Airbnb is one of the biggest travel booking websites in the world and a trailblazer for the “homestay” travel market.
Airbnb’s offering is simple – stay at a “hosts” house or apartment, either renting a single room or renting the whole property, rather than staying in a conventional hotel.
There are over 5 million Airbnb listings worldwide, in over 100k towns and cities, with hosts who, in Airbnb’s own words, “offer unique stays and one-of-a-kind activities that make it possible for guests to experience the world in a more authentic, connected way.”
This article will explore how Airbnb’s marketing strategy has been able to reach customers across the globe.
We’ll be taking a look at;
- The History of Airbnb
- Airbnb’s Website
- Airbnb’s SEO
- Airbnb’s PPC
- Airbnb’s Social Media
- Airbnb’s Digital PR
At the end of this article, there’s also a handy checklist you can use to make sure your website and marketing are performing as well as they can be!
Airbnb was born from somewhat humble beginnings. Two of the founders, Joe Gebbia and Brian Chesky were struggling for money, trying to keep on top of their San Francisco rent and had the idea to rent out air mattresses on the floor of their apartment to make some extra cash.
They were in a good location, had space for three air mattresses and figured they could sweeten the deal by offering breakfast too.
They made a basic website, airbedandbreakfast.com, and had their first three bookings for $80 each.
Joe and Brian realised their little idea to help them keep on top of their rent could be a huge idea.
They enlisted the help of their friend and third founder, Nathan Blecharczyk, to help them build a website (that was more than just a blog with a map to their apartment) where other people who wanted to rent out spaces in their homes to tourists could sign up, and tourists could find cheap places to stay.
Here’s the original pitch deck Airbnb used back in 2008 to help them secure funding.
In 2009, Airbed and Breakfast had its first round of funding, but it still just wasn’t growing in the way the founders wanted it to.
They realised the photos uploaded to the listings by the hosts weren’t quite cutting it – they looked fairly basic and couldn’t compete with the professional photography of big hotels.
The founders had the idea to go out and take professional photos of the listed homes themselves which helped them go from earning $200 a month to $400 a month.
The company then went from strength to strength, resulting in a $10 billion valuation in 2014, just seven years after the original “airbed and breakfast” idea.
Now we’ve set the scene as to where the company started and how it grew, let’s drive into the Airbnb marketing strategy.
Airbnb’s Marketing Approach
Airbnb’s marketing strategy needs to cover two types of customers – travellers and hosts.
Appealing to both these customer types has its challenges, especially since Airbnb decided to have one website for both customer types, which has its pros and cons.
An easy to use website has always been a core part of the Airbnb marketing strategy.
Both travellers and hosts needed to be able to access the same site for their own needs, and the survival of Airbnb relies on bringing in customers from both sides of the coin too.
Airbnb also has an app, which works similarly to its mobile site, which works similarly to its desktop site…so we’ll just take a look at the desktop site today.
Let’s start on Airbnb’s homepage.
The homepage keeps things simple.
For their traveller customers, the search box stands out from the rest of the page and makes it easy to add all your basic info. The menu bar is very simple – it focuses on Airbnb’s three core offerings for travellers – places to stay, experiences and online experiences.
Further down the page, there’s a call to action of “Not sure where to go? Perfect” followed by “I’m flexible”
It’s unlikely that the flexible traveller audience makes up the majority of Airbnb’s customer base, so instead of making the simple search bar more complicated to cater to flexible travellers, there is instead a CTA further down the page but still above the fold, aka, the content you see when you arrive on the site for the first time without needing to scroll.
The inspiration section is a great way to draw people in to think about places they might want to visit, maybe not this time they’re on the website, but perhaps as a place to come when they are planning their next trip, or for those who know they want to travel somewhere nearby but aren’t too sure where just yet and are visiting the Airbnb website for inspiration.
It’s also worth noting that all the recommendations here are local destinations, so it’s possible that Airbnb’s data is telling the company that people are prioritising local holidays rather than international destinations, likely because of the Covid-19 pandemic.
