The Most Frequently Missed Marketing Opportunity for Short-Term Rental Hosts: Photo Captions

See all my articles on short-term-rental listing writing, including on titles/headlines, photo captions, opening paragraphs, the full listing description, and more.

In my work as a writer of short-term rental listing descriptions, I’m amazed at how many short-term rental hosts fail to include photo captions in their listing descriptions. After all, photos will probably get far more attention from prospective guests and play a much bigger role in a prospective guest’s decision-making than will the words in the listing description. So, why not boost the marketing potential of photos with captions that enable you to highlight selling points at your property?

What are the advantages of photo captions?

  • They help prospective guests orient themselves in the house (this is also why guests like to see floorplans, by the way). Guests want to envision themselves in the space. Photo captions help them do that by describing how they will experience the space. For example, one of the living-room captions for my own listing says: “Chill out in the living room surrounded by breathtaking views.”
  • They provide an opportunity to highlight selling points. Hosts know that guests often don’t read every word of a listing description. Thus, repetition is usually a good thing – mentioning top selling points in more than one spot in the listing. An example in my own listing is to highlight the nature scavenger hunts I provide in the spring and summer for kids. The photo, shown at right below, depicts the supplies and lists for the hunts; the caption reads: “Enjoy family fun with nature scavenger hunts, including PRIZES!”
  • They reveal what’s behind closed doors. In my listing, a caption for my coffee bar, pictured below left, reads: “Coffee bar! Enjoy a variety of coffees (including decaf and whole-bean) and teas, along with all the trimmings – French press, coffeemaker, bean grinder, teakettle, nondairy creamer (half ‘n half in the fridge), to-go cups, sweeteners.” Another example is a curtained closet with the caption: “Behind the curtain? A large assortment of games and puzzles!”
  • They show accessibility. My own listing is not great for accessibility because the main living area is on the second floor, a 14-step climb. In multi-level homes, many guests want to know what’s on each floor for these reasons. I’ve lost bookings for lack of accessibility, but I’d rather my captions spelled out what’s on each floor and showed access limitations than have a guest book who cannot access the second floor.
  • They help guests navigate complex or unusual layouts. I’ve had several clients, for example, whose listings comprise two-house combos. Photos for setups like this can be confusing without captions.

Photo Caption Basics
Photo captions on Airbnb can be up to 250 characters, which is a pretty generous character allowance, enabling detailed captions as necessary. You’ll find some variations on other platforms (OwnerRez: 256, VRBO: 80, as a couple of examples).

Should you caption every photo? In my opinion, yes; consistency is best.

The most basic level of captioning is what I call “label captions,” such as “Living Room.” These are better than no captions at all, but writing a caption that puts your guest in the picture is a much better marketing strategy.

The photos themselves help guests to envision themselves in the space, but you can build on that vision with your captions. A photo of an overstuffed armchair next to the woodstove in my STR is captioned: “Relax by the cozy woodstove and read a book.”

It’s OK to pull verbiage right from your listing description for some captions. Repetition is acceptable because we know the guest may not have read the entire listing. A phrase I often use in listings is “No fumbling with keys; self-check-in is available with digital keypad.” It’s reasonable to use the same wording as a caption for a photo of your keypad. But do mix it up and write a good portion of your captions from scratch.

Identify what your guests will especially love in a given room, and more specifically, in a photo of that room. One of my big selling points in my STR is a big Roman soaking tub surrounded by large windows that offer a view of my 40-acre forest. An example of putting the guest into the photo and highlighting what guests love about the room is my caption, “Imagine gazing at this view from your relaxing bath.”

Try to get a verb into each caption. This suggestion goes a long way toward enabling your guests to envision how they will experience each space. Notice the difference between saying, “The living room has a 46″ smart TV with host-provided streaming channels” and “Catch the game and your favorite shows on the 46” smart TV with host-provided streaming channels.” Here’s a list of some of my favorite verbs and verb phrases:

  • Enjoy …
  • Experience …
  • Find …
  • Relax …
  • Exult in …
  • Delight in …
  • Discover …
  • Imagine …
  • Picture yourself …
  • Take in …
  • Refresh …
  • Rejuvenate …
  • Unwind …
  • Chill out …
  • Watch …
  • You’ll love …

You probably have more than one photo of each room and may be concerned that you will run out of things to say as a caption for each photo. Try to pinpoint something unique to each photo of the room, or simply identify all the selling points of the room are and divide them among the photos. One caption in a living room, for example, could comment on the natural light pouring into the room. Another could talk about the TV and how content is delivered (streaming, cable, etc.), what streaming services are available, specs for the TV (size, brand), and so forth. A third caption could mention how comfortable the seating is.

Consider tapping into your reviews for your captions. A shot of my well-equipped kitchen says: “One guest said the place is so well-equipped that if you can’t find it, you don’t need it!” For each photo, recall what guests have said about that space. Use captions that start out “Guests rave about ….” or “Guests love …” and fill in the blank with what guests appreciate about a given pictured space.

Be sure to include captions for photos you have of local attractions. In the many listings I’ve critiqued that lack photo captions, I go nuts when I see local scenes with no captions. Why include these photos if you don’t plan to tell guests what these great attractions are and why guests will enjoy them?

Start some captions with a question. I have tents available for guests and caption the photo of them with “Want to camp on the grounds of Hansen Woodland Farm (or elsewhere nearby)?” A question provides a bit of extra engagement.

Writing photo captions can be daunting, especially if you have many photos, so consider getting help if you need it. Brainstorm with a friend, member of your business team, or family. Or hire a professional like me.

Writing this article inspired me to tweak my own captions. Check them out here if you’d like some inspiration.

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