We all do it.
Keeping an eye on your competitors is important — you want to know what the landscape of what your rental market is like.
But, with some clients I’ve worked with, the need to research the competition ranges from an unhealthy obsession to an apathetic indifference.
In this post, I’d like to share with you the “Goldilocks Method” of researching your competitive landscape and how you can balance keeping an eye with spending too much time on those around you.
Keeping An Eye On Pricing
If there’s one tactic that’s likely going to provide a good ROI based on the time invested, I’d say that pricing research is that information. If you have a two-bedroom, two-bathroom condo in Breckenridge, it’s important to keep an eye on those condos that are similar. I know that “similar” can be very difficult to review due to each property being unique, but potential guests are going to research pricing as if your rentals are a commodity. Pricing far out of market rates make it difficult to book your rental property.
Using software can be a good way to research pricing of your competitors. Platforms like Airdna.co, Smart Host, Price Method and Beyond Pricing are out there to help you price your rental properties and research rates. Using a software tool will likely automate much of this process, but manual research is key as well. Searching your competitor websites will likely open up insights that many software tools can’t replicate like fees (booking, pet, parking and more) as well as other information like pricing presentation.
Reviewing Occupancy Rates
Occupancy is the holy grail of competitive research. If only you knew exactly how many nights the competition is booking, you could leverage this into comparing your own booked percentage. Property owners look to this information as a method for picking a rental management company every year — having a good understanding of the marketplace will help you.
However, in general, it’s downright impossible to truly know the occupancy rates of properties down to the micro-level. Many calendars on vacation rental websites aren’t kept 100% up-to-date, so knowing that a property is 67% booked with complete accuracy is hard to do. You may not even know how many of the weeks booked were paid for: perhaps the owner is staying at their home for weeks at a time in the offseason, showing a blocked calendar but $0 in rental income is being generated.
However, spot-checking rental occupancy percentages is a good practice to get into. You can review most availability calendars on both property manager websites as well as large listing websites. If you find it too time-consuming to review this data, you could hire a outsourced staff member to check this information for you on UpWork or OnlineJobs.ph. Have your virtual assistant organize how many weeks are booked for similar properties into a Google Sheet for easy review.
Discovering Digital Marketing Tactics
As a marketing consultant, this is probably where I aim to encourage a little more research: online marketing channels. In general, this may cover the various online marketing channels that you want to review:
- SEO — where do your competitors rank in search (Google/Bing/Yahoo) compared to your website?
- Content Marketing — what types of content are they creating, promoting and gaining strong impact with via social shares?
- Social Networks (Facebook, Twitter, Instagram) — are your competitors gaining social share of voice with their social media marketing?
- Email Sends — have you signed up and are receiving the promotional emails from your competitors?
- Paid Marketing — using a tool like Semrush, you can see what types of keywords others are bidding on in search with Google AdWords.
Within a short period of time, it’s relatively simple to get an overview of how each channel is impacting the overall marketing and advertising picture for your vacation rental competitors.
Here are some things you may want to do to keep up-to-date on your rental market and area.
SEO: Research Overlapping Keywords
Using a tool like Semrush, you can easily view which of your keywords overlap with the domains of your competitors. The domain vs. domain tool will allow for you to view each of these keywords with ease.
Here, you can easily see where each keyword ranks higher than your website in search. This helps lead to new keyword ideas as well as focus on other keyword rankings that can be improved upon. If your competition has a page about a certain amenity, area or blog post that’s gaining organic traffic, you may be able to recreate that page (with a much better version) that’ll rank higher in search results.
Content Marketing: View Social Share Stats Easily
While content marketing is not all about social shares, you can learn a lot about what’s working well in your area by reviewing what content is generating social traffic. Using a tool like Buzzsumo, you can place a keyword (example: the name of your destination) into the search box and find what articles, blog posts, guest posts and videos are racking up social traffic. You can even sort share counts across Twitter, Facebook, Pinterest and Google Plus to see how different social media websites are reacting to content about the area.
Searches are not limited to just keywords — you can also search the domains of your competitors. Want to learn the highest-performing content on the websites that you see doing well with their content marketing? Buzzsumo lets you enter their domain and see how many social shares each page has generated over the past year.
Social Networks: Like, Follow & Observe
This tip is pretty simple — check out your competitors on social media. You can follow them on Twitter, view their Facebook page and check out the types of content they post. What posts do well? Which ones don’t seem to generate as many comments, likes and shares? While you never want to just copy content that’s working, you can likely see the themes of what content is working well and mimic that. Are images performing better? Do they do weekly contests, giveaways or promotions? Reviewing their posts on a bi-weekly basis will let you keep an eye on the landscape of your destinaion and get a good feel for what’s working well.
Email Marketing: Pretend You’re A Guest
We’re getting very easy here: sign up for email newsletter lists as if you were a guest of your competitors. You can sign up for 5-7 local area competitors and check out their email style, frequency and layout. If you use Google Apps as your email service provider, you can even setup rules to file away each of the email lists that you sign up for into a certain tag or folder and mark as read so you don’t have to look at them everyday. When you want to check in before sending your email newsletter, browse your tag or folder and check out the competition’s email marketing messages with ease.
PPC Advertising: Find Sticky Keywords & Ads
Finding out what keywords that your competition is bidding on in Google AdWords is very useful information. You can easily see:
- What keywords are driving traffic to your destination market.
- The cost of each keyword on a CPC (cost-per-click) basis.
- Specific keywords that are “sticky” your competition is using
Using the paid research tool in Semrush, you can find out all of this information on a per-domain basis. Very useful! Instead of just performing your searches on Google, it’s simple to view all of the keywords that each website is bidding on in search as well as what ad copy they’re using. A good indicator of what ads are working well is ads that having 3+ months of history in Google AdWords. Also, if you want to learn more about how to run vacation rental PPC marketing, check out my guide!
Any Other Ideas?
Competitive research isn’t a one-stop process. Keeping an eye on your destination’s marketing trends will help you be a well-informed vacation rental manager. Have any other ideas? Feel free to share your comment below!