Marketing Rentals In France

One of my first websites was RentalsFrance.com – I created it in 1998 and I still own 24 percent of the site. I sold most of it off five yeas ago when technical problems almost sunk it, today, well that is another story.

My main business is marketing our own Bed and Breakfast and Gites here in Languedoc through Villa Roquette – I get a lot of my old clients from RentalsFrance and 1stvacation still asking for help in marketing their French rentals, some of our guests also ask for help and advice to market homes they buy here – this is a mail I sent in reply today.

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Marketing your rentals – the Internet is the most important marketing tool to use, but now this is very different to the ways to market of even only a few months ago.

Apart from direct personal contact with friends and relations, using the Internet to generate clients for your rentals is the most important method.

From the late 1990s until last year, getting found on the search engines was the best way to get clients, if possible with your own site, but usually for the vast majority of owners through the paid listing sites.

Things have now changed completely, computer searches through search engines are falling, search patterns have altered and referrals to websites are increasing from social networks. Also there is a big shift to mobile devices for searching, away from laptop or desktop computers. Search engines are still important of course, but in our own case account for only 16 percent of visitors to our sites and this is falling monthly. Overall searches last month globally (coincidentally) are 16 percent down on last year. Visitors are coming from other “applications” and direct references.

These trends seem to be increasing and accelerating.

Combine this with a fall in both the numbers and the spending by tourists to France, plus a general feeling of “concern” about money and value, makes getting good paying renters a different game to what it was a year ago and a different planet to when I started marketing our apartments solely through the Internet in 1997

Another factor making the Internet rental listing sites less effective is the sheer number of them appearing every week, there are literally thousands of sites offering listing services, some paid, some commission and some adding fees to take bookings. Every permutation to offer other peoples properties to rent through Internet listing is out there and none now seem to be cost effective, efficient or working.

I am mostly talking about the general listing websites who get their profits from the numbers of advertisers – the more advertisers they get, the more they make. This is a self-defeating plan as the more listings they get, the less visible your individual property becomes, they then drop their prices to keep the advertisers and therefore need more listings. However, some niche and local sites are successful.

The shift in search methods by individuals from search engine general listing to more focused search, plus the use of mobile applications to search with has also changed the way people look for rentals.

Add to this the concern about fraud, deception and safety and finding an effective way to advertise is getting very difficult.

But -

The bottom line is, millions of people are coming to France every year (16 million visitors to Languedoc – that number 16 again) and many are renting private accommodation which they find and select through the Internet. The skill is to get them to first see your property and then to decide that your property is the one they want.

A few key factors….

For vacation rentals, the Internet is the main way to promote you property .

There are 61 million listings on Google for vacation/holiday websites

There are over 8 million listings on Google for vacation/holiday websites for France (as it happens one of my sites is number one today)

There are over 87 thousand listings on Google for vacation/holiday websites for Languedoc (as it happens my sites are one and two and I have two other sites in the top ten)

There is more on offer so the prices are lower than they were a few years ago;

People are demanding more for their money.

People are booking later each year.

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So how do you promote your rentals?

Set the right price for the niche markets you have determined.

Offer the services and unique selling points of your property which satisfy the niche markets you have determined.

Get clear an objective advice from local, successful,  experts as to what people expect from a property like yours (get three opinions at least, do not pay for them – well drink a bottle of wine with them or whatever – paid opinion is skewed)

Did I mention niche markets?

This is the key to your overall marketing strategy – once you have determined the niche(s) you need to research the ways these particular target clients use the Internet – then present yourself in front of them offering the right price and the right service.

All this with flair and a design to attract and pull you above the competition.

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So what do I advise?

I no longer advise any listing services – I believe the best is http://vrbo.com, but the cost for an effective advert is now over $550 a year and you will need a lot of business to justify this. http://gite.com I also believe is good, but they only take top level properties with pools. http://www.holiday-rentals.co.uk/ costs about £300 a year and again it is unlikely they would generate a profit for you.

Your own website – this is esential, but to get it to a position where it is visible in it’s own right and gets business for you either needs a lot of time, experience and skills for you to do it, or the services of an expert which is expensive – charges are from $50 to $200 an hour -you need about 50 hours work to get started and over 10 hours a month continual marketing skill and this is very rare.

There are many “experts” offering services to get you to the “top of the search engines” – these are all frauds, many are a disaster as they use tricks which quickly get you banned from Google etc and you are over $1000 poorer as well – there is no easy solution to successful Internet marketing – or any marketing anywhere at any time.

These simple economics have made a lot of vacation property owners quit the rentals business.

Social networks are a must – a Facebook page – perhaps look at several of the other 200 top social network sites and consider them if you have identified a niche market which they service.

Twitter – schedule a series of tweets every day using keywords for your niche markets.

Forums – every niche market has a plethora of chat rooms and forums to satisfy them – post on these regularly, build a following and shamelessly promote yourself.

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I have said you need a website – it must work for all computers and definitely for mobiles using Apple an Andriod software. This restricts the format you can display – look at my sites for http://villaroquette.com and for http://southernfrance.fr – these are the minimum you can offer for presentation.

Build (or get built) your own website which uses a low cost, or free, content management system (CMS) so that you can do all the maintenance and upgrading yourself. In my opinion there is only one choice, WordPress from http://wordpress.org

Get the best photographs you can – if you are an enthusiastic photographer, do these yourself – if not – get them done (or come on one of my tutorial courses .

Write copy which is structured to address both the niche markets you have identified and  mentions the unique points, location, etc of your property – get these “keywords” to account for about 3 percent of each page of content and no more than three keyword per page – so you are likely to need a minimum of ten pages from 350 to 50 words long, if necessary pay a specialst to ‘craft’ these vital page.

Add something to this website every day, a diary/blog/photo/page/ something relevant and interesting.

Get the site optimised for performance, speed and structure – ensure all aspects that are used to deliver information to search devices are accurate and comply with the guidelines laid down by these services.

Keep up to date with the services guidelines by reading their advice pages, get onto their newsletters and reading their blogs, at least once a week.

The name of the site should clearly indicate what you re offering – you already have a very strong name, but it is not relevant for your house – it is too directed at the whole of France – it may seem to attract traffic, but this will rarely be relevant for your property.

Brainstorm a name which geo-locates and describes your place. This is not easy  but avoid any village name most people will never have heard of – I have spent a great deal of time researching and registering names – for you I start with something like “rentmyhomeinlanguedoc.com” and develop this to things like “pezenaslanguedocrental.com” or “pezenasperfest.com” (all are available at this moment) – then think and think again about what matters – it is a brainstorming exercise to find an ‘identity’ which pinpoints your home – do not bother with anything but .com – the name needs keywords which are searched for – don’t worry about the length or awkwardness of the name – very few people type these in anymore – they click from other sites and most referrers like twitter shorten them anyway.

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I realise this is not answering your question – “which sites to advertise on” – but for this year – none will, in my opinion, bring you any viable business – if you advertise on those I mention – you could  be spending over $2000 to get, perhaps, your money back in new rentals, or not.

I am working on a raft of new ideas, mainly to help develop my own marketing, but to do this I have to expand to involve many other people and build cooperative sites and marketing plans.

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