23 Experts Weigh In On The Biggest Vacation Rental Website Design Mistakes

vacation rental website design

More and more vacation rental owners and Airbnb hosts like you want to build their own website, as a way to reclaim some freedom from the big listing sites. But it is not always easy to create a great website for your property. There are a lot mistakes that you could be making.

So, our marketing manager Baron has contacted 23 experts and asked them this simple question: “What is the biggest vacation rental website design that you see ALL TIME?“.

1 – Thinking about features of your home rather than the benefits to the guest.

Andrew McConnell – Rented.com

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  • Thinking about features of your home rather than the benefits to the guest.
  • Just putting a laundry list of different amenities is incredibly impersonal. People love vacation rentals because of the unparalleled vacation experience they have when staying in them. Play up what they are able to enjoy as a result of the amenities, not just that they exist.
  • Can you watch unforgettable sunrises/sunsets from your deck off the back of the house?
  • Can you have memorable multi-generational meals at your oversized kitchen table?
  • Can you cook Le Cordon Bleu quality dinners in your chef’s kitchen?
  • Will you wake up refreshed every morning after a night on your Temper-Pedic beds?
  • Think about what the guest cares about, not what you you think is important.

2 – The biggest VR website design mistake I see is neglecting to share regional expertise.

Matt Landau – VacationRentalMarketingBlog.com

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The biggest VR website design mistake I see is neglecting to share regional expertise. One of the top reasons guests book vacation rentals (as opposed to hotels) is to “live like a local.” And as hosts, we are like human libraries of visitor information: we know where to eat, what tourist traps to avoid, the best time and place to see the sunset…etc.

So it’s always surprising to me, how few hosts are willing to step up and share that valuable advice on their website, thus giving their vacation rental a leg up on competition. Whether it’s a blog, a free ebook, or even just a simple PDF checklist… helping is more powerful than selling in the vacation rental space.

If you want to get started, sit down and brainstorm your 20 most frequently asked area questions. Then write out the answers in long-form, as if each is a mini-essay, and give them away free of charge.

3 – The biggest mistakes that I see are not so much with design but with concept and strategy.

Alan Egan – BookingsPlus4g.com

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The biggest mistakes that I see are not so much with design but with concept and strategy. Technology and guest expectations have moved on, most VR sites haven’t. Web smart guests want so much more than photos of a property and a list of amenities. They want, and expect, a pre vacation experience (what to see and do, host recommendations, itinerary planning) as well as the vacation itself.  A VR website should help provide both.

Currently most VR websites are just static digital business cards and this format doesn’t interest guests or Google. Owners need to switch to a digital scrapbook approach, with a destination bias. By adding bite size, informative, snippets to your scrapbook on a regular basis you instantly change from a vacation rental website to vacation website and that’s a huge difference.

Your design needs content but it’s more important to design a content strategy.

You can see a good example of what’s possible here http://cotswoldfamilyholidays.com/our-cotswolds-guide/

For more information on building VR websites see http://bookingsplus4g.com/course/wordpress-for-vacation-rental-owners-2/

4 – Horribly small (and bad) photos.

Steve Sasman – VROwnersGuide.com

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Horribly small (and bad) photos. Why has AirBnB taken off? Because they get web design better than any other VR company. Large, beautiful images (which they will even pay for) are what sell a property.

After those initial images capture your interest, they then employ SIMPLE design that uses the least amount of clicks to get you to reserve that property. While a listing site is somewhat different than a single VR website, owners would be smart to copy AirBnB’s design and usability cues.

5 – A cluttered interface is distracting.

Cleopatra Cutler – Dwellable.com (Aquired by HomeAway)

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There is a temptation to grab the eye with interstitial chat windows, banner ads, and animated, scrolling messages. I’m pained to recall one site with sandals that followed the cursor a la 2002. Property managers may be trying to help their users, but a cluttered interface is distracting. Stick to clean design: clear, organized rental information and one call to action.

