Thursday, July 18, 2019

“5 Actionable Steps to Improve the SEO Performance of Your Site - Social Media Today” plus 1 more

“5 Actionable Steps to Improve the SEO Performance of Your Site - Social Media Today” plus 1 more


5 Actionable Steps to Improve the SEO Performance of Your Site - Social Media Today

Posted: 20 Jun 2019 12:00 AM PDT

According to research, some 93% of all online experiences begin with a user entering a search term into one of the major search engines. That means that focusing on ways to boost the ranking of your website and brand presence in search engine results needs to remain a priority for all businesses looking to market their products and/or services online.

In this post, we're going to look at five actionable steps you can take on this front, to help ensure that Google knows what your business does, and recognizes the value you provide for visitors.

Search engine algorithms are complex, and it's difficult to know, definitively, which steps will be most influential on your rankings, but these are things you can do right away to help better align your website with known Google elements.  

But first, a quick recap:

What is Search Engine Optimization (SEO)?

All the major search engines, and Google in particular, make decisions around website ranking based on information read by 'Googlebots' or 'spiders'. These bots are programmed to read your website according to a set criteria, and then rank it accordingly. 

Search engine optimization refers to ways which you can influence and design your website information to ensure it meets what those Googlebots are looking for.

The more closely your site meets the criteria set by Google, the higher your website will be ranked, making it easier for your potential clients to find.

Optimizing Your Website Design

Ideally, websites should be 'hard-wired' for SEO at the design stage, but there is still a lot of valuable work you can do to retroactively boost the SEO on your website. And if, at any point, you think it's too much trouble, remember that 91% of online content gets zero traffic whatsoever. It has to be worth putting in a few hours to improve your ranking.

Optimization makes sense when you think about it like a conversation you're having with Google - you need to let Google know why your website deserves to be ranked above others which are selling a similar product.

With these factors in mind, here are five simple steps you can take to get your conversation started with the Googlebots.

1. Find Out How Your Customers Search For Your Product

The Google 'spiders' will be crawling your site to find out what 'search terms' or 'keywords' you employ for your product. If you don't use ones which are in general use, they won't recognize what it is you're selling.

There are no set rules on finding these phrases - you simply have to put yourself into the role of a customer looking for your product. What words would you use to find it? What words are your competitors using as key search terms?

One tool worth considering on this front is Answer the Public, which provides listings of common queries associated with any key term, based on auto-suggest results provided by Google and Bing.

Answer the Public example

You can narrow these results down to specific terms and phrases which are commonly searched for in regards to your niche.

Once you've found the most popular terms to describe your product, look to integrate them into your website copy. Make sure that they're used naturally, and that you feature them in your titles for each page of the site, where possible.

Now the Googlebots will be able to cross reference these terms, and better understand what, exactly, you're selling. 

2. Create URLs Which Tell Google What You Do

Googlebots expect to be able to read from your URLs what it is that your webpage is about. Providing SEO friendly URLs is a simple job, and it can make a real difference to your ranking.

For example, if you have a URL that looks like this:

https//www.sportsequipment.co.uk/product/item5?=4692

You should consider changing it to look more like this:

https://www.sportsequipment.co.uk/shop/crosstrainer

If your URL contains a title - like, say, 'How to get fit', the words should include hyphens between them, as URLs won't tolerate spaces. 

Example: 

https//www.sportswear.co.uk/tips/how-to-get-fit

3. Create Your Website for Mobiles Rather Than Desktops

Your web design should be 'responsive', which is to say that it will automatically fit the screens of mobiles, laptops, and tablets.

Additionally, the design should be such that it will display attractively and accessibly on whatever screen it's being viewed on. A 'mobile-first' design is one which starts with a mobile, which is more limited, and then expands to desktop delivery.

Google now rewards 'mobile first' design, because it acknowledges the trend towards mobile use for online searches.

4. Image Management

Good visuals are now a 'must have' for websites, and they're also a great way to boost your website SEO.

Every time you add an image to a page of your website, you can also add a description of it by using 'alt text'. Alt text listings tell the Googlebot what your images are, as they can only read the code, and can't 'see' your pictures. If you use your keywords in the title, you can potentially improve your relevance rank.

When loading pictures, you should also take care to size them correctly. Avoid very large pictures as these will slow down the speed at which your site loads. 

