Chapter 6

Best Vacation Rental Website Platforms

Chapters

Choosing a suitable Property Management System (PMS) to manage all of your properties, your business, your bookings, cleaning management and more, is one of the most important decisions you’ll make when you get started in the vacation rental industry.

You may choose to change your PMS at some point but it’s such a big endeavor that you probably won’t do it very often. This PMS selection process has been covered extensively on other blogs in the vacation rental industry so we’re just focusing on the website portion.

The next most important choice is what kind of website platform you choose because it will affect the future trajectory of your business and how much sustainable organic traffic and bookings you can get from search engines.

In this chapter you will learn about the importance of choosing the right website platform for your rental business. Here are some of the highlights:

  • What is the best vacation rental website platform for SEO?
  • The importance of a direct booking website
  • Choosing a vacation rental website platform
  • What’s the difference between a PMS and a CMS?
  • Types of vacation rental website platforms

What is the Best Vacation Rental Website Platform for SEO?

Based on our experience building and optimizing vacation rental websites the best platform for SEO is one that provides the most features, stability, scalability, and functionality.

Since SEO requires you to be nimble and be able to change course depending on the current trends or needs of the business owner, you need a platform that can do the same.

From an SEO-perspective, the best platform is a combination of custom-built WordPress websites with an API-integrated booking engine.

This allows you to have:

  • a best-in-class CMS
  • a seamless booking experience
  • and the ability to integrate with the PMS of your choosing

 

Continue reading to learn more about how we came to this conclusion and why it’s important to understand your options.

Speak to a Website Specialist Today

Attention Please!

Before we proceed let’s be clear about a couple of things this guide is NOT...

Not a guide for property management systems

The PMS you’re already using or considering, will likely affect which website platform you choose based on your specific needs but we won't get into that here. We don't cover any of the specific features that are necessary for your PMS.

Not a guide for domain name selection

We're assuming that if you're reading this, you already have a domain name picked out or have a website.

We won't cover the intricacies of picking out a domain name for your vacation rental website in this guide (though they are important).

Not a guide containing only website builders

We'll cover many options but we’re focusing on the most SEO-friendly website options.

There’s just too many variables for this guide to help you decide which website builder to use such as:

  • Different PMS needs for property managers (needs a mobile app,
  • Different financials
  • The number of properties you manager
  • The percentage of direct bookings your site gets

However, choosing the correct website platform for your vacation rental business is often an afterthought as most PMs don’t have the time to weigh every available option in this very fragmented and diverse market.

Not a comparison of all vacation rental website options

We’re only going to highlight some of the most popular companies as examples to help explain their classification and the pros and cons of that class of website.

Not an endorsement or review

What we’re sharing is an unbiased view of the website options from other companies in the industry that are available to property managers.

Ok ground rules are set, let’s go!

Speak to a Website Specialist Today

What is the Importance of a Direct Booking Website?

More than ever before, vacation rental websites need to have direct booking capabilities. There are several key reasons for this.

First and foremost, when clients book directly on your website, you get to keep more of the profits; you won’t have to split any of your earnings with a third-party booking agent.

Second, you won’t be subject to other booking services’ cancellation policies and regulations.

During the COVID-19 pandemic, many vacation rental companies found out the hard way that they had no control over cancellations coming from clients who made their reservations via Vrbo, Airbnb or another OTA.

A custom direct booking website also allows you to control all of your properties’ SEO.

You won’t have to worry about duplicate property pages on other websites because you can create unique versions for your own webpage.

Furthermore, you can update on-page SEO and tailor your technical SEO strategies to your site as the need arises. In other words, you won’t have to rely on someone else’s website being Google-friendly — you control everything.

Property Manager Website Limitations

The challenge for vacation rental property managers is that the property management system you use affects — and sometimes limits, your ability to improve your site’s search engine visibility.

If you’re on the wrong system, some of the factors that are important to rankings and difficult to change are things like:

  • user experience
  • mobile-friendliness
  • and page speed (to an extent)

 

If you’ve chosen an integrated website builder, your website is likely limited to only basic content updates.

In other words, the website template you are using, the web hosting and your web server will limit your ability to improve your overall site experience.

Because many of your website visitors will come from search engines, it’s absolutely crucial to understand your options when it comes to choosing a property management system (PMS) and website platform.

