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How to optimise your listings in view of the Airbnb Categories update

How to optimise your listings in view of the Airbnb Categories update

If you’re an Airbnb host or a short-term rental property manager, you likely already know about the recent significant changes to the platform. On May 11, 2022, Airbnb announced three updates, two of them pertinent to hosts: Categories and Split Stays. Both features dramatically change how guests now discover and book properties on Airbnb.

We have put together detailed resources for professional Airbnb hosts to understand and adapt to Airbnb’s recent changes:

Airbnb 2022 summer update release
(video + text) Brian Chesky shows what Airbnb’s 2022 Summer Release is about
How do Airbnb Split Stays work?
How do Airbnb Categories work?
How does Aircover, Airbnb Guest Travel Insurance, work?

This change is designed to make it easier for guests to find the right type of accommodation, but as a result, your listings have also been affected. For example, titles crafted by hosts no longer appear in search results and are replaced with more generic category names and location tags. Similarly, guests n longer see the number of total reviews under each listing in their search results either.

This does mean hosts must rethink their listings to rank better in these search results, and understand how these changes affect the guest’s view.

We had a chat with vacation rental listing optimisation firm Rankbreeze‘s CEO and Founder Kelvin Mah on the subject to find out to what extent the new Airbnb Categories and Split Stays features have affected host listings, and more important what hosts can do to optimise their listings and improve their chances at ranking better in search results and thereby increasing traffic to their listings.

Here are some key steps hosts can take to update their listings:

  • Review all your information in the hosting dashboard to ensure it is up to date.
  • Listing titles are still important as they inform the Airbnb’s algorithm on where and how your listings appear
  • Revamp your titles to include your unique selling proposition, e.g. special amenities or the view
  • Airbnb will display the photo closest matching to your given category rather than your chosen hero image in the search results e.g. it may a photo of your pool if you are listed in the Amazing Pools category. Keep that in mind when updating your photos.
  • Do not neglect photos captions.
  • Provide Airbnb as much data as possible about your listing to enable the algorithm to rank you for all possible Categories.
  • Continue to monitor your ranking in the All Hosts Category, as this will be what guests eventually return to after Category fatigue.
  • Think about you you can prompt your guests to leave longer reviews that talk specifically about your Category or amenities.
  • If you use a channel manager to manage multiple Airbnb listings, check that it has the requisite integration to make these updates.

Keep scrolling to read a transcript of the full interview for more information on the update and tips on optimisation or simply watch the video interview below.

Thibault Masson:

Dear Rental Scale-Up members, today we are discussing the impact of Airbnb’s changes on your ranking. Has everything changed? Can you still control anything in the way Airbnb’s displaying the properties or ranking your property? We will be talking with Kelvin Mah, the Founder and CEO of Rankbreeze.

Airbnb’s changes are actually drastic. People thought that the update was meh, not very impressive, but in terms of tech and what it means for how your property is showing up, it is a lot of changes. Without further ado, I would love to welcome Kelvin.

I will be listing a few of these changes. I will be looking at them with a quick demo and talk about how you can now control your search results. How you can influence maybe the way Airbnb is categorising your properties. We will see how things are changing – maybe you have properties in an urban market or an international vacation rental market.

Without further ado, Kelvin, hey how are you?

Kelvin Mah:

I am good, Thibault, I am very excited to be here with you.

Thibault Masson:

So, I butchered the name of your company and I do apologise for that. Please explain to us what you guys do at Rankbreeze.

Kelvin Mah:

Yeah, sure. We are a software and services company, so that means we’ve got software developers on the services and we’ve got project managers. Actually what we do is we help people with three main areas. So, we have rankings, so search visibility. In Rankbreeze we have 2.3 million properties that we are tracking on a daily basis. That kinda gives you an idea of the scale we are at there. And then pricing is the second pillar that we focus on. Right now it’s competitor monitoring and things like that. And the third thing is market data. so, figuring out where to invest, what type of amenities you might want to add in, and that sort of thing. So, three things that we do: rankings, pricing, and market data.

If you want to put us in a category, probably under listing optimisation most of the time.

Thibault Masson:

Listing optimisation is very important obviously and we are gonna see that but Airbnb as changed the way some results are displayed or categorised. So, obviously, we’re going to talk about this with you, Kelvin, because you have looked at what they’ve done and you’ve already fielded questions from your own customers because they also want to know what to do now and how to optimise their listing and that’s what you do every day.

But, before even doing the demo, a few things have changed. We can say that already in search results in some cases the listing titles are not displayed anymore. That could be worrying for some people. What other changes have you noticed?

Listing titles disappear from search results after the advent of Airbnb Categories

Airbnb listing titles no longer show up in search results
No more listings titles or number of reviews under listings in search results

Kelvin Mah:

The biggest things right now are that Airbnb has now before, if you kind of remember before May 11th, that’s when they made the updates before May 11th, everyone was kind of put together in the same categories. Now they’ve split up these different categories. Now we have the All Homes category, which is where, which is the search results that were previously. Now it’s all put in the same, everybody’s put into the same area, but then they’ve split off different categories, such as Amazing View or Off The Grid or Countryside. At the very top of Airbnb, there are these new categories.

