Sept. 21, 2022

5 Ways to Drive Direct Bookings Before the OTAs Put You Out of Business, with Vanessa Humes


Vanessa Humes of ICND joins us today to share the top 5 strategies for building a book-direct vacation rental brand. As we often talk about on the podcast, building your house on someone else's land puts your business in a dangerous position - but where do you begin if you want to take business BACK from the OTAs? Whether you're an experienced manager or just starting out in the industry, Vanessa has  great insights and tips that will help you build your business on your own land...because the grass really IS greener, when you water it yourself :)

CONTACT VANESSA HUMES
ICND
LinkedIn
vhumes@icnd.net

CONTACT ALEX & ANNIE
AlexandAnniePodcast.com
LinkedIn | Facebook | Instagram

Alex Husner - Linkedin
Annie Holcombe - Linkedin

Transcript

Welcome to Alex and Annie, the real women of vacation rentals. I'm Alex.

Annie Holcombe:

And I'm Annie.

Alex Husner:

And we are joined today with Vanessa Humes of intercoastal Net designs, a great friend and local Myrtle Beach residents. Vanessa, welcome to the show.

Vanessa Humes:

Thanks, guys. Thanks. I'm glad to be here. Been following your podcasts really enjoy the content that you guys are putting out. So appreciate the opportunity.

Alex Husner:

Yeah, we're so excited. So this is going to be this is a special episode. And we are bringing on Vanessa as part of our Alex and Annie's List, A-Team member, I see indeed very proud to have them as part of that. And this is going to be part one of probably many episodes, but part one of a two part series about how to build your book direct brand, so that the OTAs don't put you out of business, basically. Yeah. And we're gonna go over five tips today. And then we'll come back for part two and do five more tips. But Vanessa has an incredible just realm of knowledge within digital marketing, marketing in general, and branding and very experienced within the space. So you are, I would say the guru of that in, you know, within vacation rentals. So we're just excited to hear about all the great things that you can teach us in our listeners today.

Vanessa Humes:

Yeah, I appreciate it. Yeah. So just a little background. For those of you who don't know me, I'm Vanessa Humes, and technically the sales director with IntercoastalNet designs, I don't know if you know, I would really consider myself bad. I used to call myself Jill of all trades, but I didn't want the tagline Master of None attached to it. I think the website might say Master of the Universe, I really do a lot about appropriate. So I started back with ICND in 2009. Prior to that, I had two jobs kind of out of out of college. I went to Coastal Carolina University and applied too late for my internship. So I had two choices. I could be a Copenhagen girl and pass out dip in the bars. Or I could work for a startup real estate/ vacation ownership/ timeshare company was called Great places. And so I took that job, obviously. And one of my first things that I got to do was build a database in access to track all the prices of Myrtle Beach Real Estate during the boom and then the crash. So you know, taking a look at Vista oceanfront one bedroom condos, and they were basically going to buy them once that price sank and then develop a portfolio of luxury real estate in across Myrtle Beach. Which wasnt really the right Time or market? Yeah, yeah, this for the startup. But it was. It was a really good opportunity for me. Because grassroots effort, I fell in love with startups. And then Brandon Saul's was actually doing our website. Back then Brandon did a lot of the work with the local advertising agency, so they would do the creative. And then he would program the website and did a lot with real estate. So MLS integrations was one of the big things that they did back in the day. So once you know everything kind of happened, where great places lost all of their funding, and the real estate market wasn't great. I got rolled into another company called MB Resorts and just kind of saw where things were going with real estate. And I was like, This is my time to make a jump. And so I went to work for DSL Marketing, which I think was DSL Services back then. That's how I got to meet Alex.

Alex Husner:

Yeah, we work together. That's how I met you. And a lot of people that are still in my life actually

Vanessa Humes:

It was a great team. And, you know, so I was the account manager to the president there. So I got to work with the Resort Group and Vacation Myrtle Beach group and they're, you know, competitor website, Myrtle Beach now, which was competing with Myrtlebeach.com. And they were a direct mail company. So they didn't really know a lot about what we called interactive marketing back then was the buzzword and they wanted to make that switch to being an interactive agency and do websites and so you know, that was, that was a lot of what we were doing is turning that ship. But you know, for whatever reasons with like Myrtle Beach politics and things like that there was just still a lot of concentration on doing direct mail and brochures. And my passion was really with interactive, I wanted to do websites, I wanted to do email marketing, and payper click, SEO, and be involved with that. So I reached back out to Brandon, and started with him 13 years ago, probably like to this week, back in 2009. So yeah, so you know, at that time, he was again, doing a lot of the agency work. And he knew if they just hired a programmer that he would basically be really hurting for business. So he, you know, we hired a designer, and he mentioned to me that, you know, he was he went to these vrma conferences with his wife, Whitney. So Whitney is Brandon's wife. She's a third generation vacation rental manager for Sloane Vacation, Sloan Realty Vacations. And so, you know, at that time, you had Blizzard on scene and Visual Data Systems and BlueTtent, and they were all very welcoming to Brandon. And really, you know, just gave him that vision that, you know, this is something that I can do. I'm he's a programmer by trade, he understood the API's that Instant Software were offering and so we built a vacation rental website here in there. But in 2014, we came up with one of the first mobile responsive websites. So that was like, our big claim to fame, because a lot of the websites back then it was when you had your regular desktop site, mobile site, so that we figured out that technology to make it responsive to whatever and adapt to whatever device you were on was really a big thing. So that's, you know, kind of where we started and, and how we ended up

Alex Husner:

That's such a good history trail of so many in the vacation rental space. And we brought on a lot of what that booking engine, we brought on a lot of clients from Outer Banks to Palm Springs, California. And today we work with over 350 vacation rental managers across the globe. Wow, both. Yeah, both with websites and digital marketing. So we're that full service agency, we have always dreamed about being and don't independently owned and operated. No investments or anything, just having grown and a lot of grit. So yeah, kind of our backstory. interesting years here. And you and I, as path obviously crossed in the early part of that. And it's funny to you and I were at DSL marketing, which became new media and back in those days, when when we made the change to interactive, a lot of the things that we were trying to sell, we didn't even know, excuse me, we didn't even know about right and the industry didn't even know about I remember when we first started doing social media, somebody's making the joke, you know, we're how do we sell a Facebook page? That's like selling somebody a library card? It's free. We're like, gosh, yeah, that's crazy. But then I realized, Okay, well, but somebody needs to manage the Facebook page for the business. Okay, that makes sense that there's a business here. And that's actually that started my relationship with Condo-World, and I left that company and you left about the same time. So I've been in Condo-World, 13 years, you've been ICND, 13 years. And that, you know, so much has evolved and changed. And it's been just really exciting to see Brandon and icnd. And you and the whole team grow over the years. I know. If Roy was here, he would say that just watching that has been he's the always loved watching Brandon. And I'm seeing how much you guys have grown because he remembers those early days when it was just brand and he was just the programmer, and it was real scrappy, and it's definitely a great success story. So

Vanessa Humes:

yeah, absolutely. Yes. I remember one of the first meetings I had with, with you and Roy amazing guy and, you know, back then, the, the website wasn't, wasn't the powerhouse that it was. Yeah. Yeah. You know, coming from the hotels, they weren't like 20 30% doing online reservations. Yeah. And then most of the vacation rental companies were at like, 15 20%. So they weren't investing in websites. They were investing in their brochures. They were investing in reservation systems like Navis. And yeah, you know, that's, that's it. Everybody wanted to make that push towards the websites. And I think that VRBO back then, was the front runner and maybe HomeAway was starting to come I'm on scene. And then you had maybe just a glimpse of Airbnb back at that time. So it's quite the evolution of where now, they're not putting as much emphasis on these reservation systems. They're putting the emphasis on their websites and really doing that, that book direct. But, you know, my experience with the hotels, it's DSL was really helpful for me to start and ignite that passion for direct bookings because I remember talking to John Daniels, at The Breakers. Yeah. And he was like, you know, this is a big mistake for us to take all of our loyal guests and, and drive them with lower rates to Travelocity, Priceline, and, you know, we're really risking our business here. And so that really, you know, hit home with me. And when I saw HomeAway, and VRBO, as the main sources of bookings, when I came on scene, they weren't bookings back then they were leads.

Alex Husner:

Yeah, exactly.

Vanessa Humes:

As they evolved, and started taking those direct bookings, I kind of put two and two together. And it's like, you know, what we're doing with websites, and digital marketing is really going to make an impact. And so that's, you know, always been our focus, we've never gotten into the channel manager space, we've always been very diligent with that a little bit of a conflict of interest for us that having a good website, and, you know, sending traffic through digital marketing is our main, our main item if we start taking a cut of Airbnb and Booking.com, and that, you know, why would we want the direct bookings? So we've always kept that focused. And I think that that's been a part of our success as well.

Annie Holcombe:

So I think with that you've laid out a really good segue into the topic for today. Yeah. And you're going to share some really great tips. Yeah. So as Alex alluded to, we're going to have to do this in a two part series, what we'll do today, we've got 10 tips that you're going to share where you're going to share five of them today.

Vanessa Humes:

Yeah, yeah. So, you know, like we were talking about earlier, they missed a great conversation that we had prior. Obviously, I have no trouble talking a lot. So what to watch our time but, you know, with with where we are at as an industry right now, there's, it's not like it was back then you don't need to get an expensive server and put it in your closet, you know, run your your software, and the barrier to entry is really low to start up a vacation rental company right now. Right? So you can you can go out there, you can either invest in your own properties, which are gonna give this successful vacation rental managers have today started that way. And, and, you know, so how do you market your property, so I want to kind of make sure that I touch on both as far as those people that are starting out, and those that are have 100 150 properties to under Properties, and what they should do. So number one, it's not the sexiest topic, but email marketing, I definitely think is probably one of our least used mediums in this space. You know, everybody kind of talks about doing it. It's like, yeah, we need to do it. But are we actually doing it? And are we doing it right? So obviously, when you're, you're, you're using the OTAs, for your main source of bookings, they're not inclined to give you that email address. And I know you guys talked with Pete about making sure that you know, you're using something with the Wi Fi connection, I think is a great idea. I think that's going to be just like a best practice staple here. And the next few months with Silicone Travel out there and StayFi, you definitely should be looking at that so that no matter how many people are in that group, you're collecting each and every email address. And it doesn't have to be that the reservationists calling that person be like, hey, I need your email address. And they're like, for what

Alex Husner:

Right? Exactly? Yeah. Yeah. And that's, that's a big, I think two parts there. One, I agree with you that not enough managers are leveraging the power of email marketing, just in general, even just with the email addresses that you have, you can run really successful email campaigns, even with a small list. I mean, we're we've been very heavily focused on email marketing, and probably kind of the same, you know, what we talked about earlier, you and I got our same our base within marketing at the same time that even at DSL, back in those days, we were selling email marketing, and we learned the importance of that because that was the most direct correlation at that time to direct mail, which was, you know, really, the main game that point. But we've always kept a huge focus on email marketing at Condo-World. And that's definitely one of the secrets to our success for building our brand to what it is and could not recommend companies more that you start to put a focus on it. But it's at the same time, it's not something that it can be super easily done. I mean, it does, it takes effort. If you don't have somebody internally, you need to have an agency that can help you with it. We have an internal team that that does our emails, we actually use a service called Revenate Marketing that sends out our emails. But how does how do it for your clients? How do they interact? And how can you help with email marketing? If a company has a small list or no list? What do you do?

