Creating a website today has never been easier. There are so many ways to create your holiday rental site, from simple drag and drop tools through to traditional coding in HTML. This ease of use leads many owners to undertake the challenge themselves and rightly so. However, being able to place some images and text on a page and publish it to the internet is only part of the process and this alone will not guarantee success. The most common complaint is that no one is finding your website and this even leads some owners to believe that a website is a wasted expense. This article briefly describes some of the other factors which should be considered when making your website if you want to have a professional looking site which people will find.
Pages should appear balanced without huge areas of empty spaces or overlapping errors. Space between content is a good thing but keep this consistent. Consistency is a key part of design and all pages should have a similar feel to them and use the same fonts. Limit the number of fonts used, avoid ones that appear to clash and do not use a font too small. Leave Comic Sans in the 90s. Remember that most visitors will scan your pages very quickly and are unlikely to read lengthy paragraphs describing your property so try to keep important details near the top of the page and more lengthy detail, lower down, making it optional to read.
Does your website display on a mobile device without excessive scrolling and zooming? Google will rank lower, sites, which are not mobile friendly. For a holiday rental site, the best choice is probably a responsive layout, which adapts itself to varying device screen sizes. You should always test your website on at least Android and Apple phones and tablets, even if that means asking a friend to take a quick look. You may even consider disabling certain features on mobile devices to increase usability – an automatic slider for example is not great on a phone.
Photos should be good quality and edited to ensure optimum exposure, colour balance and composition. Taking photos indoors can be difficult due to the low light so use a tripod when possible. Try taking photos with all the lights on, even in the daytime, for a more welcoming look. Your photos form the main component of any website so if you are unable to create good ones, it could be well worth paying someone to do this for you. Your images are the key to attracting business and even a professional web designer can do almost nothing without a quality set of images.
The #1 mistake I see in DIY websites and even some professionally designed sites is images that are significantly larger than required. Determining the required image size for a responsive layout can be tricky, as the images will appear at different scales depending on the browser window size. Imagine that you think you require an image no larger than 300×400 for some content on your page. You can place an image directly from your camera, which is 3000×4000, and it will look fine in your layout. This is because you told the browser to display the image at 300×400 so the image is scaled down to this size. However, it first must be downloaded and in this hypothetical case, the image will take 100 times longer to download than if the correct size had been used to begin with. This delay quickly adds up and will lead to noticeably slow loading pages. The author might not even notice this problem as the page under test has already been loaded into the browser cache or they have super-fast internet. An image which is slightly over sized is fine and will not have any major impact.
Royalty Free Images
One problem frequently encountered when designing a website is finding enough quality images. You may have plenty of images covering all the rooms in your property but when you come to presenting a famous landmark worth visiting, you may find you don’t have any decent photos to use on your site. Finding pictures using a search engine is easy and so is stealing these images. You cannot simply find an image and use it on your website. The image creator can easily locate the used image and force you to remove it or just as bad, report plagiarism to the search engines and your page will be unlisted. (This works, I’ve tried it)
So what can do you?
Several websites exist where you can download and freely use images they host. My favourite is Pixabay but the catch there is that you must first upload some of your own images to share. Others include Pexels, which seems to have no restrictions. I’m certain there are many more so now you know such sites actually exist, go out there and find ones which can help your design.
Google now ranks SSL sites (https) higher than non SSL (http) and some browsers are even warning users about sites which do not employ SSL. Secure Sockets Layer adds encryption of data from your pages to the server so elements like content forms will be more secure for your visitors. Choose a hosting company who offer free or low cost SSL.
SEO is a subject which would take a book to cover and is very much shrouded in mystery. Search algorithms are not public domain knowledge but there are some common sense steps, which should be considered for any site.
Make sure your text actually mentions the terms you expect people to be searching for. Mention these terms more than once but do not overdo this or you will be penalised for going too far. Keep the text natural but relevant. Your home page should state very early on and very clearly, what exactly you are offering. For a rental property, a visitor should be able to determine where it is located and what size the property is, immediately from the home page. The decision to read further or leave, may be made within a second or two so do not expect people to read all your text to find the hidden details.
Titles, Headers and Tags
Search engines use titles to determine structure of page content. An H1 title is more important than H5 so try to avoid using titles within your pages simply to control font sizes. Start with H1 for your highest-level title and if the font is too big, then change the style, not the level.
