How would you like to pay a flat fee of less than $10 a year and get a steady flow of self-storage prospects to your website? Using websites to promote your facility is all the rage these days but, frequently, it costs hundreds if not thousands of dollars to get your site ranked high in the search engines. This is no doubt important, but it's an elusive goal. Search engines change their criteria often, and getting and keeping your site at or near the top is difficult to do. Here is a strategy any storage operator can use to get traffic to his site for a small pittance of what he'd have to pay to get search-engine optimization folks to help him.
Let's say you own Los Angeles Self Storage. Go to the pay-per- click search engine Overture (www.overture.com) and click on the box marked "Advertiser Center." This will take you to a screen where you will see a number of options from which to choose. Click the "Tools" button. When you do so, you'll see something on the right side of the page called the "Search Suggestion Tool." Click on that next. A separate box will pop up on your screen. Type in "Los Angeles Self Storage" and see what you get. The number you see will vary from month to month, but as of this writing, the number is 122.
What does this number mean? It means that in the last month, 122 people entered the key words "Los Angeles Self Storage" into the Overture search engine. A year ago, Overture saw 5 percent of all Internet traffic. It now gets much more. I haven't seen specific figures, but let's assume that number is up to 20 percent of all web searches. This would mean approximately 600 people entered the key words "Los Angeles Self Storage" into search engines last month.
This is good information. But these days, many people use their browsers as search engines. They go to Internet Explorer or a similar browser and type in a domain name using their key words, expecting a page to exist. In this example, they would attempt to access www.losangelesselfstorage.com. So it stands to reason that if you own that domain name, it is highly likely people will find you. For less than $10--the cost of registering the domain name--you get a full year's worth of what I refer to as "type-in traffic."
Most of you already have a website for your facility. Now all you have to do is forward all traffic from the new registered domain to the original site. This can be done for free at ultracheapdomains.com or, in most cases, whichever domain registrar you choose. If you assume each customer is worth about $300, all you have to do is generate one new customer each year using this strategy to get a substantial return on your investment.
Everyone who reads this column should immediately register their city's name with the terms "self storage" or "storage" after it. If you live in Portland, for example, register www.portlandselfstorage.com or www.portlandstorage.com. For many of you, the domain names will be taken, but the concept is critical to understand so you can use it in other ways to promote your business. For example, let's say your Portland facility offers RV storage. You would check to see if you can register www.portlandrvstorage.com. If you go to Overture and look, you'll see a number of searches in which people put in the name of their city and the words "RV storage" afterward.
Do the number of searches that show up in Overture ensure you'll get a similar number of type-in traffic hits? Not necessarily. In fact, it will probably be much lower. But given that the number of units you need to rent to earn a decent payback is a mere one, it makes an investment of $10 or less well worth it.
The next question is whether it makes sense to reserve the dot-net, dot-org or other web-address designations. The answer is no. Do not reserve any web addresses other than dot-coms. If you already have a domain name with a dot-net address, that's fine; it just won't be helpful from the standpoint of type-in traffic--the reason being that most browsers default to dot-com, not any of the other addresses.
How many web addresses should you have? It depends. If they are generating traffic, keep them; otherwise, get rid of them. It's worth the less than $10 investment to test a number of different domain names for a year at a time. If you reserved 30 different domain names for a year, it would cost you less than $300, which is still only the average cost of one annual rental.
All of this assumes you have the ability to track your traffic. This is something most of you will have to talk to your webmasters about. Tracking this data will allow you to find out how many people got to your site using the type-in traffic methodology and whether it's worthwhile to continue with the various domain names you reserved. No matter what domain you use, you'll be able to have its traffic forwarded to your actual site. This online tactic is perfect for storage owners and operators looking to get the maximum bang for their marketing dollar. Where else can you spend less than $10, get just one customer in a year, and have it be worth more than $300?
Don't get me wrong--this method of driving traffic to your site should not be the only one you use; but it should be part of your overall online marketing strategy. Everything I have discussed here assumes that when people eventually get to your site, you have it designed in such a way to get the greatest number of people to call or visit your facility. Make sure you don't waste traffic by sending people to a site that doesn't accomplish your end goal.
In short, search the Overture suggestion tool for great names that relate to your city. Once you find some, reserve them and have them forwarded to your main site. Keep them for a year and track the results. If they pull good traffic, keep them; if not, you can always exchange them for others.
Fred Gleeck is a self-storage profit-maximization consultant who helps owners/operators during all phases of the business, from feasibility studies to creating an ongoing marketing plan. Mr. Gleeck is the author of Secrets of Self Storage Marketing Success--Revealed! as well as the producer of professional training videos on self-storage marketing. To receive a copy of his Seven-Day Self-Storage Marketing Course and storage marketing tips, send an e-mail to tips@self storagesuccess.com. For more information, call 800.FGLEECK; e-mail firstname.lastname@example.org.