Vanessa Humes:

Yeah, any list at all right?

Alex Husner:

Yeah, exactly.

Vanessa Humes:

Yeah. So there was there was I did get a question from one of the smaller managers I was talking to recently about like terms and conditions, or with Airbnb, if they're using Airbnb, their terms and conditions to kind of talk them out of using those email addresses and retargeting to those audiences. Annie have you heard anything about that? I told them that we will be having this conversation. The terms and conditions of Airbnb, outlaw them from remarketing to guests that stay with them. You know,

Annie Holcombe:

I hear that, but I know Marriott has it in there, it has, like 18 months that you're not allowed to use use.

Alex Husner:

Airbnb doesn't even give you the email, though. I mean, you can get it on Steam,

Vanessa Humes:

but yeah, right. And like according to can spam and things like that, you know, you just have to kind of do business with someone, they have to offer that email opt in to your list. And as you have it, I would have no idea how they would track that you're that you're doing that. So really wouldn't be as as cautious, I would, I would start to market to those people, especially after a year 18 months, I'm sure that you're pretty much in the clear there, we utilize MailChimp, Constant Contact, pretty much any email provider out there, they're all pretty much the same. You know, being able to to get your list either from your software into the program that's going to be deploying the emails and starting to segment those list is kind of the big thing and getting that automation in there. You know, you're gonna have other programs in there. Like what Navis used to be or Track Pulse, or I think there's You Send It is another one that's that's an up and comer. They're all more of that CRM, where you're going to be able to tag people and start to put them into the different personas that you may be building. And I think that that's, I don't think many people have gotten to that level, there's a handful of our clients that have that are able to tag them that they know that they came down for golf, or that was a girlfriends getaway, or birthdays and anniversaries, and they send automated emails out based on their interest and different segments that they have on them. But for the most part, I would say you know, any email is better than no email. So if you're small and just doing a monthly email blast, that is going to be better than trying to overcomplicate it and take the, you know, 1500 people and try to drill them down and target you know, so the essentials for a good email list or an email campaign is, you know, obviously a good offer to get them back showing off new properties featuring properties and featuring events that are up and coming so that you give somebody a reason to come and visit you. So if you've got a Wine & Cheese festival or Country Fest or things that are going on in the area, it's a great time to start targeting for our beach towns, the shoulder season, the secret season, we would call it because the beach is so beautiful and it's less crowded and getting them down here.

Annie Holcombe:

One thing that I've done in the past and it was kind of to answer in the Panhandle we had Wyndham was our big competitor. But Wyndham also had multiple markets. They had complementary markets. So one of the things we did at a company that my husband and I had started with some friends was that we actually went to complementary markets. So we went to Gatlinburg and we partnered with some properties in Gatlinburg. And we actually did co branded marketing so that hey, come to the beach in the summer, go to the you know, the mountains in the fall, and we were able to share that database and that was a really good way of being able to like double our database in a really short amount of time. And so I think that there's there's other ways of thinking outside the box that maybe people could take a look at, that they're not necessarily They're really they're thinking right within their market and thinking, I can only get what's coming to me and not necessarily what potentially could be coming to me. So again, just throwing out that as an opportunity.

Vanessa Humes:

Yeah, that's a norm. A great, yeah, great idea. And certainly, there's always been some value in getting leads off the chamber, local chamber that are interested in accommodations and, and being able to eat probably get to blast that list like one time. And just, you know, using other sources like that, I wouldn't really recommend going out there. Back in the day, Alex, we used to do those targeted lists. Oh, yeah. You know, families in Charlotte with,

Alex Husner:

you know, that's right. Yeah.

Vanessa Humes:

Yeah. And you know, just the frequency, but that guest history, oh, we already have some loyalty with you. So it's always just a great means of being able to, to get them to come back to book direct, you know, staying in front of them. And that frequency getting them to dream about their next vacation.

Alex Husner:

Yeah, I think that's really the sweet spot that we've found is, you know, what is that blend of inspiration, inspirational content that you're sending them, plus offers, plus things that you need to push. So if we have properties that we need that need help, we use our emails for that, but we're not, you know, the way that you display them. That's no, we're not saying these are distressed properties. And they need rentals, I mean, you, you feature them and you make sure hey, bringing out the best thing around why somebody would want to stay there. And I, we definitely see a lot of results from being able to do that. So figuring out that cadence, we send emails three times a week. I mean, we're very heavily in our emails, I don't think that everybody has to do it to the level that we are. But I think if you can send at least send a monthly work up to biweekly and then one a week, and then you'll see a massive difference. But I think part of this whole process, too, of course, is collecting those names. So not just the guests history names. But people that come on your site that don't book do you offer? Or do you have anything for abandonment? Or we do look at that concept?

Vanessa Humes:

Yeah, so we do it so that if somebody comes on to the checkout page, the booking page, and they start filling out their information, it's automatically added to a database. And, you know, once they're, they're opted into that we'll check their property management software to see, maybe Alex called and booked a reservation for this property. So we're looking for your email address. And if you don't have a reservation, then we'll send an email saying, hey, act fast, you know, 15, other people are looking at this property. You know, Hurry, come back, and book now with a direct link. So always trying to hit them up. But you can certainly enroll that into a drip campaign, too. So you know, to keep keep hitting them and, and make sure but we have other automated triggers, like price alerts and cancellation notification. So if the price goes up, then they'll get an email saying, hey, due to popularity of your dates, and limited availability, prices are going up. Or if the price goes down, they'll get an email saying, Hey, this is a great price. You should book now. So we're always throwing urgency with them as just an extra booked or heck, yeah,

Alex Husner:

Of any other booking engines out there definitely give you guys credit for that you have the smartest triggers, really, I mean, between how many people are looking at the unit, if the price has gone up and down cancellation? That's all really, really smart stuff. And very clearly done by a company that knows the industry. Well, you know, and I think that's that's a big part of why you guys are so strong. I mean, Brandon and his ties, but his wife is Sloane Vacations. So I mean, a lot of the things that you guys are able to try and test you actually have real experiences powering those decisions. So

Vanessa Humes:

We do and Whitney has kind of opted out of being the test dummy. Oh,

Alex Husner:

you got tired of it. You've got enough companies now.

