Is Your Self-Storage Facility Competing With Itself Online? Taking a Global View of Your Internet Marketing
Copyright 2014 by Virgo Publishing.
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Posted on: 02/05/2013



 

By Christopher P. Baird

I’ve been around the Internet in a Web-development and marketing capacity for most of my adult life. At first, the Internet was a fad, then a get-rich-quick platform. Now it's matured to the point where it’s a real line item on the budgets of larger companies. The problem is smaller, less sophisticated companies don’t see their Internet marketing from a global point of view or broader perspective. It’s because they haven't been trained to look at it that way.

Most companies that sell Internet-marketing products have trained self-storage operators to look at each piece separately because they can only sell based on their expertise. One company does local search (maps), another paid search (Google Ads) and another organic optimization. There are also listing sites, transaction sites, Web developers and anyone else who wants to sell you ads.

Looking at these services as individual parts rather than as a whole is not ideal. For example, a facility’s paid search is not completely independent from organic results, which are not completely independent from maps, video content, etc. Nor are those items not completely separate from a facility's Yellow Pages ads, TV commercials or even its signage and business cards. They all work together to provide information and make a sale. Self-storage operators need to look at everything they’re doing from a marketing perspective and find any overlaps or disconnections so they can make the whole process more efficient and profitable.

When adding any service to your marketing mix, you first need to consider what you’re already doing to market your business and what you want to do. Will there be a duplicated effort that causes an unnecessary increase in costs, or will the new service create a connection that increases your return?

For example, rather than hire two separate companies to handle paid search and search-engine optimization (SEO), it may be more sensible to hire one that specializes in both so information can be passed along easily. If you find a keyword isn’t converting through paid search, why would you pay someone to optimize your website with that keyword?

Self-Storage Aggregators

Let’s look at just one area of marketing where many self-storage operators are overlooking the sum of their efforts: aggregator websites. Before I go further, let me say this: There are debates going around about whether aggregator websites are good or bad. This is not one of them. There’s no intent on my part to be pro or anti aggregator; I'm simply neutral. Think of it as if I were discussing any external website that conducts transactions or advertises your product and whose goal is to compete for Internet real estate in your market.

One of the more serious Internet-marketing mistakes I’ve seen self-storage operators make recently is improperly using industry aggregators. You may be making the same mistake, and it could be negatively impacting your business.

Here's an example of what I mean: One day I get a call from a concerned client who asks why he’s getting more reservations from an aggregator website (let's call it BookStorage.com) than his own corporate website. To know the answer, we have to consider a few things:

  • How is the corporate website placing in searches in comparison to Bookstorage.com?
  • Is the corporate site optimized for conversions?
  • Does the corporate site have the same basic capabilities and information as Bookstorage.com?
  • How comparable are the rates on both sites?

I check and find the corporate site is comparably placed, able to convert and equipped with tools. However, customers are finding the best price for an available unit on Bookstorage.com. At first glance, this can be viewed as seemingly minor; in this situation, it’s having a serious impact.

Look at it from a consumer's perspective. Say you were searching for a widget and found two websites on which to purchase one: the company that made the widget and an outlet store that simply sells widgets among other things. My guess is you would purchase the widget from the company that made it; but if the outlet store had a better price, it would probably sway you. That’s exactly what’s happening in our example.

Now let’s consider the business owner’s perspective. In an effort to drum up business, you allow BookStorage.com to rent your units at a price better than those offered on your own website. But now BookStorage.com competes with you directly for customers who want to rent with you. You also pay Bookstorage.com a fee for each transaction, and you potentially allow BookStorage.com to remain in the customer’s memory as the go-to place for storage solutions. In short, you sold your product for less money, paid a fee to do it, and created competition for yourself at the same time. When said that way, it sounds bad.

Now, I’m not saying you shouldn't use BookStorage.com—quite the opposite, in fact. You should use it as long as what it produces for you comes from its own efforts, without your assistance. I’m advocating that you give your website a competitive edge and not drive people from it to BookStorage.com.

If you're paying $100 to acquire a customer from BookStorage.com, why not just offer the same rate there as on your corporate website, but offer a better special on your website by $100 or even just $50? The net to you would be the same or more, but you'd be making your website the more attractive place to buy. This way, when rentals come through BookStorage.com, you’ll know it's very unlikely that those customers found your website first.

When examining your online marketing, it's critical to take a global view and consider all of your marketing efforts as a whole. Look for overlaps that might cause unnecessary costs, duplicated efforts, or even areas where you’re setting yourself up for competition. Be smart with your marketing dollars, and you’ll find your efforts will pay off.

Christopher Baird is the CEO of Tucson, Ariz.-based Automatit Inc., which offers full-service Web development and marketing services to self-storage companies nationwide. He has more than 15 years of experience in website marketing and search engine optimization. Prior to joining Automatit in 2001, he was a freelance Web designer. For more information, call 520.293.4608; e-mail chris@automatit.net; visit www.automatit.net .