How to master AirBnb and rise up the search rankings in South Africa

Business Insider SA
AirBnb listings in Cape Town
  • AirBnb is popular – and getting more so – among South African property owners.
  • That makes it increasingly hard to stand out, and get onto those crucial first couple of pages of listings.
  • Here's how to stand out, and increase your chances to get those bookings.
  • For more stories go to 

AirBnb has more than six million listings in 100,000 cities and is an increasingly popular way for South African property owners to make some extra cash on the side.

Two million guests have stayed at AirBnbs in South Africa since operations began in this country, prompting the hotel trade to lobby for government regulation to “level the playing field”.

With thousands of properties popping up on the platform in South Africa, it can be difficult to get a listing to stand out. A listing that doesn’t make the first few pages of search results for a specific destination will get fewer bookings and generate lower income.

Like most accommodation booking engines, AirBnb uses a complex algorithm to determine which listings to display prominently. AirBnb claims that there are more than 100 “ingredients” in this secret algorithm.

Although the company hasn't published the individual data points used in their algorithm, it has been candid, in general terms, about what does - and doesn’t - work.

AirBnb makes money by “facilitating bookings”. Because it takes a cut of every booking made through the site, it favours those listings that are likely to make it more money.

By implementing a few key things that align your listing with the AirBnb ethos and conversion strategies, it’s likely your listing will rise towards the top of the list.

Make your property instantly bookable

AirBnb has an option that allows homeowners to vet interested guests before approving their booking. Considering you’ll be letting strangers into your house, it’s an important security feature.

But this delay puts some travellers off.  Listings that are instantly bookable therefore receive prominence. AirBnb says that many travellers activate this Instant Book search filter from the outset, and so if you fail to offer this you won’t appear in many search results.

First impressions count

Another important, and rather obvious, factor in driving clicks and bookings is a good-looking listing page. AirBnb takes care of most of the layout work in this regard, but it does stress the importance of making a good first impression with a “bright, attractive, high quality, horizontal image” of your property.

Comprehensive information, laid out clearly and honestly, also helps. This is more likely to attract clicks from interested browsers scrolling through a region’s listings, and the more clicks your listing receives, the higher your search ranking over time.

Make sure the price is right

Another way to get those all-important clicks is to make sure the property is priced correctly. AirBnb offers a feature called Smart Pricing that sets the property price dynamically according to several variables. It’s likely that the algorithm will favour those who surrender pricing control to the parent company.

But if you prefer to keep the pricing in your own hands, you’ll do well to check what other similar properties are going for, and to pitch yours slightly lower - particularly if you’re just starting out. 

Keep in contact

AirBnb places emphasis on good communication. If users are landing on your listing page, and making contact, it’ll likely be a good starting point for rising up the rankings.

But it’s important to keep communication channels open, and to respond efficiently. Although AirBnb doesn’t say exactly how this is factored in, it mentions that one of the key elements of the algorithm is how often guests attempt to contact you. 

Superhosts don’t (necessarily) get a boost

Superhosts are hosts AirBnb consider to be a cut above the rest, for several reasons: good reviews, great photographs, quick response times, and a superb property all factor into this accolade.

But according to AirBnb, superhosts don’t get a boost over other listings by virtue of their status. They do, however, tend to stand out because of the things they did in order to receive the accolade in the first place.

Get added to wishlists

Although this is hard for hosts to influence directly, a great listing that ticks all the boxes is more likely to be added to travellers wishlists for a specific destination. If users take a liking to your property and add it to their wishlist you’ll have an advantage in the rankings.

According to AirBnb, “one individual wishlist may not make a visible difference but over several months, if many guests love your listing and choose to wishlist it, it will rank higher.”

There’s no need to tinker with your listing 

There has been speculation that constant tweaking of an AirBnb listing can benefit, or hinder, its search engine ranking. But according to the website, there’s no need benefit to constantly changing wording or images. The best approach, says AirBnb, is to build a great property listing page and leave it be.

Dealing with rejection

One of the key factors that can harm your search engine ranking is denying too many guest applications. Because rejecting guests is a bad experience for users, and one that tarnishes the overall AirBnb experience, AirBnb will penalise you if you make a habit of it.

It does this by finding an acceptable rate of rejections for similar properties in your area, and judging your habits accordingly. According to AirBnb, “A single rejection will not significantly hurt your ranking, but over time, rejecting more guests than other hosts in your market will lower your ranking.” 

Use discount prices to get feet through the door

New listings often struggle to get bookings. Many travellers will only book properties that have good ratings and reviews - unless they offer another compelling incentive. For most, that’s pricing.

Many new AirBnb hosts start out by offering deep discounts on their properties. Even a mediocre listing at a fantastic price can lead to positive reviews.

AirBnb doesn’t post rates you’ve offered in the past, and you can increase these as you see fit, so once you’ve got a strong foundation of happy guests, you can start raising your price.

Make very sure your listing is accurate

Once you start getting guests you’ll need to shift your focus towards ensuring you get positive reviews.

This doesn’t necessarily mean you must have a lavish property in the best neighbourhood. Rather, your listing should be honest and accurate, and represent good value.

A listing that over-promises and under-delivers is a surefire way to get negative reviews, and to slump down the rankings.

Offer a great experience

A great experience will also get those positive reviews coming in. Even small personal touches - chocolates on beds, or a bottle of wine in the fridge - can win guests over.

It’s also important to have a slick check-in process, and to establish communication channels that remain open throughout the guest’s stay should an issue arise.

Offer some local tips

AirBnb started out as a way for locals to welcome visitors into their homes. Although the platform has expanded and become more impersonal, there’s still something special about a personal recommendation.

If you’re meeting the guest in person, offer to sit down and share your tips about the neighbourhood. If you offer a self-checkin facility, or can’t meet the guest in person, a generic list of tips, printed out and left on a table, can go a long way to getting those coveted five star reviews.

Consider using an AirBnb agency

Running an AirBnb property may sound like a fun and easy way to make money, but it can quickly turn into a full time job. If you don’t have the capacity to clean the apartment, launder sheets and towels, or you simply want to wash your hands of all the associated administrative tasks, there are agencies in South Africa who can do all of the dirty work for you.

They’ll take a fairly large slice of the income you generate, but the reputable firms can help keep the property rental running smoothly and your ratings high.

Keep lists

If you’re going to be running the property yourself, checklists will be your best friend. As a property owner it’s easy to overlook a few small items between bookings, and a comprehensive checklists of important tasks will help maintain your standards.

AirBnb experts recommend at least two lists: a checkout checklists will prepare your property for new guests, and a long-term or seasonal list can help remind you to do things like remove heaters and replace with fans.

Talk to your neighbours

One of the quickest ways to annoy your neighbours, and to have your AirBnb apartment shut down, is to have a flurry of new guests shuffling through the corridors every few days.

It might also land you on the wrong side of the law, or, at least, your body corporate chairperson. If you’re renting out an apartment in a sectional title scheme, it’s important to make sure your property abides by local laws and your body corporate rules.

Receive a daily email with all our latest news: click here.

Also from Business Insider South Africa:

    Rand - Dollar
    Rand - Pound
    Rand - Euro
    Rand - Aus dollar
    Rand - Yen
    Top 40
    All Share
    Resource 10
    Industrial 25
    Financial 15
    All JSE data delayed by at least 15 minutes Iress logo