Making Money

How To Reach The Top Of The Airbnb Search Rankings

Kitchen photo that would make a great Airbnb cover photo

Reaching the first page in the Airbnb search rankings can make a huge difference to your business. You’ll get more potential guests looking at your listing, which results in more bookings.

But how can you start to move up in the rankings?

Airbnb gives us some information about how they determine rankings, but I’ve also noticed a few things in my three years as a host.

Airbnb Ranking Factors

In order to improve your search rankings in Airbnb, it’s important to understand what Airbnb looks at when determining ranking order.

We know directly from Airbnb that these metrics are used for determining search rankings:

  • How often users click on your listing when it appears in a search result
  • How often users attempt to book your place after clicking through
  • Quality of the reviews left by guests you’ve hosted
  • Price to stay
  • New listings get a ranking boost
  • Response rate and response time
  • Rejections (not approving booking inquiries)
  • Instant book
  • Filters (a two guest listing can’t show up for a four guest search)

But they also say that they use “nearly 100 different factors for every listing in every search.”

The group above are clearly some of the more important factors since they were called out by name (I can verify from experience that new listings get a rankings boost). But there is obviously a lot more to the Airbnb ranking algorithm.

Here are a list of other factors that I believe are important for ranking:

  • Cancellation rate (cancelling guests is bad for rankings)
  • Cancellation policy (more flexible is better)
  • Amenities (more is better)
  • Text length in listing
  • Text length in profile
  • Number of photos
  • Number of reviews
  • Percentage of guests who leave a review
  • Longer stay discounts (weekly and monthly discounts)
  • The host’s activity as a guest (do they travel using Airbnb? and do they get good reviews as a guest?)
  • Length of minimum stay (1 night minimum will rank better than 2 night minimum)
  • Calendar availability

There are lots of other potential consideration in the search rankings, but ultimately the exact algorithm will never be known. We know what the most important ranking factors are because Airbnb has told us. Then there are a bunch of minor ranking factors that they don’t tell us.

I think before we move on it’s important to say that much like Google’s ranking algorithms, Airbnb’s algorithm is written with an end goal in mind. And they quote that goal in their ranking factor article.

“The goal of the Airbnb search ranking algorithm is to help guests find the perfect listing for their trip—and help hosts find guests who are a great fit for their space.”

They want guests to find the best listings. That’s the spirit behind the code. So if we, as hosts, run our bed and breakfasts in a way that creates the best experience for our guests, then we should do well in search.

If our listings are better than our competition, then the rankings will likely be great. So always remember your guests and strive to create a great vacation home and experience for them.

Superhost status

Airbnb says specifically that superhost status is not directly considered in search rankings. But it is indirectly considered in a couple different ways.

First, when you’re a superhost, you get a little badge next to your listing in the search results.

Superhost listing next to a normal listing
The Superhost badge makes a listing more likely to be clicked on.

I believe this badge makes your listing more likely to be clicked on, and Airbnb tells us that this is a metric they directly use for determining rankings.

Second, Airbnb has verified that the metrics needed to achieve superhost status all help improve search rankings.

Steps To Better Rankings

I want to talk about each of the ranking factors named by Airbnb and talk about how we as hosts can improve each one. The good news is that we can use a handful of tricks to cover almost all of them.

1. Clicks

I’m going to write an entire article about getting potential guests to click on your listing when it shows up in search.

I think getting clicks is a bit of an art, and fortunately it’s an art form where Kate is naturally gifted.

The absolute MOST IMPORTANT part of getting clicks to your listing is the cover photo. You don’t have to have the best interior design to take a great cover photo. You’re job with the cover photo is to catch the eye and make someone say “I want to stay there!” or “What’s this place?”

You can go the route of beauty, and showcase the lovely interior of your home (this works!), but you can also try to be unique. What’s the most interesting or exciting feature about your home? Maybe its a view out of the bedroom window…highlight that with an amazing cover photo.

Just make sure your home is actually in the photo.

As we saw earlier, superhost status can help you get clicks. Better price gets you clicks. Good reviews get you clicks. We’ll talk about all those things further down on the list.

The only other thing I want to mention is your listing title. It can matter. Kate and I have given our listings a name, and we use that same name for all our listings.

Instead of “Quiet getaway near glacier,” we use “The Alaskan Escape.” I’m not an expert on Airbnb listing titles, but I can tell you that this approach has worked great for us.