Because of that, it’s great that this section is further down the page – those who know exactly where they want to go will use the search bar, those who are flexible and want an adventure will act on the “I’m flexible” CTA, but those who are still a bit unsure may end up scrolling further down the webpage looking for inspiration and guidance.
This is a great example of how you can serve different demographics all from one homepage without overwhelming them. If you’re unsure of who your target demographic is you can use these six questions to give you more clarity.
- How Old Is Your Target Customer?
- Where Do They Live?
- What’s the most common gender?
- How Do You Promote Your Product to Those Individuals?
- Where Do They Get Their Information?
- Which Type of Content Works Best?
Check out this nifty little video, talking you through each of the six questions that will help you identify your target audience.
The Airbnb homepage is a perfect example of a website that knows how to catch stragglers at each stage, in an order that likely fits with the various demographics the brand is targeting.
It’s likely Airbnb’s largest customer base is people who have a date and place in mind, hence why the search bar is right at the top.
It’s second-biggest demographic could be adventurous types who are flexible and want to travel to unique places.
Then, if someone doesn’t fit into the above two categories, they could be someone researching holidays who aren’t sure where they want to go. The inspiration section grabs these customers as they scroll looking for guidance on where they should take their next holiday.
Now let’s take a look at the landing page for Airbnb’s second customer base – those looking to become Airbnb hosts.
It’s obvious that the main Airbnb.co.uk homepage is mostly aimed at travellers. However, there is a small piece of text in the top right that says “Become a Host“, as well as a section further down if someone trying to sign up as a host misses the first CTA.
There is a dedicated host landing page, which ranks on Google for searches such as “become an Airbnb host” or “host Airbnb“.
Airbnb will have a lot more data about how well its host landing page performs, but the CTA here really misses the mark for us.
If someone is visiting this page for the first time, they will likely want to learn more about hosting, for example, how much they can expect to earn, do they need any insurance and just generally what it’s like to be an Airbnb host.
Instead, they are greeted with the CTA of “Try Hosting”
Hold. Your. Horses
This is a marriage proposal without any dates.
You want me to “try” inviting random strangers into my home?
This may be an overreaction, but considering it’s the only call to action above the fold, it’s a missed opportunity.
So how could Airbnb have made the most of this above the fold section?
Further down the page, there is this awesome calculator which shows you how much you could expect to earn from being an Airbnb host.
Not only that, just below it there’s the opportunity to ask an established Airbnb host questions about what it’s like to be a host.
These are awesome tools, and it would have been great to see them above the fold. Airbnb does seem to have moved towards a tidier website design, but that should never overtake the customer journey.
So overall, the homepages for both travellers and hosts look great. The traveller homepage offers a variety of options for different types of holiday-goer, and the host page has great info, once you know how to find it.
The CTA on the host homepage could certainly use some work. If you’re also stuck on getting the right CTA on your homepage, this video explains exactly how to create the perfect call to action for your business.
Product Pages / Listings
There are so many good things to say about Airbnb’s product pages.
All the pages have a selection of photos right near the top which take up a lot of a visitors attention. People want to know that where they are staying looks good, safe and clean, so photos are a must.
Above these photos is a rating out of 5 for the location listed, giving the visitor social proof right away.
Next to the reviews is also space for the “Superhost” label, which shows the potential customer that this is a trustworthy place to stay. Even if someone hasn’t come across the word “superhost” before, it already implies something is extra good about this listing.
Below the photos, there is more information about the listing.
It includes bullet points about the property, for example, the type of property, if the host has committed to Airbnb’s enhanced cleaning process, how good the location is based on guest feedback, or even how the check-in experience was, also based on guest feedback.
Airbnb has mastered social proof, with reviews right at the top and bullet points taken from said reviews.
On the right, there is an interactive price quote, which allows you to change your travel dates and number of guests within the page, in case you change your mind about either once you see the listing.
There’s also the option to reserve, with the great objection handling line “You won’t be charged yet“. Some customers may want to reserve a room at a great price to avoid missing out, but may not have the funds to pay upfront, so this is a great option for them. It puts their mind at ease to know they won’t be charged right away, before even clicking that reserve button.