Speak to a Website Specialist Today

Choosing a Vacation Rental Website Platform

Choosing the best platform to build your property management business on is very important.

Imagine building a new home on a less than ideal foundation.

To your surprise the ground beneath the foundation shifts three years after completing the home causing massive cracks in the floor of your new home.

Home exterior on a sunny day

Had the proper research on the land been completed prior to starting work, it would have been identified and wouldn’t be as expensive to fix.

Choosing the correct website platform helps build a solid SEO foundation.

You don't want to put a lot of effort into your website and PMS only to find out you’ve maxed out your SEO scalability with your website builder or later need to switch to a new PMS.

You’ll want to know what pitfalls to look out for when reviewing the types of platforms below. But first let’s cover a few of the features and capabilities that we’d recommend be included in your selection.

SEO Considerations

If you’re reading this guide, then we can assume you have at least some idea of what vacation rental SEO is, but it’s worth covering the basics that are necessary for a good platform.

Here are some of the things that factor into SEO:

  • Title tags & meta descriptions – the title and summary of your page that is visible in Google search results. Are you able to customize these elements?
  • URL structures – ideally, a short page URL with relevant keywords included. Are the URLs free of numbers or pre-set subfolders or directories?
  • Image alt text – The description of an image on your site if the image fails to load. Can you add these to all images including property galleries?
  • Page load speed & mobile friendliness – Website factors that determine whether the user experience on your vacation rental site is positive or negative. Can affect conversion rates and Google rankings.
  • Structured data – aka schema markup. This code makes it easier for search engines to understand the content on your site and the type of business you run.
  • Other technical functionality - Can you add canonical tags? Can you change the pagination on a page of properties, if needed? Can you edit your sitemap file?

 

The website platform that is best for SEO needs to be able to address all these items and more. If you choose a platform without strong SEO you’re just wasting time and money.

Seamless Booking Experience

This is one of the most important features when it comes to how your visitors interact with the checkout portion of your website. This can be the determining factor between your guest booking with you or abandoning checkout and going to an OTA to book (which means you retain less profit) or booking with a competitor (which means you retain no profit).

Characteristics of an optimized booking experience:

  • SEO-friendly URLs (either canonicalized or blocked from crawlers)
  • No distractions during checkout
  • Entire booking process completed on your website
  • No hidden URL changes (subdomains or iFrames)
  • There aren’t any additional windows or tabs that open during the process
  • Mobile-friendly experience
  • Visible chat or phone numbers in case your guests get stuck during checkout

Review System

The importance of reviews on your rental website stretch beyond just their booking conversion value. They also provide unique content on your property pages or homepage that help you rank better.

Does your website support online reviews that can be displayed on the frontend of the site or just on a single page with all reviews?

Reviews on Vacation Rental Website

Other questions:

  • Can you display them on the category detail pages?
  • Can you enter them manually and manage them if needed?
  • Can the system automatically send out emails requesting reviews after a predetermined length of time post-stay?

Custom Landing Pages

If you’re running a marketing campaign that requires a custom landing page, can you quickly create one, add it to the navigation, and get it launched the same day?

Or do you have to wait for the support team to create it for you?

Having that flexibility and ability to create pages on the fly without hindrances is key to capitalizing on a trend or opportunity.

Landing Page Example

Plugin Support & Flexibility

Plugins can extend the functionality of your website on specific platforms.

They provide functionality that would otherwise have to be custom built or not available at all depending on what website builder you’re using.

Plugins for website

Beware, that some plugins can be a security risk so it’s best to have a protocol or process for adding them to your site.

Mobile Friendliness

Most site builds these days are mobile-friendly but there’s different degrees of friendliness. Some sites might be mobile responsive but don’t pass the mobile speed tests or the core web vital tests for great SEO.

Or they may be mobile responsive on the homepage, property pages and info pages but as soon as you start checkout you're faced with non-mobile friendly experience.

mobile friendly websites
Vacation Rental Website Banner

7 Steps to an Irresistable Vacation Rental Website

Speak to a Website Specialist Today

What is the Difference Between a PMS and a CMS?

To ensure we’re all on the same page when going through the following website platform options let’s make sure we understand some of the acronyms and terms we’ll be using:

What is a PMS in the Vacation Rental Industry?

