AirBnb launched in 2008 as just a simple idea to help 2 guys rent out a room in their apartment. In just 7 years, Airbnb is now a $10 billion company with millions of unique visitors each day.
How did this happen? Well, Airbnb allows people to rent out their apartments, bed & breadfasts, and rooms out to travelers from all over the world. The idea offered a unique way to find accommodations without staying in hotels. The travel industry needed an alternative to traditional hotel and hostels.
You probably already know about AirBnb but it’s important to understand its UVP (unique value proposition). This too will help you craft the perfect business idea and built a successful website in the long run.
I will show you in 10 simple to follow steps how to create a website like Airbnb. We will go over everything from initial market research to crafting an exit strategy in case you want to take on investors, sell the website or launch an IPO.
If you are interested in building a website like AirBnB today, please consider purchasing my Online Vacation Rental Website Package.
1. Conduct Market Research
Our first step into building this website is simple market research. Let’s create a profile of our target market to visualize who we are providing a service too.
Head over to Alexa to get demographics data on thousands of popular websites. Here’s a screenshot of Airbnb.com’s main target market:
According to Alexa, Airbnb’s target market is:
- Mostly female
- More likely to be college educated
Techcrunch provides some more insight into the users of Airbnb:
The demographics highlight that Airbnb is no longer just about post-grad backpackers using the service, as more than half of guests booking lodging last Saturday were over the age of 30. Almost ten percent (5,500) were over the age of 50, and it even counted 320 that were 70 or older.
Let’s assume the average Airbnb user is between the ages of 30 to 50, female, and highly educated. This information will help you position yourself to attract a mostly female demographic.
Next, you need to decide if you want to go international like Airbnb or target a single country of city. For example, RoomMatchers.com targets the NYC area to focus on a single city.
Your profit potential increases with an international website, but it takes more time, marketing and exposure to gain traction. Choosing a local website in a large country or city gives you a competitive advantage and decreases your competition because you focus on a central location.
Keyword research is the next important step before thinking about launching your website. Google Keyword Planner and Keyword Tool are my two favorite keyword tools and they are both free. Simply type in a few of your desired keywords and check the number of searches, CPC and level of competition. Remember, you want to target keywords with high CPC competition because advertisers are making money with these keywords. Don’t confuse CPC competition with SEO competition. For more information on keyword research, check out the Moz keyword research guide and Quick Sprout’s keyword research book.
Test the Market
After conducting good keyword research, I would test to see if you can find at least 3 people who would use your service right away. I got this idea from Ratmi Sethi who encourages entrepreneurs to find 3 people who need their service before they invest money in production and launch phases.
Talk to friends, family, co-workers, forum communities, and social media users to see if you offer what they need. The more people who need your service, the better you will be during your first launch week.
If you know your target niche, found some great keywords, and know at least 3 people who need your service, then you are ready to start brainstorming domains
2. Find the Perfect Domain Name
You need a short domain name for your new website. Brainstorm a bunch of domains then try to select a domain that is:
- Easy to Remember
- Avoids any trademarks
- .COM extension (or a country level domain if you want to target a certain country)
Domain Name: $9.95 per year
I use Godaddy for all my domain needs. Every website needs a good domain name from a reliable company. I’ve registered my domains with Godaddy ever since I got started back in 2006. They offer the best pricing and deals for repeat customers. You can also get private domain registration for an extra $3 per year. It’s the best investment if you want to keep your identity secret to the public.
My favorite brainstorming tool is Namestation. It costs $79 for an annual subscription, but it’s worth every penny. Namestation provides you with random domain generation tools, keyword lists that lets you mash potential keywords together, and the ability to hold domain voting contests. It’s a great investment because finding the right domain is very important to your long term success.
From AirBedandBreakfast.com to AirBNB.com
The owners of Airbnb learned a valuable lesson a few years into their business. The owners were flat broke when they started out so they registered AirBedandBreakfast.com in the beginning. The problem with this domain is the length. Long domains are harder to remember and lack the powerful punch that shorter domains have. In general terms, the shorter the domain, the better. The original domain contains 18 characters. A good domain limit is 12 to 15 characters at the most. Many of the best .com domains have been taken already. Purchasing a domain is a great strategy if you have a sizeable budget.
