The newsletter for and by rental home owners:
how to use the internet to get more bookings

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Your step by step guide to more bookings
Paolo pic.

Where am I? See below...


What an amazing response to Issue 1 of Lay My Hat - thanks to all of you who took the time to email your thoughts, questions and advice - that's what this newsletter is all about: an exchange of ideas for rental home owners.

In this issue we're exploring the hottest topics from your emails: how to make your site more 'findable' by search writing secrets for making your home sound irresistible... more tips for great pics...and how to achieve repeat business.

UPDATE! Since I wrote this newsletter, the Lay My Hat forum has been launched. It's where rental owners talk about anything to do with the business of rentals, and plenty else besides! See the forum by clicking here.

Between us we must know everything there is to know about renting holiday homes - it's just a question of getting together to discuss it. That's where Lay My Hat comes in. I hope you find it useful.

Paolo De Paolis signature
Paolo De Paolis
Editor, Lay My Hat

P.S. Here's a quiz question for all you travel buffs - where was the above picture of me taken? (Clue: it's cold enough to wear the unusual matching hat and jumper my wife knitted me). Whoever guesses closest wins something money just can't buy - you can set the next 'Where am I?' question...

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Top tips for writing about your rental property

The first few lines someone reads about your property are absolutely crucial. They decide whether people read on, or move on. Here's how to keep them reading:

  1. Say something about the location as well as the property in the very first paragraph. People tend to choose location first, accommodation second.
  2. Write a compelling headline. Less 'Holiday cottage with off-street parking', more: 'Romantic hideaway between moor and sea', 'Stunning views from the highest house in Bonnieux', etc.
  3. Keep paragraphs short, if possible with one idea per paragraph - it makes it much easier on the eye when you are reading from a screen.
  4. People read picture captions, so use them well. A descriptive caption can alter a picture's meaning. Appeal to stomachs: e.g. 'The garden is perfect for long, lazy lunches'. Or to families: 'Kids can run around all day in the garden'.
  5. Remember, when it comes to writing: less is more. Go through your copy and delete superfluous words - words whose absence does not alter the meaning can go.
  6. People love to read lists. Like this one. Easier to read and easier to understand.
  7. Write as if to one person, and tell them how they will benefit. Instead of 'The pool is heated year-round' try: 'You'll love the pool -we keep it at 76 degrees all year long'. 'You' and 'your ' are important words.
  8. Give it a human voice, because people like to be reassured that you really exist - there is still a distrust of the internet for important transactions. Bring yourself into the copy, use 'I' and 'we' to personalise it.
  9. Don't be afraid of humour. Humour is one of the best ways to get a reader to trust you and respond positively.
  10. Use complimentary comments from your guest-book - if it works outside theatres it can work for you!

Find this useful? Disagree? Tell us what you think, and send in your best tips for describing your home - email us at

More tips for internet pics

In the last issue of Lay My Hat (if you missed it, click here to see it) I told you how to take photos of your home for the web. Many of you wrote to me with your own ideas, so here are some more great tips for internet pics:

  1. Hire a professional photographer to take your pictures - it's less expensive than you think and worth every penny. One extra booking will cover the cost.
  2. If you have a fireplace, light a fire. You can get an instant roaring fire in your photo by lighting a piece of newspaper.
  3. Use a digital camera. You can instantly see what the picture will look like so it's much easier to get the best results.
  4. For interiors, try turning on standing lights and wall lights - this can give a golden, homely glow to a room.

Thanks to Robert, Marilu, Chris and Glen for sending those in. If you have other tips to share, please email me at

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Owner's secrets: making them come back

For many of us, repeat business is vital. So how do you make people come back? Here are a couple of ways:

Owner's secret #1

One way to drum up repeat bookings is by simply contacting your previous renters and reminding them how much they liked it the last time.

But don't just email at a random time - use a significant time of year: the turn of a season, the time of year they last booked or visited. And best of all - Christmas. You can email, but what about sending a card with your house on it? This will make them think of you at a time of year when many people plan their holidays.