Annie Holcombe:

Like she's like, Bring me the finished product. Yeah, so why don't we? So what's your tip number two?

Vanessa Humes:

Tip number two. So deals you know I think deals are definitely going to be a coming back into play with just you know how the economy's going. Everything has been really strong in the last couple years with all the attention that vacation rental industry has, has gotten but as things start to soften and we still have a lot of as a as a industry, a lot of pressure from our owners to keep those rentals and heads in beds. Deals are going to be what what comes about. So making sure that you have well merchandised on your site so people can see what the price was what the price is, and there is nothing more of a conversion killer than having a promo code on your checkout page. and no promo code on your site and no way to get back to the booking page. So either hide that something that they called comment out in the code, you can either hide that or, you know, make it easy for somebody to come back or easy for somebody to see the promo codes from the checkout page, and always that ability to book online, so you don't want to have it called a book and it'd be 10pm. And you don't have anybody there. Yeah, right.

Annie Holcombe:

Do you have any, any statistics on conversion for for promotions for deals? That are their deals that speak more to specific audiences? Or, you know, like, no, buy one, get one free or 25%? Off? Or third night free? Like, what are you seeing as the ones that actually convert the most?

Vanessa Humes:

So that's a great question. Annie, I would definitely want to run some newer tests, because in the past couple years, I would say that 98% of our clients haven't been running specials. Sure. The cross through so that you can see the original price and what the new price is have definitely had a better conversion rate, then just saying, you know, this property's 25% often never saying what the original price was. But they want to

Annie Holcombe:

see the math, right. Yeah, they don't really know, is

Vanessa Humes:

Is this the price I'm supposed to be getting? Or is it 15%? More. But definitely, by outlining historically, if we say, we're going to give you $25 off for your email address, they know exactly how much it's going to be off. Yeah, it doesn't have to be $250 off, you know, it can be just a special incentive. So you can start small, but they want to see that dollar amount percentages is it takes too much

Annie Holcombe:

transparency? Sure.

Vanessa Humes:

Is it off the right, the total amount? You know, too many questions there. $250 off, here's your price. Here's your total amount, boom book now. So yeah, price transparency, for sure.

Annie Holcombe:

Yeah, we. So like on the channel management side, that's one of the things that we coach our partners on is to run a promotion, not just drop your rates, because on the channels, the algorithms are going to pick up the promotion, they're not going to pick up the fact that you dropped your rate by $25 or 25%. So loaded in is a promotion. And so it's one of the things that I wrestle with when people use some of the pricing tools, where the rates are just automated. And it's like, well, I dropped my rates by 25%. Why isn't it because the algorithm highlighted? This algorithm didn't notice it. So to your point, I think that people, people like to see that cross there, even if and, you know, let's be honest, people mark up their rates to discount the rates and a lot of in a lot of right ways. So I think I mean, I think we all are, but I think that again, people want to see it, because it's a it's a feeling, you know, they it's tangible. They view it. And it's the it's the perception more than the reality. Yeah, people when they buy.

Vanessa Humes:

Yeah, and you know, just one of those marketing factors can take away. If it's too, too much too hard to think about. Yeah. Yeah, I

Annie Holcombe:

don't want to have to do math. I just want to book my stay.

Alex Husner:

Right, exactly. I think, for us, I mean, we normally do percentage off sales, and they always work well, you just have to be above 25%. 20% 15% 10%. Those just don't really seem to click with people. But anything 25% and higher normally does pretty well. And definitely showing the before and after price. That's really important too. And I think your your booking engine does that right on the checkout page, you can see that it

Vanessa Humes:

does. Yeah, so we either do the math for API call is always helpful that way, it's the exact amount. So it just depends on the software, the API calls available with discounts and things like that. The, you know, it does, it gets more and more complicated all the time with the dynamic pricing and the nightly rates and the day pricing. So it's always a challenge for us, but and that's why it's like keep it simple, you know, if you can just show them was is amount, then it's gonna get to the best.

Alex Husner:

Yep. Okay, so we've got email and deals, what is number three?

Vanessa Humes:

Number three, well optimized site. So, you know, obviously, this is it's a big difference between if you're just starting out, or if you've been in business for a long time. Yeah. But there, you know, go back to the basics of the absolute essentials of what you should have for your website. And that is your metadata, your page titles, your URL structure, and then what Google calls EAT with your Expertise, Authority and Trustworthiness. So focusing On on those things. So what makes you an expert at vacation rentals in your specific market? What kind of authority do you have on that and trust factors would be your reviews, your associations, your certifications, and things like that. And then for your property detail pages, specifically having that information well honed in, I think that it becomes a little bit of a trend for vacation rental managers and marketers, more managers who don't have those marketers and are just using a team that they focus a lot on the homepage and not on the booking pages or creating segmented, you know, Gatlinburg, pet friendly condos. So that would be a longtail keyword phrase with a lot of intent. That if you have a smaller inventory, drilling down to those lower in the funnel, keyword phrases, so top of the funnel would be Gatlinburg, Gatlinburg, vacations, Gatlinburg, condo rentals, and then you've got Gatlinburg, pet friendly condo rentals, it's really far somebody who is searching for that is really drilling in and trying to find some some good options. And so they have a lot of intent to book, they've already figured out where they're going, what they're looking for, and, and specifics. So when you don't have a lot of inventory, looking at your inventory, and figuring out what your niche is, is going to be the best thing for SEO, and then for your property detail pages, having that well optimized with your h1 tags, metadata, we've seen a 62% increase in property pages as landing pages, SEO. So people are definitely figuring out, Hey, I saw this on an OTA but I'm gonna go and figure out what their prices on their direct booking site. So we've done a lot of, of marketing and promotion for that as an industry. So I think that's great. Just make sure that you are optimizing your pages. So you show at the top and it's not VRBO rent a beach. Yeah. And