They’ve removed the title now. A guest is searching on Airbnb, they, the title of the property is now removed. And it’s now replaced with something, it’ll say the property type and in what city it’s in. It might say apartment in Chicago, for example, that it’s more of a generic title that they’ve given on the search result. And it’s usually just the property and then the city there.

Another thing they’ve done is removed the reviews. There are no longer any reviews that are associated on the search results page. Each listing still has reviews, of course, but it’s just not visible to the guest searching on Airbnb. That’s no longer visible. They can’t use that as a mechanism to decide.

Thibault Masson:

Exactly. Let’s do a demo straight away, because as you said, if you look at your listing page, not much has changed in terms of what we’re talking about. It’s really the search results. Also what we’re going to see is actually the whole homepage is full of search results. It means the change we talking about now impacts people already on the very first page. Let me share my screen right now to do a quick demo so people can actually see exactly what you’ve been talking about, Kelvin. Can you see my screen okay?

Kelvin Mah:

It’s working now.

Thibault Masson:

Okay. Now I’m on airbnb.com, the website version. Right now my IP is probably located somewhere in the Netherlands, so you know where I am, and what you can see now is that if, I think when you– when did you say, Kelvin, the rollout was? Like two weeks ago, May 11?

Kelvin Mah:

11th. Yep.

Thibault Masson:

All right. Before that, if you guys remember there was like a search box and they were like big images on their website. Like, inspirational things like discover long stays or vacation rentals by the sea. Not anymore. Now you have directly on the homepage search results, right. Before that, obviously to have search results, you had to actually search for something. Here you’re getting search results. And what am I getting here? Well, I’m getting things again. The results you’re getting is for properties that are somewhat according to your IP that are defaulting to the Design category. And exactly, as you explained Kelvin, right? There’s like pedigrees here showing up, right. I think this is like 56 categories, right?

And, and by default I am seeing properties in Design category for any week anywhere and it’s fantastic. I see beautiful things, but to me also was a bit worried because the first property I see if I’ve never been to Airbnb, first thing I see my heart stops. 10,000 euros a night! I’m like, oh my God, I’m so walking away from this website, it’s too expensive. Let’s quickly first go back to the default choices. But so these are the categories here. What can you, what can you tell us about them, Kelvin?

Kelvin Mah:

The categories are split into either the architectural design of the home, or perhaps sometimes it could be split in terms of the location. Wineries and golf courses, those are very location-heavy categories. In some cases, it’s the property feature. Such as amazing view or amazing pool, those are the different types of types of categories. There’s also an OMG category, which is pretty interesting. I don’t know exactly what that one means, but I think that’s probably, they don’t know exactly what that means either, and so they just stuff everything into OMG that isn’t quite making it into things. For example, when I’ve seen OMG, it’s been like a train, like you could rent a train for example, and you could rent one of the units inside of a train pretty much.

Thibault Masson:

So let’s start with that. Let’s do a search for let’s imagine I want to stay in Gatlinburg for some days. Let’s first look at what’s happening with the categories here. Can you tell us, because you did talk about all the homes and then you have other categories which look different what we’re seeing. Can you explain to us what happened here?

Audit your Airbnb hosting dashboard to fill out every single detail you can

Kelvin Mah:

Yeah. Airbnb has now has gone through the exercise and they’re continuing to go through the exercise of splitting up your homes into different categories by using — there are some algorithms involved — but there are also some more simpler things as well. You can actually designate your listing to be a specific category, not all categories, but some categories definitely. In unique stays, when you go into the Airbnb hosting dashboard, there are the property types. You can actually look at those. That’s probably one of the first things you should do is actually audit the Airbnb hosting dashboard details that you have and make sure that you filled out every single thing, that it’s correct and that you’re listed in the correct place. And Airbnb is using parts of that. Of course, they’re using parts of that to, to put you into categories, they’re analyzing things like your title, like your description, your reviews, to categorize you into these different categories.

Thibault Masson:

Let’s go to that because as you said, so if we look here, the result, I just looked for treehouses, right? Here I have treehouses and the results are interesting enough, different from what we thought, but here you have a destination basically, right? I have a destination, it tells me it’s a double bed, got prices on date. I didn’t enter any specific dates and I am getting the price for I’m guessing one week, not the price per night. But it doesn’t say, I don’t know, I imagine this listing owner had crafted a very nice romantic title. I don’t know for this one, for example, a beautiful treehouse nestled among trees and the title we see now is Canton one queen bed. So what happened to the title?

Kelvin Mah:

They’ve now removed the title, and now it is based on the location. Woodfin and Canton, these are different areas inside of Tennessee, I believe.

Thibault Masson:

Exactly. And what’s also very interesting. If you look at some properties, actually property types, or if I look at Amazing Views, for example, as a category, suddenly I’m getting something different. I’m getting actually the property type in a way and a destination. For example, this one is a cabin in Sevierville, because obviously if I’m looking for a tiny house, I’m supposed to get a tiny house or a treehouse. So it just gives me the destination here. Again, they have a title of their own which is basically property type and destination, which happens to be kind of same, a Condo in Gatlinberg or a Cabin in Sevierville.

