They say that you've mastered a topic or an industry when you know when to break rules.
This certainly applies to my software engineering day job.
Programming rules and design patterns are never universal. There are always exceptions. Good engineers know when to break the rules.
I find that hosting Airbnb is the same thing. I've been in the game for several years and I develop techniques that appear counter-intuitive.
For example, while it is true that reviews are critical for my Airbnb's success, I do not always strive for perfect 5 star scores.
Don't get me wrong. I'm always aiming for a 5 star overall rating. But there's a specific sub rating that I'm not super obsessed about, and that's the value sub rating.
I have hosted almost 400 stays so far. If every single one of them was to give me a perfect 5 for value, that would mean that my B&B is underpriced. Not only would that leave money on the table, it would also risk initiating a race to the bottom with other nearby hosts.
I almost want to receive 4 stars for value once every blue moon, as an indication that my pricing is just right.
This rather unusual approach to reviews isn't the only unconventional strategy that I have.
Hosting on Airbnb exclusively is one of them, and it is without a doubt the single most impactful one.
Listing on Airbnb exclusively in all likelihood nets me more profit than cross-listing on multiple platforms.
Being on one platform is better for SEO. You get to concentrate all your efforts to "impress" a single search algorithm.
It's like fighting a war. You have a better chance of winning when you're fighting a single enemy compared to several at the same time.
A search algorithm uses so-called quality signals to determine how much the position of a "record" should be boosted in search results.
One of the quality signals used by Airbnb's search algorithm is the number of bookings.
The bookings signal overpowers other signals in the algorithm, to the point that the latter matter very little.
Why are bookings such a strong indicator for quality?
It's actually rather obvious. When someone makes a booking worth, say, $400, that person has effectively given a positive endorsement worth that much money.
What can possibly be a better quality signal than that?
No amount of title tweaks or photo re-uploads on my part is going to beat that in terms of ranking boost.
Instead of tweaking titles endlessly, I spent my time researching my target demographic's demand, and how to capture some of that demand. I call this off-platform work.
My B&B (supply) meets my demographic's needs (demand) so well that it has this "natural pulling power". It's almost like it has a magnet that pulls in bookings of its own accord.
There are always people who seek out a place like mine. Every month bookings just get made.
Let's say that on average my B&B can get nine 2-night bookings per month thanks to said "natural pulling power". What does Airbnb's search ranking algorithm see?
"This listing is booked 18 days out of 30. Booking count and occupancy rate are good. Humans love this place. It must be good. It deserves to rank higher!"
What would happen if I was to cross-list on three different STR (short-term rental) platforms instead? Say, Airbnb and Stayz and Booking.com?
My B&B's stats would likely be diluted. Each of the three platforms would only see a third of the numbers, probably.
"This listing is booked only 6 days out of 30, pretty lousy, it'll rank somewhere near the bottom" is what each platform's algorithm would conclude.
Soon after I started hosting on Airbnb, my listing climbed up in ranking steadily until it reached the #1 position. It has stayed there ever since. I'm very sure that my decision to not cross-list was a major contributor.
The other added benefit is that I don't have to worry about double booking (which would be a major disaster for SEO). Or paying for software to manage multiple STR platforms.