5. Be Strict About Duplication

If you repeat the same copy across the pages on the site - or you replicate copy from another published website - you, potentially, could be penalized by Google for duplicate content.

The simplest way to avoid this is by creating a rule that there will be no duplication of content anywhere on your site. This should include product lists, calls to action, and how you describe what you do.

Ideally, every page should be entirely unique to keep them separate in Google's eyes, and avoid ranking issues.

SEO Management is Ongoing

These five steps will get your site in reasonable order for ranking - but search optimization isn't something you can do once and forget about.

Marketing agencies offering professional SEO services to clients have teams following every twist and turn of the Google criteria, which changes regularly. SEO management is something that you should commit to long-term, with regular reviews of your site content, while also maintaining awareness of the latest search engine updates and algorithm shifts.

The 9 Best Vacation Rental Sites for Travelers in 2019 - SmarterTravel.com

Posted: 18 Jul 2019 02:07 PM PDT

Hoping to rent a house or apartment on vacation? You've got plenty of options. Travelers looking for the best vacation rental sites have to weed through big online travel agencies, small specialty sites, and everything in between. The process can be overwhelming.

Many people aren't aware that most of the best vacation rental websites are owned by a handful of large companies—so you could find yourself wasting time searching the same inventory on multiple sites.

The Best Vacation Rental Sites

To help you sift through the options, I tested more than a dozen top vacation rental sites to figure out which ones offer the best combination of plentiful inventory, useful filters, informative listings, and fair prices, without too many hidden fees. I discovered that there's no single best vacation home rental site, but that each one has pros and cons to suit different types of travelers.

For example, some of the top vacation rental websites are better if you're open to both hotels and rentals, while others are more specialized to suit those who already know they want a vacation home, rental apartment, or private room in someone else's space. Some vacation rental sites make it easier than others to browse properties on a map or to contact the owner of a property to ask questions before your stay.

The following are the best vacation rental sites I found in my testing, listed in alphabetical order. Scroll down for more in-depth analysis of each.

Airbnb

airbnb home screen.

The name of this site is almost synonymous with short-term rentals these days, and its reputation as one of the best vacation rental sites is well deserved: Airbnb offers abundant listings in most popular travel destinations, and its site is cleanly designed and easy to use. There's a prominent map of properties on the main listing page, so you can quickly browse by location—or you can turn off the map feature if you don't find it useful. The main listings page offers useful information right off the bat, including the number of bedrooms and bathrooms, traveler rating, price (both per night and for your total stay), guest capacity, key amenities, and type of accommodation—such as "entire apartment" or "private room in house." You can also scroll through a listing's photos right on the initial results page.

Once you click into a given listing, there's more than enough information to help you decide whether to book, including house rules, bed configurations, cancellation policies, amenities, reviews from past guests, and a full price breakdown (which typically includes things like a cleaning fee and Airbnb's own service fee). You can also contact the property's host through the platform if you have questions before you book.

Best feature: The site makes it easier to sort through hundreds of properties by identifying Superhosts ("experienced, highly rated hosts who are committed to providing great stays for guests") and Airbnb Plus listings ("a selection of places to stay verified for quality and design"). Because standards can vary so widely from one vacation rental to another, choosing properties with one or both of these designations can help travelers feel more confident in their selection.

Booking.com

booking.com home screen.

Booking.com lists just about every type of accommodation imaginable, from hotels and B&Bs to vacation rentals and apartments. This is a perk for travelers open to a variety of lodging options, while those who know they want a vacation rental will have to take the extra step of filtering out extraneous search results. (That's easily done via a "Show homes first" button at the top of the results page.)

Property listings offer plenty of information, including amenities, guest reviews, house rules, and an option to contact the host through the site. The site clearly labels whether your booking is nonrefundable or you can cancel without penalty up to a certain date. (In some cases, you'll pay less if you're willing to make a nonrefundable booking.)

Keep an eye out for extra fees, which can be significant depending on the property. For example, one property's listed price was a seemingly affordable $689 for seven nights in the Outer Banks—but when I clicked "book," the site added a 12.75 percent tax, $63.11 tourism fee, $105 resort fee, $130 cleaning fee, and $260 property service charge, taking my total charges to $1,406—more than double the original quoted price. However, none of these were Booking.com's own fees; unlike Airbnb, Booking.com does not charge guests a service fee.

