If you’re feeling frustrated and overwhelmed by the lack of direct bookings for your short-term rental, despite your efforts to increase them through website optimization, then you are not alone!
Many owners and managers may be tirelessly optimizing their websites, using eye-catching photos, engaging descriptions, and even implementing SEO strategies, only to find that they are still heavily reliant on booking agents. Instead of seeing a surge in direct bookings, they may be experiencing a constant stream of inquiries from third-party platforms, leading to increased fees and reduced control over their own business.
My guest this week is Sarah Orchard.
In this episode, you will be able to:
- Find out why optimizing your website is key to ramping up direct bookings.
- Get insights on personalizing website content to entice your target guests.
- Grasp how a well-curated About page can foster trust and enhance relationships with your prospects.
- Get your hands on tried-and-true tactics for augmenting reservations on your website.
- Learn about the economic benefits of directing your focus on direct bookings.
Meet Sarah Orchard, the dynamic force behind The Hudnalls Hideout, a luxury treehouse located in the UK’s beautiful Wye Valley and a much-sought-after vacation spot. Armed with a deep understanding of the short-term rental market, Sarah has led her venture to dizzying heights of popularity. She has also conceptualized and created Get Fully Booked offering invaluable marketing training to hosts, bringing them closer to their direct booking goals.
Connect with Sarah:
The key moments in this episode are:
00:00:08 – Introduction to the Direct Booking Success Podcast
00:03:27 – Building a Website on a Limited Budget
00:07:02 – Attracting the Right Guests with Website Content
00:10:17 – Building Trust and Connection Through Website Design
00:13:47 – Troubleshooting: No Bookings on the Website
00:14:58 – The Importance of Website Content Messaging
00:16:03 – Mobile Optimization and User Experience
00:17:41 – Creating a Captivating First Impression
00:20:12 – Essential Elements for a Direct Booking Magnet
00:21:19 – Direct Booking Success and Commission Savings
Sign up to the Free Direct Booking Success Summit 2023: https://directbookingsuccesssummit.com/
Show notes are available at: https://directbookingsuccess.com/podcast/
Follow Jenn on Instagram: https://www.instagram.com/directbookingsuccess
Join the Marketing Hub Free Facebook Group: https://www.facebook.com/groups/marketinghubforholidayrentals
Sign up for the free masterclass – The 4-step framework for a profitable direct booking sales engine: https://directbookingsuccess.com/masterclass
00:00:32 - Jenn Boyles
Hello and welcome to another episode of the Direct Booking Success Success. I'm Jenn Boyles, your host. Today I have Sarah Orchard with me. Hi, Sarah.
00:00:41 - Sarah Orchard
00:00:42 - Jenn Boyles
It is great to see you. We spoke goodness a year or so ago in episode 16. So if anyone's listening and you haven't listened to episode 16, you might want to go back and have a listen because we really dive deep into Sarah's Huddle hideout. The Huddles Hideout, and how she set up her business and her treehouse and marketing. And it was a great conversation. So go back and have a listen to that if you're new, I'd love for Sarah to maybe tell us a little bit about who she is.
00:01:18 - Sarah Orchard
Jenn, it's great to be here again and to catch up with you. Yes, I'm Sarah Orchard. I am the co-owner of the Huddles Hideout, which is a luxury treaty house in the Y Valley in the UK, quite near Wales, just north of Bristol. And I'm also the creator and founder of Getfullybooked.com, which provides online marketing training for hosts.
00:01:38 - Jenn Boyles
Great. And before we go too much further, I want to tell everyone that Sarah is coming back to speak at the Direct Booking Success Success, which is happening on October 3 to fifth this year, 2023. So if you're listening to this in real time or this week, do come over and sign up. But she's going to be presenting, so we want to talk a bit about what she's going to be presenting on, and that is about turning your website into a Direct Booking Success magnet. Now, we're not going to give away everything in our talk today because we want you to come and sign up for the Free Summit. But let's start off with websites. Sarah, let's talk about how important it is to have a website from the beginning. Maybe we should start there.
00:02:28 - Sarah Orchard
That's a great place to start, Jenn. Yeah, I think the key thing is it's the one thing I find that most short term rental glampsite owners, holiday let owners, get a little bit wrong in that we all spend a lot of time creating our businesses and getting it ready for our first guests. And then most of the budget goes on, all of that. And then we have no money left to actually build a great website. And ultimately that is, I think, your strongest marketing weapon that you have for Direct Booking Success. And it often gets overlooked, it often gets left till the last minute, like so the budget often runs out and then it's a case of maybe a friend might create something or you might not have a site at all, or you cobble something together or you're under pressure to cobble something together on, like WordPress. And you've never used WordPress before. And obviously that's not going to potentially put you out there in front of your ideal guests in the best possible light. So I'm very passionate about how important and fruitful and lucrative having your own Direct Booking Success website is.