Property Management System (PMS) software is a software application used to manage the operations of your accommodation business. This is generally where you handle your scheduling, availability, and channel management, among other things.

What is a CMS?

A CMS, or Content Management System, is a term used to describe the management of online content on your website without the need for technical skills. It helps businesses organize content, post content, archive content, and distribute web content.

What is a Booking Engine?

A booking engine, popularized by the hotel industry, is a software application designed to allow businesses to capture direct bookings on their website. It usually allows the integration between your website and your PMS to create a seamless booking and reservation experience for your guests.

Speak to a Website Specialist Today

Types of Vacation Rental Website Platforms

Choosing the right vacation rental website platform can be a daunting task that requires some technical understanding of what it is you’re signing up for and what SEO issues you may face in the future.

Today there are many (even compared to a few years ago) website options available to property managers, and the options keep expanding, that it can make it difficult to compare your options.

In the following sections, we’ll give you some details on what makes each platform different and provide you with a simple pros and cons list for each to indicate which is best for SEO.

Here are your big hitters for options and implementations of short-term rental websites:

 

We’ll cover each one below in the following sections.

Speak to a Website Specialist Today

Cloud-hosted, SaaS Websites

What is a Cloud-hosted Website?

These are hosted by your software provider and offer very little customization as the websites they offer are generally hosted on a single software platform that is shared among several other rental companies.

You get a version specific to your rental business but the website software itself is largely the same software that everyone is using so custom changes are rare to come by.

These are usually your all-in-one vacation rental software solutions that also include a website. These platforms are great for getting everything your business needs but the website is usually one of the software company's last concerns.

SEO Friendliness

These platforms vary widely in their ability to include SEO functionality that is beneficial to property managers.

In some cases, these companies will have all of the basics of page optimization, included but don’t allow the flexibility to include custom landing pages or blogs.

In other cases, companies have focused more on the integration between the website and PMS and haven’t given any attention to the core SEO fundamentals.

Companies Offering This Class of Website Platform

LiveRez
Smoobu logo
GetDirect - Direct Software

*note that Direct does offer an API to allow for 3rd party integration.

Pros & Cons of SaaS Website Platforms

PROS CONS
Good for fast deployment Not flexible for SEO customization
Limited design templates to choose from Can’t customize platform (without API)
One login portal for website and PMS Dependent on their support staff for issues
Consistent look and feel Limited landing page functionality
Sometimes includes a smartphone app Blogging limitations (platform dependent)

Speak to a Website Specialist Today

Vacation Rental Website Builders

What is a Vacation Rental Website Builder?

A vacation rental website builder is a website interface that is generally drag and drop and doesn’t require any coding skills. Also known as no-code website builders.

Website Builder Example

This allows the owner to customize the look and feel of the frontend of the website. In some cases, these are based on pre-made templates and are fairly limited in their customization options.

This is the sector in the vacation rental industry that has seen the most growth in recent years as these web builders are generally built and targeted towards vacation rental managers for their ease of use.

Their features include:

  • Flexibility with website
  • Great PMS features
  • Seamless integration with PMS
  • Seamless booking experience

SEO Friendliness

Some of the more established vacation rental website builders will have options to customize their URL structures, on page optimization like title tags or meta descriptions, but will lack the flexibility to make server level modifications.

Those limitations might include updating a robots.txt file, .htaccess for 301 redirects or adding an XML sitemap file.

Companies Offering This Class of Website Platform

Short-Term Rental Industry Companies
Lodgify Logo
Myvr logo
Guesty logo

*note that Guesty, MyVR and Lodgify offer an API to allow for 3rd party integration.

Other Small Business Options
Wix logo
Squarespace Logo

The Wix platform was originally built for small businesses but now has some options to extend the functionality via 3rd-party plugins from vacation rental companies like FutureStay and Lodgify.

SquareSpace allows you to accept bookings through 3rd-party integrations like Checkfront and Lodify.