Alex Husner:

that's that's a really important topic, because I think a lot of websites because of how these pages are generated for a unit page or property page, they don't actually have their own page. I mean, it's dynamically driven. So if you go to Google that, that property, you're not going to find the direct link back to the company's website. So that's definitely a very important question to ask your your website company, as you're building those but and we definitely have seen a huge rise in that the more that we've pushed onto VRBO and Airbnb in the last year or so, the more we're getting those individual searches on units. And it used to be at one point that for verbo, you weren't allowed to put the property name and the headline, and then I we put them in there now I don't think that I guess they've gone gotten away from that. But it's, I would definitely recommend it. I mean, put it put a headline that has some details in it, but would also always put the property name in it too.

Vanessa Humes:

Yeah, I mean, it goes off the topic of your you know, you're not only marketing your brand, but you're marketing the brand of the individual property Exactly. Don't be 123 Elm Street be Freddy Krugers Beach Condo so that it has a name that you can, you can type in and and mark it and people can, can come back and book because once they if you're doing a good job, and they have a great experience, they're going to want to come back or they're gonna want to tell their family about it. Yeah. And so that that whole brand of that property to be able to, to come in and market it as well, with

Alex Husner:

Terry White on the show yesterday and did a deep dive into websites. And PMS is in a bunch of different tech things. But one of the things we talked about was the complexity. If you switch software, and you have a website that the software company did. Now you're not only switching software, you're having to have a new company build the website too. And I think that that speaks to the benefit of working with a company like icnd Because your site is agnostic now of the PMS. So it is a you are using Track and you are using an ICND website, but now you've switched to a different software, you can connect it to other providers.

Vanessa Humes:

Yeah, and it's happened so frequently that during COVID When we reinvented ourselves and made our first mobile first site so rather than it being just mobile responsive, it's now mobile first. We also recreated our database structure so that if you are on Track and you need to switch to streamline, you don't know you no longer have to rewrite your entire booking engine.

Alex Husner:

Yes thats Huge

Vanessa Humes:

Yeah, we just come in and, you know, you still have to write any kind of customizations so we can still customize it. It's not an out of the box solution. And but from a guest facing perspective, they have no idea you switched websites. From Google, they have no idea you've switched websites. Now we're still doing everything we need to do. So when we do a website, we do what's called a Screaming Frog report that basically says, you know, these are all the pages that Google has indexed for your site, and making sure that you have a one to one page represented on the new site so that none of none of yours your pages are left behind. No page left behind. But yeah, but yeah, yeah, that's a great point is you're investing you should be continuously investing. So it's a really big investment. Again, if you have to switch software and on on some sort of

Alex Husner:

your website,something that you have for the long haul, and hopefully, you don't have to change PMS as often, but it's pretty likely that in some course of business, you might have to change. So that's the I think that's really important to keep in mind, because those SEO rankings are also critical. I mean, that's, that's another huge component of our ability to have built a very strong booked direct brand is our organic placement. So

Vanessa Humes:

absolutely, yeah, yeah. You don't want to like holding a hostage. Yeah, we could go into so much more detail on that I

Alex Husner:

know.

Annie Holcombe:

So let's go to let's go to number four.

Vanessa Humes:

Number four, is going to be pay per click. So that's kind of hand in hand with SEO, pay per click is my favorite because it's an instant gratification. Where you don't have to work months, even years to Yeah, up, up top for, you know that North Myrtle Beach, Wendy Hill, Connor Reynolds, you can just target that keyword phrase, and then you can see how you convert on it. So it's something that you can really track specifically to because, of course, you can't track specific keyword phrases with SEO anymore. So being able to track which keyword phrases you actually convert the best is really great. If so you can do more test marketing with that which type of page converts best what kind of landing page converts best and which keyword phrases convert best. And then you can kind of take that and shift your SEO towards those types of niche keyword phrases, meaning if you are out there for a specific marketplace, let's say Gatlinburg, pet friendly condo rentals, right. But it isn't converting. What can you do to make sure that you're either showing more listings on those pages or your offer isn't converting? Yeah, yeah. Before you invest the time and effort in SEO to show number one. Yeah.

Annie Holcombe:

How do you how do you coach people, and I always used to get this, again, is my husband used to handle it. And then I went to Expedia. And you know, for a management company, you're competing against Airbnb and Expedia and booking.com. And, and now like, the other 50 channels that have popped up, and then again, in a Myrtle Beach market, you're competing against a Condo-World, you're competing against Vacasa. So for me just say I got 25 units, how do you coach somebody? Because I think the natural instinct of somebody starting out is like, oh, I want condo rentals. Well, everybody's bidding on condo rentals. So how do you coach them and drill down into the words, the keywords that work for them? Like, what does that process look like?

