Are Airbnb actually doing fantastic SEO? | Varn


15 November 2022

Are Airbnb actually doing fantastic SEO by saying they don’t do search marketing?

Airbnb posted quarterly results on Nov 1st 2022, sharing news of nearly 100 million nights/ experiences booked over the previous 3 month period ,with gross booking value up 31% annually to $15.6 billion. 

Before Covid hit, Airbnb had spent heavily on performance marketing in order to drive website traffic but the company has since changed its strategy. On the recent earnings call Airbnb’s Chief Financial Officer, Dave Stephenson, explained that marketing expenditure had been substantially lower with much more focus on long term brand building and less reliance on ‘search marketing’.

Thoughts from Airbnb’s CEO…

Brian Chesky (Co-founder and Chief Executive Officer) explained on the call that:

“more than 90% of our traffic is correct or organic. And so the main thing is we take a full funnel approach to marketing; and actually the top of the funnel is PR in communication.”

As a result, Chesky explained that Airbnb are seeing performance marketing as having a unique and specific role to play in their marketing strategy…

“we think of performance marketing as more of a way to laser in to balance supply and demand rather than a way to purchase a large amount of customers.” 

At Varn, we champion the message to our clients that search marketing will only ever perform if it is considered to work as part of the overall marketing strategy. It appears these announcements from Airbnb are more about a shift in strategy, focusing on brand building and awareness and diverting funds away from tactical paid media advertising rather than turning their backs on ‘search marketing’ entirely. 

As a ‘search marketing’ agency you may think we disagree with what Airbnb is doing. Our view is that search marketing needs to be an optimised blend of many ‘search tactics’ specific to your business goals. We would argue that brand building blended with performance marketing is still really important. We know that for long term growth you need to build a brand and acknowledge that performance marketing can be used cleverly in a tangible and tactical way to meet financial targets. 

Thoughts from the Varn SEO team…

You are unlikely to be as big a fish as Airbnb:

Airbnb are in a lucky spot. With over 90% of traffic as organic, Airbnb has essentially  become the market. With such high brand recognition it’s a simpler decision to decide to cut expenditure on performance marketing. Hence it’s important to note that Airbnb are not necessarily the perfect example to all businesses, as most are not in such an enviable position in terms of awareness, size and scale of brand recognition. It’s much harder to be seen out there, especially in this post pandemic digital world. With more and more businesses investing in performance marketing and paid media, it’s even more tricky to get noticed. So many businesses spend too much money on paid ads, just for the sake of it. Our recommendation is that your business may need to still implement performance marketing, but think it through carefully, align this with your marketing strategy, be smart about it and you will get seen.

Airbnb are actually doing what Google says to do: 

By focusing efforts on brand building Airbnb are doing what Google wants to encourage all brands and content creators to do. That is, creating helpful and useful content and being a thought leader. Helpful content is defined by Google as content that is created for a specific audience, features expertise that is trustworthy and credible, and meets the wants and needs of the searcher. At Varn we argue it is vital to produce helpful content as part of our ongoing SEO strategies, for all of our clients. 

Be clear about your marketing goals and the rest will follow:

It’s important to keep in mind that Airbnb have created a great product and have built a wonderful brand through effective storytelling, connecting emotionally with their target customers. They are prioritising brand building as their goal and this is working. Be clear about what you want to achieve with your marketing efforts and design your plan as such. This may or may not involve paid media and performance marketing but if you are very clear about where you need to get to, it will also be clear which marketing tools and tactics you need to adopt on the way.

Airbnb are actually doing great SEO, make sure you are too:

In our view, with such high levels of organic search traffic, Airbnb will be leveraging search. Put simply, they must be doing SEO and effective search marketing as a basic requirement. The direct traffic will be a combination of their excellence at digital PR, technical SEO and a clear and focused content strategy. We would recommend all businesses should aim for excellence across all elements of search, from content through to technical SEO optimisation as a basic requirement too.

So in summary, we agree with Airbnb, as we firmly believe any search marketing and paid media campaigns must be considered within the context of your overall marketing strategy and plan. In addition, Airbnb has achieved fantastic SEO results simply by announcing their move away from search marketing to focus on brand building. 

At Varn we talk about offering our clients Full Service SEO, where we consider the overall marketing objectives and business environment to create bespoke strategies around search that achieve the desired ROI and keep our clients happy and returning. This may involve implementing technical SEO best practice for a website, robust data and analytics modelling and analysis to uncover what’s working or what needs to change. 

Ten years ago search marketing was in a silo and a slightly dark art. Now,as the industry and Google have evolved, search marketing is part of mainstream marketing so ‘search marketing agencies’ that are one trick ponies will start to struggle to get the performance their clients need. We recommend and help our clients implement a content creation and digital marketing plan to support and complement the overall marketing efforts of the business. Doing any of this in isolation to the bigger marketing picture will only lead to short term gains. This is also why we approach performance marketing and paid media as part of a holistic plan for search, that understands and fits within a wider marketing plan.

If you need support to make sure your search marketing strategies fit within your overall marketing objectives and plan, chat to the Varn team here.

Article by: Tom, Managing Director of Varn Digital Marketing More articles by Tom

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