By Christopher P. Baird
When it comes to a website, success can mean different things to different people. In self-storage, it generally relates to a websites ability to generate rentals. For the purpose of this article, well define a successful website as one that places well in searches, is found on major consumer-used websites, generates visits from potential customers, has the ability to convert visitors into paying customers.
To be successful, a website requires proper development, including the application of certain techniques in the sites design (the way it looks), layout (the way it functions) and content (what it says and the way it sells). Many websites get one or even two of these elements correct, but without all three, there isnt much hope. Would you sit on a three-legged stool with only two legs? The same logic should be applied to your website. Anything less than a complete effort will be in vain.
Your ongoing marketing efforts are also critical to the websites success. Youve probably heard terms such as search-engine optimization (SEO), search-engine marketing (SEM), Internet marketing and others. These have different meanings, of course, but most people use them synonymously.
First, lets talk about the nuts and bolts of developing your facilitys website. Then well discuss ways of marketing it to target audiences.
Developing Your Website
Over the past 10 years, the Web has changed dramatically. Weve been through several versions of website code, screen-resolution increases, Internet-speed increases and more browser types and versions than anyone probably expected. These days, websites must be viewable in all browser types and on mobile devices. They must look good in various screen resolutions, and they can contain many more graphics and colors to stand out and prompt action. This is all prior to creating website code thats necessary to tell search engines about your site content.
If you think this seems like a lot, it is, but its all necessary. Ive heard SEO companies make statements such as, It doesnt matter what your website looks like. It only matters that it gets seen. To that I ask: How many times do you walk by a piece of trash before you pick it up and take it home? My guess is never or I might take it home, but I would never use it.
The same is true for your website. Even if users find it, it must be professional-looking and contain the appropriate content and sales process to prompt action and close the deal. Here are some tips for the development stage:
- Make your website aesthetically pleasing with a polished and professional look.
- Organize information so the next desired action is easily identifiable and available when the user is ready to move forward.
- Use repetition; provide multiple opportunities to find important information about your facility.
- Use contrast to make specific items stand out from the rest.
These four strategies alone will help your website be considerably better than most. Remember, attracting Internet users is not enough. Once you have them on your website, you need compelling and useful information to keep them there.
Marketing Your Website
This is undoubtedly one of the hottest topics in the self-storage industry over the last two years. While attending industry tradeshows around the country, Ive noticed most of the marketing seminars are about Internet-related effortsSEO, mobile websites, social media, Google Adwords and Google Places. These are all important, but equally important is to understand what not to do with your website.
For example, when you hire someone to help you with one or all of the above or take on the task yourself, dont be on the hunt for a magic bullet that will help you sell all or most of your available inventory. If you go looking for this, youll find plenty of companies willing to sell it to you, but youll end up frustrated and disappointed. Youll also waste your money.
Lots of companies buy marketing programs through which their website is submitted to thousands of search engines or guaranteed to be placed at the top of your search in Google in 24 hours or less. Lets face it, if it sounds too good to be true, it is.
First, there are only three search engines that drive most of the search traffic, not thousands. Second, anyone can get on the first page of Google search in less than 24 hours using paid ads, but you cant stay there unless you pay for every click. Lets not forget some of the latest techniques marketers use: They take your Google and Bing Places, point them to your facility listing on their website, and then claim they gave you the traffic. In reality, those Places are yours to point wherever you choose.
Now that you know what not to do, the question remains, what should you do? Here are four keys to marketing a successful website:
- Generate a list of accurate search terms. You can service a certain radius, and you should know what that area is. Use that list to generate good search placement via SEO.
- Claim your Google Places and keep it updated with all of the information it allows. Remember that Google has a purpose and is successful for one main reason: When people use it for research, the results are relevant to them.
- Use paid placement for Google and Bing (that includes Yahoo now). I often hear people say, Im not fond of pay per click (PPC) or It has never worked for me. But when you ask if theyre fond of rentals, the response is always positive. PPC is a worthwhile investment if you correctly choose your keywords, monitor your spending and track conversions. What other marketing venue allows you to choose the exact words under which your ad appears, control what you pay for each click, and only show your add to people in your target market? Seems like a pretty good deal to me.
- Take advantage of directories. General business directories include Merchant Circle, Citysearch, Yahoo Local, Google Local, DMOZ.org and more. There are also several self-storage-specific directories, such as USStoragesearch.com and SpareFoot.com. Being in these directories is a great way to take advantage of their placement and drive traffic and rentals to your facility.
Marketing your website happens online and offline. In fact, according to Google, most searches are a result of people who hear or read an ad through television, radio, signage, etc., then go to Google to research what they read or heard offline. By now, most people are aware of the self-storage industry, so make it a priority to be seen online when theyre looking for a place to store their items.
Christopher P. Baird started freelance website design in 1998 until the formation of Automatit Inc. in 2001. He has more than 15 years of website marketing and SEO experience. Tucson, Ariz.-based Automatit Inc. offers planning, creation and maintenance of custom websites and online software solutions for the self-storage industry. Automatit also provides website hosting and digital document services. For more information, call 520.293.4608; e-mail [email protected] ; visit www.automatit.net .