Vanessa Humes:

Yeah, experience helps. So we already have that experience, you know, you know what kind of tactics but think more granularly more, rather than going out there for condo rentals. Because when somebody comes to your site, and they only see 25 listings, and then they put in their dates and they see two, yeah, the likeliness that they're going to bounce is pretty high. So if you can come in and give them something that's more targeted where, you know, like we were talking about with Gatlinburg condo rentals that are pet friendly, or Outer Banks ocean front event home, you know, those are very targeted keyword phrases. So what we do is we look at your inventory, and we figure out what people are searching for and what you have, and we match them up. And then we create those campaigns that are very specific to your inventory, and then making sure that they're landing on pages that are going to convert

Alex Husner:

the best. Yeah, absolutely. I think one of the things that that we've done, that has worked really well for us too. You have to make sure that you're looking at your cost per conversion, but not just cost per conversion. What is your actual gross profit per booking to say We we've got 500 condos between Myrtle and North Myrtle and then essentially 5000 with our partners in Myrtle Beach. So we can go after Myrtle Beach Condo rentals, Myrtle Beach Vacation Rentals and play right alongside we're on Airbnb, because we've got so much inventory there, right. But if we had, you know, if you're a company that has 100 units, no, it does not make sense. And you'll, you'll drain your budget on that. And your cost per conversion will be super high, there's no way that you're making a profit on it. But what we do we, we look what our cost per conversion is. But then we also know because we've got various we make different amounts based on if it's a Managed Property, or if it's a partner property, our commission structure is different. So we need to know how much we're actually making on every single booking. And we really dial that in. Now, that's been really helpful. And I don't people don't really talk about that at our events. And I'm not sure why we do that differently. But I think actually, I do know why Roy would go crazy about our Google bill. So out of necessity, we figured out we knew that we knew that we were booking a lot from it. But I think his concern, years ago was that well, how much are we really making because the commission levels there. But that's an important thing for anybody to look at. And it's a formula, but it's it's figured out-able for sure.

Vanessa Humes:

Yeah, it's a lot of spreadsheets, a lot of data, but that the numbers are definitely there. And it's a good point, you know, you might think that you're you're making money and you're making a profit, and you're actually really not. But I would also argue you have to look at that as that's the direct booking. So it's something that the OTA didn't get, right. So you're not paying that additional commission, and then you have that long term value of that guest. Yeah. So once they come stay with you, how many times are they going to repeat booking? And what means are they are they going to use them?

Alex Husner:

So yeah, definitely not just black and white. That's a really good point, too. But I think investment it is, yeah, absolutely. Yeah, yeah.

Vanessa Humes:

And it, it's an investment and also puts less of those eggs in the OTA basket. Well, we're drying about that. Yeah, yeah, look, I just sweat as well, no. And

Alex Husner:

if you're going for volume, or if you're going for, I mean, the heavy bookings. So in our market, for example, if we do a booking that's $1,000, and we're making 10%, commissioners use round numbers on that, we're only making $100 on that booking, our cost per conversion of our cost per conversion is $200, we've lost money. So that's where from a volume basis, we've got to balance that out over the long haul. That's, you know, how we look at it. But some of these markets, you know, Hilton Head and beach on markets where the booking is, could be $10,$15, $20,000, you're one booking and your whole campaign is quite healthy. So having somebody to balance that strategy with is really important, because back in the day, I used to manage our pay per click campaigns. And at least I'm glad I did at one point because I got to learn a lot about it. But it's so complex now that we have a external agency that does it for us. But it's it's important to have somebody that can talk you through these decisions.

Vanessa Humes:

talk you through and keep up to date on what's going on. Yeah, because it's changing all the time. Always changing. Yeah, the algorithms, the needs, the types of ads, it's always changing. So it it you get to a point and I agree with you, I managed enough pay per click on my

Alex Husner:

Facebook accounts and library cards. Awesome. Well, what's number five?

Vanessa Humes:

And number five is, let's dabble in on social media, I don't think we'll get to go into as much depth as I want to with social media because it's kind of, it's never going to be that one driver that's going to drive the most revenue. Speaking of which, you know, it's really hard to track you're going to be trying to look at the attributions and are attributed revenue and, you know, seeing how the different funnels work together with social media, but it's really important as far as like a branding tool. I would, I would say it's like your billboard effect in most cases. But it also gives you some of the trustworthiness that we were talking about that you're an actual business reviews, how you interact with your, with your guests, your brand voice. So a lot of different aspects of your company are communicated best through social media. So if they're not ready to book like and follow your brand, if they have booked with you, and they like you, you know, following you on Instagram, Facebook. TikTokk, all those different platforms that are rising are really great. If you are looking for the best social media out there to drive traffic and conversions, the best one that we have figured out is going to be Pinterest. Really? Pinterest,

Alex Husner:

we had no luck with it. And we I'm definitely using it this year and no Pinterest ads or Pinterest organic just

Vanessa Humes:

ads. Okay, interest is now going to be it's less of a social media platform and more of a search engine, right? Yeah, for sure. Go on there. I'm always looking for stuff Sure, looking for design ideas, looking for hair ideas, nail ideas, so why not look for vacation ideas, right? So it's top of the funnel, come up with all these different personas of travelers, the weekend getaway, the bucket list or the foodie and so you can target different, different personas out there. And, you know, most social media is not going to let you take a direct link back to your site. But that's all Pinterest wants to do, you know, they can build their board, and then send the traffic to your website. So it is something that allows you to do that we had one of our clients over six months, they spent about $1,800 and generated $50,000 in revenue. Wow.

Alex Husner:

Now are you setting those up? As Is it? These are? Are they? Are they actually searching for vacations? And that's why they're seeing the ad or you're targeting those people based on their demographics that they could be on there for something unrelated to a vacation.

Vanessa Humes:

It can be both you can run it both ways, right? Yeah. When you're in the searches, it could be, you know, see more like this and a sponsored ad. So those cases can also travel or, you know, mom's looking at recipes. And all of a sudden she sees an ad for an outer Outer Banks vacation rental.

