Balancing Accuracy With An Emotional Hook: Andrew McNulty and Copy that Stands the Test of Time

Writing has always been difficult. Getting pen to paper (or finger tips to touch screen keyboard) brings on fatigue for almost everybody.

Yet every vacation rental professional has to face the task of writing copy for either a website, a property listing, or both. There is the challenge of being both technical and affecting.

To hear some solid constructive criticism and learn some helpful strategies for writing better copy, OneRooftop sat down for an interview with Andrew McNulty, Co-Founder of GuestHook, the web’s first professional vacation rental copywriting agency. As a professional writer with the business chops as well, Andrew looks deeply into the vacation rental industry and reveals what truly great copy can do for your brand.

OneRooftop: In what ways does copy written for a vacation rental home differ from the copy that you’d find in some other industries?

Andrew McNulty: The purpose of good copy is to convey features and benefits of a product or service in a simple, easy-to-connect-with way. In the vacation rental industry, and other “experiential” industries, it’s also about appealing to emotions. Travel is very often a “gut feel” purchase.

In this sense, copy for a vacation rental home has to balance accuracy with emotional hook. The property description has to be clear and concise, enabling a potential guest to skim the important information, quickly assessing whether or not the property fits their practical needs. Fast on the heels of practicality should be the all-important unique selling points—the hook that sets one property apart from the rest. 


ORT: Could you identify some common misconceptions that VR professionals have about copywriting?

AM: Copy is all-too-often seen as a hurdle. It’s a box to tick when building out your vacation rental listing. Looked at this way it becomes a task rather than an opportunity.

It’s also often relegated to a lower importance level than good photos, reviews, and carefully pitched pricing. That’s a mistake. Great copy has the ability to tell a story, to set a scene, to conjure feelings. Photos can do this, of course, but photos are subjective and don’t actually spell out how you, as a guest, might experience the scene. A shot of a swimming pool is one thing, but only good copy can tell you how it sounds when the kids are splashing joyfully in that pool!


ORT: About how often should a person change up the copy on his or her Vacation Rental website? What’s a realistic goal?

AM: Honestly, good copy stands the test of time. Unless you’re making significant changes or enhancements to your property, you shouldn’t need to make frequent changes.

As a minimum, a good rule of thumb would be to set a calendar reminder to review your copy once a year, ideally during your off-season. Assess what you’d like to achieve for the coming year, whether you found your customer profiles shifted, whether the area has experienced any changes, and so on.

If you’re in a seasonal business, with different target markets during different periods of the year, then it does make sense to adjust it. For example if you’re a ski business in the winter, and an outdoor lake business in the summer (like Lake Tahoe, for example), then obviously you would want tailored copy during periods when guests are typically searching. Trying to mix the copy to appeal to both markets will result in confusing and long-winded copy.

ORT: Vacation rentals are appealing to guests of all ages. I’m curious to know how we can think about writing copy for a multigenerational audience. What have you found works best when creating a brand’s voice?

AM: This is an interesting and very topical question. We recently published a post about the modern vacation rental guest and the heart of the article was that VR’s need to reach all age groups.

It’s certainly true that vacation rentals appeal to a broad range of ages. But that’s true of most accommodation options. The difference in the vacation rental sector is that you find many homes that cater to larger groups.

By way of example, roughly 35% of HomeAway listings cater to groups of 8 or more people. In other words, this is really an industry where a diverse group—with ages spanning newborn to great-grandparents—come to stay in a single home.

This poses a tricky challenge when you’re crafting copy that has to talk functionally and emotionally to different age groups. But in the end, your target audience is not the whole family…it’s the person with a finger hovering over the “Book It” button. And that person’s number one priority, most likely? Making everyone else happy.

We find that storytelling works best in this example, explaining how different age groups can enjoy the same space together. Picture grandparents lounging by the pool with their favorite books while the kids splash and play…and meanwhile Dad is flipping burgers on the gas grill. Everyone is happy to be there, and the family member who did the booking gets a pat on the back!

ORT: What are some of the biggest challenges VR professionals–who maybe aren’t professional writers–face when they need to create compelling web copy?

AM: The biggest challenge is lack of time. VR professionals are almost always time-starved, with small teams (or even no teams!). That has the tendency to result in rushed copy…in throwing something on the page believing the photos will sell the property. Use some of the tips below to help ease that burden!

The other significant challenge is forgetting to balance function and emotion. I all-too-often see copy that forgets to tell me important information like bed configuration (as a father and husband that’s super important). I understand why – the focus has shifted to trying to sell the experience – but it’s to the detriment of good, old-fashioned functional information.

On the flip-side, my other pet peeve is the use of bullet points, CAPS, and lists. It’s what happens when someone lacks the confidence to succinctly describe something. It’s far better to convey something through well-thought-out prose than it is to resort to bullets and CAPS! If your words are compelling and relevant, your target guest will read them.

ORT: If owners wish to write copy themselves, what are some helpful resources to help them get started? Famous travel writers? A thesaurus, perhaps?

AM: The best resource is always YOU! You are the only person who knows your property. And you very likely know the area and its hidden gems better than any guidebook. So why turn anywhere else for help?

Start by jotting down ideas that convey your brand. But not in a lofty way, this isn’t an exercise in high-powered marketing! Think simple. Think about what your unique selling points are – those features that set you apart from your competition. Even if you are 1 of 100 four-bedroom villas with a pool in Orlando there will be something, trust me! Do you do anything extra for guests? Do you use high quality linens? Do you have a kitchen fit for a chef? Perhaps you have a games room? Perhaps you are the closest community to Disney?

Once you’ve jotted down your unique features, start writing about them with your guests in mind. How would they enjoy those features? How do you enjoy those features when you’ve stayed in your rental/s? Do you have any special memories that are rooted in those features?

Finally, think about function. The property rooms, layout, amenities and location. These are the simple facts of your property. They should come early in the listing.

I would say good copy isn’t about flowery words or trying to imitate the style of other writers. Good vacation rental copy is, ultimately, about conveying what a stay in your rental could be like.


TouchStay-Logo-SmallAndy is a Co-Founder of Guest Hook, the web’s first vacation rental copywriting agency. Having spent his 40+ years staying in vacation rentals around the world he’s seen the good, the bad, and the downright ugly of vacation rental websites and copy! Andy is also a Co-Founder of Touch Stay, a digital guest welcome book service.

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