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4 Digital Marketing Strategies: An Airbnb Case Study

Airbnb's survival story showing the use of inspired digital marketing strategies to rise to the top. Analysis performed on specifically.

4 Digital Marketing Strategies: An Airbnb Case Study

Planning a vacation? If you are searching for a place to stay in Google, you will likely come across Airbnb. This is the story of a fresh, new peer-to-peer vacation rental website that spread their marketplace service throughout the world via creativity. They had a digital marketing strategy to match their mission leading to international waters and, with a little struggle, came out on top. Survival is dire in the wild, and also in the world of search. Travel with us through the online world of Vacation Rentals.

Airbnb is a marketplace where people share private spaces all over the world to be rented short-term. These spaces could be apartments, villas, houses ,or even castles for a unique travel experience of various prices. Founded in 2008, the company now has over 550,000 listings in 33,000 cities and 192 countries and continues to grow. However, they were not always doing so well. According to a First Round Review, in 2009, Airbnb almost went bust-until they began improving the image quality of their listings. The young startup found several ways to not only survive, but also grow exponentially. Some of the international domains now show good growth as well. Let’s take a look at Germany.

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According to Wayback Machine, the German domain,, began activities in 2011. In comparison, and, the domains currently ranking #1 and #5 (respectively) in German Vacation Rentals, have been around since the 20th century! That is some tough competition if you consider that organic ranking can depend on a website’s age as well as several other factors. Take a look at the results of this effort and see how these travellers are faring in search.

Infographic - Digital Marketing Vacation RentalsImage credit:

Visibility Drivers of Vacation Rentals in Germany’s visibility when it comes to generic keywords in Germany is the result of AdWords. They show the most paid visibility in the German Vacation Rentals category, but very little organic visibility at the moment. If you take a look at the graphs below, you can see what drives the visibility of the domains in Germany and what content type provides the most visibility in the category.

Visibility Drivers of Vacation Rentals in Germany - InsideIndustryScreenshot taken 11.03.2014 of

The orange bar shows the average share of search of paid and organic visibility for the top 5 domains based on the top head keywords in the category. The blue bar, on the other hand, shows the actual share of search for Under Category Content Distribution, we can see what content types dominate the search results for these categories: mainly classic (web) textual results with a tiny bit of video and the rest goes to Ratings, Blogs, News, etc. What’s interesting here is the somewhat higher visibility in the “Other” content type.

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Creative Digital Marketing Strategies

1.     Digital Marketing via Google Ratings

I did a little digging and found that this “Other” visibility for Vacation Rentals in Germany is mostly due to ratings, which makes sense, since ratings are a big part of the online vacation rentals business plan, especially in a peer-to-peer marketplace. Of course Airbnb uses the ratings system for their rental listings just like the others, but they also make sure that the ratings from show up in their AdWords listings. When I looked at the other top 5 domains in the category, this did not seem to be a part of their digital marketing strategy.

Review of on TrustpilotScreenshot taken 10.03.2014 of

2.     Content Strategy Matters

In an article published by TechCrunch, Anand Iyer talks about Airbnb’s management of listings as a form of carefully curated content. The most appealing spaces on Airbnb’s website are ranked higher in the website’s search results, while listings with lower ratings or  lower quality content, in general, are harder to find due to a good algorithm and employees who curate and feature the best content.

In addition, returning to the idea of visual stimulation, Iyer mentions how Airbnb offered the mutually beneficial service of professional photos of the spaces listed on the site and guidelines for user-generated images. This way, the visuals provide better content and the spaces become more attractive to users searching for a place to stay. It’s a win-win situation for Airbnb because their digital marketing strategy optimizes their own search engine listings allowing for the cream to rise to the top, which in turn keeps their own content interesting for Google’s search engine.

Another factor that affects the SEO of a website is also the size of the website. currently has about 3 million pages indexed in Google, while the other top 5 domains don’t even make it past 2 million, except for Even though has significantly more pages, the content on the pages is created by users, which presents a tradeoff: the company doesn’t need to spend time and money creating content, but they also don’t have control over the content of the listings. This means that although might like to be organically visible on the top head keywords in Germany, the pages might not get optimized on such keywords because of the content that dominates the website.