If you have a domain idea, then type the domain into your web browser and see where it heads. If it leads to an unused website, use the Whois tool to find out who owns it.
Here’s a few places to find good domain names to purchase:
Domain selection is very important so do not rush this step of the process. Your domain name is your brand. Spend time thinking about how you want customers to view your website then choose the best domain that reflects your business goals and vision.
3. Choose Reliable Web Hosting
Web hosting allows your users to access your website on the internet. Most people don’t have web servers in their homes, but many companies provide access to their servers for a monthly fee. Your website is 100% dependent on good reliable web hosting. If your web hosting goes down, then nobody can visit your website.
HostGator is my recommended shared web hosting company. They are a 12 year old company based out of Houston, TX USA and provide world class hosting at a bargain price.
Hostgator’s Business plan is perfect for your room booking startup. It comes with:
- Unlimited Domains
- Unlimited Disk Space & Bandwidth
- Private SSL certificate to accept credit cards securely
- Free Toll Free Number
- 99.9% Uptime
- 24/7 Phone Support
Hostgator takes care of everything so you don’t need a degree in Computer Science to get started. Don’t worry about server administration because they have 24/7 phone customer support and will even help you install your website script on your server.
4. ReadyMade Script vs Custom Website Solution
Once you have a domain and hosting, your next step is building the website. You have two options in this regard: hire a professional expert to design and code the website or buy a third party readymade script that performs the same tasks as the Airbnb main site. This is a big decision in your launch phase so I made a list of Pros and Cons for you to consider:
Custom Website Solution (between $2,500 to $50,000+)
- Build a website exactly the way you want it from scratch
- Add any extra features or solutions without worrying about 3rd party code
- Separate yourself from your competitors with a completely unique website
- Create a child theme that allows programmers to create custom plugins and themes for your site
- Utilize technologies that nobody else providers to potential travelers
- Custom websites for the booking industry starts at $2,500 with costs as much as $50,000 or more
- Most designers or agencies charge extra money if the project takes longer than expected
- You spend a lot of money on production that could be used for marketing or hiring staff
- You cannot quickly test the market without spending a lot of money
- If you have future problems, then you must have access to the company/coder who built the website
- You may add features that your target market doesn’t necessarily need or use
- If you build a custom website exactly like Airbnb, then it will be hard to differentiate yourself from their brand
How to Hire a Good Developer to Create Your Custom Website Script
I recommend the following marketplaces to find a good developer that can turn your dream into a reality.
3rd Party Scripts (between $250 to $5000)
- Scripts are much cheaper to get started with
- Script companies provide access to lots of programmers who take on coding projects
- Many scripts provide all the necessary features to launch a website right out of the box
- It’s possible to purchase a Airbnb clone that provides all the same features of the main site
- You save a lot of money that can be invested into marketing, employees and advertising
- Other companies may have purchased the same script as you
- It’s more difficult to include custom code without hiring a programmer
- You may find the script too basic for your needs
- The script may be outdated and/or doesn’t get updated regularly
For most developers and entrepreneurs, I recommend a ready made PHP script that highly customizable. My research led me to a script called AirHotels by Apptha.
5. Purchase a Powerful Online Vacation Booking Script
If you wish to use a 3rd party script to build your website, then you have several scripts to choose from. Here are a few scripts that I recommend for your online vacation rental website.
Dropinn ‐ $999
- Ready Made Script
- Exact Clone of AirBNB
- Easy to Use
- Excellent Customer Support
Dropinn is a ready to use online rental booking system designed for entrepreneurs to build their own website like Airbnb. It is basically an exact Airbnb Clone with the same layout and features. There are two versions of Dropinn: Standard and Premium. The difference in price is staggering but I did not see any reason to purchase the premium script for an extra 2k.
Airhotels ‐ $599
- Magento CMS
- Easy to Use
- SEO Optimized
AirHotels is a powerful Magento script that allows to create an online vacation rental booking service. The script is 100% customizable and easy to use. It comes with unlimited listings, bookings and transactions. Plus, it’s optimized for SEO and works right out of the box. Start a website similar to AirBNB in just a few hours.
6. Create useful Content
Content is what attracts users to your website. Airbnb became successful because they show apartments and rooms in a unique way with lots of content. Room listings have pictures, descriptions, list of amenities, pricing and owner information that helps you book a room. Your website needs the same information if you want to succeed.