2. Requests to book

A potential guest has clicked through to your listing from the results page, now you need to convince them they really want to stay at your place. Getting clicks is super important, but in my opinion your listing page is the most crucial piece of your Airbnb listing.

Pictures are still the most important thing here. They’ve already seen your cover photo though, so you need more photos to seal the deal. You want to highlight every good thing about your place in your supplementary photos. Here’s where you can highlight things outside and close to the house like views or nearby establishments.

Everything should look spotless and orderly in your supplemental photos.

Your description and amenities can also make a difference. In general, the more amenities you have the more likely someone will book.

But really, apart from the photos, the next most important thing for securing that booking is your reviews…

3. Reviews

Reviews are one of those things that can help seal the deal for a potential guest. They’ve looked through the photos and want to book, but if you have poor reviews you’ll have a harder time getting guests.

One great path to lots of five star reviews is using thoughtful touches in your space to wow your guests. Things like welcome notes and guest books, along with games and suggestions for local restaurants, can surprise your guests in a good way.

And when you exceed expectations, you get good reviews.

This also means you need to accurately represent your home in your Airbnb listing. If guests arrive expecting a pool in the backyard only to find nothing, they won’t be very happy. Make sure your listing sets expectations appropriately. That sets the stage for you to be able to wow your guests.

And make sure you keep your home clean. Nobody wants to slip into a new bed and find someone else’s hair, or sit down at the kitchen table to find crumbs from the last guest.

4. Price

Airbnb says that they give priority to listings with better price points. But I don’t think that means you should simply lower your price. You’re running a business here.

Sure, if you’re really struggling to get bookings then it’s probably worth it to try lowering your price. But for Kate and I, we’ve only ever raised our prices.

I recommend doing what we do. Track your average monthly revenue (Airbnb keeps record of this so you can look back into the past), then just experiment with the price once or twice a year.

Try lowering your price and see how that affects your bottom line. If you’re making more money then great! If you’re making less money then try raising your price and see what happens.

Because price is what helps determine how much you make, you shouldn’t lower price just to rank better.

5. New listing

You don’t have a lot of control over whether or not your listing is new. But I can tell you that our listings have always done great in search rankings the first few weeks after going live.

6. Response rates

Responding to messages and inquiries is arguably the most annoying part of running an Airbnb. The good news is there are easy and CHEAP ways to automate this part of hosting.

Kate and I use hosttools.com, but there are lots of automated messaging systems out there. We only pay $5/month for each listing. We used to spend probably 3 hours a month messaging guests before paying for Host Tools.

Not only does it keep us sane, but the automated messages guarantee we will have a 100% response rate and that our response time will be fast.

You can also automate your reviews, check-in instructions, and any contact you have with a cleaner. For us, automated messaging is a must.

7. Rejections

Most hosts will have at least some scenario (even when using instant book) where a guest will request to book and you can choose to accept or reject their request.

For us, that happens when someone is trying to book our place same day. For you it may happen more often.

We have two reasons that we will reject one of those same day inquiries.

  1. The space hasn’t been cleaned and we won’t have it ready for the guest
  2. The guest has no reviews or bad reviews

Experience has shown us that last minute bookings requests are MUCH, MUCH more likely to be bad guests. We’ve had lots of great guests that made last minute requests, but probably 1 in 4 of those requests are difficult guests.

Compare that to probably 1 in 25 for regular requests.

So if we get a last minute request from someone with no reviews, we reject them. This is because we know that these guests have a high likelihood of breaking house rules.

Basically, don’t be afraid to reject requests, but make sure you don’t do it often or your search rankings will suffer.

8. Instant book

Turning on instant book has several benefits. First, Airbnb says turning it on will improve your search ranking. That’s a pretty easy win.

Second, instant book saves you time and effort. You don’t have to have a conversation with your guests before they book.

Third, instant book removes one hurdle for guests to get their stay finalized, resulting in more bookings, which is one of the search ranking factors.

Think about it.

If your potential guest clicks on your listing and has to request permission to book, they might have to wait a day or two to get confirmation. In that time they may miss out on booking another place.

But if they can immediately reserve their spot at your place, they’ll have no hesitations about booking. They’ve already finalized their accommodations.

This results in more requests to book, and more requests to book means better rankings in search.

Turning on instant book helps in multiple ways.