Owner's secret #2

If you don't have an extraordinary home or location, don't worry, there are little things you can do to make people remember you when they book next year's holiday.

You can generate a lot of goodwill by simple gestures like having a bottle of wine waiting when they arrive - if you're in a wine-growing area make it a local wine and it will cost you very little, but make a good impression. It can be anything that's produced locally - honey, cheese, eggs, boomerangs - if they have booked your house, it must be partly because they are interested in your region.

You can reinforce this with a parting gift along the same lines - "Something to remember us by"...and they will.

Do you have any good owner's tips? Let's share what we know about holiday rentals - email your tips and suggestions to and we'll discuss them in future newsletters.

Coming soon...

Now we've covered how to photograph and describe your rental property, the next step is how to respond to an enquiry - when people contact you that is only the first step in the rental process - now you have to convert them into a booking. How? I'll tell you in the next edition.

Also in the next Lay My Hat: the best rental sites on which to advertise, reader's tips and owners' secrets.

If you are having trouble subscribing with the red boxes, you can also click on this line of text.

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Contact: You can email me here:

How to get found by the search engines

Search engines are what potential renters use to find you on the internet, so you should make it easier for them to do so. You can make all the difference with a few tweaks to your website or online ad.

1. Write a good page title
The title of your web page is shown in the blue bar at the very top of the screen. It should reflect the content of the page, e.g. "Holiday Home in Avignon, France for rent". I see many sites with a title bar that reads 'Home Page' or the name of a house - not good enough! The title is very important for search engines - it can tell them a lot about the page. It is governed by the TITLE tag in your HTML. You can change it yourself, or ask whoever looks after your site to do it.

2. The first paragraph is the most important
On each of your pages, it's the first paragraph and its heading that have the most importance for visitors and for search engines. Keep the paragraph concise, and make sure it summarises what the page is about.

3. Content is king
Be descriptive. Avoid: "Welcome to our home page. We have a lovely villa in France for rent with a pool, and a nice view." The more descriptive and detailed the better: "Villa Mia is our lovely stone built cottage high up in the hills above the picturesque town of Avignon, in Provence (South of France). It's ideal for couples looking for a relaxing break far away from the crowded coastal resorts."

4. META Tags
If you think the key to getting found by search engines is to write lots of good words in the META Keywords tag, you are a little behind the times. META keywords tags have little to no influence on Search Engines these days. The META Description tag is worth including, and should not be too long as it will often get abbreviated in search results.

5. Be 'findable' for important words
You can make your site especially 'findable' for search terms you think are the most important. If you think people are going to be searching with the phrase "villa to rent in Avignon" on a search engine, put this phrase in your title tag, description tag, heading and first paragraph. A search engine should see all these references and place you higher for that search term. But don't overdo the repetitions, because you also have to appeal to real people.

Is your web site visible to search engines? All of these tips are irrelevant if your web site is invisible. You can check if your pages are visible to search engines at this handy site:

Are you making the most of the internet?

Are you getting the bookings your home deserves? If yes, great. But if you are hardly getting any bookings from the internet, there is probably something wrong with your site or ad. I think you should get it looked at. Get someone who has had a lot of success with bookings on the internet. And also a professional copywriter specialising in travel. And then someone who can fix your site without charging you too much.

Just a minute - that's not three people! That's me!

I can give your web presence a complete health-check: from minor tweaks to total rewrites, I can help you get more bookings. You can email me for help by clicking on this line.

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The Lay My Hat newsletter is free (mainly because I didn't realise how much work it would be). However, my wife is not happy. As she puts it: "Why do you spend all your time on that ****** newsletter when you should be earning money to buy me shoes and handbags?" So to appease her, if you found Lay My Hat especially useful, you have the option of making a small donation towards its upkeep. Just click on the button below, no amount is too small. PayPal is free to use and secure. But please don't feel obliged - how many shoes can one person wear anyway?

Copyright 2003 Paolo De Paolis. All rights reserved in all media.