Visit a search engine and enter some of your own URLs. If already indexed, your pages should appear in the search results. Is the text you see in the results, as you would like it? If not, then you should perhaps edit your page titles. You have control over how your site appears in search results.
Meta tags can also be used although Google say these are of lower importance these days than content. The meta tags can be used to desribe tha contents of the page to help search engines.
Images should have meaningful names, not abstract numbers to give search engines more chance of indexing them. Alt tags should be used to give images a short description and this will be the text you will see indexed by search engines. You might have an image Living-Room.jpg with a alt text of “Luxurious living room with real fire”. If someone searched for “living room with real fire” you may appear in the results but if your image is called _12345x.jpg with no alt tag, then you will not appear in any results.
Avoid spaces in image names as this is classed as an error or warning by many browsers. It will not cause a failure but it might not help SEO.
A sitemap is an index to all the pages on your website which is used to aid search engines. The file will also indicate to the search engine crawlers, when to come back and check your site again. There are several free websites which can create this file for you or if using WordPress, there are even some plugins. If using Google Webmaster Tools with your website, you should let Google know where your sitemap file is located.
I actually wrote an article about this subject a few years ago. There are many conflicting arguments regarding what works best so this link is only my opinion and an approach, which has worked for me.
What’s expected in a holiday rental website?
- Size, number of rooms/bathrooms, occupancy number
- Prices and Availability
- Photos of every room, outside and location
- Facilities provided
- An idea of things to do in the area
- Terms and conditions
- Contact information
- A way to book and pay directly (pages may be offered only after enquiry if you wish)
- Popup windows
- Advertising banners
- Animated GIFs
- Macromedia Flash content
- Annoying fonts
- Mobile unfriendly
- Horizontal scrolling
- Complex navigation
Is your website too slow? It may look fine when you load the pages yourself but as already mentioned, you may already have most of the content in cache. Search for website speed test and use one of the free online URL testers to find out where your bottlenecks are. If you have a site using large, full width images then this will affect load time. You have to find a compromise between the amount of information you can place on each page and the loading speed.
How many MB are your pages? When testing the speed of your site, pay attention to the size too. The smaller a page is the faster it will load. Optimise your images for web use using an editor. A 1MB image might look identical on your page to the same image reduced to 200KB. Before going too far with a site try to get a feel as to how large images should be look acceptable quality.
Why do I need social media when I’ve just made myself a slick looking website? Social media will complement and authenticate your website. It’s relatively easy to create a website and incredibly easy to clone one. I’ve experienced this already with one of my own websites by someone living on the same street as my rental property! If for example, you create a Facebook page for your holiday rental, you can link this from your website and in Email signatures. The Facebook page can contain content which is updated regularly and has interaction with clients or friends, which will give your client more confidence that you are a genuine business. Some people are even very successful in generating bookings through social media.
Not all hosting companies are equal. It is easy these days to find super cheap hosting offering an amazing amount of space and features. Hosting companies can do this by spreading resources as thinly as they feel they can get away with. You will most likely be sharing the same hardware with 1000s of other clients and to make matters worse, some of these clients will have websites you would not want you kids to be looking at! Some clients could even be hosting illegal content and IPs could be blacklisted as a result. As you will be on the same IP address, this then affects you. This happened to myself after creating my first holiday rental website and chosing a cheap, very large hosting firm in the USA. Do some research and read some reviews for example on Trustpilot before choosing a host company.
Consider where most of your visitors are located and chose hosting in this country for optimum performance – it will be slightly faster.
Is unlimited space better? Probably not as no company can truly offer limited space to every client and you will not need as much space as you think. They know most clients will in fact use very little space and have very little traffic. I guess you could liken it to all you can eat restaurants where only a tiny minority people can actually can consume more than they paid for.
You have your own domain name, so make good use of this for email too. Your business will appear more professional with your own domain email instead of using free providers such as Gmail, Hotmail or Yahoo. You can still use these services to read your domain email if you prefer. Publishing your email on your website will lead to address harvesting by spammers. It is only a matter of time. You can protect the address to some degree with some scripting or plugins if you use a platform like WordPress but you may like to consider using only a contact form. Having your own domain email also means that you can have more than one email account. Perhaps use one for advertising and one for answering enquiries.