Underneath the price section, they have an extra little note to help encourage conversions using a great sales tactic – scarcity. The listing is a “rare find” meaning it may not be available for much longer. This encourages the customer to convert as they don’t want to miss out.
Please keep in mind though, don’t pretend that your product is scarce when it isn’t. If you get found out (and you probably will), it will create distrust in your customers.
If you’re reading this and reflecting on how your site isn’t converting, or how you want to add some more features to your site, then we can help!
At Exposure Ninja, we design websites to make money for their owners. That’s why, as well as aiming to make your website the best-looking one in your market, we’ll also make sure it increases traffic and conversions.
This video even gives an insight into how we plan our clients’ websites from scratch!
Of course, it wouldn’t be an Exposure Ninja digital marketing deep dive without us taking a look at SEO.
Airbnb ranks for quite a lot of branded terms, and this isn’t a bad thing. “Let’s book an Airbnb” has almost become just as normal in everyday conversation as “let’s book a holiday” or “let’s book a hotel“.
Screenshot from SE Ranking*
There are multiple branded search terms in here that are getting a high volume of searches that they are ranking position 1 on Google for – as they should be! These include “airbnb” with a search volume of 2.2 million and “airbnb UK” which has a search volume of 246k.
It’s slightly funny to see that they are ranking in position 1 for “air” – makes you feel bad for any kids trying to write about the definition of air for their homework. This is one of those search terms that Airbnb is ranking for by association – it’s unlikely they targeted this keyword as it doesn’t really have much value to them.
Now onto the unbranded keywords. Looking at these, you can already see an emerging trend of Airbnb running clever digital PR campaigns with great, newsworthy hooks. We’ll go into more depth about their mastery of digital PR further down this article.
Screenshot from SE Ranking*
For now, let’s take a look at some more of Airbnb’s keywords that are on the more basic side.
Airbnb is ranking in position 1 for multiple high volume keywords and phrases, including “house to rent holiday“, “holiday renting” and “villa in Ibiza“. These are all the types of search terms that a customer who is nearly ready to covert will search for – you just need to make sure that your landing page converts them.
Some of the other keywords Airbnb is ranking slightly lower for are more vague, such as “rental home” and “house rental near me“, which have a more ambiguous search intent.
These searchers could be looking to move into a new rental property rather than looking for a holiday. This is reflected in where Airbnb is ranking on Google for these terms – it’s unlikely the company is purposefully trying to get traffic for these terms.
It’s always good to pop your keywords and phrases into Google to see what else is coming up for that term. Let’s take “rental home“, which Airbnb is ranking in position 6 for.
As you can see, the top results are all focused on long-term rentals rather than short holiday stays, meaning the searcher’s intent is not to book a holiday, but to rent a house or flat.
Keep search intent in mind with your keywords.
It’s also important to think about which page on your site is best optimised for specific keywords and searches. Airbnb does a great job of this.
Screenshot from SE Ranking*
We can see in the image above that Airbnb is ranking in position 1 for several search terms that require a specific page. Those searching for “holiday renting” are in the first part of their journey and will be best served on the Airbnb homepage where they can input their own destination and dates.
Those searching for a “villa in Ibiza“, however, already know where they want to go and what type of accommodation they want.
Airbnb’s “Ibiza – Spain” page is ranking highly for this term, which will take the searcher to a page that gives them villa options in Ibiza, rather than landing on the homepage and having to type in Ibiza again. It gives the searcher fewer steps and fewer barriers to purchase.
Meta Titles and Meta Descriptions
Looking at the metadata on Airbnb’s homepage, we can see that it is fairly well optimised.
The homepage meta title is “Airbnb: Holiday Rentals, Cabins, Beach Houses, Unique Homes & Experiences“.
This is great, as it covers the different holiday home options that Airbnb offer without overdoing it. These are likely the most popular holiday rental types on the site, so Airbnb has included them in the homepage meta title.
The homepage meta description is “Find vacation rentals, cabins, beach houses, unique homes and experiences around the world – all made possible by hosts on Airbnb.”
