Four cottage owners have joined forces to create a co-operative approach to holiday home marketing, after struggling to advertise their holiday properties.
The aim of The Cottage Co-operative, says co-founder Tim Stienlet, is to empower small operators in an increasingly competitive market. The large agencies that dominate the market take high commissions but do not always deliver on service, while the ‘dark art’ of search engine optimisation (SEO) leaves advertisers confused and out of pocket.
“Being found on the internet is so important,” explains Mr Stienlet, “but the cost kept increasing and the emails which bombarded us every day just bamboozled us. We decided to learn about SEO ourselves to find out what’s worth doing and what’s not.”
Their joint research led to formation of the co-op and the creation of 20 websites appealing to guests looking for a specific type of cottage in a specific area. The websites are based on the 20 most popular search terms for holiday cottages, including beach-side, walking, dog-friendly and cycling cottages, plus cottages with wheelchair access.
The co-op has since added two more websites, for stargazers and couples, and plans more soon.
Over 300 members pay a flat fee of £12 per website, with the average member paying about £50. They also benefit from regular updates and newsletters, social media support and negotiated discounts on necessities like bed linen. Membership is not open to agencies.
“There are many variables that generate our website’s ranking,” Mr Stienlet says. “We don’t profess to know them all and we don’t know anyone who does, but SEO appears not to be as black an art as we’re often led to believe.
“It takes a lot of time, resources and knowledge, but we’ve built all that up over the last two years.”
The four co-founders have been doing the work voluntarily from the start, but are now working almost full time and discussing the prospect of taking a wage.
“The more cottage owners that join in, the stronger and more cost-effective our marketing becomes,” adds Mr Stienlet.
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“It’s about taking control and that’s why we approached Co-operatives UK. We haven’t looked back since. People get it. There’s been that feeling among private cottage owners for a long time.”