One annoyance: The site sometimes clutters up the search results page with sold-out properties, complete with a little "You missed it!" message. These are probably meant to spark a sense of booking urgency, but many travelers will find it irritating to see options that aren't actually available.

Best feature: The sheer breadth of offerings on Booking.com means you're almost guaranteed to find something suitable, even if it doesn't end up being a vacation rental.

Expedia

expedia home screen.

Like Booking.com, Expedia offers a variety of accommodation types, but it has a dedicated vacation rental search page so you can skip the filtering step. The site offers a good selection of results, though for certain searches I got some listings that really didn't seem like vacation rentals (TownePlace Suites by Marriott, Outer Banks Motel).

Expedia isn't the best vacation rental site if you prefer to use the map view to browse; although a map is available, it doesn't have the site's filter options, so you'll have to set your preferences on the main listing page first and then toggle over to the map.

Once you click into a listing, you'll find photos, amenities, policies, reviews, and a list of nearby attractions. However, there does not appear to be a way to contact the owner of a given property. The total price is not visible until you click "reserve," at which point you'll see an additional amount listed vaguely as "taxes and fees," with no detailed breakdown. On many properties, the site notes that you can save 10 percent if you log in as an Expedia member.

Best feature: The site has useful filters such as "Business friendly," to help you find properties with Wi-Fi and breakfast, and "Family friendly," for listings that have "in-room conveniences and activities for the kids."

HomeAway

homeaway home screen.

An industry giant, HomeAway is one of the best vacation rental sites thanks to its user-friendly design and wide breadth of inventory (the company, part of the Expedia Group, also owns other short-term rental sites such as Vrbo and Stayz). Its cleanly designed search results page shows both a map view and detailed listings, including the number of bedrooms and bathrooms, square footage, number of guests, user rating, nightly rate, and type of accommodation. (Note that private rooms in someone else's home, which Airbnb and some other sites offer, do not appear to be available on HomeAway.) You can click through each listing's photos or save properties you're interested in right from the results page.

There are many options for filtering your results, including property type, location (oceanfront, lake), features/amenities (pool, Wi-Fi), and the ability to book instantly. Unlike some other vacation rental sites, HomeAway lets you filter your results by the number of bathrooms in addition to the number of bedrooms—which is useful for families or groups traveling together.

Once you click on a listing, you can see a full price breakdown (which includes HomeAway's service fee), as well as reviews from past guests, detailed information on amenities and policies, and a way to contact the owner through the site.

Keep an eye out for Premier Partner listings, which have owners or managers that provide consistently good guest service.

Best feature: Many listings have a detailed breakdown of what's available in each bedroom and bathroom (for example: "Bedroom 1: king bed; Bedroom 2: bunkbed; Bathroom 1: toilet, shower; Bathroom 2: toilet").

HometoGo

hometogo home screen.

The prime advantage of HometoGo is that it's a meta-search site, which means that you can search many of the best vacation rental sites (including most of the others on this list) with one click. Persistent pop-ups and offers to sign you in with Google or Facebook are annoying, but once you've cleared them away you can view tons of properties, visible in a clean listing format or on a map. Each listing features photos you can scroll through as well as user rating, type of lodging, and where you can book the property (such as Airbnb, Hotels.com, or Vrbo).

One handy feature: You can toggle the price filter to show you either the nightly rate or the total cost of your stay, and then adjust your price range accordingly. Other filters include accommodation types (including an "instant booking" option), location, user rating, and amenities.

In most cases, when you click on "view deal," you'll be taken to the site where the property was originally listed. However, there are occasional properties where you will go to a HometoGo listing page and fill out a booking request that will then be fulfilled through one of the site's partners.

I occasionally found that when I clicked over to a deal (particularly on Airbnb), I was not taken directly to the property I was interested in but rather to a list of other rentals in my destination. Unfortunately, travelers will be familiar with this from other meta-search sites; sometimes a given deal simply isn't available anymore. I also sometimes discovered that the price on HometoGo didn't match what was advertised on the original listing site.

Best feature: Despite the occasional pricing glitches, this site is the closest thing the vacation rental industry has to a one-stop shop, as it lists inventory from hundreds of other short-term rental websites.

Hotels.com

hotels.com home screen.