As this is the homepage it’s difficult to focus on one type of rental, but it’s surprising to see the same keywords from the meta title. It may well have been better to use this space to add more value, such as the unique locations, “living like a local” or even touch on why someone should choose Airbnb over a conventional hotel.
Now we’ve taken a look at how Airbnb are ranking organically, lets take a look at its paid search and social.
Let’s start with search ads.
SE Ranking* estimates that Airbnb is spending over £638K on paid ads in the UK, based on the amount of traffic the site is getting.
We’ll focus on some of Airbnb’s top keywords to see if they are in position 1 for the ads there.
Competitors often place ads on search terms that other businesses in the same niche are doing well on, in order to take the “top spot“.
We can see that here on the search term “holiday renting“.
Airbnb does have an advert there, but it’s the last ad, putting it in the fourth position. It would be worth reconsidering the amount Airbnb is bidding on this ad – if it’s an important keyword to the company it could be worth increasing the ad spend here in order to take that top ad spot away from competitors.
If you’d like to learn more about how Google Ads works, check out this in-depth guide on How to Advertise on Google.
Airbnb is also running PPC ads on the search “villa in Ibiza“, where this time it’s in the top spot for both ads and organic search.
Airbnb is very wise to be targeting search with ads – many people looking to book a holiday will head straight to Google and type in something related to their destination and the type of accommodation they want to stay in.
By targeting these search terms with ads, Airbnb is reaching potential customers in a moment where they are either looking for holiday ideas or ready to book a holiday.
Holidays could also be considered “impulse purchases“, so social ads work well too. Seeing an Airbnb ad on social media may prompt the viewer to start planning a holiday with Airbnb, even if they don’t convert immediately.
Looking at Airbnb’s social media ads, we can see that the company is A/B testing a couple of adverts aimed at potential hosts in the UK.
These also look like they are aimed more at people who are thinking of taking the plunge but need that extra push. It could be that these ads are retargeting those who visited the hosting page or who get midway through the host sign up.
It’s always a good idea to run multiple versions of the same ad with slight changes. In this case, Airbnb is testing two slightly different hooks to see which appeals the most to the target demographic.
When someone clicks on the ad, they are taken right to the “ask a Superhost page”, meaning they are in the right place to get their questions answered. If these ads would have taken the clicker to the general hosting page or even the main Airbnb homepage, then conversion rates would drop as the visitor is having to find what they are looking for rather than being taken straight there.
Make sure you always have your customer journey in mind and make it as easy for them to convert as possible.
Although these ads are great, it’s very surprising that Airbnb is not currently advertising to travellers on Facebook or Instagram. Valentines Day is on the horizon, and it’s a popular time for couples to take a short holiday. It would be worth targeting these customers a few weeks before to ensure they have booked in time for 14th February.
Looking further afield to the USA, we can see that Airbnb has ads running that target travellers too.
The ads are fairly uninspiring, but what we can learn most from here is the landing pages that these ads lead to. Landing pages can make or break an ad campaign, so you want to have these nailed before you even start posting ads.
Let’s start with the first ad. The focus here is on boats. All the images in the video are boat houses, houses on the water, basically just unique houses situated in bodies of water, which is super unique and a great selling point!
Can’t wait to click this link and see all the “boat houses” Airbnb has available!
Ah. Reindeer. Bears. Snow. Exactly what I want from my houseboat retreat.
That may sound harsh, but it’s the reality. If someone is clicking on your ad expecting to see boathouses and ends up seeing snowy chalets, they might just think you don’t offer what you said you did in your ad.
That’s not a good look and breaks trust right from the start of your relationship with that customer.
The second ad has the headline “Warm up your winter with a beachfront trip“.
The landing page this time absolutely nails it. Not only does it have a fantastic photo of a beachfront property in the sun it also has the headline, “Escape the winter blues”, trying in the ad and the landing page perfectly. The person visiting this page is likely to have a good experience because they don’t have to hunt for what was advertised on social media, they are already in the right place.
The final ad, with the headline “Trade winter weather for poolside sunrays“, also links to the above landing page, which is a perfect fit yet again.
