the rules that are currently a disservice to their customers. We can't be the only industry losing out due to these new methods. I know those presidents want to make a profit for their business. Our problem may seem small. But the less accurate their service the sooner customers will find new and better ways of ferreting out great vacation rental homes.
Sometimes I am thankful at how lucky the rental business has been to have the internet come along and make business better or even possible. In general the changes to the web, search engines and PCs have been positive for our industry.
But the new trend in inaccurate free and paid listings is costing many owners and rental management companies in lost revenue. If something isn't done to make search engines more accurate they will continue to be less valuable. In the end we'll be out searching for new and better ways to advertise. It will happen.
As always, we seek your input. Please share your tips, techniques, compliments and complaints on this or any other subject by writing us at Director@VROA.orgDirector@VROA.org
HOME OF THE WEEK
These beautiful homes are located on Miami Beach down in Florida. They sure look nice in the pictures. (PremierVacationRentals.com)PremierVacationRentals.com
You do a terrific job with VORA, so I thought we could really benefit from a membership to your organization. Look forward to seeing you soon.
We're here to help. Always. I hope (and am sure) you will find your membership useful.
Author: William May – Volunteer, Vacation Rental Association
Blog #: 0063 – 06/03/05
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