How to Write a Killer Short-Term Rental Listing

Once a short-term rental property is physically ready to be listed on a platform such as Airbnb, VRBO, and perhaps others, the host faces two daunting tasks – getting enticing photos taken for the listing and writing a listing description that will convert views into bookings.

As a writer and 5-star Superhost since April 2017 and in business since Nov. 2016, I’ve studied the art and science of listing descriptions – to the point where I now write them for other hosts. Here’s what I’ve learned (these tips apply primarily to Airbnb listings but are adaptable to others):

Make the most of every character and section of the listing, and don’t skimp on details.

The main components of the listing section consist of:

Title (I’ll come back to this one)

Listing Description, with these subsections:

  • Opening Paragraph (500 characters)
  • The Space
  • Guest Access
  • Other Details to Note
  • Opening paragraph: This is the all-important piece that, along with the title and photos, draws prospective guests into your listing and entices them to book your property. Along with the title, it’s the only part of the description that has a character limit – 500 characters, including spaces. USE ALL 500, if you can, and don’t waste these precious characters on features that are obvious in other parts of the listing, such as number of bedrooms/bathrooms and location. Especially don’t waste characters on anything negative, like rules or restrictions. In most cases, I also consider any discussion of remodeling or renovations to be a waste of space because the guest has nothing to compare it to. Renovations mean a lot to you as a host because you know how awful it looked before and what an amazing transformation your hard work has created. But the guest doesn’t. And – directly from Airbnb – “You can also omit the word ‘new’ from a new listing title, because this info is already communicated to guests on a badge in search results.”

Instead, focus on your top selling points. Why will guests want to book this listing over other properties? What do you offer that others don’t? What do guests most often rave about in reviews? I ask my clients to list their top five selling points, and I ensure that these five points are covered in this crucial first paragraph. Examples include hot tub, pool, firepit, theatre room, grill, backyard, proximity to significant attractions (beaches, theme parks), games, entertainment options, super-fast WiFi, special features for kids, game room, pet-friendliness, to name a few. Consider drawing from – or even quoting – guest reviews in this section. To illustrate how well equipped my property is, I quote a line from one of my favorite guest reviews: “This place has everything; if it’s not here, you don’t need it.”

In journalism, this paragraph would be known as a “nut graf,” meaning all the most important selling information in a nutshell.

Sample 500-character opening paragraph:

Plan an unforgettable stay for a group of up to 16 in this spacious, tri-level lakeside home – with its own beach – that marries luxury with a stunning lush, wooded setting. Huge windows throughout the home will blow your mind and make you feel like you’re right in the midst of nature. You’ll be enchanted by the unique layout and appealing décor. You’ll will find everything you need here for a sumptuous stay, including 2 full kitchens and laundry. Plan wonderful outings to nearby Lake Michigan wineries/breweries and agricultural attractions (berries! apples! lavender! cheese! hard cider!).

  • The Space: Here is where you take your guests on a verbal tour of the property, from entrance to outdoor space. Imagine you are taking them on a physical tour; what features would you point out about each room? What will they especially love about each part of the home? Paint a picture with words.

Take them through every bedroom, describing the size of the bed(s), size and features of the TV (if the bedroom has one), and whether the bedroom has an en suite bathroom. Describe how well equipped the kitchen is and how easy guests will find it to prepare their favorite meals. Detail the spaciousness and comfort of the living and dining rooms. Tell guests what kind of work-from-home space you offer and brag about your WiFi speed, if applicable. Point out any special rooms, such as game room or theater room. Take them outdoors and describe what they’ll experience there. Talk about privacy and seclusion if the property offers those features.

You have unlimited characters for this section, so don’t be afraid to go into great detail. It’s true that most guests will not read every word, but when they’re looking for a place to stay, they’ll want to see significant detail. Don’t leave them wondering. At the end of the “The Space” section, I provide an Amenities Highlights list. It’s OK if this list overlaps with what you’ve already described in this section; since guests won’t read every word, judicious repetition can be your friend. Airbnb doesn’t allow much in the way of formatting (no bullet points, for example), but you can format a list like this:

AMENITIES HIGHLIGHTS

– Theater Room

– Ping-Pong Room

– Multiple TVs

– TWO fully equipped kitchens

– 6-bed bunkroom

– Soaking tub

– Wet-room-style shower

– Bidet

– Two hand-cut stone wood-burning fireplaces

– Firepit

– Gas grill

– Deck

– Laundry room: washer/dryer

– Outdoor shower

– Lakeside beach and beach accessories

  • Guest Access: This section can be a bit deceiving. Yes, you can talk about what parts of the property guests have access to and how they access the property – but this is also a good place to talk about the local area, the neighborhood (even though you’ll also cover it under the Location tab).

