CASE STUDY

City Accommodations

In this case study we’ll look at a true Growth Hack for this booking platform that lets apartments in London.

+ 1 %

Turnover

1 %

Conversion Rate

1

Leads

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Objective

The main goal was to increase the number of requests coming from the website.

As well as, increasing the number of tenants, thus improving turnover and optimising profits.

Thanks to the strategies we have devised, we have managed to acquire over +4543 targeted leads and doubled the turnover with 8-9 months of work.

We have gone from £1 million to about £2 million in turnover.

Analysis

City Accommodations is an estate agency in central London.

Their core business is to rent entire apartments, improve them and rent out the rooms.

The main targets are university students and professionals.

The price range of the rooms (£800-£1200) is higher than the London average and the areas they cover are exclusively central areas of the city.

Analysing the competitors, we have seen that the basic strategy that these estate agencies use is to create a site with their own catalogue of rooms and rely on Google Ads to advertise them. That’s it.

Others use comparison sites like Sparerooms, Gumtree, Rightmove etc, where they upload all their properties for a monthly fee.

City Accommodations initially followed the exact same strategy: catalogue on the site with Google Ads and comparison sites.

Taking into account that the margin of a business like this is around 15%, we have chosen to use a more strategic approach without focusing exclusively on paid advertising.

We were thus able to optimise advertising costs and exponentially increase results.

Strategy

In agreement with the owners, we decided to upset everything, testing the opposite of what the competitors were doing. A gamble, maybe crazy but it worked great!

If the other agencies had their catalogue on the website, we chose to hide it.

 The problem was that having a very large catalogue of rooms visible online, everything was dispersive and confusing.

In fact, the abandonment rate of the site was very high, having only  30 requests per month arrived, which is very few.

 On the site we chose to include and promote only the areas where the agency’s greatest profits were based.

 In each page dedicated to a specific area, the following are still present: the number of rooms available, the set of images of the most beautiful rooms, the best reviews and information on the area, but no single room in detail.

The idea itself was simple: we acquire as many users as possible, divide them in the best way for us and then insert human contact with the sales team.

1st chapter: A counterintuitive strategy.

If the user wanted to see the individual rooms, he had to send a request by releasing his data.

 The purpose of these pages is to lead the user to complete a survey.

 The Survey is intended to segment into different automations and email sequences based on budget and other factors deemed important by the agency.

In these sequences, users discover how the agency works and how it can help them find the right room. (Nurturing phase)

All users who fell within the parameters were obviously reported to the internal City Accommodations team to be contacted directly, and only at this time were the individual rooms presented.

 And here human contact played a fundamental role. A one-to-one appointment with the aim of finding the room that best suits your needs.

The other non-target users, on the other hand, were directed to other sequences.

These sequences provided useful advice for living and finding a home in London.

They also had several affiliate links on various services that were offered to users. (How to transfer money abroad with Wise, UK phone SIM contracts etc).

In addition to the possibility of earning if they had brought referrals.

 At the end of this (obviously only if they had given their consent), these leads were sold to other partner agencies always segmented on the basis of their answers.

Results

Already thanks to this work and using Google Ads as the main advertising platform (average budget £350 per month), we were able to go from 30 to 350 requests per month and consequently to obtain a 35% increase in turnover. 

This in about 2-3 months of work.

2nd Chapter: Expanding the market.

Initially we aimed at a target of people looking for rooms already living in London.

 Subsequently we did an analysis on the highest spending customers and activated advertisements for other countries outside the UK such as Italy, Spain and Belgium.

 As a next step we created a bot on the site with Manychat to try to convert users immediately.

Thanks to a sequence, we have replicated the same questions of the Survey already present on the site. Livechat appeared on the site 5 seconds after the user’s visit.

 This integration worked great, thanks to the bot we acquired another 1343 target leads.

Later we also activated Facebook Ads mainly for retargeting, i.e. for people who arrived on the site through Google Ads but who did not immediately convert.

In the Ads we showed reviews from other customers and personalized vouchers.

In this way we were able to convert these users as well.

In the meantime we continued to carry out AB Tests within the site to improve the conversion rate.

We managed to hit peaks of 16-19% conversion rate

The results were great. But at this point we wondered how we could have done more. The answer was a Growth Hack (a real one) very similar to Airbnb's famous Craiglist strategy in its infancy.

3rd Chapter: The Growth Hack at the limits of the policies.

We wanted to do much more, and do it quickly. Haste is often a bad advisor, but not when you have a growth hacker mindset: speed is all that matters.

We then did another analysis on the other acquisition channels that City Accommodations used, i.e. the comparison sites, mainly SpareRooms and Gumtree.

These two comparison sites have always been used by the agency to promote its rooms and already with excellent results.

We then provided guidance on how we could improve the appearance of the ads and the results improved even more.

But there was something around the corner that would have brought us results that were unthinkable at the beginning.

In fact, the agency told us that by paying a monthly fee in these aggregators, it was possible to bring their ads to the top positions of the site every 3-4 hours with a manual “bump”.

They basically had a private dashboard where, using this feature, they could give more visibility to these ads and our partner already did that. 

Inspired by the famous Airbnb Growth Hack with Craiglist we thought, “What if there was a way to automatically push these ads?”

The stroke of genius

Using and analysing the systems of SpareRoom and Gumtree, together with our developer we noticed vulnerabilities in the structure of their sites.

And here’s the stroke of genius:

From these vulnerabilities we programmed two scripts/bots from scratch (one per site).

We were thus able to promote our ads on the first pages every 5 minutes in a completely automatic way, bypassing the 3-4 hours imposed by the platform.

We basically had “two full-time virtual helpers” who exploited these vulnerabilities pushing ads for us day and night,. seven days a week

Thanks to these scripts all the ads of the agency are always depicted on the first pages. Taking into account that these sites have millions of monthly views, you can only imagine the power of this system.

The Gumtree script worked flawlessly for 6 consecutive months.

However with Sparerooms we had more difficulties.

Their site was frequently updated due to security issues. In fact, in the 3rd month, the script stopped working.

However, we found the same vulnerability in the Android app and managed to exploit it for another three months.

Later there were more important security updates, at which point both scripts stopped working.

But the results obtained with these two tools were incredible.

But was it legal?

We would like to point out that the two scripts, working on the front end side, did not violated any site policies.

Following the updates they made, their policy were also updated, adding a point about banning the use of bots, at which time we stopped using them (unfortunately).

Final results

Thanks to this work carried out for over eight months we managed to get over +4543 leads with an average conversion rate of 14.55% bringing the turnover from 1 to 2 million pounds.

After showing you this Growth Hack we would like to make one thing clear: bringing results requires a lot of effort and experimentation.

Very often that “single hack” that allows you to double your turnover for free does not exist.

Behind every case study, there is always a huge phase of analysis, brainstorming and testing.

In this article we would like to point out the importance of lateral thinking: if everyone is going in one direction, you should look for another.

You have to act out of the ordinary to achieve extraordinary results.

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