00:03:36 - Jenn Boyles
Yeah, because we need somewhere for people.
00:03:38 - Sarah Orchard
00:03:41 - Jenn Boyles
Simplifying it a lot, but we need somewhere for people to book online. But if that budget is gone, if you're going, oh my God, I'm in that situation, that Sarah's, meaning my place is amazing, but I've spent the money. What do you think that they can do?
00:04:00 - Sarah Orchard
Well, there's a couple of things you can do. I mean, I've had clients in the past know, I've been exactly in that situation and what I've generally advised is get something up on now, get a Facebook page that's like a bare minimum. If you can get the booking system set up, even if you haven't got a website to host it on, you could still link to a Direct Booking Success button. So if you invest in these off the shelf booking systems, there are like hundreds out there. I won't name and shame them all, but I'll get into trouble if I do. But we use one for our treehouse business and we pay an annual fee and basically it does all of the heavy lifting in terms of showing a booking calendar. You put the rates in, it does all of the back end stuff, it sends all the booking confirmations, all the lovely Direct Booking Success stuff, and you could set that up quite easily. You could also even use I mean, when we started, we broke ground for our treehouse build nine months before we opened. So I set up a MailChimp signup form because I had no website at that point. I had my branding, but I had no building to take pictures of, it didn't exist. So we had an architect's drawing and that was it. And we had nothing to photograph. So you can't actually build your website until you've got something to actually showcase. So I created the sign up form and we started collecting email addresses so that we had a little database to be able to send out an offer to when we were ready to launch and obviously to let them know when the website was ready. So there's a workaround that you can do, definitely.
00:05:38 - Jenn Boyles
And to have that little database of those interested when you go to launch probably made your life a lot easier than starting from scratch at the point where you're launching and it's like, okay, where is everybody? And all you can hear is crickets, right? And I think that's the trap that a lot of people get into. They're like, oh, I don't have anything, so I can't do anything until the building is done, the renovation is done, the couch is in, the beds are made, and it's like, well, let's start from the beginning and let's try to build a bit of a community, a bit of an audience before we launch. So those are great tips. Those are great tips there. And you mentioned about the PMS, a lot of them do have a free website sort of capacity with them and starting out, hey, why not, if that is what your budget allows. And then maybe then look to invest in the website when you've got the financial, when you've got the bandwidth yourself. There's so much going on when you first launch a property. So that's some great advice there. So let's talk about people who maybe already have a website up and what are the kind of things that they can be doing to sort of start to attract the right guests?
00:07:01 - Sarah Orchard
That's a great question. I think it starts, as it always does with marketing, understanding who your ideal guests are. And again, that tends to be a little bit of a pitfall that people fall into because they start briefing a web developer or building the site themselves, the website themselves, and they haven't really thought about who they want to attract. So obviously all of the content on your website is doing a job. I always say it's a bit like a filter. So we want our website, our Direct Booking Success website, to be a magnet, but we also want it to be a filter that actually gets rid of the guests that we don't want to stay. And that actually sounds very harsh. And it's not necessarily that they're bad guests, it just might be that what you have to offer doesn't appeal as strongly to certain segments of potential guests that are out there. And if you're trying to appeal to everyone, you don't really appeal to anyone. So it's always about trying to think about that first before you start creating that website and making sure that you can convey the guest experience that they're looking for. So if you don't know who your guests are, it's very difficult to then think about the content that needs to be on the website to actually interest them and engage them and make them want to book.
00:08:20 - Jenn Boyles
Yeah, I think I couldn't have said it better myself, really, Sarah, because I think a lot of people get stuck with that because they're like, I don't want to turn down bookings. And the point is, you're not turning down now, but if you have bookings now, say your place is dog friendly, but you're now carving out going into that content on your website and then someone comes in that's allergic, they're going to have a terrible time. They're not going to enjoy it. They're going to give you a bad review. And so what would be better than to have had that booking or to have said to them, using that filter analogy, that, hey, this is not the right place for you, don't you agree?
00:09:03 - Sarah Orchard
Exactly. That's spot on. I think it is about sort of batting off the guests that you're not so well matched to, so that you can find all of the ones that are your ideal guest and best suited to your experience. Because there are so many different types of holiday businesses, short term rentals, accommodation out there, that not everyone can be equally appealing to every type of guest. So we have to always bear that in mind.
