Airbnb cuts marketing 95% and sees... no traffic loss?

Airbnb CEO:

"What the pandemic showed is that we can take marketing down to zero
and still have 95% of the same traffic as the year before. We’re not
going to forget that lesson."

This is a great headline, but there's WAY more to it. 👇

First, yes, that's... SEO.

But to think they can let it slide forever is... dangerous.

According to Ahrefs:

Airbnb's monthly traffic is often around 15M.

Vrbo? 6M.

enter image description here

But traffic doesn't tell the whole story...

Also according to Ahrefs:

Airbnb's monthly traffic value is $4.9M.

Vrbo? $4.5M.

Right now, they're competing evenly in traffic value from SEO.

SEO is a moat to defend your castle, but you can't check out and think nobody is gonna eat your lunch.

Before we get to part 2, here's how they built that moat with "programmatic SEO" (graphic via Foundation):

enter image description here

Second, saying they cut "spend" is a bit of a misnomer.

Airbnb still spends quite a bit on "marketing" including a TON of marketers in growth that work on SEO (probably not 502 of them, though):

enter image description here

You can see those investments in the team paying off at different intervals:

enter image description here

That's what I ❤️ about SEO.

You can cut ALL other marketing spend, and even probably some of your SEO spend, and still ride that wave for a while.

That's what you can do when your business is the NOUN and the VERB for what you do.

Now, they can move on to more interesting phases of their business. More from Airbnb's CEO:

"In Q4, >90% of traffic was direct or unpaid. Our strategy is... a
full-funnel marketing approach. The top of the funnel is actually
PR... that's how we really built the brand of Airbnb more than
anything, is PR."

Investing in SEO is probably one of the smartest things you can do for your business.

What do you think? Bad move by Airbnb? Brilliant?

If you enjoyed this, would you also like to get my SEO newsletter? I write a weekly email that dives deep on SEO topics just like this. 🙌

Also, please let me know what questions you have about SEO in the comments below. I'll answer EVERY SINGLE ONE!

PS - Want to know who the real competition is for Airbnb?

Google, itself.

In the near future, expect them to move into the short-term rental space the same way they did with Google hotels and Google flights.

  1. 2

    Why is Google competition for Airbnb? Why not booking.com or expedia?

    1. 1

      Google used to send traffic to those kinds of websites and now you book primarily through Google Flights and they take a cut (if not, the whole thing). The same with hotels. They already have a new tab for "vacation rentals."

      1. 1

        I find it a tad conflicting and unfair when google tries to compete directly in search results tough. IMO

        1. 1

          You're absolutely right. That's the game, though. Eventually I think it'll be only Google properties in the results.

          1. 1

            Yes I agree. The signs are there.

  2. 2

    Nice analysis man. I hate those headlines that make you believe you can get away without marketing... Marketing is everything... Research, product strategy, positioning, content, whatever else. As you said, they might ride that SEO wave and lean on their enormous brand equity but they can't get away without decent investment for too long. They need to keep building mental availability to stay top of mind or else they will be eaten alive. The problem? Once they ramp up their marketing investment, there won't be any news story about it.

    1. 1

      Yeah. It wasn't an ideal headline. They definitely kept up marketing, but just dropped performance marketing. Kinda shows the CEO (maybe) doesn't get marketing as performance is about... performance, not traffic. Right?

  3. 2

    Enjoyed this Brendan!

    1. 1

      From the GOAT himself, I appreciate that! Still more depth to explore, but also could be really cool for Marketing Examples of the power of brand.

  4. 1

    There was a Freakonomics episode on the true efficacy in marketing that was illuminating on this subject. I look at marketing with heavy dose for realism, do I pay attention to marketing...Yes and No. I am a generally logical consumer, I amy fall for a lot of things, but I am more skeptical than most. I think AirBNB has a good sense of the market an understand how they fit in. The rise in traffic probably speaks more to the vaccine and seasons. People are beginning to see that the world will turn on again, they probably want to travel. They are looking for places to go and remember AirBNB. In the end AirBNB is here to stay, if you don't know about AirBNB you have either been in coma or under a rock- possibly both.

  5. 1

    I plan to build my travel marketplace with SEO as my rifle. Content! Content! Content!

    1. 1

      You can still definitely build something in the space, but unless you're building a marketplace for one VERY specific geography that you can own, I'd be careful.

      1. 1

        Yes. I am laser focused on the Caribbean region which has been ignored by all the big players. It's a huge market for travel.

    1. 1

      Thanks for reading and commenting!

  6. 1

    When you're starting out, what is more important to focus on : SEO or paid advertising? SEO, from what I've heard, takes a long time to start paying off. When you're early and no one knows who you are you want traffic ASAP so that you can start learning from people, seeing what is working, and iterating on it.

    Would you say paid advertising is to get people in the door and SEO is the long term growth strategy or can SEO help even when you don't have traffic yet?

    1. 1

      This wholly depends on your runway and industry. There's no one-size-fits-all answer.

      Content. ABSOLUTELY.

      SEO? Maybe not. Depends on what you're trying to do, what you're building, and the competitive landscape.

  7. 1

    your newsletter link 404's for me

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