By Aycha Williams
The self-storage industry has come a long way in the past two years in terms of understanding the importance of a business's online presence, which can be crucial to generating a high number of quality leads. Nevertheless, it seems a lot of smaller self-storage operators still hesitate to invest in an online presence for their facilities.
One reason is they are confused about how to implement online strategies. Web-based marketing can be overwhelming, particularly because new service providers seem to emerge on the scene nearly every month. Some offer similar if not the same services, but claim to be different. Some have better versions of the same product, while others products are hard to understand. In general, most are pricey.
Meanwhile, every single one of the 11 self-storage facilities my company manages in Florida and Houston is receiving about 50 percent of total leads online. Some are even getting more. We know because were tracking them via various methods on a monthly basis. With the increased use of mobile devices, this number will only grow.
Despite the learning curve, its critical self-storage operators begin to embrace online marketing. Here are 10 marketing channels every operator needs to master to stay competitive.
1. Search Engine Places and Maps Listings
Search engines such as Google, Yahoo and Bing have special sections dedicated to local search. This is how your prospects do their online search. They either go to the maps section of a search engine such as maps.google.com and search for self-storage in Costa Mesa, 92663, or they type, www.yahoo.com and search for a location by typing keywords relevant for that location, such as storage in Maitland, FL, 32751.
The search returns, in geographic proximity, a list of locations. Its an easy, convenient and accurate way of finding businesses online. Internet users prefer this search method when looking for a specific area. This is why you need to make sure your facility is listed as part of the local search. For this youll need to find and claim your listings on all main search engines. Once you claim them, youll be able to add company information and photos, and ensure the Google map is pinpointing your location correctly. You can also further customize your listing.
2. Search Engine Optimization (SEO)Your website is your online home base for your business. In addition to being up-to-date and accurate, it needs to be search-engine-optimized so it can have a higher organic listing ranking. When you have more than one link available to your business on the first page of a search engine, youre basically increasing the odds of that customer clicking to one of your links to visit your website.
3. A Website That Markets Your Facility
Its crucial to have a search-engine-optimized website so it can be found quickly and easily. Once customers are on your website, the second half of the battle is to keep them there and convince them to take action. If theyre looking for storage, then youd like them to either reserve a unit online, call your facility or, at the very least, request an e-mailed quote.
If its an existing customer looking to make a payment, your website should offer effortless online payment options. In short, consider equipping your website with all the tools necessary, and it will market and sell your facility for you.
4. Mobile Marketing
I use Google analytics to track the online traffic to our facility websites. Its a free yet comprehensive tool that provides not only extensive information on Web traffic, but tells us what type of device the customer is using to find our websites. Even our facilities in rural areas have increasing number of customers each month who find our locations via their mobile device. Some people even use their mobile devices as their primary Internet source (instead of a laptop or PC) to search for products and services.
The next technological leap for your website is to become mobile-device friendly. The self-storage industry has various vendors that can recreate your website to be automatically mobile-friendly. Information should be easy to access, payments should be easy to make via a smartphone, and directions to your site should be simple to find.
5. Self-Storage Aggregator Websites
Advertising mediums such as USstoragesearch.com and Storagefront.com also use SEO to bring your advertised listing to that first search-engine page. Some of the aggregators are affordable and have excellent SEO, so they provide qualified leads that turn into actual customers. Others can be more expensive or, because of the search key terms they use in their SEO, the leads may not be as qualified.
A few years ago, we advertised with one of the aggregators and noticed a large number of the calls the facility received were through this aggregator. When we listened to the recorded calls, we noticed 80 percent of them were for auction inquiries, as auction was the keyword the aggregator was using along with other industry-related keywords to optimize its ranking. Its important to research and find the right aggregators for your advertising.
6. Pay-Per-Click (PPC) Advertising
A quick way of getting first place on the first page of search engines is to advertise via pay per click. There are numerous vendors that manage PPC advertising, and some use proven methods to continuously optimize the most relevant keywords that bring the most qualified leads for your business for a price. Alternatively, you could do this on your own and start with a conservative budget to do your own testing. Google will walk you through the process of setting up your first PPC campaign. If you dont have a first-page presence on search engines through one or more of the methods I outlined above, you may want to consider PPC until your other Web presence climbs its way up.
7. E-mail Campaigns
Dont take e-mail campaigns lightly. Collecting e-mail addresses from prospective tenants and informing them of new specials and other offers costs nearly nothing and will prove to generate new business. There are various online websites that allow you to do your own e-mail campaigns for a small price, or you may opt to hire a company to run e-mail campaigns for you.
8. Social Media
The impact of social media is still under evaluation when it comes to the self-storage industry. Some say if you have a great manager whos also actively managing a Facebook page for your storage facility and is good at getting followers, this effort may turn into rentals.
However, having to check on your site manager to ensure proper social-media conduct with customers and prospects can be time-consuming. Any improper social-media conduct on your managers part may create larger issues. Nevertheless, staying in touch with customers via Facebook and other social-media outlets via predetermined weekly posts wouldnt take much time so long as employee social-media guidelines are clearly defined and followed.
I find it necessary to list Yellowpages.com as its own category. If youre a long-term player in the industry, in the past you must have spent a big part of your marketing budget on Yellow Pages print advertising. Since the shift to the Internet, one by one, many operators either downsized their ads or completely pulled out of printed Yellow Pages.
Some converted to Yellowpages.com thinking it was a replacement of the print version. While I cannot speak for others, we tested it and found we didnt break even. We also found there are other online advertising channels that provide a higher number of quality leads for a fraction of the cost.
10. Your Site Manager
All of the above online marketing methods are in place to generate phone calls, walk-in customers, e-mail requests or online reservations. If the request is in the form of an e-mail, industry statistics reveal a 15-minute turnaround time is required to contact that customer. Otherwise, the prospect will move on to your competitor. A timely, service-oriented reply is of the essence. If the contact is in the form of a walk-in or a phone call, the manager should be aware of all Internet promotions. Site managers should also be knowledgeable to guide an existing customer on how to use your facilitys website to make online payments or a new reservation.
Once our managers realized how much time they could be saving from manually processing payments, they became motivated to convince existing and new customers to make their payments and even reservations online. We also mention to customers that the Web specials are only available via Web reservations. This again helps with more automation and time savings for our managers.
Adapting and embracing the change in self-storage marketing is of the essence to take your facilitys share of Internet leads. With some guidance and industry expertise, you can be on your way back to profitability within a short period of time.
Aycha Williams, marketing and training strategist for AC Commercial Property Management, has more than with 15 years of experience in the marketing of commercial real estate and high-tech and consumer products. Based in Orlando, Fla., her company manages more than 1 million square feet of self-storage and other commercial holdings in Florida and Texas. For more information, call 407.481.9899, ext. 111; e-mail [email protected]; visit www.accommercial.net.