00:09:32 - Jenn Boyles
And you don't want to because you just want the people that are the right fit, because then they're going to have the best experience ever and become like your biggest fans. I always see these posts in Facebook groups, different Facebook groups, about a party that has happened and destroyed this place and all the damage and how terrible the guests were and, oh, I have to bite my tongue all the time because I just want to say, well, what are you doing? It's not about the tech to listen in on your guests or watching the doorbell cameras and things like that, but it's like, what are you doing? Before they even book. Why are these people booking with you if you don't want parties, why are they booking? What are they seeing on your website that is going, hey, come here and party, don't you think?
00:10:23 - Sarah Orchard
Exactly. Yeah. And I think sometimes you see websites where this is another sort of common mistake, where they actually go to the opposite extreme and they'll almost have on large letters like, we do not accept dogs or we don't have groups or parties. But there's a way, like you say, Jenn, of conveying who your ideal guests are without being seen as being bossy, know, rude in terms of telling people, know it's not the right fit for them.
00:10:51 - Jenn Boyles
Yeah, no, I totally, you know, that list of rules is not at all appropriate either. But what about showing that it is, who it's owned by, who is running the place? By showing your face on your website, I think you're building some trust there, but also showing that there are people that care about the property. You're not a nameless, faceless corporation who is not looking after that. Say it's an apartment, you want to make sure that the people booking it know that this is somebody's business.
00:11:30 - Sarah Orchard
Exactly. And the about page is normally in the top three pages that people go to. And if you think about it, if they're not booking with a big well known national or international accommodation chain, they do want to know. I mean, for their own peace of mind, they want to know who they're handing their hard earned dollars or pounds over to. And they also, like you say, I think when they see the real faces behind the business, I think it's more difficult to treat the property badly, although some guests still will. It is definitely more difficult to actually behave badly if you sort of almost feel like you know the people that are running it, especially if you don't get to meet all of your guests. Like we do self check in. So we do a big thing about our story. It's episode 16, if people want to catch up on that. But the whole story of how we got to do what we're doing because I think it does build that trust, but also it builds an element of maybe of respect as to why you're doing it and that it's somebody's livelihood, and we feel very passionate about it. So hopefully we generally get good guests. Occasionally we get some horrors like everyone does.
00:12:41 - Jenn Boyles
Yeah, but you want that connection, don't you? Because you're not going to go to your friend's house and act badly, so why are you going to go to someone you don't know and act badly? But then on the flip side, there are places that are geared for parties, not smash and grab kind of things or anything like that, but that is their niche that they want and they accommodate people to come, bring their friends and have a good party. And so if you're a guest out there, that's what you want to look for. You don't want to look for a place that is talking about how friendly and family friendly it is and for little kids and all that kind of stuff. So, yeah, look at what a great tip is, looking at what you're saying on your website and who you're attracting that ideal guest. Now what about the people who are going, okay, I've done it, I've got the website. People can book online, but nobody is booking. What should I do next?
00:13:48 - Sarah Orchard
Right? So I think the key thing there would be to look at what the data is telling you. So we have a lovely thing called Google Analytics and it can tell you where people are dropping off your website. So that's very useful if you feel like I always describe it if you feel like your website isn't very sticky. So people are not sticking around, they're going back, they're bouncing back to Google when they've maybe found you, or they've come from social and they decide that they're not going to stay around and book. We can get a lot of insights from Google Analytics and there are other analytics tools like Monster Insights, where basically it will tell you what pages they're visiting, where they've exited from your website. So if the majority of people are leaving from the home page, that would then tell me that maybe your hero image and your initial messaging is not connecting with that ideal guest. Or they were expecting something when they clicked from Google from a Google search, but when they got to the website, it didn't meet with what they were searching for. So there could potentially be a disconnect between and that comes down to more technical stuff like we were not going to get into that probably on this session about SEO, but search engine optimization. But ultimately if you get the traffic coming to the site but they're not hanging around, for me, it's to do with the content messaging and how you're conveying the experience and that's not connecting with them quickly enough. And that's the other thing. It's the speed that you have to be able to convey all of that because you only have six, they reckon 6 seconds before someone disappears back to Google.
00:15:23 - Jenn Boyles
I have to say I don't let people have 6 seconds when I'm on their website. I'm great now because that's true. It's that disconnect, isn't it? You click on something on Google expecting to find what you're looking for and the first thing that comes up if it's not what you're looking for, you know, so we do it to other businesses, so we have to find out why people are doing it to your business, isn't it?
