You operate a great self-storage facility. Your site security and customer service are top-notch. You purchased advertising space in both the local newspaper and the Yellow Pages. You want to entice people from the local area, not around the globe, so a web page never seemed necessary. Yet a website is your best marketing tool.
A website is your 24/7, customer- relations information center. Your printed advertisements can never say enough about all the special benefits offered at your facility; but a web address listed in your advertising can direct potential customers to a one-stop information source. Even a simple website allows customers to:
- Print a location map and driving directions.
- Learn about your convenient hours and services.
- E-mail questions.
- View promotional pictures of unit choices.
- Select a storage unit that matches their specific needs.
- Decide which boxes, tape and truck-rental services to use.
- View live video from any site security camera designated as public.
How To Be Web-Ready
Making a promotional website may seem overwhelming, but it only takes a few evenings. Here's how:
The friendliest--and often overlooked--web tool is Microsoft Word. You might already use this program in your normal workday. Just select "New" under the File menu. Choose the tab labeled "Web Pages" and select the Web Page Wizard. You will be asked for a page title, layout, content and theme. The page-setup wizard will suggest frames--accepting the default is highly recommended. If you previously created a company brochure using Word, be sure to add that file during the content questions.
At this point, you will want to add two helpful toolbars to enhance your effort. Go to the View menu and scroll down to "Toolbars." Choose "Web Tools." This toolbar allows you to add sounds, buttons, forms, boxes and scrolling text. The other recommended tool bar is "WordArt." It allows you to create colorful titles and headings. I could go into elaborate detail, but the best way to learn is for you to spend a few minutes with each option.
Word lets you add fonts of almost any size, shape and color. You can also add pictures to your new site using the "Images" option listed under the Insert menu. The design limits are only bound by your imagination. Periodically, you will want to select "Web Page Preview" from the File menu to ensure your web page will look the way you expected. Don't worry about making corrections. Just as with any Word document, you can highlight anything and cut, copy or paste. If you make a change you don't like, just select "Undo" from the Edit menu to reverse your latest alteration.
Your web page should reflect your corporate image. Professional web developers recommend you follow a few critical rules:
- It is better to have several brief web pages than one giant page.
- Never exceed the width of your browser screen.
- Keep your site informative but always uncluttered.
- Every page should have a link leading back to the main page.
Now that you have the makings of a web page, it is time to create a web folder. Select "Save as Web Page" under the File menu and then click on "Web Folders." Give your file a name that does not include any spaces. Now click on the small folder icon with a star (the pop-up hint says "Create a New Folder") and give your folder a unique name. Save. From this point on, you only need to select "Save" from the File menu to save your updated versions.
Now that you have a website saved on your computer's hard drive, it is time to upload your work to the Internet. All you need is a hosting service, and here you have three choices:
1. Free hosting
2. Pay hosting
3. Courtesy hosting
Free hosting services, such as www.geocities.com, will host your site without any charge in exchange for displaying unsolicited advertising to your page's visitors; but this does not present a professional appearance. Pay hosting services range from $10 to $40 per month. You will not have any undesirable advertising, plus you can have your own domain name. Courtesy hosting is the best of both worlds. Several software vendors will host your website for free in appreciation of your business. Visitors will not see any third-party advertising. Furthermore, you can still have a personalized corporate domain name. All three of these solutions will provide you tools and guidance for transferring your creative work to your new website.
Once your web page is available on the Internet, it is time to tell the world. You want customers and prospects to use this resource to learn more about your products and services. Your business cards, letterhead and all brochures should clearly list your new website.
What to Expect
Once your site is available, the search engines will not know you exist. That may be fine, since you do not want to solicit business from thousands of miles away. However, if you want a web presence, you can list on one of the most popular search engines, Yahoo!, for $199. Be sure to request a listing in the regional index so you attract the desired prospects. Other search engines, such as AltaVista, are free.
Your primary audience should be those who saw your website in printed advertising and are looking for more information. It only takes one new tenant to cover all of your web- development costs. That turns a website into your best advertising bargain.
Doug Carner is the vice president of marketing for QuikStor Security & Software, a Sherman Oaks, Calif.-based company specializing in security, software and management for the self- storage industry. For more information, call 800.321.1987; e-mail firstname.lastname@example.org; visit www.quikstor.com.
Once you've designed a web page that sells, you need to drive traffic to your site. Getting high rankings in the various search engines is a great way to do this. Search engines act like fully-stocked, 24-hour-a-day libraries. A user enters a keyword or phrase that connects him to a database. The search-engine software (called "spiders") continuously combs through Internet pages looking for documents and their web addresses that pertain to the user's keyword or phrase. These are collected and sent to the engine's indexing software, where information is extracted and sent to a database. Some engines index an entire document; others index by title only. The search engines then assemble a web page, listing the results as hypertext links.
At their core, the major search engines (Yahoo!, Alta Vista, Dogpile, Google, etc.) use a location/frequency method to determine relevance. Because location and frequency are so important, the title--called the Meta tag--for each page on your site should get careful consideration. The search engines will use the Meta tag to determine the relevancy of your site to the user's keywords. The best practice it to design your site's verbiage so that it marries your Meta tag with potential keywords that can be used to find your product and services.
There are many paid search engines out there. These are places where you can pay for the opportunity to have people click on your site. One of the largest paid search engines is www.goto.com, where you can even get a low-cost, trial membership. For a complete list of options, visit www.payperclicksearchengines.com.