5 Tips to Improve Vacation Rental (and Real Estate) Website Usability

It’s difficult to make large capital investments in your website when rentals are down, but it’s always possible to invest in incremental improvements that will buoy the bottom line and increase conversions. But where should you invest? Try asking your website these five questions and see if you like the answers. If not, consider investigating improvements to one of these key factors.

  1. Do you satisfy the rate conscious?
    Renting a house is essentially an e-commerce transaction. Imagine an e-commerce site without prices, or a Request More Information button next to the product. Web users expect easy access to rates based on their target dates, not average nightly rates or generic designations like ‘Economical’ or ‘Luxury.’ In the information age, your site should deliver rates as quickly as possible, ideally at the search results page, based on the dates and length of stay.
  2. Do I get results fast?
    A quick search on the home page should allow users to get down to the business of renting a house immediately. Do not impede this process. The search should be visible on a 1024X768 screen, clean, and inviting. Inviting means simple. Provide a link to advanced search for those who might want to search by more than just start date, length of stay, location and a couple of key amenities. If you have many properties consider offering drill-down or drill-sideways results in a sidebar next to your search results. Drill-down: we have this many results if you narrow your search with “Hot Tub.” Drill-sideways: Show the number of results if a user were to filter by “Walk to Slopes” instead of “Ski in, Ski Out.”
  3.  Do you provide enough rental detail and the ability to purchase?
    As a general rule, err on the side of simplicity when it comes to content, so that users can focus on the business at hand without distractions. This rule doesn’t apply to rental details though. If you’re going to rent a house for a week and pay big bucks, you’ll want as many pictures, virtual tours, maps and as much availability information as possible. Vivid descriptions are helpful, as are comprehensive list of amenities with house-to-house comparison options. As a rule, people don’t read on the web, that is, until it’s time to spend money. They will also want real pricing and online booking if this can be provided.
  4.  Does my site make helpful suggestions?
    We’re seeing more and more “fuzzy logic” search results on VR sites. Drill down results appear in a sidebar next to large results sets and provide links showing common filters you might want to apply to reduce the overall number of results to a manageable level. A link in this sidebar might look like this: “Add Hot Tub (27),” indicating that the user may want to filter down to only 27 results by adding Hot Tub as a criteria. This link will go straight to the filtered results. A drill up link might suggest that the user remove an uncommon filter from their search for more results. For instance, “With Out Elevator (35).” Drill sideways results allow you to suggest parallel options to your user, for instance the house is available on an adjoining week to the dates searched or if you selected Ski in, Ski Out, you might consider the following link “Walk to Lifts (25).” These types of search services are increasingly common on travel sites.
  5.  Do you take advantage of GIS?
    Does your site provide your user with integrated geographical information to help them picture themselves at your location. Offer your search results on google maps as well in list format. If you’re in a large city, see if the public transportation system has an API plugin. For instance, in some large Metropolitan areas HopStop (http://hopstop.com/) let’s you embed a form in your site that will return point to point subway, bus or tram directions. These services add value to your site and provide compelling reasons for your users to return after they’ve booked.

– Seth Brown
Director of Web Projects

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