Like Booking.com, Hotels.com lists a wide array of accommodation options, so travelers who know they want a vacation rental have to use the "Accommodation Type" filter on the search results page to weed out hotels, hostels, and other options. I appreciated the honesty of the note at the top of the page: "How much we get paid influences your sort order." That said, you can sort your results by star rating, distance from a given landmark, guest rating, and price, and refine the list with a variety of other filters.

There is a map view available, though I didn't find it very useful; it shows properties that don't meet your criteria by default, and by the time you screen those out, you're often left with just a few options (even if the site is showing hundreds of listings on the main results page).

The list view of results is better, displaying both the nightly rate and the total price for your stay, as well as guest rating and location information. You do need to weed through occasional "fully booked!" listings, and Hotels.com doesn't offer the ability to scroll through a property's photos right from the results page the way many other vacation rental sites do.

Once you click into an individual listing, you can see amenities, policies, photos, guest reviews, and a list of attractions within walking distance. One drawback: There's no way to contact the owner or property manager directly. While there is a phone number given for "more info" about the listing, this does not put you in contact with the owner but rather takes you to a general Hotels.com corporate phone number. Taxes and fees aren't visible until you click the "Let's book" button, and there's no detailed breakdown of where your money is going.

Best feature: Many vacation rental bookings are eligible for Hotels.com Rewards, so you can count your stay toward a future free night at either a hotel or a rental.

TripAdvisor

tripadvisor home screen.

Although it's best known for hotel reviews, TripAdvisor (which is SmarterTravel's parent company) also provides vacation rentals thanks to its acquisitions of FlipKey and HolidayLettings. (The sites share inventory, so searching TripAdvisor will turn up properties from the other two sites.) There are plenty of listings, which you can filter by price, number of bedrooms/bathrooms, distance from a landmark, and many other factors. The site also lets you change the order of your results based on nine different criteria, including online booking, traveler rating, and number of bedrooms.

The site has a mix of properties, some of which can be paid for online and others that require direct arrangements with the owner. (The former is generally preferable, as paying with a credit card is the safest way to go—and you'll be backed by TripAdvisor's Payment Protection guarantee.)

I found that photo quality could vary widely from one listing to another on TripAdvisor, whereas some other vacation rental sites have more consistently glossy images. Otherwise, TripAdvisor's listings are generally informative, with traveler reviews, house rules, and an owner profile. Prices and fees are spelled out in detail. However, cancellation policies are not as clearly stated on this site as on some others. There is an option to send a message to the owner through the site.

Best feature: The price on the listing results page is the final price you'll pay, including taxes and fees—rather than the base rate, which is what most vacation rental sites list. TripAdvisor also lists both the nightly rate and the total cost.

Tripping

tripping home screen.

Acquired by HometoGo in 2019, Tripping is another meta-search site for vacation rentals that turns up listings from hundreds of different sites, including many on this list. When I searched HometoGo and Tripping side by side, I found a lot of overlapping properties, but the results did not appear to be completely identical. (A Rome search turned up 8,800+ properties on HometoGo vs. more than 14,000 properties on Tripping, for example.) So even though the two sites are owned by the same company and offer virtually identical layouts and filters, it may be worth your time to check both.

Tripping offers a prominent map view alongside the listings on its main results page. Like HometoGo, Tripping shows hotels and hostels in addition to apartments, homes, and other types of properties, so you can use the "Accommodation types" filter to trim your results. You can toggle between "per night" and "per stay" options for pricing, specify a minimum number of bedrooms, and filter for amenities such as internet, air-conditioning, and washer. And you can scroll through listing photos right from the results page.

Clicking on "view deal" takes you to an external site for information and booking. As with HometoGo, there were occasional snafus in this process; prices didn't match, properties weren't available, or (in one case) I got a dead-end error page. But in most cases the listings were as advertised.

Best feature: Both Tripping and HometoGo have a new "flexible dates" feature that lets you search a given length of stay (such as a week or a long weekend) over a selected time period (such as October through December) to see when the best deals are available.

Vrbo

vrbo home screen.

Acquired by HomeAway in 2006, Vrbo (originally called VRBO, which stands for "vacation rentals by owner") is the better-known of the two brands in the United States. However, as far as travelers are concerned, the two sites are virtually identical. A search returns the same results in the same order with the same prices and filter options. Everything that makes HomeAway one of the best vacation home rental sites is also available on Vrbo, so there's no need to search both.

Best feature: Like HomeAway, Vrbo highlights Premier Partners that offer great guest service.