What’s very interesting, Kelvin, here is that I used to work at Booking.com and when I listed on Booking.com, I was not very happy because unlike on VRBO and Airbnb, I thought I could control the way my property was presented. I could control my listing title and my description, but not on Booking.com. The only thing you can do is tick boxes and with some kind of magic or agree with them or whatever, and Booking.com is basically going to generate a description for you. They’re going to judge, according to what you are booking, and probably SEO, they’re going to judge, what should be in your own description. A lot of people are angry at Booking.com because they think, Hey, it’s my property, I should be able to describe it and not have this robotic version that says, this property is five minutes away from this place and has a fridge, which is of course, a very bad description. Do you think this is what’s happening here? Are people losing control over the listing title?

Kelvin Mah:

Well, I think the title is still important as well. Airbnb is, at least in this phase of what they’re trying to achieve, I’m certainly of the belief that over time, Airbnb will actually need more data, not necessarily less data from you as their business gets larger as they enter more properties and they’re trying to essentially automatically organize these categories and the rankings in general. I do believe that they actually need more data. Just because they’ve removed the title from the search results page, to me doesn’t necessarily mean that it’s not important for them either. Also when you click through onto a listing there, the first thing that a person sees is actually the title anyways. And, it’s one thing to get a person to click on a property, but it’s another thing to get them to book the property. These are different conversion rates along the way that are still important that you should be utilizing nonetheless.

I wouldn’t be discounting the value of your title just because it’s not any longer available on the search results page.

Thibault Masson:

As you said, as well earlier it’s also very important because it’s a signal for the people once they land on the landing page, but you can also imagine it’s also something that Airbnb is taking into account. For example, when they decide in which category your listing belongs, right? Maybe, a category can be, as you said, if it’s a chalet it’s probably going to be under Chalet, but to decide on Amazing Views or anything else, I think the listing title is still one of the things that Airbnb is considering, right?

Kelvin Mah:

Yeah. I mean, there’s still looking at it. I want to talk about one thing before we go on that I think would be pretty interesting. Gatlinburg is pretty much filled with cabins for the most part, right? You could say that all homes are, are in the category. All of them should probably be in the Cabin category at least, right. Even a treehouse is a little bit of a cabin there, but some of these other categories such as Countryside, for example, or Off The Grid, these are all pretty similar, but they’re different at the same time, right? Gatlinburg is a very competitive market. All of them are pretty much cabins, but only some of them show up in Countryside, for example, and you had mentioned around optimizing your listing for mentioning cabins and things like that, or, or Treehouse, right? The Treehouse was the example that we were using previously. I think one thing that would be good to mention here is that it’s not always necessarily around mentioning the keywords that are very important in terms of that exact keyword of Treehouse. When it comes down to, for example, something like Countryside, what we noticed is that, okay, people don’t really say Countryside. It just wasn’t something that people said, either in the reviews or in the title or the description or anything like that. It was kind of confusing as to why some properties showed up in Countryside when they’re all technically in the countryside, really.

Part of that from what we could tell is that if you want to try to optimize for these more nuanced categories, try to think about why would a person choose a countryside category versus choosing a cabin category? That’s probably because they’re looking for something that’s quiet, something they don’t, there’s not a lot of people around there. There’s certain things that you can add into your description, that you can put your hat on and think about why a person is looking for Countryside, looking for something that’s quiet. Right. They’re looking for, didn’t see a single person don’t expect to see a single person when you’re out here in this area. So yeah. Sort of think about it like that. When you’re re-optimizing your listing, try to speak to that person, that when they’re looking at staying in the countryside, there’s a reason why they’re choosing countryside versus just cabin.

Thibault Masson:

Let change it up a bit. Let’s go to Sonoma, the wine county. Here, you can see that the categories are changing, right? I’ve changed destination, the order of the categories is changing and unsurprisingly for wine country, you find Vineyards as you predicted. We also find Beach, which is true, but it’s surprising that it showing up so high. So what do you think is happening here? Why are the categories changing?

Kelvin Mah:

I think the categories are probably changing based on supply. I’m not a hundred percent sure if that’s necessarily the best decision from their part, but I think it has to do with supply.

Thibault Masson:

I’m with you here. I think, firstly, it’s pretty remarkable that on the fly they’re able to regenerate this order of Categories and adapt it to the destination. Kind of make sense. It’s probably a product of what they have available. I know properties like cabins and things make sense in Gatlinburg. What I mean is available in terms of listings, and also available right now, because I don’t think it would make sense, especially if you didn’t enter a date that they would show you something that’s completely not available for a certain week or date. Just putting in a random date to see if it has any effect and no, the date doesn’t have any effect on those listings. So it’s probably what they have and what’s also getting booked. There’s always this tension, right? You just don’t show what you have but also what’s getting booked, which is important.

Airbnb Categories great way for Airbnb to direct guests where the supply is

Kelvin Mah:

One other thing too, that’s probably very important to mention here is that from the experience of the guests searching, cause that’s what we’re always trying to optimize for, right? That when you click on these different Categories, if you go to, for example, Sonoma, and you’re looking at specifically a county or a specific city, and you click these different Categories, what the user will notice, what the guests will notice that it actually zooms out quite a bit of distance. In some cases it could, it will recommend properties that are a fair distance away. In some cases, even in different countries, I’ve noticed depending on how close you are to the border.