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3. Google Display Advertising for Expansion

Sometimes we forget that aside from high positioning in Google SERPs, people also need to be visually stimulated for a good click-through rate. Airbnb chose to invest in Google display advertising with banner ad campaigns including images from actual housing being offered on their site. This allowed Airbnb to attract international traffic and increase their listings dramatically.

Google Display ad banner by AirbnbImage credit: Powered By Search

Of course this type of advertising does not affect search visibility. It is not AdWords. But it does affect the brand recognition of the user. This is a nice tactic to reach the target market while attempting to transform visibility into sales.

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Let me explain why I think this is an indirect way of gaining a higher visibility in search. It is simply my opinion, but I have noticed that, in a SERP, I tend to see brands or websites that have established a place in my memory, first. Then, I might find myself clicking on that result because it is familiar to me. This is just my own search behavior, but one of the best ways to measure the visibility of websites is reflected in a visibility score algorithm that considers search and click behavior as well. To that end, we might wonder if Google Display Ads have helped Airbnb in search. Is it possible that the imagery of the display ads have made the Airbnb name more recognizable in the SERP? Take a look at how Airbnb ranks in the Vacation Rentals category in Germany.

German Vacation Rentals Top 10 HooshRankScreenshot taken 11.03.2014 of
In this image, you can see that Airbnb ranks #4 in the Vacation Rentals category in Germany, but #1 with respect to paid search and #43 organically.

When we look at the graph above, we see that most of’s visibility is from paid results. is a Market Leader in German search because of a great investment in the top head keywords. Note: this data is based on the average visibility of the top 20-25 most searched and competitive generic keywords in the Vacation Rentals category.

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It is likely that the website is optimized on more localized keywords as well as keywords that describe the nature of the business (private homes), but there is some missed opportunity here: even though the German website might be optimizing their page on long-tail keywords, they are investing in paid advertising for the generic head keywords. This tells me that they see conversions in the head keywords as well, so organic visibility for these keywords might not be such a bad idea.

4.     Google and CraigsList for Digital Marketing

I left my favorite digital marketing strategy that Airbnb used for last. When they started out, Airbnb was quite resourceful. In the beginning, Airbnb realized they needed to integrate with two digital marketing giants to get enough customers. Obviously Google is the place to be for any e-commerce website, but Craig’s List can be useful for vacation rentals, especially for a peer-to-peer business. This noteworthy move allowed Airbnb to get the hosts and clients necessary to give them a good head start in their market. How did they integrated with these giants?

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Since people were already using Craig’s List to post ads for short-term housing, Airbnb decided to let people have the opportunity to share their Airbnb posts on Craig’s List as well, driving more traffic to both the user’s listing and the Airbnb website. Clever!

These digital marketing strategies were worth mentioning because Airbnb is doing quite well considering their competition in online search. As I mentioned before, is substantial and has been around for ages. Internationally, Airbnb is up against strong players like Interhome, Homeaway, and Novasol, who are established in their respective markets. However, with a dash of intelligence from the competitive landscape and a few good men and women thinking outside the box, an online marketplace can develop a successful digital marketing strategy to serve the masses. Airbnb seems to be a great example of a company that started out struggling, as any startup might, and rose to the top by knowing their market and taking advantage of opportunities. However, there is still some opportunity here for Long tail keywords work well, especially in vacation rentals, but highly searched and competitive head/generic keywords move market shares.

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I can’t wait to see how Airbnb does in the next few months. Any guesses as to where they might be headed?

Featured image credit:

Editor’s Note: Neither SEJ nor the author have any affiliation with any of the brands listed above.


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Dorothy Wheeler

Marketing Assistant at Hoosh Technology

Dorothy Wheeler is a citizen of the world, having grown up in Africa, Asia, North America and Europe. Born of ... [Read full bio]

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