Top 10 Mistakes Short-Term Hosts Make in their Listing Descriptions

I’ve been a student of short-term rental listings for a year now since I started my listing-writing service and even more so after I launched my Critique My Airbnb Listing Facebook group at the beginning of 2023. In the many listings I critique in the group, I see consistent mistakes. Here are 10 of them:

One: Title Lacks Selling Points that Will Attract Guests
The title/headline is the first thing a prospective guest sees when searching for a place to stay (photos are a close second), so it needs to catch attention. One mistake is wasting characters on unnecessary information. Airbnb new-listing titles are now limited to 32 characters, although hosts can bump that number up to 50 after publishing their listing. It’s a waste of characters to say NEW (Airbnb already designates new listings as new), include the city the listing’s in (guests search by location, so they already know) and tell the number of bedrooms and bathrooms (already obvious in the listing).

Another error (usually) is to use the name of your place in the title. The name is effective only if it tells guests something about the unit. In some cases, the name works, such as a themed rental. A member of the critiquing group hosts a 70s-themed home. I suggested she call it “That 70s Home.” I don’t know if she took the suggestion, but guests would have instantly learned a lot about that home from such a title.

See more about mistakes with titles and how to improve them in my article Optimizing Your Short-Term Rental Title/Headline

Two: Opening Paragraph Lacks Pizazz

The Airbnb 500-character opening paragraph has many of the same issues as titles/headlines. It needs to contain selling points. It needs to set a mood or convey a vibe. It needs to entice guests to book. It needs to strike a balance between talking about location and the space itself (see No. 9 on this list).

The opener should not talk about house rules, disclosures, limitations, or anything negative. Yes, it’s important to fully disclose any negatives, but do it later in the listing. Get the guest interested before pointing out any downsides.

Many hosts whose listings I critique don’t use the whole 500 characters allowed in the opener. Every word is chance to market your listing. Let your past guests help you market by summarizing the strong points that come up over and over again in reviews. Use language like “Guests love…” and Guests rave about…”

I also see openers that are just poorly written. We’re not all great writers; if you’re not, seek assistance.

For more about writing the opener, see my article, Entice Guests to Book Your Short-Term Rental with an Alluring 500-Character Opener.

Three: Photos Lack Captions.

Photos are probably what will sell your listing more than anything else, but guests want to know what they’re looking at. They want to know how they will experience the space. They want to see words that spark their imagination about how they will enjoy staying in the place pictured in the photos.

Some hosts have photo captions, but they’re just labels, like “Living Room.” These are better than no captions, but full-blown sentences with subjects and verbs will do so much more to help guests imagine themselves in the space.

See more in my article The Most Frequently Missed Marketing Opportunity for Short-Term Rental Hosts

Four: Host Provides Sparse Detail in “The Space” Section.

“The Space”” is another highly important section in the listing. This section has no character limit, so you can provide lots to detail to help guests understand the space. My approach is to provide a verbal tour of the home that helps guests visualize how they will experience the space (much the same approach as I recommend for photo captions). I end the section with a bulleted list of Amenity Highlights.

Many hosts and some guests swear by a series of bulleted list about each room in the home; I’ve seen experts tout this method, as well. The narrative flow of the tour approach is my preference, but if a bulleted-list approach is getting you bookings, I can’t quibble.

For more on The Space section and samples of how I craft it, see my article Airbnb’s ’The Space’ Section: Your Best Opportunity to Captivate Guests by Previewing the Guest Experience.

Five: Host Skips Sections Airbnb Provides to Them
An Airbnb listing provides 6 content sections that can help you market your rental, 7 if you count photos/photo captions. These include: (1) Title/headline, (2) 500-Character Opener, (3) The Space, (4) Guest Access, (5) Other Things to Note, and (6) Location Tab. While Nos. 3 and 4 are not strongly marketing oriented, they provide ways to convey more information about your place. The “Other Things to Note” section is the perfect place for those pesky rules, amenity limitations, and disclosures. Some hosts leave out one or more of these sections.

The Location tab is a hidden opportunity to pump up your listing, which I wrote about in my article, The Hidden Airbnb Section that Enhances Your Listing: Location Tab.

Six: Host Fills Listing with Host-Centric Language Instead of Guest-Centric Wording
Avoid host-centric language (we, us, our) in favor of guest-centric wording (you, your). The listing is not about the host; it’s about the guest. Don’t say “our home.” Instead of: “We’ve provided everything you need for a wonderful stay,” say: “You’ll love having everything supplied for a wonderful stay.”

Seven: Host Doesn’t Demonstrate a Good Grasp of Top Selling Points
I ask my clients to provide a list of their top 5 selling points, and I believe this exercise is effective for all hosts. If you’re just starting out, you may not have a good sense of what your top selling points are, but you’ll quickly learn what your guests seek and what they comment on the most. Be aware that hot-tub, pool, and pet-friendliness are huge, so if you have any of those, be sure to tout them. Most-desired amenities also vary by geography, so try to learn the hot ones in your locale.

Eight: Host Doesn’t Have a Good Grasp of Target Market
You will create a much more effective listing if you have your PRIMARY target market in mind as you’re developing it. My target is families, but I get all kinds of guests – business travelers, couples on a romantic getaway, folks looking to buy real estate in the area, people here for weddings, funerals, graduations. None of these folks are deterred by the family focus of my listing, which also does its job of attracting families. A sharp focus in the listing can only help. Keep in mind some emerging markets like digital nomads traveling with families. If you have very good Wi-Fi, this market could be an excellent one to target.

Nine: Host Depends Too Much on Location to Sell the Listing
I see a lot of very unbalanced listings that emphasize location but say very little about the home itself. This imbalance is often the case with apartments in cities. Let’s face it, sometimes apartments can be perfectly nice, but nothing special. Therefore, the host tends to mostly tout location in the listing. Guests do want to know about location, but they also want to ensure the place they’re looking to stay in is comfortable and right for them. Even if your place doesn’t stand out, you can talk about comfy mattresses, good towel supply, a well-equipped kitchen, and the like. Try to strike a balance between location and your space, especially in the 500-character opener.

Ten: Host Isn’t Willing to Invest in a More Appealing Listing
I strongly support a DIY approach to better listings; that’s the cornerstone of my Facebook critiquing group. But some hosts just really need help writing their listings. I can’t speak for other listing writers, but for most hosts, my services cost the equivalent of or less than a single night’s booking. Is this a blatant pitch for my services? Maybe, but I’d also be perfectly happy if most hosts who need to improve their listings read my articles and submitted their listings for review in the Critique My Airbnb Listing Facebook group.

I’ll add a disclaimer that my expertise is in content and writing of the listing description. Photos are a huge area where hosts make mistakes, but they’re not my area so aren’t addressed here. Hosts also make mistakes in decor and in the amenities they do or don’t make available to guests. Again, not my expertise. The Critique My Airbnb Listing Facebook group has regular critiquers who comment on topics beyond the content and writing I critique.

See all my articles on listing writing.

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