What to Wear on Your Next Vacation

More from SmarterTravel:

Follow Sarah Schlichter on Twitter @TravelEditor for more travel tips and inspiration.

“5 Actionable Steps to Improve the SEO Performance of Your Site - Social Media Today” plus 1 more


5 Actionable Steps to Improve the SEO Performance of Your Site - Social Media Today

Posted: 20 Jun 2019 12:00 AM PDT

According to research, some 93% of all online experiences begin with a user entering a search term into one of the major search engines. That means that focusing on ways to boost the ranking of your website and brand presence in search engine results needs to remain a priority for all businesses looking to market their products and/or services online.

In this post, we're going to look at five actionable steps you can take on this front, to help ensure that Google knows what your business does, and recognizes the value you provide for visitors.

Search engine algorithms are complex, and it's difficult to know, definitively, which steps will be most influential on your rankings, but these are things you can do right away to help better align your website with known Google elements.  

But first, a quick recap:

What is Search Engine Optimization (SEO)?

All the major search engines, and Google in particular, make decisions around website ranking based on information read by 'Googlebots' or 'spiders'. These bots are programmed to read your website according to a set criteria, and then rank it accordingly. 

Search engine optimization refers to ways which you can influence and design your website information to ensure it meets what those Googlebots are looking for.

The more closely your site meets the criteria set by Google, the higher your website will be ranked, making it easier for your potential clients to find.

Optimizing Your Website Design

Ideally, websites should be 'hard-wired' for SEO at the design stage, but there is still a lot of valuable work you can do to retroactively boost the SEO on your website. And if, at any point, you think it's too much trouble, remember that 91% of online content gets zero traffic whatsoever. It has to be worth putting in a few hours to improve your ranking.

Optimization makes sense when you think about it like a conversation you're having with Google - you need to let Google know why your website deserves to be ranked above others which are selling a similar product.

With these factors in mind, here are five simple steps you can take to get your conversation started with the Googlebots.

1. Find Out How Your Customers Search For Your Product

The Google 'spiders' will be crawling your site to find out what 'search terms' or 'keywords' you employ for your product. If you don't use ones which are in general use, they won't recognize what it is you're selling.

There are no set rules on finding these phrases - you simply have to put yourself into the role of a customer looking for your product. What words would you use to find it? What words are your competitors using as key search terms?

One tool worth considering on this front is Answer the Public, which provides listings of common queries associated with any key term, based on auto-suggest results provided by Google and Bing.

Answer the Public example

You can narrow these results down to specific terms and phrases which are commonly searched for in regards to your niche.

Once you've found the most popular terms to describe your product, look to integrate them into your website copy. Make sure that they're used naturally, and that you feature them in your titles for each page of the site, where possible.

Now the Googlebots will be able to cross reference these terms, and better understand what, exactly, you're selling. 

2. Create URLs Which Tell Google What You Do

Googlebots expect to be able to read from your URLs what it is that your webpage is about. Providing SEO friendly URLs is a simple job, and it can make a real difference to your ranking.

For example, if you have a URL that looks like this:

https//www.sportsequipment.co.uk/product/item5?=4692

You should consider changing it to look more like this:

https://www.sportsequipment.co.uk/shop/crosstrainer

If your URL contains a title - like, say, 'How to get fit', the words should include hyphens between them, as URLs won't tolerate spaces. 

Example: 

https//www.sportswear.co.uk/tips/how-to-get-fit

3. Create Your Website for Mobiles Rather Than Desktops

Your web design should be 'responsive', which is to say that it will automatically fit the screens of mobiles, laptops, and tablets.

Additionally, the design should be such that it will display attractively and accessibly on whatever screen it's being viewed on. A 'mobile-first' design is one which starts with a mobile, which is more limited, and then expands to desktop delivery.

Google now rewards 'mobile first' design, because it acknowledges the trend towards mobile use for online searches.

4. Image Management

Good visuals are now a 'must have' for websites, and they're also a great way to boost your website SEO.

Every time you add an image to a page of your website, you can also add a description of it by using 'alt text'. Alt text listings tell the Googlebot what your images are, as they can only read the code, and can't 'see' your pictures. If you use your keywords in the title, you can potentially improve your relevance rank.

When loading pictures, you should also take care to size them correctly. Avoid very large pictures as these will slow down the speed at which your site loads. 