Pros & Cons of Vacation Rental Website Builders

PROS CONS
Slightly longer deployment Only basics of SEO are covered
Premade design templates to choose from Don’t have full control over URLs
Several widgets available to customize functionality Advanced SEO tactics would be difficult
Ability to make minor design customizations
(HTML, CSS, JavaScript)
Dependent on their support staff for issues
Secure hosting Limited or laborious blogging functionality
Easily add new pages
Vacation Rental Website Banner

7 Steps to an Irresistible Vacation Rental Website

Free or Freemium Vacation Rental Website Builders

Freemium website builders are similar to the paid versions above but are limited in their feature set and are best suited for small vacation rental managers with only a few properties.

The freemium model basically offers a free option for a website but either takes a percentage of each booking, utilizes an advertising model, or allows you to add upgrades for an additional fee.

SEO Friendliness

These have even less flexibility than the other previously mentioned web builders but being free means it’s a great option to get started with a direct booking website without any investment beyond the time to set it up.

Companies Offering This Class of Website Platform

Future Stay Logo
Booking Ready logo
Do you need a subscription for a website builder?
+ -

In most cases, there’s a fee for this software somewhere. It might be specifically for the website builder or included with the property management software and marketed as “free”.

Are vacation rental website builders easy to use?
+ -

Usually, yes. Most established companies have a detailed knowledge base or support forum set up to help owners navigate through setup and customization.

Speak to a Website Specialist Today

WordPress CMS for Vacation Rentals

What is WordPress?

WordPress is the most popular CMS on the internet today. Some stats suggest over 30% of the sites on the internet are powered by WordPress. This is a very scalable platform, that is affordable, open source and has a ton of community support in the web development industry.

When it comes to vacation rental websites, WordPress is the top choice of many development teams. It’s very easy to use and can come in many different iterations that work well in the vacation rental industry.

Pros & Cons of WordPress

PROS CONS
Unlimited design customization Requires technical skills to set up & manage
Unlimited SEO scalability Requires design and/or coding skills to update designs
Strong community support Plugins or widgets required to accept direct bookings
A true, professional website option
Built-in content management system for blogging
Page builder support for simpler design customization
Vacation Rental Website Success - Laptop on desk

3 Tips to Position Your Vacation Rental Website for Success

Types of WordPress Websites for Vacation Rentals

Let’s outline some of the common implementations of WordPress and how this platform can be leveraged for vacation rental managers.

Premade WordPress Themes & Templates for Vacation Rental Websites

These are themes and templates that are designed specifically for this industry, can be “installed” on most WordPress builds and then customized to fit your specific needs.

You can usually find these for purchase on sites like Theme Forest, MotoPress or Envato.

Just remember that if you’re buying or using one of these themes then it’s pretty much guaranteed that someone else is using the same theme.

You won’t get the full custom experience out of WP with this but it’s a good starting point.

SEO Friendliness

Depending on how the theme is developed, any talented web developer should be able to make changes to improve or customize the features that help increase your SEO visibility.

The main SEO functionality is built into WordPress core but can be impacted by a poorly designed theme so keep that in mind.

Examples of Premade WordPress Themes for Vacation Rentals

Please note that these themes have not been vetted for SEO best practices but they are popular choices for rental companies.

Booklium WordPress Theme
Booklium WordPress Theme
WP Rentals WordPress Theme
WP Rentals for vacation rentals

Custom WordPress Websites for Vacation Rentals

These WordPress websites are designed and developed specifically for the client, to their specifications, and can have a completely unique look.

These are usually built on the base of an existing, stable, or lightweight WordPress theme and then have custom functionality added in.

These sites include very specific styling, layouts, designs, and functionality that are created just for that website.

However, due to the amount of work involved with the customization you may see these templates re-used on other sites as is the case with Bizcor websites (who work with Streamline). These sites essentially become more expensive premade WordPress themes.

SEO Friendliness

Choosing the wrong theme can significantly affect your SEO visibility so choosing a web developer that can build a custom theme and understands SEO best practices is a great choice.

This can be the difference between your website ranking higher than your competitor’s website (all else being equal).

Examples of Custom WordPress Websites for Vacation Rentals

Custom WordPress Website by Bizcor

Streamline does offer an Open API and has many integration options which allows you to design your site however you'd like. Not all Streamline-powered websites will look like the template above.

Magnetic Strategy also builds custom WordPress websites for vacation rental managers.