6 – The most common mistake I see is the omission of an ‘About Us’ page.

Damian Sheridan – NeedMoreRentals.com

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Whilst there are many crucial elements often missed out on a vacation rental website (e.g. professional photos, guest testimonials, local highlights, USPS or a distinct call to action), the most common mistake I see is the omission of an ‘About Us’ page.

So many sites I review have a ‘Contact Us’ page with a simple submission form. That’s it! No mention of the host, email address or even phone number.

Do you really want to appear completely anonymous?

Give them some insight about you and how you take care of your guest. All that’s required is a hundred words or so to describe what brought you to the area, why you love it and what makes you special as a host. If you’re happy to add a photo it can really top off the personal touch.

Without an ‘About Us’ page are you actually offering anything significantly different to a listing elsewhere?

7 – Build it and they will come, doesn’t work anymore!

Richard Vaughton – DiscoveryHolidayHomes.com

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Sites fall into a few categories and are dependent on the owner or managers approach, destination and preferred booking method. No one site suits all and are subjective.

There are many design recommendations to cover these aspects and draw interest, but as important as the relevance, responsiveness and design are how
the public are constantly influenced by the large marketplaces, the news and friends and family. This had built expectations.

Apart from the large photos (with people in these days), full data and the correct positioning of calls to action, there are underlying messages that need to be seen and be supported in real time. Once you have captured their attention, you need to convert and this needs to allay the worries and fears, so add you own subliminal messages and ensure the tech is solid and supports this. A few pointers:

  • Booking Direct messages and the benefits of doing this.
  • Secure payments and why(ensure the process looks the business and really is secure). There is a huge dropoff on payment pages.
  • Within all this add a personal touch on the “about us” or “meet the owner” page or icon. It reinforces the human connection and money process.
  • One trick that the marketplaces use is to inform guests that paying by credit card is secure. That’s generally true, even if you pay an owner direct. It is worth remembering this.
  • Add an easy to see phone number, again it re-inforces the warmth and secure aspects of dealing with you and a million years of human interaction.
  • A real time payment method is becoming more important in a more cashless and inspected society. Make sure you have one, it gives credibility.

Its about building trust using your natural human talents and familiar technology.

Technically the other elements we notice are the lack of correct Title Tags and use of any stats packages. Build it and they will come, doesn’t work anymore!

Use every tool in the armory.

8 – I think the biggest mistake is not having one!

Beth Carson – VRFusion.com

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I’m happy to see more vacation rental owners treat their vacation rental as a business and not a side hustle. A website, your real estate on the web, is the best way to do that.

Not having one- I think the biggest mistake is not having one, and I feel that that’s the majority of owners. Using a service like WebChalet makes it easy.

Blog- Next, especially if your rental is somewhat off the beaten path, you can rise in the search engine ranks if you blog. Write about the area– Top 11 Restaurants, Hidden Beaches, Best Hikes, whatever. Be sure to use words and phrases that visitors to the area would be looking for. Festivals and events make great things to write about. See if you can come up with a list of 50- that’s 1 blog post per week. You can do this!

Video- Then, use video, and use it liberally. Make sure to fill out all of the tag and description areas on YouTube, as it’s the second largest search engine in the world. While Google can “read” a page, YouTube can’t understand a video, so it relies on you to tell it what the video is about.

You can get access step by step how-to videos with my new book, Money Making Vacation Rentals- Expanded Edition- With Online Resources.

9 – Bad use of color and contrast.

Jeffrey Messud – Xotelia.com

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It’s fun to keep up with fashion, but it’s more important to stick with core design principles.
Bad use of color and contrast. It’s impossible to give instant advice to this issue. If you can’t fully rely on your knowledge of color and contrast, there are plenty of online tools that will help you choose the optimal match.
If you are not sure, just go for a design that is “light”.

10 – Specifically, failing to include a personal bio.

