By Fred Gleeck
I have been studying Internet marketing for the past two years. I've found it to be a tremendous tool in my own business, and I think it can be of great use to self-storage owners. The key is to make the best use of your website and get people to call or--better yet--visit your facility. Here are some secrets to get you started.
First Build a Site That Sells
In the storage industry, the ultimate goal is to get people to rent storage units, not to win awards with our websites. Many people don't understand the difference. When you go to the bank to make a deposit, awards are not accepted. The only thing the bank accepts is money. This being the case, you need to create a site that sells. Can it sell and be appealing? Perhaps. But if there is one characteristic that should take precedence, it is the selling power of the website, not its attractiveness.
How do we define success from a website-sales standpoint? From the number of renters generated as a result of visiting the site. Many visitors to your site will not rent from you online. I encourage you to give them the option to do so, but many will just come for a look. Most people who are interested will want to physically visit your facility before they will rent a unit.
What to Offer?
The goal of your site is to give people a seductive enough offer to make them want to visit or at least call your facility. What should that offer be? Before you make that decision, you must determine the value of each visitor to your facility--how much is he worth? Without that knowledge, it is impossible to make an intelligent decision on what to offer him.
Here's an easy way to figure out that value: Look at the total number of people who visited your facility last month and the net amount of dollars you generated from those visits. In this case, all we are looking at are new customers. Let's say you had 100 people who visited, which produced a net revenue of $30,000. Assuming the average person rents for seven months and the average rent is $100 a month, that means you net $300 out of $700 of gross receipts per person. (This assumes you close every person who visits, which isn't true; but let's leave it at that for purposes of example.) Now you know you can afford to "spend" up to $300 per visitor and not lose money. Of course, you want to get the visitor to come in for a lot less, but that's how you estimate his value.
The key to cost-effective marketing is to pursue those avenues that provide the greatest leverage. The Internet is one of those highly leveraged means. Let's say you were to offer people $50 just for dropping by your facility. You know the average visitor is worth $300, so if you have to give away $50 bills to get people to come by, do it-- provided, of course, you've used every other method of marketing that costs you less than $50 first.
The nice thing is you don't have to offer people $50. You can offer them something that has a very high perceived value but actual low cost. Make an exclusive website offer and label it an "Internet special." This is so you can track its effectiveness. One idea for this special is to use the coupon system, where you collect coupons from local merchants and offer them to your website visitors. The cost on something like this is neglible, but the perceived value is very high. One of my clients recently put a selection of coupons together worth more than $700 in perceived value. His total cost was less than $2 per bundle. You may also want to offer something tangible like a first-aid kit or some other novelty item. Whatever you use, make sure you can code it in such a way that you know the visitor response came from your online campaign.
Your website is there to get people to either pick up the phone and call or come in and visit your facility. It's that simple. If pretty pictures can support that effort, I'm all for using them. If they don't, keep them to a minimum. Make sure your Internet offer is front and center on your first page. Don't hide your sales pitch. Have a line that reads: "$50 in cash to everyone who takes a tour of our facility," or "Free first-aid kit (value of $38) to everyone who tours our facility."
If you want your website to include supporting information regarding unit sizes, features and benefits, that's fine. Make your site simple and easy to understand and navigate. Test it on a sixth grader--if it's too complicated for him, you need to redesign it. A simple site that shows a picture of your facility, maps your location and describes features and benefits is enough.
I like the idea of having no more than five links to various pages off your home page. Also make sure people don't have to scroll far down on each page to get to the information. Place your Internet special at the very top of the first page, where most people put the facility name. Customers don't care about your name. Instead, use that space to make them an irresistible offer that will compel them to come in and visit. Your five simple links will then allow people to see:
- A map showing them how to get to you;
- Information on how to contact you;
- Helpful storage tips;
- Some photos to give them a sense of what the facility looks like, and how safe/clean it is;
- A list of unit sizes and a description of how much each unit can hold (but no prices, please).
Driving Traffic to Your Site
After you've designed a site that sells, you must drive traffic to the site. A great site without traffic is worthless. There are a few key ways to get people to view your site. First, understand storage is generally a local thing. Unless you're a national company like Public Storage, promoting your site to a national audience doesn't make a whole lot of sense. Next, identify other local companies that get a lot of hits at their websites. See if there's any way to link to their sites. This would include local real-estate agents, moving companies, schools, churches, chambers of commerce, etc.--any business people might contact if they were moving into the area.
Getting high rankings in the various search engines will be a tremendous help in bringing traffic to your site. Search engines are key to making your site noticed, but getting listed on them may require some help. Two specialists in this field are Kimberly Judd (firstname.lastname@example.org) and Mike Buck (Mike@ecombuffet.com). For what they deliver, their prices are extremely reasonable. Tell them I sent you and they'll give you a $50 discount.
Paid search engines are also an option, and there are a number of them out there. These are the places where you can pay for the opportunity to have people to click on your site. All you'll need to do is pick the keywords people might use to find you. For example, let's say you're in Orlando, Fla. You may want to buy the keywords "Orlando storage" and "Orlando self-storage." This will make it so your site comes up in a lead position any time someone types in these or any other keywords you select.
One of the largest paid search engines is www.goto.com, where a trial membership runs as low as $25. For a complete list of options, visit www.payperclicksearchengines.com. While you can pay a specialist to enroll you with these search tools, you can enroll yourself. Even I can do it, so you may want to give it a shot.
There are many other ways to drive traffic to your site, but these are good places to start. Remember: A simple, easy-to-use site that is accessible and makes prospects a great offer will raise your rentals.
Fred Gleeck is a self-storage profit-maximization consultant. He helps storage owners before and after they get into the business. He is the author of Secrets of Self Storage Marketing Success--Revealed! and numerous other training items for self-storage operators. To get regular tips on self-storage, send him an e-mail at email@example.com; call 800.345.3325.