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Do Listing Sites Control Organic Search?

It's often said the biggest brands dominate: let's analyze 100 of the top markets to show the truth.

Do Listing Sites Always Win

I’ll admit, this post is well overdue.

But the data I am showing you data is research backed proof that the listing sites don’t yet control the organic search market as much as you think.

Or, to be completely honest, as much as I thought.

Let’s dive in.

Examining 100 Of The Most Popular Vacation Rental Markets

I’ve had the great pleasure of attending over a dozen conferences for in the short term and vacation rental management space since 2014. During the past four years, I’m often asked if it’s possible to “outrank the big guys” in Google.

My response has always been “yes” because not only have I seen clients do it, I’ve probably looked at more SERPs for vacation rental searches than anyone else on the planet. I see it all the time: local companies can (and do) get better search rankings than HomeAway, VRBO and Airbnb.

All. The. Time. 

Until recently, I never thought enough of that comment to do some actual data-backed research.

My goal with this research was simple: scrape the top 10 Google.com search results in 100 of the most popular vacation rental markets in the US. Then, analyze the top 10 search results and show what percentage of vacation rental markets had any website not named HomeAway, Airbnb or VRBO ranking on the first page of Google. Finally, analyze how often any of the big three vacation rental sites were in the top 3 of the organic search results (the ones that get the most traffic).

Note: I didn’t research any Google AdWords (soon to be Google Ads) results: only organic.

All data was pulled early July 2018 from Ahrefs and was analyzed in Excel and Google Sheets. The charts below are from Semrush which has a longer tracked history of estimated organic search traffic going back to 2010.

The results were surprising to me.

The Big Winner In Search: VRBO

vrbo google rankings
Photo: Semrush Data

After reviewing the 1,081 line data file, the numbers were clear: VRBO is the clear winner in organic search rankings.

  • Ranks in the first page of Google for 94% of the markets analyzed.
  • Takes the first organic slot (ranking #1) a whopping 24% of the time.
  • 64% of the time, VRBO is in the top 3 search results.

Upside And Upstarting: Airbnb

airbnb google rankings
Photo: Semrush Data
  • Only 5% of the top markets had Airbnb in the top 3 of the search results, and Airbnb had zero #1 rankings in Google for vacation rental searches.
  • However, 79% of the top vacation rental markets had Airbnb on the first page of the search results. They’re not at the top yet, but they’re consistently showing on the first page of Google.
  • In urban markets, Airbnb had nearly double the search volume of vacation rentals + the name of the city with searches like Airbnb + the name of the city. In other words, Airbnb doesn’t need to rank to get traffic in markets like New York City: they get branded searches that outpace generic rental searches.

Organic Search Issues Abound: HomeAway’s Crashing Results

homeaway google rankings
Photo: Semrush Data
  • HomeAway struggled, showing only in 2% of the markets in the top 3 of the search results.
  • Overall, HomeAway has just 6 first-page rankings in Google of the 100 top markets analyzed.
  • The 10th spot (last organic search result on the first page) was the most common HomeAway ranking across these vacation rental destinations. They’re just barely hanging onto the first page of Google in these markets. Sneeze and they’ll be on page 2.

While the top 100 search markets represent a good amount of keyword search volume, all of these listing sites rank for tens of thousands of destinations (and millions of keywords). This is not a comprehensive analysis of each site on the whole and their organic search performance but rather a snapshot into 100 of the most highly searched markets.

Is There Traffic Out There For Local Managers In Vacation Rental Searches?

Yes, there is. Competing with the big sites isn’t easy: I hope that no one has told you differently. But, while the big sites in vacation rentals are often showing on the first page of Google, out of 10 links there’s still many local and regional managers getting lots of organic search traffic.

It’s fair to say that there will be big sites on the first page of Google for every vacation rental search, but not all opportunity is lost. Ranking in the top 5 or ideally the top 3 for vacation rental and short-term rental searches in your market will yield legitimate, high-quality traffic.

Best of all? It’s quite attainable.

Take The Next Step
  1. Download the free guide: 17 Ways To Level Up Your Vacation Rental Marketing and get our best tips on how to grow and scale your business.
  2. If you want to learn more about how to generate more bookings, visit our blog and read our articles.
  3. To get started working with us, visit our contact page, complete the form and schedule a call.
  4. If you’ve found this article helpful, please share it with your friends, team or other vacation rental managers you know!
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