You can also list equipment guests will have access to. I suggest NOT talking about limitations on guest access until the next section. You can describe briefly here how guests check in; highlight self-check-in if you offer it. This is also a good place to talk about parking (if parking is challenging, save it for the next section).

  • Other Details to Note: This is the space for disclosures and detailing amenity limitations; security camera(s); parking limitations; potential for noise, bugs; shared spaces, accessibility issues; etc. You need not provide your entire House Rules list here, but you may want to highlight your most important rules. Airbnb requires hosts to prohibit parties and disclose cameras; do it in this space.

Help your guests envision themselves in the space. From my perspective, this is the most important aspect of writing an effective listing description, and the first step is to define your target market. A well-accepted principle of marketing is that the more narrowly you define your market, the more successful you’ll be. Most hosts feel their properties appeal to multiple audiences – families, couples, business travelers, destination tourists, and more – and they may be right. But it’s always best to have a PRIMARY market in mind when writing the listing description. For my listing, the primary audience is families, and I crafted my listing with them in mind – but that doesn’t mean I don’t get several other types of guests. Think about the aspects of your property that will especially appeal to your target audience and highlight those.

The other important trick to writing in a guest-centric way is a “you” approach. Start many sentences with “you.” Example: “You’ll love relaxing in the Roman soaking tub.” Start other sentences with an “understood you;” for example, when you say, “Enjoy books galore from the extensive collection, along with puzzles and games,” you’re actually saying, “[You will] enjoy books galore…” See many examples of this “you” approach in my before-and-after samples at http://katharinehansenphd.com/WritingPortfolio/STRListings.html.

Limit – or avoid – host-centric language like, “We’ve worked hard to create an unforgettable guest experience for you.” Instead, let past guests do the talking: “Guests rave about the unforgettable experience they encounter here.”

Show off your selling points in the title, especially the unique ones. Your title is also critical – and limited to 50 characters, including spaces. As in the opening paragraph, you need to highlight selling points. I give my clients five options for a 50-character title, as in the sample below:

  • Digital Nomad Paradise. Speedy WiFi + Lg Office [50 characters]
  • Luxe House + Private Apt. Loaded with Amenities [49 characters]
  • Speedy WiFi. 2-House Combo w/Amenities Galore [48 characters]
  • Quiet Retreat Close to Attractions + Dallas [45 characters]
  • Blazing Fast WiFi. Amenity-Rich. Friendly Deer. [49 characters]

Since it’s difficult to get all selling points into 50 characters, I suggest that guests regularly change up their titles. This technique has several advantages. Hosts are commonly advised to tweak their listings periodically to keep them near the top of searches. Changing your title also enables you to see if some titles outperform others.

A new twist on the character limitation of titles is that Airbnb is now suggesting even shorter titles – just 32 characters. The Airbnb site states: “Short titles work best,” especially on mobile devices. I would not be at all surprised if Airbnb eventually requires titles limited to 32 characters. That’s why I also provide my clients with five options for 32-character titles. Below are 32-character title options for the same property for which I provided 50-character titles above:

  • Serene Oasis Near Downtown [28 characters]
  • Luxe Digital Nomad Paradise [30 characters]
  • Amenity-Rich 2-House Combo [29 characters]
  • Blazing WiFi 2-house Combo [29 characters]
  • Mins from Downtown. Fast WiFi [32 characters]

Use the Location tab. A major hidden opportunity, overlooked by many hosts, is the Location tab. It’s overlooked because it isn’t part of the listing-description sequence described above. It’s hidden in the Neighborhood Description section as shown in the image below. Characters for this section appear to be unlimited, so you can insert a ton of information about the local area to lure guests. I often include a list of the most popular attractions, along with their distance away from the listed property. The image below shows just a small portion of the list I provide in my own listing.

Image below shows how guests see the Location tab:

Don’t overlook photo captions! Photo captions are yet another way to help guests envision themselves in the space. While label captions, such as “Living Room,” are better than nothing, captions that are enticing full sentences, such as “You’ll love relaxing in the spacious, comfy living room,” will help you get bookings. See a sample below from my own listing. I’ve seen enough client photos to know that some photos are just a complete mystery (“What am I looking at and what does it have to do with this property?”), and if I’m baffled, prospective guests are probably baffled, too. Captions eliminate this confusion.

There’s no shame in getting help. Many – many! – people find writing daunting. You are far from alone if you find it a real struggle. When a task is hard, and you know someone with expertise can do it better, there’s nothing wrong with hiring someone to help – or even asking a writer friend for assistance. Having a terrific listing can help you get bookings, so don’t go it alone if you know writing is not your strong suit.

To see before-and-after listing description examples and order a listing makeover, listing from scratch, or photo captions from an experienced professional writer and Superhost, visit http://katharinehansenphd.com/WritingPortfolio/STRListings.html. Custom orders also available.

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