Reprinted with permission from Storable.
Your digital marketing efforts are more important than ever. Even before COVID-19, consumers were far more likely to discover your self-storage business online than in person; now, it’s practically guaranteed. So, your overall strategy should include two critical pieces: search engine optimization (SEO) and pay-per-click (PPC) advertising. I’m going to focus on the latter, explaining how paid search works, how to get started and how to measure success.
What Is Paid Search?
There are multiple search engines out there, but for the purposes of this article, we’ll focus on Google. Why? Because it dominates the arena, with 76 percent of all desktop searches and 86 percent of mobile. It’s simply the best place for your self-storage operation to gain visibility.
Every Google search populates with three main elements: paid ads, the Map Pack and organic search results. The paid-ads section is what we’re talking about when we refer to paid search or PPC advertising.
Much like SEO, paid search is a cost-effective marketing strategy. You only pay when someone clicks on your ad. The caveat is your website must be optimized to convert those leads into self-storage leases, otherwise you’re wasting that investment. When your website is up to par, it’s incredibly valuable to be among those first items customers see during search. After all, if they’re confident your business can meet their needs based on the ad, why would they even scroll further?
The first step when launching a paid search campaign is to establish an account with Google Ads at ads.google.com. Your account is tied to whatever email you use to set it up. Ideally, you’ll use a business address. Here are a few of the most important sections in the user dashboard:
Campaigns. Each campaign will have its own settings, including a budget, that determine where your ads appear and where the searcher goes if he clicks on them. Unless you’re an enterprise-level business, you’ll typically only run a few campaigns at a time. For example, you might have a unique campaign to represent each of your self-storage locations.
Ad groups. These live inside each campaign and are focused on specific items worth promoting. For example, you might have an ad group for smaller or larger self-storage units, or climate-controlled spaces, or a specific discount. You can have as many groups as you want, however, you’ll want to keep them to a manageable number.
Keywords. Every ad group contains keywords. It’s recommended to include 10 to 20 per group, but you can use fewer. Keywords are important because they trigger which of your ads is shown when a person searches on certain terms. Before setting them, it’s critical to do your research and understand what people are hoping to find.
Negative keywords are an important and often overlooked element to paid search. They allow you to block your ads from appearing during similar, yet unrelated searches. For example, the keyword “storage” is broad. Unless you exclude terms like “cloud storage” or “free storage,” your ads might be served up in those searches. By labeling them as negative keywords, you’ll avoid wasted impressions and clicks. (More on those below.)
Messaging and Calls to Action
Once you’ve created your Google Ads campaigns, including ad groups and keywords, you’re still not quite ready to launch. You need to create the actual ads! That means writing copy that clearly communicates what you have to offer. When it comes to crafting these messages, it’s best to think of how potential customers will experience the ad. Address what they stand to gain from doing business with you.
Draft a number of ad options and test them. Then test and test again. There’s no way of knowing what works best until you’ve published various ads and seen the results. Fortunately, the paid-search platform is nimble enough that you can quickly try new things and see what really drives traffic.
Another thing to consider is the landing page to which customers are directed when they click on your ads. This can simply be your homepage, or you can create a unique page designed specifically for each campaign. Make sure that whatever people see when they get there pertains directly to the information in your ad, or you’ll lose them. It’s important that the page include the right information with a clear call to action, for example, “Call now,” “Rent now,” “Reserve a unit,” etc.
Beating the Competition
Now we’re going to get into the nuts and bolts of how and why your paid ads appear. It isn’t just a simple matter of finding the right keywords; it’s a bidding process. Remember, your competitors are also using PPC and trying to reach the same audience as you!
Every time a search is entered into Google, it triggers an auction to determine which ads will be displayed. The winning results are based on several factors: bid amount, quality score and ad extensions. If someone types in one of your chosen keywords, and other self-storage operators in your area have selected the same, Google will consider these criteria to determine whose ad appears.
Bids play a large role. I won’t get into the specifics of bidding here, as Google offers many customizable ways to approach it. In the end, whoever is willing to pay the most per click will generally win.
However, Google has also placed more emphasis on relevancy over the years. The quality score is an algorithm that evaluates your paid ads for that standard, indicating how relevant your keywords are to your ad and how closely your ad relates to your landing-page content. Google’s goal here is to provide the best user experience for the searcher.
Ad extensions are also considered, as they, too, improve the user experience. For example, with a call extension, you list your phone number so people can call you directly from your ad. A location extension allows you to link your campaign to Google Maps or your Google My Business listing, so searchers can get directions directly from the ad.
As with any marketing campaign, it’s crucial to measure results. That’s how you know whether paid search is working for your business. Google provides several tools that help you track and determine return on investment. Here are the four basic metrics you should review:
- Impressions: This refers to the number of times your ad is seen in search. Each time your ad is served, it counts as an impression.
- Clicks: Just like it sounds, this is when a searcher actually clicks on your ad and goes to your landing page.
- Conversions: When someone clicks on your ad and lands on your website, you generally want him to do something, such as fill out a rental form, click the phone number to call your facility, or click the “reserve” button. If the customer does what you’ve told him to do, that’s a conversion. To track conversions, you must have the proper code built into your website.
- Spend: This is what you spend on Google Ads each month, often determined by several factors, including your pre-set budget. This might change depending on how aggressive your competitors are spending on the same keywords. You’ll want to determine the amount that best suits your business needs while allowing you to claim a good share of the market demand.
As competition stiffens and more people search for and rent self-storage units online, your digital presence and marketing are vital to success. The advantages are clear, and there are many cost-effective tactics to reach customers online. Paid search ranks right near the top and is a must-have in any comprehensive plan.
Trace Hughes is a senior copywriter at Storable, a supplier of cloud-based access control, management software, marketing, payment processing, website development and other services for the self-storage industry. He has nearly a decade of marketing and communications experience, having worked with several advertising agencies prior to joining Storable. He believes clear, compelling communication is the cornerstone to any successful business. For more information, email [email protected].