Thibault Masson:

Yeah, exactly. To your point, I mean, if you look at vineyards in Sonoma, we’ll find plenty, but as we’ve seen Beach as a category, and obviously if I click on Beach, suddenly it zooms out of the whole Pacific coast apparently I think Brian Chesky touched upon what they’re doing with the Categories, right. It’s a way for Airbnb to also, I think what they said, they tried to direct demand where they have supply. To put it another way, in some places they actually don’t have the supply you need so they have to show you another area than where you looking for. It’s kind of smart, right? Maybe you were only searching for one specific destination, one city because you didn’t know there was another city name to enter, which had the supply. Maybe you will not able to see the exact, see the, this other supply, this other place that could have been interesting for you.

So it’s enabling more results. And here again, it’s also interesting, it’s like making the map search also relevant to what we’re looking for. I don’y know why Chef’s Kitchen is so big, but again, and if you go back to Vineyards and again it starts to make sense. I think maybe Kelvin here, we touched a bit upon the why, why we’re doing all this. I think to me, we just talked about one it’s like, Airbnb does not really always have the supply you need. Maybe they don’t have Barns in the place you are looking for, so by being able to zoom in or zooming out or to changing the where there are searching, very meta, it’s enabling them to actually show you some more supply, more choice. The better chance that you find something, the better chance you’re going to convert. They’re increasing here the conversion rates, basically, I think.

Another point to me is I was thinking, why are they defaulted on the homepage to Design? I think it really comes down to what’s happening with the search box, because basically yes, by default, you see anything anywhere, any week design, but a lot of people are very transactional, right? You kind of know where they want to go and when. So most people who actually go to the box here and into a specific destination, a specific date, but for people who are not quite ready for that, instead maybe going to Instagram or going to some kind of blog to dream about a destination, where to go find some inspiration, Airbnb wants to be earlier in a search process to say hey, whenever you’re searching and want some inspiration go to Airbnb first. I’m guessing by doing this, they think people that will stay on Airbnb. When they actually want to book, they will come back to Airbnb. What do you think, Kelvin, is it fair what I’m thinking?

Design choices mean listing data more important to the backend now

Kelvin Mah:

Yeah, no, I, for sure, I think pretty much, I’ll just double down on what you’re saying with Brian Chesky, one of the founders of Airbnb, he spent the last year living on Airbnb. I think that was probably one of the big marketing campaigns they had over the past year around people having more flexibility. Which I do appreciate actually. I do really love the flexibility in the search engine that they’ve built there. Yeah, so Brian’s been living on Airbnb, and I think a lot of these changes are adapting to his personal taste. He’s also a former industrial designer. That’s why Airbnb looks the way it does, so pleasant to use in a way, right. The design is a lot more modern than some of the other websites.

That’s mostly because the design is a very, very important thing. As you can tell, now that when we’re looking at these Categories, the first category that’s listed there for when you’re just running a general search for any property all over the world, it’s the Design category that’s popping there.

Beyond these categories, the changes that they’ve made and adapting it in that perspective, I do think though the removing of the reviews and the title, I think those have to do with actually spreading out clicks and bookings and distributing them more evenly to people. I think that’s another reason why they’ve made that make those changes.

Thibault Masson:

Yeah. I’m with you as well. Again, if I look at Booking.com experience, that Booking.com is a conversion machine, right. They would remove anything that’s in the way of conversion. Especially in Paris, right? Probably here by default, what’s really important at that stage in a booking, they want to see, what am I going to book? Okay. It’s an apartment in some kind of area in Paris, right? Probably that’s the most important thing for them to make a decision at that moment and also to help make a decision they probably had to lie a bit in those titles, right? If you have all these very beautiful crafted titles, kind of takes you a while to actually read through them. Here it was just apartments so I could quickly get what it is. It’s easier for me to actually make a decision because just like actually less information to decide on.

Kelvin Mah:

I do wish they brought back those reviews though. I personally do like the reviews as I’m searching through. Because in some places everything does actually look the same. There are properties that all look the same, especially if you’re looking for just traveling for two people and you just need a simple condo and you’ve never been to an area. Sometimes– well, not sometimes, but all the time, those reviews have been earned.

Thibault Masson:

Are you talking about the review score?

Kelvin Mah:

The number of reviews.

Thibault Masson:

Oh, the number of reviews. That’s interesting. So number of reviews is a reflection of how long people have been hosting, how maybe reliable, I’m guessing the score is right?

Kelvin Mah:

Well, just imagine if I was, as these changes had been made, I was frantically going around to all these different places, trying to run a bunch of different searches with different search intent, right. For big groups, for small groups and things like that. I was thinking about, oh, what if I went to go visit my cousin in St. John New Brunswick, which I’ve never been so I have no idea anything about it. I would just be either going by myself or it might be going with my girlfriend. It was just the two of us. So we went there and I was looking at those listings on Airbnb, pretty much all of them were condos. They all were either the picture of the living room or a picture of the bedroom. And that was pretty much it. It was pretty hard for me to decide which one to click on. And if there was the number of reviews associated with it, I would generally probably go with the folks who are a little more trustworthy, right? They’ve hosted people. And I know that if I go there there’s going to be more likely a better experience. It’ll shorten the length of time that I’m spending searching for property as well.