5. Be Strict About Duplication

If you repeat the same copy across the pages on the site - or you replicate copy from another published website - you, potentially, could be penalized by Google for duplicate content.

The simplest way to avoid this is by creating a rule that there will be no duplication of content anywhere on your site. This should include product lists, calls to action, and how you describe what you do.

Ideally, every page should be entirely unique to keep them separate in Google's eyes, and avoid ranking issues.

SEO Management is Ongoing

These five steps will get your site in reasonable order for ranking - but search optimization isn't something you can do once and forget about.

Marketing agencies offering professional SEO services to clients have teams following every twist and turn of the Google criteria, which changes regularly. SEO management is something that you should commit to long-term, with regular reviews of your site content, while also maintaining awareness of the latest search engine updates and algorithm shifts.

The 9 Best Vacation Rental Sites for Travelers in 2019 - SmarterTravel.com

Posted: 18 Jul 2019 02:07 PM PDT

Hoping to rent a house or apartment on vacation? You've got plenty of options. Travelers looking for the best vacation rental sites have to weed through big online travel agencies, small specialty sites, and everything in between. The process can be overwhelming.

Many people aren't aware that most of the best vacation rental websites are owned by a handful of large companies—so you could find yourself wasting time searching the same inventory on multiple sites.

The Best Vacation Rental Sites

To help you sift through the options, I tested more than a dozen top vacation rental sites to figure out which ones offer the best combination of plentiful inventory, useful filters, informative listings, and fair prices, without too many hidden fees. I discovered that there's no single best vacation home rental site, but that each one has pros and cons to suit different types of travelers.

For example, some of the top vacation rental websites are better if you're open to both hotels and rentals, while others are more specialized to suit those who already know they want a vacation home, rental apartment, or private room in someone else's space. Some vacation rental sites make it easier than others to browse properties on a map or to contact the owner of a property to ask questions before your stay.

The following are the best vacation rental sites I found in my testing, listed in alphabetical order. Scroll down for more in-depth analysis of each.

Airbnb

airbnb home screen.

The name of this site is almost synonymous with short-term rentals these days, and its reputation as one of the best vacation rental sites is well deserved: Airbnb offers abundant listings in most popular travel destinations, and its site is cleanly designed and easy to use. There's a prominent map of properties on the main listing page, so you can quickly browse by location—or you can turn off the map feature if you don't find it useful. The main listings page offers useful information right off the bat, including the number of bedrooms and bathrooms, traveler rating, price (both per night and for your total stay), guest capacity, key amenities, and type of accommodation—such as "entire apartment" or "private room in house." You can also scroll through a listing's photos right on the initial results page.

Once you click into a given listing, there's more than enough information to help you decide whether to book, including house rules, bed configurations, cancellation policies, amenities, reviews from past guests, and a full price breakdown (which typically includes things like a cleaning fee and Airbnb's own service fee). You can also contact the property's host through the platform if you have questions before you book.

Best feature: The site makes it easier to sort through hundreds of properties by identifying Superhosts ("experienced, highly rated hosts who are committed to providing great stays for guests") and Airbnb Plus listings ("a selection of places to stay verified for quality and design"). Because standards can vary so widely from one vacation rental to another, choosing properties with one or both of these designations can help travelers feel more confident in their selection.

Booking.com

booking.com home screen.

Booking.com lists just about every type of accommodation imaginable, from hotels and B&Bs to vacation rentals and apartments. This is a perk for travelers open to a variety of lodging options, while those who know they want a vacation rental will have to take the extra step of filtering out extraneous search results. (That's easily done via a "Show homes first" button at the top of the results page.)

Property listings offer plenty of information, including amenities, guest reviews, house rules, and an option to contact the host through the site. The site clearly labels whether your booking is nonrefundable or you can cancel without penalty up to a certain date. (In some cases, you'll pay less if you're willing to make a nonrefundable booking.)

Keep an eye out for extra fees, which can be significant depending on the property. For example, one property's listed price was a seemingly affordable $689 for seven nights in the Outer Banks—but when I clicked "book," the site added a 12.75 percent tax, $63.11 tourism fee, $105 resort fee, $130 cleaning fee, and $260 property service charge, taking my total charges to $1,406—more than double the original quoted price. However, none of these were Booking.com's own fees; unlike Airbnb, Booking.com does not charge guests a service fee.