You might be wondering why we’re focusing so much on these landing pages. We’ve had fantastic results in the past creating landing pages for our clients, some of which have converted as high as 43%, and we want to make sure others can get the same results.
You can learn even more about why we love landing pages so much in this video guide.
Companies who have products that are easy to take photos of often do well on social media/ Airbnb have the advantage of many unique homes being listed on the website, as well as photos taken by its customers while they’re staying in an Airbnb property.
Airbnb does have the challenge, however, of making sure that the experiences shared on the company’s social media reflect the experiences customers have.
If not, these customers will make themselves known.
We’ll be taking a look at the follower numbers on each account, as well as the engagement rate, which is calculated by taking the average number of engagements across the last five posts, then dividing that by the number of followers.
Followers: 5 million
Instagram is a fantastic platform for Airbnb. Thanks to the visual nature of Instagram, Airbnb has the chance to show off photos of the incredible and unique homes that have been listed on the website. Airbnb’s engagement rate on Instagram is quite low compared to the industry standard of 1.19%, but it’s important to note that accounts with a large number of followers do tend to see lower engagement rates, with engagement dropping to at least 0.73% when accounts grow bigger than 100,000 followers, let alone to 5 million.
Airbnb’s Instagram grid is full of aspirational photos of holiday homes which are more likely to get shared than the average hotel picture or even some of the more generic listings on Airbnb’s own site.
A majority of these posts are user-generated content – the posts regularly credit the original photographer’s account in the description.
It may not come as a surprise, in that case, that there is a lot of user-generated content on Instagram based around Airbnb.
The Airbnb hashtag has more than 7 million posts, created by customers around the world. It’s no wonder that Airbnb uses these images on the company’s own Instagram page.
Sharing customer photos on your company’s social media, and crediting them in the caption, of course, is a great way to build a bond with your audience. If they love your product, they’ll be excited to see that you deemed their photos good enough to share on the company’s social media.
This can create a trend where customers want to share images of your product or service so that they have a chance to get featured. It’s a win-win situation! Your company gets photos taken by happy customers, which act as content and social proof, and customers get recognised and shared by a company they genuinely love.
There’s not much to say about Airbnb’s Twitter, although it’s a great place for the company to retweet tweets by the founders, as well as collaborations with other brands and tweets from hosts.
An update on our progress… Hosts have housed 10,742 Afghans so far pic.twitter.com/UpDogRpMJG
— Brian Chesky (@bchesky) December 15, 2021
Discover the Art of Hosting with Etsy and @Airbnb. Together, we’ve curated a selection of inspired home decor to help you delight guests and personalize your space. https://t.co/U8xW9dXuJG #airbnbpartner pic.twitter.com/WdiIYRkgHf
— Etsy (@Etsy) January 25, 2022
I HAVE SUPERHOST STATUS WITH AIRBNB 🥳🥳🥳🥳🥳
12 stays, 100% communication rate, all 5 star reviews 🎉 I’m so ecstatic lol
— Raqhelle M. (@raqhtheworld) January 4, 2022
Despite the variety, the account has a low engagement rate of 0.02% (based on the last 5 tweets posted by the account, not including retweets) compared to the industry average of 0.04%. It’s possible that if Airbnb focused less on retweets and more on original tweets, the account might get higher engagement, but it is nice to see the variety on Twitter.
Followers: 16 million
This is the third digital marketing deep dive we’ve shared in blog format, the first being Brewdog and the second being Lululemon, and on all three occasions, the Facebook comments section on all three of these brands’ Facebook pages have been nothing but complaints.
By the look of things, Airbnb takes regular breaks from posting to Facebook – they will have months where there are weekly posts, then have several months with nothing. At the time of writing the last post was 27th July 2021, so more than 6 months ago. Angry customers are still commenting as recently as a week ago.
So why didn’t we include an engagement rate here? Well…on the most recent post, Airbnb has had 96 likes, 7 shares…and 654 comments.
On Twitter, this is what the kids call “being ratioed”
It basically means that the ratio between likes and comments is reversed, meaning that people didn’t like the post but were angry enough to leave a comment.
If you’re dealing with complaints on social media, or you’re worried about receiving them in the future, stay calm and give this article a read. It talks you through exactly how to handle social media complaints.