Search results photos not hero images chosen by hosts but images related to the Airbnb Category

the photo closest matching to your given category rather than your chosen hero image in the search results
The photo highlighted in each instance shows it is beachfront property

Thibault Masson:

Don’t you think that’s if you’re looking for a condo or let’s say the supply is mostly condos, let’s just say Gatlinburg is mostly cabins. So, I am going to see the outside of the cabins and I see for a condo in the end, what’s really important is the sofa. Well, what I mean here is that we talked about this as well. Also in the search results, the main image people are that the property is showing now, it’s not necessarily the hero image, the main image that hosts have chosen in the hosting interface. Now, basically Airbnb decides which of your listing photos will be shown depending on your search, or maybe depending on which Category is your properties shown. Maybe if your property is shown in Amazing Views it’s gonna show something relating to the views, if it’s with great pools can be a pool.

Look at this one, default in Paris. Don’t look at the screen. What do you think Airbnb thinks should be shown to mean Paris?

Kelvin Mah:

Eiffel tower?

Thibault Masson:

Okay. Let’s look at this. Oh, one Eiffel tower, two Eiffel towers, three Eiffel towers. Apparently, a view on the Eiffel tower is what you need to have to be listed by default on Paris. If you’re Parisian hosts, I don’t know if you can take a photograph of a mini Eiffel tower that you have at your place. Pretend it’s the actual Eiffel Tower. I have no clue. It is interesting. What do you think of Airbnb taking control of the first photo? I’m guessing if it’s relevant, it’s probably good for conversion, but are people you talk to worried that they have less control on the way they optimize the listing?

Kelvin Mah:

I think it really on the type of person as well. I’ve seen it where the photo, for example, Amazing Pools. That’s one category where if you go to Amazing Pools, all you’re going to see is pictures of pools, which makes sense, right. As a guest searching on Airbnb, when I click on a Category, I want to see photos of that category. What Airbnb is doing right now is that they will select a photo for you. They’ll actually use that as your cover photo. That is displayed in the Airbnb search results page. So there’s the cover photo of the pool, and then if the guests clicks on your listing, they will also see that the big picture is of the pool when they actually arrive on your listing.

Thibault Masson:

Oh, I see! So, even on the listing page, the big image is changing depending on what you were searching for.

Kelvin Mah:

Yes, it is changing, but it doesn’t mean that this is the one that you’ve assigned. We could try with this one. Could you go back to that hotel in Paris, that listing that you had there? If you click that listing. Right now it’s showing this pool photo. Could you try to delete everything after the listing ID? In the URL where it says 3, 1, 8, 6…

Just clean up the URL and see if that makes a change. I don’t know if it will, per se, but it might, it depends on the property. For this one, it didn’t, but sometimes it does do that where it’ll choose the image of a pool and it might be like your second last photo, and then when a person clicks on your listing from the search results page, it’ll be the main photo, which in some cases will benefit you.

Thibault Masson:

Right next to Amazing Pools for Paris, we have Grand Pianos, which I had not noticed before. I click on it and I’m guessing that’s not the main photo of people. I don’t think the listings usually have a piano is the default photo. I don’t know. Maybe I may be wrong, but yeah, let’s see. Maybe it’s just changing. Who knows?

Something I would like to look at here is also the Categories. As we talked about, so obviously Paris is a big city. There’s like 2 million people within the walls of Paris, and actually 12 million people living in the region of Paris. The Categories, some make sense, like the first one is Historical Homes, for example, historical homes. That’s perfect. Then you have like Houseboats and I’m like, it’s not Amsterdam. And then we have Beach. I dunno how Farms or, I dunno, it’s a bit strange some categories here. What do you think is happening here? It’s a big city obviously, right? I was not expecting Beach or Farms.

Let’s play along, I will click on Farms. How many Farms do we have in Paris? Not that many apparently right. Gonna have to drive I would say three hours, two hours. What’s happening?

Kelvin Mah:

Well, I think Airbnb is trying to display all of the unique properties that they can. In some ways that is getting in the way of the person searching and trying to accomplish what they’re trying to do. Right. If I’m a guest and I’ve just booked a trip to Paris, which I have never been to, but I would like to go to, at some point. I’m going there and I’m starting my search on Airbnb, trying to find property on there and the way that they’re organizing the categories. I don’t know exactly what’s going on per se, but I’m certainly of the belief that things will work themselves out over time. Airbnb is in this data collection mode right now, right? They’ve just changed over these categories. They’re starting to collect data on how people are interacting with the platform going forward.

They’re also still populating these Categories too. People are still having issues of not being in a category that they believe that they should be in. Airbnb is going to make these updates over time and over time it should resolve itself. Right now it’s still a pretty new update. From my personal perspective, I do think that they could certainly organize these Categories better just because now they’ve started to collect data on them. Right? For example, if you’re going to somewhere like San Antonio, you’re going to go through those Categories. There’s probably from search intent, right? From a person looking in a specific city, there are only a few Categories inside of a city that actually matter for a person searching, right?

Design is one category that’s potentially important, Amazing Pools, Amazing View, Chef’s Kitchen. These are all things that are more important for the urban traveler, and bed and breakfast, I guess also that’s, that’s another one that could be in there. You can’t really just convert your condo into a yurt, for example. There’s only a certain number of Categories that are actually important for the urban traveler going to a specific city.

Thibault Masson:

I think we’re also touching on a point of supply, right? Because I agree with you about Bed & Breakfast, maybe because I’m European, is something very popular. Right. We expect if I go to a city, Bed & Breakfast will be a more popular option than let’s say Golfing, or I don’t know, Lakefront in San Antonio. Right. And that is done there. I am clicking on Bed & Breakfast, again for any week, and I get only 67 B&Bs available. Maybe it’s a question of, as we said earlier, of like what Airbnb really has in supply.

