Two years ago, my company dominated page one of Google search results whenever someone searched for “Cleveland TN self-storage.” In fact, our three locations were displayed up to four times in search queries. We appeared at the top of the page with a pay-per-click (PPC) ad and on Google Maps as the first self-storage provider. We also had one or two organic links to our website. Since 90 percent of users don’t scroll past the first page, it’s important to be seen there.
Now, fast forward to earlier this year and a customer would’ve been lucky to find my businesses anywhere on page one. Somehow, we lost our SEO (search engine optimization) edge!
How did we go from being the company that showed up everywhere when storage customers searched online to not even showing up on Google’s first page? Two things happened.
First, we moved our business office, which caused a couple issues with Google algorithms and penalized us in search results. While I updated the physical address on our website, Google Business page and a few other places, we didn’t update all the online directories that aggregate key information about local businesses, e.g., Better Business Bureau, Manta, Yellowpages.com and Yelp. (Marketing firm HubSpot offers a comprehensive list of directories so you can add your business and improve your SEO.)
When Google sees that a company’s physical addresses doesn’t match up with multiple Web sources, it hurts the business’ page ranking. So, it’s important to make sure the addresses, phone numbers, etc., on these directories are accurate.
The second thing that happened was I got lazy. I was doing great and dominating my local online market, so I became complacent and put that marketing on autopilot. Below are a few specific areas where laziness had a direct impact on our search position.
Website SEO. I stopped focusing on it. I was no longer checking to ensure our website was optimized for keywords, working, and continually being improved with information useful to potential tenants.
There was a period when I wasn’t regularly checking the website at all. When I finally did, I realized it wasn’t even online. I called the website provider and was told the company didn’t host my site. I had to remind the representative I was paying $97 a month for the service. He quickly apologized and reinstated the hosting package. It just goes to show: It’s important to check on your website periodically to ensure it’s working and providing the user experience you expect.
Creating content to get backlinks. In the past, I wrote articles for my company blog and various trade publications that included backlinks, which is when another website includes a hyperlink to a page on your website. Google reviews backlinks to help determine website ranking. I had stopped focusing on this.
PPC campaigns. Two years ago, no other storage providers in my town of 100,000 people were using Google AdWords. This was great! Ads were cheap and competition was slim. Now, however, my competitors are using PPC advertising.
When I went back into my AdWords account and reviewed my ads, keywords and landing pages for PPC ads, it was apparent things were stale and sloppy. The landing pages weren’t easy to navigate, and it wasn’t easy to find information without having to click in several places. Users expect to get what they need in one place. They don’t like having to view multiple pages to get the decision-making information they need.
I could get by with all this in the past because I was the only storage facility in my area that had a Web presence. But by this year, others had caught up and had simpler, more intuitive landing pages for their users to learn about unit sizes, rates and sign-up information. The effects of my complacency weren’t immediate, but they did catch up with me, and Google moved us below page one on search queries.
OK, enough about what I did wrong. Let’s talk about what I’ve been doing to fix things and regain the No. 1 online position in my market!
Reviewed and updated website. I’ve made sure our website contains accurate information and works correctly, and that the Google Snippets provide a clear picture of what each page offers (these are the summaries that appear under each search result). After several updates made over the years by my website provider, some of the content had been altered. It no longer enticed a user to click. I’ve since updated and corrected information and added useful Q&As users will want to read when they search for a storage unit.
Updating online directories. My team has taken the previously mentioned list of free online directories and made sure our business is on each. More important, we’re ensuring all business information (address, phone number, etc.) is correct and matches what’s listed on our website. Over time, Google will crawl these directories and determine the information is consistent. Our website will again be considered reliable for users who are searching for self-storage, which will result in a higher page ranking.
Creating content. I’ve begun writing articles and blogs and posting useful information on our business Facebook page, and creating articles for other publications and websites. This is a win-win for both parties, as the recipient gets free content its users will enjoy, and I get a backlink to my website and exposure as a subject-matter expert.
Google’s page-rank algorithms will also notice the number of quality websites linking to my website and that my website is providing interesting content. As such, we should rank higher when users search for self-storage in our market. The best part about this technique is it’s free! Writing content takes time, but there’s no out-of-pocket expense.
AdWords campaign update. During the last two years, Google AdWords has updated the features advertisers can use in PPC ads. It now allows multiple headlines, extensions and longer descriptions. I’ve updated my stale ads with these features, so my ads provide more information about my facilities and take up more screen space. This increases the likelihood that someone will click on my ad and rent a unit, and I’ll be able to spend less on PPC.
Staying current on SEO trends. It’s important to focus on doing SEO the right way and not try to game the system using “black hat” techniques. Don’t go on Fiverr.com and pay someone $20 to get 100 backlinks to your website. Eventually, Google will catch on and you’ll be severely penalized.
The resources below do SEO the right way. The best part is you can get most of the information they offer for free just by watching their YouTube channels or following them on Facebook. I use all of them and have no affiliation nor receive any compensation if you use their services.
- Moz Whiteboard Friday video series: Co-Founder Rand Fishkin produces SEO videos each week. He consistently hammers home the key lesson to getting Google to rank your website higher on searches: Create awesome content that users love! Then keep it clean and optimize it so Google can find and share it with users.
- Carrot blog: Trevor Mauch and his team have a ton of awesome content about SEO that discusses online marketing in detail. The blog and podcasts are free.
- AdWords Nerds: Dan Barrett has a blog, podcast and Facebook page that discusses SEO and Google AdWords optimization for real estate investors, who are his primary clients. The lessons and techniques discussed apply well to self-storage marketing.
Using Facebook and Google My Business. I’ll continue to grow our Facebook business page following by encouraging users to “like” it. I’ll also post tips and tricks related to self-storage on our Google My Business page so there’s more engagement. As I post tips, tricks and updates, there’ll be an emphasis on video. Internet users like watching video and it helps drive engagement with your brand; so, whenever possible, I’ll include both a text article and a video.
Monitoring traffic on Google Analytics. This is a free application that allows website owners to learn how users are interacting with their site. It requires that you add a small piece of HTML code to your website. If you aren’t tech-savvy, I recommend you get a website professional to set it up.
Once it’s established, you’ll be able to see how many people are visiting your website each day, if they’re viewing it from a mobile phone or desktop computer, how long they’re on your site, and which pages they visit the most. It’s helpful to know which Web pages users are going to and interacting with as well as when they immediately leave the page.
Google wants users to be engaged with your website and for the site to answer questions for customers. If users are consistently going to my website and then bouncing back to Google to look for another storage provider, eventually, my page rank will decrease. However, if Google consistently sees that users click on my website, search around and find answers to their questions, I’ll rank higher. It’s important to monitor and update your pages so they’re always performing well.
I’ve learned a valuable lesson about not getting complacent with local online marketing. Leadership is an action, not a position. If you stop working on it, it’s only a matter of time before your competitors catch up and pass you. Going forward, I plan to push myself, continuously create content and monitor my results so I can regain the top spot in my local market.
Michael Rogers is a real estate investor who owns Chandler Properties and SellMichaelYourHouse.com. He started investing in 2001 while working full time as a certified public accountant. In 2017, he quit his corporate job to focus exclusively on real estate. Chandler Properties owns 20th Street Storage, South Lee Highway Storage and Westland Drive Storage, all in Cleveland, Tenn., as well as a dozen residential units. The company also wholesales and flips houses in the area. For more information, visit www.chandler-property.com.