Airbnb: How to Move from Making News to Making Profits

Airbnb Accomodation via Steel Wool, flickr.

Over the last 60 days, Airbnb.com has had its ups – like scoring VC funding, and its downs – including a barrage of negative press about customers’ bad experiences.

So how does Airbnb go from making news to making profits? For starters, it should keep close tabs on its competitors.

Consider Vrbo.com, another site focused on vacation rentals, albeit a bit more traditional than Airbnb. A look inside Compete Pro revealed an interesting spike in daily reach on Vrbo.com on July 27. We assumed that a marketing campaign launched that day, but instead we learned that no competitive threat existed. What really happened was that Homeaway.com, the parent of Vrbo, announced its earnings on July 27.

So we started looking for more meaningful spikes, bits of competitive insight that could give Airbnb an advantage. When we saw a spike on Homeaway.com on July 13, a bit of digging reveal that Vrbo and Homeaway.com started running an anniversary promotion, using the URL Homeaway5Vrbo15.com. We could see the spike in daily reach, but what caused it? We soon discovered the source: an HTML email, shown below.

Aha, a bit of competitive insight that Airbnb can actually benefit from, especially when it begins to compete more aggressively for traffic with sites like Homeaway.com.

Speaking of traffic, we noticed another trend using our search analytics. The search phrase “vacation rentals” is driving significant traffic to sites in Airbnb’s general category, but Airbnb isn’t taking full advantage.

Airbnb may not want to put itself into the vacation rental “box,” but it’s likely many of its key targets are search the web for “vacation rentals.” If Airbnb doesn’t appear on the first few pages of search results, it’s less likely to be among the highly considered – and trafficked – sites.

The search key phrase “vacation rentals” is one of the top referring keywords for Homeaway, Vrbo and several competitive sites, but it is conspicuously absent from Airbnb’s top search keywords.

Since our referral data reveals significant cross-shopping behavior among the top sites in the category – meaning consumers hop from site to site to compare – Airbnb would be wise to take a closer look at its SEO campaign and get deeper into the mix.

While we can debate whether all publicity, including negative, is good publicity, we can’t dispute the numbers behind Airbnb.com’s recent ups and downs. Based on the Daily Reach and Attention illustrated in the chart below, it’s evident that scores of people are now learning who Airbnb is.

When used concurrently, Reach and Attention can measure the impact of planned or unplanned events, such as new advertising campaigns, product/service launches, general site growth or news developments.

In the case of Airbnb, tracking its site’s vacillating Reach and Attention could help it determine whether marketing campaigns (and PR crisis management!) are resonating, providing insights that lead to major changes or minor tweaks that can smooth out the dramatic fluctuations.

Back in June, Airbnb sent out an alert about “impostor websites” that pose as competitors, but are actually Airbnb clones. I’m not going to give those sites the satisfaction of mentioning their names, but Airbnb can take solace in this referral share data showing that roughly 7% of users who visit the leading imposter site end up on their website.

At the end of the day, marketers should be checking daily to see what metrics can tell them about their performance, especially relative to their top competitors. A bumpy road may not be such a bad thing – the only way to know the true story about a site is by consistently monitoring how it’s resonating with consumers (through actual online behavior).

Post by Tim Keene

Contact me to find out what your customers and competitors are doing online – it just might surprise you.

tkeene@compete.com