Because again, if I click on Bed & Breakfast, I also get like this crazy zooming out. I’m not even sure. Am I seeing Texas? Yeah, just right on the border. It does say that it has to send you to these other locations to find the exact property you want and good for you if that’s what you want, but it is striking because to your point, I was thinking for urban areas the kitchen is important, but maybe a sizeable place.

And also we know that accessibility is very important for Airbnb. We could imagine that accessibility is in categories, not in the filters, for example. I don’t know what to think here.

Kelvin Mah:

I do believe if we’re talking specifically about San Antonio and B&B, I don’t have data on it. I do think though that there probably is more than 67 Bed & Breakfasts in that region there.

Thibault Masson:

So what, so what’s happening here? What are they doing? Cause they’re giving me the signal that any week there are only 67 B&Bs available, huh?

Kelvin Mah:

I was, I was talking to somebody the other week and they have four cabins that are right next to each other. Their cabins were in the Cabin category. That was fine for them. But only one of their cabins stuck out in the Countryside category. But they’re all right next to each other. So here’s the thing that was kind of confusing to me, why that would happen. What he told me though, was that one cabin that ended up being on Countryside, that was his best performing cabin as well. Perhaps there’s some criteria here before you get into a Category that Airbnb wants you to have specific things. But, I have seen new properties in Categories as well. I’ve seen completely brand new properties in Categories, and I’ve seen properties with tons of reviews in Categories as well. Everybody is still sorting things out, I think.

Thibault Masson:

And to finish it up. You talked about the way Airbnb is running sprints every two weeks, new features coming out, which is normally what you do with Agile. Here, if you look at the size, and the seismic change, they changed the whole homepage to where results are displayed. We have not even touched on the search box, or the filter, so there are a lot of changes at the same time. One, it is very impressive having worked for an OTA. Getting so many teams behind the scenes to release their features at the same time. It’s a crazy level of coordination. Even if it’s just one update called Airbnb Categories, that’s a lot of work behind the scenes.

Two, it does mean that imagine usually people talk about hey, you’re agile, you have to A/B test stuff. You could only do like one little change right now and see how it’s going, get the data and then you can iterate and do something new. If you change everything at the same time, how can you have so many concurrent experiments running, so many tests running at the same time. Usually you have to coordinate things that I’m running a test here, hopefully it has no effect on other places, other people’s experiments. Here I’m guessing, I am not saying go back to zero, but it’s so drastic. I’m guessing they don’t have a clean slate, but it’s still, it means they recorded from zero almost at some point on the website. What do you think?

Kelvin Mah:

Yeah, actually, that’s a very interesting point. We’ve been monitoring rankings for a few years now, and even those algorithm updates that we’ve noticed that Airbnb makes for their search results. This is before the Category changes, just general algorithm updates. They came up pretty much between the 15th and the 30th. It’s either coming in the middle of the month or the end of the month or at the beginning of the month, however you might look at it. So, that’s tried and true. As for where they’re starting from. That is a very good question. I think Airbnb has really been– a part of their ethos is testing. They’re very big on running A/B tests, but I do agree with you.

This is one of those things where it’s not really a test cause they’ve kind of gone through with the entire thing and it’s almost not necessarily about testing things at this point. It seems like they’re trying to just adapt to it. Right. They’ve made the changes they’re essentially measuring to see, okay, how is this going to impact our bookings, our general bookings across the board, our average daily rates for people? Well, those are the two big things, right? When it comes down to financials for a public company. I think that, either if they’re not gonna turn back on the Categories at this point. They’re just going to strive forward and just measure at that point. They’re just going to measure and adapt not necessarily test.

Thibault Masson:

Kelvin, you talked about the culture of the company, right? How Brian Chesky, I think even his other co-founder have degrees in design, right? Obviously, if you’re a design-first company, and I’m guessing if you’re still the Founder/CEO, you can probably get away making the whole company do that, right? Because you kind of saved the company and you went through the IPO, people kind of trust your guts in a way, right. At Booking.com, there’s no way, which is completely not design-first, if you go to the website you get what I mean. There’s no way you could do something so drastic because it’s all about making a little change, recording what’s happening. There would probably not be buy-in enough from anybody in the leadership team telling anybody else down there, Hey, you have to change everything, stop what you’re doing, we are all going to do what I’m saying.

It’s also to me, a testament to the current culture of Airbnb, right. Design-oriented, very strong leadership for good or bad. Right. It is also very interesting how basically what we see also reflects the culture of a company. It’s it is fascinating.

Kelvin Mah:

Yeah. And things take time to write. Things take time, realistically. Right. So he’s made this change. Personally for me, when I read these changes, it was kind of a little crazy for us at Rankbreeze for two weeks there. As a guest, as an Airbnb user, I was actually pretty excited to go because for me, when I go and travel, I actually prefer looking for a place with a nice view. I don’t have a very nice view in my normal home. Looking for views when you’re normally searching on Airbnb before these category updates was a pain and this has made it dramatically better. It’s just that the location zooms out so far right now that it’s not as helpful, but over time I think you will get better.

