By John Egan
Reprinted with permission from "The Storage Facilitator" blog.
Does your self-storage facility’s website need a complete makeover or just a little nip-and-tuck? Chances are, you could say “yes” to one or the other. Coming up with that answer is the easy part.
Now, what can you do to freshen up your website? Before you get started, remember that online beauty is more than skin-deep. It’ll probably take more than a new color scheme and a few new photos to firm up a sagging site.
“It’s not about a ‘fresh new look.’ Some of the most effective sites out there look very crappy,” said John Locke, principal of Web-development company Freelock. “Do you want to have a beautiful website that gets loads of traffic but doesn’t bring you any customers, or a website that doesn’t feel quite ‘done’ but sends you a dozen new leads every week?”
Experts offer these six tips for improving your website.
1. Keep It Simple
If your website isn’t on a WordPress platform, you should seriously consider switching it to one of the world’s most popular content-management systems. Two of the biggest benefits of WordPress? It’s incredibly cheap to install and relatively easy to use.
“You’ll need help with the installation process if you’re not tech-savvy, but after that, it is extremely easy to use,” said Brandon Howard, owner of Web-design firm All My Web Needs. “You’ll have thousands of free templates to choose from, and even more free tools called ‘plug-ins’ to add special functionality to your site. You will be able to make updates to your website without having to learn code or anything like that.”
If you don’t want to travel down the WordPress road, then look into website-building services like Squarespace, Weebly and Wix. They’re free or inexpensive, and they’re easy to navigate.
2. Consider Going With a Pro
What if a WordPress, Squarespace, Weebly or Wix website won’t cut it? Then you’ll likely need to hire a pro to create your website. However, you don’t need to break the bank to get it built. Check out freelance services like Elance and oDesk for Web designers whose work is reasonably priced.
Keep in mind, though, that using a freelancer from Elance or oDesk might require a fair amount of handholding. If that’s just not for you, then look into a Web-design firm. But be prepared to pay the price: A custom-designed site easily can cost thousands of dollars.
“It’s a good idea to use a company that will build a website for a one-time payment instead of having to pay monthly fees. It costs more upfront, but it is far less expensive in the long run,” Howard said. “Be sure to use a company that will build in WordPress or a similar platform.” Don’t let the firm create your website on a proprietary platform, experts warn.
“You do not want to wind up hostage to a Web wizard later,” communications consultant Bethann Garramon Merkle said. “Perhaps the most fundamentally costly—and recurring—error I know of is ignoring this tip. All of the clients for whom I have redesigned websites fall in this category. They had a site, they paid good money to have it built and, eventually, their Web wizard moved, turned nasty or whatever.”
3. Keep It Classy
So, if you do decide to go the do-it-yourself route, make sure your website stands out—for the right reasons. The wording and the images are critical to ensuring your site isn’t a flop.
“Avoid putting any verbiage that can apply to any other company, like stating that you have ‘high quality and great service.’ Today’s consumer is very smart and can tell when you’re blowing smoke, so make your website copy unique and powerful,” said Glenn Romanelli, president and creative director at Web-design firm Lighthaus Design. “Emphasize how your product or service is different from the competition.”
Be sure to supplement the words with images or videos that are attractive and not amateurish. If you’re not good at taking photos, hire a pro to shoot them for you; same goes for the videos.
In the case of a storage facility, the images on your site should include shots of the units, the exterior and the employees. If you need images aside from the ones related to your facility, check out low-cost stock photos from sites like iStock and Shutterstock.
4. Make It Mobile
While you may not own a smartphone or tablet computer, many of your potential customers do. That’s why your website design should be what’s known as “responsive”—able to be viewed clearly on any number of devices.
“Simply put, users abandon sites that aren’t optimized for the device they are using. If you are trying to cram a full website onto someone’s smartphone, they leave because the experience is frustrating,” according to Duda, a company that offers a WordPress plug-in for mobile sites. “Small business owners need a website that works across desktop, tablet and mobile devices.”
5. Create a Call to Action
Simply put, you need to tell visitors to your website what you want them to do. Do you want them to call your facility? If so, then make sure your site is equipped with a giant “Call Us Now” button. Do you want them to visit your facility? If so, your website should feature a “Visit Us Now” button linking to the hours for and directions to your facility.
“Once you know what you want the visitor to do, it’s easy to make your website 100 percent aimed at accomplishing that goal,” small-business consultant Brian Lofrumento said. “Chances are, right now it’s not, as 90 percent of small-business owners never ask themselves what they want website visitors to do.”
6. Post Robust Content
Marketing consultant Shanna Kurpe said she thinks the biggest problem plaguing business websites is “terrible” content. Experts recommend that your website’s content inform and educate customers, and that it not be overly sales-oriented.
Online consultant James Blews, owner of Smart Idea Lane, said that if your site doesn’t answer a customer’s questions or address a customer’s concerns, it’s worthless. You can create valuable content through regular blog posts, or “evergreen” articles providing tips and advice. Information, he said, “is the new kingdom in the land we call the Internet.”
Kurpe’s boldest suggestion concerning content: Tone down mentions of your company. “I know that sounds crazy, but repositioning content to talk more about the actual customer and their problems, rather than the company, can make a huge impact on conversion,” Kurpe said.
John Egan is the editor-in-chief at SpareFoot, an online marketplace for self-storage consumers. Before joining SpareFoot, he was the editor-in-chief at Bankrate Insurance. “The Storage Facilitator” is a self-storage blog managed by SpareFoot and hosted by partner SelfStorage.com.