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We’ve been talking a lot about ways that Short Term Rental hosts can keep busy during the Coronavirus shut downs (for those who find yourselves with extra time on your hands). Previously we’ve talked a lot about things you can do on site at your rental or within your platform listing (Airbnb, VRBO, etc). Today, we’re bringing you an entirely new idea. Perhaps this is the perfect time to build a custom private website for your rental! I personally build websites in WordPress (like this one) for clients in many industries, so I really like WordPress as a content management system (CMS) for private sites. But there are even easier CMS options out there, like Squarespace, Wix and Weebly that are very user-friendly ways to launch a website.

There are many reasons why having your own website can be beneficial:

Generate custom content that can help you gain exposure based on SEO (Search Engine Optimization). You can write cute stories about how your rental came to be, or think about the many reasons people may be traveling to your area and write blog posts about those topics. When potential guests are googling things like “best hidden beaches on the Outer Banks of NC” or “hiking near Cleveland, OH” – your website will turn up as a resource for them, and lo-and-behold, you’ve got lodging for them, too. You don’t have to book through your website (that can be a pain). You can still send folks to your platform listing for booking, but you have a way to capture their attention OUTSIDE of the platform where it’s hard to stand out amongst a sea of other rentals.

Warner’s Camp an STR in the Adirondacks does a great job of telling stories about their rental and about the surrounding areas on their private website. 

Include reviews that aren’t from platform bookings. If you have friends or family who stay in your place without going through your listing, or you do industry-trades for folks to stay in your space as a barter, they may have lovely things to say about your space but you won’t be able capture those reviews on your listing at VRBO/Airbnb/etc. A private website is a great place to put those reviews!

The Shasta Lakeshore Retreat aggregates all their reviews from multiple sites onto one page of their website! 

Creative photo opportunities! Many people feel constrained by the photo/caption display options within the rental platforms. Your own website gives you the freedom to include photographs, with more stories if preferred, in layouts that you find more pleasing or that better show off your space.

The Vintage Penthouse in Durham, NC has created beautiful photo layouts interspersed with story.

Offer unconventional rental options. We’ve seen some unique offerings on STR private websites for day-trippers, business meetings, or office retreats that offer discounted rates because the group will only use the kitchen, common living/outdoor spaces, and bathrooms – without using bedrooms. Include a reduced daily rental rate + cleaning fee (that should be less since fewer linens will require washing) and get some good mid-week traffic if your unit is often only rented through the platforms on the weekends!

So, how do you get started? Well, let’s start with WordPress, because that’s what I know best.

The steps for starting a new WordPress website from scratch:

1-Buy your domain name. I recommend buying your domain name at googledomains.com. Their domains are cheap (usually $12/year) and they reliably keep you renewed year after year. I’ve never had any trouble losing a domain purchased through them.

2-Purchase a Managed WordPress Hosting account – I like and reliably recommend SiteGround for hosting based server reliability and solid customer support, especially for starter websites without hundreds of thousands of visitors a month (maybe you’ll get there one day! But probably not on day one). Whichever host you chose, “Managed WordPress” is important. These services provide extra security and backup and will keep your site updated to the newest releases of WordPress so you don’t have to keep up with that yourself. For hosting accounts that offer longer term introductory rates, I highly recommend choosing the longest option that you can currently afford. For example, at SiteGround, they offer their StartUp plan for $5.95/mo for up to 36 months, and then it’s $11.95/month after your original contract expires. They have always been good about offering pro-rated refunds for folks who need to cancel early, so there’s no big concern that you’ll lose out if you decide hosting a private website isn’t valuable for you.

3-Install WordPress. Within the dashboard of your new hosting account, there is usually be a very easy click-through process to install WordPress on your domain name, which will generate a login page (usually domainname.com/wp-admin) where you will login in to the backend of your new website. If you can’t find that option easily, hop on customer support chat to get a link. Don’t get frustrated – it’s their job to make this easy for you! From there, numerous tutorials on getting started using WordPress exist from WordPress themselves. And depending on the hosting account you choose, you will likely be guided through a tutorial upon your first login. You’ll be ready to add content and launch your site – the same day if you’re ready with photos and text!

Other CMS options:

The other options, like Squarespace, Wix and Weebly, combine the first two steps from above into one location with one fee. At Squarespace, you’ll pay anywhere from $12 – $40 per month for your domain name and hosting and their CMS website builder all in one. They’ll maintain your security, and the on-site tutorials for getting started are simple and fairly easy to understand, even for folks who have never built a website before.

At Wix and Weebly, you can “technically” create a website for free. But you won’t get a custom domain name (like housename.com), your site will sit on a subdomain at wix (so it will be something like www.rentalname.wix.com) and your features will be pretty limited.  And if you ever decide to move away from a Wix hosted account, you’ll lose any search engine rankings you had earned on the Wix subdomain, and it will be hard to take your content with you.  It’s certainly a fine place to start if you want to just test out the platform and see if you’d like to build your own site. But I wouldn’t plan to have your site on a Wix free account for too long. Both of these platforms include paid plans that operate very similarly to Squarespace for anywhere from $6 – $39 a month.

So, which is best for you? It really depends on what your goals are for your site. I really like the WordPress option because of the long-term flexibility it offers. You can start with a free theme that will get you on the web and looking good, but the customization options are endless within WordPress once you get more familiar with the platform. Or you can hire custom WordPress developers who can literally make anything happen in WordPress to meet your biggest website functionality dreams. At Squarespace, Wix, and Weebly, customization is very hard, if not impossible. Luckily, their templates are beautiful, so most folks find everything they need within the space. But if you’re someone like me, and you like the ability to think outside the box and make exciting things happen on the web, WordPress would be a good long-term solution that is easy to build on as you go!

Have questions? Please reach out! I’m happy to share my knowledge and experience specific to building websites, or any other marketing questions.  And if you’re interested in having a custom private website, but just don’t want to build it yourself, we can help! Custom websites are an add-on option to any of our service packages, or available a la carte.