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Using Grassroots Marketing to Improve Your Self-Storage Facility’s Online Presence

If you have a limited marketing budget for your self-storage operation, you can still build an effective online presence. How? By leveraging grassroots outreach. Read how it works.

Though the self-storage real estate investment trusts (REITs) spend millions each year to influence the buying patterns of online consumers, small and mid-sized facility operators can still build a healthy digital presence and rank better in Google searches. It won’t even require a huge budget. How? Through the power of grassroots marketing.

Grassroots should be considered by any company that has a small marketing budget, a targeted audience or a project that demands attention to grow. The essence of the approach is to take small actions that influence others to act. It can turn the tide in local search engine optimization and put your facility above others in search. Read on to learn how.

How It Works

The first step is to identify a market niche you want to capture. Is there a housing development or apartment complex close by? A college? A military base? Let’s say you want to attract more renters from apartments down the road. Ultimately, you want to build an inexpensive or free digital campaign to improve your facility’s position in online search, but you’ll start with some simple grassroots efforts.

To begin, establish a relationship with the apartment-complex staff. Take them a bowl of candy or welcome basket loaded with snacks, and add marketing collateral about your business, particularly your referral-rewards program. Offer to put their business cards and other marketing materials in your office in exchange for them displaying your materials in theirs. Maybe they’ll even include your stuff in their tenant move-in or information packets. This is a basic relationship that should cultivate dozens of rentals for both businesses.

Call the apartment staff monthly to see if they need more of your materials. Stop by at least every 90 days and drop off small goodies like chocolate or bagels to show your appreciation. It’s a small expense that’ll turn into big profit when they send you referrals. They’ll hopefully talk up your company whenever one of their renters needs self-storage. (Of course, this is a reciprocal relationship, and you’ll be expected to do the same in return.)

The next step is to take this precious relationship online. Ask the apartment staff to add your company logo and a link to your website on their company website. Because you’ve established a rapport, they should be happy to accommodate your request.

It’s this connection you’ve been cultivating that Google will value. When it sees that link to your website from the apartment website (known as a backlink), the search engine will know you’re a trusted resource in the real world. It’ll authenticate your website ranking, leading your business to a higher position in the Google Maps Pack (also known as the “local pack” or “3 pack”). This is a set of highlighted maps-based results featuring the most highly ranked local businesses. It appears at the top of Google search-results pages.

It’s All About Building Backlinks

Sixty percent of your self-storage leads are looking online for information about renting a unit, so it’s crucial that your company can be found. Larger operators buy their way to the top of the search-results list because “cracking the code” to appear there is difficult. The best marketing professional will tell you no one truly understands the Google algorithm. There are reasonable guesses and guidelines for best practices, but no one really knows the secret.

Google made substantial changes last year to focus on giving customers the information they want, as close as possible to their current physical location. When local compatible businesses support your website via backlink, it improves your search ranking. Google sees the link as proof that your website would be the correct, most valuable information for the consumer’s self-storage search.

That said, collecting backlinks for your self-storage business can be difficult and time-consuming in a today’s ultra-fast-paced world. Here are a few tips to get some:

  • Do you donate free use of a self-storage unit to a local charity? Ask the organization for a backlink during the initial contract signing and follow up to verify it’s complete before you credit the next month’s rent.
  • Do you donate time or money to a local charity? Again, ask for the backlink!
  • Do you support local schools or serve as a donation-acceptance facility for charitable causes? Ask!

Backlinks are the gold standard you want to think about every time you establish relationships with local companies or organizations, and grassroots marketing helps you build them. It’s the key to beating the large self-storage operators who spend a lot of time, money and resources on digital campaigns. They aren’t always focused on community connections, and this is where smaller operators can excel. It’s loophole you need to compete with the REITs and their million-dollar budgets.

Jessica Casto is director of marketing for STORExpress, which operates one location in Ohio and 12 in Pennsylvania. In addition to traditional, wine and vehicle storage, the facilities offer art studios, band-rehearsal rooms, and office and hobby space. For more information, call 412.449.0123; e-mail jess@storexpress.com; visit www.storexpress.com.

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