Chapter 4

Technical SEO for Vacation Rental Websites

Chapters

According to Escapia, "The best SEO will help put your website at the top of the first page of search results. Why? Because search engines, like Google, display links to the pages it considers most relevant to the words someone typed in when searching."

In that case, you want to ensure that your website is coming up on the first page when your target audience is searching for vacation stay terms.

If you're not generating bookings online, there's a good chance that it's not because your rental properties are inferior to your competitors. More than likely, your competitors have just done a better job enhancing their technical SEO.

This chapter in our Vacation Rental SEO guide will cover all aspects of technical SEO for vacation rental managers (VRMs). The following are the key topics we will discuss:

  • What is technical SEO?
  • Why technical SEO is important
  • Why technical SEO flexibility depends on your website platform
  • How to improve technical SEO on vacation rental websites

What is Technical SEO?

Technical SEO covers any activities that enhance the code or server performance of your website. The objective is to make your site easier to crawl, index, and understand by crawlers.

Conversely, on-page SEO is the practice of enhancing everything a user sees while navigating through your site.

These are the practices most commonly referred to when discussing SEO.

Speak to a Technical SEO Today

Why Technical SEO Is Important

There are multiple areas to check to ensure your technical setup is clean and your website isn't lagging behind competitors. Assessing and correcting these issues is known as a technical audit.

Because audits can be daunting they are often not accomplished solely in-house. Many property managers offload the work to a marketing team and leverage a website developer to address the findings' complexities (we'll discuss this more in the following sections).

But that's why technical SEO is so important for your vacation rental website.

Technical SEO ensures that search engines can easily crawl and index your site.

In turn, it makes sure your content is efficiently delivered to your end-users to enhance their experience on your website.  The best vacation rental content can go undiscovered without clean technicals.

There are numerous guides, tips, and techniques that outline how to achieve a crawlable site on the internet.

While the objectives may be clear, these guides don't consider the constraints and workarounds born from your Property Management System and integrated CMS (Content Management System) or vacation rental website platform selection.

Speak to a Technical SEO Strategist Today

Why Technical SEO Flexibility Depends On Your Website Platform

Due to the growth of the vacation rental industry and the numerous investments flooding the market, there are a lot of choices when it comes to direct booking websites. And they are not at all equal by any means...

Managers need to understand that the website platform they choose can have direct and serious implications when it comes to their SEO scalability.

Here’s just a couple technical issues that existing companies have with their website platforms (we’ll cover this in more detail in the Best Vacation Rental Website Platforms chapter):

LiveRez - This is an all-in-one PMS and web-based (cloud-hosted) website platform.

  • Their default URL structure is less than ideal (which can be customized with some help from support)
Here's an example: /vacation-rental-home.asp?PageDataID=166095
  • As of this writing, you can’t handle your own redirects - you'll need help from support
  • There’s also no native blogging platform

Direct Software - This is a web-based (cloud-hosted) website platform.

  • Difficulty updating title tags, meta descriptions
  • As of this writing, platform can’t handle external or internal redirects
  • Can’t add canonical tags
  • Deleting pages from your own site is also problematic

HomHero - WordPress-based platform, hosted by HomHero, based on existing templates

  • By default, title tags and meta description tags aren’t even in the template code (as of this writing)
  • Checkout pages are hosted by HomHero and displayed via iFrame making analytics tracking more challenging.

There’s definitely not a perfect solution when it comes to direct booking websites. All platforms have their own unique pros and cons but it’s important to understand that the wrong decision can impact your long term growth trajectory.

This is why it’s crucial to demo a few website platform options and research available content management systems (CMS) before committing to a vacation rental platform that won’t scale with your business.

What Is A CMS?

A content management system is a software or web application that uses templated files to create, modify and manage content through user-friendly controls.

WordPress CMS Admin

When a property goes off the market, or becomes temporarily unavailable due to owner time, there is no need to rewrite a line of code.

With a CMS, updating the property can be as simple as checking a box or automatically changing a status upon payment. With a properly integrated booking engine it becomes even easier.

Choosing A CMS

This first step in building a property management website is deciding where your properties will live and how you’ll accept bookings.

Hard coding a site from scratch allows complete control over every aspect of your site. From font size to menu design to image placement and more, if you can dream it, you or your developer can build the site of your dreams.

But nowadays, with the emergence of user-friendly website builders and no-code solutions that’s just not realistic.

And then there’s another problem, however.

Every time you update your site, you or your developer must manually update your code or even worse, update a spreadsheet. This includes each time a property is rented, a customer cancels their stay, or the price drops for the off-season.

This practice is time-consuming and costly if you're paying a developer to maintain your site.