Alex Husner:

So surprising that that's and I'm willing to give it another try. Because honestly, I feel like there is a lot of potential with with Pinterest, I think it makes sense. We just we did not see hardly any conversions. And we just were dabbling with a smaller budget to try it out. But I feel like at the very least when you can also do remarketing on there. So that that I think has some legs to it that we probably need to re re explore because anywhere that you can put your remarketing ads, if somebody finds you on Google if they've been on your site, and now they're gonna see you on Facebook or on Pinterest, you have a much higher percentage of conversion. Is that are you running those ads for that client too? e

Vanessa Humes:

Im not sure if that's incorporated in and that number. Certainly, we're always running remarketing ads in some capacity, but the way that we set everything up is always like very granularly. Yeah, so with the Pinterest campaigns, one of the biggest parts of the cost there is going to be the setup, because it's going to take us you know, five, six hours just to get the campaign set up. Yeah, correctly. And you know, just like revenue management and everything else out there nothing is set it and forget it right. Yeah, monitor you have to come in and and look at how the results are going and where they're, again, the landing pages and things like that. So there's a continuous improvement on those as well.

Annie Holcombe:

I haven't created a Pinterest board for travel. But I will say that Italy targets me a lot they know I want to come . So I definitely am definitely going to check that out. I think that's really interesting. Yeah, you say that because I've often wondered, I know that, like our DMO here does Pinterest. I've never asked them how effective it was just because I'm not super engaged, you know, on a regular basis. But that is interesting that you say that so I think there's probably more to come, sir space for sure.

Vanessa Humes:

I could see Tik Tok rolling into it too.

Alex Husner:

Oh, yeah.

Vanessa Humes:

You know, as far as being more of a search engine, you know, people certainly keep scrolling and things like that. But you know, I think that they've tried to do it with the hashtags and things like that, but they each have a lot of people on Tik Tok. And so like from a DMO perspective or an influencer perspective, you've got people who are going like live continuously so they grow that audience, right. So there's, there's definitely opportunities for vacation rental managers to jump in the bandwagon there. You've got, ya know, and Gen Z, your millennial and your social media marketing. Give them the opportunity to consistently go live at the same time, build up those audiences. And then you can start. Well, you have to build up your audience before you can go live. Yeah, it's kind of a technique. But, invested well, I think that, if nothing else, it's a big brand awareness you're getting people dreaming about it, it's just always is this amount of time and effort that I'm paying for it worth it down the road?

Alex Husner:

Yeah, and looking at the organic or paid side, too. I mean, using Tik tok organic, that you're actually out showing destinations or the properties, I think that's a good strategy certainly worth trying. But then running ads on Tik To k is a separate thing to you. And I think with any of these, whether it's Facebook, or Pinterest, or Tik Tok or Instagram, that's what's important for companies to look at is organic and paid needs to be looked at as two different strategies, something organic really is more geared towards brand awareness and visibility, which is very important. I mean, it's it's, you're not going to get that immediate satisfaction, like you mentioned, with pay per click that you see you put out an ad and a keyword, you gotta you gotta bucketing, it's not going to be like that. But you've got to have that mindset of looking at this as a longer term, you know, brand awareness campaign for your whole company, when you put into play these different things. So

Annie Holcombe:

I think, to the point of the personas is that, you know, people often think or I, at least in conversation, and I think people perceive, and I would say, especially my age and older, perceive that the social media is you can do the same at across all platforms. But there's a different persona for everyone on social media platforms. And, you know, there's the Gen Xers are kind of going across all of them. But obviously, boomers are not on Tiktok. And boomers are likely not as much on Pinterest. So having that having that plan for each kind of social platform. Is you need to drill into that as well.

Alex Husner:

Yeah,

Vanessa Humes:

absolutely. Yeah. I couldn't agree more. And that's where it's just that time and effort and setup costs for a good social media plan. It can be high, and it's really hard to track. Yeah, you're you're going in and looking at the funnel and, and those attributes and, or, and what's attributed to that booking. You know, it might be pretty far down there that it's tagged. But it did lead to and was part of that guests journey before they actually booked.

Alex Husner:

Yeah, yeah, looking at that multi channel attribution within analytics, and having somebody help you look at that to, to draw conclusions is important. And especially we haven't gotten into this side of it yet. But Google Analytics, the new rollout that's gonna go into effect next year, and essentially all the data that you have, I mean, like, you have to, you have to have everything moved over by what is it? About a year from now? I think? Yeah. So it's completely different. I learned we're already switched over, and I can't make sense of it.

Vanessa Humes:

Yeah, you know, this isn't the first time Google's done this, they have definitely done this before. But so I think in order to have year over year data, you needed to have G four set up on your site, by the end of July, and that was the kind of our push is to get everybody up and running end of July that way, you know, July 2023, you can do your comparison. But it is a new platform. Everybody's getting their their feet wet with it. And I'm sure that there's gonna be some changes, we are maybe thinking that they might start doing some paid to see more data opportunities. Yeah, that's all speculation. I don't have any insight on that. That's just what it seems to be set up on. But it is a complete rethinking of how you use Google Analytics.

Annie Holcombe:

And when you figure it out, they'll change it again. Yeah, exactly.

Vanessa Humes:

I think it's actually been like the longest that they've had analytics in this format. So I'm sure it was

Alex Husner:

out of frustration. I heard somebody say the other day, we'll just go back to using Omniture. Or that. You remember that from back in the day? Oh, yeah.

Vanessa Humes:

They counted. Everything is traffic. Yeah. Traffic go. Yeah,

Alex Husner:

exactly. Well, we're about at time and so but I know Annis's got one very important question to ask you that we talked about in our pre call. Yeah, I want to make sure we get to before

Annie Holcombe:

Yeah. So and I think again, we'll have you back for a part two, but we never want to leave the wrap up our call without asking you or an important. In questions that we talked about, what do you think is the single biggest issue that is not being discussed in industry? Everybody has a different take on this? Very, very, very keen on your take?