Andy McNulty – GuestHook.com

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With the growth in the industry, I’ve seen an increasing number of professional-looking websites. However, there’s tendency to be a little too polished, forgetting that the personal approach of VRs is still one of the major advantages over other forms of accommodation.

Specifically, failing to include a personal bio – the “About Us” page. It’s not so much a design mistake as a missed opportunity to connect with your potential guests.

We all know the saying “People do business with people.” This is never truer than in the vacation rental world. Tell the story of you and your VR, convey a sense of your style/approach, explain the little touches that set you apart from the crowd.

If “telling your story” isn’t you, that’s fine, the personal bio doesn’t have to be warm and fuzzy. Just keep it genuine. Ask yourself “What do I do that is different from the next VR?” Make sure your guests will remember you over the 10 other options they have!

11 – Villa rental website that still have small, low-quality photos on their websites.

Mads Rode – Vilondo.com

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One thing that keeps surprising me is how many villa rental website that still have small, low-quality photos on their websites. In my opinion images are the single most important element on a villa rental site. You want your product to present itself as well as possible and good looking photos are a key to that.

Some sites take that too far though. They have images of extremely high quality, without any kind of optimization, making their pages load slowly. You obviously need to balance photo quality against performance and make sure that your photos are optimized for mobile devices as well.

Mads Rode – Co founder of Vilondo Villas in Bali

12 – Many of the premium properties fail to really invest into professional user interface design.

Matt Heady – Very.us

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Many of the premium properties fail to really invest into professional user interface design, and instead try cutting corners with pre-packaged website templates to save on cost.

Instead, what properties and owners/hosts should ask themselves is how each property can be served up with a custom design that separates themselves from their competition.

To summarize, it’s critical that properties with upscale details are reflected into the investment made towards online display branding.

13 – Messy Content and lack of key information.

Antonio Bortolotti – VacationRentalWorldSummit.com

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  • Poor Photography
  • Messy Content
  • Lack of Key Information
  • No Proactive Thinking (in making it super easy on lookers to take action)
  • Poor Copy
  • Difficult Navigation
  • Maximized Use Of “Real Estate” (Online Space) Available.

And a few more that I’ll be personally covering on my session on Web Design at the Vacation Rental World Summit this year.

14 – Only focusing on the property and not selling the experience.

Louise Brace – Rentaltonic.com

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Certainly a big mistake made by many owners and agents: Only focusing on the property and not selling the experience, the location, gastronomy, culture and activities. All the things travellers search for before they look for accommodation.

This is what sets the savvy owners apart, who capture travellers at the dreaming or planning stage. Before they’ve considered the booking stage.

Few people dream a holiday rental, but they do dream the experience and that’s what owners have to sell.

15 – The first photo displayed is of a generically designed room.

Mercedes Brennan – 1ChicRetreat.com

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The biggest mistake I see – all too often – is that the first photo displayed is of a generically designed room. No matter how spiffy a website is, people are not going to book a vacation rental if the rooms are mediocre. If you’re on a budget, spend some time and money on making one room extraordinary and display it on the first photo people see. Eye catching rooms leave indelible memories and are more likely to result in a booking. 

As time goes by, other rooms can be decorated, resulting in even more bookings and a better ROI.

16 – One word: Photography.

Alanna Schroeder – TheDistinguishedGuest.com

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“One word: Photography. You’re making a design blunder if you don’t include big, bold, beautiful pictures of the place where your rental is located. Set yourself apart from your competition and sell the destination while selling your vacation rental home. Not a photographer? Limited budget? Consider stock photography.”

17 – Being mobile-friendly is no longer a choice for vacation rental owners.

Naveen Sharma – Lodgify.com

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I often come across website designs that aren’t mobile-friendly yet. When trying to click on a specific link my finger always manages to press the link below. When tapping on my screen to zoom in, it zooms in about 500%. When pinching to zoom out it goes back to how it was…aargh! It’s partly me, it’s partly the website, but it’s always a frustrating experience.