One annoyance: The site sometimes clutters up the search results page with sold-out properties, complete with a little "You missed it!" message. These are probably meant to spark a sense of booking urgency, but many travelers will find it irritating to see options that aren't actually available.

Best feature: The sheer breadth of offerings on Booking.com means you're almost guaranteed to find something suitable, even if it doesn't end up being a vacation rental.

Expedia

expedia home screen.

Like Booking.com, Expedia offers a variety of accommodation types, but it has a dedicated vacation rental search page so you can skip the filtering step. The site offers a good selection of results, though for certain searches I got some listings that really didn't seem like vacation rentals (TownePlace Suites by Marriott, Outer Banks Motel).

Expedia isn't the best vacation rental site if you prefer to use the map view to browse; although a map is available, it doesn't have the site's filter options, so you'll have to set your preferences on the main listing page first and then toggle over to the map.

Once you click into a listing, you'll find photos, amenities, policies, reviews, and a list of nearby attractions. However, there does not appear to be a way to contact the owner of a given property. The total price is not visible until you click "reserve," at which point you'll see an additional amount listed vaguely as "taxes and fees," with no detailed breakdown. On many properties, the site notes that you can save 10 percent if you log in as an Expedia member.

Best feature: The site has useful filters such as "Business friendly," to help you find properties with Wi-Fi and breakfast, and "Family friendly," for listings that have "in-room conveniences and activities for the kids."

HomeAway

homeaway home screen.

An industry giant, HomeAway is one of the best vacation rental sites thanks to its user-friendly design and wide breadth of inventory (the company, part of the Expedia Group, also owns other short-term rental sites such as Vrbo and Stayz). Its cleanly designed search results page shows both a map view and detailed listings, including the number of bedrooms and bathrooms, square footage, number of guests, user rating, nightly rate, and type of accommodation. (Note that private rooms in someone else's home, which Airbnb and some other sites offer, do not appear to be available on HomeAway.) You can click through each listing's photos or save properties you're interested in right from the results page.

There are many options for filtering your results, including property type, location (oceanfront, lake), features/amenities (pool, Wi-Fi), and the ability to book instantly. Unlike some other vacation rental sites, HomeAway lets you filter your results by the number of bathrooms in addition to the number of bedrooms—which is useful for families or groups traveling together.

Once you click on a listing, you can see a full price breakdown (which includes HomeAway's service fee), as well as reviews from past guests, detailed information on amenities and policies, and a way to contact the owner through the site.

Keep an eye out for Premier Partner listings, which have owners or managers that provide consistently good guest service.

Best feature: Many listings have a detailed breakdown of what's available in each bedroom and bathroom (for example: "Bedroom 1: king bed; Bedroom 2: bunkbed; Bathroom 1: toilet, shower; Bathroom 2: toilet").

HometoGo

hometogo home screen.

The prime advantage of HometoGo is that it's a meta-search site, which means that you can search many of the best vacation rental sites (including most of the others on this list) with one click. Persistent pop-ups and offers to sign you in with Google or Facebook are annoying, but once you've cleared them away you can view tons of properties, visible in a clean listing format or on a map. Each listing features photos you can scroll through as well as user rating, type of lodging, and where you can book the property (such as Airbnb, Hotels.com, or Vrbo).

One handy feature: You can toggle the price filter to show you either the nightly rate or the total cost of your stay, and then adjust your price range accordingly. Other filters include accommodation types (including an "instant booking" option), location, user rating, and amenities.

In most cases, when you click on "view deal," you'll be taken to the site where the property was originally listed. However, there are occasional properties where you will go to a HometoGo listing page and fill out a booking request that will then be fulfilled through one of the site's partners.

I occasionally found that when I clicked over to a deal (particularly on Airbnb), I was not taken directly to the property I was interested in but rather to a list of other rentals in my destination. Unfortunately, travelers will be familiar with this from other meta-search sites; sometimes a given deal simply isn't available anymore. I also sometimes discovered that the price on HometoGo didn't match what was advertised on the original listing site.

Best feature: Despite the occasional pricing glitches, this site is the closest thing the vacation rental industry has to a one-stop shop, as it lists inventory from hundreds of other short-term rental websites.

Hotels.com

hotels.com home screen.

Like Booking.com, Hotels.com lists a wide array of accommodation options, so travelers who know they want a vacation rental have to use the "Accommodation Type" filter on the search results page to weed out hotels, hostels, and other options. I appreciated the honesty of the note at the top of the page: "How much we get paid influences your sort order." That said, you can sort your results by star rating, distance from a given landmark, guest rating, and price, and refine the list with a variety of other filters.

