All Rental Listings Are Not Created Equally


If you own a vacation rental, if you are considering buying or converting a vacation rental, or if you have ever stayed at a vacation rental, you’ll be familiar with a listing site feed like this:

Rental Listing
Listing sites are the name of the game to most vacation rental owners: sign-up with a yearly membership fee, type in your title and description, upload your photos and (BAM) you’ve just manufactured a way to generate bookings for your property for years to come!

But not so fast.

What used to be a pretty foolproof way to earn back tremendous ROI on vacation rentals is now a little more challenging.

You see, there are a number of factors at play that are making it more difficult for one property to stand out from the next: primarily, the sheer volume of vacation rental properties is increasing (and more owners are deciding to promote their second as a vacation rental on, you guessed it, the same 3 big sites). Browse industry forums and you’ll read about owner’s uncertainty in listing site performance over the past few years.

So in trying to decide how to make your listing stand out, wouldn’t it be nice to get inside the head of the prospective guest? To see, psychologically or just instinctively, what’s prompting them to choose some property listings and totally ignore others?

Well, I thought it would. So I decided to do a test.

In a recent survey using Zipinion, a crowdsourced feedback service, I asked 100 people to look at that exact same snapshot of properties, and choose “Which Florida vacation rental listing would you choose to research first and why?”

The results of my poll were back in about an hour: 53% of individuals chose the first result, Daytona Beach Resort, 25% of people chose the last result, Direct Oceanfront, 13% chose result number three, Beautiful Newly Updated, and the remaining 9% chose result number two, 11th Floor Direct.

Since knowing which result the traveler prefers is useless without knowing why, I wanted to draw some broad conclusions about themes that seemed to attract more choice. Here are some stand-alone statements that seemed to be echo themes repeated in the response feed:

Result 1: Daytona Beach Resort – June Weeks Start at $620/week (photo of pool)

  • I would choose the first listing since it has the most reviews shown.
  • I’d look at the 1st image on Daytona Beach. The beautiful color of the pool and palm trees are very alluring and appeal to my desires for a relaxing beach side vacation. It looks like you can see the ocean in the background. To have the beach and a nice pool is a definite plus.
  • I would choose the one with the most reviews (the first one).
  • I’d choose to research the top one first – Daytona Beach Resort – but that’s primarily because of the beautiful blue-sky and palm trees picture alongside the listening. I know, very fickle of me! I should probably be more interested in what the hotel is like but a picture of a bed does nothing for me. Ha!
  • I’d choose this rental because it’s the first one in the list
  • The first listing with the weekly rate and with the area of Florida shown, so the location would be primary consideration to begin with.

Related: 5 Things Vacation Rental Guests Really Want

Result 2: 11th Floor Direct Oceanfront Studio in the New Tower (photo of sunset)

  • It would depend on the reviews. The one with 129 reviews would be suspect, especially if all were positive, because I would expect the property owners were incentivizing positive reviews. The newly updated oceanfront studio would be intriguing, but being the most expensive and with no reviews would make me nervous. I would likely pick the 11th floor direct oceanfront studio choice because it’s fairly affordable and assume there are no negativereviews in the 5 listed.
  • 11th floor sounds like it has the best view of the water
  • This place seems more scenic than others.
  • I would choose the 11th Floor Direct Oceanfront Studio in the New Tower. The picture makes it look like the studio has a very beautiful outside view.

Result 3: Beautiful Newly Updated Oceanfront Studio (photo of bedroom)

  • I’d go with the 3rd because it actually shows your room
  • The third one, due to the price and because the photo shows the inside of the room, which is more important to me than the hotel’s pool or surroundings. (Since I’ll be out and about all day anyway.)
  • 3rd choice, because “beautiful” and “oceanfront” caught my attention immediately and I would probably be enticed by these words, as well as it being described as “newly renovated”.
  • I would choose the Oceanfront studio (3). Although it is somewhat pricy, it looks incredibly luxurious and I love that it is oceanfront but NOT on the 11th floor!
  • Newly updated as I like indoor comfort the most on vacation!

Related: Capitalizing On The Emerging Vacation Rental Industry

Result 4: Direct Oceanfront – $79/Night All Summer Long ! (photo of resort façade)

  • I like the $79/night in the title, this price is more affordable for me.
  • Direct Oceanfront. Catchy title with the price in the description. It caught my eye first.
  • I would research the last (4th) property first. The nightly rate is clearly advertised, as well as the fact that it is an oceanfront property.
  • The last one. “Direct Oceanfront”. Only because it is the only hotel in my price range on the list.

From this data, we can conclude some very important things about exposure on the all-mighty listing site, such as: your amount/quality of reviews seems to impact greatly, the sheer order of listings matters (the first listing was by far the most popular), featured images are important: choose the “view” that best embodies your property, affordability (and displaying the price in the title) seems paramount, pretty imagery seems to pay off…etc.

This intent of this poll was not to prove what attributes of a listing will work for every single owner or manager looking to bank off listing sites. Rather, it was to take that 50,000-foot view of our properties and realize that setting yourself apart is not just challenging for all listing owners. Today, it’s more important than ever.

Photo: Andy Beal Photography

About Author

Matt is the Founder of the Vacation Rental Marketing Blog, the largest database of vacation rental marketing articles on the web.


  1. So the conclusion if you are a frugal investor looking for a vacation rental, you want to look at the place which is near the last on the list, has lousy pictures, with the least information. That rental is probably right next to the first place rental, but at half the price.

  2. Interesting experiment and a great way to get inside the mind if the renter. I was surprised that number of reviews was so important, but it makes sense. People like what everybody else likes. I will definitely use these insights next time i list a house! It’s important to step back and see things through the eyes of your target audience, but it’s tricky in the business to cater to both owners and renters at the same time. Most managers end up favoring one more than the other.

  3. I am currently revamping my website. I read somewhere about programs or software where all of your reviews can be brought together so they show up in one place. I don’t have a lot of reviews, but they are good. But it is one on one site, another one or two on another site etc.
    I would love to see you address this in a future article. And yes, I am exploring the recent article about how to bribe your guests to go back and put on reviews!!

  4. Matt, you did a fantastic job in the last paragraph of showing which shell the pea is really under. Instead of looking at the exact words that folks were using to explain how they came to their opinion, you drew conclusions from those choices that might not be obvious to everyone. Another good technique is to pick a vacation spot, check the rental listings, and see which properties appeal to you, and why. Not just that they allowed dogs, but you see a photo of the private beach where your dog would love to romp around. Or, sloppy photos = sloppy rental, at least in my not so humble opinion. Thanks for all you do for us!

  5. Matt, Enjoy your articles. I am fairly new to VR, but now have 5 condos at Sanibel Arms West all recently remodeled. They rent well through our onsite rental office. But I want more Summer and Fall renters.
    I am getting professional photos done. The photos of the first condo are spectacular and more than worth the money.
    I am tweeting under @SanibelSam and have 648 followers after 4 weeks. Yeah!
    How do I share these photos for maximum impact?
    I am on VRBO with one condo, my first, with a basic subscription.
    My website is only okay and only features my first condo.
    I need help pulling this all together.

  6. Hi Sam,
    I think it’s important to note that the “wave of the future” in vacation rental marketing is not selling your property but helping prospective travelers. While having professional photos is an obligatory first step (Yeah!) they are not by any means the meat or potatoes to your marketing portfolio (in other words, it’s very unlikely that great new photos will boost your bookings immediately).

    – Matt

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