For this reason, a CMS is virtually mandatory for a vacation rental site.

A CMS may simplify many activities, but it does not guarantee clean technicals. When it comes to vacation properties there are major constraints to consider before choosing your content management system.

We cover this in detail in our Best Vacation Rental Website Platforms chapter.

Need Help Diagnosing Technical SEO Issues?

How To Improve Technical SEO On Vacation Rental Websites

The vacation rental industry is a highly competitive, fast-evolving, rapidly growing industry.  A strong SEO campaign is necessary to stand out from the crowd and attract bookings.

Before strategic keyword selection or building a local-attractions blog, ensuring your website and subsequent properties are discovered starts with a technically clean website.

We'll cover these SEO tips more in our detailed guides but for now let's examine a few tips for quickly checking or improving the technical SEO score of your short-term rental website.

Be Sure Your Site Is Indexed in the Search Engines

Do A Quick Check Of Your Robots.Txt File

Is it blocking any important sections or pages of your website? If so, you should get that fixed right away.

It’s rare but we’ve seen companies accidentally block their entire website from the search engines and then wonder why they aren’t getting any traffic.

Here’s how you do that:

  1. Open your browser
  2. Visit your homepage
  3. Add the following to the end of your site address: /robots.txt

That will reveal your robots.txt file. It should look like this:

robots.txt file example

The contents should contain references like these:

User-agent: *

Allow: /


Sitemap: https://www.yourvacationrentalwebsite.com/sitemap.xml

There can still be other entries that will vary by platform but these are the most common entries.

Ensure Your Site Is Indexed

Head over to Google.com and enter the site command (site: ) followed by your domain into the search box.

This will show you all of the pages the search engine has indexed from your site.

Google Site Command

So long as the search results don't come up empty, then you should be good here.

However, you can gain a lot of additional insight from viewing the search results in this way.

  • You can see how Google has indexed your site
  • You can review how your title tags and meta descriptions look
  • You can catch any weird pages that shouldn't be indexed but somehow got indexed by mistake

Check The Search Engines For Property Pages

It will be extra difficult to improve your direct bookings if your property pages aren't indexed in the search engines.

Some vacation rental website platforms load your rental properties via JavaScript libraries (some are search engine-friendly and some aren't) which can cause issues with search engine indexing if not configured properly.

Here's how to check that your property pages are indexed:

  1. Find your property page URL and copy it
  2. Go to Google and enter the full URL into the search box
  3. Look for the property page in the results
  4. Open the indexed page URL to be sure it's the same property
Check google for indexed property pages

Optimize Your Property Images

Since images are super important in the travel and property management industry, it's imperative to be sure you’re serving the nicest looking images as well as the most optimized images as possible.

Some of this goes back to the platform you’ve chosen so be sure to check with your web developer on how you can optimize your vacation rental property images.

There’s a lot that goes into optimizing your page speed and image quality for the web so we’re just touching on a few high level tips here.

Run A Speed Test To Find Images With Large File Sizes

Use a tool like GTMetrix to run a quick scan of your site.

This tool will give you way more information than you need but look for Avoid Enormous Network Payload or Properly Size Images.

These Streamline gallery images are way too big and should be compressed or resized.

Oversized Streamline Images
Compress Your Images

You can use a tool like Optimizilla to quickly compress your images and download them. You’re shooting for a good visual quality but also trying to stay under 100 kb in file size for large images and under 50 kb for smaller images.

If you’re on WordPress, there’s several ways to do this automatically.

Check for Oversized Images

If your images are oversized, which tend to slow down page load speeds or cause your images’ file sizes to be too large, you can resize them using an image editor or use a tool like Cloudinary’s image analysis tool.

Cloudinary Image Tool

This tool will scan the images on your site and return their size, format, fit, compression and more.

Then the tool will give you recommendations on how to improve the image quality, compress it, or change the format entirely.

Cloudinary Analysis - Whitefishescapes

They even resize it for you and let you download an optimized version ready to upload to your site.

In the example below, they've identified an image that is 1.4 MB on the homepage (highlighted in red).

That's way above the recommended size for that size image.

The tool has also compressed the image (arguably still not small enough) and given us a link to download it (highlighted in green). Pretty cool!

Cloudinary Compression

Have Your Website Audited for Technical SEO Issues

One of the most important things you can do to keep your website functioning well is to have a technical audit done by an SEO professional. They’ll uncover areas of opportunity for your website to perform better which will improve your rankings and ultimately increase your bookings.

Audits will cover everything from server level issues, CDN usage, scripting, page speed issues, canonical tag usage, duplicate and thin content, and more.

