The Secret to Next-Level Short-Term Rental Listings: Describing the Guest Experience

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

I’m about to take a big risk.

I’m about to expose my biggest trade secret as a writer of short-term rental (Airbnb, VRBO, etc.) listings. Of course, the secret is already out there – kicking off my Web site devoted to my listing-writing service. Here’s what it says:

The secret to an effective listing . . .

The wow factor in a listing for Airbnb, VRBO, other platforms, and even your own direct-booking Web site is enabling prospective guests to picture themselves in the space. It’s not enough to write a descriptive listing; your listing must inspire a guest to envision what it’s like to stay at your short-term rental.

It’s the difference between the approach most hosts use, “Here are the features of my short-term rental” and taking the listing to the next level with: “Here’s how you will experience the features of my short-term rental.”

Opportunities for applying the guest-experience approach come up in several places in the listing, but primarily in The Space section, photo captions, opening paragraph (on Airbnb, limited to 500 characters), and sometimes in the title/headline. Hint: Phrases that begin “There is… or “There are …” are an instant tipoff to a feature-driven description; you can almost always come up with a better, more guest-experience-driven way to rewrite such sentences.

Tips for Applying the Guest-Experience Approach

Always remember that listings are about the guest, not the host. As I’ve written in other articles in this series, hosts should avoid host-centric language (we, us, our) in favor of guest-centric wording (you, your). Instead of focusing what they as hosts have done to create the guest experience, they should simply focus on the guest experience. Host-Centric Example: “We lovingly designed the house to deliver a home-away-from-home feel. Guest-Centric Conversion: “You’ll love the home-away-from-home feel of this house.”

Use the pronoun “you” as much as possible. “You’ll love ….” Is a phrase I often use. Many more examples appear in the table below, but here’s one sample of how “you” makes a difference in evoking the guest experience.

  • Without “you:” The kitchen is equipped with a full-sized refrigerator, an oven with a four-burner stove, a microwave, a toaster, a coffee maker, and a large farm table for food prep.
  • With “you:” You’ll have everything you need for meal prep in the fully equipped with full-sized refrigerator, oven with four-burner stove, microwave, toaster, coffee maker, and a large farm table.

Craft imperative sentences with imperative verbs. Grammatically, imperative verbs represent an action a speaker or writer wants or commands someone else to do; in the case of a listing, it’s more of a suggestion than a command. Below are imperative phrases and sentences with imperative verbs I use frequently in writing listing descriptions:

  • Discover the bunk room, where kids and adults alike will enjoy the twin-on-queen bunkbed.
  • Plan an unforgettable stay …
  • Experience a sense of tranquility and relaxation.
  • Enjoy the warmth of the modern gas fireplace.
  • Catch the game and your favorite shows …
  • Dine al fresco on the wraparound deck at the table for eight.
  • Relax on comfy furniture as the ceiling fan circulates air …

Not every sentence needs to contain “you” or an imperative verb. I often find bedroom descriptions a challenge in terms of these language techniques. But do sprinkle these guest-experience-driven words and phrases liberally throughout your listing. I find they are especially needed in photo captions, which hosts often write in a static, boring, “label” format.

Let former guests describe the guest experience. It’s hard to find a more credible way to capture the guest experience than to quote, paraphrase, or summarize past guests talking about the experience. After all, that’s why guests value reviews so highly. Example: “Experience why many guests rank [name of STR] as one of the best Airbnb properties they’ve ever stayed in.”

To further illustrate how to convert typical feature-description language into guest-experience language, I took 20 random samples of sentences and captions from listings submitted to my Facebook group, Critique my Airbnb Listing, for a side-by-side comparison of a just-OK style of listing description converted to a next-level/wow style of listing description.

Bar stools may be used for bar or table dining. Or a table for a fun card or board game.Dine or sip beverages at the barstools – or have fun playing a board or card game
There are so many places to hang out as a group.Discover multiple places to hang out as a group.
It has large windows, French doors and is bright and airy.You’ll love the bright and airy vibe that French doors and large windows provide.
This home is the perfect space to enjoy an off-season getaway to nature as the fall leaves change color or to spread out and cook up a feast as your family gathers for a special occasion.Enjoy an off-season getaway to nature as the fall leaves change color. Cook up a feast as your family gathers for a special occasion.
An oscillating fan tower is also provided in the bedroom.You’ll keep cool with the oscillating fan tower in the bedroom.
There is a bbq grill and lounge chairs in the private fenced-in backyard.Cook on the grill and dine al fresco in the privacy of the fenced-in backyard, where you’ll also enjoy relaxing on lounge chairs.
The wraparound deck offers plenty of seating and picturesque views.Take in the picturesque views as you relax on the wraparound deck with its ample seating.
During winter months the wood burning fireplace keeps the cabin super warm! Firewood is provided.Warm yourself by the cozy wood-burning fireplace in the winter months, using host-provided firewood.
Our space is a comfortable retreat with a tranquil and inviting ambiance.Experience a tranquil and inviting ambiance at this comfortable retreat.
Dining area of “great room” with a portion of breakfast bar. Windows everywhere to enjoy the trees and light.Exult in nature as you gaze out the windows while dining at the breakfast bar in the great room.
The primary bedroom features a king-sized bed, black out shades, a smart TV, and an ensuite with shower.Luxuriate in the comfort of the primary bedroom’s king-size bed and the convenience of blackout shades, smart TV, and ensuite with shower.
There’s a stunning large formal dining room with a massive table that seats 12/14 comfortably.Don’t worry about accommodating your large group at mealtime; a large formal dining room with a massive table seats 12-14 comfortably.
The living room large sliding doors open to the patio where you will find a seating area with a view of the pools and the ocean.Step out onto patio through the living room’s slider doors and relax in the seating area while enjoying the view of the pools and ocean.
A 50-inch smart HDTV complete with Roku hangs opposite the bed, next to a full-length mirror.Watch your favorite shows, sports, and movies on the 50” ROKU smart HDTV opposite the bed, next to a full-length mirror.
The laundry room is conveniently located near the bedrooms and has a washer and dryer, as well as additional storage space. Fully stocked with laundry detergent and fabric softener.You’ll love the convenience of a laundry room near the bedrooms, with washer and dryer, along with laundry detergent, fabric softener, and storage space.
Both beds in the downstairs area feature brand new memory foam mattresses for your comfort.Fall into a rejuvenating sleep on brand-new memory-foam mattresses on the downstairs beds.
The huge backyard is fully fenced for your fur baby.Your fur-baby will love romping in the huge, fully fenced backyard.
The private bath has a separate shower, jetted tub and his and hers sinks.Refresh and rejuvenate in the private bath with separate shower, jetted tub, and his and hers sinks.
The kitchen is well-equipped with stainless-steel appliances and all the necessary cookware and dishes, which will make it easy to prepare meals and enjoy them in the dining room or on the back patio.Easily prepare meals in the well-equipped kitchen with stainless-steel appliances and all the cookware and dishes you need. Enjoy your culinary creations in the dining room or on the back patio.
The peace and quiet found in this home is unmatchable. Complete serenity is found here.You’ll experience unmatched peace and quiet, along with complete serenity, in this home.

As I looked through the many critiques I’ve done for hosts in the group, I noticed that very few hosts have implemented the writing and content changes I suggested in my critiques. I speculate that, even with the guidance of detailed critiques and articles like this one, the idea of revamping and rewriting a listing is daunting and overwhelming – just as it is for most hosts just starting to craft their first listing. You don’t have to do it alone; you can engage a listing-writing specialist like me to help describe the guest experience for prospective guests and optimize your content to attract bookings.

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