In the beginning, the Airbnb owners went around to rooms and took pictures themselves. This is another key to building your website. Don’t be afraid to create the content yourself. Nobody will add listings and use the site if it looks boring and empty.
I learned this lesson from James Altucher who added 10,000 pages of content to his million dollar website when he launched. Either add content yourself or hire someone else to do it.
Nobody will start listings their own properties until you have at least 1,000 rooms available. Make your website look busy, then you can rely on user generated content.
When researching this article, I clicked a lot of links to examples of booking websites like Airbnb. Over 50% of the websites were either gone or not online anymore.
Because people think a ton of people will start using your website from day 1. It’s just not true. You need lots of content to succeed. Don’t give up until you have added at least 1,000 pages.
7. Hire Staff and/or Employees
The best way to add content is hire employees or virtual assistants. Business is a team sport and you cannot do everything by yourself. There are literally thousands of talented professionals eager to help you add content, manage social media profiles, and drive traffic for a reasonable price. Here’s a few places to find talented employees:
If you have plans for a venture capital acquisition or IPO, then you need to create a board of directors and upper management staff. I learned this from reading the Mequoda Method. Here’s a list of positions you need to create and hire professionals to fill:
- CEO – Chief Executive Officer
- COO – Chief Operating Officer
- CMO – Chief Marketing Officer
- CCO – Chief Content Officer
- CDO – Chief Development Officer
- CTO – Chief Technology Officer
- CSO – Chief Strategy Officer
- CAO – Chief Analytics Officer
If you are a 1 man show, then you are doing all 8 positions by yourself. Each position will take important tasks off your hands yet help increase revenue while giving you more time to think of ways to improve your business.
8. Plan a Successful Launch
You now have everything in place for a successful launch. Your launch phase is important because you have a chance to build buzz and enthusiasm around your website. A great idea to is place a squeeze page on your homepage before launch to collect email addresses. Collect email addresses to build a database of your target audience so you can market to them and ask them for feedback. It’s also a great place to find potential employees. Loyal customers often have valuable skills that you need to move forward each quarter.
When you launch, you need to make the website extremely useful at first. You achieve this by providing lots of free content on the homepage, filling at least 1,000 available rooms, and making the website easy to use. Avoid complicated language and features that distract your visitors from taking an action. Your main goals during launch phase are:
- Create an account
- Gain an email subscriber
- Book a room
- Receive a comment/suggestion about your website
Use Google Analytics to track your goals and monitor your conversion rates. Figure out ways to increase your conversion rate for your most profitable action: booking a room. A good tip for increasing conversions is to remove distractions like social media buttons, unnecessary images, or external links to other websites. These elements drive users away from your booking pages. Include your social media icons away from your booking pages in the top right hand corner (standard practice for most booking sites).
9. Market Your Website
Internet marketing has so many benefits and methods that this section deserves its own post. However, your booking website will benefit from 4 major traffic sources:
- Social Media
- Email Marketing
SEO stands for Search Engine Optimization. SEO helps your customers find your website through search engines like Google. I wrote a few earlier articles on On Page and Off Page SEO so check these out too. Basically, your website needs good basic SEO to attract organic traffic for free. The most important thing for starters is good basic On page SEO. Place your target keywords on your homepage and use words that your target market would use.
When building your booking pages, I recommend you use titles such as: Paris Rentals & Short Term Rentals. Use this same template for each city to rank high in the search engines for those keywords. Page titles are important because users will see them whenever someone shares your link on social media or forums.
On page SEO is easy, but Off page takes a lot more creativity and effort. If you have a budget, then I recommend outsourcing your SEO. I recommend RankPay and SourceWave as two great places for SEO services.
Airbnb’s booking pages contain links to Facebook, Twitter, Pinterest and Google+. Those are the 4 major services to consider. If you visit the Airbnb homepage, they place social media links at the very bottom of the page. This is a good place to store them. I could write another post on engaging and attract social media visitors, but instead I’ll just link to some awesome articles.