9. Filters

Guests can filter their search by:

  • Guest count
  • Amenities
  • Number of bedrooms/beds
  • Number of bathrooms
  • Cancellation policy
  • Price
  • Superhost status
  • Facilities
  • Property type

If you’re not completing your listing information you may not show up in search for something that you should be showing up for.

So your first job is to go through your listing and make sure you’re getting credit for everything you already have.

Then your second job is to see if there are any ways that you can qualify for more filters and then do it. Remember though, you need to accurately represent your listing. So don’t check boxes unless you actually have those things.

Hypotheses Based On My Experience

We’ve been doing Airbnb for three years now, and I wanted to share some things I’ve noticed in those three years. None of these things have been confirmed by Airbnb, so they’re just my observations/hypotheses.

Rankings change regularly

We’ve had each of our listings on page one of search several times, but we’ve also had each of our listings on pages 2-10 several times.

The rankings tend to change quite a bit in our experience, even throughout the week. You can be ranked well for a few days, then your place gets thrown to the bottom for a few days.

My hypothesis is that Airbnb allows lots of different listings to spend time on the first page throughout the month, so they intentionally mix it up. And this kind of makes sense too.

If you’ve got the same few places showing up on the first page, then they’ll start to get bookings, then their availability starts to disappear. Airbnb will want to promote listings with more availability, so they mix up the rankings.

Whatever the reason, rankings seems to mix up very often. Several times a week.

Bookings come in bunches

We’ve noticed that we’ll often get several bookings in the same day, or maybe over the course of 2 or 3 days. Then it’s crickets. We won’t see another booking for a week.

I think this makes sense, too.

When someone clicks on your listing or books, you should see a bump in your search ranking. Then as your ranking goes up, you’re more likely to get more clicks and thus get more bookings as well. Success breeds more success.

Then after a few people pass your listing without clicking, or decide not to book, you’ll drop in rankings and get fewer clicks and fewer bookings.

I think it’s only natural to see the booking bunches and then have times with no activity.

This also supports the hypothesis that rankings change regularly.

Conclusion

Airbnb says there are close to 100 factors that determine their search rankings, but if you’re struggling then I suggest you focus on two things.

  1. Better cover photo and supplementary photos
  2. Better experience for your guests

Search shouldn’t be too complicated, so don’t get lost in the details. Just make sure your photos catch the eye and make sure your guests have an amazing experience once they arrive.

Happy investing.

Michael

I'm living the path to financial success and sharing everything I learn in this blog. I believe in the power of cash flowing investments, due diligence and time. This is my journey so far.

Before 2016: Just living my life, working full time and trying to get by.

2016: Kate and I start to discuss the possibility of getting into real estate investment. We read books like Rich Dad Poor Dad and listen to the Bigger Pockets Podcast. We find a Realtor and start looking at property. We even make an offer or two, but nothing happens.

2017: Kate and I continue looking for property. We meet with banks and find lenders willing to work with us. In one month (August), we turn our basement into an Airbnb and list it AND we purchase our first long term rental property, which is a triplex. We can't find good tenants for our triplex.

2018: In April, we finally get our first tenant in the triplex, our second in June and get it fully rented in July. Our basement Airbnb makes so much money that in September we decided to buy another property to exclusively rent out on Airbnb. It makes us even more money than the first one!

2019: Kate decides we should put together a mastermind group. So we get in touch with people we know who care about money and start sharing knowledge with each other. Our triplex is profitable, but our two Airbnb properties are making way more money, so we buy another property to put up on Airbnb and VRBO.

2020: Coronavirus hits in March and all the guests booked at our Airbnb properties cancel. We freak out, but after a few weeks everything comes back and we're making money again. Discussion and research from the mastermind group makes me want to investigate online business as an investment strategy. Kate and I started Unbound Investor with plans to purchase a website in 2021.

2021: Our Airbnbs hit new highs after Covid causes more travelers to be wary of using hotels. I spend about 6 months attempting to purchase a million dollar online business with an SBA backed loan only to have the deal come crashing down at the last minute. The experience makes me re-evaluate and I ended up purchasing a small blog instead. I also start a new website. At the end of the year I begin hiring writers and investing in online content in order to grow the online revenue of my 3 websites.

OK you're all caught up!

I learned everything I know from books, podcasts, conversations with friends and family and of course through real world experience as a cash flow investor. And I'm always pushing to learn more.

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