Not required, but it’s nice to have a developer available to review the audit with the SEO Strategist in order to answer any questions or provide any alternative options to allow for implementation of the recommendations.

Audits aren’t useful if the findings are never implemented on the site. Adding some additional budget to have a developer implement the changes will be necessary to get your ROI from the audit.

Hire SEO Experts to Help Fix Technical Issues

A lot of these technical fixes will require you to spend time creating tickets with your PMS provider or speaking with developers to get these implemented correctly.

If you’d rather spend the time working on other aspects of your business you can always reach out to us and we can help get you started with an SEO audit.

Speak to a Technical SEO Strategist Today

Most Common Technical Checks for Vacation Rental Websites

Whenever an SEO performs an SEO audit their main goal is to uncover any technical issues that may be preventing search engines from properly crawling, indexing, and ranking a vacation rental website.

Being extremely detail-oriented while trying to optimize all facets of a website is at the core of search engine optimization and is literally in the definition of optimization.

Definition of optimization:

an act, process, or methodology of making something (such as a design, system, or decision) as fully perfect, functional, or effective as possible specifically

That being said, when an audit is underway, SEOs tend to look at hundreds of technical checkpoints to ensure that everything has been reviewed and that your website is reaching its full potential.

Here are the most common technical checks and how they apply to vacation rental websites (we'll review in the following sections):

  • Site structure
  • Site navigation
  • URL structures
  • Duplicate content
  • Cross-domain duplication
  • Thin content
  • Location-specific content
  • HTML site map
  • Site speed
  • JavaScript & dynamic rendering
  • XML sitemap
  • Redirect handling
  • Error templates & error handling
  • Robots.txt file
  • No-index tags
  • Canonical tags
  • Orphan pages
  • Site speed
  • JavaScript & dynamic rendering
  • Pagination handling

 

We've grouped most of these items into two main categories: frontend and code-level.

Frontend Technical Checks: These items appear on the frontend of the website and are generally things your visitors could interact with.

Code-level Technical Checks: These items happen behind the scenes at the server level, are only uncovered through code reviews or with SEO-specific tools. While they may not be visible to your visitors they do affect your SEO.

Speak to a Technical SEO Strategist Today

Frontend Technical SEO Checks

Site Structure

What is site structure?

Site structure refers to the way your site’s architecture has been built and how the content within it has been grouped together.

Why is it important?

Many search engines can interpret the relationship between pages and folder hierarchy.

For example, the site architecture of VacationRentals.com/miami/south-beach lets a search engine know any property on the South Beach page is a Miami vacation rental.

By structuring your site correctly, search engines can easily read and serve your pages to your target audience.

Site Navigation

What is site navigation?

Site navigation is the clickable menu items in the navigation (usually at the top of the page).

Site navigation

Why is it important?

SEO best practices recommend that a website’s global navigation include its most important pages.

This navigation structure and its links should contain HTML-based anchors to enable search engines to crawl and index each page easily.

PRO TIP

Your header, footer, and side menus exist on every page across your website.

Therefore, including relevant, keyword-rich anchor text within the navigation elements will also increase keyword relevancy within search engines.

Navigation Elements

Keywords in navigation

When considering site navigation, many developers and UX designers focus solely on the header menu.

Remember, while less visible to users, your site footer offers additional real estate to highlight your most important pages.

Footer

Pages in footer navigation

URL Structures & Parameters

What are URL structures & parameters?

URL structures refer to the way your property page, category page, or blog post URLs are constructed.

Some PMS platforms with integrated websites utilize property IDs and insert them into the URLs.

Those are generally referred to as URL parameters.

Why is it important?

Understanding how to handle URL structures and parameters can make a big difference in your site’s ability to rank well in the search engines.

Search engines recommend that URL structures be as simple as possible to simplify the crawling process. Some important factors to consider are:

  • Ensure URLs are as user-friendly & as readable as possible
  • Include relevant keywords to increase search engine visibility & user engagement
  • Try to keep URLs static. Avoid overly dynamic URL strings
  • Avoid session IDs in URLs; use cookies instead

Duplicate Content

What is duplicate content?

Duplicate content refers to having identical web page content accessible through different URLs.

Duplicate content comes in a few forms. The most common type of duplicate content is content that resides on your website in multiple places.

Why is it important?

Duplicate content can cause lots of problems for search engines. And we always want to be friendly to the search engines and make it as easy as possible for them to crawl our websites. Here are a couple of issues:

  • Search engines have a hard time determining which version of the content to index.
  • The consolidation of your link metrics and authority can be diluted if websites are linking to multiple versions of the same page.