Vanessa Humes:

Yeah. So obviously, I'm thinking from a marketing perspective. And I do think that it's not that it hasn't been talked about, it just hasn't had as much complete emphasis on it. And maybe just not a complete thought. But I think as an industry, you guys have brilliantly come up with the T shirts, "We're not Airbnb", think consistently. That is a big push for the vacation rental managers that we are not Airbnb, we don't want to be associated with Airbnb, even though we might be using Airbnb as a OTA. But we're completely different than let's say, somebody who's running their bedroom out of their home, right? And causing advocacy issues and, and everything else that we don't want to be associated with. So I feel like it is a great time for our association VRMA to come up with an actual brand. You know, we are this. This is, yeah, professional vacation rental managers does not sound as sexy as Airbnb right now. But we are this and then just like, the American Dairy Farmers of America, did back in the 90s, you know, come up with a really great campaign, like 'Got Milk', 'milk does a body good' to really promote to the public, by the ads, do it right and come out with, this is who we are. This is why we're different from Airbnb, and I think that it will help us stand apart when we're going against advocacy efforts in a specific location that we're not who you say who want to put us in, yeah, you're outside that box, we are bringing business to your local area or bring in tax dollars, we're optionals, following the books, everything by the books and an integral part of the community, and, you know, the accommodation sector. So I think that it's time I think we've kind of gotten around and beaten around the bush, I think, doing a big advertising campaign, working with a, you know, a great branding company and advertising agency that can help us put together that campaign would be great, because we you know, we've written on the coattails of VRBO, back when I started and HomeAway. And now Airbnb, and I'm very grateful. I really am. I'm grateful for the awareness that they brought to our industry, none of us would be as successful as we are today without that, but it's time.

Annie Holcombe:

Yeah, we need to grow up and stand on our own. Yeah, yeah, that's

Alex Husner:

a really good point to that. I'm not sure if that's been talked about in VRMA, but it is time to bring in an agency I think to help with that whole branding perspective on this stuff. Because, yes, and we agree that this is definitely the biggest issue that is isn't being talked about, but I think it is it's like it's slowly now it's starting to creep into a lot more conversations. But identifying what we're not we're not Airbnb, what what are we then? So that's key to building any brand is what you're not what you are? And what do you want to be perceived as and making it very clear, like you said that when we're in a room, they know who we are, they know what we stand for. There's no confusion. And because that's what we're seeing across the country is that they the people that are putting restrictions in place, don't understand the difference. And these are people that you would think maybe they would know but they don't and it's not their fault, but there's nobody that's told them that yeah, that we are we've we've been doing Airbnb without Airbnb for decades. And these restrictions that they put in place could jeopardize the good apples, like the Condo-Worlds of the world and Sloane Vacations and all the big companies that have been paying tax dollars for years. So right, it's definitely a thing. And I think bringing an agency that's a really smart approach to it, too. We need somebody that can really help strategize with us what that campaign looks like. So

Annie Holcombe:

we need somebody who's not in the industry to take a look and help us look at you know, look outside of ourselves. To really come up with that. I think the problem is we get kind of mired in our daily world.

Alex Husner:

We know what we are, who we are. Why do we need

Annie Holcombe:

Oh, yeah, it's beyond time. And I think that to explain it? the "We are not Airbnb" hashtag resonated so heavily because everybody is frustrated.

Vanessa Humes:

Everybody's frustrated and we want to open up that conversation. And I think it's we want to open up that conversation with the public, you know, not just In defense, but I'm always that type of person I love I like to be proactive rather than reactive, you know. So I think this will help us get ahead of some of the problems that we're facing in, in different communities.

Annie Holcombe:

So we'll stick a pin in that one, there's more to come on that space. And we'll certainly be bringing you back to talk about that one.

Vanessa Humes:

I appreciate it. I had a blast talking with you guys. And yeah, sharing some knowledge.

Alex Husner:

This is just we're just etching off the iceberg. And those top five things are 100%. I'm glad that those are the five you chose. Those are the five that have built our company to be such a big book, direct brand, So I stand behind everything that you said, 100%. But I think we're gonna have a lot more opportunities to dive into details on some of those individual items. And then more. I mean, there's so many more tips that we can we can bring, and I know, there's so much trust within the industry of what you have built and how many companies that you work with, and you've got great success stories to show that this does. It does work and it makes a difference for your bottom line.

Vanessa Humes:

Awesome. Well, I appreciate that. Appreciate those kind words. Yeah,

Alex Husner:

yeah. If anybody wants to contact you, what's the best way to get in touch? Yeah, so

Vanessa Humes:

my email address is V as in Vanessa Humes H-U-M-E-S at ICND.net. Or you can visit us on our website ICND.net. That's

Alex Husner:

awesome. We'll include that in the show notes and anybody. If anybody wants to contact me now you can go to Alex and Annie podcast.com. And until next time, thank you for tuning in and we will talk to you soon.

Vanessa Humes:

Thanks ladies!

Vanessa Humes Profile Photo

Vanessa Humes

Sales & Marketing Director at InterCoast Net Designs

Vanessa Humes is the Sales & Marketing Director at InterCoastal Net Designs (ICND) a website and digital marketing agency serving the vacation rental industry. She has over a decade of marketing experience in the Vacation Rental Industry. Prior she worked with major hotel brands in Myrtle Beach, SC on their direct marketing and advertising strategies. Her passion has been, and always will be, to drive more direct bookings for her clients through strategically built websites and marketing. She's spoken at numerous VR Industry events on the subjects of website conversion optimization and reducing dependency on using OTAs and is a thought leader in strategic marketing plans that lead to more direct online reservations. When she’s not working on building new relationships and strengthening existing ones, she’s working on making ICND the best it can be through new products, operations, and marketing campaigns.