I share that frustration with a growing number of mobile users who in the worst case will decide not to book the vacation rental for that reason. According to a report from Criteo, mobile travel bookings—including airfare, hotels, and, yes, vacation rentals—grew by a whopping 20 percent in 2014. Therefore as a vacation rental owner, optimizing your website for mobile devices is more important than ever for growing your business.

Mobile friendliness got even more critical for owners since Google recently announced that it was modifying its mobile search algorithm to only display listings that could easily be viewed on mobile devices. The bottom line: Being mobile-friendly is no longer a choice for vacation rental owners. As of this year, it’s an absolute must. Fortunately there are affordable solutions available these days, such as Lodgify, that offer mobile friendly and responsive vacation rental website templates.

18 – Personality. Authenticity. Character.

Amy Blomquist – WhereWaterfalls.com

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Personality. Authenticity. Character. That’s what I’m attracted to. I want to see/feel more of that.

  • Whom am I renting too?
  • What kind of experiences will I have there?
  • What makes this place special?

I understand that’s not really “design” per say but, with images and your own voice you can make it so. THAT is what I don’t often see in vacation rental websites. Just be you.

19 – Not making it a bookable, responsive site.

Eric Mason – RateClarity.com

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Not making it a bookable, responsive site. Also, not providing an easily found phone number to reach the reservation staff if needed.

20 – Panoramic photos that are more appealing for potential guests.

Gregoire Peilleron – KeyWeek.com

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I think it’s the display size of photos. Most of the time you see very tiny square instead of full size panoramic photos that are more appealing for potential guests…

Photos are the main selling tool for your properties!

21 – Not being mindful to bridge the trust and credibility gap between travelers and vacation rentals.

Jonathan Fabio – FutureStay.com

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The biggest mistake I see in vacation rental website design is not being mindful of the biggest challenge facing the industry as a whole – bridging the trust and credibility gap between travelers and vacation rentals.

To address trust, many website designs miss the opportunity to develop content that positions the owner/manager as a local expert or even a real person for that matter. Also, integrating reviews (with owner response), active social media (with genuine content), blogs, destination content, etc. all go a long way in building brand credibility which fosters traveler confidence and a confirmed booking.

Bridge the trust & credibility gap with travelers.

22 – Using photos that have not been optimized for website display will slowly kill your website.

Tyann Marcink – TyannMarcink.com

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Using large photos are a necessity with today’s website designs, but using photos that have not been optimized for website display will slowly kill your website.

Today’s cameras produce extremely large photo files that are wonderful for large print sizes but are overkill for display on websites. Optimize all of your images and photos for a computer or mobile device screen to increase your website’s load time and decrease your viewer’s wait time.

23 – Your website is the first impression you give to travelers, make sure to start great!

Sébastien Grosjean – BookingSync.com

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  • Missing the big picture
    Many websites owners forget to mention the obvious. What is their business about (Vacation Rental), where (which country and city), what make them standout.
    In the first seconds of your visitors attention it needs to be really clear what you do.
  • Poor ergonomics
    To often the website ergonomics is really poor. Hard to navigate due to poor navigation, no clear call to action (“Book Now”, “More Details” about Property X, …), colors with low contrast or simply to much of them.
  • Outdated
    A website is made to be always updated with fresh content. This starts with your availability calendar, rates, … if this information is not live, you are doing it wrong.
    Have a updated design, following trends is also really important to keep your brand authority.

Your website is the first impression you give to travelers, make sure to start great!

Quite a few of these vacation rental experts agree that your site should have amazing looking photos, so make sure to choose a website design that lets you display large panoramic photos. Other experts insist on making sure that you include a great bio and on your site having a very simple navigation (especially on mobile phones).

What about you?
Feel free to add in the comments section below your tip on how to avoid making horrible vacation rental website design mistakes.