00:15:48 - Sarah Orchard
Exactly, and I think you're right. I was looking at some stats the day on Instagram, watch times on reels and I think they were saying that the average watch time is like 6 seconds. So it does sort of tally similar to websites in that we all have very short attention spans now. So we want that instant, almost gratification of sort of seeing exactly what we want and if not, we go and look elsewhere. It's the same as if your website is slow to load or you've got some fancy video on the homepage that people can't watch on mobile. There can be so many factors that might influence and often that's a really common thing, actually, that most owners don't go and look at their websites on mobile or mobile. They go and look at a desktop and they've maybe had it designed with a designer and you've both been looking at it on your desktop laptop and you think, oh, it looks great, and then you go and look at it on the mobile and it's just like, oh my God. It's a totally different experience. So it's really important to make sure that with about 70% now of users coming from mobile devices, whether that's at smartphones or tablets, it's really important that you build mobile first rather than the other way around. So that'd be a big kick.
00:17:01 - Jenn Boyles
Definitely. So when people are searching and they find the website and they click over, what is the first thing that we want to be giving guests? What's that first impression? Should we be doing a big, huge image? You talked about a fancy video, so I'm going to think that's probably a no no. But what should we be showing them right away when they click over?
00:17:26 - Sarah Orchard
Definitely not just shots of the area that you're based in, because I've seen that so many times when people have come from a search and they've maybe, like you were saying, searching for group accommodation or a party pad. And they literally land on a website. And the first image they see is a beautiful cityscape or countryside. And they're like they don't know what type of accommodation it is. So ultimately, you need to show them exactly what you have on offer. But ideally, I think you need to show that guest experience. So the use of having people actually in the image, maybe looking over their shoulder while they're actually enjoying sitting in front of a wood burning fire, or they're round the fire pit or they're sitting in the hot tub, if you've got sort of key highlight features, you need to try and sort of convey that really quickly. But you want it's amazing, actually, the number of shots that people have for, like, hero images on their homepage that don't really show the best features and sort of the biggest draw for that particular property. And we all get a bit close to it. And I think that's the difficult thing when you're the owner and like you say, you've invested all that time and energy into getting it ready or refurbing it or building it, it can be very hard to put yourself in your guest shoes and think about, okay, what are the things that they really love? And actually, I've got a quick little tip on that. If you've got a physical guest book or look at your reviews and look at the thing that your guests always comment on. So if you're new, this is more difficult, but if you've been in business for a while, you'll have lots of reviews and you can read the comments with the things. What's the most common thing that people just rave about? Because that should be what you have in that hero image on your homepage, because that's going to attract more of those guests to you.
00:19:22 - Jenn Boyles
I love that tip. That's a great one. That's a really great one. So let's turn our attention to your presentation. Direct Booking Success Success coming up at the beginning of October. How to turn your website into a Direct Booking Success magnet. So we've been talking through some of those tips. Can you tell me anything more about your presentation to give me a little insight?
00:19:46 - Sarah Orchard
I'll be giving too much away, won't I? But I think everyone's going to have to come along to the summit to get all of the tips. I'm going to be sort of going through probably the five key things that I think are essential for making your website a Direct Booking Success magnet. So we've touched on a couple of them today, but I think I ought to keep some things back for the summit so that people come along and enjoy the presentation. But no, I mean, there are general principles. Over the last year, I've done 65 website audits, which I love doing because I'm obviously intrinsically nosy as a marketer that I want to look at other people's websites. And there's been a few common things which I'm going to talk about in my presentation, which actually most owners get wrong, and it's so common. And I'm going to draw on that in terms of and I'm going to show a few examples as well with people's permission of some sites that are getting it really good and others that I won't name and shame too much, but things that could be improved that would actually help them get more Direct Booking Success. And we've touched on a few of them in this session, but, yeah, I'm going to be going into a lot more detail in my presentation.
00:20:55 - Jenn Boyles
Oh, great. Well, I won't hound you anymore. We'll leave it because you've piqued my interest. I can't wait to see what else you're coming up with. Can I ask you the famous question, and that is, what does Direct Booking Success success mean to you?
00:21:12 - Sarah Orchard
Direct Booking Success success to me means paying a lot less in commission. Over the last three years, I worked out, I did a little calculation, we've saved 65,000 pounds to sterling on what we would have paid on commission. So for me, the massive thing that Direct Booking Success brings is more profit in our pocket at the end of the day, and obviously you've heard me say how much, I feel that the website is a key part of that, but there's lots of other elements that go into your marketing. But for me, the massive thing is just saving that commission and being more in control and having more money at the end of the month to spend it on yourselves and your family. And rather than paying the booking agents the commission.
00:22:02 - Jenn Boyles
Wow, that is a lot of money. My jaw actually dropped because you're about 100% book direct. Do you advertise on any OTAs?