There is a map view available, though I didn't find it very useful; it shows properties that don't meet your criteria by default, and by the time you screen those out, you're often left with just a few options (even if the site is showing hundreds of listings on the main results page).

The list view of results is better, displaying both the nightly rate and the total price for your stay, as well as guest rating and location information. You do need to weed through occasional "fully booked!" listings, and Hotels.com doesn't offer the ability to scroll through a property's photos right from the results page the way many other vacation rental sites do.

Once you click into an individual listing, you can see amenities, policies, photos, guest reviews, and a list of attractions within walking distance. One drawback: There's no way to contact the owner or property manager directly. While there is a phone number given for "more info" about the listing, this does not put you in contact with the owner but rather takes you to a general Hotels.com corporate phone number. Taxes and fees aren't visible until you click the "Let's book" button, and there's no detailed breakdown of where your money is going.

Best feature: Many vacation rental bookings are eligible for Hotels.com Rewards, so you can count your stay toward a future free night at either a hotel or a rental.

TripAdvisor

tripadvisor home screen.

Although it's best known for hotel reviews, TripAdvisor (which is SmarterTravel's parent company) also provides vacation rentals thanks to its acquisitions of FlipKey and HolidayLettings. (The sites share inventory, so searching TripAdvisor will turn up properties from the other two sites.) There are plenty of listings, which you can filter by price, number of bedrooms/bathrooms, distance from a landmark, and many other factors. The site also lets you change the order of your results based on nine different criteria, including online booking, traveler rating, and number of bedrooms.

The site has a mix of properties, some of which can be paid for online and others that require direct arrangements with the owner. (The former is generally preferable, as paying with a credit card is the safest way to go—and you'll be backed by TripAdvisor's Payment Protection guarantee.)

I found that photo quality could vary widely from one listing to another on TripAdvisor, whereas some other vacation rental sites have more consistently glossy images. Otherwise, TripAdvisor's listings are generally informative, with traveler reviews, house rules, and an owner profile. Prices and fees are spelled out in detail. However, cancellation policies are not as clearly stated on this site as on some others. There is an option to send a message to the owner through the site.

Best feature: The price on the listing results page is the final price you'll pay, including taxes and fees—rather than the base rate, which is what most vacation rental sites list. TripAdvisor also lists both the nightly rate and the total cost.

Tripping

tripping home screen.

Acquired by HometoGo in 2019, Tripping is another meta-search site for vacation rentals that turns up listings from hundreds of different sites, including many on this list. When I searched HometoGo and Tripping side by side, I found a lot of overlapping properties, but the results did not appear to be completely identical. (A Rome search turned up 8,800+ properties on HometoGo vs. more than 14,000 properties on Tripping, for example.) So even though the two sites are owned by the same company and offer virtually identical layouts and filters, it may be worth your time to check both.

Tripping offers a prominent map view alongside the listings on its main results page. Like HometoGo, Tripping shows hotels and hostels in addition to apartments, homes, and other types of properties, so you can use the "Accommodation types" filter to trim your results. You can toggle between "per night" and "per stay" options for pricing, specify a minimum number of bedrooms, and filter for amenities such as internet, air-conditioning, and washer. And you can scroll through listing photos right from the results page.

Clicking on "view deal" takes you to an external site for information and booking. As with HometoGo, there were occasional snafus in this process; prices didn't match, properties weren't available, or (in one case) I got a dead-end error page. But in most cases the listings were as advertised.

Best feature: Both Tripping and HometoGo have a new "flexible dates" feature that lets you search a given length of stay (such as a week or a long weekend) over a selected time period (such as October through December) to see when the best deals are available.

Vrbo

vrbo home screen.

Acquired by HomeAway in 2006, Vrbo (originally called VRBO, which stands for "vacation rentals by owner") is the better-known of the two brands in the United States. However, as far as travelers are concerned, the two sites are virtually identical. A search returns the same results in the same order with the same prices and filter options. Everything that makes HomeAway one of the best vacation home rental sites is also available on Vrbo, so there's no need to search both.

Best feature: Like HomeAway, Vrbo highlights Premier Partners that offer great guest service.

What to Wear on Your Next Vacation

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