Airbnb has posted nothing to the official and verified Airbnb TikTok.
Nothing. At. All
You may be thinking, “Well Tiktok has a younger demographic! There’s no need for Airbnb to spend time building an audience there. They won’t be booking holidays!”
They won’t be booking flights either, but that hasn’t stopped Ryanair from reaching 1.5 million followers on the platform.
Ryanair realised there was an opportunity on TikTok to connect with future customers who might be too young to book flights now but won’t be too young forever!
It’s also important to note that 25% of TikTok users are under 20. The other 75% are 20 and above. So really, saying TikTok only has a young demographic is becoming more and more untrue by the day.
Weirdly enough, Airbnb tweeted about TikTok trends and even wrote a whole blog about it, so maybe 2022 will be the year Airbnb masters the platform.
Monthly Views: 10 million
The Airbnb Pinterest account is great.
It’s genuinely a shame that the fantastic content that’s being posted here isn’t being shared on other social accounts.
There are travel checklists, “must-do” checklists, travel tips and road trip ideas combined with illustrations and photography. It looks like Airbnb started Pinterest with the same content being used on other platforms – mainly photography of the homes listed on the Airbnb website, and then branched out into the more interactive content.
These are the types of posts that audiences love to save and share with their friends and followers.
It would be amazing to see the company use the content shared to the Pinterest account across the other social media platforms it’s already using.
Airbnb does a truly awesome job of creating digital PR stories that everyone wants to report on.
Now only that, the digital PR is often based around a giveaway or competition, which helps build relationships with customers.
Night At Competitions
A few seemingly random search terms came up in our Airbnb keyword research earlier, including;
- home alone house (2k visitors to the website)
- highclere castle (600 visitors to the website)
- barbies house (331 visitors to the website)
These seemingly random search terms are actually part of one of Airbnb’s biggest ongoing digital marketing campaigns – “Night At”
Night At competitions give guests a chance to stay in a less than normal house, whether it’s a night in a floating house on the River Thames, an overnight stay in a sports stadium or even a holiday in one of the seven wonders of the world.
Airbnb also uses the Night At competitions to generate brand partnerships – such as an overnight stay in a fast-food restaurant or record store.
They’ve even used Night At as a way to “news jack” (the act of jumping on a news trend to get some traffic in your direction) by taking advantage of a situation where a person started tweeting their experience after they got trapped overnight in a Waterstones store.
Airbnb used this as an opportunity to collaborate with Waterstones – turning what could have been a PR disaster for Waterstones into a positive – by running a competition for several people to stay overnight in a Waterstones store (by choice this time!)
At Exposure Ninja, we love working with our clients to identify the best digital PR strategies for their industries. If you’d like to learn more about digital PR, this video is a great place to start.
You might be wondering how all the above can apply to your business.
Well, here’s a checklist of several areas where we thought Airbnb does a fantastic job, as well as some areas it can improve, and turned it into a checklist to help you optimise your website and marketing!
- Is your website simple?
- Does your website have clear Calls to Action?
- Are you making the best use of space?
- Could you be doing more to cater to multiple target customers (if you have them)?
- Are you using keywords in your meta titles?
- Do you have the right pages ranking for your chosen keywords?
- Could your key landing pages use some improvement?
- Are you playing to the strengths of the social media platform?
- Are you posting where your customers are spending their time?
- How can you create excitement around your business?
- Which publications should you target with the story?
What to Read Next
- lululemon’s Digital Marketing Strategy
- Brewdog’s Marketing Strategy – A Digital Marketing Deep Dive
- What Is Digital PR? (And How It Can Improve Your SEO)
- Definitive SEO Guide for Business Owners
- How To Advertise on Google
If you’re still not sure how to get the most from your digital marketing, why not request one of our free digital marketing and website reviews? They are totally free, no strings attached, and you’ll get a 15-minute video that identifies areas you can improve on!
*Some links within this article are affiliate links which Exposure Ninja receives a fee for promoting (these links are not sponsored). Exposure Ninja only promotes services we already use within our marketing stack.