- How to build a Facebook Following
- How to build a Twitter Following
- How to Build a Pinterest Following
- How to build a Google+ following
Social media drives major traffic, especially Facebook. Your main focus should be optimizing your pages for Facebook and building a large fan page. As of right now, Airbnb has 1.6 million Facebook fans. Every post they make reaches millions of potential customers. It’s super important for booking websites since your target market is majority female. Use social media to gather their feedback, engage them, and find out what their problems are.
PPC stands for Pay Per Click. PPC is the easiest way to start driving customers to your booking website without building a huge Facebook following and getting a #1 Google ranking. Airbnb uses Google Adwords to drive lots of paid traffic to their website. They spend $174,000 per day on Adwords ads! Here’s a screenshot of one of their Google ads:
Semrush is a great tool for doing competitor research, finding keywords to target, and tracking your Adwords campaign success. For more information on creating a winning Adwords campaign, refer to this article on Adwords tips for businesses.
Email marketing provides the highest ROI for any marketing channel. Once you get a subscriber, your marketing costs don’t change no matter how many times you contact them. It’s crucial to implement a way to build a customer list for future marketing purposes. The easiest way to collect emails is to allow users to create an account. Make your account creation process very obvious on the homepage. If you look at the AirBnb.com main site, they display a Sign Up and pink “List Your Space” button in the top right hand corner. This will be the main source of subscribers. Other ways include allowing users to sign up for updates, sending emails to available rooms and a general monthly newsletter about your company.
Email Marketing: $250 per month
Aweber pricing start at $19 per month (get your 1st month for $1) and goes up to $149 per month if you have 10,001 to 25,000 subscribers.
10. Increase Your Revenue
Driving revenue and increasing users will lead to a direct increase in your income and influence if you follow the steps above. In order to understand how Airbnb grew so fast, let’s take a look at their core business model.
There are a ton of great articles on the Airbnb business model that I recommend you read:
- How Airbnb built a Rock Solid Business Model
- Fastcompany on the Airbnb business model
- Airbnb Business Model Comparison vs. Other companies
My main advice for your success is to get lots of users on your website. User generated content is the lifeblood of your website. Attract lots of hosts and buyers by driving traffic through the marketing channels discussed in the previous step. Make your website fast and useful. Get a quality payments gateway to accept credit cards on your website.
11. Craft an Exit Strategy
Creating an exit strategy is another step that requires planning when your website becomes successful and attracts interest from wealthy investors. Your options include venture capital funding, selling the website, taking on investors or launching an IPO. I’ve provided some links to help you decide how to craft an exit plan and choose the best outcome for your business.
Total Cost for Your Website Project
How much does it cost to create a website like AirBNB? Let’s cover some basics
Domain Name: $10 to $5,000+
Many companies take different routes when it comes to acquiring the perfect domain name. Personally, I’ve used a creative approach to registering easy to pronounce domains for around $10 reg fee. However, I’ve also sold domains to clients for over $6,000+ so I understand when someone needs a specific domain.
If you want to buy a domain name from somebody else, then you can approach them with an offer or hire a third party domain broker.
Web Hosting: $70 per month
I recommend Siteground Cloud Hosting as a perfect web hosting solution for this type of website. Cloud Hosting servers start at around $70 and will provide enough power for your website.
Custom Built Website: $599 to $5,000
There are several AirBNB php clone scripts available that allow you to build a functional website at a much lower cost. Of course, you’ll need logos, SEO, content, links, speed optimization and a bunch of other features to fully build a profitable site.
For more information on a custom website quote, please check out our Online Vacation Rental Booking Website Package.
Content Creation: $500 per month
Most companies these days operate a blog so I recommend investing $500 per month in a good blogger that will create content and drive traffic to your website. Not only does your domain stay fresh and updated daily, but some of that organic traffic will sign up and use your booking service!
Staff: $1,000+ per month
Customer service is a must in this niche so I recommend either hiring some employees or using virtual assistants to outsource some of the tedious work like customer support tickets.
PPC Advertising: $500 per month
Google Adwords is the standard for advertising a vacation booking site. When people type things like “rent apartment in CITY”, you can show ads that drive visitors back to your site.
We also offer Adwords campaign management for a monthly feee. To inquire about this service, please contact us
Total Cost: $5,000 to $10,000
This average startup cost for a website like Airbnb is around $7,000 on average. You can lower this cost by removing certain aspects and focusing on building your brand on a budget.