00:22:12 - Sarah Orchard
No, we've been since we launched, we're 100% book direct. I've never taken I've never paid a penny in commission to any agents. We do do some listing sites which for me are advertising rather than agents, and they're really effective, but we've got about three core ones that we use. But the majority of our business, over 50% of our website traffic comes from Google and we've done quite a bit on social and PR. So no commission paid whatsoever in three years. And I think I worked out I'd spent 9000 pounds on marketing versus 65,000 pounds I would have paid in commission. So you definitely can get a really good return on your investment if you can upskill and do your marketing yourself and get away from the agents.
00:23:00 - Jenn Boyles
Yeah, yes. And I think spending 9000 over 65, everyone's going to say that's a major win and upskilling yourself to do your marketing, but also finding someone that you can work with that can help you, like yourself or myself. We're both here and I think it's wonderful hospitality. Short term rentals, vacation, rentals, holiday, lets, whatever you want to call now is a great space to be in. And there are mentors there that you can work with to help you get these numbers that Sarah has been saying.
00:23:40 - Sarah Orchard
It's such a supportive community as well. And hosts are very generous with their knowledge. And like you say, there are a lot of people out there who can be coaches and mentors and sort of show you the most effective way to do it. Because many of us, we've been there and done it ourselves, so we know what works. So rather than trying to reinvent the wheel, I always think good marketing is not about reinventing the wheel. It's like doing the stuff that works and it's been proven and you'll get the results. I don't think it is rocket science. There is a process to marketing, and if you work your way through it, it's not out of the grasp of every single owner. Property Owner and I think it's just weighing up, isn't it, about the time and sometimes that's why people use agents as well. And that's not a bad decision if you're. I'm never going to criticize somebody because maybe they've got a second, they've got the main job and they're doing it. It might be a bit of a side hustle and therefore for one person working in the business, they haven't got the time to do it. And I think you have to weigh that up because you definitely have to put the time in. I always say that marketing doesn't happen by osmosis. We would like it to happen like that but sadly it doesn't.
00:24:53 - Jenn Boyles
I know they can't just read your knowledge, they actually have to see posts and look for you on Google and yeah, no, but you're right, it's not rocket science. We can all learn how to use, you know, you talked about data, know Google Analytics, find out what's working for you and do more of it. Lean into what's known don't go okay, well I've got that sustain, I'm going to go off and do something else now. Just lean into what's working and it will make your life so much easier.
00:25:26 - Sarah Orchard
That's great advice, Jenn. I think that is a key thing. I often say it's three to five core activities, but it's also repetition. And I think we give up too soon because marketing isn't a quick thing. It's not a tap that you turn on. And you do need to know someone will say, oh, I've done an email campaign, like one email campaign, and then they expect the book or one Facebook ad, and they're like, or I put a reel out and they expect instantaneous. I know we have a very sort of on demand society now but they do sort of think it's all going to happen immediately. And I always say that the marketing that you do now will have an impact in sort of three months time, which sort of is possibly bad news to your ears and that you might not like that, but obviously you can do promotions when you've got availability to shift or a cancellation. But ultimately, the longer term positive effects of your marketing do take time to build, which is why it's so important. I realized when we were launching, I started nine months out, not one week before we're due to open, which is what typically happens.
00:26:28 - Jenn Boyles
Yes, I think that panic sets in and you're like, oh, I'm going to launch, I've got to go for bookings. And gone are the days that you can put something on, say, airbnb and then just go, woohoo, done. And, yes, if it's a side hustle, if you've got another job, there's no shame, but if you're wanting to build your business and this is the primary income, or what you're wanting to do, then there does need to be a bit more work in there.
00:26:58 - Sarah Orchard
00:26:59 - Jenn Boyles
So, if you're listening, come to the Direct Booking Success Success, October 3 to 5 directbookingsuccesssummit.com sign up. Sarah's going to be speaking. We've got 22 presentations this year. I know, it's a bit crazy. And Sarah's going to be talking about how to turn your website into a Direct Booking Success magnet. Now, I've got all of Sarah's links here, I'm going to put them in the show notes, but where can listeners connect with you?
00:27:30 - Sarah Orchard
The best place to find me is on Instagram, which is at Get Fully Booked. And also I have a free Facebook group, which is the Hospitality Marketing Lounge, and that's a good place to come and hang out with a load of other hosts and we talk about marketing.
00:27:46 - Jenn Boyles
Brilliant. Thank you, Sarah, so much. I'll put those links in the show notes as well as a link to the summit and we will see you.
00:27:54 - Jenn Boyles
00:27:55 - Sarah Orchard
See you then.