By RK Kliebenstein
Everybody likes sausage, but no one wants to see how its made. The same goes for self-storage marketing. Everybody wants new rentals, but few want to do the work necessary to get there ... And for good reason: Its tough!
In 2012, what will you commit to increase your rentals? How will you target the next wave of consumers in the pick it and click it world? If youre smart, youll allocate time and dollars to building and optimizing a mobile-friendly website.
The Rise of Smartphones
Theres no denying 2011 was a banner year for smartphones. Here are some interesting facts from Larry Hanks, principle of The Storage Group, a website-development company that helps self-storage operators optimize their websites for mobile devices:
- Smartphone sales to end users reached 115 million units in the third quarter of 2011, up 42 percent from the third quarter of 2010.
- Sequentially, smartphone sales slowed to 7 percent growth from the second quarter of 2011 to the third quarter of 2011.
- Smartphone sales also accounted for 26 percent of all mobile-phone sales, growing only marginally from 25 percent in the previous quarter.
Heres another statistic: There are more than 350 million active users (44 percent) currently accessing Facebook through their mobile devices. This group is twice as active on Facebook as non-mobile users, according to official statistics released in November from Facebook.
In addition, there are 5.3 billion mobile subscribers (that's 77 percent of the world population). Growth is led by China and India. Many mobile Web users are mobile-only, meaning they do not or rarely use a desktop, laptop or tablet to access the Web. Even in the United States, 25 percent of mobile Web users are mobile-only.
Optimizing Your Website for Mobile
Now that you know the mobile-phone market is for real, what are you doing about it? Traditional websites with graphics and embedded text do not display well on smartphones. The smartphone user wants the information fast and simple, and wants to be able to transact just as though he was sitting in front of a desktop. In general, self-storage operators have been slow to offer their inventory on the static website, let alone on a mobile site.
Its clear consumers are increasingly making smartphones and tablet devices a part of their lives, Hanks says. With more mobile devices being used every day, right when consumers are making their purchase decisions, its critical to have a smartphone-optimized website to promote your business. We see with our current clients, on average 15 percent of visitors to their websites do so through mobile technology, and this figure is trending higher very quickly, as much as 25 percent in some cases.
The first step to creating a mobile-optimized website is to tie up a .mobi domain. Get a scaled down version of your site created for mobile viewing with rent and reserve online capabilities. Make sure you have a phone number tied to a call center or someone who answers the phone during extended hours so they can take a paid reservation over the phone should the Web surfer turn into a caller, which is very common. The goal is to get consumers off the market, meet their needs and solve their problems. Make them customers, not shoppers.
Next is to make sure the site is found through search-engine optimization (SEO) and the conversion to the mobile site is seamless. If potential renters visit your traditional website from their mobile phones, the site should recognize the phone and automatically deliver the mobile site.
Since the launch of our mobile site, our owners have seen increased Web traffic and rentals at the store level, says Brian Blankenship Sr., vice president of operations for Metro Storage LLC, which operates more than 100 self-storage facilities around the country. Not only has the increase in unique visitors been impressive but, unexpectedly, the traffic to our traditional sites increased with very favorable Web analytics, all equating to new rentals, directly attributable to our Web efforts.
Making the Change
If youre going to be fully engaged in the prospecting business, its going to consume resourcesemotional, financial and kinetic. It may mean you have to look at the storage business much differently than ever before. For many, its going to be just too much work. Some will go back to the way theyve always done things and expect different results. Some will wait for the market to save themgood luck with that strategy. Others will see that third-party management will be the answer. It takes a lot of resources to develop the platforms that drive prospecting initiatives, then all of that has to transcend to near perfection at the front counter.
It will take committing to new strategies, reworking old ones and trying new initiatives. It means finding the right Web designer to optimize, index and properly anchor text, metatag and keyword your mobile and static site. All of that and you still have to avoid the sandbox (an SEO term for the period of time its believed Google sidelines new sites).
Just the thought of constantly reworking the SEO strategy and monitoring and launching pay-per-click campaigns to move your site up the ladder is exhausting. But it will be well worth the effort. Youll create a better branded business and gain bigger market share, both of which will result in higher occupancy levels and increased revenue.
RK Kliebenstein is the vice president of business development for Metro Storage, which owns and operates more than 100 self-storage facilities across the country. He has more than 25 years of self-storage industry experience including development, design, management and operations. To reach him, e-mail [email protected] .