Thibault Masson:

Yeah. Looking at places in my hometown, home mountains, I’ve discovered beautiful places, beautiful properties, I’m like I’m so booking there! It’s fantastic. To your point, I come from, the border with Germany and Switzerland, I’m French and if you zoom out too much, it’s not even the same country. You don’t speak the same language, but it is interesting.

You talk about what you guys do. Again, how can people have some control? What are the questions you are getting? What are the answers you’re giving? How can people, for example, have some control on what would they do? How can they optimize for Categories? Can you share a few tips for people watching?

How can hosts tweak listings to make the most out of Airbnb Categories and Split Stays?

Kelvin Mah:

Oh yeah. Well, yeah, definitely. So, well, first of all, a caveat: Thibault and I are talking about something that recently changed. Things change over time, but I think there are probably some best practices that we can definitely rely on in terms of what you can do to kind of go from here, even maybe in general, regardless of Categories and the whole update. What are some best practices that we can do?

I do have a blog post by the way. If I’m not good at conveying this message through my voice, if you just look up Rankbreeze and then look up Rankbreeze Airbnb Category, you’ll probably be able to get a blog post that we just put up there.

What you should do with your listing?

Number one, you should review all the details in your Airbnb listing, particularly in the hosting dashboard. Just talking to people over the past few months, Airbnb has, has been slowly hinting at these changes before we knew it. So, some people that I’ve spoken to said that they would get a notification that says, hey, tell me about your amazing view. They were thinking, I don’t have an amazing view. I’m not going to tell you about this amazing view. These are some of the ways that Airbnb is using to categorize your property. Just make sure that you’re feeding Airbnb as much information as possible.

And you know, is your title important? Yes, of course, it’s still important because they’re using your title to organize you. They’re using your listing description using your photo captions, all your photos in general, they’re analyzing your photos specifically, and your reviews can’t really do much about your reviews. Cause those are out of your control in a sense, but maybe you can get some creativity, get some creative ways into that off-boarding process of when a guest leaves and how you can try to stimulate them to leave longer reviews, of course, and more positive reviews.

Maybe having them talk about particular Categories too, that you can influence them around. The first thing is reviewing your property details.

The second thing, monitoring your rankings in the All Homes Category is actually still very important. I think that was one thing that we had a lot of questions around was, oh, no, like there’s all these new categories. So, now those are the only things that are important. If you actually do a search yourself as a guest on Airbnb, and hopefully you understand the types of guests that are coming to your property and the reasons why they’re coming, you can mimic those searches. You’ll realize how important these categories are. In your traditional vacation rental market, it might be more important, but in like an urban city, categories just aren’t as important except for certain categories.

So, the All Homes category is still very important, you should also keep in mind that that’s still there. By default, after some frustration, there are going to be people that will just revert back to the All Homes because it’s tried and true. Yeah. That’s the second point.

We already talked about if you’re looking at optimizing into your Category, update your title, update your description, photo captions, even consider updating your host profile description to be speaking to that. For example, if you specialize in A-frame properties in the Cabins, try to write that in your description as well for your profile. And photo captions are usually missed by everyone. The more information you give Airbnb the better off you’ll be, and even a secret tip here is like if you think you should be in a category and you’re not in that category yet, consider retaking a photo deleting photos, deleting the photo, re adding the photo back in and just trying to get in that queuing system that Airbnb is going through, right?

They’ve got these jobs that are going on in the background. They’re basically organizing things and sometimes you can stimulate Airbnb too, to kind of move you up the queue in terms of their processing.

Thibault Masson:

Yeah, exactly. A point I had as well is that obviously we’re talking here about doing changes in your hosting dashboard, but for a lot of property managers, most of the time, they actually do that through a channel manager. That’s why it’s really important to make sure you have a channel manager who is really on top of what Airbnb is doing, because as you just said, Kelvin, right, Airbnb just like any OTA is always adding a little item in. Whenever you’re in your dashboard, this is another thing to tick.

To your point, something is coming, they need to collect data. They’re going to ask you, Hey, do you have an amazing view or whatever they going to ask you. Just answer. Just answer, because they’re going to use that. Especially if there’s like an opportunity or whatever, like a prompt in the interface, it means it is going to be very important, maybe for an experiment they’re running or for a big launch, so always answer that. It does mean again that sometimes you have to look at how your settings are, right. Sometimes we have a channel manager that can actually go into Airbnb and do these ticks for you.

If you set up your channel manager in the sense that they don’t control your whole content, that’s how it’s called. Just the prices. For example, that’s the way I do it, right? Only my pricing ability is controlled by a channel manager, not the things you’ve got to want to be able to finetune within Airbnb.

Kind of depends? Again, do make sure that everything we talked about, like, the details and the rest is also really available from your channel manager. I mean, nowadays Airbnb is so important that all channel managers try to be on top of whatever Airbnb’s doing. But it’s good to have this in mind, right? Sometimes if you are a property manager, compare what’s in your channel manager and then, if you have your own listing somewhere, that’s not connected, just look what the options they have.You can sometimes measure an interesting gap and go to a channel manager company and say, Hey, what’s happening here?

Convey listing USP immediately in the listing title
Convey your Airbnb listing’s unique selling proposition immediately in the listing title

Kelvin Mah:

Yeah, I’ll go over just a few more points. Revamping the title, we kind of talked about this a few times, but is the title still important? Yes. It’s still important. You might want to think of it like this: when a person clicks through onto your listing, the first thing actually, they see is your photos, but before at the very top is actually your title. So, you can try to use a little bit of a shock factor.