Custom WordPress Websites for Vacation Rentals

Turn WordPress Into a Vacation Rental Website Builder

WordPress can be transformed into a more familiar wysiwyg (what you see is what you get) editor, similar to a website builder, by installing a page builder like Elementor.

Page builders are plugins that are great for quickly adding the ability to create custom designs without having to know any code. They can be set up in such a way that you can create a custom landing page design in minutes if you’re in a pinch.

SEO Friendliness

However, using page builders does come with some downsides.

Adding a page builder means you’re adding a lot of design functionality and code that may never be used. You have the ability to fully customize the frontend of your website but to do so, the plugin needs to add a lot of extra CSS, scripts, and other elements for you to have that design flexibility.

With that functionality comes a cost. Adding a page builder drastically increases your design output but the extra “code bloat” can crush your site’s page load speed. Google and other search engines have to be able to crawl and interpret your page and to do that they need to parse the code of your website. The more code they have to sift through, the more challenging it is for them.

When you build a site with a developer, they’re only loading the code that they need for that page. As opposed to when you use a page builder, you have to load everything whether or not it’s being used.

WordPress & Booking Engine Expansion

Either a custom theme or a pre-built theme in WordPress can be expanded to include booking engine capabilities. How these are implemented by your developer will determine how helpful or harmful it is to your SEO goals.

Using a Booking Widget or Module

Booking widgets are a form of website plugin that can be easily installed if you want to accept online reservations. If you have an existing website and want to integrate a booking engine into the site, you can do so pretty easily with a booking widget.

If your website platform allows you to embed HTML or JavaScript code into the platform then you should be able to use a booking widget.

Some of the more popular widgets like Lodgify, allow you to customize your CSS so that your checkout pages match the look and feel of the rest of your brand.

Examples of Booking Widgets

Here’s an example of a booking widget integration that takes the guest to a completely different domain with a site built on Drupal. This implementation utilizes an iFrame to display the booking functionality.

Pros & Cons of Booking Widgets

PROS CONS
Save money on OTA commissions Fragmented booking experience
Send reservations directly to PMS Difficult to track conversions
Easy way to accept direct bookings Requires updates to keep website & PMS in sync
Style your website your way Difficult to display reviews on property pages

SEO Friendliness

Neither of these implementations are going to be great for SEO or even your conversion rates.

Not being able to display your reviews on your property pages reduces the unique content for those pages.

This is especially true if you find another solution to show reviews that embeds an iFrame from Facebook or another OTA.

They are, however, being utilized on WordPress which is better than using a platform that you have zero control over.

Speak to a Website Specialist Today

API-Integrated Booking Engine (IBE)

If you have a property management system that has an open API there is the possibility of integrating your PMS and website together with the use of an integrated booking engine.

What is an Integrated Booking Engine?

A booking engine connects your website with your PMS and allows you to accept direct bookings on your website.

The booking engine becomes the “middleware” between the PMS (the back office functionality) and the website (front office functionality) where your guests will browse your properties and book their stay.

This becomes the best of both worlds scenario where you can have the website design of your dreams AND have the technical SEO functionality to propel your site to the top of the search results.

Some of the core functionality of IBEs are:

  • Mobile-friendly user interface
  • Integrated cart and payment gateway
  • Promotion of properties based on a traveler's search and booking history
  • Email notifications sent to the guest upon the booking confirmation
  • Ability to send cart abandonment emails when a guest does not complete their booking

It’s worth noting that these integrated booking engines can be implemented on other platforms beyond WordPress. Other solutions include Drupal, Adobe ColdFusion, or even a custom-developed CMS.

Pros & Cons of Integrated Booking Engines

PROS CONS
Save money on OTA commissions Investment to build it correctly
Send reservations directly to PMS Requires web developer
Up to date availability displayed on site Requires API-enabled PMS
Unique, professional website Possible downtime with API outage
Customized category pages
Customized search result pages
Easily track conversions
Mobile friendly
Optimized for conversions

SEO Friendliness

Due to the flexibility of this solution there really aren’t any downsides to SEO.

You can fix almost any issue that arises from using an API-based solution. Since you have full control over the functionality of this experience you can also customize it to fix your needs.

Whether that means installing canonical tags on your URLs, adding a promo code box at checkout or installing a module to upsell guests on booking local tours.

Speak to a Website Specialist Today

Send this to a friend