Near Duplicates

Other duplicate content forms can be found in "near duplicates", on other websites or identical elements like repeated title tags or meta descriptions.

Why is it important?

When it comes to vacation rental properties, near-duplicate content is a common SEO trap to fall into with serious repercussions.

Maybe you host four ocean-side properties on Miami Beach.

  • Each property should have a unique title tag and meta description. Suppose each property has the same title tag of Miami Beach Side Condo for Rent. In that case, Google specifically will pick only one property to display to users. Use specific elements of your rentals to define title tags and meta descriptions in search.
  • Copying and pasting the same content or using a repeat template can trigger a duplicate content response from Google. Suppose each property is located side by side in the same neighborhood, with the same beach access and the same nearby attractions. Even with different property images to share, include at minimum a short paragraph highlighting what makes each property unique.
  • Suppose you list your properties on Airbnb and your personal vacation rental website. Try to use different descriptions across sites to ensure your website's listing is seen as the prominent page instead of the duplicate.

Cross-Domain Duplication

What is it?

Cross-domain duplication of content is a problem when multiple websites in one’s portfolio contain near or exact duplicate content.

Why is it important?

Duplication of efforts across multiple domains can cause issues with SEO and adds additional stress to staff (especially writers). Writing unique content for properties is hard enough already. Now, add the same property on multiple websites.

You have yourself a creative writing problem and an SEO problem.

This is even worse if you have condos or apartments that all have the same features and amenities.

In these situations, try to focus your optimization efforts on your website listing.

  • Place your keywords in your property title, H1 heading, and throughout your property description
  • Optimize your image alt text
  • and be sure your description is not only enticing but using keywords as well

 

For 3rd party websites, try to de-optimize your listings.

Instead of using long-tail location-specific keywords, use descriptive natural language to promote your rental.

Rely on cultivating reviews and competitive pricing to stand out within the 3rd party site instead of ranking on Google.

Thin Content

What is thin content?

Thin content web pages contain very little valuable content.

Pages that are heavy on imagery and no text, accidental pages created by a developer, and default CMS pages are considered thin content.

One of the common issues found on vacation rental sites is single-page reviews created from a custom post type used on other pages. Remove these pages of low value.

Why is it important?

When pages feature more template than content, search engines tend to find them less valuable, crawl them less often, and feature them less in search engine result pages.

Ensure that each indexed web page provides value to your site visitors and has relevant text to support your offerings.

Need Help Diagnosing Technical SEO Issues?

Code-Level Technical SEO Checks

Robots.txt File

What is the robots.txt file?

A robots.txt file is a file webmasters create to instruct robots how to crawl and index their websites.

It can also be used to indicate to search engines where your XML sitemap lives on the server (in case it's located in a non-standard directory).

Your robots.txt file should:

  • Live in the website's top directory folder
  • Follow standard robots.txt format
  • Disallow any content behind a login or paywall
  • Closing the document with a link to your sitemap

Why is it important?

The robots.txt file is essential because it can help you solve some other technical SEO problems like pagination or the prevention of crawlers accessing certain sensitive areas of the site.

For vacation rental websites:

  • properties may be listed in multiple directories
  • URLs may use parameters for internal search filtering
  • blog posts may be tagged to various geographies

 

To prevent duplicate content, many webmasters use the robots.txt file to block these duplicated and thin pages. Be cautious in doing so.

Suppose your site is not organized correctly or lacks a clear URL structure. In that case, you can block entire directories hosting original listings and other valuable content.

Use discernment in using your robots.txt file. No Index tags and canonical tags are less severe ways to address duplicated or low-value content.

XML Sitemap

What is an XML sitemap?

An XML sitemap is used by search engines to find content on a website to crawl and index.

XML sitemaps should follow these best practices:

  • Utilize proper encoding (UTF-8)
  • Include the home page
  • Ensure the sitemap only includes URLs that should be indexed
  • All URLs included should be free from errors and redirects
  • For very large sites, utilize a sitemap index file

Why is it important?

Your XML sitemap is your direct channel to communicate with Google which pages on your site are most important.

If your robots.txt is configured correctly, your XML sitemap is often the gateway and map for a crawler to understand your site.

For large and small sites alike, creating separate sitemaps lets you group your webpages into categories crawlers can quickly understand.

For example, all of your rental properties may live in one sitemap, while all of your blog content may live in another. For sites with an abundance of properties, sitemaps built by location can be of great assistance in helping crawlers understand your domain.

For each search engine, make sure you submit sitemaps to ensure efficient indexing.

If using multiple sitemaps, make sure each is listed at the bottom of your robots.txt in top-down order of hierarchy.

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