It’s not used, but there is a bit of a shock factor because that’s the very first time that a person actually sees your title. Right? Try to put as much information as you can on why they should book that property, so that perhaps they don’t need to go and read through the entire description. Right? For example, if you have a game room or you have a theater room or things like that, right, that are just not as apparent, that you can pretty much double down on those unique selling propositions right in the title.

You’ll be well off in that sense. In Rankbreeze, we actually go and we collect the top ranking properties in your area. We actually reverse engineer those keywords in the title and description. We also break them down in terms of the average daily rates and occupancy rates and what page they were on average found on. That’s one sense of how you can optimize your title better.

When it comes down to photos, the photos are pretty much a 10x change now, right? There’s been a huge, massive change that it’s almost, if it wasn’t the most important thing in the search results page, it is pretty clear now that it is the most important thing. If you have multiple properties in a single area, I think that for those owners, that have multiple properties, I think there is some opportunities here that you can utilize.

For example, if you brand your photos, perhaps putting a little banner on there that just looks very, it’s not too aggressive, but perhaps just says, game room, hot tub and something else, right. Or, or amazing view, these sorts of things. And, and you kinda got this, this thing that just, it’s a title that they’ve removed from you, but now you’ve put that back into your photos. When a person is searching on Airbnb, they’re going to see your branded photo in one case. They may not click it, but if they go and they continue searching, they may see a photo. Again, that looks very similar to yours because you have another property there they’ll kind of make a connection and they make it a little curious and at least click on that property to see, okay, what’s going on here because we have these photos and these two photos are pretty similar, but they’re for different properties.

What you’re trying to do is you’re trying to get that click because once you get the click, what happens is that you’re starting to get Airbnb to personalize itself to you. A person is searching on Airbnb, there’s some personalization that’s involved. That’s why when you go and you return back to Airbnb, the next day you’re going to see a bunch of listings that you’ve already clicked on. So that’s Airbnb working for you. In some cases, if you’re a property manager with multiple properties in the same area, you can use those photos to help yourself get more clicks.

I think one thing that was of concern was that there’s if you’re in an urban area, if you’re in a city and you operate a bunch of condos and they do look the same. I think that’s kind of one problem area that people are having right now is that they’re not really sure exactly what to do because they don’t really fit into a category per se.

My advice to you would be that you should consider redesigning your property but don’t consider redesigning the whole property, just choose one room, one specific area, and just start simple and just see what you can do there to make it more click-worthy per se, and how to stand out from people. You don’t have to invest a whole ton of money into changing all the drapes and the wallpaper and all that kind of stuff. Just focus on one area specifically and see what you can do there to supercharge one area. That’ll, that should help you get at least an edge compared to some people who aren’t even aware that a change has happened in some cases, right? So, so that’ll kind of help you get along there. I only have two more tips and the second last one is around Split Stays.

Split Stays is this recommendation engine that Airbnb has put into place where if a guest is booking in one area, Airbnb will try to recommend another area, another listing at the end of your stay so you can extend your state in that area. The only way for you to qualify for that though, is if you have at least three days of availability there, so consider perhaps, if weekdays are not your strongest, maybe try to see what you can do with playing around with some of the minimums night requirements there and stretching them out to three nights to seeing if that’ll help you get into the recommendation engine there.

Finally pretty much has just around at this point, it’s, just consider when considering offering exponential value so that when a person arrives at your listing now, it’s because Airbnb is trying to spread these cliques around. If you don’t have a completely optimized photo and you can’t use your reviews anymore to entice a person to click over and you can’t use your title. Now, it’s even more important though, than when a person actually clicks onto your listing. It’s actually more important now for you to showcase the value that you’re providing to them as quickly as possible, as clearly as possible, and as simply as possible, I think too. Don’t make things very complex, be very, very clear about the value that you’re offering.

I think time-based offers are also very helpful in these considerations too. For example, if you book, if you book three nights or more with us in the month of June, then we’ll throw in a bottle of wine for your stay. Just these sorts of things can kind of help you stand out a little.

Thibault Masson:

And where would you write that?

Kelvin Mah:

You could write in the description. I think certainly in the summary or probably in the photos is usually the best place just because descriptions are important, but we all know that photos are, there are some people who just don’t read, but everyone looks up photos.

Thibault Masson:

I love that. Kelvin, thank you so much for all these insights. I’m sure people will love watching this rewatching this, and also, especially the article takeaway. What’s, the best way to reach out to you at Rankbreeze.

Kelvin Mah:

The best place is just to go to rankbreeze.com, we’ve got all the information there. We have a trial that you can sign up for if you’re interested. Again, we focus on ranking: optimization, pricing, and market data, and those are the three areas.

Thibault Masson:

Okay. Fantastic. Well, thank you again for your time today there for everyone. I have a great state in St. Peter, is it where you want to go in new Brunswick, right?

Kelvin Mah:

Oh, St. John St. John.

Thibault Masson:

St. John! You have to go there. You just committed in front of the people that you would visit your cousin. Now you have to go. All right. Thank you again for your time. Take care.

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Uvika is a Content Editor at Rental Scale-Up. She uses her experience as a digital nomad and a social media expert to reveal and share vacation rental industry trends.

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